Container gardening: 12 mistakes I made

Last year, we were living in a cottage that had zero garden. It was in the middle of nowhere and literally all we had was a space the size of a standard apartment balcony around the back door. In that space, we had to be able to store our bins as well as hang out our washing.

I started container gardening in March 2020, having previously had a “regular” garden at our house in England. I started most of the plants from seed, with the exception of trees.

Gardening for me has always been a process of making mistakes and learning from them for next time. When something works first time, I am amazed. Here are the mistakes I made and what I learned from them:

Never plant out too soon

A lot of packets of seeds say “plant out when risk of frost has passed” but they don’t tell you that’s a proper gardening date that varies based on your region. You can find out your last frost date by searching for it. If you really can’t find out, don’t plant out until after 20th May in the UK.

If you plant out too soon, the night temperature will be too cold for your young plants to handle and they will freeze to death.

Move new plants into bigger pots when you get them

I bought some trees, including two lovely dwarf cherry trees and a raspberry bush. They were from different garden stores and arrived separately. The trees were very obviously in need of bigger pots when I got them, so I put them straight into the big containers they have lived in for the past year.

The raspberry bush came in a 5 litre pot and even though it was quite a big plant I didn’t think it needed planting up into anything bigger. So I left it.

This was not a good plan. More on the raspberry next.

Don’t put hardy outdoor plants beside a radiator that’s hotter than an active volcano

Worried about protecting my raspberry plant from frost, I’d read that raspberries won’t crop if they get too cold in their first two years, so I decided to keep it indoors until May. I popped it on the deepest windowsill in the kitchen. It honestly didn’t occur to me that being next to a radiator would cause any problems. Our heating was badly-controlled and was only on or off, it had no thermostat (this was a rented house). When the heating was on, the heat from the radiator rose into the air and killed half of the raspberry plant (you can see it in the picture for this article, it’s the plant with yellow and brown leaves sat on the white plate).

Don’t listen to well-meaning but badly-informed people about plants, especially if they are not container gardening

I put the raspberry bush outside, still in that 5l pot. Its leaves turned white and then brown, and my aunt told me that it wasn’t a bush at all and I needed to separate the “canes”. So I dug it out and, stupidly, pulled the plant apart trying to save it, until I found out it was all attached and had one main stem beneath the soil. If it hadn’t already been dead I would lose a lot of sleep over this.

Cress on kitchen towel needs watering 3x daily

I was really excited about growing cress as it can be done indoors with no special know-how (allegedly). It’s aimed at children so how hard can it be, right? Wrong!

Cress dries out (like, the paper towel shrivels up and goes hard) about 2-3 times per day. It needs so much nannying and constant attention that it really only works if cress is the only baby in your life.

Unfortunately, I have a human baby to look after, so time after time my cress dried out and died. I got it to crop a grand total of once without it immediately drying out and dying, and that was scattered over soil, not on kitchen roll. I ate most of that. I haven’t really mastered cress or other microgreens very well.

Pick your veg when they are ready

I bought pea seeds that were advertised as ideal for container gardens. I planted 4 in a big pot and put them outside. They grew perfectly. I hadn’t counted on needing to stake them and so they grew sort of curly near the soil until I sorted that. They never got very tall, and I’d expected them to reach 2-3 feet (bearing in mind regular pea plants can easily reach 6-ish feet or 2 metres-ish). Pea pods grew and went fat and green but they were tiny. Maybe 4cm across.

I thought they were still growing, not quite understanding that dwarf plants mean dwarf crops. So I left them. They turned yellow then brown and died. I picked them at that point and even tried one. It was bitter and inedible. I should have picked them when they were ready instead of waiting for them to look like full-sized pea pods.

Echinacea doesn’t grow easily in Ireland

Echinacea is a coneflower native to North America. I wanted to grow it because when the pandemic hit, the shelves were emptied of echinacea tea by all the sensible people who know about its immune-boosting properties.

It is really hard to get it to grow in Ireland especially if you follow the instructions on the packet. It has taken me 8 attempts to get one to sprout, then it immediately died, and two more attempts to get one to live a month (and counting).

Don’t assume seeds will be easy to get next year

I also successfully grew chamomile, another of my favourite tea-herbs. I got a bumper crop in a 60cm trough, enough to last for months if I’d cut and dried it. When our rabbit Timmy died, we buried him in a hedge, and we planted the chamomile on his grave.

It’s always been a readily-available plant in the shops and online, it never occurred to me that would be the last time I’d see a packet of chamomile seeds. But it was. I would have brought the perennial plant to our new house if I’d had any idea about how hard it is to get chamomile in Ireland these days.

It’s okay if the soil goes moldy

The first time my propagator got a layer of white mold over the surface of the soil, my seeds (broccoli microgreens) hadn’t sprouted yet and I threw the lot away. The third time it happened, I left it alone and the seeds grew through fine.

Now I understand that if I’m covering a plant pot or propagator to keep seeds warm, it’s a fact of life that the soil will go moldy before the seeds sprout. I haven’t done anything wrong.

You will need more containers than you think

I couldn’t grow all the things I wanted to last year because there wasn’t enough space in the kitchen to start them off (I had nowhere else to do it), and even if there had been, there were no containers to put it all in. In the UK, all the garden centres got emptied of their stock las year due to fear of food shortages, and I was lucky to get three containers and two troughs but it wasn’t enough for all the seeds I was waiting to plant.

Small plant pots blow away in high winds

We had several big storms last year and every time, my smaller pots blew away and ended up either on next door’s drive, in the hedge, or completely AWOL. I lost two mint plants, a sunflower and two broccoli because one rowdy wind storm began overnight. The storm was so bad it actually brought the wall down next to where my plants were standing.

In the morning I had to walk around searching for my plants, putting them back into pots and sitting them on my storage bench again. A thyme plant sadly died from all of this. I’m not sure what the best answer is, but now in bad weather I move all my pots up against the house, using the bigger containers to form a protective palisade around the little ones.

The baby plants were indoors for longer than I expected

This one doesn’t apply if you buy everything ready-grown from a garden centre or nursery, but if you grow from seed, it will take 15-60 days for them to germinate, then they have to grow big and strong enough to go outside and the risk of frost must pass and some plants have to slowly acclimatise to outside over a series of days or weeks!

On average, plants started from seed lived in my kitchen for 2 months. This made it impossible to do successive planting and I’ve had the same issue this year (but less stressful as our house is double the size of the old one but places to put plants are still limited due to having a curious toddler on the loose).

Bonus tip: Cut microgreens and cress with scissors if you don’t want to eat soil/other weird stuff.

So that’s the twelve (actually 13) things I learned from container gardening last year. The plants were in my house much longer than I’d expected due to living so far north. That alone helped me plan my gardening for this year a lot more effectively.

Overall, last year’s experience with container gardening has made me a more resilient problem-solver when it comes to growing food. When I discovered in February that our new, huge back garden was a waterlogged heavy clay soil which was terrible for gardening, I wasn’t phased, and have switched to a raised bed and a bunch of containers for this year’s plants, because it was too late (and lockdown has closed down everything) to adjust the soil in time for this year’s growing season.

I think every gardener could benefit from learning how to do container gardening.

How to homeschool your children during lockdown 2.0

Are you trying to homeschool again during the new lockdown? One thing many people new to homeschooling worry about is how to get their children to do the homeschooling, especially when they have several children. Now it’s half-term, you might be able to take a few minutes to up your homeschooling game.

Part of the problem for why homeschooling is so chaotic right now is that teachers are used to only having one age group in their classroom, so even though they might be using different work for different groups, those groups are still learning the same topic. There will always be times when the whole class do things together, regardless of their abilities.

At home, unless you have twins or triplets, they are unlikely to be doing the same lesson, so you need to organise your home learning differently to how it’s done in the classroom.

The following is adapted from my new book Homeschooling 101: How to Homeschool in the UK available here on Amazon and free with Kindle Unlimited, which I co-wrote with the amazing Dr. Jason Szulc from Scientifica Now, who really knows his academic stuff!

First of all, don’t try to do everything all at once. Let’s say you have three children you want to work with. A teacher in a classroom can’t teach three lessons at the same time and neither can you. It’s not possible. So give two of the children a task that doesn’t require any direct teaching, such as colouring or a home exercise YouTube video, and get the third child on task.

My personal preference is to start explaining the work to the child who will need the least help, and move through your children to the one who will need the most help, so you can spend as much time as you need sitting with them and getting them on-task with their learning.

Another option is to get the middle children on-task first, then get the one who needs the least help to help you with the child who needs the most help getting started. This approach works when all your children are close in age and when the child needing the least help is older and more academically able than the others. It won’t work so well if the child who needs the least help is five and the one who needs the most help is twelve.

Sometimes the hardest part can be getting the children to sit down and listen to you. Patterns of behavior based on years and years of the way parents and children live together will make it hard to use the sort of behavior management that works in a teaching environment.

It makes sense that the parent-child relationship is very different from the teacher-child relationship. You are there when your child wakes up in the night with a nightmare. You’ve sat through fevers with them. Taken them to the doctors and held their hand.

Your bond with your child is completely different to the way your child relates to their teachers. And that’s how it should be. But it means that what works in a classroom won’t necessarily work at home to get the children to sit down and do their work. Especially given that home is where all their toys and games are. So cut yourself some slack, you’re asking things of your children that aren’t part of your usual parent-child relationship, and this can cause conflict or outright refusal.

Another issue with the current situation is that most teachers have never actually homeschooled their own children and don’t know how it is different. Naively, some teachers (and head teachers) seem to expect children to do exactly what they would do at school… but at home. This is unrealistic.

Homeschooling lessons should be shorter and more productive, because the children don’t have to wait for all the classroom crowd-control. Many homeschooling parents have said that their child gets through very little content at school compared to at home.

What some teachers don’t understand is that the children should be spending less time learning at home to achieve the same outcomes. Mass video calls with a whole class of children are very unproductive, yet this is what many have fallen back on. This is because they don’t know what else to do.

Many normally-homeschooling parents (parents whose children aren’t registered at a school) only do 2-3 hours of table learning (learning at a desk) a day! These are parents of children who go on to take exams and then get into university. The rest of the day is often learning things like cooking, gardening, going on bug hunts or drawing/painting.

Here are some tips to help you get your children into a learning head space:

  • Make space: Have a dedicated part of the house such as the dining room where you can do homeschooling. This helps your children know that when they are here, they do learning. This area ideally needs a table and chairs, which is why a dining area or dining room will work well.
  • Zero distractions: Eliminate as many distractions as possible. Turn off the TV. Switch off the Wi-Fi if you’re doing a learning task that doesn’t require it. Ask everyone to put their phones in the middle of the table or in another special place and only allow them at designated breaks (once everyone is in the habit of doing their schoolwork, you can allow them to use their phones to do research).
  • Make a plan: Studies have shown that children who have a clear idea of what to expect from the day are more productive. Think about it. If you know what someone wants you to do, it’s easier to organise yourself. Using a piece of paper or a planner pad, write down times for each task (don’t forget breaks) and leave this sheet where your child can see it. If they can’t tell the time yet, just write down the order of the day, e.g. “Maths, break, English, break, P.E., lunch…”
  • Take a break: Research shows children’s brains can pay attention to a task for about forty minutes before they lose focus. Plan ten- to fifteen-minute breaks for the children every forty minutes. During breaks, children should have the option of snacking/drinking as this helps concentration.
  • Make noises: Some children work best with music. Others work best in silence. If your children are struggling to focus, try either putting music on or turning it off. Typically, what works for one child won’t work for another. In that case, earphones are the way forward. You can even put white noise on YouTube and play that through earphones if it helps!
  • Experiment: If your children are struggling with this kind of setup, change it up! You are free to do anything with your homeschooling, so you could sit outside to work (in coats and hats in winter), or even completely change the type of learning you’re doing with your kids, there are ideas in my book for ways you can homeschool with an outdoor classroom environment.

Some children will thrive working in the same room as their brothers and sisters. Others will struggle. Some schools during the current lockdown are saying that children need to be working alone, but this is unrealistic (and not what happens at school). Other schools are saying children need to be wearing school uniform (what absolute nonsense). Schools have clearly gotten notions this time around.

If you are really stuck for things to do with your children, do check out my free printables which you can find on the resources page and my article on ideas for things your children can do with Lego.

Don’t be afraid to hire a tutor, either. The advantages of a tutor are that someone is with the child, checking they are working for set times in the day, as well as being there to answer questions. A tutor is an investment, so don’t go for the cheapest, go for one who has good reviews, their qualifications are verified, and most importantly, who works well with your child. If the first one you try isn’t the best fit, let them know ASAP (so they can update their schedule for their other clients), and get a different tutor!

It is far better to get through this new lockdown with your mental health and family relationships in tact than to do every single thing sent home from school. If you follow these tips, you will soon be homeschooling like a boss!

Homeschooling 101 is available on Amazon or get a free sample packed full of tips when you sign up to my newsletter (unsubscribe at any time). Do also check out my free resources.

If you have any questions let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.

10 Homeschooling ideas for Lego or Mega Bloks Construx

When you are homeschooling, sometimes you just want to give your child something to do, that doesn’t involve a screen, and to know they are learning something.

Lego/Mega Bloks Construx/other building products are perfect for this. Just buy a big bucket of blocks and use these ideas to keep your child busy and learning without any input (or minimum input) from you.

Younger children are very easily attracted to Lego, but even older children will find a challenge with some of the tasks you can set them using blocks that push together.

For older children, using Lego to express extremely complex ideas from the maths and science curriculum can help compound their learning, or you can use it as a starter to introduce a new topic.

I have also made a printable which you can print out, which is a deck of 21 things to build with Lego, for when you need a quick draw activity to instantly engage your child. You can download the free printable here.

You can also use the printable cards as a reward, e.g. if they have finished the work on another task, let them choose a card, as inspiration for something to build with Lego or Mega Bloks Construx.

Set them a challenge like building the tallest tower that doesn’t fall down using only yoghurt pots, then when you come back ask them how many yoghurt pots made the tallest tower and what might make the tower stand up better, then giving them time to try other ways to get the tower to stay up (glue, making the base out of three yoghurt pots and building up, etc).

Here are 10 activities your child can do with construction blocks such as Lego or Mega Bloks Construx that you could turn into an investigation or lesson (and which will give you time to teach your other children or make yourself a drink):

  1. What is the tallest tower you can build? You could use this to teach younger children about how buildings stay upright and, for older children, centre of mass and balance for GCSE physics.
  2. Put twelve blocks together. How many different ways can they split it evenly (two groups of 6, three groups of 4, four groups of 3, etc)? You could use this to introduce factors for a maths lesson.
  3. Put twenty blocks together. How many times can they split it in half? You could use this to introduce fractions for a maths lesson.
  4. Make one row that is one block, the next row is one, the next is two, three, five… each time get them to add together the last two numbers in the sequence to find the size of the next row. You could use this to introduce the Fibonacci sequence, an important number sequence that can be found in nature.
  5. Can you make a circle out of Lego, if you have enough bricks?
  6. Design a car. It has to be different to the last one your child made. Ask them to make it out of a different type of brick, or with different size wheels, or similar. You can then use the Lego car to test out physics questions (especially if they can make a ramp) such as friction (how much do they need to tilt the ramp before gravity allows it to roll down).
  7. Older children could make a 2-D Lego model of a plant or animal cell (or both) to compare the features of the two.
  8. Make a scene out of Lego, complete with minifigures, and use it as a creative writing prompt for your child.
  9. Make a balance beam with a long piece of Lego. The child can attach bricks at different distances and find out when the beam tilts. For example, one block, six studs away, should be able to be balanced with two blocks on the other side that is three studs away. You can use this to teach children from age 11 upwards (even through A-level if they need the reminder) about forces and distances from a pivot point (these are called moments).
  10. Using minifigures, look at their faces. They often have different expressions. Your child needs to write down what emotion each character is expressing, and describe their face (such as “eyebrows are close together and diagonal”, for frowning). This is especially good for children who are struggling to interpret emotions of the people around them. You could take this further by asking (for example) “why might this figure be angry?” Once the child has thought of something that makes them angry, you could move onto, “What could you do to make them feel better?”

There are thousands more things you can do with Lego, these are just a selection of things that I think would link closely to the national curriculum. Lego can be far more of a learning tool than the boxes imply. The best Lego to get for education is a bucket with a good mixture of lots of different shapes and sizes of Lego.

If you are using Mega Bloks Construx, these are compatible with Lego, but some other types of construction block don’t stick to Lego due to being very slightly too big or small. In my experience, Mega Bloks Construx don’t stick as tightly to Lego as other pieces of Lego do, but if you’re on a budget, they are definitely worth considering.

We have some of the bigger baby-size Mega Bloks and our little one loves them, although they are not compatible with Duplo (the next size up of Mega Bloks is, though). The plastic on the baby-sized ones is softer and I think he likes them because they are very chewable, perfect for teething babies. The baby-size Mega Bloks also have the advantage of being suitable from age 1 whereas Duplo is age 2+. When it comes to the smaller bricks, however, they are largely identical to Lego (the Construx range by Mega Bloks is for ages 5+) and there’s a thriving world of Mega Bloks Construx out there which you can discover.

Need some Lego? Get a big box here on UK Amazon or here on US Amazon (neither ships to Ireland but this smaller box does).

Lego, Duplo, Mega Bloks and Mega Bloks Construx are registered trademarks of their respective companies.

How to safely use essential oils in home-made soap (infographic)

Essential oils can cause harm if used incorrectly because they are potent substances. Putting the essential oil on the skin neat (undiluted, or straight from the bottle) causes irritation and can leave your skin burnt. The oil is diluted in soap to a rate of about 3% (average) which makes it less likely to cause irritation although some sensitive souls are still allergic to some essential oils even at this low concentration.

Check out the infographic and follow these tips to use essential oils safely in home made soap:

1. Buy from a reputable seller

This is the most fundamental first step. It’s not always easy to spot a fake, especially because they’re being sold online where you can’t inspect the product.

A clear bottle is a dead giveaway as genuine oils degrade in sunlight so have to be stored in dark bottles (amber is most common).

The label or online listing should tell you the Latin name. There are many oils with the same common name. If you can’t see the Latin name anywhere in the product listing, there’s a chance the oil isn’t the one you expect it to be, which will ruin your blend at best, and at worst, could cause skin irritation because you might use the wrong quantity.

The listing should always tell you the country of origin. For example, “French lavender” might say “Product of Hungary” at the bottom of the page. This would make it apparent that it wasn’t genuine French lavender from France.

Of course, real malicious fakers and counterfeiters would not honestly write “Made in Kevin’s backyard out of olive oil and artificial lavender fragrance” so the most important thing to weigh up is whether you believe the website you’re shopping on is genuine, or in the case of Amazon, whether the seller is genuine or not. Product reviews can very easily be manipulated so don’t rely on them alone. Soapmaking groups online can help warn you against scams and recommend genuine, reputable suppliers.

2. Always follow the recommended quantities

The FDA and EU both have guidelines about the amount of any fragrance (including natural essential oils) you can use in cosmetics. Usually this is somewhere between 1-5% depending on the oil and its potential toxicity. It’s very easy to want to use more essential oil when your soap hasn’t turned out very strong smelling, but there are other ways to solve this problem. Check out my article 10 ways to get the fragrance to show up in your soap.

3. Do not overheat (above 50 degrees) and ideally keep under 40 degrees (102F).

Overheating oil causes it to release free radicals as the oil’s fatty acid chains break up. Free radicals are carcinogenic as they contribute to cell oxidation. Overheating an oil is the fastest way to change it from safe to dangerous.

When an oil gets too hot, it also loses its fragrance, which is another great reason to take care over the temperature.

4. Do not eat!

This should be self-explanatory but some people do try and eat (or drink) essential oils. Unless they have been certified for food use and sold as such, it’s best not to risk it, especially when it comes to children. Just because something came from a plant, that doesn’t make it safe. All the traditional poisons of Greek tragedies were plant-based.

Conclusion:

Essential oils can be safe in soaps if you take care and follow some simple guidelines. If you need to check any information e.g. chemical compounds present in your essential oil or the maximum concentration for use in various cosmetics and soap making, contact the seller for the product safety documentation (or download it from their website if they’ve made this easy. The Soap Kitchen makes this very easy, as an example of best practice).

Sources:

Turek, C and Stintzing, F (2013) Stability of Essential Oils: A Review https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12006

Bejar, E. (2019) Adulteration of Oregano Herb and Essential Oil https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ezra_Bejar/publication/337113671_Adulteration_of_Oregano_Herb_and_Essential_Oil/links/5dc5cb74a6fdcc5750348535/Adulteration-of-Oregano-Herb-and-Essential-Oil.pdf

Check out my other articles about essential oils in soaps:

All about essential oils in melt and pour soap (and infographic)

How to get the essential oil scent to show up in soap

History of essential oils in soap

How to make soap: Everything you need to know to make soap even in a campervan.

Here’s a selection of my other articles about making home made cosmetics:

Vegan green tea shampoo bar recipe

Vegan hair conditioner bar recipe

One-ingredient avocado face mask recipe

Easy melt and pour breastmilk soap recipe

At-home DIY facial for new mamas!

DIY upcycled book caddy from a wine carrier

So I really wanted one of those gorgeous Ikea spice racks that Americans are transforming into book holders for children, but sadly, UK Ikea don’t sell the same spice racks. The ones in the US go for $6.99 and the nearest UK equivalent is £18.

That’s a pretty huge difference, when you consider that a British £1 is worth more than $1 USD. Like, they get the same thing for about £5 that we would have to pay £18 for.

Nope.

So I bought this wooden wine carrier from Hobbycraft. It was unfinished and I measured it. It’s the perfect size for the Gruffalo but about half a centimetre too small to fit any of the Charlie and Lola books in (boo). If Hobbycraft ever make these half a centimetre bigger, I’ll get another one and paint that instead.

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I painted the ends green and the middle red, using cheap acrylic paint from The Works (£2.99 for 6 different tubes of coloured paint) and cheap brushes, also from The Works.

They deliver.

I copied the frog picture from Jellyfish’s favourite bath sponge, a frog we have dubbed Mr. Ribbit. If you’re wondering, the frog sponge is here in a 2 pack.

It took two days to do the whole thing and I feel really proud because I am not very good at painting.

IMG_2044b

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I can see the frog could have been painted better (by someone other than me, with a steadier hand and better drawing ability) but overall I’m happy with how this turned out. The first thing Jellyfish did when he saw it was try to put it in his mouth so he definitely thinks it looks like his frog sponge.

I can’t wait to put books in it!

Have you made anything this week? Let me know in the comments.

French Programmes for Kids on Netflix

So after my last post I was asked by someone how I found French programmes in Netflix for our home language immersion for Jellyfish. Here is a list of all the ones I’ve found.

You can set up a new profile and change the language settings to French instead of English for that one profile. Otherwise, you can go into “audio and subtitles” from any show and change the audio or subtitle language, but many shows are not available in French.

You can do this with other languages, too, but I’ve noticed 90% of shows on Netflix are available in Spanish, a lot are in Portuguese and Polish, and quite a few are available in Arabic and German, but very few are in French so it took a bit of trawling but I’ve saved all of these to a list. I’ve listed their English names here where I recognize them, so you know what they are, and there’s a separate, smaller list below for teens:

TV shows for kids in French:

Octonauts

Word Party (la fête des mots)

Alvinnnnnn! and the Chipmunks (Alvinnnnn! et les chipmunks)

Les peregrinations d’Archibald (not sure what this is in English but it has a bee)

The adventures of Puss in Boots (Les aventures du chat potté)

Rabbids Invasion (Les lapins crétins)

Morphle

Cory Carson (Tut tut Cory Bolides)

Talia: Les temps des chansons (not sure what this is in English but it’s French-language nursery rhymes set to modern beats, a bit like Little Baby Bum)

Charlie’s Colorform City (Charlie au pays des Autocollants)

A series of unfortunate events (Les désastreuses aventures des orphelins Beaudelaire)

Glitter Force

King Julien (Roi Julien)

Peppa Pig

Yu-Gi-Oh

 

Films for kids in French:

Ponyo (Ponyo sur la falaise)

Howl’s Moving Castle (Le château ambulant)

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

My neighbour Totoro (mon voisin Totoro)

Princess Mononoke (Princesse Mononoké)

Spirited Away (le voyage de Chihiro)

Pup Academy: L’ecole secrete (not sure what this is called in English. Pup Academy: Secret school is the direct translation but I’ve never heard of it)

Duck, Duck, Goose (destination pékin)

White fang (croc blanc)

Tintin

Peter Rabbit

Madagascar

Pokémon: Mewtwo (Pokemon Mewtwo: contre attaque)

 

Movies and shows suitable for teens in French:

Easy A (Called Easy Girl in French)

Clueless

Gilmore Girls

The Crown

The Seven Deadly Sins

 

Hopefully that’s given you a good starting point and let me know in the comments if you have any others!

DIY No-Sew Montessori Toy

We’re starting a bit of Montessori right now, particularly in the way of getting Jellyfish to play with toys that show him how to sort, organize, or how things work. If you’ve looked into implementing Montessori in your playroom (or in our case, the square metre of floorspace in the living room where Jellyfish can play safely), you will know already that those toys are expensive. They are also not very versatile. So I am planning to make him some toys, and this is the first one I did.

I came across the idea of a posting toy, where it’s basically a cardboard box with a slot that kids can put objects in. Jellyfish isn’t really at that level, yet. So I flipped it around. Instead of posting things, he can pull them out. He loves opening things or taking them apart and he especially loves pulling all the tissues out of boxes if they’re left in his reach.

I originally thought play scarves could go into the box, but all the ones I’ve seen on Amazon are unreasonably expensive for what amounts to a few flimsy strips of fabric, and delivery is like end of June, by which time Jellyfish will be into something new, I’m sure. So I got an empty tissue box and some old baby vests that a) don’t fit him and b) have no other use. I can’t give these vests away because they are stained and no one wants stained second hand anything, and anyway the whole world is on lockdown so it’s hard to buy/sell/exchange preloved items.

tissue box toy3

Tissue box toy2

I cut the baby vests into squares. Pinking shears would have made a neater edge but we don’t have that luxury right now. Then I folded them into the tissue box so they would come back out again without him having to make much effort. It took like 5 minutes to make this toy so parenting effort = zero.

tissue box1

I have placed all the “tissues” inside the box and left it on his play mat. I can’t wait to see him playing with this in the morning! So they aren’t that filmy, flimsy scarf fabric that looks so shiny in all the baby sensory pics. I don’t know that he will care as long as he has a box full of things he can take apart. And in terms of sustainability, it has saved a tissue box and three stained baby vests from landfill. I am parenting like a boss tomorrow.

Full disclosure: Today was actually a total washout as Jellyfish has 5 teeth coming in and he is in a lot of pain and crying. Today was a TV day and I justified it by putting on Octonauts in French dub because that’s then educational, right? Yeah, you can change the language on Netflix via the subtitle menu and it alleviates my guilt. But tomorrow will be epic. And if not, there is wine. Which is also French and therefore educational.

What random things keep your baby entertained?

How to hit the ground running with homeschooling

So I may have designed and published a free course on homeschooling for anyone with kids. I know people aren’t *technically* homeschooling because they’re doing work sent home from school, but there isn’t a single word for what millions of parents are currently doing around the world and this course is for that.

Do your kids have a big pile of school work to do before the schools re-open? Want to know how to get them to do it, and what to do when they ask you for help with a subject you know nothing about? Trying to juggle kids and work during the lockdown?

I made a quick and FREE course on how you can hit the ground running with homeschooling, especially for busy parents whose schools have sent work home! https://mama-adventure.teachable.com/p/hit-the-ground-running-with-homeschooling/

You’re welcome. xxxx

Alternatives to toilet paper and baby wipes.

Okay so this post talks about… bathroom stuff. If that bothers you, now is the time to bail.

Still with me? Then you’re probably also out of toilet paper. At the moment it’s almost impossible to get toilet paper, baby wipes and kitchen roll around the world because scared people are stockpiling it.

Here’s some alternatives to consider (most of these are fine for use on babies too):

  1. Cotton roll soaked in water (DON’T FLUSH THIS, it has to go in the garbage).
  2. A personal hygiene bidet or perinatal bottle (it’s a bottle you fill and squirt it over your private parts to clean them). You’ll still want to pat dry but this might reduce TP usage especially if you have underlying health issues like IBS or hemorrhoids. Fill it with warm water and imagine you live in Japan. I bought 2 of these (one for my husband and one for me) and they arrived while I was writing this article.
  3. A towelling washcloth soaked in water (DON’T FLUSH THIS. You can wash it in the machine on a boil wash with some bleach then re-use).
  4. Newspaper (scratchy much? PLEASE DON’T FLUSH THIS EITHER).
  5. Grass or leaves. Hmmm…. I think I’ll try all the others first, haha.

Got any other alternatives to toilet paper that I haven’t covered? Let me know in the comments.

Are you also struggling to buy hand sanitizer? This post details 10 great alternatives (and 2 less great ones).

How to sanitize your hands when there is no hand sanitizer

A quick look on Amazon shows lots of hand sanitizer for sale, but let’s take a look at some of those reviews before discussing what REALLY works to sanitize your hands:

There’s a legit-looking bottle of “50ml” of hand sanitizer (doesn’t that sound like a lot… it’s not even 2oz) sold here and the reviews are claiming it’s not got any alcohol in, it’s a scam, and it’s $7 for a tiny bottle. Don’t buy this hand sanitizer but look at those reviews.

I personally wouldn’t buy hand sanitizer on Amazon right now because there’s so many scams involving fake products. I saw one that said they’d been sent a bottle of glue! Hand sanitizer is a relatively recent invention and before we had it, people were able to clean their hands.

Instead of getting scammed by things that won’t protect you from coronavirus, try these other ways to clean your hands:

  1. Soap and water. The absolute best way to keep clean is soap and water. I’ve talked before about how soap works in my article about micellar water. Basically, you don’t need fancy soap. Any soap will do. And you don’t need hot water (bacteria doesn’t start to die until a higher temperature than you would wash in).  It says a lot about people that you can buy plenty of soap on Amazon still.
  2. Liquid soap and a bottle of water. If you’re out and about, get a bottle of water with a sports cap. Rub liquid soap all over your hands, get all the areas, then wash it off by pouring water out of the bottle. This is the best way to clean your hands if you don’t have access to a faucet. No room in your bag for a bottle? Get one of these flat-folding reusable ones instead.
  3. Shower gel. We should all be washing a lot more now, so this Aveeno moisturizing shower gel (soap free) is a good choice.
  4. Bath bubbles. Guess what? Bath bubbles are identical to shower gel but usually more in a more concentrated form. This one has epsom salt, eucalyptus and spearmint in it.
  5. Shampoo. If you can’t get anything else to wash your hands in, a shampoo with LOTS of sulphates is what you want. Those sodium laureth sulphates we usually avoid putting on our hair are super-strong cleaning agents (which is why they can over-clean your hair and make it dry out). Herbal Essences smells really nice and is full of all the sulphates you can shake a stick at.
  6. Baby wipes. Choose a packet with soap infused into the wipe. One of these is basically a cloth covered in soap and water. As a first choice, soap and water, but baby wipes are a much better idea than those really dangerous “vodka and aloe vera” recipes which won’t be strong enough to be effective. Of course, buying wet wipes online is also nearly impossible right now because people are buying them as a toilet paper substitute, but you can probably get them more easily in a local supermarket depending on where you live and what deliveries are happening.
  7. Micellar water. I’ve said it before, but micelles are basically super-gentle soap. This will clean your hands better than fake hand sanitizer if you wash it off with water aftercovering your hands in it and rubbing it in like soap. You can even get it in teeny tiny bottles to carry around on the go.
  8. Micellar wipes. These are still readily available and will clean your hands.
  9. Dish soap (aka washing up liquid in the UK). This works exactly the same way as any other type of soap or saponified cleansing agent and is cheaper than some of the others, but selling out quickly.
  10. Laundry liquid. Another cleansing agent. Biological is best. Wash hands thoroughly.And if you don’t care if your hands flake/dry out/get dermatitis/burn:
  11. Bleach. Kills all known germs. Not recommended as it’s corrosive.
  12. Listerine. It contains alcohol and is designed to kill things that live in your mouth. As a kid, my mother always used to make me gargle with Listerine if I had a sore throat and it really did help.

Remember these things alone will NOT prevent you getting sick, but they can reduce your chances dramatically if you follow proper hygiene practice and handwashing technique.

Out of toilet paper? Check out my alternatives here!