The Mother’s Day book

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eco_empire_mothers_day-2

I’ve seen this idea somewhere on the internet and what a fantastic idea it is. Basically, if you’re a mother grab a journal and give it to your kids prior to Mother’s Day so they can decorate a page each year. When they’re older they might like to write you a note. If you’re not a mother, give it to your own mother – it’s never too late to start a tradition. Better yet, suggest it to the husband of a mother so he can surprise her with the very thoughtful new family ritual (it works for Father’s Day too of course).

This is the first year we’ll be starting the tradition. I let my three year old choose one for Mummy and Daddy. I think I might take a polaroid of myself with the kids and stick it in there too. I love the idea that instead of cards all these precious memories are kept in one journal and it’s certainly better than getting caught up in the all the mass marketed consumerism of the “you only love your mother if you buy her …” lie. All a Mum needs is to be reminded of what an amazing job she’s doing and how much her kids love her.

Quick, get out there and grab a journal ready for this Sunday!

eco_empire_mothers_day-1

Why every parent should join a toy library

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Want to save hundreds if not thousands of dollars? Want to save space in your home? Want to save the environment? Want to have less stress and happy children? Want to teach your children awesome values? Joining a toy library will do all these things and more!

toy library baby toys 2 (Large)

I don’t want this big chunk of plastic permanently at my house, but it’s a perfect toy to borrow from the toy library!

Children get bored. It’s as simple as that. Until now I’ve cycled through what few toys Everett had so he wouldn’t get sick of them (in other words, only having a few of his toys out at a time and then replacing them every week or two with his other toys). But lately I’ve been watching him get sick of his current toys and searching for more stimulating things and then once he’s figured out what he can do with the toy (or random object) he moves on. I’ve also watched him steer towards certain toys at playgroup and I could see that it was time to upgrade some of his toys. But we didn’t want to buy a big pile of toys that he could get sick of or grow out of in only a few months, even though I already tend to buy most things secondhand (Plus I’m on a challenge to limit (or cut) my child spending, you can read about that here). We also don’t have the space to store so many toys and the idea of buying all that plastic sent my environmentally conscious mind into a spin. This is when the toy library came into our lives. Kids will generally always have a few of their own toys (whether it be presents or hand-me-downs) but a toy library is a great way to supplement your existing collection.

carlisle victoria park toy library 4 (Large)

What is a toy library?

A toy library, generally supported by the local council or shire, is similar to a book library – you borrow toys and return them but for a small annual fee. They usually cost between $50 to $100 per year which is extremely affordable when you think of all the toys you won’t have to purchase. They are generally aimed at pre-school children (6 months to 6 years old) but may differ between libraries. The toy range available will also vary from each library, but most have baby toys, puzzles, games, musical instruments, electronic games, CD’s and DVD’s, puppets, costumes, water and sand toys, ride on toys, bikes, imaginative play (toy kitchens, prams, doll cots etc), trucks, blocks, electronic games, big outdoor toys like slides and see-saws and much more.  There is usually no restriction on what particular toys you can borrow either – you can borrow four bikes if you wanted to which is great for young interstate visitors and the like! Each library is different but most offer extra toy hire for a minimal fee which is great for parties and mothers groups. As most libraries are not-for-profit volunteer run organisations, as a member it is likely you will be expected to go on a roster to work at the toy library – though spending a few hours with your child at a toy library where they can roam free and play with all the visiting children is by no means a hard morning’s work!

So if I haven’t convinced you already, let me tell you some specific benefits of joining a toy library.

Save money

Well I think this one is obvious right? This isn’t about being cheap (though a toy library is an especially brilliant way to entertain kids on a tight budget) it’s about unnecessary spending. You just have to browse around a toy store to see how many toys are aimed at different age levels, skills, and even specific likes (i.e. dinosaurs vs trucks). You could go broke trying to satisfy each interest or skill! My toy library membership costs $60 a year, which equates to $1.15 a week. This membership allows me to borrow four toys every three weeks. You don’t have to be a genius to understand the value in that.

This could be your loungeroom!
Ok, a tad dramatic, but I seriously wonder how big your ‘pile’ could be if you never threw away a kids toy. This image is from an interesting art installation in Tokyo using unwanted toys. You can read more about it here.

Save the environment

I don’t have the exact statistics, but it’s easy to comprehend how many toys are being saved from landfill by simply sharing them. I’ve noticed lots of large plastic toys sitting on the verge for the council garbage collection lately, toys that were likely left outside to deteriorate and fade because their children only used them intermittently. Whilst I try to buy mainly wooden toys for Everett so they last (forever?) there is sometimes no avoiding plastic toys.

I had a chat with Luana, the President of the Carlisle/Victoria Park Toy Library in Perth (my new library), and she told me that there are some plastic toys that they have had for a long time and have really lasted the distance. They also try to only buy new toys that will last and will try to fix broken toys if possible. Even when a toy is broken (for example the musical sounds of an otherwise perfectly good toy) if the toy still has educational or imaginative play qualities they will keep it. Faults and missing pieces are simply registered on the specialised toy library catalogue system (thankfully computerised!).

Each toy has its own catalogue number for the library and is written on the toy.

Each toy has its own catalogue number for the library and is written on the toy.

Teach your children awesome values

By using a toy library we can teach our children (and ourselves) some amazing lifelong values. Firstly, how to consume less which in turn may make them less influenced by the marketing tactics of toy companies. They can learn the value of sharing and less possessive ownership behaviour. They can also learn how to appreciate things that are pre-loved or secondhand. I’m a firm believer that children are overwhelmed with too many toys, so using a toy library is a great way to limit their access. Aren’t these all great qualities to impart on our children from the beginning!

There is also a real sense of community, with as many as 100 families registered at our library (with multiple children). Mums and children will get to know each other on regular visits and when they work on the roster. Isn’t it great that children will learn how to socialise and volunteer at such a young age?

Better yet, a toy library means no-one is disadvantaged by financial or social constraints. Your child can have access to appropriate toys for their age and skill level. Most toys are aimed to cultivate developmental milestones and no child should be disadvantaged when it comes to learning!

Less Stress

The best thing about a toy library is you can let your child browse around and choose whatever they want! No scary price tags or tantrums, the children are free to choose without our influences (too expensive, not value for money, beyond their age group, afraid they might get sick of it quickly etc). And by the time your children get bored with it you can swap it for something new. Blissful!

Everett checking out the baby toys

Everett checking out the baby toys

Another selection of toys in our library.

Another selection of toys in our library.

Above are some pictures from my toy library, the Carlisle Victoria Park Toy Library. Considering there are up to 100 parents who have toys out on loan, it’s amazing to consider how many toys they have when you look at this packed storage space!

I would suggest joining the library as soon as your child is six months old (so long as your library caters to babies) it’s a great way to focus on different stages of their development without breaking the bank. The membership fees would also be an awesome gift from a friend or family member for the child, as it is literally the gift that keeps on giving!

I’ve only been to the library once so far but I can already see that we’ll be regular members for years to come. I honestly can’t think of a reason why any parent wouldn’t join a toy library. Can you?

I'm so glad I don't have to permanently store this big piece of plastic!

I’m so glad I don’t have to permanently store this big piece of plastic!

If you would like to read some facinating articles on toy libraries and their benefits and social impact you should check out these articles:

  • An article relating regarding Marketing Professor, Julie Ozanne’s, study on the impact on children of parents’ support and use of toy libraries. A report on the study can be read here.
  • An article in The Age about a reliance on toys to reward children could be damaging to their development.
  • An article on why fewer toys will benefit your child

Mothers Day for the non-consumerist

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Baked saffron pancakes with forest berries from http://www.greenkitchenstories.com

Blah I kinda hate Mothers Day. It used to be a cute day as a kid where you’d make your Mum a macaroni necklace, cook her breakfast in bed and just generally be well behaved and nice to her for a day. Oh how things have changed. TV is overrun with ‘Special Mothers Day Shopping’ advertisements along the lines of “Tell your Mum you love her….  with this 18 carot gold necklace”. Yeah right. Since when did buying something tell your Mum that you love her?

So I thought I’d share with you my family’s Mothers Day tradition…… BREAKFAST. Yep, it’s that simple. Nothing says ‘I love you’ than a wholesome homecooked meal. Our family all get together and my sister and I cook all the Mums (Aunts, Grandmas etc) a breakfast (or sometimes brunch) and generally celebrate the Mums and their awesomeness. For my Mum, having me cook her something delicious and gluten free is a real treat (you’re rarely catered for when you’re gluten intolerant!).

Some delicious food I’ve kept my eye on that might be cooked up this Sunday:

Unfortunately I miss out by only a few weeks on having my first Mothers Day. I’m still trying to figure out whether becoming a mother myself means my sister has to do everything next year? Hmmmm.

Gluten Free Wholegrain Strawberry Muffins from http://www.glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com.au

DIY This Valentines Day

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Valentines Day, albeit a great excuse to do something romantic with your loved one, has also become one of the most commercialised and NON-eco days of the year with pointless and unnecessary gift buying at its worse. It has almost made me boycot the day altogether…. if it weren’t for my love of all things DIY.

Don’t buy into the marketing hype that the only way to show your loved one that you love them is by spending money – on expensive gifts, flowers, stuffed toys or balloons – what has that got to do with love? For my partner and I, we’ve had a rule for the past six years that the only ‘gifts’ you can get each other are: (a) an experience (b) something you eat (c) something you made.

So this year, I’m going for (b) and (c). My partner LOVES his cookies so what better way to show him I love him than with some that are appropriately shaped?

Love Heart Cookies

This gift cost me $2 (for the heart shaped cookie cutter) and the ingredients for the cookies were already in my pantry.

I decided to go for gingerbread cookies, they’re easy to shape, easy to bake, great for decorating, and delicious!

I got my recipe from my old Junior Cookbook (of all places!) – but there are a ton of recipes on the internet. Decide what cookie you want to bake (or what your partner enjoys the most) and google it!

I went the typical love heart shaped cookies, but if your loved one prefers chocolate chip you won’t be able to shape these cookies. So instead consider spelling “I LOVE YOU” in choc chips (one letter per cookie)!

I decided that on top of the love heart cookies, I’d also spell out a little message for my partner. I just shaped the letters with a knife.

Not a baker?

Baking cookies isn’t for everyone, so here are some other great ideas that are straight from the heart and won’t cost the earth:

  • A super special homemade dinner (something your partner loves, or something you’ve always wanted to try).
  • Breakfast in bed is a beautiful way to wake your loved one up and a great excuse to eat a yummy breakfast together in bed (or in the kitchen if you’re partner is too clumsy!).
  • A loungeroom picnic where you put a picnic rug in the middle of your loungeroom and eat your dinner finger food style. Ofcourse you can always have a traditional picnic in your backyard too!
  • A surprise lunch at work – rock up at your partners office and take them out to lunch. Or if surprising them is too difficult, drop off a little handmade gift or love letter, it’s all about the surprise.

Yes, most of these ideas revolve around food at home. As Valentines Day more often than not, falls on a weekday, there isn’t much left to do after work than eat dinner. Plus I don’t know about you, but going to a restaurant full of gooey eyed, loved up strangers is a little off putting!

I hope you bake (or make) with love this Valentines Day!

Anti-consumerism and Christmas

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from the website: http://blog.ecohip.co.uk

The title of an ABC news article I read this morning was “Anti-consumerism is the new democracy” – it certainly piqued my interest (and thanks to WAste Not for bringing it to my attention). It discussed the case of the Kellogg’s workers who in the 1930’s chose to work less hours a day in order to spend more time at home with their families. They chose family life over more money. The less money you earn, the less money you spend. This article questioned whether this would work and if you earn less money, could you still enjoy life?

I recently, with the support of my partner, changed careers. Well, it wasn’t just about getting a new job as it was about getting a new lifestyle. I work in what we think is one of the first creative co-op agencies in Perth. I now work in an environment that encourages flexibility and a good work/life balance. We have the ability to work from home, drive to work after peak-hour, bring kids or pets to work, and generally it’s a far more relaxed atmosphere. There are no bosses, no politics, no bullshit. The only negative (if you could even call it that) is that I only get paid for the workload I receive, which means no more weekly salary. Starting this system is the hard part, and it meant I had to completely change the way I spent money. In fact, it meant in the beginning I had to flat out STOP spending money on anything other than the essentials (food, toiletries etc). Rather than it being something scary, it’s actually been refreshing.

So, when I saw this article titled “Anti-consumerism…” I was intrigued. Economists freak out at the idea of anti-consumerism, because our society is built around growth and consumption. Whilst I admire people who don’t buy anything new – there is still the need to buy some things. It’s what and who we buy them from that matters.

Here are some of the things that my partner and I have purchased in the last month:

  • Fruit & vegetables from a biodynamic farm (supporting a sustainable, local business)
  • Wood from a salvage yard (supporting a sustainable, local business)
  • Plants from Lullfitz Native Plants Nursery (supporting a sustainable, local business)
  • Body moisturiser from Sukin (supporting a sustainable, Australian business)
  • Face cleanser from Moo Goo (supporting a sustainable, Australian business)

You see where I’m going here.

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s a great time to sit back and think long and hard about what you are going to buy as gifts (that is, if you’re going to buy gifts at all). I have had some horrible Christmas shopping expeditions in the past where the pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone can cause unnecessary stress and overspending. One year, the year I spent the most money, everyone opened their presents at once and 10 seconds later it was all over. Was it really worth it?

No. It’s not worth it. Since then my family decided to set new rules. One year we didn’t buy any presents and instead all rented a beachside holiday house. We’ve also had wishlists and the infamous ‘Secret Santa’. It has never spoiled the essence of Christmas (which for me, is all about spending time with family and friends – and eating lots of yummy food!).

So here are my tips on avoiding unnecessary consumption:

  • Set a dollar limit with your family to ensure nobody unnecessarily overspends.
  • Get everyone to write their own ‘wishlist‘ so that you can all buy them presents that they actually want (and not something that will be thrown in the back of a cupboard).
  • Instead of presents, everyone chips in for something else, like a holiday or boardgames – or something fun like hiring a spa pool or an airhockey table.
  • Buy your presents from local or Australian made businesses. A great place to start is local markets.
  • Buy your presents from ethical/fairtrade stores (like The Oxfam Shop).
  • And most importantly, make sure you take your green eco-bags with you when you go shopping, to avoid bringing home plastic bags!

Do you think you could become less of a consumerist and more of a ‘smart shopper’? If you really want a good lesson then perhaps check out the new Buy Nothing New campaign starting this month for the first time, promoting to (you guessed it) buy nothing new for the whole month of October.

From the website:

Buy Nothing New is not about going without, nor is it Buy Nothing New Never.

It’s about taking October to reassess what we really need, think about where the stuff we buy comes from (finite resources), where it goes (landfill), and what our alternatives are.

It is about conscientious consumption and by not spending on stuff we don’t need, increasing our savings for the things we do need.

If you’re interested in changing your habits, give it a go. Even try it for a week. You’d be surprised how often you thoughtlessly buy things until you’re challenged not to!

So, do you think you could have an eco Christmas? The challenge starts now!