Parents – this could change your life

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Crying, screaming, biting, whining, throwing food, pulling hair, making a mess, answering back, swearing, screen battles, refusing to do homework or go to bed, taking drugs, not coming home. And that’s just me.

Oh yeah, parenting is full of challenges that will push you to your limits and beyond, making you feel that strange cocktail of love, anger, helplessness, fear and despair.

As the mum of an autistic child, I’ve also had to get used to the idea that parenthood isn’t always the straightforward, happy place I thought it would be when the lines on a stick first turned blue.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be great parents, and then wonder why we end up a version of ourselves that is hard to like – let alone inspire the kind of confiding intimacy with our children that we dreamt of.

And yet, we expect to be able to do all this without any help: The hardest job on the planet with zero salary and zero training. Back in the new-born days, many of us read baby manuals – these have been shown to reduce your confidence – the more baby books a mother reads, the more depressive symptoms and the lower self-confidence she reported. This insightful analysis of the baby industry is well worth a look.

Books can be amazing resources, but with raising small people they only get you so far before the perfectly formed theory hits messy reality. Once I’d realised the traditional methods of ‘threats and rewards’ are not only ineffective, but damaging to my relationship with my children, it felt like I was learning a new language – which is pretty hard to do on your own. I knew where I wanted to be, but couldn’t work out how to get there.

I decided to try a parenting coach instead – someone who could teach me the theory like a book would, but then take it to the next level and make it real and relevant to MY life and MY issues.

Andrea Rippon of Practical Parenting Skills runs courses in Parent Effectiveness Training. I was attracted by the ethos of honest communication, seeking understanding and shared problem solving that her approach encourages.

I soon discovered that the main premise behind it is instantly liberating – THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD BEHAVIOUR. What even when she kicks my head while I’m driving? Even when he gives that look he knows will make his sister explode? Yep. All behaviour is communication – it might not be the clearest form of communication but they are doing their best with the skills they have right now to meet their needs.

From this starting point, Andrea busts plenty of myths around parental consistency (get this YOU DON’T NEED TO BE CONSISTENT – adaptability is a far more useful skill), helps us explore which values we should hang on to from our own childhood (are those values truly serving you and your family) and guides us to speak to our children in a respectful way that engenders their respect towards us, even from the earliest age.

The true beauty of the sessions is giving yourself a space each week to think about how your family functions, and the chance to have personalised, targeted advice from Andrea. My group had a warm, sharing atmosphere where honesty was our currency and we supported each other to explore the relationships that matter to us more than any others.

We take courses in yoga or pottery and we get massages to sort out the sore spots in our bodies, yet so few of us seek the support to help us truly invest in our family. Not many courses are life-changing, but this one is.

I attended Andrea’s parenting course in exchange for honest feedback.

Andrea Rippon is a Certified Parent Educator and a mum of two teenagers.  She has been running Person Centred People Skills courses for 20 years.  She helps parents build strong, long-term relationships with their children by using these evidence-based communication skills.  Her next Open Programme  for parents, carers and grandparents, starts in Norwich.  She can also offer Parent Coaching by Skype.  She writes a regular Parenting Column for the Eastern Daily Press. 

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Wake up, Kick Ass, Period. #greenperiod #eco-friendly

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I have a pair of bright red big pants that are approximately 20 years old and have affectionately become known as my period pants. Like a beacon they brightly inform all and sundry (well, my husband) that it is that TOTM.

So I’m well accustomed to less than attractive lingerie options when necessary. I’m also fully apprised of the damage done to the environment by disposable sanitary products. As the Women’s Environmental Network states, women in the UK use an average of over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their reproductive lifetime.

I’ve written before about the damage done to marine environments by tampons being flushed and there is also the horrible fact that most sanitary products are predominantly plastic, which even in landfill will not biodegrade.

Not to mention the cost and the controversial tampon tax – we’re still paying it until at least April 2018.

So I am surely a perfect candidate for trying the new generation of period pants… yep, those that you wear with nothing else, with their built in absorbency, which are then washed and re-used…. Surely I’m totally fine with that?

Yet I am also a product of my generation. A ‘grumble about PMT and wanting chocolate’ is perfectly acceptable female bonding but we rarely discuss the detail of how we deal with actual blood in varying quantities. We are used to neat and discrete. We are used to peculiar fragranced products and adverts showing blue fluid.

I was sent a prototype of WUKA wear absorbent period pants – WUKA stands for Wake up, Kick Ass, Period.

I put them on with trepidation. The underwear is no worse looking than my dreaded red period pants although in a more muted navy. They are fuller coverage than ‘normal’, ‘sexy’ knickers but are sleek and comfortable and certainly not visible under tight jeans.

In fact, based on feedback from testers, the appearance and cut has been improved since the pair I tried, and they look like nice, sporty knickers with a higher leg line.

I tried them for a day and they were fine – they were definitely not going to leak. It is a big shift in behaviour to not change them half way through the day as you would a sanitary towel. But you know what, it is ok and still feels hygienic. They are anti-bacterial so won’t smell and were certainly very absorbent.

I realise my language is slightly tepid – ‘fine’, ‘ok’ but that is the reality. This doesn’t make my period go away or suddenly become incredible, it just makes it ok, something to forget about.

Washing them too, is ‘fine’. I’m not squeamish about giving the pants a little rinse before chucking them in the machine (although this rinse isn’t required) – at 40 degrees.

Then I had a breakthrough moment.

Period arrived one evening. Plenty of tampons but no towels. I don’t like wearing tampons at night so felt a bit glum. Then I recalled the Period Pants. They were not ‘fine’ or ‘ok’ they had become the Period Pants of Wonder (P-POW). It was with genuine excitement that I pulled them on and slept comfortably, realising that I don’t have to be a consumer and that with these, I am always prepared.

So here’s my verdict:

Daytime use: fine – they absorb four tampons worth so really are safe and secure. Some people may choose to wear them as a back-up for a tampon on heavy days or when your period might start but hasn’t yet, especially while you learn to trust them and shift  your perception of what you do at that TOTM.

Night-time use – Pants of Wonder, Pants of Joy. Comfortable, leak-free and always there for you.

Every woman should have a few pairs of these. They’ll save you money in the long run, protect the environment and stop you being a monthly slave to parting with money just to chuck it away. I’ll be buying more and using them in the day too now I’ve got used to the whole concept.

The project is still at the funding stage, with a Kickstarter campaign. Pledge here to support production of the undies and receive your pair of pants when they are made.

My pair of pants was sent to me to try for free by Ruby at Wuka wear in exchange for feedback that helped improve the product.

 

What’s brown and magic?

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It is beneath your feet and grows the food you eat, but as a society we take it for granted. The good old brown stuff, soil, is one of our unsung heroes. Trees and bees get all the attention – they are, let’s face it, rather more active and endearing than soil. However, it is time for soil to take its turn in the spotlight… Ladies and Gentlemen, today is #WorldSoilDay.

So we all know that soil is essential for food production, obvs, but don’t forget that plants are also grown to provide fibre for energy, clothing, medicines and animal feed. Not only that, but according to the Soil Association, soil also stores most of the world’s carbon (beat that, trees) and is home to an incredible amount of living organisms, such as invertebrates, bacteria and fungi. In fact, just one teaspoon of soil can contain as many micro-organisms as there are people on the planet.

Soil is also vital in its role as storing and filtering water. This means that it increases our resilience against floods as well as droughts.

As if that wasn’t enough, the good bacteria in soil are also beneficial for our health. Contact with soil makes us happier and smarter and explains why activities such as gardening can help with mental health.

That’s nice then. Thanks soil for being there. I’m off now to find some buzzy little bees to save… Bye…

Except, stop. Soil isn’t ‘just there’ a static, immovable constant in our lives. In fact, our soils are in danger. They are disappearing at a rate that is alarming for future generations, with 2.2 million tonnes being lost and degraded in the UK each year. This is caused by factors such as expanding cities, transport infrastructure and pollution – either industrial or through the inefficient use of fertilisers.

Not only that, but climate change may increase rates of loss if drier conditions make soils more vulnerable to wind erosion, or if intense rainfall washes soil away. It’s much harder to put it back than it is to look after it.

The Soil Association campaigns for better protection for soil, including supporting organic farming practices and promoting best practice. We can all do our bit for soil too.

Organic may be part of the solution, but it can be more costly. As an alternative, seek out the LEAF marque (a symbol of a leaf) which indicates that products have been grown sustainably.

Next, think about your own patch of soil and how you can look after it. If you have a garden, however tiny, then get composting. Leaves, cut grass, fruit and veg peelings and tea bags will all mulch together in perfect harmony in a compost heap or bin. You’ll end up with lovely rich organic matter to spread onto your flower beds and help make healthy soil.

Don’t buy peat-based compost either. This is a direct way of digging up special habitats and valuable carbon stores. The peat-free alternatives these days perform just as well.

It is most definitely brown and at first glance rather boring, but soil is the very stuff of life and it needs our love.

Foxes on tour – Lucy Jones’ Foxes Unearthed

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Foxes are personal for me. We go way back.  Foxes, real and imagined, are woven through the fabric of my childhood. The fictional foxes take the form of Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, the adorable cub jigsaw puzzle I completed over a hundred times, and tales of ‘blooding’ during hunt scenes in the old-fashioned pony books I read.

This was the backdrop against which I encountered real foxes. At night, we would go foxing.

To an onlooker, it would have appeared as if we were lamping – seeking to dazzle foxes with a bright light so as to shoot them. Not so. My Dad used to take us out in the Landrover and we would use the headlights to find foxes in the dark, which would freeze for a moment staring at us. We would enjoy watching them, becoming experts at spotting their reflective eyes.

You see, unlike many farmers, my father never shoots foxes and actively welcomes them on to the farm. Nevertheless, we’ve had many incidents of other people trespassing to kill them. My Dad with a dead fox in the back of his truck and tears in his eyes is not an uncommon scene. Someone detests foxes so much they aren’t even able to tolerate them on someone else’s land.

It is this love and hate juxtaposition that Lucy Jones explores in Foxes Unearthed, A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain.

Despite being a naturalist, and trying to read natural history books, I confess to finding them on occasions dry and lacking in ‘hook’. I was relieved to find that was not the case here. In common with my favourite nature writers, Melissa Harrison and Helen MacDonald, this book offers that personal voice that makes it all mean something to the reader, and roots it in a modern, human reality.

Well-presented facts and information are all very well, but it was the glimpses of Lucy, as if seen through trees, that really made this book work for me. Skilfully interweaved amongst fiction, fact and folklore, we learn about her relationship with foxes. She visits people who keep them as pets and, in a heart-stopping section, she joins hunt-saboteurs in the field.

This book conveys a deep love and respect for our natural world, whilst somehow managing to do justice to both the love and the loathing of foxes. Lucy is not pollyannaish about foxes – she recognises their wildness and their negatives, but she explains that most problems people encounter with them are due to human actions (eg hand feeding or poor poultry management), combined with the media’s desire to sensationalise and scandalise. Thus it is easy to believe we have ‘menaces’ and ‘dangerous predators’ growing in numbers and becoming more of a threat – when really there is no evidence for this. It simply makes a better headline.

I learnt a lot from this book. Highlights for me include discovering that a fox lived on the top level of the Shard and also that the average weight of a fox is approximately 6 kg. That’s the same as my (yes, ok, she is a bit tubby) pet cat. My local paper has yet to report on the ‘massive tabby terrorising the area.’

The language throughout is evocative and descriptive without sacrificing precision, concision or humour.

This is a subtle, richly-layered and deeply satisfying read, full of energy and enthusiasm. Those who enjoy fact and research will not find it lacking, whilst those, like me, who want a personal voice and thought-provoking incision with entertainment will storm through the pages… like a hunt through the countryside.

 

Thanks to Elliot & Thompson for supplying me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Foxes Unearthed was published on 16th March 2017 in paperback and is also available in hardback. Lucy’s blog tour continues over with BookishBeck.wordpress.com tomorrow.

No dirty secrets this Valentines

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Take your average supermarket rose. That bloom was probably grown thousands of miles away – Columbia and Ecuador are major exporters of cut flowers. The result is that your well-meaning bunch of flowers this Valentines comes with a significant carbon footprint.

Those pretty flowers have other dark secrets too. Many are not grown under Fairtrade agreements, meaning that workers may be exploited. The International Labor Rights Fund found that more than half of Ecuadorian and Colombian flower workers suffered work-related health problems such as eye and respiratory problems due to high uses of pesticides and fungicides. In high season, working weeks of over 70 hours were not unusual.

Your rose, when cut, is then doused in chemicals to keep it ‘fresh’ for the flight and wrapped in masses of plastic. It will arrive with you already a week old, with quite a past. All for something that’s sole purpose is to look pretty for a short while, to then end up in the compost.

Oddly, for a nation of gardeners, only 10% of the cut flowers sold here are actually grown in the UK. This is gradually changing, with more and more small scale producers entering the market. Cornwall is increasingly developing a flower production industry, but the East of England is blooming too, with Suffolk well known for roses and Colchester for its peonies.

The appeal of the vintage look has also led to natural flower arrangements growing in popularity for weddings, including wild flowers such as cow parsley, cornflowers, sunflowers, or apple blossom for a fresh, original ‘just picked from the hedgerow’ feel.

The success of Georgie Newbery’s book, ‘The Flower Farmer’s Year: How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit’ shows that there is an increasing interest in avoiding the shops by growing lots of beautiful flowers at home, or indeed setting up a small scale business. Many people who want to grow flowers have a target in mind, such as providing all the flowers needed for a family wedding or party.

With that traditional day of flower giving, Valentine’s Day, fast approaching, don’t give a bunch of roses with a dirty secret. Instead, choose British blooms from a local florist, or at the very least, seek Fairtrade roses. I’d far rather a bunch of cheery daffodils than imported roses (husband take note). And remember, British flowers last longer than imported ones, so whoever you are buying for, you’ll stay in their good books for longer.

KB, first published in the EDP and EADT

Win a copy of ‘Autumn: an anthology for the changing seasons.’

 

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Forget what the dates say, today is Officially the First Day of Autumn. Bye bye sun cream, hello anorak.

Nature has felt it coming for weeks now. The swallows are restless. Youngsters are testing their wings, growing stronger daily. A last-minute second brood is nearly ready to fledge. My children collect the blackberries, chestnuts and conkers with serious determination as if hibernation is impending.

I, meanwhile, have to fight that ‘bleurgh’ feeling I get when summer is over. A proper ‘back to school’ slump into a more indoors existence, when children argue and the television becomes more tempting. I love seasons and the sense of change, but this transition is a hard one for me. I am happiest when the swallows are here.

Still, I do know that autumn is beautiful and I try to immerse myself in its soft, muted glory. At least darkness now arrives on cue for the children’s bedtime, which certainly helps with settling them at a reasonable time.

Best of all, I’ve been curling up with Autumn: An anthology for the changing seasons, edited by Melissa Harrison. It’s a rich and varied collection of nature writing. You’ll find John Clare, Ted Hughes and Dylan Thomas alongside modern favourites and new discoveries; I’ve loved reading Helen Macdonald, Matt Gaw, Lucy McRobert and most fabulously of all, Jon Dunn’s moving tale of a chicken thief.

As you might expect, there are anthologies of Spring and Summer, and soon, sure as night follows day, Winter. They have all been produced thanks to a collaboration between the Wildlife Trusts and publishers Elliot & Thompson.

I am biased about loving it, for a short piece of my writing features alongside my nature writing idols.

It looks gorgeous too, perfect for gifts and very much one for the coffee table.

If you’d like to win a copy of the book, then share with me what you love about autumn on Twitter @Kateblincoe or in the comments below. I’ll put your ideas in a hat and my kids will pick one out to decide the winner on Thursday 6th October (entries by midnight). The book has kindly been provided by Elliot & Thompson.