Friday, 29 November 2013

Forget Black Friday, let's support Small Business Saturday

Today is Black Friday.

No, I had no idea what that meant either. Other than that a lot of big stores are holding one-day sales to encourage consumers to get started on their Christmas shopping. As with many fads being adopted here in the UK, such as Hallowe'en, Black Friday originates from America. Some believe it was the day when shops finally made it into the black. But it's a big day in the US as retailers lure in shoppers after the Thanksgiving celebrations.

The UK is now getting in on the act with many stores offering huge discounts to kick start the pre-Christmas spending spree.

But I'm trying to hold on to my principles and instead of being tempted by the huge offers around today, I'm keeping my purse closed tight, until tomorrow when I'll be embracing the UK's first Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday, held on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, aims to encourage people to support local, independent, small businesses across the UK and celebrate the contribution they make to our economy and local communities.

I'm really trying to shop as locally as possible this Christmas. Not always an easy task when the 6 year old and 3 year old are so attached to the Argos catalogue. But at least I know that most of the toys they have their eye on are also stocked in a local, independent toy shop.

I have started well and managed to score a couple of gifts at a local craft fair last Saturday. I am lucky to live in a town where we have a fairly wide range of independent traders, although Costa has recently, and slightly controversially, set up shop.

So tomorrow, I will start the day with a shopping date with my mum at Exeter's Westpoint Arena for the Exeter Christmas Shopping Fayre.

I then plan to head back into Teignmouth to visit some of the town's lovely gift shops, such as Turn of the Tide, Gallery 8, Poppadums Healthfoods, Shabby Chic Lane, and     The Fountain For Health. There is also a wide range of charity shops where I love to buy stocking filler books and toys for the children.

Of course, one of the biggest issues about Christmas shopping when you have small people in tow, is that it can be very difficult to buy what you see when they are with you. So I have no doubt I will resort to some online forays with the more established retailers at some point. After all, some offers are just to juicy for my thrifty self to resist.

But, oh, I will so try to be good this year and buy as locally as I can.

How will you support Small Business Saturday?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

What's your Christmas Tree Theme?

Decorating the Christmas Tree is one of the first traditions of the festive season as we prepare for the big day.

Recently, I discovered that instead of the chuck the decorations on and hope it balances out approach our family tends to take, many choose a theme or colour scheme. 

Well, that's if you believe the articles in home magazines where apparently your tree should match your decor.

I'd been quite cynical about this approach until I visited Roman Walk in Exeter's Princesshay. This year, Exeter has launched its first Christmas Tree Festival, which aims to raise awareness and funds for local charities. 

Each tree has a different look to represent the charity that has decorated it. Participating charities include the WESC Foundation, St Loye's Foundation, Dream-A-Way, Hospiscare, Force, Mind, British Heart Foundation, Action For Children, Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education and Devon Air Ambulance.

The trees are amazing with individual interpretations of each charity's work. Many use the colours of the decorations to reflect their organisation's branding. 

Which got me thinking: should I rethink my family's slapdash approach to tree decorating and do something that makes a statement about who we are?

And then I realised: our tree is who we are. The bottom heavy adornments reflect the height of the children. The decorations we use are not colour themed and bought specifically for this year, but are dragged down from the attic, bringing memories of past Christmases. The home-made decorations are a true representation of what each member of the family contributes to our life and remind us of the valuable part they play in our lives.

So, while a stage-managed Christmas Tree might look good on the pages of a magazine, my own, messy, thrown together, slightly shabby theme is one that shows a loving, devoted family that muddles through life together.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Autumn leaf art

One of the best things about autumn is the beautiful colours as the trees prepare to shed their foliage for a winter of hibernation.

I really wanted to share the joy of nature's very own firework display with my two youngest. 

So we set off to collect some of our favourite coloured leaves on a walk.

When we got home, we had a simple sticking session, using glue sticks and some black card, to make our striking autumn leaf pictures.

What do you think? What autumn crafts do you do with your pre-schoolers?

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Breastfeeding vouchers - an unlikely ceasefire in the breastfeeding battle.

Finally, breastfeeding and formula-feeding mothers appear to be united in their opinion of today's news about a scheme to offer financial rewards for breastfeeding for six months.

The NPRI-funded Nourishing Start for Health (NOSH) scheme is being piloted in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire in an attempt to increase the number of mothers breastfeeding and to lengthen the time they breastfeed for towards the World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommended six months of exclusive breastfeeding.

Usually, news and diktats about breastfeeding spark a hostile debate between the breastfeeding and formula camps, with those who mix feed increasingly confused as they play piggy in the middle. But this time, it's different.

Formula feeding mothers feel that this is yet another unfair penalty against them. While breastfeeding mothers feel aggrieved and patronised that they will receive money that might be better spent elsewhere, just for doing something they were doing anyway.

There are a myriad of reasons, including the financial incentive that breastfeeding is free and formula costs money, that impact on they way women feed their babies. It seems that this scheme will further  add to the guilt and distress already felt by many formula feeding mothers by addressing a symptom rather than a cause for low breastfeeding rates.

And how will the scheme's organisers check whether a mother really is still breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks and 6 months? Midwives and healthcare practitioners are already overstretched without physically checking that babies are still (exclusively?) breastfeeding. Would guilty mothers lie to get the money and skew the data?

So, women are finally united in their contempt for a scheme that bribes women to breastfeed. The money would surely be better spent addressing the numerous reasons why women don't or feel they can't breastfeed.

What about investing in an education campaign among mis-informed health care professionals who often sabotage breastfeeding in the early days by suggesting formula top ups or failing to diagnose tongue tie or thrush or mastitis? What about investing in more training for peer supporters? What about spending money on specialist lactation consultants? What about more breastfeeding-friendly businesses that can help normalise feeding in public? What about bringing UK law in line with the UNICEF/WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and clamping down on the unethical promotional practices of formula manufacturers who undermine women's breastfeeding? What about addressing the fact that formula-feeding permeates our culture, with anything relating to babies symbolised by a bottle? What about breastfeeding-friendly policies that help women breastfeed as they return to work - or even a longer paid maternity break to help women continue to breastfeed?

There are so many ways the UK can start to tackle the causes of low breastfeeding rates without resorting to a financial sticking plaster.

One good thing has come of this scheme - it has finally shown that no matter how women feed their infants, formula or breast, there is common ground in what is often a contentious issue. And the scheme has also done wonders to highlight the UK's poor breastfeeding rates and promote the need for more support to all mothers.

Would it be too much to hope for that this unified response could be harnessed to create a more supportive network of women that help each other and understand the challenges we all face, rather than vilify women who do not or cannot breastfeed?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

What do you get a 90-year old for her birthday?

On Sunday my husband's grandmother celebrated her 90th birthday.

I was in charge of buying her birthday present.

Now, I find buying gifts for the older generation something of a nightmare. They already have everything they need (and more). In fact, every time we visit, we are laden down with unwanted wares as they try to declutter. It is often more difficult for them to get out and about. Hobbies are pared down due to failing eyesight and difficulty with movement.

Plus, with a big, milestone birthday, you want to get something that's a bit extra special.

My first option was to get a framed print of all the big things that happened in 1923 along with a coin from that year. These are made by a lovely lady in Teignmouth who runs a business called Beadazzled. She has a store on eBay and also sells at local fairs and in a shop in Teignmouth called Gallery 8 (43 Teign Street TQ14 8EA). If you give her enough notice, she can personalise the print with the name of the recipient.

However, I was too late to order it in time. So I had to do a last minute dash to the shops.

Luckily, I work in Exeter, which has an array of amazing shops. I had a limited time in my lunchtime to get the perfect gift. And I struck gold in the first shop: Neal's Yard Remedies.

Now all women, no matter what their age, enjoy a good pampering session. Plus, Neal's Yard products are made with natural products, so are suitable for even quite sensitive, more mature skin. Their Pure Indulgence Organic Spa Collection gift, which costs £37 was perfect.

Nanna no longer takes a bath as, after two replacement hips (on each side), she finds it too difficult to get in and out. But the Aromatic Foaming Bath can also be used as a shower gel. The set also includes the bestselling, radiance boosting organic Wild Rose Beauty Balm, which boosts even the most tired skin. This is complemented by a Rose Body Cream. There is also a muslin cloth and a gorgeous smelling Organic Aromatherapy Candle, to really set the scene for some luxurious relaxation.

For me, the perfect gift is something you'd love to receive yourself. All I can say, is please don't wait for my 90th if you plan to get me the same!