Tag Archives: family

How to Fall in Love with Your Mountain Bike

She was called The Bobcat and it was 1985. My grandfather hauled her, all shiny and new – silver with neon lime and orange lettering – out of the back of his pickup truck and it was love at first sight. I rode The Bobcat up and down the dirt trails and backroads of Nova Scotia until about 1990 when I got too big for her and my mother gave her away to a neighbourhood kid. She was my first mountain bike.

Since then I’ve been a pretty avid cyclist – always mountain bikes. (I once tried using a street bike when we rented some in Amsterdam on holiday. It was embarrassing, I had no idea how to use a back brake and totally lost my temper.) But all through high school I cycled about 11 miles a day after school and I continued cycling until my mid 30’s when I moved to an area of London where my husband and I had 3 of our mountain bikes stolen in succession. So we gave up on owning bikes for a while and the only times since then I’ve cycled has been on holidays and trips to Canada where I could honestly spend days exploring the trails of Kejimkujik National Park. But now we live in a leafy, green suburb (still in London) and have just our daughter her first bike. So its time to get the family cycling again. Its something we’ve been thinking about since our trip to Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland last year. It was an amazing place to hike, but we’ve been itching to get back there on our bikes.

The key to learning to ride your mountain bike is to ease yourself into it. You can do this and you will love it. I promise. You will get on that bike and you will just want to cycle for miles. And the next day you will ache. Badly. So start slow. Make the process a gentle one. Maybe just ride through the local park or around your neighbourhood (around 1/2 mile) for the first day, then make it a full mile the next day, and slowly ease yourself into longer rides. Make sure you can easily do a 3-5 mile ride before you start taking on any trails and always start with the easy (green) trails. It goes without saying, but make sure you have your phone with you so you can call for help if you do have an accident whilst out on the trail. These are just a few basic starter tips based on my knowledge and experience cycling in Canada, the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and here in the UK. Helpfully, Halfords have published a beginner’s guide to cycling which includes a great list of cycling trails throughout the UK, and rather helpfully they are graded for difficulty.

Getting Started

You honestly don’t need a lot of fancy kit to get started.

Essentially, you need a good quality bike that is well suited to your height and build, some comfortable clothes (nothing too loose in the legs, so it won’t get caught up in the gears) and a safe helmet. I survived with only these items for a long time. When you have the right bike, it makes all the difference in the world, so its worth spending just that little bit more money to get a comfortable one with good quality gears and Shimano brakes. I’m on the shorter side at 5’4″ so I prefer lighter and smaller 27.5″ wheels on my bike, and these are great for winding trail routes, however someone taller might prefer 29″ wheels.

Over the years I have found that there are a few other bits and pieces that can be helpful to have and I’ve listed them below:

Bike & Helmet

Obviously you need the bike, and the helmet is a no-brainer in this day and age.

Cycling Gloves

If you’re a bit of a weenie, like me, you might find cycling gloves will help you avoid getting painful blisters and callous build up on the palms of your hands and on your fingers. If you fall they’ll also help protect your hands from getting grazed.

Mudguards

I’ve never NOT had mudguards on a mountain bike. Why would you not have them unless you like having a vertical line of heavy mud spatter up your back and in your hair.

Lights & Reflectors

If you plan to ride at night or in the evening, you’ll need some lights. I don’t ever ride at night so I don’t have these – just a set of front and back reflectors.

Glare-Free Wraparound Sunglasses

When you’re riding in the daytime you’ll want some glare-free sunglasses. I’ve always worn a pair of Oakley wraparounds that I only wear for climbing and cycling. Sadly they don’t make that model anymore, but there’s plenty of new brightly coloured models to choose from if you don’t mind rocking the Dog The Bounty Hunter look. Actually I’m joking (kind of) as there are loads of tasteful options to choose from and the optical laser quality testing that Oakley performs on their lenses is second to none. Eye health and good vision is incredibly important to me which is why I feel passionate about this topic. I found a YouTube video on it here if you have no idea what I’m talking about. However, if Oakley is out of your budget, there are definitely lots of more budget-friendly wraparound sunglasses on the market.

Visibility Jacket or Vest

In terms of clothing, I have over the years bought cycling shorts, cropped cycling leggings, long cycling leggings and special cycling jerseys. But honestly I don’t think that most of it is all that necessary unless you’re commuting long distances with your bike, on a cycling holiday or taking up cycling at a really serious level. (Technical clothing is helpful for wicking away sweat, and can be comfortable, but for novice riders, a pair of jersey leggings and a t-shirt will do just as well.) I do think, however, that a bright yellow visibility jacket or vest is really good to have because you want to be sure, even during the day, that cars can see you.

Water Bottle or Hydration Pack

I’ve always been a fan of the old fashioned water bottle stuck in a little wire holder which is attached to the frame of the bike, but you can get hydration packs which will hold a lot more water for longer rides. I am intrigued by these systems and may well make the investment at some point. Again, this is only something you need when you’re on a cycling holiday or out for whole day rides. Not necessary for a morning pedal through Wimbledon Common.

Make Some Memories

A GoPro. Because there is nothing your friends and family will love more than watching infinite replays of your 4 hour cycling trail video. Well, maybe not, but you know, I’m a bit of a camera bore myself, and when you’ve done an amazing ride and you come out of the forest to a glorious sunset view of a lake or canyon or a secret waterfall, I can promise you, you will enjoy having a secret replay of it just for yourself, come January when your bike is tucked away in the shed and there’s snow outside on the ground. So meanwhile, start making those memories. (And you don’t need a GoPro to do that!) Get outside, hop on your bike, whether its Kielder, Kejimkujik…or even just Wimbledon Common, and enjoy the summer while it lasts.

This post was sponsored by Halfords, the UK’s leading cycling retailer.

Travelling with Kids

I don’t write as much about travel as I would like to. I usually plan to do amazing YouTube travel videos which never get edited or posted and I take lots of photos which I think would be great here on the site…but rarely does a travel post I’ve planned or started ever materialise. Which is a shame, because my husband and I travel A LOT and we’ve learned tons about travelling with kids. So that’s what I am going to share with you today. (If you’d like some general zero waste travel tips, check out this post I wrote a couple years ago.)

1. Planning & booking your trip

My husband and I love planning our trips. We think about where we want to go and then read lots about it (not just Lonely Planet* guides, but relevant novels, poetry, historical literature, etc. about the area) and really draw the process out with a sort of childish delight. If you have no children you can spend hours doing this during weekly date nights, but if you have a child, like we do now, all I can say is good luck. (I’ve been trying to read a Costa Rica guide for like a year now.) Once you’ve decided where you want to go and when, try to find a child-free hour when you can book your trip with a clear head, free from distractions. Your flight schedule, free time from work and school, and accommodation availability all have to align and stupid mistakes are so easy to make at this stage. I’m not being patronising here, but this is one area where multi-tasking is fairly risky.

If you’ve booked a package holiday, life should be simple – you’ll get collected as per whatever arrangement your package holiday company has made and you get taken straight to your hotel. We do very little package holiday travel (although we have done so occasionally) and have found its not always the best when travelling with small kids.

Its easy to get lured into the belief that you’ll have loads of kids clubs to watch your kids all the time and you don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning. The reality is that unless your kids are older, they’re often too small for kids clubs and you end up having a screaming hot baby/toddler with you on the beach/poolside while everyone glares at you. When dinnertime comes you can either eat ridiculously early at 5 or 6 o’clock or wait until later and take your cranky/hyper kids with you to dinner at 7.30 or 8 and watch in horror as spaghetti is flung onto the lady at the next table (it happened). Or you can book a babysitter every night and have a peaceful dinner with your partner, but that gets pretty expensive pretty quickly. You’ll probably also be sharing a room with your kid(s) and bedtime can be just…um, awesome when you’re away from your usual environment and routines. Evenings with your partner will be spent huddled on the balcony, whispering and playing Uno whilst sneaking up all-inclusive cocktails from downstairs, and being extra quiet while your kid(s) try to get to sleep. But don’t worry, they’ll start getting used to the new routine just by the time you’re packing to leave and go home. So yeah, I’m not really recommending the package holiday that much. Maybe once they’re teenagers?

I do have one caveat to this. If you can afford to book a villa at a resort, you can get many of the advantages of having an apartment with a kitchenette and separate bedrooms, with the conveniences of being on a resort (including access to resort babysitters and kids clubs for older kids, etc). I’ve not done this, but my friend Katie swears by it and for her family of 4, its the preferred way to travel. Its definitely not an inexpensive way to go, but I wanted to share as many options as possible.

Another friend of mine travelled in a minivan from Glasgow to the Peloponnese with her husband and 3 children (all under age 6) and they stayed at a range of types of accommodation ranging from bizarre British guest houses to luxury spa resorts, but they enjoyed the private apartments and houses they rented the most. It gave them more freedom to enjoy their destination and a more relaxed experience while travelling with their young children.

Personally, I prefer independent travel because I happen to like going to local shops and markets and experimenting with the local foods, and in some small way, ‘living like a local’…or at least pretending to.

If you are doing independent travel (which is what we highly recommend when travelling with babies and smaller children), you can rent your own house or apartment with Airbnb. This can range from fairly basic and simple accommodation to extreme luxury. It provides all the reassurance of booking a hotel, but you get your own house or apartment wherever you want to be. This is great because you can keep your home schedule (nap times, meal times, etc…) with your children and you can make meals and packed lunches that you know they will eat and best of all you can pack your little ones off into their own beds before having a leisurely evening with your partner with the full run of the house/apartment and its garden, pool, hot tub, etc.

I’m not affiliated with Airbnb, but feel free to click here and you can save £25 or $31 off your first booking.

Make sure you read all the reviews for the Airbnb accommodation you’re considering. Make sure its suitable and safe for children. Often they will be able to provide travel cots so you don’t need to schlep one around with you – just make sure you check in advance if your hosts can provide this for you. You can even arrange for a cleaner to come in periodically at some properties, for an extra charge.

If your accommodation is fairly far away from the airport where you’ll be landing and your flight gets in late at night, it might be advisable to just book a hotel near the airport and crash that first night you get in and worry about picking up car rentals* or travelling long distances by car/train/boat the next morning. This is what we do. It keeps the continuity of domestic bliss – travel-related frustrations are a prime time trigger for spats and domestic arguments.


We like using Lonely Planet* guides when we travel, and highly recommend them for researching interesting things to do in the area where you plan to travel. Most libraries have them, so you don’t necessarily even need to buy them. Trip Advisor* can also be very helpful.

2. Packing

Pack Light – You’ll know best how to pack for your family and for what you plan to do when you get to your destination, but I do recommend that you pack fairly light. You’ll all usually end up wearing the same 3-4 outfits over and over and if you’re staying at an Airbnb you’ll likely have your own washing machine (and perhaps dryer) so you can wash your clothes as often as you need to.

Layering – Bring clothes you can layer. I’ve gone to ‘cold’ destinations to find I was boiling in an unseasonal heatwave and have gone to sunny destinations where it was colder than London (and I only had a beachy sort of wardrobe packed).

Two Pairs of shoes (max) – Keep shoes to a minimum. I often waste suitcase weight/space on shoes that we simply never end up wearing. You’ll have much better memories of your holiday if you and the kids all have comfortable shoes that keep your feet pain-free after lots of walking around and sight-seeing.

Compact Toiletries – I do travel with all the toiletries and make up I need, but my rule is that it all has to fit inside my size medium LL Bean toiletries bag. (As a former Vermonter, I do love my LL Bean!) My husband has one too for all his toiletries and shaving gear. I did lots of online research and read lots of reviews on these toiletries bags before deciding on this one. Some people have had theirs for 15 years plus and they are still in top shape. They also unzip and have a little built in hanger so you can hang them off a towel hook and keep everything tidy (and above toddler reach). I’ve recommended these to so many people, I should be getting a commission on these things! When my daughter gets older, she’ll get her own, but meanwhile she just shares with one of us because all she really has is a toothbrush, a tangle teaser, some Owie* for bumps and bruises (which you can order wholesale here), a couple of bandaids and a small bottle of Calpol (just in case).

By packing light, you’ll have room to bring all the things that really matter – enough eco-disposable or cloth nappies (if your little one is still in them) and any food items you know that you or your kids couldn’t do without. I’m vegan, so I always pack a few chocolate chip Cliff bars so I know that I have something protein-filled to snack on, some Ningxia Red* packets (to provide antioxidant support after the radiation exposure on the flight) and I also bring a small box of UHT plant based milk, for my tea/coffee on that first morning we are at our destination. My daughter is a huge fan of strawberry Yoyos, a natural version of a Fruit Rollup they sell here in the UK. They come in paper & card packaging so aren’t the most zero waste of snacks, but they aren’t too bad and they travel well in both hot and cold climates. This is also your chance to pack the ‘right shape of pasta’ or whatever your kid’s particular non-negotiable foible is. (For us, its porridge oats which are milled to our daughter’s exacting specifications – not too flaky, not too jumbo.) Don’t overdo it, but just be prepared.

3. Getting to the Airport

If you live in an urban area near your airport (and don’t have a kind family member to drop you off) its probably just easier to order a cab to collect you, but make sure its a very reputable firm you trust to show up on time. I’ve had local car companies let me down before. Companies which specialise in airport cars are more reliable in my experience and you can pre-pay for them. Give yourself more time at the airport than you think you will need – if you have an extra 45 minutes hanging out past security, big deal. Go to Starbucks or Pret (with your reusable cup) and have a coffee, or peruse the duty free shops. Whatever floats your boat. Its so much better to be a bit early.

You can also pre-book airport parking which is usually a really cheap option if you do it far enough in advance, but be aware that the transport vans which take you from the car park to the airport terminal are sometimes not too spacious (think tiny babies in bulky car seats) and don’t have safe booster seats for toddlers travelling – its a short distance, but still usually is about 10-15 minutes of driving from the offsite car park to the terminal and its often on a stretch of busy road.

If we have an early flight from Gatwick we pre-book an overnight at the Premier Inn at the North Terminal. (I’m not a budget hotel gal, but this chain is so so clean and comfortable in my experience.) They have a SleepParkFly package* which includes up to 15 nights of free parking when you stay overnight there (with free meet & greet parking upon your return), so the cost of staying over is negligible (often the whole package is cheaper than the standard car parking package) and your car is waiting for you at the airport when you get back. Check if your local airport budget hotel does something similar. For us its amazing waking up and simply walking our sleepy toddler across the zebra crossing to the airport entrance – no early morning panic.

There is also the option of taking public transport which I find is just all too much for me when throwing a child and luggage for three people into the mix. But if you know your public transport is reliable, there’s no planned delays or works on the line, and it will get you there quickly without too many changes – then go for it.

Oh yeah…and before you leave for the airport, just make sure you have your kid’s stroller packed. I’m not kidding…this has happened to us before and we ended up having to find a stroller rental shop at our destination.

4. Flying to your destination

This can be really hard, especially if you’re flying with your little one(s) on your own, as I often do. When my daughter was a baby, I’d simply nurse her during take off and she’d fall into a deep sleep which would last most of the flight. Now that she’s three, its a bit harder to keep her happy on long flights. Some kids seem to get locked in to the inflight entertainment or an iPad, but that can often frustrate my little one and it makes her edgy, cranky and eventually ends in total melt down. We’ve found that old school entertainment like magic painting books (only water required!), a few dinosaur toys,  and some crayons and colouring books work well. I don’t usually buy disposable literature, but its become a bit of a tradition (and a treat) for my daughter to get a Cebeebies magazine at the airport before each flight and it is worth every penny for the hours of entertainment it provides. It also includes a couple of toys which won’t induce a lifelong trauma when they inevitably get lost. (But if you know that the iPad will make your flight a harmonious one, then just go for it – just put it away when you get to your destination and don’t let it dominate the whole holiday.)

There won’t be any food served on budget airlines, so I usually go to Pret a Manger or Leon at the airport and stock up on some yummy sandwiches and snacks to keep everybody happy during the flight. I love starting my flight off with a coconut cappuccino!

If I’m really super organised I’ll have prepped a meal at home, at least for our daughter. I pack it in our eco-lunchbox which is also handy to have at our destination for making snack boxes to take down to the beach or on day trips. (Even if you’re staying at a hotel, you can load it up at the breakfast buffet to create a snack box for your toddler who will inevitably want to eat at the most inconvenient time imaginable.) Its never been something I consider a mistake to bring or a waste of space and it saves us a lot of money buying expensive, junky snack food while we’re out.

We also try to keep things reasonably zero waste, so I usually choose to have no in-flight meal for my daughter and myself (my husband always gets one) if its a flight under 7 hours. I find the amount of waste produced by in-flight meals really distressing and its not like the food is that great anyway. Just pack lots of yummy things from home supplemented by a few special treats picked up at the airport (if that’s your idea of a treat). My daughter loves the reassurance of having food that mommy has made and it makes the trip far more peaceful for her and for us. As long as any liquid or soupy consistency foods are kept under 100ml in containers which hold no more than 100ml maximum, you’ll be fine. Bring water bottles for everybody and fill them up at the filtered water fountain after you pass security. This way you won’t have to drink the plastic bottled water on the plane – at least until you exhaust your own supplies.

For babies drinking formula, you should be fine getting those past security. Be aware that you are entitled to bring a reasonable amount of formula to meet your baby’s requirements for the journey and the 100ml limit does not apply here. If you are travelling with a formula fed infant, you’ll find it far more comfortable to bring enough of your own supplies with you in your checked luggage rather than relying on buying formula at your destination. Babies can be so funny about tastes and brands and although the formulas being sold in other countries are likely to be safe and fine, you might not be able to read the ingredient list, and you’re really best off having an adequate supply of the product you know brought from your home country. For more details, check out this article from Hipp Organics which sets out all your rights and has some good advice.

When it comes to pumped breastmilk, you never know what stupidheads you might encounter though, and many a mama has had to dump her precious stash. Although the rules vary from country to country, in the UK, US and Canada you are entitled to pack breastmilk in your hand luggage. Here are the UK, US and Canadian rules for travelling with pumped breastmilk in your hand luggage, as they vary on quantities allowed and how the milk will be screened by security.

5. Once you get there

If you’ve gone for the Airbnb or private home rental route rather than a resort or hotel, sometimes your host will meet you at the property, but most hosts simply install a key safe and will email you the necessary security codes to access the keys. (Write these down somewhere just in case your phone battery dies or you lose your phone.) Your little one(s) might be exhausted when they get to the property (or hyper and overtired). It might be a good idea to encourage a nap or some quiet down-time while you unpack and get yourself situated into the property.

This is a good opportunity to look at the information folder your host will have left you and see if there is a local supermarket they recommend. Otherwise, you should be able to find one on Google. Personally, I love grocery shopping in foreign countries, seeing what the local foods are like and trying all the local vegan brands. I always pack a couple of lightweight reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags in case we’re lucky enough to come a farmers market.

We don’t like to over-schedule or over-plan when travelling with young children. Its actually no fun for anyone if you try to cram too many activities into each day, as you’ll end up dragging screaming, overtired children out of museums or attractions you’ve spent a fortune to see. But you also don’t want to find you’ve left your destination without having done any of the activities or having seen any of the sights you wanted to. We sketch out a rough schedule (we’re talking back of an envelope here) of the things we want to do and build in a few relaxation days or unplanned days. This allows for spontaneity and in the mornings we can wake up and check the weather before deciding to spend the day at the beach or going on a hike or seeing a cultural site. You definitely can do all these things with kids, but just don’t push it. Remember its their holiday too. We always plan in a special day of stuff just for our daughter, even on short breaks. It often ends up being our favourite day of the holiday.

Let snacktimes and mealtimes happen as usual – pack enough food, snacks and water for yourself and the kids for day trips or outings and if it looks like the kiddos are getting sleepy, try to allow time for a bit of a snooze – in the buggy, on a picnic blanket in the shade after lunch or in the car while you’re driving. Remember, they’re little, and seeing all new things and their little brains are working hard assimilating a lot of new information and maybe even hearing a new language. They deserve a little down time and you’ll probably even find its good for you too.

There are a couple of affiliate links here to help support me keeping this blog going.  They’re marked with an asterisk  By using my affiliate links you don’t pay any more and I get a small commission. I’ve also included an Airbnb discount code for you, but most of the links are just stuff I wanted to help guide you to find easily.  Nothing is sponsored, gifted or guided by a particular brand’s influence – its all just stuff I like and use.  



 

Essential Tips for First Time Hiking With Your Kids

This week, Zara Lewis, blogger,  mother of 2 and regular contributor to High Style Life joins us for a guest post on essential tips for hiking with children.

As a person in love with hiking, it was one of my greatest fears that once I had kids I would have to forget about my passion. Luckily, it wasn’t the case; my kids love hiking adventures and nature as much as I do, and our hiking trips have been a great source of joy for all of us. Of course, some things had to change, and I have adapted and adjusted so that all of us can have fun but still be responsible.

picmonkey_image

Be practical with your food

I remember back when I was a kid how my mother always packed just bare necessities in my backpack and I was devastated because I wanted chocolate and sodas like other kids. However, once I became a mother myself I discovered that my mother was right: you do not need a ton of sweets, but rather practical and nutritious foods to keep you strong. I always pack healthy sandwiches, my own protein bars, and plenty of nice fruit: apples, pears, and peaches. This way I am sure my kids are eating healthy food without sugar and additives, and most importantly: we never leave candy bar wrappers or any other sort of garbage behind.

It can rain anytime

Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way. After a couple of our hiking trips ended abruptly because of light rain that started falling suddenly, it became a custom of ours to pack light raincoats in our hiking backpacks. These do not take too much space, but are wonderful protection from the elements. We would end our walks suddenly even if it was just light rain, but now we just take our raincoats out and keep walking for as long as we want. Pro tip: you can even use raincoats instead of tablecloths when having a picnic, since they are water-resistant and a million times easier to clean afterwards.

ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR HIKING WITH KIDS 2

Thorough examination afterwards

Always carry hand sanitizer with you when going for a hike, but when you get home that is when the real battle starts. Remove all of your clothes and examine your body to see if you have any ticks or other possibly dangerous insect bites on your body. Do it for your kids too, and then use a natural cleanser to remove all the dirt from your hands, face, and body. Your face is putting up with a lot during your hikes, and it is important to wear a protective hat and apply sunscreen so you don’t get a sunburn. You can apply a face mask made of baking soda and activated charcoal to remove sweat and dirt particles from your pores.

Stretching and relaxing

Kids will probably want to run like crazy all the time, and that is fine. They are young and restless and they should spend their energy like that. As for you, try not to push yourself too much, choose a nice easy tempo and stick to it so you don’t pull a muscle or hurt yourself. You can even take a short break from time to time and stretch so your body can relax. What is more, there are some easy stretches you should do before you set out on your hiking adventure; this way your body will prepare and warm up so your hike will not be as difficult as you thought it would be.

Time spent with my family away from the city crowd is truly a blessing: we watch birds, learn about different plants and animals, and experience the seasons much more intensely than we would in the city. We are used to fresh air, the chirping of birds, eating while sitting on the grass, and the smell of earth after rain. Don’t be afraid to take your kids out for a hike; it is a beautiful experience which all of your family will enjoy.

Real Food Organic Groceries on a Budget

We’re a family of 3 living on a single income and that’s not always easy when you don’t eat processed or GMO foods and try to buy mostly organic.  But, you know, it can be done.

I do a video each month on my YouTube channel showing what I’ve received in my real food organic grocery order (and yes…the odd pizza might sneak its way in there!).  My grocery order has to accommodate myself (pescatarian and mostly gluten-free), my husband (full on meat eater) and our baby (can’t decide what she likes/doesn’t like from one week to the next!) as well as our dog.

We budget around £45-£75 per week (depending on whether its a ‘big shop’ or not) and I’ll let you know how we do it in 3 easy ways.

1. Meal Planning

This is the most important thing I do to save money and still buy the food I want to buy for my family.  There are many ways to meal plan.  There are meal planning services you can use for only a few dollars/pounds a month and this is great when you’re short on time.  If you can find 15 spare minutes per week though, you don’t need to use a service.  I’ll tell you how I do it.  I have a Pinterest account and keep a folder of favourite family meals that are tried and true.  If I’m short on time, I’ll choose 5 or 6 at random, check the ingredients list and add the required items to my grocery list.

2. Online Shopping

This isn’t an option for everyone, as not all areas offer online shopping, but if you are able to do this, I highly recommend it as it helps in avoiding making any ‘impulse buys’.  I just go online, stick to my list and check out.  A lot of grocery stores have delivery plans which are just a few £££’s a month you can do unlimited grocery orders without additional delivery charges.  I find I’m able to get the best variety of real food products and organic groceries at Ocado and if you’re a new customer, they’ll offer you £20 off your first online grocery shop (email me at ourlittleorganiclifeblog@gmail.com for your voucher).

3. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Box or Organic Delivery Box

Many rural areas run CSA schemes which support local farmers and are great value.  You will have to meal plan according to what’s in your box – so sort of reverse meal planning.  There are also non CSA style organic delivery boxes here in the UK such as Abel & Cole and Riverford Organics.  I get my organic fruit, veg & salad box with my Ocado order from a company called Wholegood.  Their fruit and veg are really good quality and they’re very generous with the volume of produce in their boxes.  They also let you know what you’ll be receiving in your box a couple of weeks in advance, which is helpful for meal planning.

Baby Essentials: What to Have Before Baby Arrives

Having your first baby is a bit like getting married.  The minute its obvious that you’re pregnant, sales clerks see pound signs in neon lights on your forehead.  There are so many things to buy.  All of them designed to make your baby smarter, better, faster, happier, cuter…and with a rounder head.  And very little of it do you actually need.  But when you tell the sales clerk you’re looking to buy organic, environmentally responsible products…well, weirdo.  Sadly, I suspect that those of us looking to buy natural products for their babies are in the minority, because even the big ‘healthy living’ stores like Planet Organic and Wholefoods have very little to offer aside from nappies and baby skincare.

As I’ve recently had a baby, and have gone through all the trouble of tracking down these products for my own use, I thought it might be helpful to share my list of essential items to have prepared at home for when your baby arrives.  You can get most of these things from Amazon or John Lewis. However, if there are local eco stores in your town, I would encourage you to shop there…or better yet, see if you have friends and family who could lend you or give you hand-me-downs of the following items. So many of these items are used for such a short time, and not all can be found in environmentally friendly versions or at least in effective environmentally friendly versions.

As a blanket statement, when buying new cotton items, I prefer to buy organic, but if you’re getting non-organic hand me downs or gifts, don’t sweat it and just use those.  Why buy organic?  Because cotton production is responsible for 25% of the world’s insecticide use and 10% of its pesticide use, with those pesticides being amongst the most hazardous and carcinogenic.  Not only do you not want any of that residue against baby’s skin, its just more environmentally responsible.

Your hospital bag and your baby’s hospital bag

I will be doing a separate post on this, but make sure that you have two bags ready to pack.  Its much easier to keep your things separate from baby’s things.  This is so your things can be easily accessed during labour and you’ll only need access to baby’s things once he or she is born.  Your bag should be a small suitcase or duffle bag and baby’s bag can be your nappy/diaper changing bag.  My husband bought me this Skip Hop changing bag for Christmas before the baby was born and it was perfect to have in hospital, and continues to be useful to this day for its original purpose as a changing bag.

A Carrier

When it comes to wraps, its probably best to go to a sling library if there’s one near you to try them out.  They just weren’t for me.  But a fitted carrier was perfect for us.  You can get this Ergobaby carrier we used to carry our daughter when hiking in Italy.  Edit:  We loved it so much, we even bought the doll version for our daughter to carry her ‘baby’ around in now!

Something to Sleep In

I know plenty of people who used an empty drawer as baby’s bed for the first few months of their lives.  And others who chose to co-sleep.  But…I wasn’t about to put my baby in an empty drawer.  And despite being a natural mama, I just wasn’t comfortable with the risks associated with co-sleeping (even with safe co-sleeping guidance).  We were given a Moses basket and I found it useful having her in the basket right beside my bed to pick her up for comforting and late night feedings.  I liked that it was made from renewable resources and would easily biodegrade once it had reached the end of its lifespan.  I found the Moses basket to be convenient, safe, easy to move around the house and inexpensive.  Only you will know how long your baby needs to be sleeping in your bedroom with you, but the Moses basket will contain them for roughly 3-6 months before they outgrow it and need to go into a cot (unless you are a long-term co-sleeper).  To go with the Moses basket, you will need a mattress, fitted sheets and ideally a stand or rocker base.

I’ve included links below to a plain, undressed palm basket (the same one we had), a natural mattress to fit it and the same rocker base we had.

You may be able to live without the rocker base or stand…but your lumbar region may not, so give it some consideration.

Two fitted sheets should be enough.  I recommend organic cotton jersey sheets.  The jersey is soft and doesn’t need to be ironed.  There are organic waterproof mattress protectors for Moses baskets, but unless your mattress isn’t already waterproof, as most are, you won’t need one of these.

Cellular Blanket

You will be given many, many blankets as presents.  Some for the cot, some for the pram.  But just in case these don’t appear until after baby is born, its best to ensure you have one in the house ready to cover your baby in their Moses basket and/or pram.  Cellular blankets are made with a loose weave so if the blanket goes over baby’s face, they should still be able to get air and will be less likely to overheat which is associated with cot death.  The cellular blanket in the link below is made from organic and unbleached cotton.

Muslin Squares

Prepare to spend the next six months of your life mopping up poo, wee, vomit and drool.  You will get used to it.  These muslin squares were recommended to me by every parent I know.  And they were right.  They serve as burp cloths, drool catchers, towels, napkins, baby wipes…you name it.  Its best to buy around 20-24 of these.  Cotton is good, but bamboo is far more absorbent and the ones below are made from organic bamboo.

A Tippitoes Bath & Sponge

I am recommending this product specifically by brand as it has a raised section in the base and anti-slip back rest that helps babies feel supported and safe.  Everyone told me to not bother getting a baby bath as you can wash them in a sink or the dish pan.  This was bad advice!  I did this for the first few weeks and consequently my little one hated bath time and screamed her way through – first in the dishpan (which was awkward) and then in the sink (which was uncomfortable for both of us)…until my friend lent me her son’s Tippitoes bath that he’d outgrown.  Bath time instantly became fun, for both baby and me.  She felt supported and safe and I was able to have more fun with her as she splashed around and giggled.  More practically, I could finally wash her more easily with the sea sponge now that I wasn’t having to hold her in place.  This product is not natural.  It is plastic and it is expensive-ish for what it is at around £13.99.  However, they can be found second hand on eBay and if you choose to buy one new, the resale value on eBay is very good, so you can pass it on to the next person.  Don’t bother buying any baby toiletries as they are too harsh for baby’s newborn skin and you won’t need them until later down the road.  Even now at 4 months, I still only use coconut oil with a single drop of lavender or chamomile essential oil to wash my baby.

     

Baby Towels

Your baby will need a couple of hooded towels for after bath time.  Lots of shops recommend Cuddledry apron towels which do look really cozy and they are organic.  If you can afford them at £29.99 each, great.  However we just bought very simple, hooded baby towels which we use for bath time and now that our baby is older, we can take them to the pool too.

Water Wipes

There are some wonderful ways to make your own reusable baby wipes at home and someday I’ll provide links to the YouTube videos I’ve found useful.  Even if you already plan on using reusable wipes, you will want to make your life easier when baby comes – just for the first couple of weeks – by using Water Wipes.  The olive oil and cotton wool combo recommended by the hospital is just really messy and you cannot use conventional baby wipes on a newborn – nor would I want to do so at any stage (have you seen the ingredients in those things???) – but Water Wipes are 99.9% water and .1% fruit extract, so they’re very gentle on baby’s skin and they do an excellent job of cleaning even sticky meconium.  I order them by the case at home and keep them at the baby’s changing station and in my changing bag.

Nappies

You’ll need to have some disposables packed away in your baby’s hospital bag anyway, so just go ahead and buy a pack of eco-friendly disposables.  We are a cloth nappy household and I would encourage anybody else to do the same.  Modern cloth nappies are effective and just as easy to use and maintain as disposables.  But for the same reasons as recommending the Water Wipes, you’ll want to make life with a newborn as easy as possible for those first couple of weeks.  Out of the natural brands of nappies, we found the Swedish brand Naty, available here in the UK, worked the best for us and our friends.  They are made from GMO-free corn, are biodegradable and don’t contain the chemicals found in conventional brands such as Huggies and Pampers.  We also tried Beaming Baby Biodegradable Nappies but found them to be consistently very leaky.  I’ve heard good things about Bambo Nature Nappies, but I’ve not tried them yet.  Edit: I have now tried the Bambo nappies and they are great as well.  We still buy the eco-friendly disposables for longer outings away from home so I recommend finding one that works for you.  That being said, I would discourage anyone from buying conventional disposable nappies.  The average baby will create around 2 tons of nappy waste in their lifetime and this will take a minimum of 500 years to degrade away in landfills, so please do give cloth nappies or at least eco-friendly disposables a try.

US Shoppers can try Bambo Nature  diapers here:                 4ba8ce735ed7a9eb1b005de33be73f92ae0a94b7When and if you are ready to try cloth nappies, remember that every baby is a different shape so different cuts or brands may fit them best.  I learned the hard way that you also get what you pay for with cloth nappies.  Also, if you buy ‘one size fits all’ nappies or nappies that are too big for your newborn, you will get lots of leaks and you’ll be put off the whole idea of using cloth.  For us, AppleCheeks and FuzziBunz® brands were, and continue to be, the best.

If you want to cloth diaper from birth then I would recommend Fuzzibunz because they offer an x-small nappy (4-12 lbs) whereas AppleCheeks size 1 only starts at 7 lbs.  That was fine for our big baby but if you know that yours might be a bit more on the tiny size, then Fuzzibunz may be the way to go.  You can also buy your cloth nappies second hand.  eBay has now banned this practice on their site, but there are lots of Facebook groups where you can buy and sell second hand cloth nappies.  Its not as gross as it sounds and its a cheap way of trying out different brands.

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Footed Sleepsuits/Onesies

You know that cute little Ralph Lauren mini version of Daddy’s sweater vest and khakis ensemble or the adorable Bonpoint dress with cashmere cardigan you’ve already bought your bump?  Yeah, they won’t wear it.  I mean you might get it on them for a photograph and for meeting the grandparents or something, but your newborn will be much happier in sleepsuits.  And you’ll be happier having them in sleepsuits because they’re so freakin’ easy to get on and off.  No ironing of tiny miniature pleats or ruffles.  Again, I recommend organic and buy a few newborn sized ones, if you can find them.  They won’t be wearing them for long but even if you have a big baby, you’ll still get a couple of months’ use out of them.  You can then either save them for the next baby, donate them to a charity shop, eBay them or sell them on one of the plethora of specialist organic baby clothes buy & sell groups on Facebook.

I say ‘footed’ sleepsuits so you don’t have to use those horrible little newborn socks that don’t stay on and will just clog up the filters on your washing machine.  Its the same for scratch mitts.  If you can find a sleepsuit with built in scratch mitts, you’ll appreciate it so their little talons aren’t ripping apart both you and them.  (Tip:  If you insist on using newborn socks and scratch mitts, wash them in a lingerie bag so they can’t get into the nooks and crannies…and filters and mechanisms…of your machine.)

Unfortunately when my baby was born, I couldn’t find any organic sleepsuits in newborn size, so we used a combination of second hand normal cotton sleepsuits in newborn size and some 0-3 month organic Toby Tiger sleepsuits.  I have now found that L’ovedBaby make newborn sized sleepsuits and sleepgowns.

          

Bodysuits

Have around 3 to 5 or so of these on hand before baby arrives in newborn size.  If your baby is born during the colder part of the year, they are handy to layer underneath their sleep suit as an extra layer of warmth.  In the summer it may be their main wardrobe staple.  What we found worked best for us were these little kimono style bodysuits by L’ovedBaby which wrap around your baby rather than being pulled over their heads…something which is incredibly enraging to a newborn for some reason.  Down the road they will also be awfully helpful at containing poo blow outs.  The L’ovedBaby 100% Organic Cotton Kimono Short Sleeve Bodysuits come in loads of lovely colours and are available in newborn size which will fit preemies – something normally quite tricky to find in an organic brand.

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A Newborn Hat

Just buy one of these little Newborn Baby Hats.  These Lilano brand ones look like the one which Princess Charlotte wore when she came out of hospital and they are made from 70% Organic Merino Wool and 30% Silk and they even come in a Preemie size (2-5 lbs).  Little babies only need a hat on indoors during their time in hospital, as they’ve just popped out of a very warm, cozy environment into a cold one.  Once they’ve acclimatised however, don’t keep the hat on all the time while indoors like your mother and grandmother will tell you to do.  Overheating your baby is linked to cot death and unless your house is very cold, keep the hat off until you go outside.  Cotton ones are more common, but wool ones are designed to help regulate baby’s temperature and avoid overheating.  If you do prefer cotton (or if you’re vegan and eschew wool and silk) these colourful Toby Tiger jersey hats are so incredibly soft and are in such fun colours…though we only discovered them once our baby was a couple of weeks old.

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A Swaddle & This Book!

Buy something to swaddle with and a copy of this book:  The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp, MD.  It does what it says on the tin.  Key to the whole process is swaddling your baby.  So get a swaddle.  Even if you think your baby doesn’t like swaddling.  Get a swaddle.  You can buy a fancy swaddle like the Gro Swaddle which is idiot proof (I say from experience) and comes in a non-organic cute version with little woodland animals or in a plain organic version (which for some reason is a few pounds cheaper).  You can also just use a big square of fabric like a blanket in winter or a big muslin square in summer.

     

A Car Seat

If you have a car, you will need a car seat.  If you don’t have a car but ever travel in other people’s cars, you will need a car seat.  What you don’t need is a car seat base.  While they are incredibly handy for easily clicking the car seat in and out of the car, they are expensive (considerably more than the seat itself) and are unnecessary.  It takes about 10 seconds to buckle baby into their car seat with the seatbelt.

Do try to get a car seat which is compatible with your model of pram/stroller.

For instance, we have a Bugaboo Cameleon3 pram/stroller system and we bought the BeSafe iZi Go carseat with five point locking system which clips on to the Bugaboo base with adapters.  You can use the same adapters with Maxi-Cosi carseats, although they only have a three point locking system.

Do try to get a car seat with a five point locking system, if possible, for added safety, or buy a five point locking systems adapter to fit onto your existing car seat.  Its available from places like Halfords (here in the UK).

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A Pram/Stroller System

Pram and stroller shopping is like buying a new car.  You cannot do it online.  You have to go to the actual store – perhaps several times – and try each stroller out, weighing up the pros and cons of each.  It is a major investment.  It is also the only baby-related thing your husband will enjoy buying.

Do not let him take over.  He is not the one who will be spending the next two and a half to three years pushing the child in it all day, everyday.  Unless he is going to be a stay at home dad…in which case, ignore the previous sentence, and let him take over.

You will very likely wish to buy something which converts from pram to stroller so you can use it from newborn to toddler stage.

If you live in a city, make sure you buy something lightweight, with a sharp turning radius and something which is not too wide so you can get onto trains and buses easily.  If you live in the country, make sure you get something with heavy duty enough wheels to manage gravel, mud and grass which little wheels can get stuck in.  We went for the Bugaboo Cameleon3 because it managed all of the above criteria really well, but there are other good systems available at a lower cost.  You can get second hand Bugaboo strollers on eBay, and all the parts are available to buy separately, so it means if one piece breaks or is damaged, you don’t need to scrap the whole stroller.  My friend bought the base chassis second hand for £80 and then bought all the other bits, such as the pram and stroller fabrics, new,  which saved her a bundle and got her a very nice pram/stroller system for her little boy.

Newborn Healthcare Kit

At some point within a day of two of getting home with your baby, you will be convinced that your little one has a fever and you will need to obsessively take their temperature, or you will need to suck out the little baby boogers from their sniffly noses, or to trim their tiny talon-like nails that grow incredibly fast and are oh-so-sharp.  Or if your baby isn’t bald (mine was) then you might even just want to brush their lovely soft hair.  This is when you will need a Healthcare Kit.  Its not quite as serious as a first aid kit, but is more than just grooming tools.

Bottles

However you end up feeding your baby, its helpful to have a couple of bottles on hand.  You don’t need to buy a steriliser or a breast pump in advance.  Unless you’re full time formula feeding, a steriliser is just another big piece of equipment on your kitchen counter and its quick to sterilise using boiling water by immersing everything in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes.  The bottles will stay sterile in a covered saucepan for about three hours afterwards.  While you may end up buying your own breast pump down the road, don’t bother doing it now.  You can rent the really good hospital grade breast pumps from the NCT, your hospital, a variety of commercial companies or your local children’s centre which often rents them for free, with a deposit which is refunded when the machine is returned.  We bought these Nuk glass baby bottles which don’t leach any chemicals into our baby’s milk (there are more chemicals in plastics than the now banned BPA, I’m afraid).  There are a number of glass baby bottles on the market but we found these Nuk ones were the least expensive, were sturdy (not a single breakage yet) and they have the benefit of the Nuk anti-colic teats.  Edit:  Also over time we have found them to be useful as snack pots for older baby/toddlers because they come with little screw on lids.

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