Wednesday, 4 December 2013

I think my children might smell … and other ways to save water.

I don’t think I wash my children enough. My daughter has had a faint tomato stain on her chin for quite some time and there’s a definite musty odour wafting from my son’s head.

I’d like to blame it on being green and saving water but, to be honest, by 6pm I just can’t be bothered. They don’t like it, I don’t like it, and so they stay dirty.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not animals. I at least give them a quick wipe over with a wash cloth and wet their hair a bit to create the illusion of clean. Unless of course they’ve been swimming, in which case I don’t bother. After all, a pool is just like a giant bath, isn’t it?

The evenings I do bath them, I’m not sure it’s much better. I don’t so much clean them as sit on the loo seat painting my toenails, watching them sit in water. My role is purely as a lifeguard.

I realised how pathetic my child-washing technique was last year when I broke my shoulder and a friend of mine had to bath them for me. The poor smelly things didn’t know what hit them. They were lathered and scrubbed to within an inch of their little lives. She even washed between every individual toe and then got some fresh water to rinse them off afterwards - no used soapy bath water here.

Judge me if you like, but it turns out my woeful parenting is accidentally saving the planet. We use around 150 litres of water a day each and a bath uses about 80 litres. So by not bathing my children every day I’m practically an eco-warrior.

But if you’d rather not save water in such a disgusting way, there are more hygenic options – here I’ve listed the ones that require the least amount of effort.

1. Don’t flush away rubbish – makeup tissues, cotton balls etc.

2. Have more short showers, less baths (a 5 minute showers uses around 40 litres – half that of a bath. Unless you have a power shower which is bad. If you do have a power shower think about changing to an aerated showerhead instead. )

3. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth.

4. Make sure your dishwasher is full, use the eco setting and don’t bother pre-rinsing plates – just scrape them.

5. Put a jug of cold drinking water in your fridge, so you don’t waste water waiting for the tap to run cold every time you want a drink.

6. Put a washing up bowl or plug into your sink to catch excess and use it to wash your veg in or water plants.

7. Only fill your kettle with what you need.

8. Use a lid on your saucepans – it’ll reduce the amount of water lost so you don’t have to put as much in, and also speed up cooking times.

9. Use the most water efficient setting on your washing machine and make sure it’s full.

10. Fix dripping taps. Even I can do it, so it can’t be that hard.

These are all things most of us know already, but we just get into bad habits. So just try to adopt a few new ones and let the green-ness seep in without you realising.

Why do we need to save water? Water is in an endless supply, but good quality water isn’t. Also, the energy used to pump the water around the place and to heat it in our homes is huge, and produces lots of greenhouse gas emissions.

Where our water goes

For more info, visit

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Where's my goat? A Christmas Gift Guide

If you would like to be ever so slightly more ethical this Christmas, have a look at the Winter issue of Baby London, Baby Surrey and Baby Hampshire magazines for my top ten green gift ideas for little ones. You can download the PDF below.

(for my family...there will be no vicarious goats this year, I promise)

Green Christmas Gift Guide, Baby London, Winter 2013

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Do snakes have legs?

"Honey, can you come outside? There's a snake with legs in the pool."

Possibly one of the stupidest things I had ever heard my husband say.

Until I went outside and saw this slimy thing:

The conversation afterwards went a bit like this…

"What the hell is that?"

"Maybe it's a lizard?”

"But it has two freaky little legs."

"Or a baby snake? Do baby snakes have legs?

"Maybe they do...before they hatch?”

"Do snakes lay eggs or give birth?”

“I don't know. Google 'snakes with two legs.'”

I know. We are the dumbest people on Earth. But it gave us our answer. Firstly, no baby snakes do not have legs. And secondly, this delightful creature is a worm skink. A harmless little thing that normally lives underground, and is listed as a threatened species. How it found its way into our pool I don’t know, but I am obviously never swimming in it again regardless.

In the UK, I was fairly altruistic when it came to wildlife, but the worst we had were harmless bugs, snails and the odd moth. I didn't like them touching me or eating my clothes, but I knew their little lives were important for the ecosystem and always tried not to harm them or use any chemical sprays.

Being in Australia is more of a challenge. In the month that I’ve been here, our house has been graced with 2 cane toads, 1 huge goanna, big fat marsh flies, wasps (which stung me twice), several massive spiders, a few angry looking little spiders, and an unidentified green and yellow flying thing. We also had a dead snake on the driveway and, of course, the drowning worm skink.

On top of all that, I’m concerned the things I left in the UK will be infested when we return. I left my clothes in storage and I’m worried creepy crawlies have found their way into Big Yellow and are eating my Reiss coat.

This paranoia, coupled with the fact our children are - quite literally - scared of flies, means our Australian excursion has presented a problem. So I’ve been researching ways to repel things, rather kill them, while at the same time avoiding covering our house, the environment or our children with chemicals. Repellants are harder to come by, so some of these suggestions kill things instead. Which I know is neither kind nor green...I might need to change the name of the blog. Anyway, here are the best ones I found:

Basil spray (for ants, spiders, earwigs, flies, beetles and caterpillars)
Pour 1 litre of boiling water over 2 firmly packed cupfuls of chopped basil leaves. Allow to stand until liquid is cool. Strain and use within 2 days.

Citronella (for ants and ticks)
Combine one part citronella oil with 10 parts water. Pour the mixture into small containers/jars and hang them in the affected trees. Empty mixture and replace once a week.

Garlic (for snails, spiders, caterpillars, beetles, termites and ticks)
Spray which only keeps for a few days: Roughly chop 10 cloves of garlic with 1 litre of water. Leave to infuse overnight, then strain.

Spray which keeps for several months: Roughly chop 200g garlic. Add 7 tablespoons of mineral oil. Cover and leave for approximately 24 hours. Dissolve 20g of pure soap in 1 litre of water, add this to the garlic mixture; mix well. Filter finely. Store in a cool dark place (cooler the better). Use diluted at one part concentrate to 10 parts water.

Marigolds (for ants, cockroaches, bugs, fleas, beetles and flies)
Pour 1 litre of boiling water over 2 firmly packed cupfuls of flowers and leaves. Allow to stand for half an hour. Strain and use within 2 days. Spray is potent.

Mint oil (for ants, bugs, cockroaches and fleas)
Place several handfuls of mint leaves (preferably - pennyroyal or peppermint) into a glass jar and cover with oil (safflower or sunflower oil). Place in a sunny position for 3-6 weeks, shaking ever few days. Strain and use within a few days.
Thanks to for the info

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Discount for A Little Bit Green readers

I love a good discount code. And Dan, the man, from Onya Innovations, is generously offering A Little Bit Green readers a 12.5% discount on everything in his online store until Christmas Day.

The products are clever and gorgeous. Have a little look for yourself - visit Onya.

(PS. I'm not being paid to say that)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Death threats and composting

My daughter is learning about growth and development at school. Which I discovered when I overheard this conversation between her and my mother-in-law ...

"What did you learn at school today?"
"That it goes: baby, toddler, child, teenager, grown up, Grandma, dead. So you'll die next, Grandma."
"Don't worry. You'll just go to Devon - that's where dead people live.....but Ben lives in Devon and he's not dead, so how does that work?"
"I think you mean Heaven."
"No, it's Devon. But I'm not going to Devon - I'm going to be an elephant. And mummy doesn't believe in cheeses so she's going to turn into dirt." 
More silence.
"So, when are you going to die, Grandma? I think it'll be soon because you're quite old, aren't you?"

She's a delight. And she was on a roll. Later that week, she stomped out of school complaining that one of her friends kept telling on her. Apparently she had been repeatedly telling her small 5 year old friend that she was going to die (not in a threatening way, more creepy and serious). She was baffled as to why her friend took issue with it, but smug that she didn't get into trouble.

 "I told the teacher that it's not mean because it's true. She is going to die. And so is the teacher. But I said they could be elephants too if they liked. Because that's kind, isn't it? Yes it is. Don't you think so, mum?" 

Um. Is it kind to tell someone they can be an elephant after they've been terrified into thinking they're about to die?

Anyway, I've decided to harness the horrifying macabreness of my offspring and give it a less socially disturbing outlet. I am proud to say I have resurrected our (ie. the people we bought the house from's) old compost bin and tried to transfer her interested to decaying vegetables instead. 
It's not going well. But I'm still hoping it will satisfy her disturbing obsession with death.

The three main obstacles to composting in our house so far have been:
1. Spiders under the lid of the compost bin. Every. Damn. Day.
2. Having to walk outside and touch gross stuff. Hassle.
3. Knowing what to put in the bin, how long to leave it for and how to get it out (so basically everything to do with composting)
4. My 3 year old son eating the decaying scraps while I'm trying to put them in the bin.
So, for those of you as dumb as me, I have created a basic how-to-compost-when-you're-lazy-and/or-clueless guide (although if your local council has a food 
waste collection service, you might not want to bother.)
Composting for dumb people
1. Buy a compost bin for outside plus a mini bin for inside. Ideally put  your outside bin in a sunny spot on bare earth.
2. Fill your bin with this stuff - a mix of 'greens' (tea bags, fruit and vege peelings, salad scraps, grass cuttings, coffee filters etc) and 'browns' (cardboard, egg cartons, paper, fallen leaves, twigs, bark). Too much of one or the other is bad, so mix it up well to get a good blend of both greens and browns. 
3. Don't put this stuff in - meat, cooked veg, dairy, diseased plants, weeds with seed heads, nappies, dog poo or cat litter.
3. Wait for ages (about 9-12 months) and keep topping it up.
4. Look at it - once it looks like crumbly, dark soil and smells earthy, it’s ready to use. So lift the bin a little bit or open the hatch at the bottom and scoop out the fresh compost.
5. Stick it on your garden

That's it! Hopefully you now know vaguely more about composting, or how to terrify an old lady, than you did 5 minutes ago. 
If you would like more detailed info, visit

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Eco Shopping ... not as ugly as you think

I've been putting together a green Christmas gift guide for a magazine, merging two of my favourite pastimes - writing and shopping for random things I don't need.

During my research (can you call shopping online research?), I discovered ethical shopping has come a long way. Admittedly, there are still some hideous homemade clothes (think About A Boy-style knitwear) and some pretty scary personal hygiene products (cloth toilet paper - really?) But on the whole, it no longer seems like a worthy compromise to buy green.

So, I was going to write a post about my favourite green goods, but as that's what I'm being paid to do elsewhere, I might get sacked. Instead, I've made a list of 5 everyday household things that you could easily swap for a more ethical version (kind of like that annoying switch & save page at the end of an Ocado shop).

Switch & Save the planet! (well, a bit)

1. Straws 
Swap plastic straws for paper.
They're single use, which is a complete waste. But they're biodegradable. And pretty. (eBay is the cheapest place to buy them in the UK).

2. Sandwich Bags
Swap plastic sandwich bags or cling film for fabric ones.
Wipeable, washable and much better than plastic. And pretty.

3. Water Filters
Swap your normal water filters for Bamboo Charcoal Water Filters
They look scary - and like they might kill you - but they aren't, and they won't. And they work.
4. Gift Wrap
Swap wrapping paper for fabric.
Make your own or buy it pre-made from shops such as Happywrap. Pre-made is expensive but not if you just use it internally, for family presents , and nick it back afterwards.

5. Takeaway coffee cups
Swap disposable coffee cups for these Silicone BYO Cups
If you're organised and not afraid to be judged by strangers, take your own cup along when you buy a coffee (it's becoming more common, so the baristas won't think you're mental). Apparently after you use it 8 times it pays for itself environmentally-speaking.

That's it! So do all five or pick just one. It won't make a huge difference but it's better than nothing (copyrighting that slogan in case Friends of the Earth tries to steal it).

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Drugs Don't Work

I’m sitting on an aeroplane armrest, 14 hours into a 22 hour flight with a 2 year old and 4 year old. One is sleeping, the other is covering the sleeping man next to us with stickers (I know I should stop him. Instead I’ve chosen to pretend to be asleep when the man wakes up).

I'm doing this flight drug-free. Last time I flew long haul with both children on my own, I went against all my previous principles and gave them a dose of antihistamine in an effort to make them sleep. I felt guilty and it didn’t work anyway. I just had sticky-medicine-covered children screaming and running around the plane instead of clean ones. It was bad. I locked myself in the aeroplane loos and cried before we had even reached Singapore.

I fly to Australia about once a year. In carbon terms, I'm basically the equivalent of a hummer-driving American. My carbon footprint is about 5.5 thousand tonnes a year (according to this little gadget). The UK average is about 4.5 thousand tonnes a year. That one little flight to Australia accounts for about half of my annual carbon emissions.

I used to occasionally tick that little 'offset my carbon' button when booking my flights, in a nod to my previous ethical stance. But I don't even do that anymore. I realised carbon offsetting is basically a way for fat lazy countries to avoid doing anything's like paying someone else to diet so you can stuff your face with cake. And, according to lots of environmental experts, carbon offsetting doesn’t work anyway.

The government has tried all sorts of ways to gently discourage people from flying, but who wants to give up an exotic holiday to save the stupid old planet? No-one apparently. I say forget carbon offsetting, forget increasing airline taxes. Having a child has to be the most effective way to discourage a person from flying. Give everyone a child or two at the gate and you'll have people queuing to go camping in Blackpool instead of jetting off to a Greek island.

Unfortunately, if I want to see my family, I have to carry on flying. So I decided the best way to make a small attempt to offset my flight is by reducing carbon emissions in other areas of my life. There are lots of effective ways to do it, many of which involve ceasing bad habits or actively doing things. But if you can’t be bothered with all that, there are some small ways to reduce carbon emissions that barely even require you to move from the sofa. Here goes….

1. Buy less food. And make it organic.
We throw away more food from our homes than packaging every year – about £50 worth every month. It's a huge waste of resources. So, try to buy less food and cook less than you think you need to. If we all stop throwing away food that could have been eaten, the benefit to the planet would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road. With the money you’re saving, you could pay the little bit extra for organic whenever you can.

2. Ditch plastic water bottles

UK tap water is among the safest in the world, but we each drink around 35 litres of bottled water a year. It’s bonkers. The bottled water market is unsustainable. It has 30 times the carbon footprint of tap water and costs hundreds of times more. Blind taste tests have shown most people can’t even tell the difference. So, buy a reusable bottle and fill it with tap water instead. There are lots of great ones on the market - brands such as Onya, Klean Kanteen, Sigg, and One Green Bottle do some fun designs for kids too.

3. Turn your heating down a teeny weeny bit (or vice versa for air con)
Ideally, we would all wrap up warm and turn our heating right down but, realistically, who wants wear a coat indoors? ‘Just run around and flap your arms’ is my husband’s sage advice when I try to turn the heating on in October, but you don’t have to go quite that far. Turning your thermostat down by just 1°C could save around £55 and 230kg carbon emissions every year. While you’re at it, check the temperature of your hot water and turn it down to 60°C (which is still hot enough to kill any harmful bacteria).

4. Choose green energy
When you're next choosing an electricity supplier, go with one that supports renewable energy sources, such as wind power and biomass.

5. Stop using wrapping paper
Wrappng paper is pointless. It really is. In just one year in the UK, we collectively use enough wrapping paper to reach the moon. Much of the dyed, glossy paper can’t be recycled, and even the paper that can be recycled is a waste of natural resources. Using something once and throwing it away makes no sense. So, wrap your gifts in fabric or in a piece of your children’s artwork. It’s free and is a great way to rid your house of hundreds of kiddy paintings without the guilt of putting them in the bin.

5. Wash colder
Switching your washing machine from 40° to 30° uses around 40% less electricity. Tumble-drying is a huge waste of energy, but if you are going to use one make your clothes aren’t soaking wet first by using a fast spin cycle. Also, cleaning out the lint filter speeds up drying times (who knew?).

So there you go...a few small adjustments to help you justify those completely unjustifiable long haul flights. If you’re feeling inspired and want to do things that will require a bit more effort, the Carbon Fund gives lots of advice here…


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

I Hate Bees...but do this anyway

I'm not a fan of bees. Especially the massive fat ones that get stuck in my conservatory, buzzing and smacking their furry heads (do they have heads?), until my children  coax me to catch them in our giant spider catcher device and set them free. But they're useful little creatures, and apparently we're killing them all off.

I don't really like petitions much either, but the Friends of the Earth Bee Cause is actually working. So take a second, sign it and you'll have helped to save an entire species without even getting off your iPad.

Bees are scary but I'll save them anyway

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Go Wild! But not really.

Someone once told me that having two dogs is easier than one because they entertain each other. I thought that logic would transfer to children. It doesn’t. Two children just means another small person asking me to do things.

I keep putting them outside with a ball (maybe I need to stop thinking of them as dogs) with the hope they’ll amuse themselves. But they always want me to play too. I even offer them my iPad but, thanks to my scheming husband, my daughter has learnt the phrase “we need some fresh air” and so I’m forced to go outside.

I’d like to be someone who can spend long afternoons exploring with them in the garden, but I get bored. And cold. I spend 10 minutes looking for bugs (hoping we won’t actually find any – my son likes touching worms and keeps flinging them at me) then end up laying on the grass saying "Mummy needs a rest. You two go and see what you can find." Amateur move. Never tell a toddler who likes worms to find something to bring to you if you intend to have a little sleep. Unless you want a fat muddy worm dropped onto your face.

I do genuinely want them to spend more time outside, so one day when I was feeling inspired I decided we would create a wildlife garden. It sounds impressive, but in reality wildlife gardening mostly means you let everything get overgrown and claim it’s on purpose.

I bought some little bird feeders for the kids to decorate and we hung them in our trees, which has given us lots of lovely fat squirrels and the occasional bird. And thanks to my mother-in-law's gardening efforts, we seem to have lots of bumble bees and butterflies around the place.

But the best thing I’ve found if you want minimum involvement and maximum gain (for you, rather than the environment) is a garden in a box. You can get the kind that comes pre-planted called Grobox and just dig a hole and stick it in the ground, but we got the one where you plant the seeds yourself, called My First Ever Flower Garden.

My First Ever Flower Garden

It was about £15, which is probably a rip off compared to just buying a packet of seeds, but the difference is it sat on the table until I actually did something with it.

And it almost worked.

My little girl spent ages decorating it, planting the seeds, watering them and watching them grow on the windowsill (which happened in the first few days), and I felt like a wholesome outdoors-ey parent for a brief moment. Then it came time to replant them into a bigger container. I promised to do it for her and forgot, obviously. She found them sitting by the side gate, all brown and withered, a week later, and cried. I lied and told her the massive flowering shrubs in our front garden were actually her flowers and they had just grown freakishly fast because of her dedicated watering. Awesome parenting.

So if you want to do a little bit of gardening with your kids but don’t have either the space or inclination to do proper-spade-in-the-ground-get-dirty-and-see-lots-of-worms* kind, throw some money at the problem and buy a garden in a box (they are available at the UK links provided, and also on Amazon). You can also get some pretty personalised wooden Kid's Crate planting kits at PlantABox, but they're more money and not at all necessary...but I love them (and will probably buy one) just the same.

Your efforts to keep them occupied will inadvertently be doing something good for the environment too. Planting different varieties of flowers attracts insects, butterflies, bats and birds. And green spaces help wildlife move about safely and give them somewhere to shelter. So any old garden, even if it’s a pretty rubbish one, is still a big help.

PS. If you’re a bit more energetic about the whole thing, there are some better and cheaper ideas in my wildlife gardening article - published by Little Media in Baby London, Baby Surrey and Baby Hampshire magazines.

* I'm aware my inordinate dislike of worms is not normal.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Natural Remedies ... does Calpol count?

The latest issues of Baby London, Baby Surrey and Baby Hampshire magazines are out now. In my article, some kind people share their favourite natural remedies for common childhood illnesses.
natural remedies
Natural Remedies, Baby London Autumn 2013

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Judged by a 4 year old

Sometimes I put baking trays in the bin when I can't be bothered to wash them. I throw food into the normal bin instead of the food waste one because I keep forgetting to buy the paper liner things. I sometimes drive the 200 metres to collect my son from nursery because I want an extra 10 minutes in the house by myself, and at the end of every week I throw away pretty much the entire soggy contents of our fridge crisper. My children routinely eat fish fingers on their laps while watching tele, so I can shop online for more stuff I don't need in peace and generally ignore them.

I'm pretty sure I used to have more ethics. In my twenties I'd say I was annoyingly ethical. I wrote for conservation magazines, worked for a Green Party politician and a wildlife charity, and lectured anyone who would listen. To quote my husband's loving wedding speech, I was 'an annoying, pasty vegetarian who sat at the end of the table ranting at people.' 

Everything soon changed. I had a baby, used my first disposable nappy and never looked back. For the next four years convenience trumped ethics in our house every time. 

But last year, my lazy, guilt-free life began to change. Annoyingly, my 4 year old started school and came home brimming with knowledge about the environment. The little know-it-all kept lecturing me. Every time I had a baking tray poised over the bin*, I'd feel her beady little eyes on me and pretend I was just scraping it off. So, I was forced to resurrect old habits and try to set a good example, make the world a better place for my children, and all that.

The problem with being green is that it seems like a lot of extra work - cycling everywhere, making your own ugly clothes, and going camping instead of flying somewhere better. Which is why most of us do relatively little - no one really wants to sacrifice their lifestyle. So during the past year, I've been finding ways to be a bit greener than require little (or ideally, no) effort.

And so A Little Bit Green was born. A blog offering the occasional idea to parents who know they should be green but are willing to do very little about it.

*It didn't happen as often as it sounds