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Introducing Team Mills!

I have been considering setting up a blog for a while now, and finally bitten the bullet, so here it is. While I don’t consider us as a family as particularly fascinating, we do have some interests and hobbies that some might consider unusual, and this is our opportunity to share them with you!

We are a family of four; well, four humans at least, plus a dog, cat (sometimes two) and a dalek (more about her in a later post) and our main interests are board games, Doctor Who, and I personally love reusable nappies and baking. An odd combination, I know! We like pretty much anything geeky, to be honest, and we have started the kids young in the ways of the force.

Mr Mills works in IT; I still don’t know exactly what he does after 9 years together, but he can fix my laptop if it goes wonky, so that’s all I need to know! I’m an ex-teacher, now childminder, and I genuinely love working with kids. Bear is a typical toddler who doesn’t stop talking… EVER and Hoglet is a diva with a temper and a smile that will melt your heart.

We will use this as a platform to share our love of sci-fi, reviews of board games, cloth nappies and toys, pictures of baked goods and ramblings about our life in general

Happy reading!

[Photo credit: Helter Skelter Photography]

 

Earth Day 2020: Making a Difference in Lockdown!

2020 has been an unusual year so far (to put it mildly). The UK has been on lockdown now since the end of March, and people are social distancing from one another. Schools, shops and other community spaces are closed for the foreseeable future, and families and friends are unable to see each other in person

But this does not mean that we cannot still work towards protecting our planet! Today is Earth Day, an initiative where we hope to raise awareness about our planet and the climate issues that face it

There are lots of things that you can do to support this in your own home, even during this global pandemic

  1. Shop Local & Independent
    Whilst the big guns on the high street have closed, lots of small independent shops and WAHMs are still going. Our local zero waste shop is offering delivery or collection at a pre-arranged time to limit contact with others, and the staff collect your order ready for you to grab and go. Crafty WAHMs who make sustainable products are still making them and posting out (most near me are posting once a week). By choosing to shop local, you can help to reduce the travel miles of the products you buy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and by choosing to shop independent, you also help to support your local community
  2. Make Your Own
    There are some things you can have a go at making yourself, such as beeswax wraps as an alternative to clingfilm. YouTube is a great resource for instructions for these kind of items! Another item that a lot of families are making at the moment are reusable wipes simply by chopping up an old towel and hemming the edges. By making switches like these, you can save money in the long term, as well as reducing your consumption of single use items

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  1. Make Do & Mend
    Can you fix your broken items instead of replacing them? Or repurpose if they cannot be mended? During this lockdown I have mended several items of clothing and broken toys which had been hanging around for a while. We have also used scrap wood to build another raised bed in the garden to grow vegetables as well as using items around the house and garden to occupy the kids while we can’t go out and about
  2. Use What You Have
    This lockdown has really made me evaluate how much stuff in our home that we wouldn’t have used and that would have gone to waste. For example, we bought fence paint a couple of years ago, which has sat in the shed untouched. Well, now it has been used! The same with the larder… Those couple of tins that haven’t been touched for a few months… Eat them up!

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  1. Share The Love
    If you have something you no longer need, can you give it to someone who does? This will prevent it from going to landfill (or even being dumped illegally, which is sadly what is happening locally) as well as helping out someone in your local community. We share our unneeded items via a local community Facebook group; items are put outside for non-contact collection and wiped down by both parties before and after the handover, just in case!

So, what will you do today, on Earth Day 2020, to help our planet during lockdown?
What is your Earth Day Pledge?

Girls Bodies Matter

The stigma around female genitalia has always confused me. I don’t understand why the male penis is clearly named and identifiable, even by slang words such as ‘dick’ and ‘cock’, whereas female private parts are shrouded in mystery… ‘foofoo’ ‘floof’ ‘flower’ ‘mini moo’ are just some of the examples I came across whilst teaching secondary school Science, and I’m sure you can come up with a few more yourself. You might even use one yourself…

Safeguarding children is a priority for everyone. There was a recent case highlighted on safeguarding training about a young girl who told her teacher that her uncle has ‘licked her cookie’ which the teacher didn’t think anything of. It was only when talking to the parents about a separate matter and a rash on the girl’s ‘cookie’ was mentioned that the teacher put two and two together.

And this is where correct terminology comes in… And the correct terminology for female external genitalia is ‘vulva’ NOT ‘vagina’. Don’t get me wrong, vagina is a massive improvement on the slang words like those above, but it is still anatomically incorrect.

A short Biology lesson here, people, brace yourselves… The vulva is the name given to the EXTERNAL female genitalia, and includes the labia, clitoris and entrance to the vagina (amongst other parts). The vagina is INTERNAL and connects the vulva to the cervix, which itself sits at the base of the uterus. They are NOT the same thing! Would you go to the doctor and tell her that you had bitten your tongue whereas in fact you had cut open your chin? No, I didn’t think so…

And this leads me onto my second important point; girls should be encouraged to be proud of their bodies and not ashamed of any part of themselves. There is so much embarrassment about the correct names for female genitalia, and for no reason other than the people teaching them are themselves embarrassed. My three-year-old daughter has been taught the term ‘vulva’ because I want her to own her own body; she can tell me if her vulva is sore and then we need to check that she is wiping herself properly. My five-year-old son also knows the term ‘vulva’ as he has recognised early on that his baby sister had some noticeable differences to himself, and he knows that males have a penis and females have a vulva.

I am not embarrassed to use correct terminology and so neither are my children (though when your son yells ‘look mummy, my penis is big when I’m weeing’ in the public toilets in town and you hear a stifled chuckle from the cubicle next door, you do have to laugh a little!). No-one should be made to feel ashamed of their body, all the parts are there for a biological reason, and it’s up to parents, caregivers and teachers to use the correct terminology to empower our children. If you are embarrassed, I feel sad for you, that you have been made to feel ashamed of your own body; but please don’t pass that fear onto your own children.

Change can only happen if we make it happen. Choose to use the correct terminology around your children, and remove the stigma surrounding female bodies.

The ten best board games to play with the family at Christmas – WoBoG Style!

I saw an article the other week entitled ‘The best 10 board games to play with the family at Christmas’ and I got really excited! How disappointing then to find the usual ‘classic’ suspects on there, and only one ‘modern’ game.

Don’t get me wrong, the classics do have their place. I have fond (?!) childhood memories of Monopoly games lasting an entire summer school holiday, writing down how much money each of us had at the end of each session to ensure no cheating… My brother refusing to play Cluedo with me because I won every time; I was one of those sad people who noted down which cards people asked and revealed, so I could plan my questions accordingly, so I can kind of see his point… Friday night games of Triominoes round at my aunt’s house with Gardener’s World playing in the background… Sunday afternoon games of Trivial Pursuit with the whole family gathered around the coffee table in my nan and grandad’s living room, desperately avoiding Arts & Literature questions…

One of the first games I played with my now-husband when we started going out was Monopoly. For the record, he told me he was ‘quite good’ yet within twenty minutes I owned half the board and he was mortgaged to the hilt; we have never played Monopoly since…

These are memories I would not change for the world

But time, and board games, move on, and there is a whole plethora of modern board games out there, developed within the past twenty years, that will excite and enthuse a new generation (and the older ones too)

So why not give one of these alternatives a go?!

  1. Instead of Chess… try Azul!
    A game of forward thinking and strategic planning, Azul is also beautiful to look at with tactile playing tiles and two levels of play
    Take turns to draft tiles from the factories to your playing board, then score points based on tile placement; extra points are scored for patterns and sets

    1. Azul

  2. Instead of Monopoly… try Pandemic
    I’ve never understood the appeal, of Monopoly, if I’m honest. A game encouraging capitalism and trying to make your family bankrupt has never really been my type of game!
    Pandemic is the polar opposite; you must work cooperatively to save the world from four virulent diseases. Each player chooses a unique character with special strengths which will help in the race to cure the diseases before they outbreak and spread too far…

    2. Pandemic

  3. Instead of Bananagrams… Actually, do try Bananagrams!
    I actually do enjoy Banangrams! A faster paced version of Scrabble, where the emphasis isn’t on the length or difficulty of words but on the speed and flexibility with which you use your letters
    Everyone plays simultaneously to make a ‘crossword’ out of their letters; once you have used all your letters, shout ‘peel’ and everyone must take a new letter to add in…

    3. Bananagrams

  4. Instead of Scrabble… try Codenames!
    Played in two opposing teams, each Spymaster must give one-word clues to help their field operatives guess the Codenames of their own agents, whilst avoiding agents on the other side, innocent bystanders and the Assassin!
    You have to hope that your team are on the same wavelength as you!

    4. Codenames

  5. Instead of Risk… try Scythe!
    In Scythe, each faction begins the game with different resources, starting locations and hidden goals, then upgrades their actions to become more efficient, builds structures to improve their position on the map, activates mechs to deter opponents from invading, enlists new recruits to enhance character abilities and expands their borders to access more resources
    Scythe involves very little ‘luck’; each encounter card provides the player with several options, allowing them to mitigate the luck of the draw through their selection, and combat is also driven by choices, not luck or randomness
    Be warned though, you will need to set aside a chunk of time and table space for this game!

    5. Scythe

  6. Instead of Trivial Pursuit… try Linkee!
    If it’s general knowledge you want, Linkee is your game! Described as a ‘shouty outy family game’ you must first work out the answers to the questions posed, then link those answers together to win the card…
    The first team to form the word LINKEE wins

    6. Linkee

  7. Instead of Cranium… try Scrawl!
    Start off with a phrase to draw (some are a little bit naughty!) then pass on that to the next person who has to write down what they think the doodle shows. The third person has to draw again and carry on alternating drawing and describing around the room until the pile gets back to you…
    Then you can reveal the actual phrase and award points for the most disastrous doodles!
    7. Scrawl
  8. Instead of Battleships… try Kingdomino!
    Take turns to select ‘dominos’ and place terrains in order to expand your kingdom. Crowns allow territories to score points, and make sure you keep an eye on the kingdom your opponent is building too!
    Kingdomino plays well with just two players (you build a 7×7 kingdom) but also scales up well to four players (5×5 kingdom)

    8. Kingdomino

  9. Instead of Jenga… try Rhino Hero Super Battle!
    A fun family-friendly balancing game, in Rhino Hero Super Battle not only do you need to build a skyscraper by balancing wall and floor cards, but your character must also do battle with the other superheroes if you share the same floor; roll the dice to see who has to descend back down the tower
    Which superhero will be top of the tower when it finally collapses; Rhino Hero, Giraffe Boy, Big E or Batguin?

    9. Rhino Hero

  10. Instead of Cluedo… try Mysterium!
    Identify a person, room and murder weapon. So far, so Cluedo!
    But in Mysterium, each player must identify their very own person, room and potential murder weapon by interpreting the abstract picture clues given to them by the silent Ghost. Players must work cooperatively, as if one fails to identify all their clues, everyone loses
    In a final twist, the Ghost will point the finger at one of the characters as their murderer… Can everyone guess whodunnit at the very end?!

    10. Mysterium

So, which one catches your fancy? Which one would you like to try out this Christmas?

Let me know if you do decide to try any of them!

 

REVIEW: Beauty Kubes (Plastic Free Shampoo)

I have used shampoo bars for nearly two years now, and finally found a routine that worked with my hair. So when I was asked to trial Beauty Kubes, I was a little wary about changing products, especially as using ‘normal’ bottled shampoo on holiday last month left my hair tangled and feeling ‘producty’

But I need not have worried

KUBES Nice

Firstly, the smell is divine; even without opening the box, the scent is really inviting. The packaging itself is compact and minimal; the cardboard box measures just 5cm in all directions and there is also an extra paper layer inside the box for further protection against moisture

Kube Outside

One tip given to me was to store a few Kubes in a small glass jam jar in the bath or shower (like the single serve ones you get with a teacake or scone) to avoid moisture getting to them between uses and to protect them from the condensation in the bathroom

There are 27 Kubes in the box, which I’ll admit was a slight concern at first, as that is less than a month’s worth of washes if you use one Kube each time and wash your hair every day. But I discovered after my first wash that I didn’t need to use a whole Kube and that half was more than enough for my thick, shoulder length hair (I won’t inflict a selfie on you to show you though!) The Kubes are soft enough to halve easily using your nail

Kube Scale

A single box has lasted me nearly two months, which is a much more realistic time frame for me, though my husband has pointed out that his 500ml of supermarket bottled shampoo only lasts him six weeks maximum (he has short hair) so maybe I’m setting the bar very high!

In terms of actually using the Beauty Kubes, simply crush half a Kube to powder in the palm of your hand, add a little water to make a paste and then rub into your hair and lather. My top tip is NOT to add too much water when making the paste otherwise the result is too watery to lather up well; what works well for me is to crush in the palm of my left hand, wet the first finger of my right hand and work up gradually to a thick paste. Once the paste is spread over both hands, rubbing onto the hair is easy

Kubes Paste

I was really surprised at how much lather even half a Kube produced, which could be because I am used to shampoo bars which don’t really lather much at all, and the suds were easy to wash out

Kubes Lather

One massive plus point of Beauty Kubes over shampoo bars was that I do not need to do an apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse afterwards; the benefits of this to me are two-fold:

  1. No need to buy apple cider vinegar, or make my own as often
  2. Less water used when showering; I would mix a capful of ACV with half a jug of water, pour over my head, then leave for at least two minutes before swilling. No ACV rinse means a quicker shower, and less wasted water each day

My final point to make is how soft and manageable my hair is after using the Beauty Kubes; my hair is notorious for tangling (probably my own fault as I am not very good at regular brushing)

I also love how beautiful my hair now smells; even the husband noticed!

Fancy a Plastic Free Cuppa?

Did you know that most tea bags actually contain plastic? I didn’t until a few months ago, and as I drink a LOT of tea, I was keen to find a plastic-free alternative; below are my views on three plastic-free options

Tea All

Teapot

We already had a ceramic tea pot with built in infuser lurking in the cupboard, so I dug that out. It is fab for making a pot for at least four people, but the infuser doesn’t reach to the bottom of the pot, so it cannot be used for smaller numbers. As I work from home as a registered childminder, I do make a lot of single cups of tea just for me (there are worse addictions!) and my mother-in-law is the only family member who drinks decaf, so I need a solution for individual cups too

Tea Pot Inside

You can, of course, just buy a simple tea strainer to put over the cups if your tea pot doesn’t have a built-in infuser, and I’m still looking for a two-cup tea pot with built-in infuser – if you find one, let me know. Preferably one with spots…!

Tea Sticks

These are made from food-grade stainless steel and are designed to sit inside the cup allowing the tea to infuse into the hot water. The used tea leaves can then be emptied into the composter and the tea stick itself swilled and reused

Tea Stick (2)

They are a bit of a faff to fill and tend to make a weaker cup of tea than I would choose, despite having lots of space inside the cylinder, and I found that you need a pointy stick to get the tea leaves out of the corners for cleaning – I use a metal skewer I use for stabbing cakes to see if they are cooked all the way through

It took a bit of experimentation to work out how to get more tea leaves into them for a stronger cup. My top tip is to turn the tea stick upside down (bear with me, it will make sense!) and push the moveable cylinder up nearly to the top, then spoon the tea leaves carefully in through the small gap at the top in several batches. If you hold the tea stick on its side to fill it, then some of the leaves will fall out

You can prepare these in advance, but make sure you store upright so the movable cylinder doesn’t get nudged and the tea leaves then fall out; this is especially disheartening if you have taken a couple of minutes carefully filling them!

The metal will heat up whilst the tea is brewing so be careful when removing from the cup, but hopefully that is common sense

Tea Stick

The lip at the end hooks over the rim and does stop the tea stick falling into even the largest and deepest of mugs, so you should never have to fish it out using your fingers

Over time, the metal has discoloured but a blitz in the dishwasher helps to remove the majority of the tea staining, and the staining is merely cosmetic anyway

Tea Bags

These are made from unbleached organic cotton and are designed to sit inside the cup or teapot allowing the tea to infuse into the hot water. I then turn the tea bag inside out to empty the leaves into the composter in the kitchen, swill and reuse inside out. I leave mine drying on the draining board rack though sometimes I don’t even wait for the bags to dry out between uses, I just refill straight away when needed

Tea Bag

As I add milk after the tea bag has been removed, I use and reuse the same tea bags for a few days and then wash more thoroughly. If you add milk before removing the tea bag (why?!) then you do need to wash the tea bag properly between uses

Since the opening is a generous 9cm across, the bags are quick to fill, and can easily be prepared in advance; once the drawstring has been tightened then the leaves don’t fall out readily. It is also simple to prepare different strengths of tea to taste by spooning more tea leaves to the bag

You do have to make sure you hold onto the string when pouring the water into the mug, as the movement of the water will drag it down; if your bag does disappear into the mug, simply fish it back out with a spoon like a traditional teabag

Tea Bag Cup

The tea bags are ridiculously easy to wash; simply hand wash with a little washing up liquid, rinse and leave to dry. I’ve not felt the need to do a deeper clean with apple cider vinegar (1 part) and water (2 parts) yet, and we’re four months down the line of using them, though I’ll be honest and admit that my tea bags are no longer a pristine off-white colour but the brown tea colour is merely cosmetic, and shows how popular they are in my house!

Tea Bags

Now comes the really fun bit, trialing different loose leaf teas! My local zero waste shop has a few different blends, so I am looking forward to experimenting with those…

 

Reusable Nappies & Swimming

Baby swimming is a great way to bond with your baby, and can be done from birth. Both of our children were enrolled in swimming lessons from just a couple of weeks old, and they have both developed in confidence and skill over the years they have been swimming

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You need very little to take your baby swimming, but the most vital piece of clothing is the swim nappy. Most swim schools and swimming pool require a double nappy system, which consists of a swim nappy (disposable or reusable) with a neoprene ‘happy nappy’ over the top. The double layer is important, as you don’t want your child to be the one that causes the pool to be closed if the nappy leaks!

The first thing to note is that no swim nappy is designed to be absorbent; its sole purpose is to contain any solids. Anything absorbent in a swim nappy would just absorb water from the swimming pool in seconds, and will weigh down your baby

Reusable swim nappies are simple to use and can be used on multiple children. They are generally sized (small/medium/large or size 1/size 2) so they provide a snug fit for your child; a swim nappy that is too small will dig into the skin and may cause discomfort, and a swim nappy that is too big will gape and leak

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One thing to be aware of, especially if you are not familiar with reusable nappies in general is that they are designed to fit more snugly than disposable nappies, so will sit more like a pair of traditional pants, so don’t be alarmed if it looks like the swim nappy is too small, it isn’t!

There are two main styles of reusable swim nappies, and it is personal preference which you go for. Pull-up style are easier for older children to put on independently, but swim nappies with poppers or Velcro are easier to remove without making lots of mess if your little one does have an accident. Our personal preference is poppers as we find that Velcro can get brittle over time with repeated exposure to chlorine

Neoprene happy nappies are used over the top of a swim nappy and provide extra security in the event of an accident. The legs and waist are designed to form a seal in case any solids do escape the swim nappy underneath, and they must completely cover the underneath layer. Again, these are sized, and they must fit snugly to perform their job effectively

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If you are already using reusable nappies, you can use an empty pocket nappy (make sure you remove the inserts first!) or wrap instead of a ‘proper’ swim nappy; an AIO can also be used if you cut out the absorbent tongue first. This is a great way to utilise nappies where the PUL has gone so they cannot be used in the traditional sense. make sure you pop a neoprene happy nappy over the top still!

Taking care of swim nappies is really simple; we just pop ours into the washing machine with the rest of the swimwear. They dry very quickly, so if you are going on holiday, you should only need two or three to use in rotation; if not soiled, they can be hand-washed and dried in a couple of hours

So, what are you waiting for?! Ditch the disposables and try reusables today!

Developing Motor Skills

All of my children currently have Next Steps related to their gross and fine motor skills, including encouraging tripod grip and using scissors safely, so this seemed a good opportunity to break in my new Flisat table with trays underneath for messy play.

I set up the following activities, which I will run you through now, along with my reasoning for choosing them (the current topic is Chinese New Year, hence the pigs and colour scheme!)

Motor Skills Whole

Coloured rice with chopsticks, bowls, pigs and pom poms
The rice itself is remarkably easy to make, if a little time consuming. Simply mix a little food colouring (gel gives a more intense colour than the watered down bottles) with vinegar in a bag and add the rice. The colour will intensify the longer you leave the rice in there for. Once ready, tip onto a baking tray and dry out in an oven on low heat, or leave to dry out naturally, though this can take a few days. Once dry, the rice will store for months in an airtight container; I tend to batch make a few kilograms in different colours, then it’s ready to use as and when

Motor Skills Rice

Younger children can make patterns in the rice with the chopsticks or their hands, older children can demonstrate fine motor skills in using the chopsticks to pick up the pom poms, and copying simple Chinese patterns drawn on the blackboard behind the table; I also encourage the older children to hold the chopsticks like a pencil when drawing shapes in the rice. My eldest is currently improving his letter formation as he writes certain letters backwards, and shaping the letters using large movements in the rice helps him to understand the shape of the letter more easily when writing on paper

Motor Skills Chopsticks

The pigs and poms in there can be hidden, collected or used in pretend play and give lots of opportunity for conversations, including counting, colour matching, size, shape, texture… the list goes on. They give lots of opportunities to ‘wonder’ aloud whilst the children are playing, for example, ‘I wonder how many green pom poms I can find’ or ‘I wonder why this pig is covered in mud’ and the children will also generate their own conversations with each other and with me

Motor Skills Fun

Coloured spaghetti with scissors
Again, the spaghetti is simple to make, simply add food colouring to the water when boiling the spaghetti. I would advise adding a drop of oil to the saucepan too, as this coats the strands of spaghetti and stops them sticking together. Once cooled, the spaghetti can be stored in the fridge for a few days, although if you have children who will eat it, use it sooner rather than later

Motor Skills Spaghetti

The main premise of this activity is for the children to cut the strands of spaghetti using the scissors provided. You will notice that there are two different types of scissors in the tray; the green and yellow pair are left-handed as I have one little boy who is already showing a dominant left hand at just over two years of age. I cannot emphasise how important left-handed equipment is for children who are showing a preference for their left hand, both in terms of safety and confidence, but that’s going to be a whole other blog post!

The emphasis of this activity is two-fold; holding the scissors correctly and cutting safely, especially if other children are playing nearby. Modelling good practice is recommended in situations like this, so I tend to sit nearby and start cutting the spaghetti myself to demonstrate the process safely. It also means I can give gentle encouragement and guidance at the same time. My daughter tends to turn her hand over whilst cutting, so sitting alongside and modelling correct procedure means I can support her to hold the scissors straight without her realising I am helping and going off in a strop!

Motor Scissors

One of the older children I look after is struggling with holding writing equipment with a tripod grip, and as he is going to school in September I am keen to work on this with him; this currently involves doing lots of different exercises to build up his hand muscles. Squishing and releasing the spaghetti in his whole hands is both beneficial and fun, and the activity can be extended to picking up individual strands in thumb and forefinger. His younger sister also enjoys the sensory experience of playing with the spaghetti, including eating it!

I obviously have to be careful when the children are using scissors and supervise the activity carefully, especially when the baby is playing at the same table. The Flisat table has lids which can easily be put on to cover the trays when not in use, or if I need to leave the children for a couple of minutes

Motor Skills Closed

Extension & Adaptation
The activities above are easy to extend and adapt depending on your children. You could add measuring and pouring tools. You might prepare different colours to match themes throughout the year, for instance, green for St Patrick’s Day. You could even hide objects in the food for the children to find, for example mini easter eggs or small magnets to find with a larger magnetic wand. One of my older children has a Next Step to sequence the numbers 1-5 and then 1-10; I could hide the numbers in the trays so that he finds them in a random order to sequence. The possibilities are endless!

The key is to adapt to the interests and Next Steps of the children in your care. Share your ideas below!

Motor Skills Family