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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]

 

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

ZERO WASTE REVIEW: Products to make washing up less of a chore!

As a family of four, plus being a childminder who works from home, we do a lot of washing up (well, I say ‘we’ when I actually mean my mother mainly!) Up until recently we would buy multipacks of cheap sponges, which were used for a week or so before throwing away, but as these are made from plastic and will never fully degrade, I was keen to find alternatives; below are my thoughts on two products designed to replace these plastic washing up sponges

Safix Scrub Pad from Hereford Eco Products

Made from coconut fibres held together with natural latex, this pad is fully compostable and biodegradable at the end of its serviceable life, as it contains no plastic whatsoever

Because of the rough texture, it is especially useful for the heavy duty washing up, such as frying pans and saucepans where the food has baked on. I will admit that I did worry for the surface of my frying pan before I used this; initially it feels quite rough to the touch, but three months down the line, and my frying pans are as smooth as ever, and the pad has softened up a little too

We are still using our original scrub pad, where we would have used and thrown away at least six sponges in the same time span. A few of the coconut fibres have worked loose over that time, but the product is still perfectly usable, and will be for some time

I tend to soak the pad once a month in diluted apple cider vinegar for an extra deep clean, but as long as you rinse the pad after use and leave to dry, it will still last a long time

Another added bonus is that it is good for scrubbing potatoes from the garden before peeling them; that brought back fond memories of my childhood cleaning the spuds for Sunday lunch in my nan’s kitchen!

Washing Up Pad

Washing Up Brush from Boobalou

Another blast from the past with this one, as I remember my mum using a washing up brush when I was a child, but that was plastic with plastics bristles. This washing up brush has a beech wood handle and bristles made of Tampico fibres; Tampico is derived from the yellow leaf of the agave cactus and is useful for this purpose because it retains water, is robust and hard-wearing and keeps its shape. Because the bristles are plant-based, they are 100% biodegradable

The brush is perfect for general cleaning of plates, bowls and cups; the bristles aren’t so hard that they scratch the surfaces of the crockery, while the small head means that the brush can get into the hard to reach corners of mugs with ease

The brush does take a while to dry out in between uses; ours doesn’t dry out in the day but does overnight. The metal loop at the end of the handle is useful to hang up the brush to dry in between uses

Replacement heads are available; there is a knack to removing the old head (lots of wiggling involved to loosen the metal holding the head on!) but once you know what you’re doing, it’s simple enough to do a second time. It’s also good to know that the head isn’t just going to fall off randomly too! The video here is useful to watch to help you too

Washing Up Brush

Summary

We are very pleased with our replacements for washing up sponges; each product fulfils a slightly different use, and therefore we will continue to use both. The key test for anything related to washing up in our house is whether they pass my mother’s seal of approval… and they do; she is will be replacing her washing up sponges with these products, so there is no higher praise than that in my eyes!

Toy Rotation: January 2019

Although this one is more about room rotation than toy rotation!

Over Christmas we FINALLY managed to move the piano out of the conservatory into the living room. This left us with a huge space in the conservatory, which doubles up as both playroom and dining room, which was crying out to be filled. So… Operation Playroom came into force, and this is the end result!

room all

All of the toys and resources I own for childminding are in the 5×5 Kallax, with the exception of crafty bits in a small chest of drawers, as they are hard to store in large boxes. Currently we only have 10 boxes, but we plan on adding more to make the place look less cluttered and more appealing visually. Within the Kallax, resources are organised into similar themes, for example puzzles, board games, motor skills, Lego, dressing up, construction, musical instruments and so on, so finding appropriate resources to suit the children’s interests and next steps is simple. Can you tell that we love Orchard Toys?!

room kallax

The toy kitchen and easel are permanent fixtures in the playroom and I rotate the items within the kitchen to maintain children’s interest. For example, one week we have the breakfast items in there to play with, another week we might have pizza making resources, on another we might have fruit and vegetables to discuss healthy eating. I find that rotating resources in this area engages children more effectively than having all of the kitchen resources out at once, and means that they play imaginatively with them. Once enthusiasm is waning, or a child asks for a particular kitchen item, I will swap resources over

room kitchen

The doll house bookcase is fantastic to display large toys that have been selected for the current rotation; the shelves are roomy and having different widths and heights of spaces means that pretty much any resource can be placed on here. All children can easily access the resources on the shelves, although I tend to put resources tailored to babies on the bottom shelf, simply for ease of access

room bookcase

The toy box unit is a very recent acquisition and its purchase stems from a recent problem I have encountered; while the bookcase is great for displaying larger single items, it is less useful for smaller items, or resources with lots of ‘bits’ (for example toy animals, building blocks and Duplo) I experimented for a few months with small baskets on the bookcase for these items, but these took up lots of space and limited the amount that could be put out. So when I spotted this unit on a local selling page I snapped it up! The boxes allow me to display and store smaller items so they can still be accessed easily by all the children, whilst freeing up the bookcase for larger items. The children love tidying toys up into the boxes before we sit down for meals, and have learnt how to remove them safely using both butterfly ‘handles’

room unit

So, what still needs to be improved?

Firstly, to sort out the other end of the playroom! Since I was concentrating on getting the main play area up and running ready for the children after Christmas, the other end has turned into a bit of a dumping ground. The children sit at the big table for mark making and craft activities, although I am considering a small table and chairs specifically for these activities in the playroom. My only concern would be babies being able to access the craft items like pencils and scissors, so this one needs a lot of thought…

Oh, and yes, that is a dalek! She’s called Delilah…

room other end

Another aim for 2019 is to incorporate a reading area into the playroom itself; books are currently available in the living room, but I would love to create a comfortable space with cushions and blankets in the playroom. All of the children love their books and I wasn’t to make reading an even more enjoyable experience for them!

room books

What would you change about my playroom? Share your ideas with me!

A letter to our friends and family: please no ‘stuff’ this Christmas

Firstly, I do want to say how grateful we are that people want to buy our kids (and us!) gifts at Christmas; we are lucky to have such generous friends and family! This post is not meant to sound ungrateful or like we’re preaching to you, but we would like to share with you some of the changes we have made this year, and how you, our friends and family, can help to support us with those changes

We have now reached a stage in our life where we have so much ‘stuff’ that we don’t actually need, and Christmas adds more to the pile. This year we have decluttered a LOT (even Paul has got involved with this one, and cleared the loft space a little!) got rid of excess furniture, knick-knacks, duplicate toys and household items which we used once years ago and then never again (who needs a salad spinner, really?!)

We are now reaching a stage where everything in our house falls into two categories; useful or sentimental. The rest is expendable

And this is where YOU come in, our friends and family. We don’t need more stuff to fill the gaps we have created in our home this year and will NOT be offended if you don’t get us anything at all! What we do want is time together as a family, so if you want to get us anything, could you consider popping a fiver in an envelope which we can put towards family days out throughout the year. For example, last July we took the kids on the train to London to see Uncle David, and would love to do the same again this year

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Due to the nature of my job, we have loads of toys already, so there are very few things we actually need; but if you REALLY feel that you want to buy the kids something to open, we have a list of a few select toys at Wise Owl Toys (ask behind the counter for the list) Some of these won’t be used immediately for our kids, but I plan ahead for the whole year. For instance, we have just cracked open the See & Spell that was bought for Thomas’s third birthday as he is just learning to read at preschool; so even if the items seem too advanced for our kids currently, they will get full use when the time comes!

We are also trying to reduce our waste this year, particularly plastic waste; we have introduced reusable straws, reusable cups and beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm into our household. We also utilise the new zero waste shop that has opened in Worcester, buying plastic-free deodorant, refilling containers instead of buying new and continuing to use reusable nappies, wipes and (me personally) CSP

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Christmas adds a lot of unnecessary waste to our house including foil wrapping paper that can’t be recycled. So, would you consider using brown paper to wrap? It is cheap to buy, and we will reuse it is possible, recycle if necessary. You can even get the kids to decorate it for a personal touch! Or could you reuse those gift bags from last year, make labels from old cards and consider homemade gifts for other people where they would be appreciated?

I understand that our lifestyle changes aren’t to everyone’s taste, but we would love it if you could join us in making our Christmas a sustainable one

Merry Christmas everyone!