All change, September

I love autumn. Autumn is definitely my favourite season: the bright chilly mornings, the cosier evenings in with Netflix, books and wine, the knitwear, the walks kicking through piles of leaves, the lack of expectation. For me, September is still the tail end of summer, so we’ve a little while until we get to those crisp autumn mornings, dark autumn afternoons and chilly autumn nights. However, September brings new terms, new starts, foraging hauls, soups and stews, hot puddings, jam and a different pace. The evenings are getting darker a little earlier and the mornings are a little colder around the edges. It’s the warm up to autumn, the month of preparation and it signals the change over to my favourite time of year. We always seem to end up doing a big end of summer declutter in September and the house gets a proper clean.  I guess we’re getting the house ready for the colder months and spending more time indoors. So far, we’ve moved the girls from their shared bedroom into a bedroom each; had a massive toy overhaul; tackled some DIY loose ends in the front room; and we’ve been making headway with some big life decisions. There have been tears, wine soaked evenings and the knocking of heads. I think we’re making some headway. It’s all good.

Our September has been out of synch this year largely because of the rainy weather throughout summer and the longer school holiday. Usually early September is glorious, with ample opportunity for late summer picnics, long and lazy trips to the park and evenings in the garden star gazing under a blanket with a fire crackling in the fire pit. We haven’t done any of these things this year and I feel that a piece of summer is somehow missing from 2017. With a last minute trip to Somerset over the bank holiday weekend and family commitments last weekend we haven’t had time to pick blackberries yet and all of my plans to join in with Zero Waste week haven’t happened. But, we’ve got 3 weeks of September left and I’m determined to make the most of Autumn prep!

New Beginnings

The big news for us is that the Big One starts school next week. There’s so much to remember and take on board. Plus I’ve felt a huge burden to prepare her for school. I’m sure I’m over thinking it but it’s such a big change from our norm. She’s boisterous and sociable but sensitive and like me, not great with change. We’ve had the teacher visit, signed forms for the Tapestry system, registered for milk, joined in with class playdates and mum’s nights out. There’s a lot of uniform to buy and label plus sensible school shoes to sort out. The girls have always had really fun, colourful footwear so sensible, plain black shoes seem like a massive change. They look so grown-up and formal. My baby is growing up. It’s the small things that signal the biggest change.

IMG_5957School shoes for the Big One; pink shoes for the Little One. A strange sight to behold.

School uniform is challenging from an ethical perspective. As a family, we try our best to buy shoes and clothes from ethical brands and to choose what we buy mindfully. However, key items of uniform, such as cardigans, jumpers, PE kit and book bags have to be bought from the school shop. I have no idea about the school supplier’s fabric or supply chains or credentials. I will write to them to ask, but I guess I’ve been reluctant because there isn’t another option, so it seems futile. It’s a tricky one to navigate. I don’t want to be “that” parent but fast fashion and cheap clothing is such a big deal to me, I feel like I have to engage with it at some level. Where there is the flexibility to choose, such as skirts, polo shirts and trousers I’ve decided to try out a few things from an ethical school uniform company called EcoOutfitters. I’ve bought a summer dress, grey pinafore, polo shirt and grey skirt from them and the remainder of uniform is from M&S. The garments from EcoOutfitters are just lovely. I’m so impressed with the quality and the fabric. Everything is beautifully made and super soft. The bits I ordered arrived in a brown paper envelope and all of the labels are made of cardboard and attached with twine and safety pins. It’s all very dilligent. The downside is the cost. It’s not cheap and we can’t afford to buy everything from them – for example, one organic cotton polo shirt from EcoOutfitters is £9.99 and a pack of 2 from M&S is £7. The cost difference is stark. The other downside is that the care labels are very specific: wash at 30; don’t tumble dry. We don’t have a utility room or airing cupboard. Laundry in our small house is a big bug bear of mine, not being able to tumble dry will possibly be an issue over winter. As the items are not finished with anything they explain on the label to expect 5% shrinkage. I hope that everything I’ve bought still fits after a few washes and that I’m able to keep on top of the washing and drying over the colder winter months. We’ll see how we get on. I hope it works out, I’d like to buy more from them and hopefully keep some stuff as hand-me-downs for the Little One when she starts school in a couple of years.

Talking laundry, I went to Lakeland today to buy a cover for my DrySoon heated airer. The airer was an expensive purchase last year but an absolute godsend, especially over winter and during the drizzly summer holidays. It’s also brilliant for stuff that can’t be tumble dried. I would highly recommend these to those who don’t have access to a washing line or tumble dryer. I didn’t bother with the cover last year but I’ve read so many positive reviews about it speeding up drying time, that I decided to invest in one for this year. It cost £35, so again it’s not cheap but hopefully it will pay for itself over the next few years. The heated airer is much more efficient in terms of it’s electricity use compared to our washer dryer and stops our clothes from smelling mouldy in the winter months.

Organic Your September – Soil Association 

Organic Your September

The Soil Association run Organic Your September as their flagship campaign to promote all things organic throughout September. There are usually loads of offers on organic products available in all sorts of different shops, including supermarkets and independent shops in support of the event. I’ve noticed that the cost of our weekly shop is down by about 25% this week! It’s a great time to sample organic produce or stock up on organic favourites. If you haven’t really considered buying organic before or if you don’t know what the benefits are, you can  download a pdf starter kit for free from the Soil Association, which includes loads of information, recipes and best of all, discounts on lots and lots of Soil Association accredited products (20% off organic gin – yes, please!)

I was really disappointed to read a report that revealed that the free fruit given to children at school was found to contain 123 different traces of pesticides. There is research to show that these pesticides have a negative effect on children’s cognitive function. This made my heart sink a little. We’ve been quite fussy with the foods we feed our children at home and although we don’t eat exclusively organic and do indulge in the odd take-away or ready meal, we do try to make sure that the basics (fruit, veg, meat, milk, eggs and bread) are organic to reduce our exposure to pesticides. The publicity around this report has made me nervous about the quality of fruit, milk and indeed school dinners being provided at the Big One’s school. I guess, there’s the option of packed lunch if school dinners don’t work out (they are the thing that the Big One is most excited about – tricky) and I am going to look into any campaigns that I can join to lobby the government for better quality ingredients for our children.

Zero Waste Week – 4th – 8th September

I’ve failed miserably at getting involved in Zero Waste Week, I had all sorts of exciting plans for this past week but life has thrown all sorts of spanners into the mix recently. We continue to try and reduce our waste as a family. I’m not sure we’re actually doing that well at it though. I’ve become quite reliant on internet shopping and there is usually an abundance of recycling generated from these purchases. It’s something I need to keep an eye on.

The areas I’m determined to tackle next are plastic food wrap and composting our food waste. I need to buy a compost bin for the garden. Our council subsidise the cost of these bins. This is a no-brainer. Composting our food waste should reduce the waste in our landfill bin by half. And then finding a good organic, fair trade loose leaf tea and quitting tea bags. If you’re not already aware some teabags have a plastic sealant, which means that they won’t break down in your compost bin. The no-waste solution is obviously tea leaves as these can be composted and there is no bag to breakdown or throw away. I think we could make some big shakes with some relatively small changes.

Blackberry Jam & Hedgerow Crumble

And last but by no means least, jam making. I’m quite new to jam making. I made my first batch 2 years’ ago with The Big One who was only two and it was so yummy. It was a really fun thing to do together. Much easier to make than I’d imagined too. It probably wasn’t an award winning jam but we ate liberal amounts of it smeared on buttery toast, until every last bit was gone.

IMG_1920Homemade Blackberry Jam, September 2015

I didn’t have enough fruit to make jam last year – our usual spot didn’t do very well. I’m really hoping that this year’s foraging haul is better. We tasted a couple of berries on a walk to the park this week and they were amazingly delicious – sweet, floral, plump and juicy. Very encouraging. I’m so hoping for a bit of lovely sunshine this weekend so we can pull on our wellies and get picking. I’d love to pick enough fruit to make a couple of jars of jam, a blackberry and apple loaf and a crumble. We traditionally make what we call hedgerow crumble – basically a mix of whatever fruit we can find. Last year we made a blackberry, elderberry and apple crumble – it was really delicious. I read that blackberries picked from the hedgerow have 5 times the amount of vitamin C per 100g than your average shop bought orange. I reckon it’s a great way to boast immunity and stock up on vitamin C before the winter. And they’re free and delicious too. Maybe we’ll try and pick some berries to freeze too. A welcome addition to any smoothie over the colder months.

What better way to ease into a new season than with some delicious homemade jam and crumble?

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