Renovating for a warm & healthy winter

Now that winter is on its way (in the Southern Hemisphere), I am determined to keep my little one as warm and healthy as possible through the inevitable cold and illnesses that will come around.

This was something that hubby and I were thinking about even before LO arrived. Like a lot of New Zealanders, we live in an older house, and these homes often just weren’t built with comfort and convenience in mind. People seemed to just accept being cold as a part of life, and many of today’s homes have problems with condensation on windows, dampness and drafts. The attitude was just to put on some extra clothes – and still is to some degree!

So we have spent the last few years renovating to improve the warmth and weather-tightness (and value) of our home. Renovations in NZ are expensive compared to other countries, but the investment is definitely worth it if you can afford it. Not only do these changes make our home warmer, but they also make it more environmentally friendly as better weather-tightness means reduced power consumption for heating!

Some things that have made a big difference to the warmth of our home and our quality of living are:

  • Upgrading our insulation in the ceiling and adding underfloor insulation as soon as we moved in (we took advantage of a government subsidy to do this)
  • Replacing an old, draughty aluminium ranch-slider door with a new, large, double-glazed UPVC door (pricey, but it made a significant and immediate difference to the warmth of our lounge)
  • Replacing a few of the older large windows with double-glazed ones (we are doing this in stages due to expense)
  • Investing in thermal-backed curtains
  • Adding insulation to exterior walls (also doing this in stages as it means tearing down the old plaster), and
  • Adding to our home heating.

We prioritised the old, outdated, draughty bathroom and the baby’s room before he arrived, so now these are two of the warmest rooms in the house!

There are more upgrades planned, but these initial changes to our home will definitely help keep the winter chill at bay, and as a result should mean fewer colds for all family members this winter (fingers crossed!)

Do you have any suggestions on improving your home energy efficiency and warmth? I’d love to hear them!




How to make a DIY water shaker baby toy

Things can get pretty repetitive with a baby (ugh) so I’m always looking for new ways to entertain my little boy. Today I came up with my own version of a water shaker toy. The great thing about this ‘toy’ is that it was just put together with a few things I had around the house – an excellent way to repurpose some items without the need to spend a cent!

Here’s what you’ll need:20160413_094831

  • an empty plastic water bottle, preferably with a tight lid rather than the pop-top kind (this one was made from cornstarch so is BPA free too)
  • water and some food colouring
  • a few plastic laundry pegs
  • some bits of ribbon
  • any other bits and bobs that will fit in the bottle – I used some beads, bits of shell and some plastic curtain hooks 🙂

It’s as simple as throw everything in the bottle, fill halfway with water, add a drop or two of coloured food dye, screw the lid on tightly and hey presto – a new toy! By filling the bottle only halfway, my boy will get to experience the way the moving water affects the bottle’s weight. And another great thing is that the different items have different densities – some float and some sink. The ribbon swirls and curves nicely around too, adding extra visual interest!

I can’t wait to see what the little guy will make of it later this morning…

Do you have some good DIY baby toy ideas? I’d love to hear them!!





Caring for little teeth naturally

A couple weeks  ago my baby boy grabbed my finger and started gnawing on the knuckle (nothing new there). Only this time I felt a sharp little scratch, the beginnings of a tooth! While obviously excited at having reached another milestone, I was also a little apprehensive. Teething can cause grumpiness and restlessness. And now we also had to think about dental hygiene for babies! A kind of bizarre thought.

In NZ, when you take your baby for their 5 month community nurse checkup, you are gifted a baby toothbrush and toothpaste from one of their ‘sponsors’, one of the large toothpaste/brush companies (that shall remain nameless). I get it, Plunket need to get money from somewhere. They operate on a small budget and do great work for the community. However, being a bit skeptical, I tend to question the motives behind these types of commercially driven donations. I also wasn’t too keen on using the bright blue, sparkly toothpaste on my baby (which incidentally said from 6 years up on it), as well as a bulky plastic toothbrush in his mouth. It just seemed wrong. babyfinger-toothbrush

Luckily, on a recent trip to Aus I had spotted a natural brand of baby dental products, called Jack n Jill,  and had (seeing a bird in hand) snapped up some paste and a set of little silicone finger brushes. So I busted these out the other day, and turns out they are really easy to use! Easier than I imagine trying to use a normal toothbrush on a baby would be. They have soft sort of bristles on one side and bumps on the other to massage baby’s gums little. The only challenge was trying to prevent him chewing on it too much, ha! The organic banana flavoured toothpaste was also a hit (after some initial confused looks from the boy-o), and ended in a lot of lip-smacking.

I have looked to see whether they are available in NZ, and luckily you can get them at a number of online retailers as well as at Commonsense Organics.  Yay! Here’s to establishing healthy little teeth without unnecessary chemicals! Incidentally, since I’ve been breastfeeding, I’ve also switched to a natural toothpaste brand. Did you know some big brand toothpastes have an antibacterial agent in them called triclosan, which has been shown to have hormone altering effects in animals (according to the USFDA)? Although not known to be unsafe in humans, it’s still enough to put me off, and traces of this compound do make their way into breastmilk. Erring on the side of caution, I’m choosing to try to avoid products containing this ingredient.

Teething and feeding – natural alternatives

teethingbabySo the little fella is about five months old now,
and I’m expecting that at any day he might suddenly change from (almost) angel baby to a drooling, screaming nightmare! In any case, I want to be prepared for teething, and for the next stage of moving onto solid foods. However, I don’t want to give him yukky plastic teething toys or plates and cutlery that might contain harmful compounds like phthalates or BPA (Bisphenol A, a chemical used in plastic manufacturing). I mean, these things will be going frequently into his mouth (like a lot of things do already!) so I want to minimise any exposure if I can.

There are a range of alternatives to your regular plastic feeding and teething sets, for example I could go for stainless steel, plastics certified free from phthalates/BPA (still petrochemical based), silicone, or natural organic products made from wood, bamboo, rubber or latex. After some thought, I’m going to look into this third option to see what products are out there that are easily available to us mums in New Zealand. I think this could be the way to go because: A, they are plastic-free and B, made from renewable resources!

I’ve found some plates and cups by a company called Beco


Bamboo fibre plates…a natural alternative?

(that, incidentally, also makes pet products, I found out about them when buying a new water dish for my dogs) that look promising. They are made from bamboo fibre and are food safe. For teething I already have a couple of toys made from natural latex (eg Sophie la girafe) that he likes to chew on, and there are plenty of other non-plastic teething items that I can use, like a cold washcloth from the freezer! So we’ll test out a few of these options and see how it goes. We’re still a little ways off so I have some time up my sleeve to do a bit more research and see what I can find online. I’m also going to head to Commonsense Organics to check out what they have in their baby section as I seem to recall seeing some teething products there.


Example of a natural rubber teether

If you have any good suggestions for natural teething and feeding products or ideas, I’d love to hear about them!





Start with something small – cloth nappies vs disposables

As soon as I found out I was pregnant in early 2015, I wanted to know all I could about how to prepare myself for having a baby. Googling elicited a confusing and vast amount of information, as if just dealing with being pregnant wasn’t enough! There were so many lists of apparently essential baby products that I was going to need just to ensure my child’s survival! Surely I didn’t need all this stuff!? Would I be scorned as a terrible parent without it? Was I willing to take that risk??? The questions, doubt and a creeping sense of panic were quickly taking hold.

What’s more, I wanted to try to do this parenting thing in a way that was in line with my (and my husband’s) values. I consider myself to be a bit ‘green’ (though certainly no zealot) and having worked in waste minimisation, the vast consumer-driven machine that is the baby industry made me a bit uncomfortable. However, there were some things I obviously was going to need: somewhere for the baby to sleep, baby clothes and nappies.

2016-02-26 23.22.32So to start with, I did a bit of research into cloth nappies. I knew a bit about them already, and also knew that I didn’t want to only use disposables if I could help it. However, not having any firsthand experience with nappies of any kind (nope, never), I didn’t want to commit to something that was maybe going to be overly difficult or stressful. I also didn’t want to rule out disposables all together, as there are just some times when you need the convenience factor! So I looked into some of the many reusable nappies on the market and decided that I would go with something that looked relatively simple to use.

Out of the various options (and I was surprised to find there are heaps!) I decided to go20160226_232015 with an ‘all-in-one’ style of nappy and bought a stack of TotsBots Easyfits v4 (they are one of the more expensive options but I got a really good deal on them at the Wellington Baby Show). I chose this style because of its practicality and ease of use, as there are no separate bits to have to take apart and put back together, no complicated folding required, no pins needed. You put it on the baby pretty much the same as you would a disposable nappy, the only difference being that when you take it off it goes in the wash, not the bin. Simple!

I also found out about a scheme by my local council that offered workshops and subsidised cloth nappies, and paid $20 for a sample of 4 different kinds. Score! In fact this kind of thing is offered by quite a few councils around New Zealand, so it’s worth looking into.

The TotsBots were too big for our baby boy to start off with (skinny thighs), but since I hadn’t personally committed to using only reusables, I didn’t feel too bad about using disposables with my newborn. I have to say it was probably also easier at this stage, since we were establishing an entire new routine and just basically getting to grips with the massive life change. But every week the sight of our full garbage bag made me slightly guilty!

When our son was big enough (at about 3 months), we switched to the reusable nappies during the day. As a mum with a small (and quite spewy) baby I do so much laundry anyway that the nappies hardly make any difference. They have turned out to be super easy to use and easy to wash (just rinse a little and chuck them in the machine), I’m saving waste from landfill and feeling smug about saving money as well! We still use disposables at night for the extra absorbency, as he is only changed a couple of times overnight to keep him in “sleep mode”, but I intend to give the reusables a go at night when I run out of this lot of disposables.

I figure part time cloth nappy use is better than none at all, and being flexible in this way definitely has its advantages. If you want more information I’d recommend checking out the Nappy Lady’s website – there is heaps of valuable info there! Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments, and I’ll help out if I can!