family life

Morning has broken

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The ‘habit of schooling’ our society has developed over the last 150 years means that we send nearly all our children to school for 190 days a year. This brings with it a degree of domestic mayhem every morning, and this post is designed to help you conquer this disorder. In terms of time management, allow yourself about at the very least 30-60 minutes in total for all the jobs listed below, depending on family size, age of children, and how well everyone is trained to assist. So just to reiterate, if you work outside the home, you will need to plan for at least an hour in total of bustling activity to get everybody up, dressed and out, on condition that school bags, uniforms, briefcases and packed lunches have been prepared the night before. Therefore for most people, if they get up around 7-7.30am, that will fit in with most day to day commitments during the week, whilst allowing time for a well planned start to the day. Therefore that may be something to aim for in the first instance, while you are getting used to an organised regime. (I’d be interested to know how long you spend getting out the house in the mornings – look in the Polls category on the right hand side of the screen to vote on how much time you spend on this).

  • Make sure family members open their bedroom windows when they get up, and throw back the bedclothes to air. (10 seconds)
  • Once you are washed and dressed, go straight downstairs to set the table very simply and make breakfast (porridge and toast is best if you are on a budget, along with juice or milk for the children and tea/coffee for adults). This job could also be done the night before. Bread rolls and spreadable butter are probably the laziest option if you really aren’t a morning person. (5-10 minutes plus eating time)
  • After breakfast, clear the dishes (use a tray to speed this process up, and also at the same time send someone around the house to collect waif and stray mugs and so on from the previous evening ), stack dishes ready for loading into dishwasher, wipe table and sweep under table if necessary. (5-10 minutes)
  • Next load or unload dishwasher as necessary, or do washing up and put away most or all dishes (if you are going to be out at work all day and only coming back just before supper, you might want to recycle some of the clean dishes immediately so you can leave the table set ready for the next meal, as they do in hotels and restaurants). (5-10 minutes)
  • Wipe kitchen sink or kitchen worktop as necessary. (1 minute)
  • Next empty kitchen bin if necessary, and put in new bin bag, wipe bin if it needs it. (3-5 minutes depending on the state of bin, but probably not every day)
  • Make children’s beds (preferably with their help). (5-10 minutes if it’s just duvets)
  • Make own bed and hang up errant clothes. (5-10 minutes)
  • Clean and tidy bathroom as necessary (eg hang up towels, check there is enough toilet roll and soap). (2 minutes)
  • Close bedroom windows, finally remember to lock up everything if you are going out – OK, I know I’m sounding like a mother of four now. (5 minutes)

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Hiking with the family

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For cheap or free outings during the summer, there’s nothing to beat hiking through the countryside with the kids. So what do you need to think about when planning a trip? Well, first of all you have to plan a route that would be worthy of Goldilocks – not too long, not too short, and with plenty to see and do on the way. Surprisingly, most children can manage an hour’s hiking from the age of about 3, which should involve about 2 miles if it is flat. If you train them up well, then they can easily manage half day hikes from about the age of 7 or 8, and full day hikes by secondary school age, hitting these targets even younger if you take them very regularly. For beginners, planning ambitious peak bagging excursions in the Lake District is probably not the best place to start, so you need to think of something a bit more modest. In such cases, riverside hikes can be particularly good, with birds and canal boats to look at, as can hikes around stately homes and reservoirs with tea and cakes afterwards in the cafe. Tuck away a carrier bag or two and towards the end of August, you can even collect some blackberries while you are out.

One of the secrets to success is making sure kids have the right gear on, especially if the ground is uneven or the weather changeable. Proper hiking boots and breathable, waterproof jackets bought second hand off Ebay are a great start, but it that’s too expensive, try making sure they have decent, well-fitting wellingtons with a supportive insole and couple of pairs of socks on, as well as lots of layers that can be stripped off or added to, depending on the weather. Also take a small first aid kit with blister plasters, insect cream, suncream and high energy Lucozade tablets (a great placebo), and pack a small picnic for en route. The ideal picnic includes lots of liquid, for example watered-down fruit juice, wholemeal bread sandwiches for slow energy release, fruit, muesli bars and biscuits. My grandfather used to tuck away a small toblerone for me to eat when we got to the top of a mountain, which was very motivating, and you might like to think about doing something like this as well. Finally, it can be good to give each child their own little backpack for special treasures – favourite fluffy toy, dolls, penknife, binoculars, torch, camera and so on.  Then onwards and maybe even upwards!

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Do you want to ride your bicycle?

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Here’s a simple check list for getting your bike up and running now it’s the better weather.

You will need

A pump that actually fits your tyres. This might have a little tube thing that comes out of the end and screws onto both  the wheel and the pump, in which case it’s designed for a Schrader valve. If you need to screw the pump straight onto the wheel, and there’s no removable tube thing,  it’s called a Presta valve. Some pumps will have an adaptor so they can be used for both types of valve. Keep it handy in your hallway or garage.

Some WD40 spray oil in a can, or cycle oil.

Batteries for your lights.

A cycle tool or set of hex keys and spanners to fit your bike.

A bucket of warm water, a cleaning cloth, non stick pan scrub and some Cif.

How to do it

1. Wipe down the main areas of your bike with the Cif to remove any mud. Avoid cleaning the chain. Rinse, and polish dry.

2. Tighten up anything that appears to be rattling, reposition anything that seems to be rubbing on things that it shouldn’t. For example, if your brakes are squeaky, it may be that they have got knocked and just easing them to a central position will solve the problem, adjusting the brake pads carefully so they don’t touch the rim of the wheel when in motion, but are near enough to do so if you decide to brake. If your mud guards are rattling, again, ease them into a central position or tighten up any nuts. If your seat or handlebars don’t feel completely secure, a couple of twists with a spanner should do it.

3. Pump up your tyres so you can only just press your thumb into the top where the tread is once they are fully inflated. Don’t overfill them, otherwise the inner tube will burst. If you underinflate them, you will wear the inner tube out.  Get into the habit of pumping them up at least two to three times a week for optimum performance. Carry a small pump with you when cycling for emergencies.

4. Replace the batteries in your lights so they are ready for use and don’t run out unexpectedly.

5. Give the chain a couple of drops of oil, or a spray or two of WD40. You might also do this for your bicycle lock.

Organising family cycling – top tips

Make sure everyone has a parcel carrier and/or a basket so they can carry their own gear, however young they are. Even our smallest child has a basket on the front of his Postman Pat tricycle for his cagoule and teddy.

Teach children independence by getting them to lock up their bikes safely and securely (so they don’t fall over or get knocked) whenever they park them, and attaching the locks to holders on their bikes when they are riding them. Combination locks can be a little unreliable but are easy for children to use, and can be complemented with an adult D-lock on family trips, when you can lock several bikes together.

Have a box with spare pumps, light, batteries and basic repair kit readily to hand, so you can easily repair things if you are in a hurry. There’s nothing worse than embarking on the school run only to realise someone has a flat tyre, but that another family member has lost the only pump.

Make friends with your local bike repair person so they are more willing to mend a flat tyre for you in a hurry.

Children always need to wear helmets, even on bike paths, as they come off more often and hit their heads, and their skulls are soft. Adults need to wear helmets in traffic, or when doing sports cycling, or if unsteady, but statistically are more likely to break an arm or a leg in other cycling accidents, so strictly speaking have more of a choice in whether a helmet is truly necessary for them, depending on a risk assessment of the cycling conditions. Keep your family cycle helmets on a shelf in a row or hanging from a row of hooks, so they are easily accessible.

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Morning poll

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Healthy after school snacks

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Try these to keep the little’uns away from the biscuit tin.

Bread sticks

Yoghurts, in little pots of natural with a bit of honey. Cut comb honey always has a pleasing novelty value.

Fruit kebabs

Microwave popcorn

Cheese sticks

Toasted crumpet or muffin with olive spread

Ryvita with raisins inside

Carrot sticks or pitta bread fingers with dip made from 6 teaspoons low fat mayo and 1 teaspoon ketchup mixed together.

Image: Paul /

Five tinned foods that punch above their weight

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I’ve been nosying around my winter survival cupboard today to see what needs topping up, and I am about to make a big trip to the cash and carry to stock up on tins. Interestingly enough, a lot of tinned foods have more vitamins in them than fresh food that things that have been lying around your kitchen for a week or so.  Here are some great additions to a store cupboard that I will be bringing home later.

Tinned tomatoes – these come in different forms but particularly useful are the ones with garlic and herbs already in the mix. Passata in large jars can go onto home made pizza bases with a big of grated cheese and some salami for a Saturday treat.

Pulses – try different kinds such as lentils, chickpeas, borlotti beans, butter beans, mixed spicy beans and canneloni beans. Great with mince, in salads, to bulk out a bolognaise or shepherd’s pie, or to make an instant vegetarian chili.

Stone fruits – cherries, plums and mirabelles make great crumbles and pies, can be served with cream or yoghurt for a quick dessert, and can even be added to smoothies or put on top of muesli.

Exotic fruits – pineapple, lychees, mangos are all wonderful to have around, and give you the makings of a very sophisticated winter fruit salad, but look for tins which state they are in their own juices rather than in syrup.

Fish – Sardines, mackerel, salmon, tuna and even shrimps are all great for sandwiches, pasta dishes, fish pie, salads and little toasts to have as a nibble with a glass of wine.

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Healthy diets, the 1910 way.

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As you have probably read on other pages of this blog, my starting point for investigations into housekeeping practices and their effect on family wellbeing started with a series of home management books produced for schools in 1910, written by Wilena Hitching (previously a headmistress and school inspector). These books were designed to give a thorough, almost scientific introduction to the study of housekeeping to girls between the ages of about 11-14, with a view to preparing them for lives as wives and mothers. While some of the advice she gave sounds dated today, most of it has surprisingly significant relevance for men and women a hundred years later, particularly in times of financial constraint. My focus today will be what Miss Hitching considered to be a healthy diet for families, viewed through a 21st century lens.

Breakfast options (served at 8am)


Bread crusts soaked in warm milk

Brown bread and butter and an egg


Smoked Finnan haddock

Hot milk for children

Cocoa for adults

Most of these are high in fibre and protein, with very little sugar evident and comparatively little fat (with the exception of the bacon). This is clearly an idealised diet – Miss Hitching does permit the drinking of tea and coffee, but regards it as somewhat stimulating and less preferable than cocoa.

Luncheon (which took place mid-morning, around 10.30 am, and was really for children)

Hot milk and a biscuit

Brown bread and butter and a banana

Dinner options (which took place in the middle of the day, around 1pm). A good housekeeper would prepare a two or three course meal, depending on the weather and the type of work family members were engaging in.

Pea soup

Lentil soup

Haricot soup

Roast meats, leftovers minced or served in shepherd’s pie (for example)

Chops or steaks


Poached fish



Savoury Yorkshire pudding (served alongside roast meats or before the meal with gravy as a kind of appetiser)

Savoury or sweet suet puddings, such as steak and kidney pudding or jam roly poly (but not both in the same meal!)

Macaroni or rice pudding

Stewed fruit and custard

These are high protein meals, comparatively high in saturated fat, but the amount of sugar used in the desserts is comparatively low – a teaspoon of sugar here, a little bit of jam there. There is ample use of fruit, vegetables and pulses, simply prepared, meaning the meals are comparatively high in fibre as well.

Tea (served mid-afternoon, around 4pm; again, mainly aimed at children)

Bread and butter

Watercress, lettuce or radishes

Stewed fruit (apples, rhubarb, prunes, etc)

Once again, this is a high fibre meal with more fruit and vegetables, designed to maximise satiety (feeling of fullness). Watercress is packed full of vitamins, iron and other minerals, representing a kind of Edwardian superfood.

Supper (served before bed, around 7pm) – one or more of the following might be served.

Bread and butter or bread and dripping

Hot milk


Boiled onions

Cream crackers, butter and cheese

Simple fare, and perhaps less extensive that in modern times for the time of day. This is presumably because the bulk of the calories needed was taken in during breakfast and lunch, and the family had had the opportunity to gather together for a hot meal during the middle of the day as well. The need to give the stomach a rest from meat overnight is emphasised in Miss Hitching’s book.

I look at all this food, and wonder whether personally I could plough my way through all of this every day, even taking out the ‘luncheon’ and ‘tea’ on the basis of not being a growing child. It is also intriguing to wonder what might happen to the body, were we to start eating like this regularly. Given that the calorific intake is probably higher than we are used to today, would we end up fatter? Or would the simple nature of the food allow our bodies to process the fats and sugars more effectively than we tend to now, leading to fewer metabolic problems such as diabetes and obesity. I think I have an inkling as to the answer, when I think about rationing that was to come thirty years later during World War II, which involved a diet not too far removed from what we are seeing in this 1910 list, albeit with less meat. This led to an improvement in the nation’s health, so perhaps the answers to the obesity epidemic lie in what our grandmothers already knew about choosing food for the family?