Featured

Hello!

Sunbeams are lovely little pockets of light, which illuminate anything they touch. I like to think of life as being full of sunbeams. It isn’t always sunny – thunder clouds can roll in when we least expect them; fog can engulf us; rain will lash down, making our feet soggy and heavy. 

But then a soft breeze will blow the clouds away, revealing rainbows and sunbeams – beautiful little pockets of colour and warmth. Love, laughter, moments in time forever carved in our memories. These vary in depth – from the birth of a baby to indulging in a favourite cake; climbing a mountain to snuggling under a soft blanket.

I’m Mags, SAHM to four wee rays of light. Being a SAHM is full of happy memories-in-the-making, although my feet do get soggy from time to time. I like to do crafty things, some with my children, some without. I was a teacher before I had my children, and I may teach again one day. For now though I’m embarking on the role of blogger. This blog is to be my log of sunbeams. With a pinch of sass! 

post

But First…Coffee and Duplo!

I haven’t posted anything in a while. There are a few reasons for this: Kevin is abroad this week, so I’m flying solo with parental/household responsibilities; last week was a busy one, so the social exhaustion has taken hold of me; my rambunctious toddler has also left me without a spare five minutes here and there to jot down my thoughts.

Lack of ideas is not an issue. I currently have no less than five posts sitting in draft – not including the Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes posts that will now be shelved until next year – and a notebook filled with other potential post ideas. Sometimes when I’m writing, the words just flow onto the page with little effort. Other posts need piecing together like a puzzle. Sometimes I’ll start writing about one thing, and by the time I’m finished it ends up being about something completely different. Those posts are my favourites! I love that the words can take me to places that I hadn’t even considered.

Earlier in the year I started to keep a diary again. I find it to be an essential part of my self care (sometimes it’s the only bit of self care I manage to do!) I also find it helps generate ideas for future posts. A whole blog post can spring forth from a single random thought. Just think of how many books/businesses/inventions have started in the same way! One of my lovely friends bought me a blogging journal a while back, so that I could keep all of my ideas in one place. Now when I have a lightbulb moment, it goes in that navy spiral notebook.

Not eveything I write can be published. Sometimes I’ll tap something out on a whim, but then realise it’s too personal to share. I did publish one such post last year, but deleted it not long afterwards, as I felt it wasn’t really in keeping with the rest of my blog. Some things just aren’t meant to be put out there. Some things are best left between the pages of my diary.

As for the posts that can be published – they will materialise when they’re meant to. I’m off to make my third coffee of the morning now, and then settle down for some more epic Duplo building with my littlest girly-woo…

#12ecothings: The 2nd and 3rd Quarters

In March I posted about our #12ecothings journey that we had embarked on at the beginning of the year. The idea is that in order to make lasting changes in our lives which will benefit the planet, we adopt one eco switch each month. This means that by the end of the year we will have made twelve swaps which we can carry forward.

Our journey so far has been a learning curve. Some switches have been easier to make than others. Sometimes we’ve made two swaps in one month, then gone a month without making any. It’s just depended on when we’ve run out of things and have been ready to purchase something more eco-friendly. I don’t believe in throwing away something just so that you can look eco-friendly, so we’ve been running down what we have at home first.

In March I talked about the three switches we’d made – water bottles, oral hygiene and loo roll. These swaps are still very much in effect. We take our water bottles everywhere we go, all of us now have a bamboo toothbrush subscription with We Are Bristle (although I’m still looking for eco friendly toothpaste for my children), as well as a loo roll subscription with Who Gives A Crap. Our homemade toilet wipes are also still being used, although I need to make more, as we only have enough to last us around two days.

Our next six swaps are as follows:

1. Soap. I’ve always preferred bars of soap, as the liquid stuff really dries out my hands, even the ones with added moisturiser. I used to buy the liquid soap in the plastic pump bottles, as it was easier for the children to use. I’ve gone back to bars now though, as not only do they last much longer (my kids can go through one bottle of liquid soap a day if let loose in the bathroom), they can be completely package-free if you know where to look. At the moment we have the sea vegetable soap from Lush, but I’ve also found soaps from independent makers in charity shops, craft shops, and on Etsy. If I can’t get it completely package-free, I look for bars wrapped in paper. This can then either be recycled or repurposed.

2. Dishwasher powder. Technically, in order to be the most eco-friendly we can, we shouldn’t even have a dishwasher. That being said, we’re a big family and we purchased our dishwasher less than three years ago. I used to spend hours doing dishes – more so when we were entertaining family and friends. When we bought our new kitchen we weighed up the pros and cons of having a dishwasher, and in the end the time-saving incentive was the deciding factor. It’s generally only on once a day on the eco setting, plus we bought one with an A+ energy rating. We started off using dishwasher tablets, but these were all individually wrapped in plastic, so when I discovered you could buy loose powder in a cardboard box we switched to that. The tablets are designed to go in the big models, but as we have a slimline model we don’t need as much detergent, so since swapping to the powder we get more washes for our money too.

3. Shampoo/conditioner. This has been a bit of a stop-start switch. I have a waist-length mane of dry, sometimes-curly-sometimes-straight-mostly-can’t-make-up-its-mind hair. It takes shampoo, conditioner, plus an occasional treatment/serum to tame it into something that I’m willing to inflict upon society! I took the plunge and bought a bar each of shampoo and conditioner from Lush, as well as a serum for added moisture. The shampoo bar was great, although with both myself and Kevin using it, it went down quite quickly, despite the fact that I only need to wash my hair twice a week at the very most! The conditioner bar wasn’t great. I didn’t feel it did much for my hair, although it could be that I need to try a few to find one which suits my hair. When both had run out I ended up being pushed for time and bought shampoo in a plastic bottle. I did buy a big one that I knew would last though, and my kids have plans to turn it into something wonderful once it’s finished! I’ve seen loads of different eco substitutes for bottled shampoo and conditioner on Pinterest, the most popular one being apple cider vinegar. I’m planning on trying out a few and may do a separate post on my findings. I’m not quite ready to try the no ‘poo method yet, although I’ve heard good things about it. The serum is great – definitely something I’ll be sticking with! My kids still use baby shampoo, as three of them have quite sensitive skin. I’m on the lookout for an eco brand for them though, particularly one in sustainable packaging.

4. Straws. I was a bit on the fence about this one – not because I don’t think plastic straws are having a negative impact on the planet, but because straws aren’t generally something we use. I felt that if we bought some it would just be for the sake of saying we had switched to reusable straws! However, I’m partial to a cocktail once in a while, and my teeth can be sensitive to cold drinks if there’s ice in them. Kevin bought me some bamboo straws which can be washed and used again and again. When they are at the end of their life they can be tossed in the compost bin, so are very environmentally friendly. The kids love using them when they have mocktails too.

5. Food wrap. Cling film and aluminium foil are the two things I was most keen to find substitutes for. Luckily I didn’t need to look far, as beeswax wraps are one of the most common swaps available. Naturally antibacterial and sustainable, they come in all different sizes and can be composted once they are beyond reasonable use. I went with Bee Green wraps, as they only use the surplus beeswax from the hives and are based in Devon. I am looking at making my own – if you’re interested my SIL, Jo, has a great tutorial.

6. Reusable bags. This is one which we have actually been doing for years, as we have acquired a stash of reusable bags for the shopping. One thing which really bothers me though, is the amount of plastic used to package fruit and veg in the supermarket. Even the loose produce invites you to put it in a plastic bag! I rebelled against this by making my own fabric produce bags. I used spare fabric I had lying around, but you could make them out of anything – an old t-shirt; a spare pillowcase; an old sheet. Even the most amateur sewer could whip up a few in around twenty minutes. I’ve had fellow customers come over to me in the supermarket to comment positively on my bags, as well as the workers on the checkout. One checkout lady even recognised me the next time I was in, thanks to my homemade produce bags, and called over her colleagues to have a look! A bit of eco-fame does wonders for adding a bit of glam to the weekly shop!!

It’s been fun working out which swaps to make, as well as giving us that warm glow which comes with doing good. We are still doing nowhere near enough to save our beautiful planet, but we’re getting there.

Which eco swaps have you made?

House of Dreams

When I was little I read about so many different houses. A few stand out in my mind still, somewhat mashed together to shape my dream house. Green Gables is up there, obviously, along with the little house in the big woods, Rapunzel’s tower, the wild yet beautiful secret garden, and (every child’s dream) the gingerbread cottage. As I moved into adulthood, more houses were added to the collection in my mind: Bridget Jones’ London flat, various townhouses from chick lit novels, a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors, and the Burrow. 

Each of these places captures the essence of me in some form. Rapunzel’s tower and the house on the moors speak to the part of me that craves solitude. Green Gables, the house in the woods, and that mysterious garden reflect my desire to be surrounded by nature. The Burrow, the townhouses, and even Bridget Jones’ flat convey the warmth of family and friendships that are so important to me, and the gingerbread house is a bit of whimsy that we all need once in a while.

There are many more clambering for space, competing for a chance to feature in my final dream house. I say final, because Kevin and I have been planning our dream house for years. Even before we were married we had decided that one day we will build our house. We’ve never faltered from that dream. We’ve never once said maybe not. 

Our first house was rented – a tiny, one bedroom flat near the centre of the town. We moved into it six months before we were married. It needed modernising a bit, plus the heating and hot water never worked, but it was our home. It’s where Kevin carried me over the threshold after our wedding. It’s where I commuted to my first teaching job from. It’s where we discovered we were going to be parents. 

Impending parenthood was the catalyst for us seeking out a new home. We were extremely fortunate to have family offering to help us with the purchase of a house, so we set to looking for one that would be suitable for bringing up a child.

We quickly found a house that was close to both sides of the family, had good transport links, a garden, and three bedrooms. The extra bedroom meant that we would have space for another child, should we be blessed with another. Little did we know that our family of two would expand to a family of six within nine years!

As our family has grown, so has our dream house. We’ve designed and changed and designed some more. Sometimes we’ve clashed on aspects of structure, but usually manage to compromise and make both of our ideas work together. For example, Kevin is a big fan of open-plan spaces, whereas I like cosy and intimate pockets. We’ve compromised, by designing an open-plan space that is divided up into the cosy areas by furniture. Grand Designs helps us keep our dream alive, and we are avid watchers of the programme, taking note of what works and mistakes to avoid. Our vision is likely to go through several more changes before we get to our final plan.

Owing to the fact that we’ve been living on one income since we moved into our current house, and the fact that we have a big family, we haven’t been able to realise our dream as quickly as we’d hoped. We are undeterred though, and have been squirreling away funds to put towards our build. Once I’m working again we’ll be able to save at a faster rate, and can begin looking for a plot of land that will be turned into our own grand design.

People frequently ask if we’re planning to move soon, more so since Jessica arrived. The short answer to that question is no. Although it can seem a bit squashed sometimes, especially when we have family and friends over, we’re actually comfortable enough at the moment. We also don’t want to fritter away any of our precious house-building funds on something that will only do for a short while. We  always have the bigger picture in our minds. 

Our dream house isn’t something I talk about very often. The few times I’ve mentioned it, it’s been shot down with oh but it’s everyone’s dream really, isn’t it?! and quiet disbelief. I don’t know why people feel the need to do that – is it jealousy? The feeling that our aspirations need to be brought down a peg or two? Who knows? Whether or not it’s everyone’s dream…well, I can’t speak for everyone else. I can only speak for us and our dream. A dream that is getting closer to becoming a reality every day. 

What does your dream house look like?

Mabon: Working a Prosperity Spell

As Mabon approaches we give thanks for the abundance which Earth has bestowed on us. For those who practise magick, it’s also the ideal time for working prosperity/money spells, taking advantage of the energy which accompanies this time of plenty.

I’m still fairly new to practising magick, but it’s always been my intention to write my own spells. Since Mabon is also a time for sharing, I thought it apt timing to share my first spell with you all.

We shouldn’t be greedy when it comes to money, but there usually comes a time in all of our lives when we feel we could use a little more. This spell can be used for those times, but as Mabon is also a time of balance, you must take care to follow the last step of the spell.

A Spell for Prosperity

Time: This spell is best performed on the first night of the full moon

Tools: green candle, a coin (any denomination/currency), 2 basil leaves, small bowl of rock salt

Method: Charge the candle with money energy. Wrap the 2 basil leaves around the coin, then charge the parcel with money energy. Place the parcel within the bowl of rock salt, taking care to fully cover it with the salt, and saying

Fortune of silver and gold, send to me a treasure trove.

Light the candle, whilst saying

By the light of the moon, let the Earth’s riches flow, bringing me more of what I sow.

Allow the candle to burn for 2 minutes, whilst visualising your goal. Blow out the candle. Repeat for each night of the full moon.

Donate to charity, be it money, clothing, or to a food bank. This step is important, as what you give out will always come back to you. This must be done within the timeframe of the spell. A full moon usually lasts 3-4 nights, so once within this period is fine.

There you have it. With the Harvest Moon only a few days away, it’s the ideal time to try it. Remember that sharing the wealth is just as important as receiving it, so don’t forget the last step. Wishing you all a prosperous and plentiful Mabon!

A Blogiversary Top 10

Today marks my first ever blogiversary!

I started my first blog back in 2014, but I got as far as one post before the PND hit. I’d been thinking about starting another one for ages, and last year decided to just go for it. At first I just wanted to log my thoughts and experiences – mainly the good ones – but it took a bit of a turn when I realised I had lots more ideas that I wanted to share. I outlined my plans for a new set-up in Bright Blogging Days but although I have the ideas and the motivation, everyday life comes first.

Still…37 posts later I’m still going. To celebrate I thought I’d share my top 10 of my blogging year.

  1. Getting to know people from all different communities in the blogosphere. Having a mix of subjects on my blog has led to interaction with a range of different people.
  2. Writing a guest post for the Sewcialists page. You can read my contribution to the #sewstripes challenge here.
  3. Having a place to share my witchy side. It’s not something I talk about with most of the people in my life, so it’s nice to have a place where I can be more open about practising magick.
  4. Breaking the silence on my experience with PND. Mental health needs to be discussed more openly.
  5. A world of inspiration awaits me in my feed. So many different people writing about different things in different ways!
  6. Gathering followers – this wasn’t ever one of my aims, as I started this blog for me. I’ve been amazed at how many people have stuck with me though, and taken the time to read what I have to say.
  7. Giving myself a voice. I have a lot to say, but sometimes find I can put across my point more coherently when it’s written down.
  8. Logging my family’s adventures. The blog acts as a way of recording our time together.
  9. Encouraging me to actually do the things I think/talk about doing – then to blog about them!
  10. Celebrating one year of blogging.

Thank you to everyone who has read, liked and commented on my posts. It’s nice to know that my voice is being heard. Any ideas on improving the blog/posts you’d like to see will be welcomed in the comments. I’m working on some new post ideas for the upcoming weeks, so watch this space.

Here’s to a bigger, bloggier second year!

How Many?

When I found out I was expecting Jessica, it was a big shock. We already had three children. We weren’t trying to conceive, in fact we were actively taking measures against conceiving! I hadn’t been feeling well for a few weeks. My cycle had been so irregular for about a year previous to this, that I didn’t take a pregnancy test. I’d done eight the month before, so it seemed pointless buying any more. I’d been getting sharp twinges in my abdomen and felt tired all the time. Kevin made me go to the doctor, where I explained how I’d been feeling. I stated quite firmly that there was no way I could be pregnant…

The very next day, whilst ironing our holiday clothes, I felt a sudden wave of nausea swoop over me. I couldn’t fathom where it had come from. I wasn’t hungry, nor had I eaten too much for lunch. As I sat down to alleviate the dizziness that had accompanied the queasy feeling, my mind wandered back to the previous weekend. My mother-in-law had been round for dinner, and we’d had a glass of wine each. I thought about how, although it was a nice wine, I really hadn’t enjoyed it much. I then thought about how my boobs had been tingly-sore, and how (had it been following a regular four week cycle) my period was late. Everything added up, but I just couldn’t be…could I?

I switched off the iron and bundled my kids into the car. We drove to the nearest pharmacy, where I bought yet another home pregnancy test. Ten minutes later we were back home, the kids were busy munching on biscuits, and I was sitting on the loo, staring in disbelief at the two pink lines that indicated the beginnings of Jessica.

It took about a week for it to sink in, although I think it only took a few days for Kevin. We were never anything but delighted, but it had just taken us by complete surprise. One of the biggest reasons it took me longer to get to grips with it was the thought of people’s reactions. When I was pregnant with Keira someone actually asked me “Do you two not own a TV?” People had been badgering me since she’d arrived with “How long until the next one?” and “Not thinking about number four yet?” Like I was nothing more than a baby machine, squeezing out as many as possible. Like it was anyone’s business but mine and Kevin’s! I steeled myself for the smug ” I knew you’d have another one!” and “So much for stopping at three!” comments that would undoubtedly be made. Then I exhaled and let it wash over me. If it made people feel better about themselves to make such comments, then that was up to them. Nobody was going to dull our joy.

Thankfully, most people seemed excited for us, although I still felt like we had to explain ourselves to some, as though we’d done something wrong! Since we’d given away all our baby things after Keira was finished with them, we had to start from scratch again. Family and friends were very generous though, giving us items that they no longer needed.

We decided not to find out the sex of the baby. We’d found out when having both Andrew and Keira, but didn’t when having Julia. We thought it would be lovely to have a surprise again, seeing as she really was a surprise! Of course we had the usual “What are you hoping for?” to which my answer was always “a baby.” It really didn’t matter to us either way. Why would it? We knew Andrew wanted a brother, so that it would even things up a bit. The girls wanted a sister…because it meant they would get bunk beds!

We had a boy’s name picked out quite early on, which made me wonder if we were indeed having a boy. We’d struggled with boys names for all three previous pregnancies, but had loads of girls names. This time round we couldn’t settle on any one girl’s name though. We didn’t tell anyone the names we had picked out, simply because we didn’t want anyone potentially ruining them for us, as had happened when we were expecting Keira.

It was exciting not knowing the sex of our baby. As we didn’t have space for a nursery, we didn’t need to bother with girly/boyish/gender neutral colour schemes. When it was time to go to the hospital we were both looking forward to the moment when we would find out whether we had a son or a daughter. When Julia was born, Kevin was first to see that she was a girl. He squeezed my arm and said excitedly “We have a daughter, we have a daughter!” It was such a beautiful moment. Not just it’s a girl but a daughter. He was the one to tell me when Jessica arrived too. As she was placed gently in my arms, I just looked at her and thought “Of course! Of course you’re a daughter! You couldn’t have been anyone else!” Although I’d been convinced for so long that we were having a boy, those thoughts just melted away. She was Jessica. We looked at her and knew that was her name.

We’ve agreed that Jessica is our last baby. Our four children are wonderful little human beings, but we’re pretty much at our limit. There’s no way we could squeeze any more in our house without doing some extension work! Plus I’m not sure my body could handle carrying another baby around for nine months! It was harder near the end of the fourth pregnancy. If money and space weren’t an issue, and if my body could stand the strain, it’s possible we may have decided to have another. You never know – what’s for you won’t go by you. After the shock of finding out about Jessica, nothing would surprise me now. If anyone else did come along, he/she would be as loved and as wanted as the rest.

And in case you’re wondering – the girls did indeed get their bunk beds!

Conversations Regarding Your Kids: Home Education

A while back I spoke of an important decision that Kevin and I were in the process of making. We’ve now made our decision and I’m free to share all.

Our three oldest children are currently in mainstream education, but a few months back we seriously considered removing them from school and home educating instead. We weighed up all the pros and cons, and in the end decided against it. I want to talk through our thought process, in order to show that it may not be for our family at this moment, but it’s certainly an option that people should be aware of.

I first thought of home educating our children when I read an article on it. I hadn’t realised how widespread it had become in the UK, and the more I read, the more I wondered if it would be something that would benefit our children. I broached the subject with Kevin, and was surprised when he readily agreed that we should investigate it further. I began trawling the internet, seeking out home educators and contacting our local authority for advice. We also bought Learning Without School: Home Education by Ross Mountney, which we both found really helpful. This wasn’t a decision that we were going to take lightly – this was our children’s future!

There are so many positives to home educating, the biggest one being that you can take whichever approach works best for your family. For a few this will mean recreating a school setup, having formal lessons for each subject and sticking to a rigid timetable. For most families, however, the only limits will be their imaginations. The idea of my children learning about subjects that they would choose really appealed to me, as did the thought of making use of museums/parks/theatres as classrooms. There would be a much smaller pupil:teacher ratio, plus their individual learning styles would be more easily catered for. They would be able to learn in a positive, comfortable environment, with no scope for bullying or peer pressure.

Being a qualified teacher, I had no doubts that I would be able to educate my children at home. Formal training isn’t required for home educating, but I felt glad that I wasn’t going into it blind; that I knew what I was doing. I knew that I would be confident in assessing their learning at all stages – formal or otherwise. Kevin and I have between us a wide range of skills/knowledge, so our children would have a wide range of subjects to explore. Anything which needed a specialist teacher (such as music) could be outsourced, just as children who attend school will have extracurricular activities.

One of the first things people ask when home education is mentioned is “how will they learn to socialise?” Most children will make friends wherever they go. The advantage of home educating is that instead of being grouped with people of the same age, they will meet and interact with people from different age groups and from all walks of life. There are local home education groups, where families can get together for support and for socialising. These groups are just as important for the parents as they are for the children.

People also ask how the children will sit exams and gain qualifications. These can be studied for in the same way as they would be at school, but in a more tailored learning environment. The downside is that we would need to pay for any exams, as well as find an exam centre where they could sit them. The upside is that they would only need to sit exams in subjects of their choosing, rather than because they are compulsory.

The future for each of our children is what we had in mind the whole time we were weighing up our decision. Although the pros far outweigh the cons, there were two particular points which we couldn’t ignore and which eventually swung it.

The first was when I went to see Andrew perform as part of the school choir. Watching him on stage with his peers I saw just how much he contributed to the school community, and how happy he looked at being a part of that community. I thought of how well Julia and Keira have settled at school too and how much they enjoy going to school. I thought back to everything they have experienced thanks to mainstream education, as well as how much they potentially have to look forward to.

Many parents decide to home educate because their children have been bullied, or because they haven’t had a good experience with the school. The school our children attend is excellent: the teachers are supportive and innovative; the pupils all know and look out for each other; there are a variety of extracurricular activities on offer. Parents are kept informed about the day-to-day running of the school and are frequently invited in to talk to pupils or take part in schoolwide activities. In short, there was no urgent reason for removing them from school.

The second reason is a more practical one. We are currently fortunate enough to only be reliant on one income, so there would be no need for one of us to have to give up a position of employment. However, there are things we want to do for our family and experiences we want our children to have. These will all cost more than one income will allow for, so we need to think about what we would be sacrificing as a family in order to go ahead with home educating. Having things is not so important to us, but we are set on building our own house one day, as well as seeing a bit more of the world. We would also like to be able to help our children get a good start on their futures, whatever they decide to do. For these dreams to be realised, I’ll need to go back to work once Jessica starts school, so it wouldn’t be fair to remove the children for a couple of years, only for them to have to reintegrate themselves back into mainstream education.

We were open and honest with our children throughout the whole decision-making process. It’s their education, so of course they were entitled to a say in it. They were all really enthusiastic about being home educated, but understood the reasons for not going ahead with it.

Making this decision was slightly bittersweet, as it had so much potential for being a wonderful thing for our family. However, we know we’ve made the right call and it’s made us more aware of what we can do to supplement our children’s education at home. I’m currently putting together some literary projects for the children, which I can later adapt for teaching when I go back to work. Kevin tends to do the science and technology activities with them, the latest being making their own animations using Lego and other toys!

If you think that home education could be for you and your family, I’d definitely recommend looking into it more. If it’s not for you, then have a look at what you can do to enhance your children’s learning. I’m aiming to write some more posts on education in the very near future. Please let me know in the comments section if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about.