#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?

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.

Healthy Goals

Since my teens, I have had a precarious relationship with food. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started, but it is undoubtedly linked to my mental health. Comfort eating has always been a big part of my life. At the age of fifteen I was heading down the road to bulimia, but luckily for me my dad found out in the early stages, and was able to help me nip it in the bud before it escalated.

The thing is, I love food. But I don’t like what it does to my body when I overindulge: the full-to-bursting sensation; the heavy feeling in my limbs; the bloated feeling. I especially dislike the pounds that then creep on as a result. These physical reactions are then coupled with negative thoughts about myself, which can send me into a downward spiral. It’s a hard cycle to break, but break it I must!

I was a skinny child, and my shape didn’t really change until I reached the age of twenty. Other than my bust, of course, which suddenly appeared one day. Measuring 34DD, it was disproportionate to my small frame! I then started to go a bit podgy around the belly, my bust got bigger, and at eleven stone I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. For my height, that weight is at the very top of my healthy BMI, so I decided I would do something about it: I was going to join Weight Watchers. I’d heard a lot of good things about it, and when I did my research I found that it centred on making healthy food choices, rather than cutting out certain foods completely. They also fully encourage exercise, in order to create a balanced healthy lifestyle.

Three days before my first meeting I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Morning sickness – coupled with the desire to eat healthily for my growing baby – meant that when I gave birth I was a stone and a half lighter than when I fell pregnant.

Another nine months and I was back up at my heaviest weight. I took myself off to Weight Watchers, just as I’d originally intended, and found a healthy way to control my eating habits, my weight, and my mental health. I loved going to the meeting every week, loved listening to other members’ stories, and loved watching my shape change. I was three pounds away from my goal weight when I found out I was expecting my second child. Unless medically advised, you aren’t allowed to attend Weight Watchers when pregnant, so I had to stop going to my meeting.

I did go back after having my second baby, but I started to help out at the meetings, so it became more like a job than a weight-loss journey for me. I had a different leader this time (who is now one of my best friends), plus my head wasn’t in the right place. Apart from a couple of fluctuating pounds, my weight didn’t really change. When my local meeting closed I didn’t look for another one.

Then two years ago I started afresh at a meeting taken by the first leader I had. Two months in I discovered I was pregnant with my littlest ray, so halted once more. Today I went back to the meeting. I’ve joked that it’s her last chance, as that’s now twice I’ve fallen pregnant within a few months of joining her meeting!

I know that Weight Watchers works for me. Anything that creates a calorie deficit will in fact work, but I know that this plan in particular fits in with my lifestyle. As a family we eat home-cooked food, so meal planning will not be a problem. I’ve also looked out my exercise DVDs, so that I can tone up as the pounds shift. My littlest ray’s morning nap is the ideal time to burn off some fat, as well as boost the endorphins.

My aim is to lose around a stone and a half. Although I have that number in mind, it’s not the final goal. I want to focus on non-scale victories too: inches lost, clothes fitting better, and feeling fitter. My first goal is to fit into a dress for my step-sister’s wedding next month.

My biggest aim is to show my children the importance of making healthy choices – getting them to “do as I do, not as I say.” We are our children’s first role models, so it’s imperative that we step up and demonstrate good choices to them, instead of simply waxing lyrical.

I’ll be posting updates of my getting-healthier journey here. I’ve realised that I need to have accountability for my weight-loss, so this will be my sounding board! Have you set yourself any health goals recently?