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?

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!

Holiday highlights

Last week we got back from a lovely two-week holiday in the Scottish Highlands. We frequently holiday there, as my husband’s parents live there and often invite us to visit. The children see it as their second home and we always get the “we wish we lived here” exclamations when it’s close to leaving time. I know how they feel – I never want to leave either!

In the middle of nowhere, with the river flowing right outside, we couldn’t ask for a more beautiful location. You’d think it would be silent, with no-one around but the friendly elderly couple next door, but you’d be wrong! The bees buzz, crickets chirp and the river babbles endlessly. One of the loveliest sounds is the constant birdsong – so many different birds chattering, chirping and singing. At night the owl hoots nearby.

During our stay we saw the riverbank, garden and adjoining field teeming with wildlife. Toads, dragonflies, the aforementioned birds, ducks and deer with their babies, as well as buzzards, a weasel and even an elusive red squirrel! Nature was well and truly in its prime.

One of the advantages of having a place to stay, is that it acts as a jumping off point for day trips to the surrounding area.

My favourite place to visit is Ullapool, a port town on the North-Western coast. We’ve visited a few times now and I still gasp at the beauty of it as we drive over the hill and see Loch Broom leading out to the North Atlantic, framed by the stunning mountains.

Whilst there we went to The White Rabbit, a local junk/antique shop. We go in here every time we visit – Julia and I could quite easily spend hours trawling through the Aladdin’s cave of treasures. Last time we were there I came across a beautiful picture of a scene from The Snow Queen, which now hangs proudly on my living room wall. This time around Kevin spotted a basket of Harris Tweed yarn cones going for next-to-nothing, so I bought three to use in my weaving. It would have been rude not to!

A short hike into the hills, a trip to the Ullapool bookshop and an ice-cream cone on the pebbled beach completed our day. It’s what we’ve done every other time we’ve visited and I love that we’ll always have these memories.

One of our other favourite places is Dornoch, on the East coast. It’s a beautiful little town with an amazing beach: grassy sand dunes, seaweed, rocks and huge crashing waves. We took a picnic with us and settled in our spot for the afternoon. The children all had great fun frolicking in the sea and building sandcastles. Jessica kept running off towards the sea with her spade – I wonder if that big briny blue called to my little mermaid as it does to me. Andrew was in up to his waist and then fell in. Luckily I’d packed a change of clothes for them all!

Whilst Kevin and the children played with the frisbee, I took the opportunity to read up on sea magic and cast a spell. Interestingly, Dornoch is the site of the last legal witch-burning in Scotland. In the garden of the last house before you reach the beach there is a stone which marks the site, along with a plaque telling of the events which took place. It’s quite sad and it highlighted how lucky I am to live in a time and part of the world where I’m free to practise magick without being persecuted for it.

Our Highland holiday was the perfect setting for some magick. It was also a great place to practise our campfire-building skills. The children learned how to build and start a fire on our holiday last year. Since we are intending to go camping a lot, Kevin bought a ghillie kettle for us to cook with, so we thought we’d give it a try. It was brilliant! We ended up using it several times. Who knew that hot chocolate made in the middle of a field would taste so good!

We really enjoyed our holiday in the Highlands. Our day trips were great fun, but it was also lovely to slow down and just enjoy being together. We played games, read books, watched films, baked and did a LOT of drawing. I always find that my time up there helps me reevaluate the important things and makes it easier to let go of the trivia that can sometimes weigh us down in our everyday lives. As the river flows ceaselessly past, any worries or stresses are carried away with it, leaving only peace and happiness…and little faces with hot chocolate moustaches.

What is your favourite way to spend your holiday?

We’re going on a Gruffalo hunt!

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson is one of our favourite stories. We also love the sequel – The Gruffalo’s Child – and we have copies of both in Standard English and in Scots.

It tells the story of a mouse having a wee saunter through a wood. He meets (in turn) a fox, an owl, and a snake. They all invite him to dine with them, when really they intend to have him for their dinner! He declines each invitation by saying that he is going to meet a Gruffalo, and then goes on to describe it as a terrifying creature that likes to eat foxes/owls/snakes. He has of course made up the fearsome sounding beast, but then actually meets one! The Gruffalo also wants to eat the mouse, but the mouse has a cunning plan to get out of his sticky situation.

Since Andrew was around eighteen months old, we’ve been going on Gruffalo hunts when we do a particular forest walk in the Highlands. We’ve never come across any Gruffalo…until now!

I bought these two Bajo figures when they were on special offer, as I thought they would go perfectly with our books. The children love to play with the figures as we read the story together, as well as make up new adventures for the Gruffalo and the mouse.

Keira was determined to take them on our next walk through the wood, so that’s just what we did. She took charge of the mouse figure, and recited the story from memory as we walked along.

Andrew, Julia and I ran ahead to hide the animals that the mouse would meet on his journey. The fox was near his underground house, the owl was in his treetop house, and the snake was in his logpile house.

Keira had great fun seeking out the three animals, and acting out the dialogue between them and the mouse. She flitted flawlessly between the Standard English and the Scots version, which was so cute!

Then we got to the “Oh help, oh no, it’s a Gruffalo!” We’d finally met a Gruffalo in our Gruffalo wood!

We continued our walk and acted out the rest of the story. I won’t spoil it for you by saying how the mouse gets out of being eaten, but I will say his clever plan works, and at last he finds a nut “and the nut wis braw.”

When we reached the end of our walk, we sat by the pond and read the story together, whilst being eaten alive by midges! (Welcome to a Scottish Summer!) Jessica was too busy growling at every dog that passed to really pay attention, but she was wearing her Gruffalo puddlesuit, so took part in her own way.

We had great fun reenacting one of our favourite stories as a family, and have plans to do so many times over in the future. My kids have been chattering away excitedly over which story to do next, and how we’re going to do it. They have great imaginations, and often play out their favourite books and films – sometimes with Lego, sometimes with sticks, but most of the time no props are needed at all!

Do you have a favourite family story you could act out? Perhaps you did so as a child. I’d love to hear your ideas and memories in the comments.

Thank You and Hello!

I realised the other day that I now have over 50 followers! I don’t quite know how that happened, but I’m so pleased and thankful that you’ve all taken time out of your lives to have a read at my musings. I’m thinking that if I ever get to 100 followers, I may do a wee giveaway of sorts – possibly something that fits in with my whole eco-warrior self!

A while back I wrote a post called Bright Blogging Days, where I outlined my plans for how my blog was going to look. It started off well, but life got in the way and my writing fell by the wayside. I’m taking back control though, so expect more regular posts from me – on anything and everything!

I also realised that although I talk about my life and family a lot, I haven’t actually said much about us as individuals and how we fit together.

So here goes!

I’m Mags, a SAHM to 4 children, and I’m currently exploring my witchy side. I love to see the beauty in nature, as well as observe how people act towards one another. I’m happiest pottering around at home or in my garden, although I won’t say no to a night at the karaoke, especially if cocktails are involved! My family are everything to me, and although I’m fairly laidback, I’d willingly fight anyone who threatened their happiness!

My husband is Kevin, and he’s the cleverest person I know! He’s a lecturer and researcher in the Aerospace department at a well-established university. He also does a lot of outreach in his role as a STEM ambassador. Patient and mild-mannered, he’s a brilliant role-model for our children, and he does his utmost to make sure we’re all happy. He started us on our eco journey before we were married, and has been the brains behind a lot of the positive changes we’ve made. We’ll be celebrating 12 years of marriage at the end of this month!

Andrew is our oldest child, and our only boy. At 9-and-a-half, he is intent on becoming a marine biologist – a famous one at that! His dream is to swim with sharks, and he’ll happily talk for hours on the subject, his brain soaking up and retaining any fact he reads. He reads anything he comes across, including Shakespeare (the children’s versions) and Dickens (the original versions.) My little man is also a whizz with Lego, and can build anything he thinks up, with only his imagination as his guide. He’s quiet and patient – a virtue needed with 3 sisters raiding his room on a daily basis! When he finds something funny, his infectious giggles can send a ripple of laughter through a room in seconds.

7-and-a-half-year-old Julia is our oldest daughter. I’d describe her as a free spirit with a built-in risk assessment feature! Out of all of my children she’s the most interested in my witchy explorations. She’s started collecting crystals and stones, determined to find out as much as she can about them. She’s extremely tactile, and will generally use her hands to look at something. She has her own ideas about fashion and hobbies, and it’s my aim to encourage her to believe in herself more. She can be quiet, but is very observant about her surroundings – about people in particular. She can be a bit of a worrier, but she also has a knack for calming people down with a simple cuddle, or by slipping her small hand into yours.

Keira is our 5-and-a-half-year-old whirlwind! She literally bounces around from the minute she wakes up until the minute she goes to bed. Her cheeky smile lights up her whole face, and she moves through the day singing, and living in her own little rainbows-and-unicorns world! She is also scarily clever! She could write at the age of 3, and exceeded expectations in all areas on her first school report card. She loves being a big sister, and spends a lot of time teaching her baby sister how to make funny faces.

Jessica is the baby. At 16 months, she’s developing her own wee personality. She’s finding her place in our family, and will quite happily “join in” with the conversation at the dinner table. She loves to play, which usually involves chewing on her toys and then hiding them in my wellies!

Family time is important to Kevin and I, and we make sure that we create time for talking about the serious issues with our children, as well as playing games, reading stories, or simply being available for a cuddle. Our children are great kids – they are loving, empathetic, and understand what fairness looks like. They are often complimented on their behaviour and manners when we’re out, and I have no problem taking part of the credit for that! They also bicker, annoy each other, and somehow manage to smear toothpaste on the loo when brushing their teeth! They make our family what it is though – toothpaste-smeared loo and all!

So there you have it – my beautiful little family. As in previous posts, I’ll be mentioning them a lot, so hopefully I’ve painted a picture of who we are and how we work!

Thanks for reading and sticking with me. Stay tuned for various musings, family antics, and lots more!