Everyday challenges – improving my driving


This post is brought to you by AVIVA

“You could drive over on your own.”
I’d been agonising over how to see friends in Bristol I’d promised to see before the summer holidays were up – friends I hadn’t managed to see the last few times we’d been back. Our weekends were all booked up. When Laurence suggested that I just take the kids over midweek, I was surprised that I felt OK about that. I’d never driven three hours completely on my own. When we moved from Bristol to Cornwall with two cars, we drove in convoy. But OK. This was another plaster to rip off.

In many ways, I think living in Cornwall has massively improved my driving. I used to always stick to the familiar, usually relatively close destinations when I lived in a city. Things are more sprawling here and I was keen to get out and really plug into the home educating community. Living in the countryside means I’ve had to get used to reversing down narrow roads to let others pass and not driving at 20 or 30 all the time. Generally, I’m a far more confident driver, which accounts for why I did take that Bristol trip but also for the fact that I now drive a van, something 28-year-old me would never have thought possible when she passed her driving test four and half years ago.

In truth, I find driving the van easier than any car we’ve owned. Parking can be a pain sometimes and it’s a lot more to clean but I love being high up and able to see more of what’s around me when I’m driving. It’s locking is actually better than a couple of the others I’ve driven, certainly impressive for something of that size. Having a sensor for reversing is a dream for someone who definitely finds spatial awareness challenging. And the space! Two weeks ago we went on a camping trip with my family and it was the first time we’ve done a camping trip and not had to load up every possible gap in the car.

When I made back to home after our big trip upcountry, I felt like my world had opened up a little bit more. Not that I intend to do lots of road trips now (in fact, we want to stay local as much as possible) but I didn’t feel as cut off as I did before. I realised that I’d felt dependent on Laurence to be able to get to the rest of the country.

I think the next step is to keep improving my driving, for my confidence, for my passengers’ comfort and even for my Car Insurance. The Aviva Drive app makes that pretty easy. You download the app, which now includes an integrated dash cam feature, and it monitors your driving skills. So safer drivers can get a discount on their insurance and you even have evidence should you ever get into an accident.

Driving at all honestly felt unattainable for me a few years ago. I don’t take it for granted. We wouldn’t have moved to somewhere rural if I couldn’t drive and I probably would find home educating a lot more daunting, living here without a car. I still feel like learning to drive and continuing to learn has opened me up to a lot of possibilities. So often I default to learned helplessness and I need to keep pushing to break out of it, not just for my sake but so that my kids grow up knowing that they are capable.


Spirit Riding Free

This post is brought to you by Spirit Riding Free

I’ve generally seen kids television as an opportunity for me to get something else done. Lately, though, the girls have made sounds about wanting me to watch with them. I’ve taken this as a cue to introduce them to some of my childhood favourites but they’ve also enjoyed sharing what they love with me. Recently, this has included a show on Pop – on air now, Dreamworks’ Spirit Riding Free.

As big horse lovers, I’m not surprised my kids are drawn to the story of Spirit, an untameable stallion who befriends a young girl called Lucky. Lucky has recently moved from a city to a town in the American West and struggles to fit in but soon finds friendship in two of her horse riding classmates and in Spirit. The show is definitely a current favourite here.

For my kids, it’s all about the winning combination of horses and friendship. The story is cute and fun, and while this might not consciously register with them, the animation is pretty high quality too. I love that Lucky is a strong heroine, fully in touch with her sense of adventure and that the show carries positive messages about forgiveness and determination. I genuinely well up in at soft moments (I’m a bit prone to that) and there’s plenty in there to make us all laugh.

At the moment, Spirit has a competition running, offering kids to a chance to win entry to the Spirit Riding Free Stable Sleepover. Three winners will stay in a converted stable with a friend and enjoy a weekend full of all things Spirit, from horse riding to crafts to treasure hunts and lots more. Basically, it’s a dream for kids who love horses or, better yet, love Spirit.

Click here to check out the competition hosted on POP. The episodes are available to watch now – weekends at 12.30pm.


Ophelia’s dream pet

While lots of our friends are currently fielding questions about getting a pet someday and making that “someday” sooner, our kids are pretty settled that our cats are where it’s at with pets. They do bring up the idea of chickens every now and then but I think the smallness of our garden answers that for now. I also wonder if even they can see that we are at mental capacity with the two furry friends already in our care. For now, they’ll have to dream of anything extra.
Ophelia recently got the chance to do just that. Pet insurance provider Petplan invited her to draw her dream pet, promising to turn her design into a bespoke soft toy. So I asked her, “If you could have any pet in the world, what would it be?” And, of course, it only took her seconds to settle on a unicorn. While I loved her drawing (naturally, I would), I couldn’t imagine how someone would turn it into a cuddly 3D object. It defied my imagination, anyhow.
The end product arrived while we were away and Laurence laid it on her bed, ready to greet her when we got home. Her name is Twirly-leg and she proved the perfect welcome home. I love that even her patterns were included and that she arrived in a matching bag. I’m thinking that it might be a really good project for Talitha to try designing and making her own toy as she was intrigued with the process too.
Whenever we do talk about the prospect of new pets in the future, we talk about all that pet ownership involves, from food to grooming to pet insurance. Petplan’s Pet Insurance stands out amongst the options for the latter as one of the few insurance providers that offer genuine “lifetime” policies and by working with more animal rehoming charities than any other provider.

This post is brought to you by Petplan but all thoughts are my own


Our family bed set up

Debenhams recently sent us new bedding to give our bedroom a mini makeover.

We’ve been through lots of configurations when it comes to sleep. Having bought a cot and a Moses basket with our first baby, we surprised ourselves by being three in a bed instead. Bedsharing proved a natural fit for our family so, though we got a moses basket again second and third time around for daytime naps (and it went unused!), we didn’t bother with a cot. Instead, we’ve sometimes been four in a bed, four in a bed and one on the floor, two in a bed, two in another and one on their own. Different set ups for different seasons. Currently, we only have twenty-two month old Delilah in with us. Ophelia, who’s four, occasionally joins us too but mostly prefers her own space. If Laurence is away, all the children join me.

It’s not perfect; I do love my space at night. I probably wouldn’t be adverse to twin beds instead of our king, though that might be the touched-out-ness of these early years talking. We even have separate duvets, partly so we don’t steal it off each other, partly because I run hot while Laurence runs cold. But for all the crowding, it’s also plenty lush, cuddling little ones to sleep, knowing even those who have outgrown the cuddling still find security in being near to me. And, of course, it won’t be forever. I came to bed to find Laurence holding sleeping Delilah and five years later, the memory of Talitha at that age is already blurry.

We’ve mused that Delilah might stay in with us longer than the other two did. We moved them out of necessity because I couldn’t bear to breastfeed at night while pregnant and they found it difficult to sleep next to me if this wasn’t an option. With Talitha, it was a simple transition. She was two, we’d just moved house, we decorated her room with her and she loved the idea of her own bed. Laurence was sometimes in with her if she woke but she mostly slept through.

Ophelia found this a lot more difficult. I fell pregnant with Delilah when she was 21 months old and, in retrospect, she just wasn’t ready for all the sudden change, whether because of age or temperament. We moved her out, I night weaned but she was up and unsettled every night for months. It’s easy to look back and say what I’d do things differently but, in reality, all I can say about it is that we did what we thought was best for us all at the time, we muddled through, and thankfully things are settled now.

But neither of us are ready for a repeat and we’ve both got so much more go with the flow with each child added to our family. As Delilah’s our last baby, she’ll likely stay in until she wants to join her sisters. So this is our family bed set up for the foreseeable.

In our last place, we had quite a high bed so used a bed guard with a towel rolled and tucked into the gap for added peace of mind. It worked but it felt like a function-over-style choice. When we moved we bought a low futon-style bed, complete with matching side tables. Initially we chose it so we could sit comfortably in bed with our cottage’s sloping ceiling but it’s also offered the benefit of causing less worry about little ones rolling out of bed or crawling off.

And it’s got us thinking a bit more about how we style this space so it’s actually somewhere we enjoy being, not the dumping ground our bedroom always used to be. Updating our bedding has definitely been a part of that. The Bedeck 1951 “Juma” duvet covers pictured here are a departure from my usual penchant for grey and white sheets. The South American-inspired geometric designs are eye-catching without being too busy and the combination of the ink blue pattern and deep green edging is cosy without dominating our airy bedroom. A child (or two or three!) may sleep here but it still feels like a grown up’s bedroom.

What’s your family bed set up like? Do you all sleep together or in some other configuration? Have you a massive bed? We used to love our extra king! It was definitely needed for a season. Let’s share some inspiration for others making it work with bedsharing.

For more posts about bedsharing, check out this golden oldie about bedsharing as a family of four and this book about nighttime and naptime strategies for breastfeeding families.

Thanks for sending me the duvet covers for this post, Debenhams!


Rediscovering intuition, wildness and sisterhood

I’ve experienced culture shock twice. The first time I was nineteen. I’d just moved to Brighton from Trinidad to study English Lit at university. There wasn’t a language barrier (much – there still managed to be a lot I didn’t understand or couldn’t make understood easily) but just about everything else was unfamiliar, from the sense of humour to the cultural markers to the public transport. But I was fortunate to fall into a lot of fast friendships that sustained me through those years and many of those people remain close friends today.

In a way, the second culture shock was harder to get past. It put more cracks in my confidence. My imagination struggled to be regained. Becoming a mother seems to shake a lot of us.

This time I didn’t have the safety net of university around me. I wasn’t in a place where everyone was young and away from home for the first time, eager to make new friends and start the new chapter of their lives together. Having moved to Bristol a sneeze before falling pregnant with my first baby, I lacked pre-existing friendships and the energy to initiate new ones in a new city. I struggled to breastfeed, Talitha did not sleep and I didn’t drive or know the area we lived in particularly well. I found new motherhood baffling and depressing, more so because I was so isolated.

Eventually, friendship did happen. That’s kind of the way it had always been for me up until that point with others mostly initiating and friendship mostly happening to me. I’m grateful for the people I met in those six years in Bristol, for the hopefully lifelong connections we made.

Yet I always struggled to go deeper a lot of the time. I held a part of myself back for safety, fearing judgement and feeling worse for motherhood opening up deep pre-existing wounds while waking up an awareness in me that this could all be different.

Without realising it, I was longing for the place Lucy Aitkenread describes in her new book Moon Circle: rediscover intuition, wildness and sisterhood where I could know and be known, to belong and to heal. Lucy’s book was released the week that a friend here in Cornwall was gathering a few women together to form our own circle. Reading it in the light of stepping out into this new, potentially revelatory thing was powerful.

In the video below, I’ve talked about where I think moon circles fit resetting our life intentions over the lunar new year.

It’s been year and a day since we moved from Bristol to Cornwall, which was another destabilising experience. I felt so responsible for the happiness of everyone in the family. We were starting life all over again, this time with three children and I was ill-prepared for the onslaught of grief which came with leaving a place where we’d built a life together.

But there was excitement too. Here was this opportunity to launch into new things. I googled red tents because I knew by then that I needed to connect with women on a much deeper level to navigate this next chapter but I didn’t get any further than that. In the meantime, I just got a lot more proactive about meeting people and building those friendships I knew we all needed. Then my friend asked late last year if I’d be interested in joining something she was starting and the timing of meeting in the new year just felt meant to be. Reading Moon Circle sparked excitement about all that gathering like this could be.

The book takes us through how a moon circle functions as a non-hierarchical gathering where women can deeply listen and deeply speak. The idea of ritual safekeeping runs strong as a theme throughout with practical suggestions for how we might create a space where vulnerability becomes possible, where we talk without fear of judgement or unsolicited advice and empathically listen without engaging our analytical brain. Lucy writes: “the net of women sitting together is a refusal to believe the myths we are told about how women relate to each other.” When I think about how fear of others discovering the worst parts of me kept me back from really sharing with anyone, I realise I’d bought into those myths.

There is something innately spiritual about meeting with others this way and indeed the book talks a lot about creating our own rituals to mark the circle as separate from the everyday but Lucy notes “these Circles are strong enough to hold the beliefs of all the women present – they are so encompassing and so expansive that a Circle can bind us all in healing.”

Some of the activities suggested include connecting through silence, singing for wellbeing, hand massage and creating small ceremonies that help us transition into new stages of our lives, whether that’s moving into cronehood or retroactively honouring our menarche. There’s an emphasis on finding what works for your specific circle, being mindful that some activities will be uncomfortable or unsuitable for some circles.

Moon Circle, naturally, encourages creating rituals around cycles, both of the moon and its phases and of how the menstrual cycle can mirror this movement. For instance, Lucy suggests that meeting on the New Moon might help us to share our “dark side” or that women might order themselves in the circle according to where they are in their menstrual cycle, while recognising that not all women menstruate.

She also discusses how hosts might act as “guardians of the circle”, from practical ideas like lighting a fire or introducing a talking piece to guiding principles like reminding the group to avoid chatter and advice.

All in all, I think it’s a read that would do a lot of us a lot of good. It’s pretty short and you might just find it transformative. Better yet, read it with a friend and start a circle together.

You can get all the info to buy Moon Circle here.


Choosing the best floor for your family

This post is brought to you by Luxury Flooring

Delilah is now seventeen months and I’m open to the possibility that she could be pottying soon. Nappy changes are becoming gymnastic feats and she is so communicative about everything. When I mentioned it to Laurence tonight, we got on to the topic of what flooring works best for family life. After all, a big part of the reason I never managed to stick it out with elimination communication was that I psychologically couldn’t cope with the mess.

Our last house was mostly carpeted, a constant frustration to me. That carpet held on to every spill and every accident. Short of getting a steam cleaner in, there was no real way of getting it fully clean. I’d look at it, imagining how dirty it must actually be. It made potty training an extremely stressful experience and I couldn’t fully relax when the kids were eating in the living room.

Aesthetically, I’m really not keen on carpet anywhere but the bedrooms and there, only for the purpose of providing warmth underfoot. In fact, we hadn’t appreciated how much heat our carpets had offered until we moved into the period cottage we now live in. We finally got the stone and hard wood floors that we’d dreamed of. They’re easier to clean and really make the rooms they complete. I couldn’t imagine going back to carpet if given the option.

However, we’ve found we’ve had to learn how to live on them in winter without freezing. I suppose in a money-is-no-object daydream we might install underfloor heating. In reality, we’ll stick to rugs in the living room and playroom and living in slippers. Mind you, the children run about in not so much as socks and are not bothered in the least.

We wouldn’t consider it in this house but I imagine in a more modern property we would look at putting in laminate flooring. It’s easy to clean with a mop, with no annoying gaps between. It offers a sleek, smooth finish and can look convincingly like hardwood so you’re not sacrificing aesthetics. Laminate can also be a warmer option which is something to think about if you have babies crawling on the floor.

There are ways to make any floor work for the stage of life your family is in, whether that’s babies learning to use the potty or teenagers eating on the sofa while watching television. You just need to consider where your budget, your lifestyle and your style meet.

Image credit: Photo by Oana Hodirnau on Unsplash


Ten tips to keep your home safer this winter

This post is brought to you by Newview.

You never think your house is going to get broken into until it happens. Both Laurence and I know too many people amongst our families and friends who’ve been burgled to be cavalier and yet we could certainly do with giving it more thought. I’ve thrown together a few ideas here, which may be especially useful for those going away over Christmas and New Year’s.

Leave a light on
When away for a weekend or longer, leaving a light on can be a simple deterrent to potential burglars. If someone is taking care of the house, ask them to change which light is left on so that someone watching the house will be put off.

Make use of technology
If you have the money to invest, make use of technology that will turn different lights on intermittently so it appears that people are in the house. Sounds pretty Home Alone, no?

Get a hardcore door
Is your door really as secure as it could be? Solidor makes thicker doors which offer both the most efficient locking system and largest dead bolt available while also improving your home’s insulation.

Let your neighbours know when you’re going to be away
Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. Let a neighbour know when you’re going to be away and ask them to keep an eye out. Of course, this only works if you trust your neighbours. My feeling is that people are generally willing to look out for each other but sometimes need the green light to do so. This is one of many great reasons to get to know your neighbours, something we’re working at.

Get a house sitter
Could you do a house swap or offer someone a stay in your house while away? A friend mentioned that when she used to be away a lot, she got a lodger so the house wouldn’t be unoccupied. Even having someone stop in once or twice a day to feed your pets (if you have them) could be helpful to deter preying eyes.

Don’t shout it from the mountain tops
I always go back and forth on this but perhaps don’t make it too obvious on social media when you’re away and for how long.

Be careful with Strava
Related to this, if you’re a runner or cyclist, it’s worth not turning on Strava until you’re well away from your house and making sure to turn it off before you get back. You may be telling people where you live and could potentially alert predators to when you’re not at home if you go out regularly.

Lock your back gate
This seems obvious but soooo many of us don’t do it, leaving our homes pretty vulnerable. You could go one step further here and add a motion sensor light to spook anyone who’s decided to try to climb over the back gate.

Make sure people can’t climb your fences
Equally, consider carefully how high your fences are and repair as necessary. A weak and wobbly fence could be a easy way in to your garden and back door.

Don’t leave keys under a flowerpot
It’s easy to think if you live somewhere idyllic that you can relax about things like this but leaving keys with a trusted neighbour could be the safer thing to do.