The Lost Village

I’m afraid that my musings this week aren’t on a particularly original subject. However, hopefully they will still be of interest or at least help you peacefully wile away a few minutes with a hot cup of tea! After a series of conversations and occurrences over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the concept of the ‘lost’ village and of the emerging trend of isolation over community.

Before I get into this, I will put forward a disclaimer. I am beyond lucky/blessed/priviledged to be living in a small town where I have close friends living literally next door and more just mere minutes walk away. When Eli was born and our on call childcare couldn’t come to take the big two, it didn’t take long to find a friend who dashed down the road to our rescue. When Sophia was struggling yesterday when we were out and about, a friend kindly ushered her away for a bit of R+R at hers. I feel reasonably confident that if need arises, there is always someone nearby who is willing and able to help.

However, I also have a lot of close friends and of course, family, who don’t live so close. And when they are going through hard times, be those related to sickness, emotional reasons or otherwise, I hate that I can’t easily go and offer a helping hand, shoulder to cry on or simply deliver a hot meal.

In times gone by, people lived near those they loved. Communities were close-knit and strong, families lived in neighbouring roads and friendships were formed within these villages. It was rare for a family member to leave and whilst some might be very relieved at the opportunity to put some distance between them and their family (!) I do think we’ve lost something important in the dispersal of families and friends.

Of course I can see the benefits, having the opportunity to follow good work opportunities, explore the world and live in diverse communities is amazing. But…we have also lost so much. We’ve lost the reassurance of knowing that you have support within minutes whenever it might be needed. There is a reason why they say it takes a village to raise a child but no longer can kids pop in and out to visit Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents. Increasingly, we live away from our families and often as we follow jobs, our best of friends. We rely on grabbing weekends where we can to catch up and life can be lonely in between.

Although I’ve found myself in a pretty good ‘village’, it saddens me on a daily basis that my village is missing some very important, key players. I don’t know what the answer is. Life moves on, our culture is constantly changing. But I can’t help reminisce about days I never even knew. Maybe they weren’t better. But the idea of having everyone I love within a stones throw to share my life with on a daily basis makes me think that they probably were…

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News From The Plot

As anyone who has ever dabbled in some gardening will know, growing things is nothing if not unpredictable. A crop that was prolific last year may struggle to get off the ground this year round and something that you’ve always struggled to grow might leave you with a plentiful bounty to share with friends, family and pretty much anyone you encounter on the street! We are in the middle of our first harvest at the plot here in Topsham and although we have had a mix of successes and failures, it’s been a great experience nonetheless and for once (mostly due to my co-worker’s enthusiasm!) we’re even planting winter crops.

The season started with an abundance of strawberries and asparagus, beds that my co-worker inherited with the patch. Before I knew it, the kids were actually asking to go the allotment rather than being cajoled by me as they knew they could spend the whole time hunting for juicy red fruit and more often than not, eating it all before the adults got a look in! Our potatoes have been plentiful, the raspberry canes have been producing non-stop for weeks now and our paddy pan plants (an odd mix between a courgette and squash) are providing a steady and constant supply of yellow flying saucer shaped fruits. Our carrots were hilariously misshapen and tasty and the beetroot was delicious although there definitely wasn’t enough of it! Our spaghetti squash, sweetcorn and brussel sprouts are still growing but I’m looking forward to them being ready (especially for the former, an amazing variety of squash I once received from Riverford but never encountered again).

However, we have also had our fair share of failures. Our peas were repeatedly eaten by slugs and snails, our beans have been slow and not particularly abundant and more recently, my gorgeous stripy tomato plants caught blight! Apparently it’s spread across the allotment like wildfire so I don’t think we could have prevented it but I was so sad as nothing beats how delicious a home-grown tomato is compared to the watery, bland shop bought variety. I think the somewhat sporadic weather over the last few weeks is to blame (and is also the culprit of the prolific weeds which we are constantly warring with) but I guess that’s just the way it goes.

But as the season slows down and we turn our thoughts to keeping the plot maintained during the colder months of the year, the thing I’m most excited about is the fact that we are making a pond!! Someone mentioned to us that we could have a small pond if we wanted to use up a little of the space and we jumped on the idea! The kids are absolutely psyched as am I about the whole process, from digging the hole to filling it, choosing plants and hopefully watching wildlife appear and make it home!

I’ve said it before but I really think that growing things with your kids is of amazing value, from teaching them how to garden, to having an excuse to get them outdoors when tempers are fraying to the excitement of when they get to harvest the fruits that they’ve carefully helped grow over the last few months. It also has the added benefit of having a fairly quick turnaround so they see their results within just a few months of starting the process. No need to be naturally green fingered, we can all learn as we go and you won’t regret growing your own (or at least trying to), I promise!

Not Back To School (again!)

It’s that time of year where the sun suddenly reappears in full force and the streets and parks grow eerily quiet, that’s right; it’s the start of a new school year. But for a growing number of us in Exeter (and beyond) there is no last minute mad rush to buy shoes or socks, no PE kit to unearth from some godforsaken corner of a smelly room (sorry school Mum friends!) and no ‘starting school’ photos. We’ve been home educating the kids since the word go and as the older two are already of compulsory school age, this year brings with it no special or meandering thoughts, merely a sigh of relief that all our groups are re-starting after drifting aimlessly for the last six weeks.

But I did think I might take the opportunity to chat a little about home education for those folk out there who might be intrigued but not quite sure what it’s all about! Firstly, yes it is completely legal! Under law, parents are required to ensure their child has a full time and suitable education, at school or otherwise. By home educating we’re falling into that vague ‘otherwise’ section! It is up to us as individual parents how that education looks, a scary thought at first but once you delve in, actually refreshing and remarkably accessible.

So why do we do it? After several years, I still don’t have a soundbite answer to that question and indeed, often ask myself it when the kids are being particularly trying! I suppose that the main reason for me is that I love having the freedom to follow my children’s interests and passions at their own pace. Many countries around the world do not start formal education until 7 and that really resonates with me. 4 or indeed 5 seems so little to be sat at a desk, there is so much playing to be done! And the great thing is that playing in itself, is bursting with educational value.

I also massively appreciate the freedom it gives us as a family, to take our learning to the beach if the weather demands it, to have a slow start if we’re feeling under the weather, to spend a day doing science experiments and nothing else if the kids have got the bug. At almost 8 and 6, my big two are on a par with their schooled peers so I don’t think they are lacking and for the most part, we are more than happy with the decision.

However, since increasing my freelance work, I have been craving a bit of a break from the kids so I can actually be a bit productive… Luckily, Forest School has saved the day! Sophia and Isaac are now both going to be attending one of their Home Ed groups every Friday for the full day. To say I’m a little excited is a bit of an understatement. I suspect Dan is also looking forward to less BBC Interview moments during his Friday meetings…

Perhaps you have found yourself nodding along with some of the things I’ve said and if you’re at all interested in home education or would like to find out more, why not join the Exeter Home Ed Community facebook group…a friendly group of folk who are always happy to help! Education Otherwise and the Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS) are also great organisations and provide a wealth of information. But regardless of whether you’ll be doing the school run later this week or not, I wish all the children of Exeter a great school year!

Here We Go Again

During my marathon training I said to Dan, on more than one occasion, that I wouldn’t sign up for another marathon for a while as I felt the training was impacting on our family life too much. I knew even then that I’d run another but planned to not do it for at least a year, if not more. However, things change (sometimes quicker than we anticipate) and as it happens, I will be running my second marathon in a mere 8 weeks time. Sorry Dan!

I had some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket and my thoughts were that if I ran another marathon fairly quickly after my first, my body would already been trained and the training wouldn’t need to be quite so intense and time consuming. (Seasoned runners may be holding heads in their hands at this point in the column!) I also spotted that The Eden Project host a marathon and the part trail/part road route appealed to me. Plus we get a day out at Eden afterwards which is always a bonus in my books.

My Dad is running again with me and I’m looking forward to this one with a lot less apprehension than I did the North Devon affair. I think the reason for that is two-fold. Firstly, obviously I’ve completed one marathon so I know I can do it. Secondly, the route is a lot less hilly and includes more road running so it should be easier. Obviously we’ll be running in October rather than June so it will be chillier but given that the last one started in torrential rain, I’m not too worried about the weather.

Despite having signed up a month or so ago, my running has been somewhat sporadic. I have been doing a lot of weight training though so hopefully that’ll make up for it. However, the last two weekends I’ve gone out for a long run (last week was 10 miles) and I’ll be increasing these every week now for a bit before tapering again. In fact, we’re off to Wales on holiday in a few weeks and I spotted a trail half marathon occurring whilst we’re there so I thought I might as well incorporate that into my training as well (another sorry and thank you to Dan here for running whilst we’re on holiday!)

I’m excited about the challenge ahead though and although I really enjoy body building, I do think that running is my sport. I was chatting to a friend recently and said to her that I think that when you discover what activity is meant for you, you just know. And once you’re started, it would appear that you can’t stop! And to think that as a teenager I used to hate running…

A Close Call

Over the last 7.5 years, there have been plenty of occasions upon which my children have made careless decisions or I have turned my back for just a second at the wrong time and accidents have happened. There have also been a few times when I had the horror of watching a mishap occur without being able to do anything to stop it.

One that particularly stands out in my memory is watching a 2 year old Sophia speed down a small slope on her scooter, lose control and go flying into a nearby wall. I had a baby Isaac in a sling and somehow had to carry her, her scooter and our bags awkwardly back home where Dan was able to take us up to A+E. That time resulted in a broken finger and a minor operation to put her finger back in place as she had managed to knock it out of it’s socket. Ouch!

Of all these times though, I’ve never been seriously concerned for their lives or thought that they were at risk of serious harm. Today, however, I witnessed a near-miss that made my blood run cold. Isaac was scooting down a hill in Topsham and despite my hollerings to ‘STAY TO THE LEFT’ he careered off to the right as he scooted round a blind corner. A car suddenly appeared from around said corner and luckily, was going slow enough that when they pulled to a swift stop, they missed hitting him by mere inches.

I think me and my friend were more scared than Isaac! I grabbed him and I’m embarrassed to say that rather than pull him in for a hug, I gave him a stern talking to about listening to instructions. He looked folorn and said ‘why are you shouting at me?’ I answered ‘because you almost got hit by a car and I was scared because I love you and don’t want you to get hurt!’ I did feel bad though, that my instinct was to be cross. I guess fear does funny things to you.

This afternoon, I have been counting my blessings. I’m feeling so grateful to that car for driving at a sensible speed round a blind corner and also a little bit guilty that I didn’t stop to check the driver was ok. I’m feeling lucky that all my small folk are healthy, happy and unharmed. It struck me how close a call it was and how things could have easily turned out so differently. So apologies for the cheese but hug your little people extra tight today. I know I will be.

Mud and Mayhem

(Posting this a little late but better than never…)
The first two days of camping this week were blissful…we set up with no stress, opened a still-cold bottle of wine and relaxed as the kids played with their friends whilst we chatted and soaked up the (albeit patchy) sun. Day two saw a walk to Weymouth along the coast path, sea swimming, ice creams and a evening BBQ before marshmallows around the campfire. Perfect!
Day three however, was a different story. We were forecast rain and had done some planning as to where we could go but weren’t fully prepared for the extent of bad weather that arrived. We headed to the small but interesting Dinosaur Museum in Dorchester. Unfortunately so did everyone else in a 20 mile radius and claustrophobic tendencies sank in. Whilst there we received a sobering message from friends still on site warning us that cars weren’t allowed on site due to the mud and that tents and event shelters were being drowned and blown away left, right and centre. We headed for lunch to delay the inevitable before heading back, drenched from just dashing between buildings and cars, to assess the damage.
Luckily, all our tents were still just about standing and after a very camping dinner of bacon sandwiches and crisps, we settled in for a night of googling how much wind a bell tent can withstand, regular guy line checks and worrying whether our central pole would hold out.
This morning arrived and brought with it much welcome sun! Unfortunately, it was accompanied by more strong winds, predicted to reach 40 mph gusts this afternoon. Not quite the camping holiday weather I had envisioned! So a day on site is in order as the kids play card games in the warm dry tents and the parents drink copious amounts of tea whilst keeping an eye on the tents still being battered by the wind.
But at the end of the day, whilst I’d obviously prefer glorious sunshine and no wind, the kids are happy, we’re safe and fed, have spent good time with friends and most importantly, the tents are still standing! (For now, at least….)

Car Tetris

It’s that time of year again where Dan and I look in disbelief at a huge pile of assorted camping equipment stacked in our back garden and wonder how on earth it’s all going to fit into our relatively compact golf, along with the 5 of us. This year, it was actually not too stressful and the kids were very accepting when I said we didn’t have room for their body boards. Unfortunately, we also didn’t have room for the gazebo so hopefully it won’t rain this week…

So, as I write this, we are speeding along the A30 heading to a gorgeous campsite near Weymouth (Eweleaze, an absolute gem that I’d definitely recommend) whilst Dan ponders whether the car is meant to be this heavily loaded. The kids are bickering already and I’m trying with limited success thus far to embrace the holiday vibe!
I’ve written about camping with kids before, usually espousing the joys of it. This year though, I’m feeling a little more cynical. I do love camping and I know we’ll have a great week but it’s hardly what I’d call relaxing! Eli has been waking at 6am and I know that won’t change whilst camping. Couple that with the obligatory late nights round the campfire and it makes for a grouchy toddler by day two! Luckily, we’ve opted for the best approach to camping…go with lots of other families to share the childcare and provide instant company for the kids (meaning less sibling related tension…in theory).
So despite my reservations (which in reality, would apply to any holiday with small children) I am mostly looking forward to the week ahead. A week spent with good friends, a temporary suspension of reality as we escape the daily grind normal life and sleep under canvas for a precious few (hopefully cloudless!) nights.