E+E Column: Update from an urban garden

Earlier this year, I decided that I wasn’t going to do any gardening this year due to Eli’s tendency to pull leaves off plants and where possible, uproot the whole thing. I thought rather than keep fighting a battle with a ridiculously cute and stubborn toddler, I’d just give ourselves a year off and save ourselves wasting time and resources only to see it all destroyed by whichever schema of child devlopment ‘tiny terror in the garden’ falls into.

However, it’s the middle of May and somehow I have several potato plants thriving, we’ve revived several strawberry plants from last year, saved some mint, sown several packets of wildflowers and the kids are currently nursing brussel sprout, poppy, sunflower and tomato seedlings which they planted a few weeks ago (after Dan, not in on my decision, let them choose a few packets each in B+Q). We’ve also been donated some chives, a squash plant and have been offered a pallet so I can finally realise my dream of a pallet herb garden!

And yes, Elijah has pulled all the blossom off the plum tree, uprooted the mint plants half a dozen times and dug over the wild flower bed several times. But do you know what? That’s ok! This year gardening has happened so organically (pun definitely intended) and with minimal effort on my part so I’m feeling ok about the whole thing. I’m especially excited by the loofah seeds donated by a kindly neighbour! I’ve adopted a more philosophical approach to things. We’ll do our best to keep plants alive, to water them and repot as necessary and we’ll try and redirect Elijah’s attempts at joining in to the flower beds that we don’t care so much about. And at the end of the season, we might have some vegetables to eat and some flowers to put on the table. If we do, that’s great! And if we don’t, we can chalk it up as experience gained and move on. I look forward to having a more in depth gardening experience again in years to come as time and space allows but for now, I’ll grab the bits and pieces that come our way and enjoy them. It’s still a great learning and recreational experience for both the kids and me and it gets us all outside every day for a little bit. So all in all, I’m very glad that we’re accidentally growing again this year!

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Taking a well earned break from gardening

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E+E Column: Getting Moving

Over the last two years, I’ve been on a bit of a journey of discovery…into the wonderful world of fitness. Before you stop reading, give me a chance! I promise it’s worth getting into (fitness that is, not my somewhat random musings). For the previous 26 years of my life I had only a fleeting interest in fitness; I found pleasure in swimming, I liked the usefulness of cycling and I occasionally went through phases of running but nothing stuck. To be honest, once a roomate at university broke the news to me that running regularly wouldn’t cancel out my habit of eating 400g of mature cheese a week, I wasn’t particularly interested. I carried more weight than my body ought to and had a slightly unhealthy sugar (and cheese) addiction.

So what happened? I bought Dan a set of dumbbells and the equivalent of ‘weightlifting for dummies’ for Christmas 2014 and after seeing him get into it, thought I’d give it a try. Before I knew it, I had found a ‘sport’ that I really liked! I loved the feeling of lifting weights and increasing them week on week, getting a little bit heavier at a time. I felt strong and powerful. I started to add in some cardio in the form of running and HIIT (high intensity interval training) and it just seemed to follow that I adjust my diet to suit. I stopped eating all the reduced cakes from the coop that I could get my hands on and started thinking more about our dinners. I even kept lifting (safely) whilst pregnant with Elijah before the SPD stopped me at 7 months. If the me from a few years ago could see me now, I think she genuinely wouldn’t be able to believe it. I’ve never thought of myself as someone who’s really into fitness but apparently have become one!

And it is most definitely, for me at least, not a vanity centred thing. I’m not going to lie, I do like the way I look more now. But if that was the only positive effect I’d have stopped months ago. No, I like the way it makes me feel. I have more energy, my moods are consistently better and more stable, I sleep better (when the baby lets me!), I’m actually able to eat MORE food to fuel myself and I just feel all round healthier. I don’t even mind not eating cake so much (mostly), finding that I savour it more when I do have it. The biggest challenge has been fitting it into life with three small people in tow. But we seem to manage to do it mostly in the evenings and at the weekend take it in turns to watch the kids for an hour whilst the other one works out. I also love that the kids are seeing us look after our bodies and stay healthy, they are already keen to follow suit and that is probably one of the biggest gifts we can give them – modelling the importance of looking after our bodies, the bodies that carry us and keep us alive. The bodies we need for all our adventures. So, (and you can have a sharp word with me if this comes across as preachy – it’s honestly not my intention!), why not get out this week and find something that gets you moving that you enjoy. I promise you’ll feel better for it!

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Trusty runners seeing a bit more action these days…

E+E Column: An Alternative Way of Living

Like most people I know in their late twenties/early thirties, Dan and I are not homeowners, but rent our house from a landlord. Although we are not rolling in it, we’re not on the breadline either and our income could cover mortgage repayments without issue. Unfortunately, the sticking point for us, like thousands of other people in the same boat around the UK, is that of the deposit. Saving such a massive sum of money whilst paying high rent is although not impossible, definitely a lengthy process. Even when you factor in the 5% help-to-buy offers, for a house in Devon for a family of 5, that’s still a hefty chunk that you need to save.

So what’s the answer? Save for 5-10 years beore buying a house and being committed to another 40 years of repayments? Or rent forever, essentially giving someone else the best part of £10,000 every year? Both of those seem like pretty depressing options if you ask me. I’m guessing a lot of people agree because more and more people are starting to choose to live in non-traditional settings, be it boat, van, static caravan or yurt. And I can see why. The idea of being debt free and owning your own home, however small or quirky it may be, is incredibly appealing. Add in the factor of being close to nature and the hippy in me is convinced!

In fact, it probably won’t come as a surprise for you to learn that Dan, myself and the kids actually lived on a 31ft yacht for almost 3 years beore moving to Devon. We moved off for various reasons, partly because we weren’t sure where you could liveaboard down in the Southwest and partly because it just wasn’t the right boat for a family of 4 (although it worked fine when it was just the 3 of us). And while I quite enjoy having a washing machine, garden and bathroom, there are a lot of elements of the off grid/small home lifestyle that I miss. I miss not paying huge amounts of rent every month. I miss the minimalist lifestyle, uncluttered from masses of useless possessions, I miss the freedom of living on a floating home, knowing we could literally untie and sail off if the wind and whim took us.

So, I don’t think Dan was completely unprepared when I raised the subject of alternative living again recently. This time, inspired by a conservation at a party, I’ve been pondering the idea of living on land, in a van or static caravan. However, 5 years and 2 more children on, Dan isn’t quite as keen to dive in this time round. I don’t blame him, the fact that he works from home definitely presents a challenge. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to at least consider the possibilities and practicalities of scaling back and doing the off grid thing again. There is so much to be gained, not least, financial and physical freedom. Watch this space I guess…

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E+E Column: Under Canvas

Logically speaking, the effort involved in digging out all our camping gear, packing the car (a challenging feat in itself!), pitching the tent and doing the same thing in reverse less than 24 hours later would seem to indicate that going camping for just one night is simply not worth it. But from my experience, logic goes out of the widow when it comes to camping because it really is worth it. I don’t think I’d be overstretching to say that camping, no matter how short the duration, is quite simply, a tonic.

This weekend we kicked off our camping season with a chilly night’s stay at River Dart Country Park (a bit more upmarket than the bare bones sites we usually frequent but most definitely highly recommended). Today we are all pretty weary but do not regret the trip for a second. We went with friends which I’d argue makes all the difference to camping with kids. Having other adults to split childcare with is invaluable and having playmates camping just a stones throw from your tent takes the excitement of sleeping under canvas to a whole new level.

I do have a bit of an embarassing confession though, we’re not quite as hardy as you’d think a family camping at the end of April should be for we have a wood burning stove in our bell tent. Since purchasing this, our camping trips have been transformed. We never have to worry about being cold and the kids love always having the opportunity to toast marshmallows, even on sites that don’t allow ground fires. So this weekend, as the temperature plummeted and half a dozen adults were hopping from foot to foot in the chilly night air, unwilling to go to bed at the same time as the kids but feeling like they might have to, we were able to invite our friends in to huddle round the stove with the leftover marshmallows, the best chocolates I’ve ever tasted (thanks Karina!) and a bottle of whiskey to share (thank you Phil!). We just about managed to not wake the kids and all thoroughly enjoyed some uninterrupted adult conversation and time spent with friends.

We’ve another two camping trips planned in the coming months and I daresay some impromptu trips will pop up as well. I’m counting down the days already, there’s just something about spending time outdoors, getting back to basics and spending time with good friends with no pressure or place to be that you really can’t beat. Happy Days!

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E+E Column: Just one more than two

Last week I did something that I haven’t done in nearly six and a half years of parenting; I completely forgot about a playdate and stood a dear friend up, leaving her and her gorgeous children waiting in the park for us on a chilly Friday afternoon after they’d traipsed there across the city from school. It might not sound like much but for me it really was pretty awful. Another good friend once nicknamed me ‘Planner Hannah’ due to my love of planning, organising and all things related. However, since having Elijah, those tendencies have somewhat unravelled. Now I’m content congratulating myself if I manage to succesfully leave the house with all three children in clean(ish) clothes, brushed hair and teeth and the food and water we’ll need for our trip out. I reckon I’m coming in currently with a 75% success rate. I might not remember the craft activities I’m meant to be supplying, the sling I promised to lend a friend or the letter that needed posting but if I’ve kept three children alive, fed and clean(ish) then I’ll count that as a win!

It’s a funny thing really because I was totally much more on the ball when I had just two children. And I can’t quite understand how one more child makes that much more of a difference but it really does! It turns out that (for me at least) three, just one more than two, is the number it takes to move me from feeling like I’ve got this parenting lark sussed to feeling like I’m constantly treading water, rushing from one thing to the next with a mental to-do list that seems to grow exponentionally. These days it seems nigh on impossible to get my head into the space to plan out and execute some of the activities I did when I just had Sophia and Isaac. I look back at photos of carefully planned afternoons spent crafting, remember fondly reading stories for hours under a duvet on rainy days and having a house that remained reasonably clean.
Of course, age is an issue. I feel quietly confident (hopefully I’m not being delusional!) that as they all get older, things will get easier. Elijah won’t always want to climb on tables, draw on walls and throw the most monumental tantrums when I won’t let him unravel the toilet roll or dental floss whilst I’m trying to do some work with the other two. And the small sparks of sibling relationships that I’m seeing start to emerge between him and his older brother and sister will grow, fanned by proximity and time. Then before I know it I’ll have three children, thick as thieves one moment, warring the next, but loyal to each other to the end. I’ll be getting more sleep and we’ll regain the opportunity to craft, bake, read and explore with ease (although I suspect the house might still be a mess). Yes, balancing everyone’s needs and wants might sometimes feel like a scene from Jurassic Park but I don’t regret a second of it. However, I’m definitely not evening it up to four with another, dontcha know…three, it’s the magic number.

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Democracy?

I, along with thousands of others around the country, have been growing increasingly frustrated over the last few weeks and months. Unhappy with how our government are acting and angry at being so completely and utterly ignored. In fact, angry isn’t a strong enough word. I am furious. Since coming to office the Conservative government under David Cameron has first targeted the weak and vulnerable in our society; cutting benefits and tightening rules to an extent where our papers are full of stories of severely disabled and dying people left with little or no money to survive on or the indignity of being asked to attend a fit for work interview when it is quite clear that they can’t. They moved on to attacking our public servants, we’ve seen protests and strikes from our firefighters, our doctors, our teachers. Their concerns have been brushed to one side, they’ve been accused of lying and melodramatics. They are sneakily trying to sell off our national parks, to push through fracking despite almost universal opposition. Our Prime Minister has gone through two major scandals (‘pig gate’ and more recently, the Panama papers) in less than a year. Enough is enough. Twice in the last month, several thousand people have flocked to London to demand a change, to see Cameron leave, to call for another general election. We’d have gone ourselves if we could have afforded the fuel to get there. Several online petitions have received hundreds of thousands signatures demanding action.

And what has happened in the weeks since? Not much. I received a reply from The Petitions Committee effectively brushing off the petition, saying it’s claims weren’t true and that they cannot call a general election under rules that were passed under the coalition government (how convenient). Then tonight I read an article on The Canary about censorship and some legislation that Cameron is thought to be trying to push through. This new legislation apparently will ‘include measures to gag individuals, close down premises and ban organisations’ who fall under the Domestic Extremist category. This sounds legit until you realise that they’ve somewhat changed descriptions so a ‘large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose’ whose conduct is ‘motivated by a political or ideological viewpoint’ could qualify. You can’t get more vague than that, bit of a convenient catch-all category that could be applied as and when it suits the government, from people protesting the privatisation of our national parks to civil servants striking. Scary stuff.

To be honest, it feels like democracy is Britain is a complete and utter farce.How can it be that so many people are so desperately unhappy with the state of affairs, that people are protesting and striking in unprecedented numbers, that petitions are gaining near half a million signatures, that opposition parties memberships are sky rocketing and still, nothing is changing. What more can we do to get them to listen and either make changes so they are actually representing what the people of Britain want or call a general election? I genuinely don’t know the answer. And along with many, I’m starting to get more and more concerned about what is going to happen over the next few years. If things continue the way they’re going, things are going to be a hell of a lot worse for the majority of us before the next general election. As a Christian, I believe God has a plan for us but I also believe that Jesus told us to look after those in need, to stand up for those without a voice, to love our neighbours. So I want to do just that.

I’m aware that my readership is small but if you’re reading this and share my concerns, please please comment. If you have any ideas, any helpful words, I would absolutely love to read them. Let’s get a discourse going, let’s start brainstorming. We can’t stop fighting this. We need to stand up and unite in our opposition to the selfish, cruel government that is currently driving us into the ground. We need to make change happen.