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!

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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!

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.

Nothing But the Truth

In the interest of full disclosure, I figure that as well as sharing the funny or adorable ancedotes from my children with you, I should also share the downright ugly. My children have been nothing short of foul this last week. The fighting has been incessant, the whinging has been prolific, the singing annoying songs has been off the charts. Yesterday as we drove home from an afternoon on a beautiful beach near Kingsbridge (where to be fair, they had mostly put their grumpiness on hold) they were kicking off in the back of the car. Eli was shouting at me because I wouldn’t put his window down as we drove at 70mph down the A38, Sophia was grumpy about something Isaac had done and Isaac was howling because he’d been told off for purposefully annoying Sophia. We pulled in for fuel and I glanced over at the campervan next to me. In it was another family with two young children. The parents looked relaxed and happy, the children were smiling. They looked like something out of an advertisement! I was green with envy. Dan got back in the car….’why aren’t our kids like that?!’ I asked in desperation, nodding in their direction.

To be fair to my children, they are perfectly capable of being lovely. They often play long complicated make believe games, they give us lots of cuddles, they read books and build lego creations together. We have long periods of mostly harmonious living with just the odd niggle. But these periods seem to be interspersed with phases where everyone clashes, all the time. This time round, I think it is probably something to do with getting back into the swing of things after the Easter break combined with far too much sugar over the last week (we’ve finally finished the chocolate today). I’m hoping that the permanent sugar high will wear off and as their normal routine continues, they might ease back into a more peaceful state of being.

I know it’s not permanent but it’s oh so annoying when it happens. I hate nagging and chastising all the time, I can’t bear them not listening to me and I feel oh so sorry for our neighbours or anyone in the vicinity! Mostly though, I feel so sad at the thought of them being so unpleasant to each other. Sure, I wasn’t best friends with my siblings at the time growing up but mostly I remember playing with them and getting on. Maybe my parents will remember it differently but I don’t remember being quite as mean to them as mine can be to each other. It’s probably rose tinted spectacles as I reminisce and this is probably completely normal behaviour but nonetheless, I hope this phase passes quickly and we’re back to giggles being more commonly heard than screams!

Green Therapy

Just before Easter a friend of ours kindly approached me to see if we would like to share their plot at the local allotment. We enthusiastically accepted and consequently, the last few weeks have seen me nipping up whenever we can spare the time to get a bit of digging in. I had forgotten quite how much I love gardening and just how therapeutic it is. This plot has a few fairly overgrown areas that need tackling and even just the simple act of digging and weeding has brought me much joy (and peace) recently. I’ve taken to digging barefoot, mostly because it irritates me less than getting soil in your shoes but I must admit that there is something wonderful about feeling the earth between your toes as you get to grips with the task at hand.

The children have been nothing short of delighted to have a patch of ‘proper’ garden to tend to although their efforts at helping me weed have often been waylaid by the far more attractive option of exploring the site or darting off to play with other children. I will give them their dues though, they are diligent (and sometimes over enthusiastic!) water-ers and I suspect none of the plants will be going thirsty with Elijah around… I’m looking forward to the Easter holidays being over and dedicating a regular chunk of time once or twice a week to the allotment as part of their home education.

When we arrived there was an impressive strawberry patch, an asparagus bed, rhubarb and raspberry canes galore. Since then potatoes, beetroot and sweetcorn have been planted, I have tomato and brussel sprout seedlings at home ready to go up and just today, my spaghetti squash seeds arrived (I’m a bit too excited about the latter…here’s hoping they are bountiful)! It has been a real pleasure to be up there in the recent run of beautiful sunshine and I don’t see our initial enthusiasm wearing off anytime soon, even if the weather does turn.

All three of the kids seem to have inherited my love of gardening and are keen to see the process of growing your own through from the admittedly sometimes boring stages of weeding and preparing beds to the exciting time that is harvest. I sometimes think that if I achieve nothing else significant with their home education, as long as they love being outdoors and can grow food, I’ll be happy. Nothing tastes quite as good as fruit and vegetables you’ve grown yourselves and although I might sound a little kooky, the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that in this day and age, it’s probably one of the must useful skills to have. So a huge thank you to Jess for letting us share her plot, we will do our best to help keep everything green and growing!