Ebb and Flow

(Little late this one I’m afraid but I still liked it enough to post it late!)

Even if you don’t make a conscious effort to mark or celebrate the summer solstice or equinox, you are probably aware that the longest day of the year was last week, a signal that we are almost exactly half way through the year. If you are anything like me, you are probably enjoying the light-filled evenings (although perhaps not the early starts quite as much – my youngest seems to be a little bit like a farmer, rising with the sun…which at 5am is just a bit too early for me at the moment!) My evenings have been fairly languid and lazy, I’ve been going for evening walks with friends, watering the parched plants at the allotment and generally fully embracing this time of year.

However, it has taken me a little while to fully acknowledge the natural ebb and flow effect that the seasons have on other areas of our lives. Recently I’ve been fretting that the kids haven’t been doing enough ‘sit-down’ work and that we have been spending a lot more time outside, in nature and on organised home education day trips. It took me a while to remember that this happens every year and for us, is just part of our normal academic rhythm. Each winter, when the weather is unwelcoming and hostile, I throw them outside for Forest School once a week and then we spend the rest of our time hibernating and engaged in quite a lot of project-based work and more traditional academic learning. At some point in the winter I start to worry that I’ve overloading them with information and that we might be doing too much and then usually these worries are put on pause by the Christmas holidays.

As the weather improves each Spring though, our ratio of indoor to outdoor learning seems to slowly swing the other way and by late June I am worrying about our lack of time spent indoors at the table! Remembering this has filled me with relief and also allowed me to fully enjoy spending as much time as possible outdoors whilst the weather is still fine. So we’ve been at the allotment enjoying soft fruit season this morning, we’re off to Tiverton Museum for a field trip tomorrow and our regular hall-based group on Thursday is temporarily moving to the beach to make the most of the heatwave whilst it’s still here.

This realisation has been a reminder of two things for me. Firstly that learning can take so many different forms; the kids can learn through hands-on maths whilst we’re pottering at the plot or at the beach, through discovery at Forest School of new plant or animal specimens, can develop their physical skills through outdoors sports and can work on their social skills almost constantly through the people we meet. Secondly, that there is so much to be gained from observing the seasonal changes around us and not fighting against the opportunities they present. So this week, I’d encourage you to take any opportunity you can to get outside and be in nature, soaking up the sun or perhaps relaxing in the shade, before Wimbledon brings with it the inevitable week of summer rain (although at least the gardeners will be grateful)!

Advertisements

Plans from the Plot

It’s been a while since I’ve bored you all senseless with my green fingered musings so I thought now that Spring is possibly, finally here it was about time to make some public plans for the 2018 growing season. I woke up rather early this morning after a long (22.5 miles) training run on Dartmoor yesterday with Dad and the first thought that popped into my head wasn’t an assessment on which part of my body hurt the most but rather a bit of a panic that it is approaching mid-April and we have nothing growing up at the plot! Or to be precise, nothing that we have planted growing at the plot…weeds however, there are plenty.

I’ve been buying seeds here and there but with the snow and various other factors, hadn’t got round to actually planting any of them! We stopped at a local garden centre this afternoon in the hopes of picking up some strawberry seedlings (cheating I know but time is of the essence!) and potatoes but were thwarted by their lack of card payment facilities. I had to make do with a vigorous weeding session this afternoon as I mentally penciled in what I was going to start planting, when and where. But now the majority of the beds are ready for planting with hops dug in, I’ve got a big bag of seed compost and half a dozen different types of seeds. So first thing tomorrow, me and the kids are going to get the seeds sown and on windowsills and hopefully before the week is out we’ll start to see the first shoots of green gradually emerging from the dark soil beneath.

In an effort to engage the children more fully with the allotment this year I told them they could choose one fruit or vegetable each to grow and be fully in charge of that. Sophia chose peas, Eli can’t seem to decide between tomatoes or our pear tree (although that’s not really something that requires any work) and Isaac pulled the wild card with watermelons. I told him firmly that they don’t grow in England before spotting some seeds in Lidl and to his delight we’re going to give them a go. I’ve supplemented these choices with cucumbers, spaghetti squash, basil and tomatoes and we’ll be getting the aforementioned potatoes, strawberries and hopefully some carrots, peppers and beans as soon as I have cash in my wallet when I’m passing Plants Galore!

I’m sure my co-worker has even more plans as well so I’m looking forward to seeing what is successful and hopefully having a gloriously abundant season of growing our own this year. We also need to sort out our pond which is still resembling a muddy pool of water rather than a haven for wildlife and we desperately need a new shed as ours is, quite literally, falling down. So lot’s to do but I’m not feeling overwhelmed; more excited by the challenge ahead and spending more time outdoors, especially with the promise of doing so in the sun!

A child’s eye view

I’m not sure exactly what the catchment area for is for Manor, the free glossy magazine for the South-West, but we receive it on a fairly regular basis. I usually flick through it and read anything of interest (most memorably an awesome article on wild swimming) before passing it on to Sophia to peruse. However, when the most recent edition fell through our letterbox a few weeks ago, Sophia nabbed it first before I had the chance to have a look. Fast forward an hour and I’m washing up in the kitchen and Sophia sweeps in demanding I read an article and that apparently we have to help! I was intrigued and a little confused and proceeded to read, under her impatient gaze, the article she was thrusting under my nose. It was about a wonderful nurse from Cornwall, Anna Norona, who set up a charity, Yezidi Emergency Support, to support Yezidi refugees and is working tirelessly to provide emergency aid for these displaced peoples, especially in regards to their medical needs.

I’ll be honest, if I had read the article first there is a chance I would have filtered it. There was mention of some of the horrendous things that have happened to the Yezidi people since the genocide of thousands of this peaceful minority at the hands of ISIS back in 2014. It’s not necessarily something I would have wanted my 8 year old to read. However, it ignited a spark in her to help these people and I have been so proud of her response to discovering this information.

She was absolutely adamant that we had to do something to support them. She said that she would hate to be separated from me and Dan and be hurt and spoke about how lucky we are to be living somewhere safe with food and our family. After a little brain-storming, she decided to raise money by being sponsored to eat just rice, beans and oats for three whole days. For a girl who likes her food, this is a pretty big deal! Anna identified a particular family currently living in a refugee camp in Kurdistan that she could support, we set up a justgiving page and she is preparing herself for her challenge which she’ll be doing on the 8th, 9th and 10th April.

I am so proud of her and her determination help those less fortunate than herself. But more than that, it has kicked me into action. We are surrounded by such a deluge of depressing and bleak news that it is easy to become numb to the horrors of the world around us. It’s easy to slip into inaction and passivity when we should be using our position of privilege to do something. So I’m resolved to do more to help those that need it. I’ll be fundraising for Yezidi Emergency Support myself and will be raising money through my (baby) ultra-marathon for them and am planning to make a conscious effort to donate regularly to the Exeter Food Bank. My time for volunteering may be stretched thin at the moment but I’m going to do what I can to raise awareness of those in need and help wherever possible. If anything, I owe it to Sophia to show her that I support her with more than just words. I want to follow the example she’s set and show love to my fellow humans with more than just platitudes.

And…breathe.

I’m not going to mince my words. Over the last few weeks, the behaviour of my children has been pretty unpleasant. They’ve been bickering constantly, there has been shouting and screaming fits (regularly) and I’ve even been hit whilst trying to help them negotiate a tricky situation. Thus far, I have been fairly successfully fostering a calm facade and have managed to avoid shouting mostly but I am so far past the end of my tether at this point that the veneer is starting to crack. What I’m most puzzled by is what is causing it. Usually I can pinpoint a reason for such a noticeable decline in temperament but this time, I am clueless. If I was going to clutch at straws I’d suggest that maybe it’s the end result of too much time inside after recurrent bouts of illness and a long wet and cold winter. I’m not convinced though. If it was just one of them I’d blame sleep or hormones but for it to be all of them (actually not so much the smallest) is a bit of a mystery.

However, I have long known the best way for me to manage through such a season of discontent. And that is with regular breaks to go somewhere, by myself, and just enjoy the peace. One such opportunity presented itself last weekend when I realised it was time to do a long training run for the upcoming mini ultra. So I laced my (new!) trainers, packed my running belt with snacks and headed out for a blissful 3 hours of running around the Exeter Green Circle. I covered 18 miles and returned with very muddy and slightly bleeding legs (I lost an argument with some brambles) but feeling much more “zen”. It’s amazing what a little bit of exercise and some time outside without the constant refrain of ‘Muuuuuuuum’ can do for your mood!

And whilst I don’t fully blame cabin fever or the upcoming full moon for their moods, it does have to be said that after a consecutive few days of getting them outside to play or walk for several hours they have been a little bit better. Granted, today in Rougemont Gardens the boys and my friend’s son drew the glances of a fair few passers by with their exuberant running, yelling and general mud covered antics. But after that and an afternoon exploring her amazing garden we returned home with everyone feeling a little happier and a little less grouchy.

I refuse to believe scare mongering of a third Beast this Easter and am living naively in the belief that it will be, if not glorious sunshine, at least not too wet or cold. I am hoping to cram in as much outside time as possible to the coming bank holiday weekend in the hopes that I can fully shake the grumps out of my kids and enjoy a few weeks off our normal routine with a little more harmony than we’ve seen of late. And if it is cold and wet, then that’s what raincoats and woolly hats are for! As long as I remember to grab my moments to breathe, then we’ll weather this rough patch and come out the other side with no hard feelings!

Taking Time For You

I’m aware that I’m in danger of this sounding something like a self-help column this week but I want to write about self-care and about taking time to nurture yourself. With Mother’s Day just gone, it seems like a timely reminder that Mum’s (and indeed everyone) need a bit of a break regularly, not just once a year in an avalanche of flowers, homemade cards and breakfast in bed. But we are not passive in this, we need to claim space and time for ourselves.

It’s easy in life, especially as a parent (but not exclusively to those with small folk), to get so bogged down in the day-to-day tasks that need doing and meeting the needs of everyone around us that we forget about our own needs. Self-care is the buzz term for this but really, it just means remembering that you are a human with your own needs and wants and recognising that it’s not selfish to take some time to meet them. Mother’s especially can be prone to playing (unintentionally) the role of martyr, running themselves ragged looking after those in their lives and getting all their work done, constantly juggling tasks and appointments in order to keep their families ticking over. But the problem with this is that more often than not, we end up feeling burnt out, tired and resentful.

Luckily, the solution is not a hard one. Self-care doesn’t mean jetting off for an all inclusive spa-weekend once a month (although once in a while wouldn’t go amiss!) Rather, it means adopting a practice of remembering every day, to honour yourself by doing something that’s just for you. That might be taking the time to go for a run or to an exercise class, to sit down with a tea and a book or trashy Netflix show for an hour, it might be choosing to take some extra time to prepare a nutritious meal to better fuel your body, it might be simply going to bed early rather than spending an extra two hours tidying and tying up the loose ends of the day.

And the thing is, if we regularly make time to honour ourselves, we’ll find tension dissipating in other areas of our lives. We’ll have more patience and energy to deal with the demands that life throws at us. It’s not selfish to take time for ourselves. It’s not selfish to say no to a request to play by the kids or to turn down extra hours at work. It’s OK to put ourselves first once in a while. I remember reading something Dr Sears had written when Sophia was just a toddler, he wrote that the sun does not rise and set on one member of the family but rather that everyone in the family were of equal importance. He wrote that sometimes one person’s needs will be more pressing than others but that in the grand scheme of things, a family should equally look after each other.

I’ve come a long way in the way of self-care and now make sure I take time daily to do something for me (usually go to the gym or eat separately from the kids so I can eat something yummy I know they won’t touch!) and the difference is noticeable. I find that I shout less and that as a general rule, our house is calmer. I’m not going to lie, we still have stressful, grouchy days but there are less of them. So if you had a lovely Mother’s Day but wished you were given the opportunity to focus on yourself a little more, don’t wait another year. Adopt an attitude of daily self-care and take some time (even if it’s just 10 minutes) for yourself, you won’t regret it!

An ode to libraries

(Posted a little late but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to sing the praises of libraries!)

Even though the kids aren’t in school, we tend to follow the local term dates when it comes to our home education. That means that this week, like families everywhere, we were faced with a week off our normal routine as we took a half term break. This actually came at a good time as everyone had just come down with another heavy cold so it gave us the perfect opportunity to rest and recover. The weather further aided this by being incredibly inclement (again) meaning that lots of time inside playing games, doing puzzles and reading books was welcomed by us all.

However, as the kids started to recover, I found myself puzzling as to how to fill the empty days when we needed to be out of the house but still indoors, and I didn’t want to spend much (or if I’m being honest, any) extra money. On one of these such days I received an email from Devon Libraries with a ‘pre-overdue’ warning and the solution was obvious…a trip to the library was in order!

The love for our libraries is strong in this house. Sophia is currently working her way through the Book Track challenge (reading 100 books and receiving badges along the way to mark various milestone) and the boys are content rummaging through unfamiliar and exciting books for me to read as well as getting to use the fancy new self-checkout machine. And me? Being a bookworm with neither the time or finances to regularly frequent bookshops, a trip to the ‘adult section’ always appeals to me as I look for something interesting to get my teeth into.

Like all public services, libraries are constantly facing the pressure of cuts, loss of funding and threat of closure. But there is a really really easy way to support these amazing community resources, and that is simply…to use them! The more of us that use libraries for borrowing books, going to the various groups and meetings that they hold, using their resources for research or printing, the more it will show those higher up the food chain (and therefore in charge of the purse-strings) that we want libraries to stay.

With World Book Day fast approaching on 1st March, now is the perfect opportunity to dust off your library card and go searching for a good book to lose yourself in at the end of a long day. And if you have small kids don’t forget to check out the various events taking place around the area. Devon Libraries are excellent at providing all manner of fun things to do for the children so it’s always worth keeping an eye out on their facebook pages! Libraries are one of the cornerstones of small communities everywhere and I think it’s fair to say, of vital importance to many. To paraphrase the old adage, if we don’t want to lose it…use it!

Tangible Memories

As we’ve met up with friends and acquaintances through the course of our return to normal life this week, one of the common questions that we’ve asked to each other is ‘how were your holidays?’ Whilst replying in the affirmative, I suddenly realised that this year we had taken absolutely no photos on Christmas Day or New Years Eve. This realisation was met with mixed reactions. On one hand, I was happy that we were obviously having such a lovely time that we forgot to record it all for posterity’s sake but on the other hand, I was a little sad that I won’t be able to look back at photo’s from this Christmas in years to come.

When I was much younger, I went through a phase of habitually going to the cupboard where my Mum stored all her photo albums and leafing through them all. I loved looking at old photo’s of us all as babies, snapshots of special birthdays and holidays, forever remembered in print. Obviously, this was before the age of digital and developing a film wasn’t cheap so the moments that had been captured were ones that my parents conciously chose to remember. Somehow, this made them even more precious. Now that we can take a thousand photos on our smartphones with ease and online printing services means that you can print them off for pennies, I suspect we are a litlte less discerning with what we choose to snap.

When Sophia was smaller I was a little obsessed with getting pictures of her all the time. I didn’t want to miss the chance to make a record of anything. Then I realised that living life behind the lens wasn’t as rewarding as putting my phone or camera down and living in the moment itself. I’m pretty sure the kids would rather remember me getting involved rather than standing on the sidelines, trying to get the perfect shot.

Consequently, now I’m trying to tread the fine line between making sure I do have pictures for when I’m old and grey and the kids are no longer small bundles of excitable energy, and being glued to my phone for fear of missing a candid moment. At the end of the day, I know that nothing will truly capture the heart meltingly cute gaze of a toddler or the hilarity that older kids often cause with their amazing facial expressions. I’ll have to rely on remembering how those moments felt, even if I can’t relive them.

So whilst I was a little sad about not taking any pictures over the festive period this year, I soon got over it and realised that in 40 years time, all the Christmases will blur into one and it won’t be a big deal if my photo albums are missing the odd one or two. I will certainly make sure I have some tangible memories in the form of pictures and precious saved relics of their childhood but I suspect it will be the intangible memories that are the most special to me in the end.