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!

DSC_0191.JPG

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.

E+E column: Discovering Hedgerow Delights

Whilst pottering around a field on Dartmoor yesterday as part of the Festival of British Archaeology I partook in a brief but interesting foraging walk. The lady leading us started by enthusiastically telling us that 70% of her diet came from foraged foodstuffs. I was impressed…that’s a heck of a lot of hedgerow delights! Although not my first foray into foraging, I possibly found this walk one the most useful instructional moments yet. Did you know for example, that we can use dock leaves in place of spinach and other leafy greens? Or that common sorrel is deliciously lemony and can be used in salsa verde or to flavour fish? Or most controversially, that the seeds of hogweed smell divine and can be used to flavour ice cream, Indian dishes and a whole host more (although wearing protective clothing whilst harvesting and not breaking the stems is incredibly important to prevent the chemical burns that we’ve all seen on the news recently). I’m seriously amazed at what is quite literally, growing on our doorstep, ready for us to harvest and use in our kitchens.

Over the last few years we’ve picked a lot of elderflowers, blackberries and elderberries but despite gaining a little more knowledge each season at what else we can eat for free, I’ve been reluctant to take the dive into more serious foraging. Friends tell me that dandelion and nettle soup is delicious but I’ve been too cautious to try it myself. But no more! The idea of using dock leaves appeals and they are so plentiful and common that I trust myself not to mistake them for something else. So this week I’ll be down the ‘rec picking us some dock leaves to add to our curry and pasta dishes. Hopefully they’ll live up to their reputation and more importantly, I’m hoping the kids will eat them with minimal complaint We’ll see…

The whole experience got me thinking though about all this kind of knowledge that used to get passed from generation to generation but is now getting lost to the convenience culture of supermarkets and pre packaged meals and foodstuffs. I have nothing against the latter, we all have days when time is against us and the easiest option is to pop to the shop for a pizza or some pasta and a jar of sauce. But I do think this knowledge is important. We could be utilising what grows for free all around us, preserving a slice of our history and heritage and getting outside more all at the same time – sounds like a no brainer to me. As our guide yesterday said, eliminate the word ‘weed’ from your gardening vocabulary and replace it with ‘harvest’. Let’s start using these prolific hardy plants for adding something special to our cooking or as an alternative to chemical medication where appropriate (a glass of water left overnight with goosegrass in, for example, is meant to be a great detox after the night before). I might even try that nettle soup recipe!

26.07.15

On being free: childhood

I posted the other day about grasping our political freedom, about engaging with our democracy despite it’s flaws. This post is about letting go. Letting go in order to allow our children to grasp their own freedom, to engage fully in their childhood, free from helicopter parents hovering in the background, able to make their own mistakes, to learn their own lessons, abilities and limitations by themselves, unhindered by well meaning but potentially interfering parents (of which I certainly am one).

A disclaimer…Dan is great at this, I am abysmal. I write this most definitely as someone trying to implement this herself, not someone preaching to those around her.

If you’ve known me for more than a few hours, you’ll know I’m a control freak. Call it being organised, a planner, on the ball or any other polite synonym you like but what it ultimately boils down to is that I like to be in control. In fact I would hazard to say that this is the biggest lesson I have learnt since having kids. How to relax, be spontaneous and just let it go (fellow parents of Frozen fans…try not to burst into song). And man, it is hard.
image

I am primarily writing this post in regards to giving children the freedom to fully explore and play freely without restraints or supervision, where appropriate…although I guess that’s the doozy – how do we define these appropriate boundaries? That is what it comes down to. I’m particularly thinking about being in nature. It’s easy to let your children go off without you when you’re at home, in a friend’s home or in a contained outdoor space such as a garden or park – the boundaries are implicit, you don’t leave the building/go outside the fence/gate without telling or asking. But what about when there are no man made boundaries? When you’re at the beach or in the forest? How do we know how much freedom to give our children in order to let them push themselves and discover their own limits without letting them end up in a potentially dangerous situation? (And I’m talking both natural dangers – associated with heights and water usually and sadly, the ‘stranger danger’ aspect of things). I really don’t know the answer.

I guess that age plays a large factor in it. I certainly trust Sophia at 5 much more than I do Isaac at 3 to make sensible decisions when I’m not there. And I imagine when they are 8 and 10 I’ll trust them both even more – they’ll be so much more capable, both physically and mentally, to handle themselves. I suppose that knowing your child’s abilities helps in your decision making as well, your 7 year old might be much better at climbing or swimming than your friend’s 10 year old. And I guess that it also depends on where your limits are in terms of possible outcomes – if they fall whilst playing in the surf of the sea or in a slow, shallow river, they’ll get out easily and worst case they’ll be wet and cold. If they put themselves into a position where broken bones or serious injury are a possibility, I’m likely to be more wary – no one wants their children in pain.

The US folk punk band Antsy Pants have a song called Henry Kelly in which they sing

‘So all you kids with overprotective parents now listen here to me,
Go out and try stuff, get dirty, get hurt, don’t be so scared of everything’.

Before I had kids I loved this song. In fact I still do. But now I see it from both sides. I want my children to be fearless but I don’t want them to get hurt. But I can’t absolutely prevent the latter from happening and certainly not at the expense of the former. So maybe the real lesson is to accept that our children might get hurt and that our job isn’t to prevent that from happening but to care for them when it does. And maybe it is about risk assessing each individual situation as and when it arises, likely we’ll give a little bit more freedom each time as they get older and wiser. Having absolute rules and boundaries when children are changing by the day just doesn’t make sense.

Would we rather they lived wrapped in cotton wool, monitored constantly, prevented from doing things they’d like to do but were never or rarely hurt or would we rather they really lived, were able to explore, to play, to experiment, to get hurt but to know that we’re always there to come to when they do. Some of my best memories of my childhood are of playing in nature with my siblings and friends and I don’t remember my parents being mere feet away at every opportunity. I don’t remember the falls, the bruises and the bloodied knees but I do remember the adventures, the thrill of pushing myself to do new things, of the unknown and most of all, I remember the fun.

image

Keeping my distance at the beach

Consumerist Tendencies

On Friday, it seemed as if the country was split into three groups. Those that shunned Black Friday with scorn, those that tentatively and quietly searched out bargains in the hope of making their Christmas a little cheaper…and those that threw themselves into the ‘biggest shopping day of the year’ which resulted in queues, chaos and arrests in shops all around the country. I am still slightly puzzled by the latter category.

I cannot comprehend being so consumed with the desire to grab a good deal that I would push someone smaller than myself out of the way or physically get involved in an altercation over buying what amounts to no more than stuff. And probably stuff that is non essential, disposable and in the long run won’t increase my levels of happiness or quality of life. But it seems that big business and our consumerist culture is slowly tightening it’s grip on our wallets, our purchases and our actions. As I pondered the events with Dan over the weekend he pointed out that advertising is all pervasive and incredibly powerful and I realised that he was right. I had seen adverts for black friday and received emails about deals from various companies for probably a fortnight before the event. I’d even paused on an amazon order in case the items were further reduced during the sales (for the record, they weren’t). So it seems that without me even realising, their advertising had worked. And I’m guessing there aren’t many steps between waiting to complete an online order and queuing at your local supermarket at midnight to save yourself £20, £50 or even more. We often want to (or think we want to) spend more than we earn and anything that facilitates that is welcomed with open arms. And big business and retailers know that and can manipulate our spending to suit their profits through adverts about how we need the new version of a product and how it much more convenient to replace a faulty item rather than repair it or make do without.

And of course, the problem isn’t just about the extent of their control over how we spend our money (though of course that is pretty scary in itself) but about the wider implications of our disposable, consumerist culture on the world itself. Everything is linked. For example, we enjoyed an absolutely gorgeous morning outside yesterday and everyone remarked how incredibly warm it was for the end of November. But whereas I would previously have enjoyed it without a second thought, my enjoyment was tinged by the thought that this is a result of global warming, a process that we are directly contributing to the acceleration of at an alarming pace.

It is easy (and I’m massively guilty of it myself) to be careless and hasty when it comes to our purchases. Not only should we be considering where it was made and how far it had to travel once made but we should be thinking about how it was made, the origin and ethical soundness of it’s component parts, the chemicals used to grow or preserve the food we buy. And it’s bloody hard. No two ways about that. Even if you remain fairly ethically rigorous on your bigger or more permanent purchases, buying our day to day groceries in an ethical but affordable manner is tough. We shop at Aldi because the price suits our budget. But I am aware that a lot of their produce isn’t organic, it is over packaged and probably has travelled a fair distant to reach us. I don’t have the answer though, we try to recycle as much as possible and now we can’t compost and don’t have the chickens to feed our scraps I want to get a wormery to reduce food waste. We can buy fruit, vegetables and eggs at a price that we can afford at local market. But everything else still comes from the supermarket. We live in an area and an age where that is the most affordable option for most families. So we are supporting this inconsiderate process without even wanting to. How can we change this?

A friend of mine is trying to reduce her families waste and avoid plastic and recommended the film Trashed which admittedly I haven’t watched yet but apparently is a great place to start in realising the implications of our waste on the planet. To be honest, part of the reason I haven’t watched it yet is because I suspect I’ll find it quite upsetting and also come away feeling pretty guilty about the role our family plays in contributing to this global waste problem. Here’s the trailer though if you’re interested.

 

But I digress; let’s get back to black friday and gift buying. Two years ago at Christmas I quoted an article by George Monbiot called The Gift of Death in which he, much more eloquently than I, explains the problem behind thoughtless gift buying and the role of the media and businesses in our spending decisions. I won’t re-quote him but I would urge you to go and have a read if you haven’t before. It says a lot for handmade gifts and for the importance of presence over presents.

So I say let’s rebel against big business and consumerism this Christmas. Let’s try and not fall prey to their clever and insidious advertising. Let’s try and give this festive season some deeper, more important meaning. We read the Grinch this evening as our box of Christmas books has come out and I’ll leave you with his closing realisations about Christmas to remember that long after the presents have been opened, the packaging chucked, the gifts played with and discarded or (often) broken, the environmental impact of the decisions we made will still linger on. And perhaps, just perhaps, they weren’t what will be remembered from Christmas 2014 anyway.

‘It came without ribbons! It came without tags!

It came without packages, boxes and bags!’

And he puzzled three hours, til his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

‘Maybe Christmas’, he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.

Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’

Home Sweet Home

Between birth and turning 18 I moved house 7 times. Since then I have moved a further 7 (I think). That means on average I’ve moved once every two years since arriving in this world. Of course that’s not actually been the case as I’ve stayed longer in some places and much shorter in others. But the point is, I’ve moved a lot.

So on the completion of our most recent move it’s got me pondering about what home means to me. I’ve obviously been lacking a strong attachment to any one place and have inherited the Watson gene of eternal optimism and seeing the good in every situation (and therefore, every move). This combination means that up until now, I have had no strong desire to settle down, plant roots and stay put. But maybe I was just waiting for the right place?

Because almost as soon as our furniture and boxes were brought into this new (slightly run down) house, I’ve felt like we’re back at home. The idea of living anywhere else for the foreseeable future is one I really dislike. For better or worse (though I suspect the former), I’ve found a home in Topsham. We all have.

I can’t quite tell you exactly what it is about the town that fits us so well, it’s a combination of factors really. It’s small enough to get to know your neighbours and local community but big enough to have good transport links and utilities like the parks, pubs, independent shops, library and swimming pool. It’s next to the river and not far from some lovely beaches and Dartmoor. And probably most importantly, all four of us have made some really good friends here. Friends that we’ve still seen during our brief time away in Thorverton but who we’ve missed and who we’re looking forward to seeing much more of now we’re back.

So although we have most definitely downsized from the beautifully converted and spacious barn with huge gardens and views over rolling hills to a small three bed mid terrace in need of some TLC and in possession of a small concrete garden, we have no regrets. We felt almost instantly settled again and like we’d never left. I’m not saying we’ll stay here forever, only God knows what our future holds. But for now, we’re exactly where we want to be.

It’s good to be home.

(I can’t talk about moving though without giving a HUGE public thank you to Jo and Matt for sacrificing their half term and precious family time to drive four hours along the coast and work insanely hard with Dan to move us back to Topsham. We bloody love you guys!)

It’s not a competition

There are lots of blogs I read and people I know in real life that are incredibly inspiring, people who seem to fit an amazing amount of intentional, creative activity into each day, whether it be the wide variety of crafts they’ve successfully mastered, the way in which they home educate their children or the way in which they live off grid and seem to make it look like it happens with ease and nothing but joy. When I’m tired and/or grumpy I start to compare myself to these people, to bemoan my lack of productivity or purpose in comparison with their incredible lives. And I have to give myself a short, sharp shake and remind myself that it’s not a competition.

It’s easy (and not just in the sphere of motherhood) to feel that we’re not good enough, that we’re not doing enough. I think this feeling is amplified by the Internet and easy spread of information. But it’s just not true. Apart from anything else, the authors of these blogs probably choose to omit those days where they get nothing done, where they’re having major boat problems or the kids do nothing but fight. Because let’s face it, who wants to look back in 10 years and remember those moments? No one. They want to be able to revisit their blog and remember the moments where they created some beautiful, when they reached a new country after weeks of mundane travel, when the kids harmoniously played and everyone felt happy and fulfilled.

But we love to moan. All too often it seems easier to be down and complain, about parenting difficulties, health problems, financial issues or anything else that we’re struggling with. And misery loves company. It’s easy to bring each other down and wallow together. But maybe there is another way.

I’m not saying we should put on a brave face and pretend all is okay when it isn’t. I think an important part of friendship is sharing troubles and helping each other to solve them. But therein lies the point. Maybe we should be intentionally choosing to try and solve problems rather than letting things fester, to remain positive and to focus on the good things, not the bad. There are often beautiful and amazing things going on in every household, regardless of circumstance. But it’s easy to miss them if our head is stuck in a dark place.

I hope I don’t sound preachy. I struggle with this all myself! But it was whilst reading a soulemama post this morning and feeling a bit grumpy/jealous of how much she seems to achieve that I realised I could react in two ways. By feeling glum and fed up, especially as today is a day where I have a lot to do and it’ll be another late one for the kids. An attitude that will rub off me and onto the kids (they are our mirror after all!) Or…I could choose to be inspired by the beauty in her life and search out and acknowledge the good things in mine. The fact that we’ll see good friends at home ed group today, that our lovely landlady is letting the kids garden with her whilst I get household jobs done and that actually, it can and will be a good day, as long as I allow it to be. I’m choosing to be happy, how about you?

image