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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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…

End of an era

(This was conveniently in the Express and Echo on the day of my birthday but I forgot to post it here until today, it also reads as a little gloomy but that wasn’t the intention, honest!)

In years gone by when I had more time to update my blog regularly, I used to write a special post for the kids whenever they had a birthday. I’d write about how they had changed over the last year, what I loved about them, what made them tick and what it was about them that was unique and made them, them. Recently I’ve stopped this habit. A combination of just being too busy and also wanting to afford them a little more privacy I guess. But this week, as I approach my 30th birthday, I thought I’d be a little self indulgent and reflect on my last decade.

Ten years is a long time and I am testament to quite how much can change in that period. Ten years ago, in 2007 I was midway through my degree in International Relations and Politics, I played (badly!) in a band, I was a little overweight with no interest in exercise and my biggest concern was getting my assignments in on time. I didn’t know it at the time but I had not a care in the world. I was responsible for no one but myself. I had the freedom to wake up when I liked, go where I liked, eat whatever I liked. I used to stay up late having endless deep conversations about philosophy and politics. I was in the early stages of my relationship with Dan; we went on dates, played board games and had no external constraints on our time or energy. I remember cycling to his house in the middle of the night in a cocktail dress just to say hi (although to this day, I’m still not sure the reason for my strange attire).

Fast forward to present day, in 2017. I am responsible for the emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of three small, gorgeous beings. I am trying to juggle that with a dozen hours of freelance work a week as well as sharing the running of the household with Dan and trying to train for a marathon and generally keep fit. I no longer play music (although I miss it) but now love weightlifting, pole dancing and running. I have discovered my passion for writing. My interest in politics has deepened although just like my university lecturers, I have subsided into a often hopelessness at the current state of affairs. My relationship with Dan, whilst strong, is not quite as carefree and fun as it was. Far too often our conversations are dominated by the children, by money, by organisation.

Which leaves me to wonder where I’ll find myself in another ten years. Will I come full circle, re-gaining some independence as the children grow up? Maybe 40 will be my sweet spot! That is not to say that I’m not enjoying life at the moment. Life is full, it is complicated and often hard. But I am trying to consciously embrace all that I loved about life at 20. My love of music, our spontaneous attitude to plans, my passion. I figure if I can align that with the awesomeness of raising my three urchins and love of writing then I’ll have it made! So I’m looking forward to what my thirties will bring (as long as Theresa May isn’t still PM in a week!) and will keep you updated here on my comings and goings as they unfold.

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Itchy Feet

I think I’ve probably written about this before but having revisited the subject recently with friends and family, I thought I’d have a very public ponder about it here as well. During Easter we visited our friends in Brighton for the weekend. What followed was a relaxing few days, spent in the very best of company. We didn’t really do much but we ate delicious food, the kids played, we spent some time in the sunshine and of course, we took part in an Easter egg hunt on the downs (thanks Dan and Matt!) It was bliss.

On the drive home, Dan and I had the same conversation we always do as we return from Brighton. Namely, should we move back there or stay in Devon? The conversation went much the same as it always does. We miss our friends deeply but love so much of what Devon has to offer; an amazing home ed community and lots of friends, family, beaches, the moors, cheaper rent…. We danced the same old dance as we then moved on to re-evaluating whether we are happy in Topsham and whether we should consider moving somewhere else in Devon that has a bit more space and crucially…guaranteed parking!

I suspect we won’t be going anywhere soon but we do seem to have the same conversations over and over. I’m not quite sure what is but I think we are destined to have itchy feet. Since getting married in 2008, we have managed to live in a grand total of 8 different houses/abodes…not bad going really! However, we seem to have shaken the curse a little as this October we’ll have been in our current house for three years.

I can’t help wondering what it is that makes us constantly want to move though. Is it a touch of ‘is the grass greener’ syndrome? A desire to live out exciting dreams that then don’t play out how we imagined (our time on the yacht)? A case of genetics (both my parents and Grandparents moved often)? Or is it simply circumstance? It’s certainly easy to move these days when you rent rather than own, the housing market being what it is, a mortgage is a bit of a far off dream for those of us in a position to pay the mortgage but not the deposit.

I wonder though if we’ll ever get over this desire to keep moving and exploring. In the last few years we’ve discussed moving within Devon, back to Brighton, up North and even looked at the possibility of Canada and New Zealand! With Dan’s job being home-based and the kids being home educated, we are in a unique position of having no real ties to anywhere. The world is truly our oyster! But for now, I think we’ll stay in Topsham – good friends, convenient facilities, lots of fun to be had. Those feet will just have to wait for a bit before we start scratching that itch. But where to next when we do finally move on? We’ll have to wait and see I guess….

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!

Back in the Game

After three weeks of no running due to an ankle injury, I’m finally back to pounding the pavements and continuing training for my impending marathon (which, I just spotted, is only 13 weeks away – yikes!) I feel relieved to be able to run again with no pain although a little frustrated with the dip in my stamina and speed from having had the enforced break. Although I stayed active and continued to lift weights during that time, just three weeks of no running has caused a bit of a setback. Still, nothing insurmountable so onwards and upwards is the goal.

It got me thinking though about how, when nothing is going wrong, I (and I’m guessing others) tend to take our bodies for granted. During this time of recovery, I’ve been doing my best to get more sleep, drink more water, consciously spend time outdoors and to choose healthy options to fuel myself. Although I’m always aware of these things in the back of my mind, it’s taken an injury to make me try and be more consistent in my approach to caring for my body. If I don’t let it rest, feed it properly or move enough…how can I expect it to perform at optimum capacity?

In an era where we are more busy than ever, I dare suggest that a lot of us skimp on the self-care in order to fit more and more into our schedules. Choosing the pre-packaged, unhealthy meal, staying up until gone midnight to fit in just a few more tasks, forgetting to get outside and breath fresh air, even if just for a few minutes. It’s so easy to just keep pushing and pushing our bodies, giving them no consideration or maintenance in order to fit everything in. Until that is, something goes wrong. Then everything grinds to a halt and we have to cut out everything and painstakingly start from scratch in repairing our physical vessels that carry us from A to B. Much easier to maintain something from the get go than try and repair it once it’s on its last legs (metaphorically of course).

So I may be back in the game with my running but I’m trying to carry the lessons I’ve learnt from the last few weeks with me; sleep more, eat well, drink lots of water, go outside. And most importantly, to remember that I don’t have to do everything. It’s ok to say no to things, to go to bed early and try again tomorrow. It is absolutely fantastic that there are so many opportunities available to us these days but (carrying on from last week), we don’t have to take them all. It’s ok to go slow, to rest or concentrate on doing whatever your body needs you to do in order to be revitalised and ready for the next challenge.