A Green Fingered Shift

As I worked in the Autumn sunshine alongside three enthusiastic helpers in our front garden this afternoon, it struck me that I hadn’t written a column about our gardening efforts for a little while. To be honest, after the garden being flooded with sewage earlier in the year and having to dispose of our potato plants, I was feeling fairly despondent about the whole thing.  That particular happening seemed to be the latest in a string of circumstances that seemed to hinder our attempts at green fingered-ness this year. From Elijah pulling up every seedling that grew, our turf dying in patches with all attempts at reseeding failed, the previously thriving plum tree suddenly looking rather sorry for itself and generally just being so busy that the garden sank down the list of priorities, I felt that gardening was going to be off the cards for us for a while.

But then two things happened. The first was that a friend from Church invited us to go to Broadclyst Community Farm to help out. We spent a very pleasant day there in the summer, getting to grips with where things were, weeding and planting out lettuces. We were made very welcome and hope to be back there again soon to get stuck in. The second thing that happened was that Eli got older. I know that sounds ridiculous but somehow, over the last few weeks, he has got just a tad less destructive and a tad more helpful, or at least less inclined to undo everything I’m doing.

Our front garden has been looking more and more overgrown recently and so yesterday afternoon whilst the kids were happy, I took my gloves and clippers out there to start tackling the irritating ivy that continues to prosper despite my best attempts to eradicate it. Before long, I had not one but three accomplices. Sophia took it upon herself to weed our flower bed, Isaac picked up all the garden waste we created and put it in the compost and Eli…well he just pottered. But, and this is a big but, he didn’t hinder our work. He tried to help dig a little bit, he played with the dustpan and brush, he chattered away and generally was just content to be with us as we got on with the task in hand. A repeat of the situation this afternoon and all of a sudden, I’m feeling inspired again for our garden. Sophia and I are resolved to properly rid the gardens of weeds and hopefully plant some bulbs in the coming weeks for Spring. And now that I know he won’t be quite such a pest next year, I’m looking forward to growing some veggies again. You can’t beat a few hours working in the garden to rid everyone of cabin fever and feel productive and inspired. So here’s to a 2017 with gardens overflowing with bountiful produce and many happy hours spent getting there!

It wasn’t me

Despite being a fairly sensible (mostly), grown adult, I think I am starting to believe that some kind of small magical creature is residing in our house. Probably not a fairy but more likely to be an elf, imp or pixie. For we seem to have a problem with things mysteriously disappearing and not a soul knowing of their whereabouts. We also seem to have an ongoing issue with spillages, breakages and stains…caused by an unknown perpetrator, unseen by everyone.

Most recently, a toy belonging to a friend (luckily just a small shopkin rather than something of greater monetary value), ready to be returned to it’s owner, has completely vanished. The person last seen with it swears blind she accidentally dropped it in a drawer but after said chest of drawers being emptied three times, it has not reappeared. And more costly a loss was that of the recent disappearance of Dan’s tooth. After several mishaps with basketballs and lorries in his youth, my gorgeous husband had to succumb to a fake tooth on a plate a few years previously. He had left said tooth on the windowsill one day and when he went to get it, it wasn’t there. I had seen it there just an hour previously but after a very thorough search of the bathroom (which included taking the bath apart), we concluded it well and truly lost. All three children have been examined (with no prejudice) but all absolutely deny any wrongdoing or accident. £250 and a new denture later, the tooth has still not surfaced and we are no clearer as to it’s fate. I’m guessing it’ll turn up in six months at the bottom of a toy box.

In fact, Sophia has been ahead of the game on us with regards to these mysterious happenings. Last year, this poster appeared on the wall of our living room. When asked who it was, she said it was the girl who kept losing things, breaking things and making a mess in her room. Smart kid, our girl! The pictured creature has never been caught and thus, the problems remain… It’s a funny thing actually though because upon conferring with other parents, most homes with children seem to have one (or more) of these creatures living alongside the children of the household. Really, we should stop accusing our offspring when we find a spilt mug of hot chocolate soaking into the sofa, a book with pages ripped out or a lego box emptied across the floor of three rooms. The poor things are taking the blame for the work of some pesky mythical creature, designed to antagonise parents and drive a wedge between them and their darling offspring…honestly, you can’t make this stuff up!

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Back to School (sort of)

The last six weeks have flown by and somehow, we’re now at the beginning of September and with it, another school year. Although we’ve chosen to home educate we still follow national term times and so have spent the summer in the same manner as thousands of other families…having long lazy mornings, plenty of beach trips, a bit more TV than usual and generally just relaxing after a year of more structured learning and activiites. This September, my number of school age children has increased to two as Isaac would be starting reception (and Sophia year 2) if the kids were at school.

Up unto this point, I’ve slotted learning with Sophia into life with the boys with us finding chunks of time wherever convenient to carry on with what she’s studying. However, I’m guessing that this year I will need to adjust that style slightly as the balance leans heavier in favour of ‘schooling’ as opposed to entertaining babies and toddlers! I will do the same with Isaac that I did with Sophia at this age and that is to take a very minimalist approach to education. 4 is still so young and I know that at school, a large part of reception is learning through play. I’m also aware that generally speaking, boys tend to be slower than girls in terms of sit down learning. Although having said that, Isaac has expressed an interest in learning to read and write so I think we’ll slowly start with that and see how he gets on. I’m looking forward (mostly!) to the challenge of working out what his learning style is and identifying the best way to capture his attention and engage him. I’m slightly apprehensive about how much Elijah might interrupt us but hoping I can distract him with certain activities or toys when the older two need my attention.

From past years experience though, I know the biggest challenge for all of us will be establishing and maintaining a routine over the first few weeks. After a languid summer of spontaneity and no commitments, adjusting to having certain groups to attend and things that we need to achieve each week will be a bit of a struggle I’m sure. The big two have also taken to sleeping in late and still being in PJs come 9am and although we don’t have to be dressed and out by a certain time, I like to get into the habit of being ready for the day by a reasonably early time. I’ve got mixed feelings about the end of summer but can at least say with confidence that we’ve definitely made the most of our summer and are probably ready to get back to some semblance of normality this week. So parents of Exeter, I salute you as the summer holidays have finished and although I don’t have the school run to do (and massive sympathy to those of you that do!), I’m feeling solidarity with you as we start another academic year.

Sophia enjoying her summer off!

(Published in the Exeter Express and Echo on 5th September)

E+E Column: On Being Content

It occurred to me today that although it is good to be ambitious, I’d much rather learn and succeed at simply being content. We’re on holiday in the Lake District and whilst walking through some gorgeous woodland, the kids picked ‘wishing sticks’ (dandelion clocks) and distributed them around the family. Close your eyes and make a wish, then blow. A whole host of possible wishes rushed through my mind; a thatched cottage with a spacious garden, good health for a variety of poorly loved ones, a guarantee that Donald Trump loses comes November, a winning lottery ticket… but eventually I settled on wishing that we might just be content as a family. I don’t think I’ve jinxed it by telling you all as this is a concept that I already know, just one that it helps to revisit periodically.

We’ve all heard tales of incredibly rich people tending to be very stressed, of top executives being the folk most in need of therapeutic treatments and past times. It is said that the more you have, the more there is to worry about, the more there is to lose. Many a person has wasted large chunks of their lives striving to achieve something just out of their reach, has focused so much on their goals that they’ve neglected to fully embrace and enjoy the life that they already have. Anecdotal evidence suggests that upon questioning people at the end of their lives, biggest regrets tend to almost unanimously centre on not spending enough time with loved ones, rather than missed career or financial opportunities.

Of course, there is a balance. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have aspirations, dreams and goals in life. Undeniably, great things are done by people with drive, with a spark and a willful force to keep pushing even when things are against them. But it’s about making sure you don’t become consumed by these goals. It’s about looking at what you’ve already got, at the people in your life and being able to be happy. To be able to live in the moment without always having a mind on the next step of your long term plan.

Dan and I are a good match for each other when it comes to this topic. I’m inclined to give absolutely no thought to the future. I live in a dreamworld where we need no pension, where we can just live on a boat into old age doing odd jobs to see our way and of course, we’ll not be struck down with any ailments that will hinder that way of life. Dan on the other hand, is conscious that we need to have a back up plan so we don’t end up slogging away into our 70’s and 80’s.He wants to make sure that we can look after the kids, provide them with a fun and secure childhood and then be able to look ourselves when the time comes. In our house, mostly, these two attitudes meet in the middle and we do a reasonable job of remaining content, enjoying the season that we’re currently in, without worrying too much about the future. It’s a constant work in progress but one worth pursuing, the art of contentment.

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E+E Column: Festive Musings

Although I can be fairly grouchy about the earlification of Christmas, I have to admit that since certain small excitable people entered my life, I’ve been starting earlier and earlier each year. As we hauled out our Christmas box to find our advent calendar on November 30th I only just resisted the urge to get the decorations out as well. My resolve lasted a mere 24 hours and by the end of play on the 1st December, the tree was up and decorated and our house was oozing festive cheer.

In amongst the stockings and baubles in aforementioned box is our rapidly expth anding Christmas book collection. This is arguably one of my favourite parts of the run up to the big day and I was happy to see Sophia’s excitement being on a par as we unpacked them for the season! This being her first year as a competent reader, I’m so thrilled that she’ll be able to discover some of these books for herself and heart warmingly, she’s already been reading them to Isaac, whilst they curl up together under a quilt.

Tonight amongst their story offerings at bedtime was The Grinch, one of my favourite Christmas books of all time (possibly only beaten by the sentimental attachment that I hold to Lucy and Tom’s Christmas and The Night Before Christmas). It’s a relatively new book to us all, Sophia was given it as a present at Christmas 2012, a mere three years ago. But a combination of the clever rhymes, the illustrations and the wonderful moral message makes for a winner of a Christmas book if you ask me. In the face of an ever increasing commercialisation of the season, it’s refreshing and encouraging to focus on that which touts a more genuine and heartfelt meaning of Christmas that everyone can embrace. One that encompasses kindness, compassion and thinking of others.

With that in mind, I’m trying to think of those outside my own bubble this season. I’m not a fan of the traditional Elf on the Shelf but do like the evolved version of a Kindness Elf who suggests something kind to do each day, from taking mince pies or gingerbread to neighbours to doing the shopping for an elderly relative or taking the time to donate some food to your local food bank. With protests about tax credit cuts, junior doctors, the environment and Syria, we are living in pretty sad times. What better time to try and make a difference on a small but still significant scale? With minimal effort on your part, you could vastly improve someone’s Christmas this year. And all it might take is a few mince pies and a smile!

E+E Column: Growing up too fast…Does she still believe?

Whilst driving with the kids to visit a friend a few weeks ago with the radio on, a round of ‘Defend the Indefensible’ on Radio 4 caught my attention. Unfortunately, it caught the attention of the kids as well. I say this because the contestant playing was rather loudly and proudly defending the fact that she had chosen to tell a 5 year old the Father Christmas doesn’t exist. As she uttered these words and then confirmed this declaration to any young listeners, a silence descended on the car. After a moment, Isaac tentatively said to me ‘that lady is being silly isn’t she Mummy, because Father Christmas does exist doesn’t he? Doesn’t he?’ After some reassurance from me, Sophia piped up ‘well, I guess it could be you and Daddy staying up late and filling our stockings…it’s probably not though.’

So crisis averted for now (no thanks to Radio 4!) but it got me wondering just how long do children believe in the big man in red for? And it got me thinking about just how quickly my gorgeous big girl is growing up. Sob. She’ll be 6 next month, a fact that still flummoxes me. How can she be 6 already!? But I didn’t think that she’d be questioning Santa’s existence already. She is a bright cookie but still so young. The question now is, do we actively push Father Christmas as a real entity or just leave her to make her own judgements around it? My instinct tells me the latter but I’ll be sad if we don’t have a few more years left of all the kids believing wholeheartedly in him. I was cynical when they were younger about the deception but there is something just lovely about the magic of the whole thing.

I think I will however, have to accept that she is growing up quickly, and be ready for what this will bring. She asked for her hair in bunches last week but after a day of wearing it like that, told me she was worried that it didn’t suit her and thought that people were looking at her because of it whilst we were out. It almost broke my heart to see her so worried about her appearance and the judgements of others. I’m not particularly vain and we’ve never placed much emphasis on having to look a certain way but she’s obviously picked up the idea of things suiting her and people judging others on how they look anyway. I did my best to reassure her that all that mattered was that she liked the way her hair was done but she didn’t look convinced. Parenting continues to be a massive learning curve. Every time you think you’ve worked out how to deal with the latest challenge, you are rewarded with a brief moment of peace before the next stage starts and you have to develop a whole new set of tools to guide and help your kids. I’m continually reminded of Dory in Finding Nemo (every parent’s favourite!)…just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

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E+E Column: Make, do and…mend?

A passing conversation in the hairdressers got me thinking this week. I’d gone in for some colour so knowing it would be a long appointment, I took advantage of being child free for a few hours and took my knitting and Harry Potter (not sure which is more embarrassing really!) Reading felt a bit antisocial when the occasion arose so I happily got on with my knitting – I’m currently working on a shawl with wool I bought with birthday money back in June…maybe it’ll be done by Christmas?! Anyway, as always, I digress. One of the hairdressers commented on me knitting and soon we got into a conversation about how these days, it’s cheaper to buy a machine knitted jumper or hat than it is to knit it by hand. Funny how things go really, not that long ago, knitting was often for the thrifty and those perhaps a bit hard up and now it’s seen as a leisurely pursuit of the elderly or middle class. Despite it being more expensive than buying mass produced in the shops, I maintain that it is the superior option – you can’t beat a lovingly crafted hand knit in my opinion.

The conversation moved on to the disposable culture that we live in and I’ve been pondering it since. When things break or technology grows ‘old’, we are so quick to bin and replace. Whilst convenience has it’s place, are we losing skills and a more sincere appreciation of our possessions? Socks no longer get darned, shoes aren’t re-heeled, plugs don’t get rewired, tables often not resanded and varnished. How much value are we placing on these items that we buy and often dispose of when we can’t be bothered to maintain or fix them? I’m guessing not much. And I think it’s quite sad actually.

We work hard to earn a living and instead of treating our earnings with respect, being careful with how we spend them and making sure we invest in things that’ll last, we throw away money on shoddily made items and things that may be a quick fix for a problem but will cost us more in the long run. And what are we teaching our children? That if things get broken, we’ll instantly replace them? Not much of an incentive to take care of their toys! Apologies if I sound high and mighty. I am more than guilty of a lot of what I’ve just said. Today I bought a coat in a well known high street shop (that I won’t name, but let’s just say it isn’t Armani!) for less than £30. I am pretty sure that it won’t last more than one winter, but in the present moment, I wasn’t able/willing to buy a more expensive one. (Plus have you tried coat shopping with three children, one of whom is strapped to you?! Not an easy task.) I guess I just want to think a bit more about how I treat my things and about what I chose to buy. And maybe next time something breaks, I’ll have a go at fixing it (or rope in Dan or my parents to help) rather than taking it to the tip and replacing it. There is a high possibility that this could result in an ever growing pile of ‘things to fix’ in the garage but at least my heart’s in the right place! I’m going to embrace the old age adage ‘make, do and mend’ – are you?

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