Friday, 28 October 2011

A Hallowe'en trail

On a damp and cold afternoon out we went for a Hallowe'en trail at one of our local National Trust estates.  I probably would have preferred to sit in the warmth with a cup of tea and a biscuit feeling as permanently sick and exhausted as I do in this early stage of pregnancy.  This week being half-term though it was on my agenda for 'how to entertain the kids'.  So, we went and I'm glad we did.

My eldest daughter, Caitlin, just blows me away sometimes.  She is six years old but she already has certain qualities which are just so impressive to me. When she starts something like this trail she takes it very seriously, is very determined and so enthusiastic and will see it through to the end.  She ran around the trail reading the clues perfectly (excellent in-built literacy practice), she understood the next part of the trail was to read another set of questions and decide if they were true of false.  She then did the final stage of the trail where she had to collect letters hidden around the forest and rearrange them in to words which would spell an ingredient to go in to a witch's cauldron.  While her father and I were still getting the old cogs in our brain to work, she just popped out with it, "Lizard!'  We didn't know she even knew how to spell Lizard.  At what point does one's children become brighter than their parents, not at six surely?!

"This girl of mine", I thought as we walked back to the car, "she just makes me so proud of her, just for being her."  Will she ever really understand that?  Will she ever really know how in awe I am of her sometimes?  How her zest for life, her sensitivity and her intelligence just make me burst with pride?  We are blessed with these children that come in to our lives,  they're here to remind us that the world is an exciting and adventurous place to be discovered and savoured, which can always be done whilst wearing a black cat suit and running around in the mud.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Slow Down - Children at Play!

Walking along to my sister's house one beautiful sunny morning last week I came across this sign.  It struck me as having something more to say than just instructing people to drive carefully.  What if I took this as a little 'nudge' or as a motto for family life.  "Mum! Dad! Slow down, there are children at play here!"   The very phrase 'children at play' can mean so much.  Children doing what they do best, doing what is their right to do,  doing what they need to do.  There have been several sundays recently where my husband and I have been keen to get out for a walk or visit a local garden centre and we've realised that our girls were just so happy running around in the garden or were so caught up in a game of their own imagining.  We've realised that after a week of school and nursery they just need some time and space to be themselves and unwind through the form of play.

One of the most inspiring books I've come across about play is 'The Genius of Play' by Sally Jenkinson. In it she stresses the importance of free play as well as the fact that parents can be attentive to their play without being too intrusive.  She also writes about the fact that children have too many toys these days and overly commercial ones at that.  In all the literature I've read about toys and play they always stress the importance of toys which can lead to creative and imaginative play rather than the child simply being a user of a toy designed by an adult to entertain a child.  The idea is that the entertainment should come from the child herself.  The most striking element of the book is when the author writes about the "brutalisation by saturation entertainment" of our children and how they are being "robbed of the carefree hours in which they should be enjoying the nourishing and creative forces of play".  

Without doubt, children should play and should be encouraged to do so by their parents with the kind of toys which will nourish them and be used as tools for their imagination.  Some of our favourites in this house include;
 - a basket of small knitted blankets and squares (employed in games nearly every day)
 - a set of plain wooden blocks
 - a bag of fairy wool (unspun wool which is often used as beds for animals, grass or hay)
 - a box of feathers, pom poms and ice lolly sticks
 - a basket of seasonal items, shells, acorns and conkers, pinecones, etc

In my time as teacher I have seen the absolute importance of valuing what it is a child has to say and wants to do.  Equally, as a parent, valuing the play of our children shows that we value their games, their imagination, their creativity; it shows that we value them. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

The week...

 This was the week that saw...

... us dancing and playing with our shadows in the beautiful October sunshine on the North Downs,

... making and eating homemade apple and blackberry sauce, healthy and great on porridge and pancakes...the girls won't eat it.

... me starting and finishing a book by Paulo Coelho as I had a trip to see my family all on my own.  Hours of waiting around at airports?  Not a problem for me, it's valuable uninterrupted reading time.

... me getting back in to my knitting groove.  I have a few projects I want to finish before I can start with some baby bootees, hats, cardis, toys... this was also the week that I let my friends and family know that I will be having my third baby next summer.  It was a good week.  Hope you have a peaceful weekend, x

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Shades of Green

When it comes to environmental issues, I 'get it'.  I really do.  I've read so much about the subject and thought about it so much also.  Two of the books which really helped me on my way to 'getting it' were 'Toxic Childhood' by Sue Palmer and 'No Impact Man' by Colin Beavan.  These books, as well as my favourite magazine, 'The Green Parent', cemented for me a growing belief in the importance of living a toxin-free and environmentally sound life.  I'm sure like many people this belief really started to emerge in me when I had my first child.  I only wanted her to eat the best kind of food, to not be ingesting through her skin the petrochemicals found in certain branded baby products and to provide for her as toxin-free an environment as possible as well as taking care of her future inheritance of the earth.

However, I would say that this consciousness of green issues goes through periods of differing shades of green.  To be honest, I went through a period for about two years where I was a darker shade of green.  We only ate organic (as much as I could afford, I never did buy organic chicken).  I walked everywhere or cycled.  My girls only used toxin and paraben-free toiletries.  I bought organic cotton clothes, bio-degradable nappies and wooden toys.  These days I am a lighter shade of green and I'm not sure why.

I still have my 'green beliefs' but I feel I need to remind myself of what is really important to me. When I stop to think about it a green lifestyle is important to me, it is the 'truth' of which I need to remind myself.  For me there's just no debate, living as natural a life as possible doing as little damage to our home planet as possible is just the right thing to do for our family.  Also, modelling for my children how we should be treating the earth is far more powerful than me preaching to them.  How do I remind myself of this everyday?  When I'm torn between buying the cheap children's PJs from the local supermarket or the more expensive organic ones?  When I'm wondering whether to buy the more expensive organic minced meat for our lasagne or the cheaper mince at half the price?  The truth is you really have to pay a little extra sometimes to live a green lifestyle and sometimes I'm more prepared to do that than others.  

I know that one answer is to do less of everything.  To buy less stuff in the first place so that you can afford to buy the green and organic stuff when you really need it.  To drive less and only make really essential car journeys.  To stay at home more, enjoying our home and garden instead of going for expensive days out and using the car.  I know all of this to be true deep inside, some days I will be lighter shades of green than others, but I'm trying and I have to forgive myself for that.  Small baby steps usually help with such large issues as this.  For this week then?  I'm going to try one less car journey, I'm going back to organic vegetables and I'm also going back to the paraben-free shampoo I used to buy.  Small things I know, but they feel right to me and will help me get back to my darker shade of green where I truly want to be. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


This weekend I met my new baby niece, Grace, for the first time.  What a joyous occasion it was, not only to see my little sister and to congratulate her, but I got to spend a little time with my niece.  Holding her, feeding her and inhaling her intoxicating new-baby smell.  She has just the most perfect name, 'Grace,' one of the definitions given in my dictionary says, "the unmerited favour of god; a divine saving and strengthening influence." Indeed she is.  Cradling her in my arms while she soundly slept she made me think how babies are the perfect reminder to us of our basic needs.  How all we really need is warmth, nourishment and love.  How complicated we make our adult lives when these things are in fact the only things we ever truly 'need'.  Four weeks old and already she's teaching us lessons.  Thank you Grace.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Her hand in mine

The truth of it is that one day her hand won't be this small and won't nestle as snuggly in my hand.  One day she will be as big as I am and won't want to hold my hand.  The beauty of it is that for now her hand is this small and does nestle snuggly in my hand.  For now she is this little three year old beauty and she does want to hold my hand and be carried by me and tucked up in bed by me and comforted by me when she's sad.  These are the things I think when we walk along, such a simple act of holding hands yet it means so much to me.  It means that for now she is mine, she is here and she is with me.   This little body that grew in mine and walks the earth with me.  All I have to do is savour it.  The very truth and beauty of it.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

7 Small steps towards the life I want

In this month's 'Red' magazine there is an article which discusses making small changes in ones life so that we can create the life we really want.  Breaking down each large issue in to smaller 'bitesize' and therefore, achievable, chunks.  This got me thinking, there are lots of ways in which I would like to improve my life, what small ways can I come up with that will help me achieve the life I would like?   I've heard this called 'Intentional Living' and I think it could be really transformative in small, subtle ways.

So, this is what I came up with.  Seven areas I would like to improve and some small ways in which I can achieve them;

1.  Healthier Eating - fruit salad for breakfast a few times a week and salad for lunch every day (oh, and eat fewer biscuits too!)
2.  Less TV, more quality relaxation - a maximum of 1 hour TV per night and read more of all those great books I have piled up.
3.  Exercise - aagh!  always a problem for me.  I could try one less car journey a week and walk or bike instead (but I'm not hopeful)
4. A tidier, cleaner house - five minutes every day with a duster and de-clutter, getting rid of the stuff we don't need to make space for the stuff we really do need.
5.  Reducing our food budget - make better use of leftovers and make meals with plenty left to freeze for another meal.
6.  More learning time with my girls - 5/10 mins every night after dinner, just a few spellings, sums or handwriting practice, especially for my 6 year old.
7.  A greener life - such a huge issue which I'd like to write more of later, for now though, DO NOT FORGET THE SHOPPING BAGS IN THE BOOT OF THE CAR MICHALA!!  And get more kitchen scraps in the compost bin too.

What small steps could you add to your daily life to create the life you really want?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Autumnal Musings

This is it guys, the nights are getting darker earlier and we're getting up in the dark.  Oh Autumn, you sure are pretty but you make it so hard to get up in the mornings! The heating is going on as are the jumpers and the wooly socks.  This week sees the closing up of the coldframes, the packing away of the garden furniture, the composting of the last remaining tomato plants.  Inside, we're still making our way through those apples and I'm thinking about dusting off my knitting needles.  (I've recently lost the bug for knitting but I would very much like it to come back).

Sunday was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods where we spotted lots of people collecting sweet chestnuts.  We collected some too and have yet to roast them and try them out for the first time.  It wasn't the easiest of walks with a 'challenging' three year old who was not keen on going for the walk that Mummy and Daddy wanted to do. Yet, I still managed to absorb the beauty of the place, the smells and we found some treasure too.

 Saturday night was spent in front of 'X-Factor', two hours of my life that I would rather like back, I think I'm getting too old for it.  Sunday night was spent at a performance of 'Madame Butterfly', two hours of my life very well spent, not only for the heart-achingly beautiful music but for the company of my sweet friends too.

Autumn is here and it has brought me many, many gifts.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Simple Fun - In 'Families' Magazine

[Today I bring to you a post I wrote a short while ago which has been published in the latest edition of 'Families' magazine for Surrey West.  Many thanks to the editor, Sarah Hatch, for considering such a newcomer like me.)

Living a simple life, in search of truth and beauty, these are my goals.  The reason why I have these goals is ...simple.  I want us to enjoy our lives together.  We can do this by having fun, simple fun.  If I could have a chat with my 60 year old self when my children are grown and I'm pottering around the house wondering where the time went, I would ask myself what advice I could give my 33 year old self. The older 'me' would chuckle and smile and hold my hand and tell me to not take it all so seriously, worrying about how my children are doing at school? are they eating healthily? are they developing in to the well-mannered and caring people I'd like them to be?  She would tell me to enjoy my time with my children while they're young and they still want to be with me.  As she held my hand she would look deeply in to my eyes and she would tell me to just have some fun.  

We do have fun, but sometimes I'm so caught up in my daily tasks that I forget this very simple life-affirming principle.  When we dance around like crazy people, when we tickle and tumble and blow raspberries on little tummies, when we play 'can't catch me!' or hide and seek or when we play snap and cheat outrageously, this is fun, this is me connecting with my children, this is life.

In his book, 'The Hurried Child', David Elkind writes about the pressures put on children in the modern world, to perform at school, to be engaged in several extra-curricular activities.  Indeed, these things are important, but so is the need for children to have fun and play.  He sums it up beautifully, "A playful childhood is the most basic right of childhood."  I want my children to have a fun and happy childhood, I want that 60 year old me to look back fondly and think "you did a good job, they were happy kids."

Even as I was composing this post in my head it occurred to me, did we have fun today? did I make them laugh at all today?  There was dinner to cook, laundry to fold, floors to be swept, homework to be done, but was there any fun?  The beauty of it is that it's so simple to have fun together, to laugh together.  I once read somewhere about a woman who made it all very clear for me, she said it wasn't about having quality time together with a specific pre-planned activity involving money or toys.  Rather, making the time together that we have everyday, at the dinner table, getting dressed, on the way to school, making these times fun and enjoyable.  I suppose you could say enjoying the journey instead of focusing on the destination.

So, last night I finished clearing up after dinner, and remembered this.  I got the girls ready for their bath and they told me some things about their day.  When the bath was ready I asked them to get in to the 'aquarium' now please.  They looked puzzled but went along with it.  They got in to the 'aquarium' as I chucked in toy fishes, seahorses, and dolphins, and we laughed as we made up silly names for the toys  and laughed as they refused to get in the water or couldn't because they were 'too shy.'  We laughed, we relaxed, we just had some simple fun.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Simple Nature

Simple Nature.  In the many books I've come across regarding the Steiner-Waldorf approach to education (which I completely admire but could not provide for my children in this area) the issue of 'sense impressions' is always discussed.  Nature, for children as well as adults, is the ultimate 'good quality sense impression'.  Nature feeds the souls of our little ones as well as their bodies.  For children to  play freely in natural settings is so good for their mental and emotional health as well as their bodies.  I've seen it in my girls when they've had a tiring day, out they go in to the garden and run around being horses or they go up and down the path on scooters.  They need it so much.  

For our family these past few weeks simple nature has meant planting lots of bulbs for the Spring and growing 'forced' hyacinth bulbs in the house (just for their smell alone, gorgeous).  It has meant digging in the mud in the garden to find worms and making them in to our pets, this was totally one of the girls ideas, I only knew about it when the worms were held up for me to see at the kitchen window while I cooked the dinner.  How proud they looked (the girls, not the worms, they were just wriggling).   We've kept a close eye on our one pumpkin and wondered when we'll get to eat it.  We have been for walks to one of our local National Trust estates, admiring the autumn trees and collecting treasure for the nature table.  It also included last weekend a day long bike ride along the 'Downs Link', how fantastic it was just cycling along in the sunshine in such beautiful countryside.  

In Richard Louv's book 'The Last Child in the Woods', he goes in to great detail about the decline in children playing in nature and thus developing a strong connection to it.  There's not time here to go in to the many complicated reasons why this is so but one thing did resonate with me after reading the book.  Children need to play in and with nature if they are to flourish and our modern world is in great danger of depriving them of it.  

Simple nature for the coming week then?  A walk on the North Downs, time in the garden planting snowdrops, the girls have informed me they want to make 'potions' in the garden (sounds like a great excuse to mix some mud, water, leaves, etc,) and, as we always do, the back door will be open and out they go. In they'll come later with rosy cheeks, happy, dirty and tired - just how I like them!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Simple Books

"You may have tangible wealth untold:
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be - 
I had a mother who read to me."
'The Reading Mother' Strickland Gillian 

Simple books. Where would we be without books to enrich our lives?  For me, as a teacher and a mother, literacy is obviously an extremely important tool with which we can equip our children for their lives.  And yet, I think there's something more to books than just education and literacy. The pure enjoyment of reading a book, which is something that cannot be taught - only encouraged, can last a lifetime and is a precious gift.

 Encouraging a simple love of books has been a very important part of parenting for me.  We go to the library often and keep them at home in a basket within easy reach of little hands.  (Bless all libraries!  Hope they don't close down too many).  The constant supply of new stories is vital for the girls and me too!  I also get most of my books from the library, especially fiction books which I won't read again.  I save my budget for books for non-fiction which I will use again for reference, for writing, for future re-reads.

 At home we keep baskets of books all over the place and on shelves too.  Though I find that little ones find it easier to access books from a basket as they can flip through them.  I also think books look more appealing stored in a basket rather than a bookshelf.  We read together at any time of day, it's particularly special when we start the day with a few books in bed before we get up but it doesn't happen as often as I would like.  We always have a bedtime story or two and then I encourage the girls to read in bed as they have a small basket of books on their bed too.  (My husband says no more baskets! but I like them!)

One very nice time to share a book together is in the morning before we leave for nursery and school, it has become part of the routine in the morning to try to make time to sit quietly and have a story before we go off for our busy day.  If it's a day when I'm at work this generally doesn't happen, but it is something  for which I can aim as I find it very calming and centering to have these quiet five minutes with my girls.   As for my own reading, I have to, even just a little bit every day - or I feel like I haven't done something quiet and reflective for myself all day.  I just have to make the time for it, even just five minutes before I go to bed.

When it comes to making time for simple books and reading in our lives I would say one more thing.  Call me a Luddite, that's fine, but I'm with Julia Donaldson on this one, I don't think Kindles are appropriate for young children.  (I don't want one for myself either although there is a belief by some close to me that one day I will give in, perhaps).  One clear reason for me is that my children are already allowed TV (although fairly limited, no more than about 1 hour a day) and are allowed to play certain computer games such as the Cbeebies games.  That is already enough time spent in front of an electronic device, which I believe aren't particularly healthy for them.

Just some simple books and some time to enjoy them together.  Certainly one of the most enjoyable and nourishing parts of my day.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Thanks Jane

 It was the end of the summer holidays and Mummy needed a break.   When I wondered what I might do with a bit of spare time I remembered something I had wanted to do for some time, visit Jane Austen's house in Chawton, Hampshire.  I have never been a 'Janeite' (I discovered such a term exists)  but something drew me to the place.  Off I went already looking forward to a few hours peace and definitely looking forward to a treat in the cafe.

  The house was beautiful, as is the ridiculously cute little village in which it resides.  An old Georgian house with rambling roses around the front door.  Not too small, not too big.  I really enjoyed absorbing the feel of the place, reading the material, admiring the little exhibits.  What struck me the most though was her writing desk.  I could have stayed there all day just looking at her desk and meditated on her sitting there by the window writing material that made the world a more beautiful place.   She sat down at that desk every day and filled the pages with her creative words, capturing on paper some of the essence of life.  I stood contemplating her desk and was filled with so many questions.  How did she have the courage to sit every day and empty her mind on to the paper for others to read?  How did she have the confidence to live according to her truest most authentic self,  to do what she was so obviously meant to do in this world?

  I think we all should have such a writing desk, a place where we can be, doing the thing we should be doing.  Where is yours?

Simple Creativity

  Simple creativity is about making art and crafts simple and fun.  Making art for children is so vital for their development and expression.  Artistic activities enrich the lives of children and are so important, I think, in a world where we spend so much time in front of electronic screens.  How simple and healthy it is for my children to sit with just some paper and crayons.

There are so many inspiring books and blogs on this topic.  My favourite blog on art and creativity is on which there are just so many fun ideas to try with little ones.  I'm also greatly helped by books such as 'The creative family' by Amanda Soule.  What I have learned from reading about art and creativity for children is that the most important thing on which to focus is the process of the art, not the end result.  It just doesn't matter what the final piece looks like, if the cutting is all wonky, there are purple trees and blue people.  I understand this now, what matters most is that the child feels like they can express themselves through the material how ever they like.

Simple creativity in our house means;
- cutting pictures from magazines to make pictures on coloured paper, often some glitter and sticker are thrown in there too
- chalk drawings on the garden path
- making our own play dough and experimenting with colours
- we have a making cupboard where the girls can go for boxes, bottles, egg boxes (lots of things for the recycling box) these articles are made in to all kinds of homes for toy animals, nests and little houses.
- simple painting, especially when it's cranky hour and I'm trying to get dinner on the table.
- for my own creativity I have experimented with knitting, sewing, tapestry, very simple, soothing crafts, which don't always turn out to be perfect but I have enjoyed doing anyway.

Making play dough with Erin

If I want my girls to learn anything about creativity it is that everyone is creative in some way.  It's just about finding out what you like to do and getting on with it, regardless of the 'quality' of the finished product.   In his book, 'The Creative License', Danny Gregory writes that, "every day is loaded with creative potential".  Indeed it is.