01 September 2014

Slow Living

It is always lovely to look back and reflect on what you have done over the previous weeks or months, taking stock, observing changes and celebrating achievements.  Even better if you can join together and see what others have been doing too in their part of the world, blogging is a wonderful way of making the world a smaller place.  Christine over a Slow Living Essentials started this wonderful reflection and has now passed the baton onto Linda at Greenhaven,  (I will link up this post when I return from being away) here are mine for August...

...nourish I feel like I have spent a large amount of time cooking food this month.  We have been camping three times, which always involves a huge amount of preparation not just equipment but also food.  Two of the trips were with young people on scout camps and involved large quantities of cake baking................our own trip meant that I pre cooked every meal for four days of being away.  Spicy lentil pasties, veggie sausage rolls, mini pizzas, refried beans and lentil salad were just some of the food on our menu.

...prepare aside from the camping food I prepared, I have also been busy freezing fruit from the garden this month.  I have one blackcurrant and one whitecurrant bush that were both covered in fruit, I managed to pick over 10lbs of fruit from each!  We have been eating lots of food with blackcurrants in including muffins and smoothies.  I also made a small quantity of cordial which was delicious and I will definitely be making some more when I have some time.

...reduce my husband went through his wardrobe and got rid of a few items of clothing he no longer wears, most of them went to the charity shop but there were a few pairs of shorts that I am adapting to fit my eldest.  I sewed the sides up to make them a bit thinner in the leg, cut the elastic waist band off and folded a seam over and made a new case for elastic, I need to find a long enough piece of elastic and thread it in and they will be finished.  I hope they fit him next year as the warm weather is most definitely finished here now.

...green I had a go at making my own toothpaste this month.  I have been wanting to do this for a long time.  It is one of the few toiletries/cleaning products that I still buy.  I had not been able to find a recipe that I thought would work for me until I stumbled on this one which I thought sounded intriguing and would be fairly easy to make with ingredients I had, so would not involve me buying anything which I then would not use if I didn't like it.  So do I?  Well if I am honest it takes a bit of getting used to, it is nothing like toothpaste out of a tube.  It is really messy and definitely an acquired taste, my family won't use it but I do and am actually liking it now.  I have nearly finished my first batch and will be making up some more soon.

...grow this is the one month of the year when my garden really comes into its own.  My growing season is very short (nearly at an end now) so we always make the most of August, harvesting as much as we can especially veggies that will keep producing.  Usually we can manage a week maybe two of eating just veggies from the garden and not buying any but for the first time we have managed the whole month, I can't quite believe it especially as so many seeds failed to germinate.  

...create I have managed to finish a few projects this month that were started earlier this year.  I have been making a shawl for a friend which I have now have finished knitting but I need to block.  I completed a t-shirt which I have been knitting only to discover that it is way too big for me!  I have given it to my mum to try, I hope it fits her and she will wear it, otherwise I will be undoing it as I will never wear it.  It was fun to knit tho'.  I have also started on a few christmas presents a shawl for my daughter and some more slippers for friends.

...discover a few months ago I won two skeins of alpaca yarn in a giveaway, they are beautiful and I have been pondering since what to make with them.  I have searched Ravelry for a pattern but have not found what I want, so I have decided to create my own.  It will be some kind of shawl, scarf, wrap kind of thing and I have had three books out of the library which are full of knitting stitches so I can work out what I want to include.  I am now pondering whether to have cabling stitches or texture with interesting knitted/purl stitches.

...enhance I have helped out on two camps for my local explorer scout group this month.  The first was a international camp which we sent a small contingent to, although it was international it was hosted down the road from us so we did not have far to travel.  We met scouts from Spain, France, Belguim, Tanzania, Ghana, Ireland and from all over the UK.  It was great fun and my children thought it was wonderful.  The second was our annual summer camp, a mix of activities in the rain!  

...enjoy the highlight for me last month has to be the music festival we attended.  I love live music and a whole weekend of it is, for me, is close to perfection.  The weather was kind, the music fantastic and we all had a great time, what more could I ask for?

29 August 2014


We are a pretty resilient species us humans, bouncing back whatever the situation thrown at us, I guess we wouldn't be the dominant species on the planet if that wasn't the case.  As the dominant species we seem to have decided that any resources are fair game and are ours for the taking, we are also heavily reliant on many of them including energy in the many forms it takes.  I cannot help feeling, as others have too, that one day the resources will be gone or severely depleted and needing to be rationed.  So what happens then?  Margaret Atwood in her MaddAddam trilogy gives her take on how our world might look in the build up and post an apocalypse of human creation.  In the society she writes about new species have been created both of animals and humans, spliced together from cells from different creatures.  The 'humans' or Crakers as Atwood names them are part human, part animal cells with the creator removing the parts in humans that he perceives are our weaknesses.  This month I read the final book MaddAddam, having read the first book about ten years ago and the second last month.  The world and most of its inhabitants has been destroyed by a disaster of epic proportions created by humans, those that are left have survived because of physical strength and brutality, because they are Crakers and immune to the effects or because they were far enough removed from the disaster at the time it hit.  In the aftermath all are attempting to continue to survive.  One group are particularly successful because they work together and because they are successful at foraging and know what plants can sustain life, can heal and renew.  They have, pre-apocalypse, been living and using these skills in tune with the world of nature and thus continue to survive.  I can't help feeling that at some point in the future, many centuries from now or possibly sooner, it will be the same.

It is also through nature, more specifically flowers, that the main character in The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh makes a connection to the world after a brutal life spent in the care system.  The novel starts with Victoria reaching her eighteenth birthday and having to leave the care system and make her own way in the world, by herself.  Through her love of flowers she finds a job in a florists shop and immerses herself in her work and flowers.  Interwoven into the story is the language of flowers, the history of Victorias first eighteen years of life and her meeting a man who falls in love with her.  It is a love story but one with an interesting twist, I could not put this book down.

When I was young no one ever talked about WWII.  It was not on the history curriculum at school.  It was too recent in the memory of the adults around me, most had lived through it, some had fought in it.  All my knowledge of this period I have gained for myself, slowly over time building a picture which shouts to me exactly why no one wanted to talk about it.  It is incomprehensible and impossible to understand how it was to live at that time.  Some of the literature based on this period is fictional but based on true events which Citadel by Kate Mosse is an example of, again the third book in a trilogy a bit of a pattern in my reading this month it would seem.  I read the first and second books a while ago now and could not remember much, if any, of the detail but it didn't seem to matter.  It is set in Carcasonne and the surrounding area during the last few years of the war, and follows the fortunes of a resistance cell or maquis.  The treachery is hard to stomach, even though it is fictional I have no doubt it is similar to what really happened at the time.  Neighbours watching neighbours.  I was reminded of the words to a beautiful song written by Tommy Sands and although this is about Northern Ireland it is true of any conflict

...But centuries of hatred
Have ears that do not hear
An eye for an eye
That was all that filled their minds
And another eye for another eye
Till everyone is blind...

...But I wonder just how many wars
Are fought between good friends...

The characters in this story are young, at the prime of their lives, their existence which is how they are living is difficult to comprehend.  It was a hard and tough.  Grinding.  As I was reading I couldn't
help but be reminded that many in the world continue to live in a similar way.

I am now most of the way through Summer Garden by Paullina Simons, at over 700 pages this is a meaty book, I do seem to have read a lot this month!  When I have finished I have two books that I chose in the library to read, coincidentally both first novels for the authors.  After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry and 70% Acrylic 30% Wool by Viola Di Grado just need to decide which one to read first..............


The Peony can represent shame and to the Chinese is the King of the Flowers, the Orchid love and beauty and the Daisy innocence, loyal love and I'll never tell, although it depends whose language you are reading.

27 August 2014


...is for Performance...

...specifically Blackbeard's Tea Party, one of my eldest's favourite bands.  He was very excited that they played two slots at the music festival we were at this last weekend.  It is one of the highlights of my year, I love music, especially live music, so to spend the weekend immersed in music is my idea of heaven.  What would be your perfect weekend?

22 August 2014


We sometimes focus on a topic round these parts.  It hasn't happened so much in recent months but in our early days of home education it was quite a focus of our learning.  One of the first was Castles, it all started with a book, a charity shop find, See Inside Castles published by Usborne Books.  At the time my eldest was probably about five or six and was reading but still liked to read books with me as often there were words he could not yet work out.  That one book triggered quite a journey.

We don't follow a curriculum, I believe in learning rather than teaching. I realised that my eldest was really interested not only in the book but also the subject matter, he wanted to learn more about Castles.  So we went on a journey, one that took us all over the place physically as well as mentally, this is a record of that journey, recorded by subjects as I felt this would be most useful for anyone wanting to do the same.

History it goes without saying that this was the main focus of his learning.  In fact it opened up a new world to him, the past.  Remembering that he was only around six at the time although he was aware of the past, a time before he was born when I was a child and his grandparents were children, it was not a concept he had grasped a good understanding of.  One of the first things we did was to create a time line showing the present day at the right hand end and going back to the time most castles were built.  As he read and learnt about different eras of castles we added them to the line along with other periods of history that he leant about through this topic.  We started with the castles themselves why they had been built, we looked at what was happening in the world at that time, we discussed, in basic terms, conflicts.  He moved onto Knights and reading all about them, which led to looking at the structure of society then and now.  We learnt about what people were wearing, what they ate, I wanted to have a go at cooking some of the recipes we found but he wasn't keen, the tools and transport they were using which led us on to technology and its development through time.

Geography our main focus of learning was about the world.  Before this he wasn't really aware of the world beyond our village apart from the places he had thus far visited.  He learnt that we live on a island and where that it is in the world, about northern and southern hemispheres, seasons, day and night, revolving round the sun and the year.  We looked at atlases, we stuck a map of the world on the wall, which is still there and often looked at.  We found a really old atlas, that I inherited from my granma, published in late 1920s (there is no date in it sadly) and it was interesting to compare that to one from the 1970s and one from now to see how borders had move and countries renamed.  The building materials for castles changed over time, ending with rock.  We looked into rocks and geology, investigating the castles we visited to work out what they were built with and where that might have come from.  We considered how it might have got there, what the roads might have looked like and were there maps.

English our focus for this was entirely with reading, he showed no desire (and still doesn't really now) to write.  I have never wanted to force him to do something he really doesn't appear to enjoy or be ready for.  My mum, a primary school teacher for twenty five years, keeps reassuring me to just wait writing will happen one day when he is ready pushing him will only lead him to reject wanting to do it at all.  So we bought a few books on the subject, The Story of Castles another Usborne book was a perfect book for improving reading skills, Medieval Castle by Gillian Clements was a great second hand book find as was the Horrible History Handbook, Knights in a charity shop.  We also borrowed every book from the local library on Castles, Knights and the Medieval Period.  A particularly good one was the Little Book of Castles another Usborne book.  If we were to be studying this topic now I think we would turn to the DK Eyewitness series (my son is now nine).

Maths there is the potential for all sorts of maths to be introduced when looking at castles.  In our case they were not taught but talked about as concepts and how they were and could be applied in life.  Living maths if you will.  To build a castle you need to understand maths even if you don't realise that this is the skills you are using, the best way to apply maths in my book far less onerous and scary.  I am always sadden by people saying they don't like maths.  It is usually because they felt they were such a failure at it at school, I cannot understand why we do that to our children.  You cannot learn anything if you feel you are going to fail at it.  I digress where was I, castles and maths.  We learnt about circles (towers) and the aspects of those such as circumferences, radius etc.  We learnt about angles (walls) and measuring them.  We talked about 2D and 3D shapes which he already knew about and how you measure their area and volume.  The Sir Cumference series of books is good for this age group (six), we have now moved onto the Murderous Maths series which my eldest loves to read.  We also touched on maps and scale.

Art most of what we did was drawing as that was my eldest's favourite at the time and still is.  He hates having his hands dirty or touching things that are not firm so many artist's mediums are not accessible to him.  He drew castles from many different angles, learning in the process about birds eye views, which moved us from there on to maps, about perspective particularly backgrounds and foregrounds but most of all as he was fairly new to controlled pencil skills it did wonders for his drawing skills.  We bought him some good quality paper, a sketchbook so all this drawings were kept together, and some good quality pencils.  He used scrap paper to practice some of this pictures.  It was at this time that I put together pots of drawing materials that were easily accessible so that he could sit and draw whenever he chose to.

Physical I know that the focus of physical education in a school environment is centred on playing sport or games often in teams but that doesn't mean that has to be how you define a physical education, for me it is about being active in whatever form that takes.  We visited many castles as part of learning about them, it was surprising (or perhaps not given where I live, near the Scottish border) how many we found locally to us when we started to look for them.  I searched for Castles in my area on the Internet, looked at local OS maps at scale of 1:25000 (they are usually marked), English Heritage and the National Trust are good websites to look at too.  A visit to a castle usually involves a bit, or sometimes a lot, of walking.  We played games in the grounds, storming the battlements, bit of jousting or plain old tig or hide and seek.  At home we also had a go at learning how to use the implements a knight would have used properly finding out about the moves, how to hold them etc.

Crafts  I wasn't sure what to call these as this is all the bits that don't fit under any of the other headings, it is also not generally a school subject in itself but may come into other parts of the curriculum or be something you want to try at home!  We made a few bits and pieces from wood learning some skills along the way, a sword or five and some shields which were both decorated.  Then we needed some way of carrying the sword so a leather scabbard was sewn, a new skill to all of us.

One other resource we acquired was a puzzle (ours has 96 pieces) which comes with a accompanying notes.

Although it was some time ago that we started on this particular journey it is not one that has come to an end.  We still continue to read about, visit and learn more about the world through this wonderful topic.

20 August 2014


...is for Orchard...

...a rare sight these days.  At one time many villages and farms would have had an orchard to provide the community or a family with a source of fruit and sometimes nuts.  This orchard is mainly apple with a few pear trees.  The trees would be grown as standards* with grassland underneath which was grazed by livestock or cut for hay.  Most of the orchards that are still around today predate the second world war when small scale mixed farming was the dominant form of farming.  Sadly they are now very much in decline as a result of funding to make land more productive, which often meant they were destroyed or because they are often positioned near to villages and towns and are vulnerable to development, they are classed as agricultural land so have limited legal protection.  I was lucky enough to work right next to an old orchard as my office was in a converted farm building.  We still go and pick the apples every year.

Joining in with the Alphabet Photography Project.


*a tree that is large about 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide and therefore widely spaced in an orchard setting, with a crown high enough to allow animals to graze beneath without them reaching the branches.

18 August 2014


...this week of...

...happiness meals with veggies from the garden, play games with the children, a tidy house, days out with friends

...sadness at the continued blood shed and hatred in the world

...reading The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons, to the children The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and these picture books* you can read a short review of them here, 203. Delphie and the Birthday Show by Darcey Bussell, 204. Party! by Jess Stockham, 205. Zoe and the Fairy Medicine by Jane Andrews, 206. Lila and the Secret of Rain by David Conway, 207. L'ours au Soleil by Stella Blackstone, 208. Weasels by Elys Dolan

...creating a shawl off the needles and now blocking, the beginnings of two sewing projects, the arms on a cardigan, a slipper

...learning about castles, the body, digestion, bees, penguins, Antarctica

...thinking about our rhythm for September

...hoping that I can get all the things done that I want/need to do this week

....wondering about things to do in the Autumn

...looking forward to music festival this weekend

*as part of the 300 Picture Books Challenge


I hope you have had a lovely week too......................enjoy the one to come!

15 August 2014


Some of my earliest memories are wrapped up in gardens.  The garden of my childhood was a large one with trees for climbing, dens behind old fence panels, a concrete half buried Anderson shelter which was often knee deep in water, it was also a garden of produce, veggies, a homemade cold frame fashioned with old bricks and window frames and fruit, apples picked from the tree as an after school snack. My grandparents had productive gardens, a wigwam of runner beans covered in red flowers, a pot of parsley by the pack door always full like a green hairy head for the pot, picking or digging up the veg for a family Sunday lunch.  One of my aunts living in North London had a long thin garden full of produce.  When I left home I always wanted a garden of my own.

My wish came true, eventually, and the small patch of land I call home has been turned from a patch of grass to a more edible (to humans) one.  It will never make us self sufficient there is not the room to do that and coupled with frosts as late as May and as early as October it would be tough to make it a reality without several polytunnels.  There are often a couple of weeks of the year when all the vegetables we eat are taken from our garden.  This last week has been one of them.

I am a menu planner.  Each week I get an email detailing the contents of a veg bag we have delivered to the house which is how we buy our veg.  I use the contents of the bag to plan my menu and shop for the specific ingredients I need to make the meals I have planned.  I don't plan our meals for specific days but obviously as the week goes on there are less meals left on my list.  This week my plan was based on my own veggies and those I had in the fridge, leftovers from a recent scout camp.

It never ceases to amaze me how one year you can grow something successfully and the next it will either fail or produce little.  I love french beans and usually grow dwarf varieties, some years they have bought a whole new dimension to the definition of dwarf and barely produce a meals worth.  This year they have been, excuse the pun, highly productive and we have been picking them for weeks.  This week I cooked them in a Bengali style, and with a potato dish of yellow spiced potatoes, dahl, rice and naan made a delicious meal.  We have also eaten our potatoes with a quiche and a Lentil Salad.

We live in one of the wettest parts of England, our annual rainfall is over a metre of rain.  We have had very little rain in the last two months and coupled with high temperatures the garden needed constant watering.  The rain has finally arrived but sadly it has bought with it much cooler temperatures dropping to below 10°C overnight.  The courgettes which have been doing so well seemed to have stopped growing.  I had planned on two meals based on the number that were on my plants, but best laid plans.......we did manage one meal a simple pasta sauce with slow cooked onion and garlic, chopped courgettes and grated parmesan cooked on an open fire by the side of a local lake on the only dry evening of the week.

I tried growing broad beans this year for the first time, my father in law always grew them and told me they were easy to grow, we usually get ours from a local pick your own most of which I freeze to eat over the following months.  They are easy to grow, well this year they have been, and like the french beans we have had several meals from our plants. I have made several different salads with them and a delicious pâté.  This week I tried a new salad recipe, one with an interesting list of ingredients, which I wasn't entirely convinced would taste good together but I was proved wrong.  We didn't have many beans by the time I made it, darn that cooler weather, so I reduced the quantities but it was delicious.

The cooler weather means that I have added soup back to our lunches.  I had some lettuces that I bought back from scout camp.  They were rather past it to be honest and most people would have probably thrown them in the compost days ago.  But I cut off the worst bits and was left with a rather sad small pile, another raid on the fridge and I found a small piece of cabbage so that went in too.  So it was cabbage and lettuce soup loosely based on this recipe.  The children were a bit non plussed, I thought it tasted great.

So that has been my week in the kitchen, next week I am hoping that the garden carries on producing enough to make a stir fry, some courgette fritters, a bean salad, pasta alla genovese, cucumber soup and lots more leafy salads.