Thursday, 22 June 2017

My first home ed graduate :-)

I am pleased to say that the stress of exams (IGCSE's) is now a distant memory. My darling daughter has survived and more to the point, so have her siblings and I!
It struck me the other day that actually the completion of these exams marks the end of our Home ed journey. My first guinea pig has crossed the line and survived unscathed (I like to think), the experiment of an education far from the norm. In September my beautiful and talented daughter will take her next step in the world towards her future career. As yet she is still undecided as to exactly what that next step will be (A levels or a vocational course at college). She is excited about the freedom and new skills she will gain and the fresh opportunities that she will be faced with.

Eleven years of home education has been a huge amount of fun. Of course there have been some ups and downs (more ups than downs thankfully!) it has been an amazing journey and one that in hindsight, I am eternally grateful that I took. It was a path unknown, a path barely trodden that over the past decade has become a true lifesaver and real option to so many. The home ed community is more than just a gathering of add balls, it's a family of people who share similar values and many differences. It's a real choice for those who for whatever reason decide that 'the system' is not for them. It's a fun existence, an existence of real courage and determination.

We were sitting out having a picnic along side a gated road earlier this week; a gathering of five families. We sheltered under the shade of the trees chatting, laughing and making merry whilst our young people happily created their own adventures of life in the wilds of the British countryside; paddling in the stream, catching crayfish, smothering each other in mud whilst reinforcing friendships and socialising. Two children came back that night to stay over; a house full of children, just how it should be. Sometimes sleepovers can be riots but this one worked well, it was peaceful and joyous. The boys took to the sofas whilst the girls slept out under the stars on the trampoline. They're so lucky to be able to live as children have in years gone by.

So as summer rolls into being we are enjoying the long lazy days. Work seems to rapidly be grinding to a halt; it seems silly not to take full advantage of the glorious weather that we have seen this week. Plans for short camping trips are in the pot. No long expeditions this year!

With talk of guinea pigs, I should finish with an introduction to our latest family addition. Meet April....

The little Lady has wanted piggies for the past two years or so and finally we have one. Little April is just 8 weeks old and came from a litter of three. Piggies are sociable creatures so we are hoping to find her a friend really soon but for now she is enjoying cuddles all around!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Spring foraging

It struck me this last week, what an amazing spring we are having this year. The beautiful array of flowers has been staggering and very much in abundance. For the likes of us foragers, this has meant more delicious pickings :-) So, I thought I would share some of the FREE pickings available to us all to nibble and share.

I have been foraging for many years now, I'm not entirely sure when it started or how exactly but thinking back was probably about twelve or so years ago when I began to experiment with hedgerow jams. When you become enthused with things you naturally want to absorb all the information surrounding that area of interest. So I'm guessing it started with berries and then spread to leaves and other tasty hedgerow finds. Yum!
There's a lot out there and it can be very daunting when you first start out. My advice is (and this is what I practise myself) just get out there and have a wander around. Look at the verges when you go out walking and see how many species of plant you can already identify. You may surprise yourself. What I used to believe to be a mass of weeds now has become a collection of nourishing pickings and as well as the nutritional value, when you explore wild plants further, there are many medicinal qualities about them and much interesting folklore to be intrigued by too.
My ability to take in vast amounts of information; and remember it at any one time, has never been great. Therefore, the way that I have learnt so much over the years is to add about three different species to my repertoire a year.
This year my best new discovery has been Hogweed. Now Hogweed comes in two varieties (I'm sure there are more but these are the two that you need to know). Standard Hogweed and Giant Hogweed. Standard, is the stuff that you are most likely to see out and about and now that I have identified it I realise that it really is everywhere.

Giant Hogweed is enormous! Apparently it was brought over to the UK as an ornamental plant and grows mainly by water. If you need to familiarise yourself do look it up.
When I googled Hogweed; just to confirm that it is safe to eat, I discovered that top British chefs are trying to establish it on the menus of some of the top London restaurants!
You do need to pick this stuff with gloves, not because it stings but because there is something within it that can cause skin irritation especially if the sun reacts with it. This is not a problem for everyone and once cooked is not a reason for alarm, it's merely a precaution.

I fried up some young shoots in a little butter (choose the young over the old as they will be more succulent) and they are rather tasty!

The next plants that you may find in abundance are dandelions. We used to feed these to our bunnies when I was a child. They have quite a bitter taste but if you pick the young shoots and combine them in a salad they are pretty tasty. You can eat the flowers too! Apparently the sap of the plant is good for ridding one of warts ( a poultice of cider vinegar works well for warts too).

Another plant that is quite new to my repertoire this year is Cow Parsley. It's a member of the celery family and can be found growing virtually everywhere at this time of the year. There are some similar poisonous plant varieties so best familiarise yourself before tucking in. The trick I have discovered is that if you pick the plant, the stem is C shaped. The leaves also smell very much like celery if you rub them.



Do you see the nettle in the foreground? They are amazingly nutritious and are particularly tasty made up into a soup :-)

Hmmm, one of my springtime faves....'Jack by the Hedge' or 'Garlic mustard' as it is often referred. 
I've noticed in the last few days that this plant is currently in flowering mode. Again, look it up if you want to be sure.

This is a picture of one of the flower beds in my front garden. Hmmm pretty weedy hey! Well, right in the centre there you can see quite a lot of Ground Elder. For many gardeners it is seen as a real pain but it is in fact edible and can be used much in the same way as spinach.

A close up :-)

Here's another garden weed right on my doorstep. Clevers/Sticky Willy/Goose Grass. It's the stuff that sticks to you and was the inspiration behind Velcro....useless information!
Small shoots chopped up and added to a salad are tasty but the thinker, older plants...well, they just get stuck in your throat!

One more......

Hawthorn. Right now the blossom is just opening too. The flowers are really tasty and together with the leaves they used to be considered the 'bread and cheese' of the hedgerow.

Okay.....another one slipped in!

Primroses....pretty aren't they. The flowers are fully edible and look lovely added to salads. You can dip them in egg white and then sugar to crystallise them too for cake decorations.

So here it is, my lovely Spring foraged salad. Yummy!

Really scrumptious when accompanied by some stuffed pasta, beetroot and apple bread, halloumi cheese and a little pesto (garlic if you've been lucky enough to find some!). XX

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Grand shed opening!

I know what you're thinking.....crazy hey! Yep, it all happens in my life.

So, you may recall the seed being planted last month when my lovely little shed/ex wash house was re-roofed. Well things have been cooking rather nicely over the past two months and I would like to share our little moment of madness; albeit rather a lot of fun, with you my dear friends.

Back in February, our very kind maintenance man and friend re-roofed the lovely old red brick shed that resides in our garden along with my adjoining neighbours shed too. Poor thing was leaking here and there and one of the main timbers was severely taking the strain of the weight of the rather buckled corrugated iron roof that it supported.
I knew that re-roofing was on the agenda at some point but wasn't given any real idea about when this might actually happen.
One day I came home from something or other and upon walking into the shed thought it seemed surprisingly lighter than usual. It was of course 'roofless' at that point. Hmmm! Now that was a surprise!
As all of my sheddy things were still present and the nature of being open to the elements, it wasn't long before I was admiring a fine new roof and for once, no leaks :-)
Yeah! I did a little hop, skip and jump at the mere excitement of having a 'leak free' place in which to store said stuff. Then of course my little mind went berserk and started working overtime about the possibilities that a new roof could mean for an old shed.
I mentioned my excitement and a host of potential uses to Mr Maintenance and under his breath he mentioned that my neighbours shed was 'very tidy'!
OOOOHHHH! Mine wasn't in the slightest bit tidy.......
Well, that did it. One little comment was all it took to fuel the start of 'shed envy'.
I instantly set to work looking on Pinterest for shed inspiration (if you haven't yet discovered Pinterest you really are missing out).

I'm embarrassed to reveal these but here we go!

Yes, I know...I could barely get through the door!

My neighbour was equally inspired to transform his shed too :-)
The past two months have been incredibly fun. Dear P started off at super speed and left me on the start line, so to say. We would pass on the way in and nod on the way out....most hilarious! One night Small boy came in to my room at midnight to inform me that P was in his his pyjamas! Hehe!
Visiting friends have been collared to help too not leaving without a spot or two of paint on their being.

I built shelves and a work surface out of an old door.

The walls were give a lick of paint and the fireplace a rub up with grate polish.

For many weeks P's shed seemed to be advancing (or so we imagined) at rapid speed whilst ours; if the truth be known, was changing at a snails pace. I had so much to move around and re-home. The utility items had to move into the house, the garden stuff had to move into the woodshed....the list is beyond imagination truly it is. My house have never looked more disorganised. It's been a crazy couple of months.
Saturday we announced that we were done.....poor P was under pressure. We joked over the fence about underfloor heating, swimming pools and surround sound systems ...hehe, most amusing!
Sunday night I dropped into the conversation that I had invited a few friends for the grand opening on Monday and so it was. Monday, 19 of us supported the grand opening. It was really a rather lovely excuse for a social get together :-)

 The moment of anticipation.....





                                 Ta dah!
Note, the transformation cost me a mere £5.09....:-) not bad hey!
* P's shed was warm and insulated.....the envy continues.......

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Welcome back!

People out there, hello! I'm back! Winter induced the downtime and it's been lovely. It's been a period of hibernation...ideas have been flowing and now I feel I have's Spring! :-)

So what of my period of hibernation?
It's been wonderful!
Work throughout January and early February was unusually quiet. I think that the powers that be decided I should have a little time out. Time to think, play and hatch out some plans.

For quite a while now I've been wanting to design and make clothing to sell on Etsy. I don't know about you but when I look around the High Street stores I just don't see the style of clothing that I like anymore. I've never particularly been into fashion but I do still like to look good. Many of the designs out there are too short or the cut just doesn't flatter. It's made me question exactly what us women do want?
Well speaking for myself of course, I personally want clothes that are comfortable, easy to wear, forgiving...that's a must! Versatile ...another must really. It's great to buy items that can be teamed up with other garments and dressed up and down depending on the occasion.
I've spent quite a while fiddling about in my little sewing room and did come up with a few designs. I'm not revealing anything yet...(top secret!) but will as soon as I'm happy with what I have created.

Quite recently I've had my garden shed re-roofed. It was rather rotten and a tad damp (well it is a shed!)....anyway, the creative possibilities that have now emerged as a result of feeling that it isn't going to fall down imminently have filled me with excitement! (I'm wondering if admitting to this is actually making me sound somewhat 'sad?) So the thought of a 'she-shed' is manifesting. Of course if the shed is to become anything other than a dumping ground it has to be cleared out and sorted and other areas too need addressing in order to re-arrange the stuff. It's the usual thing really. So we've made a start. I've come up with the ideas and have provided the initial motivation and the kids (haha) have started on the decorating! It's jolly useful to be able to put them to work now that they have become a little older and are more able :-) No justifications needed really, they will be able to use the new space as a den/chill out area and I will be able to escape them and possibly use it for larger craft projects. It's win win!

I've been using the dark Winter evenings to join one of my favourite bloggers, Lucy at Attic 24 and her crowd of followers, to join in her CAL (crochet along). I'm not all that good at following instructions or sticking to the book but the inspiration for this CAL (which incidentally is ANOTHER blanket) is in fact the North Yorkshire Moors, one of my most favourite areas of the country especially when the heather is in bloom. So the colours of the blanket are those of the moors with the heather in bloom. I resisted the draw of this project for quite some time and then gave in and bought myself the yarn pack for Christmas. I love having a crochet project on the go and it quite literally goes everywhere with me just in case I have a spare moment. In the Winter months, creating a blanket is lovely as when it grows you can wrap yourself in it and enjoy the warmth it provides. I'm halfway there now, perhaps it will be ready for next Winter!

Other than that I continue to live life as a romantic adventure, looking for the romance in the everyday mundane.
I read a little quote last week that I had forgotten but do recall resonated some years ago

'Make your life a romantic adventure and love will find you'.

I am as always engulfed in love and this little quote has made it's mark on me once again. I particularly chuckled to myself last Friday when I landed myself the job of towing a caravan to Oxford from the outskirts of London!

Life is never dull!!

Friday, 3 February 2017

New year clear out

Having a clear this not the story of my life?

I always seem to have that fear of becoming swamped in my own 'stuff' and am forever trying to palm people off with 'things'. The children used to be dreadful at bringing things into the house, if not for birthdays and Christmas then there is the constant flow of pre-loved clothing and passed on toys and games. Thankfully over the past year or so my training seems to be paying off and I witness them declining offers 'things' lest their bedrooms reach an un-manageable state of untidiness.
The festive period is always one where I feel I let the house go. The decorations go up, the furniture is moved around and new items seem to arrive, in general a sense of added clutter seems to take hold. Every year I feel that need to rid myself and re-home everything to start the new year a fresh.
This year I had my usual set of post-chrimbo plans; tree down, homes found for new gifts, out with the know the sort of thing I mean. Then I received a late gift from one of my sister's which happened to be a book titled 'The life-changing magic of tidying' by Marie Kondo. Well admittedly part of me thought 'blimin cheek!' Don't people usually disagree with you when you comment about how messy your house is? Obviously not! My immediate reaction was to give the book away but then the pangs of guilt swept across my conscience, I mean I have read books on de-cluttering before, how many takes on ridding yourself of your junk can there be? 
So reluctantly I started to read the book. I have to say that the author is so bossy! It is not a book that I have enjoyed but I have laughed at some of the sections especially the bit that refers to 'the wardrobe'. Haha!!

Clothes should be ordered from largest to smallest - left to right, heavy bulky items on the left and light floaty numbers on the right.....

Well......I am too embarrassed to reveal the true unadulterated state of my rather dilapidated effort that is my wardrobe. But I can describe it.....It's one of those cheap pine constructions with a linen-look drape over the front. The rail is filled with hangers and the clothes are so tightly squished together that it takes brute force to extract an item. Nothing is ordered, winter and summer items are mixed and several items are crammed onto each hanger. I've sorted through the contents many times and what remains are the items that I wish to keep. There is not at this moment a single millimetre of space for any further garments and should I attempt to remove too may items at one time, I fear the whole thing will collapse before my eyes as it is quite possibly the force caused by the overfill that is keeping it held together. I rest my case!

THE book now sits on the shelf by my front door awaiting some other poor 'needy of decluttering' person to relieve me of it.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Permission to ski....

Skiing. I can honestly say that the said pursuit was not really on the top of my list of 'things to do' but when a good friend asked if we wanted to go and suggested he pay for us....well, it would have been rude really and rather a waste to turn down the opportunity!
There was only one hurdle; missing Christmas as we know it. After a few days of thought, some family discussions and after watching a few You Tube videos of beginners skiing, all of the children were in agreement that we should bite the bullet and give it a go. Of course as is normal in my house, Small Boy only gave the idea a brief moments thought, the Little Lady was incredibly excited and Miss P had her reservations!
On an always tight budget and with some incredibly generous friends who donated out-grown clothing, we managed to gather up a sufficient amount of suitable ski gear. We had a worthy demonstration on how to put on said gear and skis from our friend, along with some tales of fractures and injuries that really didn't help reassure the reserved one!
Timing was tight and we had already booked to go to Yorkshire for a few days with literally a day between trips. Then there was the usual organisation involved with pet sitters etc which on this occasion all fell into place as planned - thankfully!
I wondered how we would fit ourselves along with all our accumulated gear into a VW Polo with a roof box but it's surprising how roomy those little cars are. Or perhaps it was limiting the excessive amount of 'stuff' that the kids generally like to take that helped? Anyway, we squeezed in with room to spare. Surprisingly you don't actually need much when you're skiing just your outer gear, base layers and a few sets of underwear. I did buy helmets in the Black Friday sales as they were the same price as renting but skis and boots were rented once we reached the resort.

The journey  to Tignes, which is on the East side of France in the Alps, took hours. We took the channel tunnel from Folkestone (a new and very pleasant experience for us) and then drove all day until we reached Lyon where we stayed overnight in a budget F1 hotel. I'm not really a fan of long car journeys but it was fine. The children chatted away in the back, slept and ate as always and I did the same in the front. It took a total of 16 hours of driving from door to door which actually wasn't too tedious at all. I saw some breathtaking scenery, especially once we reached the mountains.
We arrived at the resort on Saturday morning which was perfect as it was 'change over day' and the slopes weren't too busy. We unloaded the car and then sought out the hire shop that we'd booked the skis and boots though. Kitting up was fun :-)

So the moment had arrived. We put on our gear and stumbled to the bottom of the slopes to put on our skis. It really isn't easy walking on ice in those well fitting plastic boots that prevent you from bending at the ankles. In hindsight I realised that is actually a good thing!

I had assumed we'd spend a short while learning to stand and move on the flat before tackling anything with a connection to 'slope' in it, but no! Before we knew it we were being hurled up on a six person chair lift to the top of what appeared, quite a steep mountain. Eeeeek! We'd been told how to stop using the 'snowplough' manoeuvre but we hadn't actually had the opportunity to put it into practise. Needless to say snow is really quite slippery and without breaks.......not advisable!

Our first exit from the chairlift was exactly what we had laughed about a couple of days prior to our trip. One mass bundle of arms, legs and skis in a heap right in everyones way. Not a great start!
So once we had got to our feet we started our decent down the slope. As you can imagine we snow ploughed.....into each other! There were tears, bumps and bruises, cross words and utter fear. It's like everything have to start at the beginning and most people don't get things of this nature first time of trying. The boy tumbled the furthest and somehow managed to turn himself around and ride the skis to the bottom. I was next after much slipping and sliding and the girls.....arrived safely at the bottom about an hour later! Needless to say both decided that was enough for their first day and they mulled around watching and freezing the rest of the afternoon whilst Small Boy and I tried again. The second take was marginally better although I still found myself scrabbling after lost skis and feeling rather annoyed when a friendly English lady told me that the slope was marked as a 'blue' which in ski terms is an intermediate slope! Not being deterred by such things I carried on and by the end of day 1 I had managed to work out how to survive the decent...sort of! I just had an issue with speed and my inability to stop or feel in control.

                                                  There was time for sledging too!

Day 2 was a similar story with regards to the speeding. I had mastered balancing and the process of manoeuvring but I feared for the safety of all other slope users. There were many little children out there with their ski schools whom in their innocence could easily have fallen victims of my inexperience. I envisaged hitting them and causing a 'domino effect'....not cool! The Boy continued to gain confidence and decided after day 1 that he was definitely the best and the girls...well Miss P braved her fears and had another go whilst the Little Lady stood at the bottom of the slopes watching! Thankfully after a little teasing she tried again that afternoon.

                                                               .......and igloo building........

Skiing uses up vast amounts of energy and we were all starving hungry at the end of each day as well as exhausted. So calories and sleep were most welcome.

We all loved the whole ski experience and definitely want to go again and we are incredibly grateful to our friend for his incredible patience with us all in our moments of fear and tantrums in my case! Standing on top of a mountain is the most terrifying thing I have ever done but it's also liberating and invigorating and I am thrilled to grasped the opportunity.

We left the ski resort on Christmas eve and stayed in a beautiful French gite overnight before the main of our return journey on Christmas day. It was actually rather fun eating cheese baguettes and pain au raisin for Christmas lunch!

Hoping that you had a peaceful Christmas :-)

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Puffball soup

I love the fact that my children have an astute awareness of the countryside and have fostered my love of foraging. A couple of weeks ago whilst driving home across the estate after an ad hock outing, the children suddenly spotted a collection of puffball mushrooms in one of the cow fields.

Now I'm very cautious where mushrooms are concerned and will only eat those that I know to be edible. There are many varieties out there that have poisonous lookalike, and those I steer well clear of, it simply isn't worth the risk. The giant puffball however is a mushroom that is pretty obvious and rather beautiful really. It's basically a giant ball of pure mushroomy white stuff. They are easy to spot from a distance as they stand out so well from their surroundings as white blobs on the landscape.
Within minutes they returned laden with the autumn delights, their aroma is very distinctly mushroom and can be rather overpowering in the confined space of a car!
Our latest find was turned into soup today and rather scrumptious it was too! Soup is unbelievably simple to make, I rarely use a recipe as most follow the same basic principles. Here's how if you haven't tried it before:

Firstly chop an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Fry them in a saucepan until they are soft in with olive oil or I use coconut oil as it copes pretty well with being heated.
Add a stock cube or tablespoonful of vegetable bouillon powder then add some water (I kind of guess amounts here, perhaps half to a pint of water).
Peel and roughly chop your puffball ensuring that the flesh is white and fresh looking.
Add a little salt and pepper and cover and boil.
Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20-30 minutes covered (add more water if necessary) then whizz with a blender, add a splash of cream and serve.