Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Festive seasoning

Where has the past year gone? Is it just me or do the years seem to be flying by faster as we get older? Of course time doesn't actually pass more quickly but it sure does seem like it. I frequently look back and wonder where the past twenty years has gone, I'm sure the first twenty years of life didn't seem to whizz like the last twenty years has....must be down to having children and the fact that I now have four lives to manage!

I love this time of year. The time when we start to enter the coldest and darkest months. Where as social able beings we hide away more only emerging for special occasions. In our house it seems it's a time for coming together. Those initial couple of months at the end of Summer when the beautiful weather changes and you can't go out as often, those times are tricky initially. Everyone has to adjust to sharing a smaller space and has to work to avoid treading on the toes of others. It seems now that all is in harmony once more. As I write Small Boy and the Little Lady are busy chatting away playing with play doh downstairs in the kitchen (if you thought it was only for little children, think again!) and Miss P is having a long soak in the tub. Nobody is shouting or fighting.....blissful harmony resonates throughout......sigh!!

The excitement of the festive period is beginning to build now, it's hard to avoid it as adverts pop up all over the place and shops decorate their windows, not to mention the t.v ads.
We've all loved driving through Woodstock recently and watched as the number of lights around has slowly increased over recent weeks. We're all rather annoyed though by the large trees outside the gates of Blenheim. Beautiful as they are, but whoever put the lights on has left a large unlit hole in one. Of course it doesn't matter unless you have an eye for these things and then it bugs you like crazy!
The town hosted 'A night of a thousand candles' Saturday night which I am guessing was the official turning on of the lights. A great many of the trees have white lights adorning them now, very pretty and magical. Woodstock does seem to get things just right on the festive front. Not too much tack but just the right amount to create a sense of loveliness.

We've started preparing our festive gifts for friends. A couple of years ago we tried making beeswax candles. I purchased a box of divine smelling beeswax blocks from an Ebay seller and we melted them in an old tin can in a pan of boiling water on the stove. We purchased wick too and dipped it in the melted wax in our attempt to make the intended beautiful lean candles. It didn't work!! Unfortunately, what we ended up with rather resembled clumps of knobbly ear wax hanging on strings. Hmmmm, not so nice!!!
So this year we thought we'd have a go at making beeswax tea lights. A few years back a dear friend of mine sent us some that her family had made in the US, I loved them so much that I have thought about making some ever since.
I purchased a whole load of aluminium tea light holders and mini wicks (again from Ebay) and proceeded to melt the wax as before in the tin can. We filled each little pot with a mixture of dried orange peel (which we left in the airing cupboard for a few days), some crushed cloves and a few drops of cinnamon oil. You have to work pretty fast with hot wax as it sets like you wouldn't believe. They didn't all work out as intended (some of the wicks fell into the wax) but on the whole I think I have about 50% of the total number made to give away, leaving quite a few rejects to enrich our own home. Sometimes the best plans your favour :-)

 We did have water in the pan whilst heating the wax. The downside of all this messy business is cleaning the pans and utensils once the job is done. I had to rehear all the pans this morning in an attempt to melt the wax off the sides. A definite downside!!

I do love beeswax candles, hopefully I shall have as much pleasure watching them burn as I have making them :-)

Yesterday the children had a workshop on Trench art Compton Verney, another wonderful 18th Century British stately home. There are so many great benefits to home educating your children, I got to spend the best part of the day looking at wonderfully inspiring work in this delightful art gallery. We also spent a great deal of time exploring the exhibition on Folk art current at present, right up my street that was. Compton Verney isn't a million miles from where I live and it seems, hosts a variety of events throughout the year. They're closing up soon for the Winter months (not surprising, the heating bill must be astronomical!) but it will definitely be a place on my radar of 'things to do' come the Spring.

It's still got a loooonnnnngggg way to go but :-) :-) :-)..........

Have a peaceful Wednesday :-) XXX

Friday, 28 November 2014

Black 'muddy' Friday

I hope that you like my new jolly cheerful cover photo? I thought it cheered up my blog on this rather dreary 'Black Friday'.
Did you get caught up in the shopping urge or were you able to resist the strong temptation to spend for the sake of it?
I have to say that despite my desire to remain free from the pressures to shop and spend unnecessarily, the temptation was somehow still there. Every time I looked at the T.V or turned on my computer, the ads burst out of the screen at me......'If you don't spend today.....ooooohhhh your shopping will cost more....SPEND SPEND SPEND' Well, NO! I wasn't having any of it. So what!! I will not be pressured into buying for the sake of it...I shall wait and buy any Christmas gifts that aren't home made, when I am good and ready. Hhhhuuummmmppppphhh!!!

I didn't really have any plans for today other than chilling (quite literally) and snuggling at home. We've had  a busy week doing this that and the other and quite frankly sometimes one just needs to rest! I did feel a little guilty when my dear sister called late morning and I had to admit to my moment of mere existence sipping hot tea whilst rippling way, quite content, with my ripple blanket. It's coming along quite nicely although the worry of how to fold the thing now that I have committed to it being full on 'wonky', is starting to play on my mind. A lesson to be learnt from, my fellow inspired ripplers...undo at the first sign of non conformity!
It is lovely to have moments where you can just do that. So relaxing and good for the soul.

The children seem to be inside most of the time now that the weather has changed. Occasionally they'll bob out for a moment or two to whizz around the green on their bikes but mostly they are content busying themselves within the home. Quite a contrast from that of the Summer months where the door of the house is constantly open and children just seem to flow through en route from the front garden to the back. Now the door remains closed as much as possible, the poor dog has even been shut in it on several occasions as we try to keep the heat in.
Much time is spent in our house crafting. Miss P especially likes making and creating wonderful things. The Little ones aren't so keen on crafting although they do like to create in their own way. We're currently still very much in the throws of the 'den' stage, you know that terribly annoying phase of life that all children go through at some point where by they remove every cushion from every chair and sofa, along with the entire blanket stash along side the small portable furniture....anything from dining chairs, small tables, stools, even lamps! They all end up as part of the construction of what can only be described as 'a mass shamble' that generally takes over an entire room making it near on impossible to move through or around it.
Can anyone else relate to this?

Mostly they hijack the sitting room but just occasionally they relocate into the kitchen area....that causes the most havoc. Those moments when you have to bottom shuffle along the worktops to retrieve things from the opposite side of the kitchen to which you have almost become confined. Oh the joys!!! Then is the arduous task of trying to encourage the little beavers to tidy away....hmmmm, still working on perfecting that!!

We may well have stayed at home all day today had some lovely friends not suggested that we potter off for a little stroll and make the most of the tiny window of clear weather. We've recently started a Scouting Explorers group to enable our teenagers to complete their Duke of Edinburgh awards. As they need to be able to effectively read and follow a map and work out compass bearings, a stroll in the country seemed the perfect excuse to check out our own skills. Of course, on the theme of 'Black Friday' a certain member of MY family unit decided to create his own 'Black Friday'...well brown,....unfortunately for the poor dog she also got caught up in the excitement. It's really quite amazing how a huge jump in a muddy puddle causes an instant surge from the base of all the thick sludge which in turn rotates within the water and seems to quite literally erupt from the depths of its core and cover everyone within a five metre radius...funny that!!
I'm always amazed at how children seem to naturally gravitate towards anything remotely messy. I used to bubble inside with anxiety as they moved towards such delights but now, many years into my parenting journey, I have learnt to just go with the flow and let things wash over me (sometimes in a literal sense). If we go out and end up with a child soaking wet or covered from head to foot in mud or be it. Thank goodness for washing machines is all I can say :-)

Anyone else like these little babies?

They look a lot like Pink Fir Apple potatoes....
If you haven't come across them before these little knobbly treasures are in fact Jerusalem artichokes. They are really easy to grown and produce a prolific crop. We bought these tasty specimens from the wonderful weekly farmers market in Stroud in Gloucestershire. It's a fab little event that meanders all the way up the quaint little high street. What's great about this market is firstly the vast array of superb stalls (all manned by the growers and producers themselves) and secondly the fact that there is no exclusive feel to the place. The produce is realistically priced and affordable and the sellers are enthusiastic and keen to talk to you. It gives you a real sense of connection.
Anyway back to the our house we love the little darlings. They can be chopped and popped into salads, I guess they could be fried up in a stir fry or boiled into a stew, but in our home they are most commonly destined for the pot to make soup. 'Windy bottom soup'.

I cannot imagine what the seller thought when the children shared their intentions with her, although I could see that she knew where we were coming from. They do come with a health warning as they cause flatulence of the worst kind. BE WARNED!!
On that note....have a lovely weekend :-)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Life is for living

Today is the third anniversary of the sudden departure from earth side of my wonderful husband/best friend/father of my children and my true soul mate.  

Three years living as a family of four.

Three years as the sole provider and single responsible parent of my three children.

Three years of rebuilding our lives yet at the same time trying to live as 'normally' as possible.

Three years of waking and realising that my worst nightmares are in fact reality.

Three years of trying to piece together the pieces of the puzzle that will never be complete.

But life does move on......the pain is there but is less intense....... you never forget!

Loved ones past remain in your memories forever, they continue to influence the way you live your life, they grow in the children whom they bore. 

Love remains in every living cell of your body. Old memories give you the strength to move on and make new memories.

I do not dwell on the past but use it as a series of lessons for the future. 

Life is for living......

Live it well XXX

These arrived and surprised me today....I actually thought I had a secret admirer :-).....they were from my lovely friend Sarah who has helped me walk my path. Aren't they beautiful X

Friday, 21 November 2014

Winter warmers

What a strange week I've had. I started the week with a dreaded cold. I was long overdue my share of the horrid nose clogging virus having gone virtually the whole year without so much as a sniffle and wham did it hit me hard. I'm not good when I become ill. Mainly because I simply don't have time to be unwell. Sometimes I think nature has other ideas, perhaps it's a way of making you stop and pause for  a moments breath.
I was most annoyed this week as having not danced for seven weeks I was planning on attending my weekly fun filled dance class with Jive + for a 'dips and drops' workshop, I had my parents lined up to child sit and everything! First thing Monday I woke with a stuffed up nose which resulted in no taste or smell. I guess Monday was peak day. I had hoped that with a little of my daily activity I'd recover by the evening, but no....not to be. Jive is a partner dance so you do have to consider your fellow partners when deciding whether to go or not to go along and a red snotty nose isn't the most attractive look!
Some how making the decision not to go lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. I could stay home, light the fire and do a little more of my ripple blanket.
It's horrid being ill at the best of times but when you're a singleton it somehow seems worse. It's times like this when I really miss having someone around to care for me and well just take the reins and let me rest. I don't really get much breathing space at all especially with the children at home full time (my choice I know). Luckily Miss P stayed with a friend Monday night and the little lady had a play date and was to be dropped home so it was just the Small Boy and I to worry about. We built the fire together and sat making paper aeroplanes for good part of the afternoon. It's a joy when you just have one to give your attention to.
When all were safely in and after an hour or so of 'rippling' I turned in for an early night.......

Woke up feeling MUCH better....the morning sunshine was beaming in through the window and I was recharged with a new sense of positivity. Being single is fine when you're well :-)
Enthusiastically woke the house and rushed the Little People out for a country walk with friends.
We went along to Swinbrook near Burford for a walk through the fields to the little church at Widford. We first visited St Oswald's church last year. It's a rather enchanting little place and on this fine morning it provided an opportunity for a run/brisk walk with the sun's warmth beaming down on us. It's lovely to have time to meander at leisure and that we did. Little Jenny dog came along too and was most pleased to have been invited when so often we leave her at home. The children ran ahead with their friends stopping mid field to dam the little stream that ran through it.

Once in the church the children quickly became engaged in role play imagining the box pews were their houses, they spent over an hour creating their imaginary homes. I quickly refreshed my mind with the history of the place then trundled back outside to enjoy the late morning sun.....arrr just what I needed!

Once home, Small Boy and I took full advantage of the decent weather and cleared the garden of leaves, packed the garden furniture away for the Winter and built a den.......

Today my sense of taste and smell has returned to normality, what a relief! It's the Into Film festival this week and last so we dashed off to Banbury first thing to see Coroline. I was really proud of myself for arriving on time, with time to spare. I realised when we couldn't actually open the cinema door that I was in fact 24 hours late!! Time suddenly became a thing of leisure and having paid for  couple of hours of parking it was a shame not to take a stroll into town. We always feel out of place visiting towns during school hours........
This evening the need arose for some loveliness.......

Yummy vegetable stew with cheese scones, heart shaped and made with love of course :-)

The Little Lady made gingerbread people for afters, love those warm spices...

Oh and I purchased a set of battery operated fairy lights to well......

....bring a bit of enchantment to the stairwell :-)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Rippling along......

For the past few years at this time, I seem to develop an urge to create something woolly and warming. Last year my urge came towards the end of the Summer when I had that need to knit some lovely toasty wrist warmers. I read somewhere that they were to be a 'fashion essential' last Winter. It always seems strange when something I have been doing for years previously seems to hit on. Fashion!!! PPPfffttt.....
Anyway, I made myself a lovely cream pair and would you believe it, my predications for very cold Winter were totally wrong and I didn't even have the need to wear them.
This year my little woolly urge has been edging towards creating a large crocheted blanket. I have been inspired by the lovely Lucy at Attic 24. Lucy inspired me way back with her wonderful world of colour and her chirpy uplifting blog. At a time in life where everything seemed rather dull and grey, adding an element of colour to my life brought new hope and inspired happiness to bloom. It also encouraged me to get my butt into gear and learn to crochet. It's really rather simple when you get shown how (check out You Tube tutorials) and I've created many litre treasures as a result. Actually thinking back I had experimented with crochet some time back. I had a few (dare I mention??) comical disasters, including the rectangle trial piece that turned out coffin shaped and the circular place mat that would have been more suited as a 'willy tip warmer'....(well I'm being honest!!), I also attempted (rather ambitiously) a blanket back then, but gave up after  making a piece about a metre long by five centimetres wasn't wasted and became a bag handle :-)

So I've been inspired to crochet Lucy's Ripple Blanket. I popped into my beloved Mason's today and fiddled around with the different colours of yarn and after joining the queue about three times and backing out with moments of doubt, I bit the bullet and bought the fifteen balls needed to complete the project. So now I have to do it right?!! Otherwise that is another stash/hoard that I will have squirrelled....not good in relation to my intention to clear out!

So Saturday evening I looked at the fifteen balls of lovely Autumnal yarn I purchased, I even arranged them in a basket so that I could admire their beauty. Yes I know 'Bonkers!!' Well it gave me a moment or two of divine visual pleasure. A moment to dream about how amazing this new creation will be when it is finished and admired by visitors. How it will become a family heirloom that will join us on picnics and be fought over in the car......arrrrr drrrreeeeaaaaammmmm......

Sunday night, I laid out the balls and fiddled around with their order. Hmmmm there's quite a lot of pressure at this point. If you don't combine the colours in a decent and delicious order, the finished something can look awful. I made a flowery cushion a year or so ago and combined the colours in a terrible way and , well...after hours of work it remains hidden behind the sofa!
Starting these big projects is always the hardest part. The initial first rows seem to take forever they really do. So after much deliberation and hesitation over whether to actually go ahead and make a ripple blanket or another design and after many texts to a friend who I rightly guessed had also tackled the same blanket, I commenced.

I tinkered about and experimented with just a short stretch of the pattern to see whether I could actually achieve the desired design (thumbs up there :-)) ....

So all set and go.......
First night in and the first two rows and single band of colour are complete...arrrr I'm off.....just another fifty or so rows to go (at least). Might be finished by Christmas :-)

One week later........

A week has passed and I've been rippling away happily with my blanket. The thing I like about a project like this is that it actually becomes a part of your life during the period that you are working on it. At the moment it fits nicely in my bag but I'm imagining that it won't be long before it's going to require a large bag all of its little own. One thing that is becoming very apparent is that I must have made a mistake on the first couple of rows....that is a serious bummer because it's not going to be anywhere near perfect as a result and not as pleasing to the eye. I did contemplate undoing it all as any good knitter or crocheter would do and starting all over again but by the time the mistake was noted I had been rippling away for hours and is too short! This one will be a ripple blanket with a wonk! It will have character and be totally unique. Besides, no one will notice once they are snuggled up with it on the sofa :-)

I apologise in advance if you do not share my enthusiasm for this project but I'm afraid I shall be keeping you posted on my progress regardless :-)   

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Autumn snuggling

Well folks, it looks like Summer has finally come to an end and Autumn has been thrust upon us. It's freezing in my little cottage. I have even resorted to turning the heating on! Having lived in cold little holes for so many years now, you learn to tune into the seasons and the properties themselves. Each of the eight houses I have called home since leaving 'the home' have had their own little quirks. You learn how to maximise the heat and beat the draughts at the right time. Not too much heat too early for fear of freezing when it really gets cold. So thermostat set at 17 degrees and clothing layers on. I've lit the fire a few times to take the chill off. You can't beat a roaring fire on a cold dark evening, we live by the hearth in the Winter :-) Actually when my babies were little we literally did that. Much of the day would centre around 'life by the hearth'. Of course now that the small people are no longer so still or small and have developed worlds of their owns, they tend to wander off and potter about in other areas. There's still a draw though on chilly dark evenings when that fire is blazing. Blankets and snugly clothes come to view and the board games come out on the fireside rug. Mmmmmmmmmm :-)....fireside cosiness. We've even roasted a few chestnuts on our shovel already, how good to they taste!

So far November seems to have been a time of clearing out. I wouldn't normally think of Autumn as a time for squirrelling but this year although I have squirrelled a fair few walnuts for the coming year, I am intent on banishing the old and unused and clearing my space.
Since my crazy shoe buying stunt at the beginning of the year my home has seemed really rather cluttered. Initially all 900 pairs started off in one room but since then many have sold but many still remain and they seem to have spread themselves into all the little nooks and crannies of the house in a desperate ploy to make better use of the space. I have been sorting out my little dining room which has become known as 'the shoe room/common dumping ground' for the past ten months. Now that sewing seems to have evolved into my source of income I figured it would be a sensible idea to base all of my sewing related things into one area and perhaps use it as a workroom too. Of course good intentions are all good and well but putting plans into action is another matter. Let's say it's 'a work in progress!' Watch this space.....

I've also been clearing the field at the back of our house with the intention of creating some sort of 'paradise garden'....well perhaps just a usable space!!
We have a good sized piece of land behind the four cottages in our row that would have been the communal vegetable garden once upon a time. It's been practically abandoned in recent years apart from some mowed paths being created by my lovely neighbours. Not surprising really due to the busy lifestyles that folk have created and the readily available produce available to buy from the supermarket these days. I adopted a couple of tiny patches this year and created a mini vegetable patch, not a 'patch' on those from my previous life but enough to give us a sense of care and nurture and a couple of mouthfuls of veg too :-) year......wait for new year.........Of course I say that, but it's tough to be motivated when you're going it alone. Ease does tend to take precedence unfortunately.
Enough of sounding neighbour and I made a start last week and removed a good twenty sucker trees to clear some space and allow existing trees some space to bloom. It's amazing what you can achieve in an afternoons work when you put your mine to it. The space looks totally different. The following day another kind friend offered her help and between us we removed all the small branches from the suckers and cleared the mess and are now left with a number of very usable stakes. They will come in useful when I get around to creating a hazel screen to hide my unsightly oil tank. I do love hard work :-)

It occurred to me last Saturday night that fireworks have a 'clearing out' effect too. They whizz off into space, explode with a bang and leave a silence in the air...well momentarily anyway.

I wonder if anyone else is sensing the need to clear out?

Ed note: Sorry for the recent lack of photos, can't seem to sync my camera and upload....grrr any help appreciated :-)

Friday, 10 October 2014

A chance in a lifetime

I'm sure if you look back in life that there was a time or opportunity that arose that genuinely shaped your life and from which further opportunities stem.
In my life this is certainly the case.......

Way back when I was in year 7 (or the first year as it was known back then), an advert on the school bulletin looking for first years interested in helping out at a recreational gymnastics class was that break that unbeknown to me back then, was to shape my future and give me numerous opportunities along the way.
I didn't have a lot going for me back then. I think I was below average intelligence, not particularly good at anything...I didn't stand out (apart from the fact that I wasn't dressed in trendy clothes and didn't possess the latest 'must haves'). I seem to recall about six individuals coming forwards to help. I am so grateful for that opportunity. What was initially just a 'helping hand' kind of arrangement for an hour a week ended up being rather a full time commitment in many respects. 
I went along to the sessions and was taught how to recognise, support and correct some of the very basic skills and then was given the role of a helper in the recreation sessions along side someone with more experience than myself.
Initially my involvement stemmed from a personal interest in gymnastics. I did attend the school gym club and always had a 'wanna be' a gymnast attitude, helping out with the recreational group enabled me to be 'in' the gym longer. 
It wasn't long before myself and some of the other volunteers were asked to help out with the squad girls. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. It was every girls dream to be surrounded by talented children who I was ever so slightly envious of. Helping with the squads enabled me even more time in the gym which included breaks where we were able to play on the equipment. Observing others learning skills and being made aware of the teaching points related to each skill translated into my having a better awareness of the skills which I was thus able to put into practise on my self.
One of the girls -who was also a neighbour and friend of mine, was also keen to progress on a personal level and together we mastered many quite complex skills. The children we were helping were at that time taking grading exams and obviously as a result of teaching them we also became quite knowledgeable of the routines and it wasn't long before the pair of us were also following suit. This was where our luck began to take a leap forwards......
The teacher and head coach was impressed by our dedication and allowed my friend the opportunity to train and take the examination too....well I couldn't have that! So I worked like mad trying to perfect my own skills. What luck! I was also considered and given the opportunity to take the exam.... we both passed!

So that's how it started, from one level to the next and the next.......

Along side the gradings we were also progressing in our coaching this stage (for me certainly) the coaching side was still about being in a gymnastic environment. As we were seen as working quite well alongside the squad gymnasts, we were offered the opportunity to attend a certified coaching course which would lead to a recognised coaching qualification. About four of the initial helpers went along, we attended the course and then successfully obtained the qualifications.
Without my realising it, I had gone from a child who really had no known prospects to a recognised qualification and a vastly extending personal love and knowledge of gymnastics.

The story continues......

After passing the coaching exam and three 'National Development Plan' awards, both my friend and I were given the opportunity to be part of the squads. Well to both of us that was really like a 'dream come true'. I have to confess I loved it! Those of you who knew me back then will remember well that I talked, breathed, ate and slept gymnastics, it was my life. 
I worked really hard, really really hard. At my peak I trained 13.5 hours a week and coached in addition to that. 6 days a week in the gym...there was little time for anything else!

It was tough for us in the world of general competition as although we had mastered a great many skills, we had started our sporting careers late in life and as competitions tend to run in age groups we were always at a disadvantage against those who had been involved in the sport from early childhood.

In 2008 the British Gymnastics Association launched a new set of levelled gymnastics competitions which were specifically aimed at beginners and those who had joined the sport later in life. We were told about the competitions and it was suggested that we should work towards taking part. My initial reaction was that we were being 'dropped', the requirements were pretty simple. We did take part and created routines which followed the guidelines. 
As a new level of competition, there weren't that many people that entered that first year (certainly not in our age group anyway). I was lucky enough to qualify at County level for the National final. I wasn't even sure what that meant at that time.
What it meant was that I had to undertake rigorous training in the gym and at county training sessions and then I had to represent Oxfordshire at a big competition in Leicestershire. It was all rather scary and unknown, as a club we hadn't been in any national competitions prior to that time. My coach told me that I should just enjoy the event and do my best. She did stipulate one beat the scores of a said girl on a rival team!
Well, I did manage to beat the score overall of the said rival AND I managed to win the competition!! The first national gymnast in Oxfordshire and the first for the Southern Region for many years. I was an overnight star :-) :-) :-)
It was an amazing experience and one I'll never forget.
The following year we took part again, this time at the next level. I wasn't so lucky although did make it to the national final as the team reserve.

Alongside the excitement, I continued with my coaching career. In 1991 I was was given the opportunity to do the Club Coach course which if I passed the exam would enable me to run my own gymnastics club......the following year my gymnastics experience landed me a job as a gymnastics coach and councillor on an American Summer camp. The Summer of '92 was a fantastic and memorable one and a fabulous thing to have done. I grew on so many levels that Summer.

Upon returning to the UK, once again I was given the chance to go on yet another coaching course this time at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre. It was a four night residential course working with some of Britain's top gymnasts at that time, including the up and coming Beth Tweddle.

My work and commitment with children in the gym secured me my first nursery job in 1994 and from that I was able to train as a Montessori teacher. I was also lucky enough to be able to work at a council run sports centre running my own recreational programme for a year or so.

I retired from gymnastics myself when I was eighteen, not because I wanted to but more because many of my team mates who were younger than me were retiring at that time, plus I had college commitments which really needed my attention. I continued to coach for many years but work commitments meant I had to retire from that to about six years later....that was until four weeks ago!!!

Finally three children later, rather nervously, I returned to my old gym club which no longer runs a competitive squad but has returned to it's roots as a recreational gymnastics club. The Little Lady along with a friend decided that they might like to try the sport. It was strange being back in the building in which I spent so much of my later childhood, strange being in a place where so many of my dreams were turned into reality. 
My coach (as I have come to realise - big sister figure) still looks the same and still provides a service to the community at an 'affordable to all' rate. How much I owe to this woman for giving me that initial opportunity.
I sat on the first week of the term quietly in a side storage area, another parent there with her daughters for the first time. From the outside she didn't know of my history or connection to this place, we smiled knowingly at the productive and warm environment that had been created for our daughter's. 
It is hard to sit back and watch in this sort of environment, the urge is there to help and correct, to make the skills look better. I found myself itching to speak up, desperate to help but kept quiet and didn't say a word. By the Little Lady's third week I was asked if I would like to help...week four I was there in my kit!
It's like riding a bicycle, you never forget. The only difference now is I no longer need to be in the environment for myself. No longer is it about me, now is the time to give back, to replenish where I have reaped. My friend was there too. Unknowingly we both signed our children up at the same time having had no meaningful contact for over twenty years. 
I have no idea where this journey will lead me, but what I do know is that way back (30 years ago) someone gave me a chance and I took it and flew........

Friday, 5 September 2014

Summer in pictures

Gifford's Circus
One of the highlights of our Summer. Gifford's is a family owned circus that tours the Cotswolds. They have the most amazingly beautiful costumes, superb to- tapping music, incredibly talented circus stars and intriguing story lines. Every year the show just gets better!

Our home educator's Summer festival. A place to meet new friends and old, to push the boundaries on health and safety, to hang out and just be and a place that inspires.

Our self-directed walking tour of Oxford.

Clambering around at Conway falls in Snowdonia, a beautiful place to explore the elements of nature.

Cold and wet upon reaching Snowdon's summit.

Family rambles at their best. A two hour walk that turned into five and a half hours!


Days spent playing.....

Climbing trees.....

Eating scrumptious home-cooked food.....

Just living life to the full :-)

Monday, 21 July 2014

Time for a break

July already and high time I feel for a little wyld adventure. It's been a while since we last took a family holiday, just the four of us 'Team Sale'. So I thought we'd take a few days away.
I had visions of us racking up with the minimum amount of 'stuff' to a field of sorts in the middle of nowhere. My visions were of the children running free, climbing trees, catching fish in a stream - hours of endless free time for me to just sit and ponder, read, wonder, write and perhaps crochet something beautiful........arrrrrr sheer bliss!

After much debating as to where to go, we narrowed our choices down to two. Studland, Dorset and The New Forest. I'm still trying to move away from the familiar and as Studland on the Isle of Purbeck was yet to be discovered, it won the toss.
Books packed, crochet yarns, two note books (just in case), even contemplate taking the stripy deckchair but decide otherwise.
Packing was to be essential items only (the Little Lady still managed to smuggle in that duvet that I banned from our last overnight trip a month ago)! We packed the most basic old tent that my dad lent us. I do have a beautiful canvas bell tent but for short adventures we tend to 'rough it' and as the canvas number takes up the entire boot of the car it is not for adventures of the very short kind!
I did have a perfectly good and roomy weekend tent for such occasions but as it has seen rather a lot of use and due to being left up in the garden some years back for weeks on end, it became rather rotten and whilst shaking off excess water on it's last use, I managed to rip the whole front side out!! Big sigh.......

So the old ridge tent it was. It had to be the oldest tent on the site by far and was riddled with tiny holes. I stupidly didn't test the thing for size before going and it was debatable as to whether we would all in fact fit it. Hmmm could be interesting!
Well it looked perfect for our 'Famous five style' adventure and isn't a bit of accommodation all part of the fun?

Corfe Castle

The children aren't always spontaneous in their willingness to help and I frequently find myself doing all the grafting. Mostly it doesn't bother me but just occasionally - as in, when the poles separate for the umteenth time and you realise that you forgot the sticky tape (which would have made the job a whole lot easier) and when the blackest of storm clouds blow ever closer, it doesn't always seem that I get a fair deal.
So just as the tent is pitched the heavens open and the biggest down pour ever is experienced. Good for testing the water tightness of the tent.......girls in tent, dog and I in the car and The Boy completely oblivious to the pouring rain, swinging in the trees on a rope swing getting totally drenched!
Tent luckily seems to be water resistant despite the holes, but new roof bag containing bedding and sleep mats has failed on maiden voyage and all of my bedding is soaking......Great! Sleeping bag with large wet patch right in the centre has to be hung out for all to see giving the appearance  of a 'wet bed'!
All is dry for bedtime and the challenge of squeezing four into what looks like a 3 man tent. Luckily The Boy manages to fold his sleeping mat and squash himself into the luggage area, perfect!

When camping in style one takes all the luxury items necessary to assist in the 'feel' of the well equipped kitchen area, but when roughing it, once again only the bare essentials make it into the car.

The kitchen!

The one of the main reasons for our little adventure was as a treat to celebrate The Boy turning 7. Time passes oh so quickly, seems like only yesterday that Tim and I were shocked to see that our new born bundle was in fact not a third girl!
So the adventures for the day were for his choosing. He really is very simple to please and requested only for a trip to the beach for chips and ice-cream. As we were driving back to base the day prior to his big day, I observed a beautiful stretch of sandy beach. Cars were parked all along the road particularly in one area so I figured that must indicate the most popular place, hopefully the nicest and most spectacular too. We pulled up early on the day and sure enough once again although relatively early in the day, there were all the cars once again. We/I loaded up with picnic, rug, dog, buckets...all the usual stuff that such excursions demand, and we trundled off through the bracken and gorse in search of our haven. 20 minutes later and shattered from the sandy walk we encounter a sign warning us of 'naturists' in 200m.....Hmmmm could be interesting??!! Ordinarily I might have turned round and gone somewhere else, but having made the tiresome journey in the blazing heat, I found myself reassuring the smalls that we are all naturists under our clothes, so onwards we went.
It wasn't long of course before the children were sniggering and prodding each other and yes...counting the naked bodies. It was quite amusing to see folk hiding in the dunes and popping up every so often and then bobbing back down again.

Someone else played hide and seek in the dunes too!

We played in the sand for a while before heading off up the coast (chuckling at my mistake) for those chips and ice-cream
Taking the dog on a beach holiday wasn't one of our best ideas. It's lovely for her to be away with us but most beaches don't allow dogs at this time of the year, so we frequently had to observe from a distance. The Boy was of course totally in his element searching out shells and dead crabs and chatting to all the fishermen and women.
So all in all a successful couple of days :-)

Crabbing in Lymington

Did I get those hoped for moments of freedom?? Just a few :-)

Monday, 7 July 2014

Boy stuff!

It can't be easy for Small Boy growing up in a house full of girls, even the pets are all female!
It isn't surprising that he frequently 'kicks off' in some way in an attempt to define himself and stake his position and manliness.
As a widow it's not easy being the mother and father too. Although I try to think of 'boyish' activities, I ultimately function in 'girl land'. It would be easy (and tempting) you would imagine for the boy to just hang up his hat and join in with our 'girly' capers, but no....and all praise to him. He continues to function as as he intends which is frequently often much to our disgust!
Although all three of us girlie's often feel rather grossed out by the actions of the boy, we realise and accept that he is wired slightly differently to us and generally that's okay
I thought I'd share a few of his recent antics with to those of you who parent or who have previously parented boys, these antics may not come at all as a surprise, if prepared to be shocked, disgusted and grossed out ...sorry!

So, the boy is showing creative engineering potential. This has taken the form of numerous trips to the skip to obtain much needed resources for his creative trailer projects which are continuously constructed, tested, dismantled, reconstructed, re-tested and so it goes on.....I''ve tried in vain to return to the skip the old mixer taps, lengths of chicken wire, washing machine hoses and unidentified metal objects, but at the end of the day they are all back in the garden gracing the lawn once more in some new form of contraption.

A couple of weeks ago I left the boy with a good friend who like me parents in a very relaxed way. The boy greeted me on my return with a very excited smile as he had been down to the local stream and had collected a dead crayfish. This was the beginning of his recent fascination with dead things!
The crayfish was one of our native ones which are becoming increasingly rare in our British waters since the American Signals were introduced. We've spent much time in the past observing them and even catching them. You can eat them if you so desire....not my cup of tea but still, the boy likes the idea.
The crayfish in question looked pretty safe to me being dead and in a glass jar filled with water. I was sure there was no harm to his possessing it for a short while. How wrong! It wasn't long before the water was cloudy from all the shaking it was exposed to and the opening and closing of the jar wafted the gentle 'fishy' aroma around. The girls were not in the slightest bit amused when they were chased with it and I certainly wasn't impressed when the cloudy, crayfish ridden water was spilled in the car!

The weekend before last saw the arrival of two dead bunnies (one headless). Yes we thought it rather sad too. One doesn't like to think of the family pooch having pursued the poor things but it's certainly a possibility. Two dead bunnies held up in the doorway....hmmmm we all went from 'arrrr poor things' mode to rapidly ushering the boy off to areas new. It would have been nice to have thought that he might have taken the bunnies off to give them some kind of decent burial and he did make a grave of sorts. An open grave in an old tyre covered with the barbecue grill and a small flower pot. Of course I questioned his motives and he said he wanted to watch the darlings decompose. Not opposed to the learning experience I didn't disagree, but the next day when I ventured out for a spot of garden loveliness I almost vomited at the sight of the dog munching happily on the head of the previously intact creature - not a pleasant sight to see she had avoided the eyeballs!
With my face held to one side and plastic bags on each hand, I snaffled the (now fragrant) carcasses and disposed of them in the wheelie bin!
Within hours one very angry Small Boy had exhumed the bunnies remains from the bin and relocated them to the tyre......hmmmmm!
The next day, having failed to recall the previous days events due to frequency of such moments, I invite a friend to dine in the beautiful outdoors with me. Of course the garden is filled with the aroma of rotting flesh (not good for the appetite) - maggot ridden remains flew to undisclosed location - garden now free of essence of death - for the moment!

Friday, Small Boy returned home from a gentle stroll around the lake with a friend with a new surprise - a pike. It was a momentous sight to see him standing by the gate with the foot long specimen dangling from the stick on which it was impaled. Mmmmm the scent of fish is not one of my favourite smells. Holding my breath and with my hand covering my nose and mouth, I managed to admire the catch whilst holding back the gag reflex. The Boy had removed his socks and shoes and become quite muddy in his venture to rescue the already dead exhibit. Clothes are for playing in and if a little dirt is involved - all the better!

Anyway, as you can imagine, after discussing the reasons why he couldn't eat the pike for tea, he wanted a bucket for it. The neighbours were called from their homes to admire the splendid creature and it wasn't long before kitchen knives were requested and the gutting commenced. I was informed the last supper had been something green!
Of course the fish hung around for two days before disappearing to the base of the wheelie bin (hidden in a tied bag).

This weekend events have been rather tame in comparison to the dead antics of last week. Last night I busied myself with work of the stitching nature quite oblivious to what was occurring in my surrounding domain. It wasn't until I made the journey to bed that I discovered the ingenious web woven throughout the house. One Small Boy had rather cleverly rigged up a whole system of string to several of the doors to enable him to close them from a distance. rather clever I thought, so you see not all antics are of a disgusting nature, this one had me smiling as I drifted off to the land of nod.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Tales of a car journey

You'd think that as the children become older and supposedly more sensible and mature that the humble car journey would or should become easier, possibly even a pleasurable experience....I am at this moment in time chuckling at myself at how that is soooo NOT the case. Whether it is the fact that I have such a varied age range among my little darlings with the rather annoying six year old at one end and the slightly moody teenager at the other, I am not sure but it edges on the side of ridiculous, far beyond comprehension so I thought I'd share, surely I'm not I??

We have plans to go on supposedly lovely trip to Welsh borders for party with male friend so suggest (requesting politely at this stage) that children pack only essential items as with five in the car plus camping stuff, room will indeed be at a premium.
Two children pack sensibly for trip one decides that she has more rights than rest and packs very large bag for self with so say 'essential' items. Hmmm bet you can guess where this is going!
Bag is opened and 'essential' items are checked and passed as all other family members have followed instructions so there is space (just).
30 minute warning is given as to time of departure and need for children to get dressed and consume an adequate breakfast to beat hunger pangs for next two hours.
5 minute warning is given, one child is still cooking toast whilst another is in pyjamas.....
I make what seems like endless journey's to the car hauling stuff from the house. Amazingly there is just enough room for small number of belongings from friend who is to travel with us.
ETD is upon is and abuse in the form of 'I ate you' echos from the upper floor.....
Five minutes later all children are in the car (as is hound) and we are ready for off......
The Little Lady has smuggled her double duvet into the car in the foot well....hmmmm! Decide to make a point of insisting duvet is returned to house so that said child realises that BOUNDARIES AND RULES ARE NOT FOR confronted with a stand off in the form of said child sitting in the car and refusing to budge. Decide to call off trip until duvet is returned to house....still waiting!
Two (now seemly well behaved children) return to house whilst said child remains in car....with duvet.
Ten minutes later (now late to pick up friend) and said child stomps into house with duvet which she dumps in hall.
Take two...we're off.
I glance into the rear of the car and it seems Miss P has created a cordoned off area for Small Boy (blocking off his area of the car with a blanket suspended between the front seat and rear of the car) because he has a cold. It is not long before red partition is pulled down by Boy who proceeds to sneeze over Miss P.....1st war begins!
Within no time at all the whines of 'Muuuuum....' are ringing in my ears. A large thump is returned from Small boy to complaining teenager who retaliates.....Am glad to have very blocked ear at this point as shrieks and complaints are directed my way!
Distract children with lovely Katie Mellula CD which has soothing effect and momentarily calms situation.. Miss P complains that we have over played CD so radio is engaged instead.
It's not long before the sounds of 'How long until we're there' can be heard......Random time comes from mouth.
Next are the long drawn out bubbling sounds as Small Boy inhales copious amounts of snot back into nasal passage. Everyone is grossed out and gagging at sound. Suggest using tissue to blow out contents but instead am informed by teenager that Boy is covering single nostril and alternating blowing and snorting snot in and out of nostril. 2nd war begins as teenager covers Boy with partitioning blanket to muffle the sounds. Further bashing and tears.......

Friend comes to the rescue with 'Boiled sweet therapy'.

Location of party is questioned and friend sets phone SAT NAV to help us out. Modern technology is not working according to plan. Chaos breaks out as minor discrepancies are heard from the back and I'm distracted but lack of direction from friend and technology. Decide to pull over.
Look at old fashioned fail safe map and familiar self with route, friend takes much needed pee and I offer children packed lunch. Arguments from the Little Lady as to the size of her share of baguette. 'You've given him the bit that I wanted.....' Offer water.....'Mine's the pink cup......mine's the blue...I want purple' Blue cup is given to the child who requested purple....'I wanted purple'....'Yes friend has that one so you have blue'...'Well I'm not drinking it as F has  a cold and it's touched his cup, I don't want a cold'.....arrrrhhhh 'Go without'.....

Show good example by finishing Boys drink not worrying about prospect of cold!

We reach village of destination. But cannot find house, do not have exact address and no phone signal....Small Boy removes his seat belt. I ask him to put it back on...Boy refuses....we stop car and wait until seat belt is goes on......
Eventually reach destination.......

Monday, 16 June 2014

A creative moment Jean/skirt style

I've been taking in clothing and curtains for altering for some months now. Amaaaaaaazing how a moment of desperation set the ball rolling and how I quite hap hazardly fell into a little business venture that now supports my family and lifestyle.
It's a funny kind of business, interesting and full of variety in many ways and at the same time a vent for my creative energies. I've met some amazing people along the way so far and each piece of work seems to carry a tale or curiosity that never fails to capture and enchant my thoughts for a moment or two.
I've also learnt quite a lot. My sewing tuition was on a very basic level, at an early age, from my grandma, so I mainly consider myself a 'self taught' sewer and some how seem to possess a skill for being able to make things work. I have a vision of the end result and love making it happen.
When I first started out on this venture I had actually done very little with regards to altering clothing (although had much experience for creating things) and my first few jobs were really experiments in more ways than one. I struggled with charging initially and often completed jobs and charged just a fraction of the cost that I should have charged. I decided that if I thought of this initial period as 'in-house training', a sort of self-guided apprenticeship then that made me feel a whole lot better about doing jobs for a song. Along my journey there have been many challenges - all good of course. I cannot let a challenge slip me by!
The latest challenge was when a lovely lady arrived on my doorstep asking me to change a pair of jeans into a skirt. 'Yes, of course I can do that' is my usual reply and then I worry about how I'm going to complete the job later. This one was no exception. I gave it quite a bit of thought but decided that the job really couldn't be that difficult.....could it?
So I thought I'd share my little adventure with you. Please feel free to be inspired and replicate....inspiration is good! Make it your own if you can.....

Step one:
Find a pair of jeans that fit, you don't want to be adjusting the waist band as well as totally transforming the garment!
Put your jeans on and decide the length you want the finished skirt. Pop a pin or two at the finished length on one leg.

Step two:
You'll need a stitch ripper for this bit......undo the inner leg seams on both legs up to and including the curved bit of the crotch either side.

Step three:
This is the point of NO return.....cut off the legs straight across about 2 inches below the length pin that you marked in step one.
Can you see things taking shape here?

Step four:
Undo the leg pieces. Position part of one piece into the 'V' gap at the from of the skirt and pin it in place. Do the same for the back with another piece (you might have to bring the skirt in slightly here depending on how flared you want your finished skirt and how wide your off-cut leg pieces are. If they don't fit or if you've somehow messed them up you could add another piece of fabric here).

Step five:
Carefully sew the front panel in place. I've sewn mine using tram lines which are common on jeans, I've also used orange cotton to match up with the other seams.
Repeat for the back panel.
Then turn the skirt inside out and trim away the excess fabric leaving about 1cm for fraying.


Step six:
Lay out the skirt and measure down to the length pin. Pin along the same distance from the top along the skirt hem.

 Step seven:
Cut off the base of the skirt an inch below the length markers (this excess is for the turn up).

Step eight:
Turn up the skirt to the length line and iron the hem. Turn the hem back on itself to conceal the raw edge. Pin in place.

Step nine:
Sew up hemline.

I neatened up the raw edges on the inside with my over locker machine but you could easily do the same with a zig zag stitch or simply leave the edges to fray.

Ta dah!!!! All finished :-)

Ed note: Of course mine went swimming well until I reached the hemming stage......I thought I'd neaten up the raw edges of the underside with my rather super cool over locker sewing machine which makes things look really professional :-) and somehow I managed to pinch the wrong bit of fabric and it sewed that too and ALSO cut off a bit of the fabric which it does......arrrrrhhhhh a walnut sized hole right in the butt area. Bugger! Damn! Poops!!!
 'I'm going to have to replace the jeans.....
 not charge for other work......
 my good reputation will be ruined.....'
I spent three days deciding whether or not to fess up or to try and fix the issue. I'm glad to say that all was resolved by removing a section of fabric and inserting another piece. Breathe out, mahooosive sigh of relief. The lady loved it :-)

The story continues.......

The following day I had a call from a friend of said client who was shopping with her friend in the same charity store and purchased the same guessed it...could I do the same to her jeans???