Thursday, 24 December 2015

Advent fun

24 days into advent and jee whizz what fun we're been having! Well actually, it's more MY fun, although of course the children have enjoy the period too. You see the problem is this....over the past decade or so (I guess since having children really) I have realised/woken up to the huge amount of commercialism that occurs over this festive period. The vast amount of unnecessary spending, waste, anxiety, boldness and pure selfishness that occurs at this time of the year. Some think I have a 'Barhumbug attitude' but that simply isn't it, I simply can see what is happening and am conscious of it and just don't want to be part of it. That doesn't mean that I don't like Christmas, in fact it is quite the opposite, I see Christmas as the perfect opportunity to make a difference to the world.....why do others not see that?
So back to this advent business......

What is advent? It's the count down to Christmas. Right? Where we all buy or are given a Cadbury's advent calendar with chocolates behind every door. Right? Unfortunately this has become the association. There is enough sugar-filled rich food around at this time of the year without the need for more and what about the waste that is generated by those plastic/cardboard voids??

This year thankfully nobody bought my children a calendar. Miss P made one for the Little Lady in the form of unwanted items that she wrapped and labelled for each of the 24 days of Advent and for Small Boy she made a calendar with colouring activities and quizzes for each of the days.

Back in early November, the children hassled me for some kind of Advent marking symbol. They get my dislike for the chocolate numbers and now share/are brainwashed into thinking the same, so they set about looking for an alternative :-)
Pinterest. If you haven't yet discovered Pinterest then google it, it's amazing and perfectly suited to the likes of us creative folk.
Miss P found a whole host of suitable 'things' that could mark the days of advent that were just a little different. Of course in my busy world I didn't actually get around to looking until the first of December! Pinterest provided vast amounts of inspiration, 'cook mince pies', 'sing carols' etc. I sifted through the suggestions and then.........and then......I came across '50 random acts of kindness for kids'. Perfect! Just what I wanted. The perfect opportunity to embrace the opportunity to make a difference whist marking the days of Advent and having a little fun at the same time.
In my chaotic state, I hadn't got around to making any form of calendar or housing for my ideas, besides, I very much like to act on impulse and flow in the direction that each and every day takes us. So it was decided that our blue and white stripy teapot was to become the 'magical Christmas teapot for Advent'. Pinterest has some lovely printable templates so that you could write your own ideas on little decorated squares, fold them up and hide them away to be discovered. For those with even less time, there are even ready printed slips available.

So what ideas have I come up with so far?

Day1: Make bookmarks and send them to people without saying who they are from.
           When you do a good deed for someone you feel good in the knowledge that you've made a                                    
           difference to that persons life.

One Small Boy watched from a distance whilst engaging in a useful pastime!

Day 2: Clear up litter from the area surrounding our house and our neighbours.
           My children are human and you can imagine the reaction to that one! 'So who is that going to
           benefit?' Exactly! They armed themselves with a bin bag and rubber gloves and collected a
           whole bag of rubbish!

Day 3: Choose something nice for tea.
           What could be so difficult about this one? Nothing at all apart from possibly complimenting
            the choice of others. Amazingly everyone worked as a team and we shared lovely bread,
            olives, cheese to name just a few things.

Day 4: Sit next to someone at lunch whom you don't usually sit next to.
            It just so happened that on this particular day we were off to a Home Ed Christmas party at a
            group we are fairly new to. This task was potentially fairly daunting but a perfectly reasonable
            ask. It's brilliant stepping out of your comfort zone and each one of us (yes, even me)
            seemingly effortlessly managed it :-)

 Day 5:Take Santa out for tea and cake after work.
            Hehe! This was rather a fun task. Out village Santa hasn't been too well in the past year and
            needed two helpers to give him a hand at the annual bazaar. Miss P and the Little Lady were
            more than thrilled to be asked, especially when I suggested that I make them costumes for the
            occasion. The girls took to their roles like ducks to water and Santa himself was thrilled to be
            treated to refreshments following his busy afternoon.

Elfing around!

Day 6: Write a letter to Santa.
            We actually don't 'do' FC ( I've talked about this in previous blogs) so this was really a
            potentially silly creative writing opportunity. Nobody did it!

Day 7: Play a board game by the fire.
           There is something really warming on a deep soul level about this one. Stopping for a moment
           and actually genuinely tuning in to family life. The children love me playing with them
           especially when I'm free from distractions. Try it sometime :-)

Day 8: Buy something for the food bank.
            I myself am apparently living my daily life on the 'breadline' but I still manage to feed my
            family. For whatever reason, sometimes people find themselves in a financially desperate
            position and wonder where the next meal will come from. In Oxfordshire and many other
            counties too, local churches and charities operate a community food bank where people
            can turn in genuine times of need. The children each chose an item to donate.

Day 9: Movie night!
            We hired a film on DVD from the library but you could just as easily watch one that you
            already own or borrow one from a friend. We chose a Christmas film 'Magical Christmas'
            it was pretty old and actually not great but it was still a super activity to do together and made
            us appreciate better films!

Day 10: Give out free hugs
             Again not something that the children felt thrilled to be doing but  it just so happened
             to be the day of another Christmas party. Two out of three children reported back that they
             had hugged many friends!
             Some people never receive a hug.........

Day 11: 'Wendy and Peter Pan' at the RSC in Stratford.
              What a treat! We were fortunate enough to buy tickets for the understudy performance
              and what an absolutely fab show it was. If you get the opportunity do go :-)

Day 12: Put up the Christmas tree...
              Have you noticed how much earlier people have started to put up their decorations?
             When I was younger my Mother in Law put her deco's up by the 5th Dec and that was
             considered REALLY early. Now folk have adorned their homes in November!
             I finally got the hint after a week of the children commenting 'Oh look! They've got their
             tree up'...hehe, it's up!

Day 13: Learn to play a Christmas carol on an instrument.
             We have several musical instruments in our house yet no one really plays them, so this task
             was a bit of fun and had the whole family for one evening as 'budding musicians' :-)

Day 14: Make a movie
              There are apps available on phones and tablets these days that make putting a movie together
              relatively simple, you just need a bit of imagination and the desire to actually make the
              movie. I left the children to work this one out for themselves and if you saw my FB share
              you may well have witnessed the finished result. Give it a go, it's fun!

Day 15: Out for dinner at ASK Italian
              This little treat tied in very nicely with a trip to see a light show at the Physics
              department at the University. We are so lucky to have such amazing facilities
              right on our doorstep. Our little trip to ASK following the show proved to be the perfect
              'opportunity to make a difference'. On our way to the restaurant, Small Boy found himself
              a stick (as you do). It didn't seem appropriate to take said stick into the restaurant so I
              suggested we propped it up against the wall in the entrance porch. Whilst we were busily
              chomping away on our tasty dinner, a tramp cycled by; belongings on his back with a snood
              over his head. He passed the window and then turned around and passed again stopping near
              to the porch. Of course, he had taken the stick! Small Boy was furious and launched into
              'Scrappy Doo' mode of 'Let me get im'. We used the opportunity to think about the man
              and his situation and the possible reason behind his taking the stick. Once we'd finished up
              we headed back towards the bus stop and there outside Sainsbury's was the homeless man
              in question. He was clearly a little merry on Christmas spirit and was singing carols! We
              needed a few provisions so popped into the supermarket and in doing so purchased some
              Matchmakers to take to a friends house the following day. Once at the till I suggested
              perhaps giving one box of the Matchmakers to the chap. Well, you can imagine the response.
              Small boy was far more interested in giving him a fist and piece of his mind and the Little
              Lady refused to acknowledge the man due to his drunken state (thus prompting further
              discussions as to the possible reasons behind his intoxication), Miss P agreed. So
              leaving the two younger children at the bus stop (with a friend who we then met), Miss P
              and I hand delivered the treats.
              We were staggered and stunned by the number of people homeless in Oxford at this time of
              year. How can it be that so many people don't feel they have a place to call 'home' or family
              and friends to turn to in their time of need? I'd love to organise a 'pop up soup kitchen' or
              'friend at the table' set up where by these people could gain some love and encouragement
              to carry on.

Day 16: Phone someone and tell them you love them
             Not difficult but only two of us did this......

Day 17: Make a hamper for someone and deliver it.
             An 85 year old neighbour benefited here; having lost his wife earlier this year this will be his
             first Christmas alone. The children enjoyed choosing and giving thought to things that may
             bring a smile to his face and may be simple to prepare. So soup and finger foods were a good
             choice. Finding a suitable box, cutting it to shape, wrapping it and filling it were all
             thoughtful activities and brought joy to myself and the children and then delivering it too.
             Unbeknown to us all, the poor chap had just come out of hospital following a three week    
             stay. He was tired but obviously touched by out actions.

Day 18: Jump in the car and go out and see the Christmas lights.
              People seem to have toned down the 'cheesy' lights this year and gone for subtle delicate
              decorations instead. There were still a few out there though who had gone to town. It's great
              to see.

Day 19: Make pomanders with oranges and cloves.
              Miss P was taken off to London to see the Nutcracker and the younger two and I had a
              photo shoot today so no pomanders were made. Perhaps we'll combine them with
              tomorrow's task!

Day 20: Make a gingerbread house :-)
              We cheated and bought a ready baked house that just needed assembling and decorating.
              It's great that the children have finally reached that stage in life where they can read and
              and carry out instructions by themselves; whilst also working as a team. We'll share the
              finished house on Boxing Day.

Day 21: Bake cookies for friends and neighbours.
              We do this every year. It doesn't cost much and feels good. Baking, wrapping and giving :-)

Day 22: Meet at a cafe for hot chocolate with friends.
              There's a new cafe in Enstone called 'The Art Cafe'. It's run by a friends husband and is
              certain to become our new 'cool' place to go!

Day 23: Read a book together.
             My eldest is now 15 but still enjoyed sitting and listening to 'Father Christmas' by Raymond
             Briggs. It's a comic strip book with few words but perfect to animate in your own way.

Day 24: Christingle service and further Christmas stories.
              It's become a tradition to attend the local carol and Christingle service on Christmas eve.
              Once we returned home and had eaten, I read once again from a little book called 'Star of    
              Wonder'. It's a gem of a book that's been on my bookcase for years and is packed with lovely
              snippets of Christmas wonder (all the best bits) taken from a host of well known classic
              tales. The children happily listened for an hour or so before making their way up the wooden
              hill to the land of slumber.

The children and I have thoroughly enjoyed thinking beyond ourselves this advent, it's been a lot of fun and I know that our actions have made a difference to peoples lives.
Of course random acts don't have to be reserved just for Christmas.........:-)

Merry Christmas to you all :-)

Friday, 11 December 2015



I've not had the desire to blog much recently. That usually means that I actually haven't had time to leave the ho hum of daily life to do so.
I've been very much reminded recently of the need to make the most of life, to be kind and thoughtful towards others, to savour time with friends and family and to really appreciate the little things. I've also been trying to remind myself to slow down a little. Life is not a race, there's no prize for reaching the pearly gates first!

Apple days seem to be really popular these days. This one was at our community orchard. Twice a year they host a shared lunch, singing, apple pressing, live music, games for the children and an opportunity to socialise.

Hanging strips of toast soaked in apple juice from the branches of an apple tree was an unusual activity!

December- How did we arrive back here so fast? It feels like Christmas but it certainly doesn't feel like December! Some of the trees on my regular little drives haven't even shed their autumn leaves yet. What is going on?
Wasn't Autumn beautiful this year! I sooo loved the colours and the way the light presented itself. I took quite a few lovely photos back in October that I haven't got around to sharing as yet. I do hope they look as beautiful on here as they do on my little phone camera!

The Little Lady and her friend.....babies!

We finally found a sweet chestnut tree!

The fungi this Autumn were stunning. We found so many different varieties.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a permaculture course in November. I have to admit that 'permaculture' kept cropping up and although I thought it was something I should know about, I had never really looked into it. Not until now that is.....As always, I was probably the only student on the course that didn't really know what I was about to learn....but that makes it all the more exciting!
For those who are not in the know, as I wasn't, permaculture can be summarised by me as the interconnectedness and working together of 'things' to produce greater effects. An easy example to understand would be a garden setting where by you would plant in sunny positions against south facing walls and make the most of your growing space by 'stacking' crops. You could also grow your own salad near to your kitchen in a sunny spot and encourage insects into your garden to pollinate and aid production. A wormery or compost converter could make use of kitchen/garden scraps which when well rotted could then be added to the beds to improve soil quality.
That's a pretty brief summary but this idea of permaculture can be applied to all areas of life. It was pretty interesting!
What I realised though was that what I learnt was really stuff that I already know and do, I just hadn't thought about all things as being interconnected (not sure why as it was something I also learned during my Montessori training 10 years ago!) and hadn't given my way of life a label of 'permaculture'. So, lovely garden field year will be your year!

The children gathered essential items and gifts for their Christmas Child boxes to be sent to children in need.

Miss P turned 15.......

.......and gained her Baden Powell award!

Other than that I've been very busy in the sewing room. I realise it is now two years since that moment of thought that I should indeed try and make a living out of the (mainly) self taught sewing skills I somehow acquired. If I look back, I am not quite sure how such a decision came into being other than at a moment of despair at having become 'without work' unexpectedly. I drafted a little note and popped it in a local newsagents window and 'the rest' as they say 'is history!' I feel very fortunate that I have managed to continue to make 'just enough' and remain at a steady pace. I've met some lovely people along the way too. Always a bonus!

Sissy dear painted our nails. Not sure that red is really my colour neither is nail polish my thing for that matter! It was rather a novelty in the beginning and to say I 'chipped a nail' on day one, felt somewhat vain. It wasn't long before they began to annoy me. Said sister took five weeks to visit again and these gel things don't come off with regular NP remover. I managed to chip the damn things off with some force and perseverance.  Never again!

November marked the fourth anniversary of my soul mate's passing. It seems, in so many ways like yesterday yet at the same time I have come so far on my journey. Grief is a strange thing. I still miss him greatly but this year the anxiety of that anniversary was so much less painful than previous years. I'm ready to write my story now and have been gathering thoughts and notes in order to do so. It's going to be a story of my survival....Early on I was told that we are not victims any longer but 'survivors'. I like that!

Have a peaceful December :-)

Friday, 30 October 2015

Autumn escape to the North

We've just returned from a few days rest in the North of England. Jee whizz how I longed for and needed just a few short days away from the hustle and bustle of everyday routine. I longed for this little break at the end of the Summer and dreamt of the beautiful heather on the moors....arrr! That was the pull. For some reason I had to see the heather in flower!
Well, our dear (usually very reliable) little Blueberry car let us down back them at the end of the Summer and swallowed up the funds set aside for such an adventure, plus once the dear little motor car was fixed, the Summer and all our days of freedom had gone and the new term with all its commitments was right there upon us once again. I was disappointed but knew that our time would come. To cut a long story short, I got browsing 'as one does' and stumbled across a lovely static caravan between the North Yorkshire moors and the Dales, it was perfect and amazingly was available for three nights this week for fun and adventures (of the family kind ;-))!!

I love Yorkshire! I've always loved it! Tim and I used to holiday there often. I recall well those days when we would drive up onto the moors and just marvel at the views...of course some of those views included the rather scrumptious Nick Berry during the filming of 'Heartbeat'. I used to love the innocence of that programme, plus the vintage era in which it was set.

For this trip the heather was the draw. We left on Tuesday morning and trundled up the M1 North. It didn't seem to take that long (three and a half hours passes quickly when you jabber on)!
It was peeing down with rain upon our arrival. In fact literally once we had ventured out of sunny beautiful Oxfordshire it seemed to start and persistently continued for the entire time we were away.
We kind of guessed that might happen and although it could easily have completely destroyed our plans, it did in fact make us laugh and laugh some more!

All the rain brought mist too, so upon driving out to see the spectacular views we saw this......

This was in fact a pretty clear view! Much of the time we actually couldn't see more than about twenty feet in front of the car! No views!!

Once the mist did finally clear usually later in the day.......WOW!!! The views were indeed breath taking.

Our static caravan was nestled up close to a farm house on a 200 acre sheep farm. You can see the details here. For just £136 for three nights and an extra tenor for the hound, I thought that was a pretty good deal and a whole lot cheaper and cosier than the Youth hostel or camping barn I initially looked at. It even had a bath!!

We had planned to venture out for some grand walks around the reservoir that lay in its glorified beauty at the foot of the farm. As I already mentioned on that first day we couldn't even see it! But my oh my, when the mist cleared........

The first day we just bumbled around the local area trying to find our bearings. I love to escape house just occasionally, to run away from the distractions of the many things that need doing and dare I say it?......'The internet'. Oh the joys of not being able to surf and check emails! They did trickle in occasionally as we hit wifi hot spots but the pure bliss of not having that constant persuasive pull of Facebook and work......arrrr!

We visited the lovely old market town of Skipton on our second day. Skipton was just sooo quaint. Lovely little independent stores and a busy street market, plus the serene canal. I am always drawn to the inland waterways.

The oldest sweet shop in England in Pateley Bridge

Little Jenny dog came too. She was thrilled I could tell, to be allowed to join us on our family adventure. Yorkshire was very doggy friendly :-) Not sure what she thought of her soaking though. None of us remembered to bring waterproofs and I was very reluctant to purchase more when I have a bag full at home!

Day three was a day of railway adventures. We drove a good hour east to the very picturesque market town of Pickering and spent the day 'train hopping'...on a paid ticket of course!
Jenny had to have a ticket too and felt sure that entitled her to a seat, naturally!

Our first stop was Goathland or Aidensfield as it is known in Heartbeat land. The kids loved the sheep on the road. I drove through this place very quickly way back in 2012  on our 'Trip to the North' back then following our disastrous event. I remember we had the threat of snow on the moors back then and had been advised to get across the moors as quickly as possible. We did just that and luckily made it with hot chips in bellies from Whitby at the same time!
It's funny how sometimes memories seem so good and when you attempt to relive them or in my case  introduce your children to something that was special to you, it doesn't always seem to have the same effect. Tim and I holidayed in Goathland several times during our formative years. We camped and explored and it was fun. Times change and move on and I very much felt that although still a lovely place, it was the TV show Heartbeat that brought people to the area. My children don't know anything about it, it isn't even shown anymore, yet all the gift shops were packed with souvenirs and postcards of the characters. Filming can do a lot for a place but as the memories slip, then what becomes of them? This place had become commercialised as a result of its TV connection but what now? What is the future for such a place that prior to the show was just another pretty little village on the map?
We had a bite to eat and hopped back on the train bound for Grosmont; just a ten minute further up the line.

Each of the little stations has been restored to a different era of railway history. I'm not a train spotter but there is something rather lovely about the slow pace of the engines, the smell of the soot and steam and the noise of those whistles!
Our homeward journey back to Pickering was most enjoyable. The children are so grateful for everything I do for them and always thank me profusely for all they receive no matter how small.
The rain eased to a spit and the mist cleared giving us incredible views across the moors. That heather was BROWN and .......sleeping! The bracken was stunning though in its orange/yellow hues.
You can discover more about the North Yorkshire Moors Railway here.

Looking out of the window 'selfie' pose!

Evenings were spent playing board games by the heat of the fire and snuggled up on the huge sofa crocheting my latest Winter blanket (I've finally started my Attic 24 Harmony blanket!) and watching the World gymnastics championships from Glasgow - in my element!!

I've had my fill of Yorkshire for a while now. I do love the area but as always am eternally grateful to return to the place we call home.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Autumn bumblings

Finally, I have happily come to accept that the Summer is well and truly over and Autumn is fully in its moment. I find it hard sometimes when the seasons change, mainly from Summer to Autumn; especially if you don't feel that the season has displayed its beauty to the full extent. This year the colours of Autumn are totally amazing! It's easy to imagine that each of the seasons is very clear cut and distinctively the same. They share similarities but if you take the time to observe, you will see very obvious differences.

This year the colours seem more vibrant somehow. The large sycamore tree en route to our house is a blaze with a rainbow of colours, I love driving past and admiring how striking it is against the back drop of buildings.

Last weekend, I was invited to take part in a worship at The Sanctuary - a corner of a farm field near Stow in Gloucester. My lovely friend and I spent a day in a beautiful area of the country in the company of a very inspiring 'wise woman' who knows everything 'herby'. She's been using herbs in everyday living for years and runs her workshops to pass on her knowledge- I do love that idea!
We started the day tasting samples of tea made from stewing various freely available herbs; marigolds, rose name just a few.
Following the tea we were shown around the 'plots'. My knowledge of herbs increases every year just a little. There really are so many plants out there growing wild that can be harvested and eaten or used to help people. I do find it amazing how nature knows best how to keep us well. Allopathic (or modern medicine) is a chemical mix of ingredients that aim to mimic the natural effects of herbs, some still contain herbal derivatives. In years gone by herbs would have been the only way of treating the sick.

So the plots.....the lady who runs this affair with the help of a very enthusiastic team of inspired women, plant and tend many herbs throughout the year which they then harvest and make into tinctures, salves, balms, teas, elixirs etc etc all very interesting!
I've spent hours in the past, collecting, drying, infusing and much more to make concoctions to treat my family when they succumb to everyday ailments. Then either they don't get sick (which is obviously great) or they become sick and in my haste I reach for the nearest thing available (not always my lovingly created herby concoction) to treat them; if I treat them at all!
After being shown around the plots, we were encouraged to do a little harvesting. It wasn't the warmest of mornings so I opted to wield the spade in an attempt to warm up. I drew the short straw and ended up among the nettles trying to decipher the nettles from the elecampage; a root which is used to treat respiratory problems. It was actually easier than I thought to relieve the soil of the roots and I managed to refrain from being attacked by the vicious nettles that were taller than me!
Roots extracted and they needed washing. Cold water is a no no for me these days. As a sufferer of Raynard's disease I'm not a fan of plunging my hands into cold water. The damp alone is enough to shut down the veins to my fingers and it takes quite some time to regain feeling in my little digits.
It was rather lovely to stand back and leave the root washing to someone else who doesn't suffer with the ghastly 'circulation shut down'. It turned out she was a police officer re-training to do Holistic massage. I'm considering this field myself as a means of making ends meet (that's the massage and not being police officer!), so we had much to talk about and I was able to draw on her experience. I do love the company of inspirational people!
Following lunch we were told to make a connection with one of the sanctuary's trees. Yes i know, this is where things do get just a little bit wacky! However, I do actually believe that every living thing has energy and so to be in the company of a large tree that has graced the earth and undoubtedly experienced far more than me was actually rather pleasant and a peaceful affair. I opted for the most enormous oak tree that had an incredible trunk that wound up and than turned at an angle. I was fortunate that there was a bench around the base so I took the opportunity to lie on  it and look up at its splendour. If you've never laid under a tree before and looked up and the amazing sight above than give it a go. Trees are incredible!
This one was no exception, it was so healthy and strong and didn't even move just a little in the wind. It stood there like solid rock. We were told that it takes 3-400 years to reach full size and a similar amount of time to die. I could only look on with admiration.
Secondly I took to exploring a hawthorn tree. This one seemed wispy and fragile in comparison yet at the same time had energy. I likened it to the wise woman who had knowledge to impart and thus gave it my respect.
It's funny but about five years ago I discovered a spinney of beech trees on a hill in the park near my home. One of the trees had fallen and had come to rest in the perfect position to enable me to lay on its trunk and gaze up at the splendour of the trees that towered above. It was a very significant place that I loved to visit. Sometimes I would walk the dog up there, other times I would take the children and most often I would visit alone. That fallen tree was the perfect resting place to sit upon and breathe in the fresh country air or to gain the perfect view across the valley. It was also the perfect balance beam and when no one was looking I would dance and cartwheel on that log. One day when the estate was sold. The new owner had that trunk sawn up into large pieces and moved around the field to become horse jumps. That place was never the same after that.  

So our day of inspiration from herbs and lovely people continued and was concluded with the sharing of the days harvest bounty. We each got to take home roots, apples, flowers and even a few quince! (I shall give quince cheese a go :-)) Not sure what the plumber thought recently when he came to fix my immersion heater and found my airing cupboard fully of drying roots and marigold petals??!!