Thursday, 28 May 2015

Who's Not In School? {Book Review}

There is most definitely a gap in the market for children's story books. The gap to which I refer, is for stories of children who don't attend school; children who are home educated.  There are thousands of families across the UK choosing to educate their children outwith school, for a variety of reasons. Yet, try finding a storybook that tells of adventures of children that don't involve school.  The nearest I have found, has been Harry Potter where the children don't start school until age 11. As Ron explained to Harry, up until starting at Hogwarts, children learn at home with their parent(s).

Recently the author and blogger, Ross Mountney, announced her new project: a children's story of a little home educated boy's adventures. Ridiculously excited doesn't even begin to describe how happy I was to discover this, and furthermore I could not wait to get a copy.

Fast forward to yesterday, release day of the book (which I had pre-ordered) and through the letter box it fell.

Sadly, Kiddo was unwell as was fast asleep on the couch so wasn't around to hear the story the first time I read it. Or the second time! However, once he awoke from his slumber, we read it, three times, back to back.

The story follows Little Harry (who I'm going to guess is 5 years old)  in a typical week, learning at home with his family (parents and 2 older siblings). His adventures chronicle his imaginative play, socialisation (showing exactly how children out of school socialise), regular day-today living and learning. I could see a little bit of Harry in Kiddo - I just hope Kiddo doesn't take inspiration from Harry with regards experiments with blocks....

The story itself is easy to follow, interesting, fun and easy to read, therefore ideal to read aloud to children, or for children learning to read for themselves.  Also, the font size and amount of writing per page is ideal for new and learning readers.

The illustrations accompanying the story are beautiful and detailed. The artist, James Robinson, was himself home educated and aged 18 when he illustrated this book.

When I told Kiddo about this book, he got excited as he is "home educated too, Mum!". His favourite parts were at the swimming pool and mud pies.  A friend also got the book for her daughter, who exclaimed, upon discovering the nature of the story "Oh, he's just like me!" with a big smile.

I hope this is the first in a series of adventures of Little Harry. We very much enjoyed this book and can recommend it to all little adventurers out there whether in school or not.

The book is availble from Bird's Nest Books

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Gardening 'Not permitted'

One of the things I was most looking forward to, when we moved house, was a home with its own garden. A garden in which I could cultivate a veg plot, a wild flower and insect habitat, an apple or pear tree, have a patio of sorts for al fresco dinning and relaxing in the morning in my jammies with a cuppa or in the evening with a vino, by the fire pit (fires are good for the soul - I read that somewhere, can't remember where, but it is so true!). There would be space for Kiddo to play, explore, a bit to call his own, to grow sunflowers or veggies or just make a mess. And of course a place to hang out our washing.

But alas, like all good plans, it didn't quite pan out like that.  We didn't move. We do however, already have a garden that is vastly under used. There is a 138ft long stretch of communal lawn, overlooked by 26 flats on this side of our block. Of this 26, only 4 households use the 'garden' : us, the girls in the flat directly above, a family on the top floor (their 10 year old plays out sometimes after school and their chihuahua goes "walkies") and someone down the bottom end has been hanging out their washing.

We've used the garden in the nicer weather over the years, to sit out in the sun, have the odd BBQ, more so since Kiddo came along - he particularly enjoys running about in his jammies and bare feet. The problem we have though, is that we aren't "allowed" to do anything with the 'garden', and we get to pay (through our quarterly factor's bill) for the 'luxury' of 'gardener's' to come every few weeks and butcher the lawn.

A couple of years ago, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Kiddo had made wildflower seed bombs at a nature craft event, so we launched them all over the grass. I then bought a few packets of wild flower seeds and scattered those too. That summer there had been some sort of dispute between the factors and the 'gardeners' so the grass and seeds had a chance to grow. The lawn was stunning - quite long with lots of patches of colour and flowers and, to my mind, looked beautiful. I loved it. Then I came home from work one day to discover that the dispute had obviously been settled - the wild meadow had been razed. The twisted willow tree that I had planted in the corner (I bought it as a plant for the living room in hope of being able to replant it in this fantasy garden of mine in the imminent it was really cool, all twisty and curvy...) also fell foul of the strimmer, and lay mangled in the grass clippings. I was actually devastated. I ran round to the front of the building, where the barren piece of land next to the steps was. I had scattered seeds there too, which were also starting the flower, albeit at a slower pace due to being in the shade - the ground had all been turned over, and bits of greenery could be seen lying kerb side and blowing in the wind.  Bloody raging I was. Granted I didn't have permission to take over the gardening endevours for the block, but all efforts to make the place look better and have a little bit more of a purpose was, it seemed, not allowed!

 Last year we had quite a fine summer. In order to spare my poor flowers, I got some tubs and grew wild flowers (for the bees as well as just looking bright and colourful) and giant sunflowers which went well. Sadly the raspberry bush and blackcurrant bush just looked like twigs sticking up out of the tubs (and still looked the same until I took them out, both dead, last week).

Living where we do, we get a lot of birds visiting our 'outdoor space', so to tend to our feathered friends we have made feeders from pine cones a couple of times and also have a feeder on the window, which is great for twitching. We hung a bird house on the fence last spring, but even now, no-one has taken up residence.  The girls upstairs have decided that the garden is somewhat lacking in, well, being a garden, and have also hung a bird house and decorated with floral tubs.  The little touches really do make a difference to such a vast, sparse, under utilised bowling green.

This year I have decided to increase our gardening effort - keeping to the tubs on the stones, therefore not actually touching the grass and not at risk from careless butchers, I mean gardeners, wielding their mighty strimmer. We have lots of bee friendly flowers (some in flower, others just seeds still to grow) in various colours, more greenery in the form of ivy and ferns and a delightful black cauldron filled with wildflower seeds which should produce a riot of colour.  I may have also used the spare seeds along the border at the fence...just to see what happens in the betwixt where the strimmer can't reach (insert evil cackle and little triumphant guerilla gardener jig).  When I turned over the bucket BBQ I found this gorgeous snail (there were actually 2 of them.)  With quite so many tubs and containers this year, I thought about using the now defunct purple wooden shoe rack to make a display. It fits in the border perfectly. Unfortunately, we live in a less than salubrious area and I would be concerned that any chancing robber would use it as a ladder into the window (even though I never leave my windows open when not at home).  

With a tub to spare (also it's the one that I forgot to put drainage holes in last year and is now somewhat waterlogged) Kiddo sat down to play with it, making mud pies and grass soup for lunch.  That particular game didn't last long. I hate to report, but the content is now "elephant poo" - I'm not sure why he needs to take cupfuls of said poo and pour it out, but hey, it's his choice...

And I'm not finished; I want to try growing veg and herbs in some tubs too.

I have mentioned the need to keep my tubs within the boundary of the building and off the grass for a very specific reason - we're not allowed to use the grass!!!! I kid you not. We get newsletters in with our quarterly invoice, reminding us not to have any personal property in the communal area, including a washing line! Yes, we are not allowed to dry our washing outside.  I live in a block of flats, where there are no windows in the bathroom, and my kitchen overlooks the bin store, so obviously my home is well ventilated... I say, bugger that! Every day that it's drying weather I have an airer out the back, drying my washing. Today is bedding - it's had a good blow, and will smell lovely going back on the bed. I remember a few years ago (maybe 4 years or so), the wee one from the top floor got a trampoline. Same as us, thought, no-one uses the garden so why not - put up the trampoline only to get a letter to us all from the factors, demanding that the owner of the offending trampoline remove it with immediate effect.

I know of no point to having 138ft of badly mown grass.  If we are not permitted to dry our laundery, grow plants/flowers, play outside with our children and their toys, have patio furniture or bbqs, then they would have been as well making it a car park, or at least have storage facilities for the flats, being that bicycles are not allowed to be stored in the closes either.

Did I say that we pay for this 'privilege of being told how we are to use our common space?

Realistically I can't have my yearned for fir pit, but with our camping chairs and the bucket bbq, tonight I'm going to get it lit and sit with wine and toast some marshmallows with my wee family, in the 'garden' we pay for (once the washing is back indoors, of course).


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Holid...2.5day break away

Our much looked-forward-to holiday had to be cut short.  We were away from Monday there, meant to be until this coming Friday, but alas, we travelled home today.
Our summer holiday this year was our first family holiday just the three of us.  We have gone away for short breaks/hols with family and friends before (where he has always been anxious to get back home), but never just Hubby Kiddo and I. And not camping - proper camping, of sorts...
I had booked a 5 day stay down in the Lake District at a campsite by Lake Windermere. We were staying in an old Gypsy Vardo Wagon. Camping (or even living) in a vardo is a long held dream of mine - ever since I was about 10 and visited the old Transport Museum in Glasgow, where they had an old intricately painted one on display. It was instant love. The mystic and romance of it is so alluring, as is the sense of adventure even from when  Toad Of Toadhall had one in Wind in the Willows and then I read Maggie Smith-Bendell's brilliant Rabbit Stew And A Penny or Two, which made my wish even greater to try wagon life.
All went well initially, I hired a car for the journey. There was no way my clapped-out 14 year old 1.0 rust bucket (which I borrowed off my Mum 5 years ago) was up to the journey.  I figured a 1.6 (Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra was more fitting, both in size of boot for our gear and for comfort seeing as Hubby's 6'1" frame struggles in my motor).  Low and behold, I gets a free upgrade at the car rental place - 2.0 turbo diesel Insignia. Oh ya dancer! It runs like a sweetie. I will even forgive the salesman for thinking that my Dad (who ran me to the rental place and inspected the hire car) was in fact my husband!!!! What difference does it make that there is a 25 year age gap, or more importantly, that we look the same?! It no longer matters that the salesman dug an even deeper hole (in my opinion) when he tried to correct himself by suggesting that my Dad must have had an easy paper round - is he suggesting that I had a sair yin???? As I said, he is forgiven now, as I love this car and having driven down to the Lakes, round and about and back home, I still have half a tank of fuel!
The journey itself was mainly without a hitch; straight to Gretna, coffee and stretch of legs before embarking upon the last 50 miles or so. We made good time and had hopes of getting there, getting checked in and getting the fire lit. However, the route I was following appeared to be the scenic route, via Ullswater and scarily close to the edge of the water (no wall or barrier I may add) then up and over a great big bloody hill with hairpin bends and pot holed narrow roads - not exactly ideal for a driver driving a car significantly bigger than used to and a nauseous child in the back. Oh and the rain was coming down sideways. Horrible. And there were of course, cyclists, oncoming cars and lots of swearing. I have never been so glad to get to our destination. I am also extremely glad that my parents never took my sister and I on holidays to the Lake District - not being a very good back seat passenger myself, there would have been no way on this earth that I would have made it without a vomitous episode.
We arrived in the rain, so no fire for us that night. We brought some food supplies, and picked up more in the local town of Ambleside enroute. There was no way we were going back out in the car again once we were settled, so in lieu of the camp fire, toast, cereal and a glass or 2 of wine saw us well for the evening and a wander round the site, playing in the play parks and woods/puddles.

The vardo itself was  everything I thought it would be (except the bunk for Kiddo was really narrow and highly likely he would roll out, so he got to share the comfy big bed). I love that whole families used to live in these. There was a wood burner stove in the wagon, but we decided not to light it as the floor space is limited and Kiddo is clumsy...We didn't really need it anyway as it was remarkably cozy inside. I would love to buy an old vardo (for the imaginary garden I have in my head), kit it out and decorate it properly. It would be freaking awesome. Next to the wagon we had a cottage tent (which was like a small yurt on the inside) with a kitchen and table/chairs, and a fire pit/seating area outside with the seats being tree stumps. Perfect for our alfresco dining experiences, including toasting marshmallows and breakfast. Kiddo even sat by the fire for bedtime stories last night.

We also had our very own welcome committee who stayed with us throughout our stay. We first met our wee pals down at the waters edge about an hour after our arrival. A friendly brown duck and an equally friendly and curious mallard, whom we called Francie and Josie (Josie obviously so-called due to his curled feathers in the rear). This pair of ducks were everywhere we went on site, and were happy to play about outside our wagon. They appeared to enjoy the fire and the bedtime stories too. They wandered off once realising they were not going to be fed, only to spin 180, in the comical way only ducks can, upon hearing the rustling of a marshmallow packet. Suffice to say our wee pals were enormously entertaining.


The ducks weren't the only wildlife around. There were deer grazing in the brush just 20 yards behind the wagon too


Waking up the sound of the dawn chorus each morning was a pleasure. I enjoy listening to the birds at home in the morning and early evening, but hearing the sheer number of them, in the middle of the woods was something else entirely. Sitting on the steps of the wagon hot coffee in hand, listening the world around me was a perfect as it sounds. Granted it was baltic, but that's what hot coffee and layers are for!

 The view from the front door of wagon.

The whole site was carpeted in bluebells.  I love bluebells and despite their folklore (fairies used them to trap children, and people wearing a wreath of bluebells will only be able to speak the truth!) they are my favourite flower (and the subject of my next tattoo).

Off site, we enjoyed the local towns of Ambleside, Windermere and Bowness ( we were in Costa in Bowness at 8am, having been up since 5.30am). I was keen to visit the Beatrix Potter store but it was closed, although there are a plethora of Beatrix Potter tourist attractions. I couldn't figure out why I was getting strange stares and side glances from strangers and shop assistants. Then it dawned on me as I went to pay for a newspaper : my handbag. Or rather, my badges....I never gave my bag a thought as I grabbed it on the way out our front door on Monday morning. I don't tend to attract stares when I go about my business at home...

As I mentioned at the start of today's post, we had to cut out holiday short. The reason for this was because, as much as Kiddo enjoyed the campsite, the campfire, the wagon (especially the cabin bed), the 'Postman Pat' scenery, the ducks (especially the ducks), the playing in the woods, etc he was incredibly homesick for his own bed. Both nights were really distressing and upsetting for him. His solution was to go home for bed and came back the following day.  After 2 nights, we made the decision to cut our losses and travel home.  We have persevered with plans and ideas in the past but they never work out for the best in the long run, generally proving more detrimental. We managed to fit in plenty of fun stuff during the day (it's amazing how much can be accomplished when the entire family is up and about at the crack of dawn).  Hubby google mapped the route for the homeward journey, not wanting a repeat of the one that brought us from the M6 - turns out that travelling past Keswick to Penrith is a far more pleasant (for this driver and little passenger in the back) road.

The view as we left the campsite

My dream of the wagon life was short lived, but thoroughly awesome. If we could do it again, I would want better weather (so as to do all cooking outside, but having said that, I loved lying listening to the rain fall on the roof the first night we stayed) and a more secure bunk for Kiddo (who would prefer to live in it during the day only and be in his own bed at night, thus nullifying my better bunk requirement, but anyways..). Having used up all my data on my phone before we went on holiday, I didn't buy any more, making the decision to unplug for the week. It may only have lasted 2.5days, but it was fabulous not knowing what was happening on Facebook or Twitter and I didn't care what was happening either. Back home again, and within 2 minutes of my phone connecting to the wifi, the surge of updates to the phone, I was well and truly plugged back in. It just sucks you right back into the fold. and it is a bit unnerving.
So what have we learned from our wee jaunt? 1. Kiddo likes home best and 2. I can live (and thoroughly enjoy) life without social media.


Friday, 8 May 2015

1st Birthday!

How can it be that The Scarf Lady Chronicles is 1 year old?  1 year and 1 day (ok, so I'm late in realising we have a birthday!) since I wrote my first ever blog post and what an interesting and incredibly quick year it has been.

When I first started out, I wasn't sure what I'd really write about; family life, home education, possibly some housey things as we go about decorating our home. I had no idea at the time that a mere month later I would embark upon the all consuming ride that was my 100 days countdown to the biggest event of the year: The Scottish Independence Referendum. It took on a life of its own and then this blog was 'political'. I've also shared some of my poems, our family days/activities/festivities , my parenting beliefs and shitty days,  how Kiddo is  getting on in his HE adventures and the progress we are making with turning our flat 'digs' into our family home. What's the plans for the coming year? No clue!

I was talking to a friend just yesterday, as they kids splashed about in the new pools at the Falkirk Wheel, about blogging (and social media in general) and content. I find myself in a position with  numerous posts either completed or half way done, sitting in 'draft' as I don't know whether to publish or continue - are they too personal? I'm going through one of those periods of wondering if we are sharing too much? Personally, I love reading other people's blogs of their lives and how they live them; picking up some tips, learning something new or thinking about something from a different perspective, but do I want to share my life quite so openly? How much is too much? I'm wary of sharing too much about Kiddo and already don't share photos of him as he is entitled to his privacy. There will be time enough when he is older, that if he wants his pictures online he can do it himself, he can share his own stories and adventures, as they are his to tell, not mine. Looking back though, I have already shared quite a bit about him...hmm. Then again, by getting everything down, I can focus on what we are doing and where we are rather than just coasting along - but does that need to be public? Why not? As I am interested in other's lives, there are other readers interested in mine.  Some of the drafts I have sitting cover topics such as 1 child families: a parenting taboo, a half written one about the birth of Kate and Wills daughter, the outcome and my feelings on the General Election,  aligning my moral compass to my budget versus my beliefs, 4 poems, cooking and recipes, amongst others.

The Scarf Lady Chronicles is a bit of a mixed bag of topics, so maybe I will just continue to write and share what feels appropriate at the time; a bit like life, taking it one step (or blog post) at a time.
In the mean time, I am enjoying, not a birthday cake, but a double chocolate cookie (or 2)  for my breakfast with my coffee.  If you can't have a cookie for breakfast on your belated birthday, when can you, eh?

Thank you for visiting, reading and commenting over the past year, pop by again soon.
Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend x