Friday, 15 May 2015

Batemans National Trust

I've written about it before, but if you're in East Sussex and looking for a great place to entertain your family I reckon the National Trust property Batemans takes some beating.

Batemans was the home of Rudyard Kipling, prolific and gifted poet and author of ever popular children's classics such as The Jungle Book and Puck of Pook Hill. The property will be familiar to you if you watched the film 'My boy Jack' as it was one of the locations used in the filming of it.
 The house itself is lovely, but what the boys most love are the gardens and wildflower field.  We've spend many happy afternoons playing on the lawns in front of the house, but the meadow is perfect for the wilder games.

A favourite we have to play each visit is 'fox and rabbit' or 'tigers' -it's the same game but the name changes depending on their current interest.  This involves a lot of hiding flat out in the grass, stalking on hands and knees and running and shrieking.  At this time of year the hiding is less convincing, but seems no less fun.

A pond area put in recently is providing a lot of interest - to the boys and to me.  I was sitting watching the water last visit while Toby climbed a stump behind me when I saw a huge dragonfly larva swim up and hang tail up below the surface while making a rather grisly meal of a tadpole.
Laying on tummies and watching the whirligig beetles spin busily to and fro provided plenty of entertainment too.

Unfortunately on this visit we learned that the beautiful old water mill has broken down, so we've done our best to help the fundraising to repair it by buying a raffle ticket each.  The prizes are really good too - i.e. cash prizes rather than the mysterious tins no-one wanted to eat that turn up in village fete raffles.  All being well in three years time the mill will be up and working again, with a fully repaired building and plans for lots of hands on kids activities.  In the mean time it's still fun to visit and explore, although I missed our regular bag of lovely stoneground flour.

We regard our National Trust membership as our charity for the year because as well as providing us with lovely days out, our contribution also helps to maintain and develop the places we love so much.  However with times hard financially it's brilliant that home educators can access the sites for free too if you go during the week, outside school holidays, and give a few weeks notice to the property first.  However you get there, sitting outside in the walled garden enjoying a cream tea while little birds flit between the apple blossom and the crumbs on the table is a memory worth savouring.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Tesco Farm To Fork

We had a kind invitation out of the blue this week to join a group of fellow home educated children on a Tesco Farm to Fork outing at our local store. 
It's something I've seen on their notice boards that they offer to local schoolchildren as part of their 'Eat Happy' commitment to help combat childhood obesity by encouraging a good relationship with food.

The basis of this good relationship is knowing where food comes from and how it ends up on the supermarket shelves, and throughout the trip round the store the provenance of each food and how it is transported, stored and produced is covered.  They hope that it will also encourage children and families to try something different - our bunch of explorers certainly did, with cheese tasting and exploring exotic fruits amongst other things.

One of the highlights was the bakery trip where, as well as seeing how the dough is made and turned into bread, we all got to add our choice of extra ingredients to make our own bread rolls.  Ollie made a cheese and seed slug with raisins for eyes.

 I liked the look of the proving oven - that would be very useful for getting a speedy rise on my bread on cold mornings!

 We were blown away by how helpful and informative the ladies running the session and all of the staff involved were.  They really made the kids feel special, speaking to them by name and taking time to talk to them not just at them - a really interactive educational session rather than a quick tour around.

The amount of opportunities to get hands on was perfect too - feeling the flour, smelling the yeast, tasting the pancakes.  The worksheets were good too, giving us an opportunity to have some writing and reading practice as well as something to share with family when we got home.

Ollie really enjoyed the fruit and vegetable scavenger hunt and picked Okra as his unusual vegetable to show the group (we've enjoyed it frozen from a Chinese Supermarket in Croydon before but it's not something we see fresh very often).

We were given a lesson in different types of seafood and where they're from, and a demonstration of filleting a fish and shelling a prawn.  We even got a chance to experience life in the chiller and in the freezer - I would not like to be a tub of icecream at -21oC! Brrr.

I had heard these visits were good, but I am really grateful to all the staff who made it so memorable.  I am also very grateful to the home edding mum who organised it and invited us, and the other mums who welcomed us into their group and made us feel a part of it.  It was a bit tricky when Toby found out where we had been while he was at nursery, but hopefully the bribe of a sticker book has done the trick and he's forgiven us now.  If you have children over 5 (and are in the UK) and have the chance to get involved in one of these free sessions I would definitely recommend it.

Note - I've linked to the 'Eat Happy' page for information only and because there are good resources there, but have no affiliation with Tesco (other than occasional product testing).

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Prioritizing and slowing down

Things have not gone as expected in the last week or so, with plans changing or being abandoned completely, partly due to bad colds and partly just because it was what the kids seemed to need. 

I'm really conscious of trying not to overschedule our time, as children need above all else time for unstructured play, but nonetheless our weeks can sometimes feel like we're chasing from one thing to the next.

An enforced stop to our week where we cancelled everything and stayed home together, playing, reading, cooking, crafting and working on Ollie's Romans project was just what we needed.

This weekend I took stock from what had happened during the week and cancelled our plans in order to get back to the basics of spending time together.  We started with a good Spring clean of the house, working together as a whole family to flush out any stale energy from a week indoors feeling poorly.

When the house was clean, we got it messy again by baking vegetable pasties together, with each of us having a job to do.  Matt was on pastry and chopping veg, Ollie on grating carrots and parsnips, I chipped a swede and a sweet potato, Toby stirred it all together.  The boys then rolled and filled their pasties, which made for a delicious lunch.

Next it was tidy up time again and then down to the park to ride bikes, a simple thing that the kids love but we don't always make time for, preferring as adults to see something new on a day out than to walk again around the same old park.  For the kids though, they love that park more than all the new experiences, spending uninterrupted time together as a family and the sense of excitement of rising down a big hill or the fun of feeding the squirrels.

Finally a quick dinner and plenty of time afterwards to play Lego with Matt, before bath and stories.  It doesn't sound the most exciting day, but it was exactly what we needed - to slow down, enjoy the moment and prioritize what we most needed and wanted to do with our time. 

Mindfulness isn't just about meditation, it's about being present in the moment.  Sometimes it feels like you can fill your life with interest and excitement if you keep moving, but when you stand still for a while you experience fully what you have right at home and what is really important, and for small children that really is nothing more complicated that your undivided attention. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

You know you might be hippy parent when...

 1.  Your whole family is walking around with chia seeds stuck in their teeth (good fish-free source of omega 3 oil and protein)

2.  Your small people know who Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon are but haven't a clue about celebrities from within the current century.

3. Your small people moan when you run out of sauerkraut and olives and actively sneak cabbages into the shopping trolley.

4.  When your largely vegetarian small people grill grandparents on whether the meat they have been given is free range (and you're equally embarrassed and proud of this).

5.  You're not that great at knitting, but your small people still proudly sport odd home made outfits.

6.  After a day out you have a list of questions from your small people that you have to Google, including 'how old is the oldest magnolia seed ever found and successfully germinated'.
 7.  You're outdoors so much that sometimes the kids just don't want to go to the beach 'can't we just stay in and watch Cbeebies today?'.

8.  Your idea of a good soap opera is watching a friend's/your own chickens bossing each other around
 9.  You don't dream of owning a fancy car or the latest fashions- what you're aiming for is a patch of woodland to call your own.

10.  You're idea of 'grounding' a child involves helping them be fully conscious and present in the moment and feeling the connection between their energy and the Earth. 
11.  Your small people completed the '50 things to do before you're 12' list by age 4.

12.  Your kids are better at 'downward dog' than you'll ever be and bounce you awake in the morning demanding to do sun salutations together.

13.  You spend waaaay to long scrutinizing the labels of any product you couldn't make yourself because you're avoiding 'chemicals' (I know, as a scientist this is a dumb thing to say because everything is made of chemicals, but you know what I mean), or gelatine, or sulphites, or wheat, or dairy, or palm oil.

I'm sure many of my friends will read this and smile because either they recognise the above list in themselves or in me and because yes, it does all sound a bit pretentious.  I don't think any of us try to live in a different way because of 'holier than thou' pretentiousness, it's just that the more we read about and the more we see for ourselves that the formula where life revolves around tv and consumption doesn't make for happy healthy families, communities and environment, and the more we try to make small steps away from this. 

I'm sure as well that this list could be a lot longer (we're planning on going on holiday to Germany by train for goodness sake) and it would be great to hear the things you do yourself that make you smile at your own hippy pretentions.  Living differently gives so much, but what it can take more of is time - fortunately at least reading labels for palm oil could be a thing of the past as my lovely environmentally friendly friend is setting up a palm oil free online marketplace.  Check out her progress at Plutoniumsox.  Our power as voters may be a little doubtful, but as ethical consumers we can change the world.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Fishbourne Roman Palace


 Yesterday we visited somewhere I had been curious about for a long time.  En route between where we live and where my folks live we pass a sign for 'Fishbourne Roman Palace' but it's usually too late by the time we're travelling to stop in.  This time we travelled home earlier as we all had colds, and decided to try Fishbourne out as somewhere to stop for a picnic, not expecting there to be much left of the Roman Palace. 

We did find a lovely picnic spot there (complete with spoil hills from the initial excavation to roll down), but boy were we wrong about there not being much left of the palace!

 The site itself is quite large and encompasses a visitors centre, cafĂ©, gardens and collections discovery centre.  The visitors centre is brilliant for kids, with lots of hands on opportunities, dressing up clothes and, on the day we went, re-enactors with a table of food for visitors to try. 

A film runs at regular intervals, narrated by Time Team's Tony Robinson, which describes the history of the site and recreates what Britain's largest Roman Palace would have looked like.


The enormous visitors centre preserves and displays the largest collection of mosaics in Britain, along with burials from a later period after the Palace was destroyed by fire and demolition.

Walkways and ramps make the site fully accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs, as well as giving a bird's eye view of the beautiful earlier monochrome and later polychrome mosaics.

 Children are very welcome, with elements designed for them at regular intervals around the museum, including opportunities to handle and sort real artefacts.
 Outside the original plans for the garden have been recreated in the box hedged area, and a smaller garden with herbs and vegetables typical for the period has been produced. 
 In the shed a mannequin of a Roman gardener explains how he was brought from Rome as the locals are farmers, not gardeners.  Interactive displays show more information on crops and plants and tools from the period.

A separate building houses the Collections Discovery Centre where you can glimpse some of the 1million artefacts stored and see where the archaeologists work, as well as learning about a fascinating project tracing the areas deer by looking at their DNA and analysing minerals in their teeth.

We really liked the archaeologist's desk set up for children to explore to discover for themselves what the archaeologist was working on.

In the gift shop I stocked up on a few colouring sheets and postcards for the kids to use when Ollie finishes his Ancient Egypt project and starts on Romans soon.  It was very hard resisting the brilliant collection of books on sale.  We then finished off with a trip to the lovely and very reasonably priced tea room before we headed home.

I would highly recommend this site for anyone with budding historians and archaeologists.  When we went adult entry was £8.80 with under 5s free, but we benefitted from half price entry because we have English Heritage membership and Sussex Past, who run the site, have an arrangement with English Heritage.  A program of events runs between February and December, including mosaic making, a murder mystery evening and have-a-go archaeology.


Friday, 1 May 2015

Birdsong in the Combe Valley

This week Ollie and I joined Alice Parfitt and Michael Blencowe from the Sussex Wildlife Trust  for an enlightening walk around the Filsham Reedbed Nature Reserve, part of the Combe Valley Countryside Park in Bexhill and Hastings.

 We hadn't done organised bird watching with a group before and weren't sure what to expect, but our morning out probably wasn't what you might imagine.  There was no sitting quietly for hours peering out of a hide, although without small people in tow this would have been quite relaxing.

What we did instead was perfect for high energy Ollie - a fantastic guided walk where we certainly weren't at much of a disadvantage for not owning good binoculars because mostly the birds announced their presence in song rather than sight.
With the aid of bird songs downloaded to a smartphone we were taught to distinguish the different songs we heard and the birds themselves put on a great show, with sedge, reed and Cetti's warbler all getting in on the act.

We learned about different habitats and habits of the birds and felt very welcomed and included in the group who all obviously had far more experience than us.  I'm good on plants and bugs, but birds are more of a mystery to me and I couldn't tell one little brown bird from another from a book, so hearing the clear difference in their songs was really interesting.

My favourite bird though was the brief glimpse of a Hobby zooming overhead chasing swifts (which it resembles - it looks like a giant swift or swallow in profile against the sky).  I've possibly seen them before but without any idea of what they were.  These are amazing birds - they migrate to Britain for the summer, coming all the way from Sub-Saharan Africa following the swifts and swallows that they eat.  They are so speedy they can even catch dragonflies - the masters of aerial maneuverability in the insect world.

We also had plenty of interest in seeing how the local landfill site is being converted into part of the country park, with part of it already covered and turfed, part with geotextile cover and methane gas exhaust chimneys visible, and part still accepting rubbish.  This made for a great opportunity to talk to Ollie about why it's important to recycle, and the economics of materials that have made it more economically viable today compared with in the past.

Ollie was pretty tired to start with after we had spent an hour running around on the football fields adjoining the reedbeds while we waited for the group to arrive, but even so we still had a really lovely morning.  Outdoor learning is unbeatable.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Jogging in jeans

I love my boys more than I could describe.  They are funny, lively, inquisitive, caring.  They are also LOUD and, however funny it is hearing them singing their own odd song 'everything is awesome, everything is awesome when you Bon Appetite', after a period of time my nerves start to fray.  The incessant 'mum, mum, mum, mummy, mum, mummy...' and Tigger like bounding around is sweet but wearing. 

Last week this was compounded by a post illness malaise where I wasn't properly ill but just felt exhausted and craving a bit of quiet and rest.  The result -  grouchy mum, which the kids picked up on and reacted to by being particularly obnoxious, culminating in an incident while we were having packed lunch with a volunteer friend.  The poor lass was trying to arrange a play date for her boy to meet my two, but Ollie in particular was being so downright loud and rude that I'm amazed she persisted and we managed to set a date to meet up before I dragged the boys off to the car with the threat of no gymnastics that afternoon, which in turn provoked an absolute screaming toddler style meltdown in Ollie.  My lovely, take them anywhere boys had embarrassed me to the point where I felt like having a screaming meltdown myself (not helped by the fact I forgot our jumpers and had to go back into the building where the whole population of Health Visitors and Children's Centre staff must have heard the commotion, with Ollie still screaming all the way there and back to the car).

Good grief I needed a break from them.  Amazingly the answer came in the post that day in the form of a product review.

I have been ridiculously lucky to have reviewed products for Ozeri in the past, and on that horrible day they made my day by sending me a clever 4x3 sport digital pocket 3D pedometer with tri-axis technology and 30 day memory to review.  I have owned several cheap pedometers over the years, so I was in a good position to appreciate this flashy new piece of kit with its 'tri-axis' technology which enables it to recognise when you are going up stairs and makes sure it never misses a stride. Why was it such a godsend?  Well, it meant a reason to focus my mind on doing more walking and running - the surest step to achieving mental equilibrium in my experience.

The walking bit I could do with the kids in tow - back in the days last year when I used to walk Ollie to nursery and then on to playgroup with Toby in the pram I used to rack up 20 000 steps, but lately this has dropped off (much like my last cheap pedometer, which dropped off my belt and went plop straight into the toilet).  A new pedometer was a great way to get the ball rolling again.  My control day where I did nothing extra only clocked up 3500 steps, well below both the default target on the device of 5 000 steps (progress towards this goal is indicated on the left side of the screen) and health campaigners recommendations of 10 000 steps a day.  This spurred me on to walk the boys to Toby's nursery the next day (a return journey of an hour at small child pace) and to the local shops with Ollie afterwards to pick up craft supplies.  That day I clocked up just over 10 000 steps.

The device is really clever because it records a cumulative number of steps for 30 days, as well as displaying the current days' steps and the previous days' are available to look at too, so no more writing down my totals by hand each night.  It also resets automatically at midnight, so no more wandering around half the morning before I realise I haven't reset the pedometer.

The new Ozeri pedometer also encouraged me to take the plunge and do something I haven't done in a long time - child free jogging.  My goodness the sense of freedom of ditching the boys to play on the pebbles with hubby Matt while I took off down the seafront!  I was in good company with the dozens of runners pounding up and down the tarmac resplendent in Lycra, massive headphones and ergonomically shaped water bottles, even if I didn't look anything like them.  Picture a very large lady in bright pink shoes, jeans and a scruffy jumper with a backpack stuffed full of kids spare clothes and wet wipes interspersing slow jogging with brisk walking accompanied by the soundtrack of mild wheezing and you get the idea.  Now imagine the quiet contentment of sitting for a couple of minutes taking a breather at the far end of the beach and seeing I had clocked up 6311 steps, with another 4000 to go before I got back to the car. 

The pedometer was easy to set up and gives a reading of calories burned and distance travelled as well as steps.  As I use it more I will take advantage of the goal setting features more too.  I like the large buttons, and the clip case which means I can glance at the display without having to fiddle around undoing a clamshell case like on my old one.  It works beautifully, again unlike my cheap (£7 from supermarket) old one which had me grumbling at it because it seemed entirely random as to whether it reset back to zero steps when I pressed the tiny invisible reset button).  Out of all the fancy stuff it can do though, my favourite feature is a simple little lanyard with an extra clip which attaches the pedometer more securely to my belt than the normal clip.  I have clumsily knocked the pedometer's main clip off my belt several times as with my old ones, but the difference now is that instead of losing it, it just swings gently from the lanyard clip ready for me to reattach it.  It was also simple to set up with a clear instruction booklet, of immense importance to me since none of us have got time to be faddling around.

In a time when we all need to move more I'm really pleased to have this extra motivation to do so (there has even been an early morning pre-breakfast jog this week).  For my physical and mental health the benefits are limitless, but above all for my capacity to be an effective and gentle parent I need to move more and moan less, and this neat little device will certainly help me to do that.

Note:  I received the Ozeri 4x3 sport digital pocket 3D pedometer with tri-axis technology and 30 day memory for free as a product to review, but opinions, photos and disturbing mental images of wobbling jogger are all my own.  As of this being written (27/4/2015) I have been wearing the pedometer for a week during which it has functioned perfectly and not fallen in the toilet once.  It is also currently on sale half price on at £19.99 reduced from £39.99.