Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Exploring in the rain



 A drizzly day a couple of weeks ago near the New Forest on the Dorset/Hampshire border in Southern England.  But just because the sun is not sunny, it does not mean that the fun is not funny.

So we went off on an adventure in the rain, with sticks for antlers, for making trails and for poking things.

 A frond of bracken newly emerging after
 a heath fire gets a gentle poke, as does an interesting rock.
 Poking the sun dews is discouraged, although it is tempting with their lovely sticky fly catching goo.  The recent heath fire followed by rain seems to have made this normally rare plant spring into action and it was amazing to see so many.



Someone who came along before us had indulged in a little white rock on burnt post sculpture.




Interesting tunnel making spiders were spotted and tickled into making an appearance by gently wiggling a blade of grass on their webs (we're in the UK, I don't think I'd do this anywhere with scarier spiders).

Beautiful blue butterflies were also spotted - I think it was possibly the vulnerable species the silver studded blue as the habitat and time of year was correct and the top side of the wings had a dark band around them.  I've only seen the more common holly blue and common blue before though so I can't be sure.  The conditions were certainly right - strongest populations occur where the ground has been recently disturbed e.g. by fire.

Lots of exciting natural history observations were made and habitats explored.  Of all the things discovered however, the most funny fun (as far as two small boys and their mother were concerned) was when Daddy fell into a boggy puddle while trying to lift a heavy and wriggling Toby over it.  There's our common denominator of humour right there 'don't step in the bog boys, don't step in the bog boys, oops, fell in the bog'.



 
 
 
Disclaimer: our adventure was in our well known stomping grounds near where we used to live, spiders and other wildlife were not harmed during the making of this adventure and they were known to be reasonably harmless.  Bog navigated was actually a soggy bit on a path, as opposed to the disappear up to your neck never to be seen again kind of bog.  Usual common sense applies during your own adventures.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Isolation, resilience and butterfly acquaintances

This post is inspired by a series of Facebook posts I've been seeing recently where people are crying out for attention and love.  There's an adage 'the person with the most advice has the most problems' so what I'm writing here is from my own difficulties in negotiating friendships and what I've learned from them.

Friendships are a tricky hill to climb, for adults and for children.  One of the hardest things about maintaining friendships is not taking things personally, and perhaps seeing the friendship for the type that it is.  The old classification 'friend for a reason, friend for a season, friend for life' still holds true and can be a helpful thing to teach kids when they are upset about a particular friend not wanting to be around any more. 

If you or your child are someone who cares deeply about each friend and are the kind of person who feels like they are always giving to these relationships, but are left in the lurch when you need it to be reciprocated, look at how you have classed the friendship.

If you are like me and have a lot of social connections you regard as friends, perhaps many of these are actually acquaintances and not friends at all - stop expecting a reciprocal level of care from them as they don't see you in that way.  I get a uncomfortable when I see those Facebook posts 'I'm always the one giving, but when I need help I'm alone' - many times in the past that was me feeling this way, but it is neediness and a victim mentality that can be outgrown.  It actually read 'my self-esteem is fragile and depends on the opinions of others'.  If we give our time and our care to others, it has to be without the expectation that it will ever be reciprocated or very soon we start to cut people off.  We imbue others with more interest than they feel, so when it is not reciprocated and we walk away, what we have actually lost is what they always were - an occasional pleasant social interaction, a convenient person to spend time with, and all we gain is isolation. 

How can we handle it differently?  Perhaps by only giving what we actually feel able to without expectation. If the other person isn't like you, they wouldn't walk 20 minutes through the dark to evict a spider for you,  why do you feel the need to do it for them?  They wouldn't rearrange their schedule to make time for your kids party, then why do you feel need to do it?  Once you get rid of the expectation that they are able or willing to reciprocate, maybe they will be fun to hang out with when it's convenient - the 'flakey friends' that you don't depend on.  This is a tough lesson and one that it's tough watching your kids find out for themselves.  All you can do is help to give them the confidence that being let down is not usually because of them, it's oftener because of the other person's issues.  Judging who is your real friend, and who just finds you convenient is a really tricky job, but ultimately perhaps it's time to stop overthinking things.  By building your own self-confidence and that of your child, you ditch the poor-little-me attitude that's ultimately causing you to care too much about what others might think of you.  The brutal truth is that most other people aren't thinking of you at all - they're wrapped in their own lives and their own problems.

Take this situation: you've been regularly spending time with someone, perhaps weekly coffee or a play date with the kids.  Suddenly they cancel the following week's meet up.  Then they stop responding to your social network posts.  You text to see if they want to hang out, they don't respond.  You see them tagged in other friend's posts about something fun they've done together.  Do you a) assume that they are deliberately trying to exclude or hurt you because they're actually a mean person and have been using you b) panic that you have done something wrong and they don't want to be friends any more because they think that you are a detestable person, c) worry that something is very wrong as this is out of character for them, they must be having problems, perhaps start sending more messages, d) don't put much thought into it - you're busy, they probably are too, you were hanging out when it was mutually convenient but hey, people move on.  The answer you pick probably says more about your state of confidence and what you feel you need from that person than it does about the state of the relationship.

So I guess this is the big secret to happiness, good relationships and resisting feelings of isolation - our happiness comes from us, not from other people.  I personally feel like I'm going a little crazy if I don't have plenty of social interaction, but I've also had to accept that acquaintances are just that.  When we're happy we attract acquaintances like butterflies to nectar.  When we're down the butterflies move on and we notice, if we're lucky, the couple of people that are still around - the real people amongst the butterflies, the folk who have travelled hours to see you or care enough to be dependable.  They've seen you behaving badly and still stuck around. There's certainly no point being cross at a butterfly for flitting off - it's a butterfly, that's what they do.  There's even less point blaming yourself - there's only so much nectar sometimes and if you're going about your life in a genuine way then you won't be attractive to everyone.  I'm long done with angst and isolating myself from everyone because a few butterflies let me down and I thought I must be an unworthy friend.  I'm lucky to have a few genuine friends, and to have enough butterflies for added interest.    The resilience to know that even when you're down you won't be that way forever, and to notice and nurture the real people in your life who love you for you, that's the trick to model for your kids.  Build yourself up, build up your kids, build up your loved ones so it doesn't hurt when butterflies move on.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Digging for gold (well, for spuds)

 My energy levels have been iffy this week so we haven't made it up to the allotment since the weekend, but we still have much of our last harvest in the fridge to enjoy so I thought I'd run through some of the latest successes and failures.

The potato harvest has been really exciting, despite a bit of damage from keeled slugs (hiding away under ground and munching on our taters).  We grew a few varieties but really should have been more organised and written down what they were - no way now of knowing which variety it was that produced lots of little spuds and which just had one big potato per plant.  Something to consider next year.  We just grew first and second earlies to avoid problems with blight and this seems to have worked really well.  The bed the kids are harvesting here was a big surprise that we got a harvest at all since the seed potatoes started to sprout too early and were hastily stuck into cold wet heavy clay at the beginning of the year.They never really looked like they would amount to much, but they apparently beavered away under the soil and provided us with a few meals anyway.

 Lettuces have been a surprise success, especially these red (possibly Batavia?) ones.  The first time we sowed the bed not one thing germinated (pigeons?), so we sowed again in module trays at home and planted them out under netting.  These are great, not much bug damage or unwanted visitors to wash out, they're firm and crisp and tasty, just like a shop one as Ollie pointed out.
 Also from the lettuce bed we've had brilliant kohl rabi.  Unless you get a veg box delivered this is something that you don't normally see here in the UK so it's been great to have had it do so well (very tasty grated into slaw).
Cabbages, sprouts and broccoli are all looking promising in this netted patch too.
 Onions are still doing well.  These were mostly from 50p a bag sets from Lidls so a good bargain which makes it worth having grown them financially as well as for fun.
 We grew shallots for the first time ever successfully too, which has led to another first - making pickled onions. I've made one batch in malt vinegar and the other in cider vinegar.  The kids love them so I don't think they'll last much longer on the shelf.






Lots of failures too, a mixture of inexperience, time and conditions.  The French and climbing beans haven't fared well at all in the dry hot windy weather we had when we planted them out.  I think one of each survives.  At home the courgettes all get blossom end rot and drop off, victims of insufficient water or fertilizer perhaps.  The radishes were decimated by flea beetles and the turnips and swedes never germinated at all.  Four trays of seedlings snuffed it due to under watering.  We've had plenty of strawberries from home but not one from the allotment (a squirrel apparently took a fancy to them).


 Nonetheless we have been surprised by the success of the things that have grown well, given the very heavy clay soil, the infestation of bindweed and the trampling by small boys.

Visually my favourite allotment offering has been these Chioggia pink beetroots.  Stir fried they retain their candy striped colour and grated raw in a salad they look and taste really pretty.  All the benefits of beetroot but with none of the red staining.

It does take a lot of time and effort, but it's such a good experience for the kids and a brilliant resource for food and fun I'm still really grateful we had the opportunity to gain a space to grow.  For someone who likes food it's also a better incentive to exercise more than jogging, I don't think my waist is any smaller but my watering can carrying muscles are definitely firmer!


Monday, 6 July 2015

Educational freedom

 The boys have been working very hard on their 'school work' and so it's a great pleasure to be able to take a morning off when we feel like it to go to see the new exhibition at the gallery (it made our eyes feel fizzy) and then make the most of low tide by running around being airplanes and hunting in rock pools. 

We wrote with our toes in the sand and counted how many seconds we could walk just on our heels.
We looked at how the smooth part of the beach was good to walk on, but the rippled part started to get muddy and by the bottom of the beach it was impassable gunk that swallowed up our feet.  We 'rescued' a big pink sea snail the size of a chestnut stranded on the sand by finding a rock pool for it. 

We investigated the plants of the shore, and talked about how the seakale and horned poppies had to cope with salt and wind and storms.

We talked to an older friend we met along the way, and ate a sandwich while watching the horizon and talking about the curvature of the Earth and why the lighthouse is there far out to sea.  Then we headed off for our afternoon Yoga lesson and to present our lovely friend and teacher the cards the boys had lovingly made before we left home, Ollie writing out a whole message on his creation and even little Toby writing his name on his one.  At yoga we stretched, and breathed and listened to a story about filling our bucket with happiness by filling up other peoples buckets for them with our kind words and actions.

It was good to remember that education isn't just about reading and writing in a closed room (although that plays it's part),  it's about finding a balance and seizing the opportunities that we have to grow happy, healthy children who can't wait for the next story, the next lesson, the next adventure in learning for the whole person.   Even a trip to the shops becomes a treasure hunt with Daddy and another opportunity to learn together.  Whether children are schooled or not, this is something we can all enjoy as families - we are all free to enjoy educating our children when we are with them, and it's often in subjects that will only be tested when we look at the adults they become.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Hidden Hastings on the 4th July

Yesterday was an interesting day and a great opportunity to explore a side of our adopted home town that we have never seen before.

We were very excited to have a chance to nosy around inside one of the old Hastings Observer buildings, abandoned decades ago when the newspaper moved to new premises and now looking to be brought back into use by the Flint Group as 'an exciting multi-use hub' according to one of the artiest and least informative leaflets I have ever been handed.






 The Observer Building being open was part of a wider range of events, including the launch of a new street market which will run every Saturday through the summer in the Alley behind the Library and the Observer building.  It seems to be organised by Holy Trinity Church and according to the flyer vendors donate 5% of their takings to the 'Safehaven Women Outreach Service'.  There is a Facebook page listed for anyone interested in becoming a vendor Facebook.com/theobserverbuilding.

 There were a really nice selection of interesting vendors already in evidence, including a local brewery and a wild foraged food stall, plus an old colleague of mine who unexpectedly popped up running a juice bar.




We've often seen the front of the Observer Building as it is near the Library but I had no idea that there was anything of interest tucked behind it. 

What we found was an intriguing mixture of architecture, art and utilitarian building additions all merging in to the beautiful golden sandstone bedrock of the town.
 
 








When you start looking at one thing you never noticed before in your town, you soon start to see other details, like the amazing carvings around a sealed up door wedged between a sports shop and a record shop.  I love to walk in familiar places looking down at the doorsteps or up at the roofs - how many amazing buildings are hiding in plain view up above the bland shop fronts!

 
 



Among the surprises of the day was the Church being open for visitors, complete with a bouncy castle inside!  Built in Victorian times (as were most of the 'fancy' buildings here) this Church turned out to be an amazing space with incredible carvings and glass.  I was in agreement with Ollie at not being able to get enough of looking at wooden ceiling arches.













In true random Hastings style, in celebration of the 4th July there was a two piece band playing Johnny Cash songs from the back of a gorgeous Dodge truck, plus American Jeeps on display, the owners of which kindly allowed two very enthusiastic little boys to sit in.

I haven't covered nearly enough of what was going on that day with live music, street performers and things to try, but it would take a long long time to talk about everything that was going on during an average weekend in Hastings.  Not a bad day out since we only went into town to get Matt a new backpack.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Rare Breeds Centre fun

 We had a lovely new experience a couple of weeks ago when we went with Toby's nursery on their annual farm trip.  This year it was to the Rare Breeds Centre over the border in Kent.  It was nice timing as Toby has decided outright that he doesn't want to go to nursery so it was a great way to say goodbye to the fantastic staff.  I was as enthusiastic about going to this farm as the kids were because I'd heard so many great things about it.  It certainly lived up to the reports, and then some!
 The Rare Breeds Centre is the base for the Canterbury Oast Trust, "a charity which supports over 160 adults who have learning and physical disabilities" (quote from their website).  They provide a home, accredited training and work experience for many of the folk they support including looking after the animals or growing plants in the nursery gardens.

As a day out for children it is superb.  It's home to the widest range of attractions I've ever seen at a children's farm, including a huge variety of different animals with hands-on opportunities, brilliant play parks, tractor rides, pig racing, a butterfly house, walk-in aviary, a reptile room and much more.



 Picnics are welcome and we enjoyed ours in a beautiful garden, replete with chickens, rabbits, tortoises and information on projects such as square foot gardening and impressive productive vegetable beds.
 The kids were really impressed with all of it, but I think their favourites were the play parks, especially the fort and the tunnel trail.  While Matt and the kids scuttled around the tunnels I went to see the nursery garden and talked to a horticulture tutor and one of her students, who recommended we walk on up to the 'Mysterious Marsh'.

I really loved the Mysterious Marsh with it's challenge of getting around the course without touching the floor, and with a fab outdoor music area at the end of the course.  It's the first time I've done a rope swing from one platform to another in years and was a good opportunity for the boys to show off all the balancing skills they have been practicing at gymnastics.

We visited for three hours, but to do it justice I think we'd need to go back several times.  We'll certainly be looking into the family bird of prey experience which we can book on to when Toby is 5. 

Accessibility and facilities:
The site is really well thought out with respect to accessibility (even the play fort has an accessible entrance) and the staff, volunteers and residents are a really great asset to the farm - the fantastic care that the animals receive is really evident.  The accessible nature of the site means it is ideal for visitors with push chairs or wheelchairs, including accessible toilets.  Picnics are welcome, but there is also a cafĂ©, shop and other places to buy food including a counter selling teas and ice creams in one of the play parks. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

It is rocket science - the new Sublime Science Club

A while back we reviewed the e-book 'Don't Eat Your Own Slime' which was very cool, and since then I have become a presenter for Sublime Science, which is a dream job as it means getting my geek on and spreading the word that science is exciting while making things go bang, plus it's weekends so it doesn't take me away from my own little scientists for too long.

Today we trialled a great new addition to the Sublime Science repertoire - the shiny new Sublime Science Club.  For the price of a coffee a week you get access to e-versions of the 'Don't eat your own slime' book and 'The most incredible science experiment DVD ever', plus printable manuals, home decoration pack and certificates to help you get the most out of great new experiments uploaded monthly to the club page.
 The experiments have a different theme each month, this month it was 'radical rockets', which came with clear instructions videos and required only normal household items and junk from the recycling box.  Videos of experiments are available from sources such as YouTube, but what I really liked about these ones was the clear explanations of the science behind each experiment, plus suggestions of how to adapt the basic experiment to explore it further. 

Being able to look at what we would need before I showed the videos to the boys was helpful - for example we don't normally have disposable plastic water bottles so we saved some from a day out on Saturday. 

The boys were very excited when they recognised that Mad Marc's T-shirt was the same as the one I wear under my lab coat 'look, that man is mummy scientist too' was Toby's comment.  We do lots of experiments at home, but seeing them demonstrated on the screen somehow made it all seem more like a proper science project to them, not just mucking around with mummy. We also got to try out new ideas that we hadn't seen before, and the boys had great fun coming up with their own versions.


The mess was pretty limited, but being able to show a short video demonstration between experiments gave me a couple of minutes to clear away one thing and set up for the next, which gave a really nice pace to the morning.  The set ups were almost all things that the boys could manage for themselves with very little help, even at ages 3 and 5, which adds to the hands on fun.

When we finished I presented the boys with their official Radical Rockets Graduation Certificates which we can add to a project book that we will start for their science club experiments.  I think as a way of giving non-scientist parents and carers a toolbox for making science a regular, fun and creative part of the monthly line up of activities this club is a brilliant idea, and for the regular science explorers out there it's a way of expanding on tried and tested favourites and making an event of it.  The more families that get a chance to have fun with science, technology, engineering and maths the more chance we have of keeping kids interested in STEM subjects as they grow and choose careers.  We'll certainly be making rockets the Sublime Science way again.


http://www.sublimescience.com/
 

Note:  I got my trial for free, but images and opinions are all my own.  Sublime Science offers a no quibble guarantee that you'll like it, so if you join and then don't like it you can cancel at any time.