Thursday, 30 May 2013

Reinforcing your child's sense of belonging in their family home(s)

 Children crave stability, and a sense of belonging.  As parents there is only so much we can do to provide a home that doesn't move, a family that stays together and a continuum of schooling where the child sees the same faces throughout their education.  Realistically, for most people, the idea of living in the same home for generations and being embedded in a village style community isn't something we can, or even would want, to provide.  This is not to say that we shouldn't be aware of how much
change can upset our kids though, and there are many ways we can help to raise children who feel like they belong.  As a child my family moved a few times for jobs, and it always troubled me that I couldn't reply to the simple question in French classes 'where are you from?'.  I was born in Scotland, but left as a tiny baby, and my family and accent weren't Scottish, so I couldn't claim to be 'from' Scotland.  Likewise Devon, or
 Buckinghamshire, or Worcestershire, or Cambridgeshire.  My parents were however (and still are)  masters of making you feel loved and cherished and this is an environment I want to imitate as I learn to be a good parent myself.

One way I am attempting to do this is my making the children feel that they are at the heart of our home.  They have reminders of this in every room, from the pictures of them on the walls and mugs (from Tesco and Snapfish), the silly cows at the bottom of the stairs above Ollies throne area (not that he uses his potty any more, but it will be there for Toby in due course), the areas for toys and books all over the house, and in the artwork in their bedrooms.  No-one visiting us could have any doubts that our lives
revolve firmly around the children, and I hope in so doing that the boys will grow up knowing they are loved and we belong to each other wherever we end up.

Although I have painted a door mural, most of the environmental enrichment is completely moveable.  This has been a conscious intention from the start, because who knows where any of us can end up in the future, and if we need to move for jobs, we will be able to make the unfamiliar familiar with the personal touches from our old home.  The drawing I made for Ollie when he was a baby will go up in any bedroom he has, until he decides he's too old for it at least.  The map beneath it is a lovely new addition from  This company offers a range of personalised stationary, including fab posters which you can customise with your details. In our case I chose one that we can use to track our travels as a family, customised with our name and the date of our wedding.
The company also does posters for all sorts of events, such as to welcome a new baby, or for a christening (I was very tempted by these, but with four new babies arrived or on the way this year from close friends and family, plus a christening next week, I couldn't pick between them).

Our poster arrived this week, and I'm really pleased with the quality and finish.  I've mounted on corrugated cardboard so we can stick pins in of the places we've visited together as a family.  I think I'll look out for some tiny pins or stickers so we can colour code the places we've been and the places we dream of seeing.

For families where one parent works abroad, like those in the armed forces, this could be a nice way of tracking where the absent parent is, so children can visualize where mum or dad is at any given time.  Or perhaps for children who have family abroad, or an international heritage, it could be a way to place everyone.

However you do it, your little ones will surprise you by how much they notice and appreciate the new additions you make with them in mind, and in years to come I hope mine are mentioning how much they felt cherished as a child when they are my age now x

This post was sponsored, but the ideas and images are all my own (lets face it, much as we love it, you're never going to see my house in ideal homes!)

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Spring foraging

 There are few ways as certain to get kids interested in wild plants, and cooking, as foraging for a few ingredients in your local park or woods.  The act of foraging gives children skills such as plant identification and a sense for the changing of the seasons.  It is really really important that you drive the message home however that they don't put anything in their mouths that you haven't looked at and returned to them, having checked it is safe to eat!  Opportunities for foraging are all around us.  The top picture, taken from the verge outside Ollie's nursery, shows garlic mustard (or 'jack-by-the-hedge'), which for those who like garlicky mustard makes an addition to the spring salad bowl (not for me though, bleurgh!)  In the background is one of the first plants Ollie learned to identify last year - cleavers, or as he knows it 'sticky willy'.  This is reputed to be a cleansing herb and a good tonic, and our old greyhound certainly
couldn't get enough of it, although we tend to mostly use it for sticking to each other and making crowns.

Dandelions are good, and easy to identify.  A few leaves add a nice bitter twist in sandwiches and salads, and the petals are also edible.  Go easy on the leaves though, as they are a diuretic (hence the folk name 'pee-the-bed'). My absolute favourite at this time of year is wild garlic, or ramsons, which is hugely prolific in our neck of the woods.  It's a good starting-out with foraging plant too, because it smells pungently of garlic, and the wide green leaves don't look much like anything else at this time of year.  Still, if you've not been foraging before it's worth booking into a guided walk to make sure you're doing it all safely.  For example, I wouldn't personally eat foraged mushrooms, because despite the biology degree and years of fieldwork, I'm just not that confident that I won't poison myself.

So what to do with all your foraged goodies?  In the case of wild garlic, the opportunities extend to anything you would use plants from it's family for - think of mild garlic, chives, leek, shallot, salad onions.  We really enjoyed wild garlic omelettes last year for example.  After our latest trip, Ollie had got a bit carried away and filled a whole bag.  It's really important not to deplete an area, and to use everything you take away, so my standby for excess ramsons is 'wild garlic butter' patties.  Wash your ramsons leaves. chop them up finely or whizz them with a blender, then mix up with butter.  Use two teaspoons to form patties, arrange on a baking sheet and then pop into the freezer.  When they're frozen, you can tip them into a freezer bag and just take out a couple as needed.  They're great put in with a piece of fish in a tin foil parcel in the oven.  We also wilted chopped ramsons in butter and used it for a really decadent topping for mashed potatoes.

The pungency of this plant makes it really appealing to my boys - Toby liked stirring the chopped ramsons into the butter, and Ollie had a go at making the patties with teaspoons, although after running around collecting them he was more interested in eating the finished product than doing the cooking this time.

If you're not near somewhere sensible for collecting wildfoods, or you are really nervous of picking up the wrong thing (it's always best to be cautious), then you can provide a similar experience for your kids by growing a few eatables in your garden, or by taking them to pick-your-own farms. The highlight of Ollie's toddler year was the trip to Tanyard Farm PYO, although I did have to warn nursery they might be in for some odd nappies the next day :)  Alongside the traditional PYO soft fruit farms, we've even been to some where you can pick veg such as spinach, so you can have a real field-to-table experience and make a whole meal from your gleanings.  Hopefully after the deluges and flooded fields last year, this year we'll be able to go fruit picking in the sunshine.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Thou shalt have a fishy...

My boys have a passion for fish that would make even Rick Stein blush.  Ollie will eat any kind of fish you put in front of him, from tinned mackerel on toast to raw fish in sushi.  Toby's not so keen on the sushi, but has eagerly nommed everything else.  The only exceptions so far have been cockles which Ollie says 'taste like bogeys, not nice bogeys, yucky bogeys' and a certain fast food outlets 'fish fingers'.

Ollie also loves to shop for the ingredients for his meals, and have a choice in what we get.  My favourite place to shop for fish is from the shops in the net sheds down on the Old Town seafront here in Hastings.  Ollie likes to go in by himself with 10p to buy a fish stick to eat as we walk (usually on our way back from the aquarium - Ollie's not bothered that he's eating Nemo's distant relatives).

For this particular meal however I wasn't even intending on having fish, but when we got to the supermarket the first place Ollie dragged us to was the fish counter.  He had a great time talking to the very informative man there, who when Ollie picked out sea breem showed him it's sharp teeth, and the long spines in it's dorsal fin.  The man told Ollie that when a big fish comes to eat the breem, it raises the spikes up so the big fish won't eat it.  Ollie spent all day with his fingers fanned out on the top of his head shouting 'you're a big fish, you can't eat me, I put my spines out like this and it hurts your mouth!'.  I tried to steer him towards something cheaper, like trout or mackerel, but he had his heart set on the 'big teeth fishy'.

When we got home, we had a couple of hours of begging to see his big teeth fishies, before Toby finally had a nap.  Much as I like cooking with both the boys, the fish knife is very very sharp and I get nervous enough using it with Ollie nearby, without Toby climbing around too.  Ollie made a thorough exploration of his fish, and was especially fascinated by its fins and eyes.  We did a bit of dissection exploration, which I won't go in to as I don't want to turn stomachs :)  I trimmed off the fins with scissors, removed the head by making an incision behind the gills, and cleaned any stray bits of innards.  Then after removing all the bits that needed removing, Ollie helped me to do a last bit of de-scaling by running a plastic knife all over the fish in the direction of tail-to-head (always worth it as there's always a few left even when it's a shop prepared fish, and those scales are really hard and sharp).  Ollie rubbed olive oil over the fish and then wrapped them in tin foil, and put them in the fridge ready to go in the oven later.  He also helped me to scrub the new potatoes he'd chosen, and snap the woody ends off the asparagus.  Beans on toast for tea the next night after such extravagance!

Seeing the food growing is the only thing this meal lacked to make it a more rounded experience, but growing food in the garden, and visits to PYO and farms are all part of the learning agenda taken as a whole year. Even so, we covered a huge variety of ideas, including; foodchains (who eats whom); food hygiene (wash your hands before and after cooking, don't rub fishy hands on your trousers and why); senses (what does the fish feel like, what does the asparagus taste like, what does the ginger for the sauce smell like...); adaptations (why does a fish look different to a person) and so on, not least the home economics aspects of cooking. Every bit of the finished meal was eaten, which tends to be the case when kids have a hand in making their own food.

The big key is, however, timing.  Cooking is mainly led by the kids, by which I mean we cook together when they feel the need to.  Sometimes I'll  suggest making something, expecting a stampede to the kitchen, only to be told 'not now mummy, I'm playing with Toby'.  It's really important to try to match your activity to your kids energy that moment, as it's counterproductive turning a fun family activity into a chore or a 'boring lesson' because you've judged it wrong.  This is something that schools can't do, because they must follow set patterns and lessons for practical reasons, but at home we do have more flexibility to pick up on what appeals our little ones that day, and provide nurturing opportunities for them to pursue their interests.  And sometimes it's nice for them to get the occasional 'win' among the usual 'not that, it's bad for you/too expensive' replies to their endless demands in the shops and get to choose some groceries themselves.  You never know, you may end up with fish, new potatoes and asparagus.  Or pretzels, squid and squeezy cheese if your offspring are new to this food shopping malarkey :)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Here's an interesting opportunity.  My lovely friend Natalie runs a holiday auction website, where you can bid to win a holiday for two adults, including transport, and the lowest unique bid wins.

I'm a bit stupid about such things, and don't even play the national lottery, but since the latest holiday on offer is two weeks in Phuket, and since we're obviously not expecting a lottery win in the future to pay for such a holiday ourselves, this seems like a cool idea.  The last holiday that was won, which was to Paris, only had 100 bids on it, so I reckon the odds aren't too shabby.

The recession has certainly led to a wealth in inventive ways to generate income and get a bargain. People struggling to sell their homes have even started to raffle them off, so you could potentially get a £1 million house for a £1 raffle ticket, although as this article in the telegraph points out, this could land the seller in trouble for running and illegal lottery

I wonder what other ingenious ways people are using to get around the current financial situation?  Answers on the back of a postcard please, or failing that, in the comments box :)

Friday, 10 May 2013

Is it worth buying 'natural' skin products for kids?

The sun has been kind enough to have visited our cloudy shores several times now, which has prompted the annual buying in of sunscreen.  I used to try to only use products labelled as 'eco-friendly', 'organic' and 'natural' products on the kids, but the claims and counterclaims on such products left me wondering 'what's it all about really?'

For example, I was lucky enough to get an assignment last year testing an eco-brand skin lotion.  When I glanced at the ingredients, there was a list as long as my arm.  I don't know why this surprised me.  Perhaps I had naively assumed that the 'organic' label also meant less complex, perhaps a blob of beeswax here and a drop of rose oil there.  Since I was writing the piece for The Green Parent magazine I wanted to be really thorough and not just make assumptions, so I got online and looked up every single ingredient on that list.  It took a looong time.  The result though was that even the most complicated, synthetic sounding ingredients had been extracted from natural sources, and every single one was FDA approved for human consumption.  Since your skin absorbs everything you put on it and this stuff can end up in your blood stream, the teacher at my baby massage class's mantra was 'don't put anything on their skin that you wouldn't put in their mouth'.  Finding that all the ingredients were 'food grade' was therefore a pleasant surprise.

I don't have time to do this for every product I use, so like everyone I rely on the broader claims made on products.  If the product says it is organic, I believe that it will be made from organic ingredients.  However, in the course of researching the above mentioned article I found out that while lots of products are what you would expect them to be, lots more that are sold in major chain stores only have to contain 70% organically sourced ingredients in order to claim to be organic.  According to Channel 4's website an exception is if they have signed up to carry the soil association logo, in which case the minimum is 95% organic ingredients.  'Against animal testing' doesn't mean the product and it's ingredients haven't been tested on animals, only that the manufacturer is working towards ending testing, or funds research into alternatives, so llok out for a clear 'not tested on animals' symbol. 'Fairtrade' - as with organic, this means that a percentage of the product is made of Fairtrade ingredients, but not necessarily all of it.

With so many conflicting claims and the high cost associated with some eco brands, I've become quite choosy about what I buy.  I tried a few eco-sunscreens, but have yet to find one that is as nice to use as my current non-organic brand.  My eco bath bubbles and soap seem to work well for the kids, and don't make my allergy-prone skin itch, so we're sticking with them.  My make-up definitely needs overhauling as I've gone for a brand that works well, without looking too closely at it's ethics or ingredients (funny how we can be so picky about what goes on our kids, while slathering ourselves with the gods only know what).  In general I think it is worth getting the eco-brands for my kids, but I'm sure manufacturers of traditional brands make every effort to comply with the strict guidelines about what they are allowed to add to products for children. My favourite solution is however to just make whatever I can myself, and cut out the middle man.  Looking for lovely safe massage oils for your family?  Plain carrier oils such as almond, with a couple of drops of a baby-safe essential oil such as lavender (if you're confident in using them) is perfect.  I think this is the same idea in the heads of an increasing army of artisan toiletries producers, and if that's up your street there are loads of great ways to make your finished products look really professional and also help to make them comply with product labeling regulations, such as this short-run label service

I'm not quite up to the standard of selling the stuff I make for my family, but I have got a few ideas for Christmas gifts that will work and smell nice knocking around, so if you know me and you get something pretty and smelly for Christmas, don't be surprised.  As I make no claims for any skill, I apologise in advance if you end up with something that is just pretty smelly instead (albeit with a nice bottle and clearly labelled ingredients!)

Disclaimer: this post is sponsored, but my rambling anecdotes are true and all my own :)

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Green fingered babies

 These images cycled round on our digital photo frame today and it got me thinking about how much my little ones have enjoyed all their experiences with gardens and with growing things themselves.  Ollie is about 18 months old here.  We used to have a small pond in this barrel, originally with some fish in (until my otherwise lovely neighbour moved in with her four cats).  When Ollie started climbing into everything however we went babyproofing mad and decided that even a small pond was too dangerous an attraction for him, so we turned it into a planter by drilling holes in it and filling it with compost.

Almost immediately Ollie climbed in, and spent a contented afternoon feeling the texture of the soil with his hands and digging out an assortment of minibeasts to show me.  I was proud of how gently my little lad held those worms, snails, woodlice and spiders.  This is a delight his little brother at 16 months is now copying due to the kind provision of a soil play table at our playgroup, as well as our own plant troughs and pots.

I have always loved growing things myself, so it has been with great pleasure that I've discovered how great an affinity my small people, and small people in general, have for gardening.  According to Countryfile recently, a huge slice of our national economy depends on horticultural expertise, from gardeners to compost specialists, and plant pathogen scientists to market gardeners.  So it is a great shame that, also according to the same show, we are heading into a staffing crisis where the existing horticulturalists are aging, and fewer and fewer youngsters are entering horticultural professions.

Schools are dependent in part on the constraints of the National Curriculum, which is set by central government.  Virtually all of the botany and plant science has been removed from the curriculum over time by ministers who don't understand the value of it.  Some schools have fought back by engaging students in gardening projects and even school farms, but as with most areas of life, a real passion for the subject is ready to be awakened in children with a little help from their own families.

There are lots of great resources available for encouraging children into the garden, including child-sized gardening tools, gloves and cute packets of easy to grow seeds.  This website has great hints and practical guides to getting started.  Growing sunflower seeds is one of the most rewarding activities you can do with your little grower because there are so many opportunities to go cross-curricular in your approach.  When planting the seed you can set it up as an experiment where they can draw their seed and predict what they think might happen to it if it gets all the things it needs.  From there you can talk about what makes things alive, and what things that are alive need, and how they differ between animals and plants.  As the seed grows you can help your child to measure out the amount of water they are going to give it, and also measure and draw the plant at intervals.  This leads to discussions about how living things change, including how your child is growing, how they were different as a baby, what they'll be like later on.  Ollie really likes his 'experiments' and for a really inquisitive child you could look at keeping your seedlings in different conditions and seeing which grow best - a tallest sunflower competition between the back of your house and the front perhaps.

This website also has instructions for growing a really fun courgette 'eight ball' and even a variety of corn that will make popcorn!  We've grown both courgettes and sweetcorn before and have had good success rates with both.  The courgettes we grew tended to glut though, so I'd definitely be interested in a plant that would grow smaller, child sized courgettes.    I've read really good reviews about the popcorn plant in the past too, so that sounds like a great project to try this year.  The best thing is that all of these plants are robust, non-toxic and can be grown in pots, which is a must with our limited space and two active little lads who still like to put everything in their mouths.  I have an idea for a planter with a sweetcorn in the rear, a courgette in the front, and the miniature sunflower seeds we sowed last week providing colour to one side, with Swiss Chard Rainbow Lights to the other.  Progress report to follow :)

Disclaimer -  this post was sponsored, but views, opinions and experiences of mucky toddlers and wiggly minibeasts are all mine

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Something fishy down by the sea

We are lucky enough to live a short drive/bus ride from the sea in East Sussex.  When I worked at Hastings college, we were given some statistics about the area as part of staff training to understand the students we were serving.  One of the stats was for the proportion of kids in St Leonards-on-Sea who had NEVER been to the seaside.  I wish I could remember the number, but it was high enough to make us all gasp - maybe in the region of a third.  This stat wouldn't have been shocking somewhere in the midlands, where access to the seaside is dependent on having sufficient income and an affordable means of transport.  But in St Leonards-ON-SEA, it seems very odd.  We live about as inland as you can get without being out of town, and even from here it's an hours walk at most, and far less on the bus.  So what's happening? It would be a really interesting project for someone to look into the socioeconomic factors affecting participation in rockpooling :)

Perhaps there's an image for many folks that the beach is just for laying on on holiday, reading a book and turning into a lobster, and that you need to travel to another country to do that?  I'm not a sunbather.  I get bored sitting down for long periods.  What I love to do at the coast is to explore.  Years ago I even had a job where I got to spend most of my days poking around in rockpools and searching for fossils in the mud.  In total the number of kids I've taken on beach walks, rockpooling and fossil hunting number into the hundreds.  Now I get to do it all over again with my own children.

The Hastings area doesn't have exposed sand all day (if you want that, the nearest place is the dunes at Camber, less than an hour's drive down the coast from here).  What we have is a lovely pebbly beach, with steep berms that shift depending on the presence or absence of stormy seas.  When the sea goes out we have miles of sand, perfect for little legs to run around on, playing games and building sand castles.  Even better, we get rockpools.  I'm not going to lie, they're not the best rockpools I've ever explored, but a lot of fun can be had with them nonetheless.

Children are always fascinated by the variety of creatures they can see in a short time, many of which are slow and hardy enough for even the littlest toddlers to get a good look at.  A net and bucket is helpful, and if you are being really organised a rockpool viewer (a plastic tub with a transparent bottom - I just use a transparent plastic Yeo Valley yoghurt pot with the cardboard label peeled off) will allow you to see past the reflections at the surface and see glass shrimp and sometimes fish swimming around.  Lifting fronds of seaweed often reveals crabs, as does turning over stones.  It's all a good way of getting kids enthusiasm fired  for observing the natural world, and a good opportunity also to instill in them the mantra of 'handle gently and return your finds to the exact spot you found them'.  If your little one manages to pry off a limpet, for example, it's really important to replace it where it came from as they make their own home groove in the rock which they will return to each time the tide goes out.

As Ollie found out last time we went though, there are some things to be careful of.  Watch out and make sure your little'uns don't pick up dead things.  I think that Ollie's poorly tummy can be traced to the 'mummy look at this big starfish' incident.  There were dozens of large starfish washed up on the shore, most of them dead, and all about the same size.  In January a similar stranding happened elsewhere in Britain, which was attributed to stormy seas dislodging them.  We had no storms this time though, so combined with the fact the starfish were all the same large size this is likely to be related to mating, and not to some noxious pollutant in the water.  However a dead sea animal is not going to be the most hygienic thing for little ones to be touching, so try to keep a better eye on them than I did.  Other hazards include barnacles which are sharp and will graze if you slip onto them (first aid kit in your bag with disinfectant wipes and plasters is handy).  All the usual safety precautions of having children near water also apply,

There are loads of great guides available online with everything from the best beaches to visit, to identifying your rockpool treasures when you get there.  As an outdoor classroom the sea shore is definitely one of the best places you can visit.  For a really embedded learning experience, you could introduce some of the things you may look for in a book before you visit (or for older ones, find out together about tides, the intertidal zone etc...), then visit and take photos, and afterwards get little ones to draw pictures of what they found, look at photos of the trip together (older children could add these into a project book covering things like how the animals and plants are adapted to live in this zone) and maybe use themed songs and rhymes to remind them of their visit ('she sells sea shells by the sea shore' for example is thought to be about Mary Anning, the famous Lyme Bay fossil collector).

Friday, 3 May 2013


This is one for anyone who's in or near Hastings, in East Sussex, this weekend.  My absolute favourite thing about living in Hastings is happening this weekend - the Jack-in-the-green festival.

Although the festival as practiced here in Hastings is not as old as most folks think, it has its roots in the ancient ways of pre-Christian Britain.  One of the highlights for me is the dancing up at the Castle.  Before we moved here several years ago, I had the misconception that Morris Dancing was something a little odd practices by men with hankies.  I could not have been more wrong.  Troops come from all over the country to compete at Hastings during the festival in an exciting whirlwind of traditional music, vibrant dance and fantastic costumes.  Live music and good beer are definitely a major draw, but so too is the crazy procession through the Old Town and up to the Castle, where you follow drums which hook you in like a spell and 10ft tall paper mache character.  Along the seaside it is a mecca for bikers, with it seems every bike and trike in the country turning up to bask in the sunshine (it always seems to be sunny for Jack-in-the-green).

You cannot beat the feeling of good natured hippyness and this is a lovely way to introduce kids to old England.

If you want to know more there is a great website and also information on Wikipedia.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Vikings are coming

Among the plethora of things that have been keeping me busy of late, sewing and costume making have really been up there in the top five time consumers.  Not that I am complaining, as the result is being able to spend time with my friends and family being big kids at amazing historically important sites around the country.

Last year we were at Corfe Castle for the May bank holiday weekend.  Excitingly, it's all happening again this weekend, and thankfully the weather reports look great this time.

We are members of the Vikings, an international society of re-enactors whose members represent the people of the dark ages, including Anglo-saxons, Vikings, Normans and I've even met a Rus character.  We joined in late 2011 after a few years of 'wouldn't it be lovely' every time we saw the re-enactors at the Battle of Hastings.  We're still very green and unworldlywise in the ways of the group, so it is at this point I should say that the views expressed herein are mine solely and not those of the Vikings, etc.. etc..

I had a little lad at the time we met the Vikings, and another on the way.  An old African proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child, and lacking a village we went out and found one.  For the boys, it has been a lovely opportunity to gain extra aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, and to dress up and run around with lovely kids in great locations.  For myself, I have learned several new craft techniques, including naarlbinding (Viking knitting, done using a single needle) and lucet cord making, as well as having sewn whole articles of clothing from scratch for the first time in my life.  We spent most of last year as part of the Living History team demonstrating costume, food and crafts and being repeatedly asked 'is he a real baby' about Toby, as members of the public were amazed to find babies and children included in the re-enactment.  This year, Matt has recently passed his display archery test, so I'm looking forward to seeing him in action at the butts.

We've made firm friends, who we even see outside of Viking events, and are thoroughly looking forward to spending time with everyone soon.  For anyone looking for a way to really learn about history beyond that dates of battles and the names of kings, I would highly recommend getting involved.  We've joined Caent Herred, based in Canterbury, but there are groups all over the country, and several abroad including America.  Have a look at the website below for more information and details of people to contact about joining the Vikings.  If you're an educator or events organiser, there are also details on the site which will allow you to book a viking delegation for your open day or other happening.


Hi Folks, I've just signed up to be considered for hosting adverts on this site.  If I do get approved, in theory I should get some income each time an ad is clicked on (all of which will be helpful in our 'replaying the over-payment of child tax credits two years ago' fund!).  The cost of childcare and the cock-up by the child tax credits folks meant that having left the house at 7am and returned at 7pm each day, with Ollie in nursery for 10 hours of that, I was effectively working for £10 a day (as a teacher!), and when he was sick and I had to take (unpaid) time off work, but still had to pay the nursery, this quickly became minus money.  So returning to work with two preschoolers in tow is just pointless for me at the moment.  Hence the need to try to work around the little'uns (and the studying for a second degree, and the historical re-enactment which requires sewing of costumes and whatnot).  All in all I know ads can be annoying, but if I do get approved I hope that the content will be matched well to the themes of my blog, and therefore actually useful to those folks kind enough to take an interest in this blog.  I found it good to know a little more about why there is advertising on some of the blogs I like to read, as now I access the adverts as a way of saying thank you to the bloggers for the time they have taken to post content that I have found interesting and informative.  That reminds me, with other sites relying on donations rather than advertising, I must owe Wikipedia about a million quid in thank yous by now :)

We helped to build a Polytunnel in France last month

 Ok, not the snazzyest title for a post, but I'm writing this on the quick when I'm supposed to be doing a virtual gel electrophoresis activity on the conservation genetics of the Adonis Blue butterfly while Toby has a nap, so I apologise in advance for this being imperfect :)

Last month we went on an exciting adventure to visit an old school friend and his family on their new smallholding near Viam, in France.
 I love the whole ethos of what Ben and Michelle are creating, so when the opportunity came to help out I jumped at it.  We had a pleasant journey over the channel and down through France, the weather improving with every mile, from snow in Dover to spring sunshine in Viam.  Ollie started practicing his French as soon as we got across the Channel 'bonbon s'il vous plait' - I'm not exactly fluent myself, but he got his message across :)
The weather magically held out beautifully for us on all the days we needed it to, so instead of the soggy trudge of work I was expecting, we felt like we had a proper holiday into the bargain.

Over the course of the week we helped to build an awesome polytunnel, which with the exception of the sheet plastic and some hose, was entirely made from upcycled materials and natural things available on site.  Ben brought down two pines from a previous owners christmas tree plot, which provided the wood used for the frame, and the finished structure was sturdy and should hopefully provide a longer growing season and greater variety of veggies for the table.

Ben and Michelle have already made huge strides in turning their new home into an eco-friendly smallholding, and hopefully B&B in the near future.  Outside there are two lovely pigs,  chickens providing eggs, a rabbit,  an annual veg plot and the beginnings of a permagarden plot.  Inside there is a wonderfully warm and beautiful family home, complete with range cooker in the kitchen, log burning stove in the sitting room and spacious guest rooms upstairs.  Everything that possibly can be is made from recycled or upcycled materials, including the amazing use of pallet wood to make furniture and mirrors that you'd pay a fortune for in a swanky boutique.

Michelle fed us sumptuously, even managing to cater for this annoying gluten-intolerant vegetarian without a murmur of complaint :)  We loved feeling a part of the family for the week, with my little lads loving their new playmate Isaac and being privileged to be part of his 4th birthday celebrations.  We even got treated to some sightseeing of the beautiful roman ruins nearby, and the geektastic 'granite walk'.

For my boys it was an opportunity to run around in the freshest of fresh air (one of the least polluted regions of France) and for Ollie it was an opportunity also to start exploring other languages.  He got lots of smiles from shop keepers with his 'merci's and 'bonjours' and both boys enjoyed playing with French children in the  play areas we stopped at en route to and from Viam. For Matt and I it was a chance to work in the sunshine, laugh with like-minded friends and unplug from work and study for a while.  All I have left to say is thank you guys :)  Anyone reading this and wanting to know more, there is a link to Ben and Michelle's blog on my list of favourite blogs.

Liebster Award Nomination

I know it's not a Pulitzer, but I'm rather chuffed to have this blog nominated for a Liebster Award :)  Thank you Natalie xx