Wednesday, 28 October 2015
For a medium omelette each we use two large eggs per person, cheddar cheese grated (a big handful between 4 omelettes) peas (about a cup for four omelettes) and mushrooms chopped into small chunks (about 8 for four omelettes). Pinch of nutmeg, half a teaspoon of turmeric and anything else we fancy like tarragon also goes into the mix.
The adult then cooks the omelette, turning it over to ensure both sides are cooked and serves it up.
To complete the activity, the kids like to help set the table and prepare any sides such as salad.
Every kid can help with this kind of cooking, given assistance appropriate to their age and abilities. They can adapt the recipe by coming up with new additions to the mix, for example let them smell things from the spice rack and choose what they want to add. You could have a taste test - what's better, cheddar or another type of cheese?
Even the actions of breaking eggs, stirring and chopping are skills which many kids are lacking in our culture where an increasing number can swish a finger on a screen but little else, so never underestimate how important these seemingly basic tasks are for fine and gross motor skills.
It's easy enough to make this one dairy free - just leave out the cheese or substitute for non-dairy. Not sure I can veganise this one though as I'm not very familiar with egg substitutes. I'd love to hear suggestions though.
Safety bit: usual sensible precautions. Hand washing before and after food prep and make sure surfaces are clean. Discourage kids from eating raw egg if you aren't confident it's free from salmonella etc... or have immune compromised kids. Check eggs cracked into bowl are free from chunks of shell before adding other ingredients. Be vigilant with hot pans and make sure kids know not to try cooking without an adult present. Mushrooms can be cut with a butter knife, making them a good choice for littler cooks.
Thursday, 22 October 2015
I got quite sick when I was 21. It resulted in post viral fatigue/ME (which took years for a GP to suggest as the probable issue). One of the things I noticed around this time was that when I did manage to get out and about, I couldn't deal at all with noise or crowds. I used to love going dancing in the little clubs in Aberystwyth, but suddenly I couldn't even go into a busy café without feeling like I couldn't breathe, all I could hear was a rushing noise, my heart would start to bang, my vision dim. I didn't realise at the time but I had started having weird surges of adrenaline which my body couldn't deal with. I couldn't concentrate for long enough to read a book, which was devastating to a book worm like me. CFS is a physical illness with mental health effects. I was exhausted all the time, at the real low points I was awake for just a few hours a day. Perhaps the worst thing was that previously I had been constantly on the go, working, studying, exercising, socialising. I didn't do downtime, and suddenly I had an illness that made me seem like a lazy crazy introvert.
I recovered slowly and built up my confidence. Starting working in an outdoor job where I was in the air working with kids and on the move all day definitely helped, although I still had an occasional panic attack if my rota changed unexpectedly and I didn't have time to run through in my head what I would be doing and my coping strategies.
I completed teacher training at 25 and went to work in a school. Again my health crashed. I took some time off, then got a less stressful job. I discovered 'I have a migraine' was a better explanation for incapacity than 'I had a panic attack and couldn't leave my house' (although this was pretty rare and I mostly functioned, although I was never awake past 9.30pm, my life was pretty much work and sleep). I tackled the anxiety head on, reading up on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and applying some of the principles.
I improved, I went back to teaching. I didn't really make friends because I got home from work, did lesson planning and marking, then went to bed at 9.30. You only get asked out on evenings out so many times before people stop asking. I felt very lonely when almost the whole staff room got asked to one teacher's wedding but not me. The anxiety was pretty well in control, I just couldn't do crowded lifts etc (I still can't now, and regularly barge out past people if they keep piling in, although if it's an option I'll usually take the stairs). I leaned on Matt a great deal. I still do, such as when I need to go to a new place and he drives me there, or at least does a drive past the night before if it's local.
When Ollie came along, the worst of the CFS departed. I don't know why. The day on antibiotics and an oxytocin drip perhaps altered something, but I realised at 11.30pm one night, dragging my catheter bag down to SCBU to attempt to feed Ollie that it was 11.30pm and I was awake. In amongst the physical pain of the C-Section and mental guilt at feeling I had failed at the mothering before I'd even got started, was a little elation. My baby would be ok, and I was awake.
Two small boys later I'm in pretty good shape mentally and physically. The first year with a new baby and a 2 year old and no local friends or family able to drop by was tough and I cried a lot, but volunteering changed all that. I still get every bug going, for longer than normal, which I guess is something to do with the CFS. I got Scarlet Fever last year for goodness sake. Adults aren't even supposed to get that. The anxiety is something I continue to tackle head on. I learned relaxation techniques, breathing and visualisation. I practice rock steady self confidence and the use of the 'sod it bin' - i.e. if I can't do anything about it, I mentally file it in the 'sod it' bin and move on.
The biggest thing I do though is to put myself in situations that stress me. Mental block around Maths - I did a Maths for Science Uni course (98%, take that fear of maths). Scared of heights - so up the castle towers I go. Noisy, crowded places freak me out - so I do face painting and science at kids parties. Screachy sports halls and group exercise makes me feel like I want to run (or perhaps wobble) away and hide - I started up a sports club. You stress, and relax, stress and relax. Eventually your brain starts to accept that nothing awful happened last time you were in the noisy, busy place, it'll be fine next time too.
Becoming a volunteer gave me friends and the skills to help with, and now run, groups to try to help out other families. Even when I'm really unwell I can pull it together for the couple of hours that it takes to be bright and bubbly at a party or a group event. A couple of times a week I'll be in bed at 8pm, but generally it's back to burning the candle at both ends studying and whatnot. In my heart is the fear every time I get sick that this is the one that will last for months, shutting down my ability to think and live my life, but every year that passes I am stronger and happier, and blessed in my family and friends for helping to keep me this way. I have to be busy. I cannot be alone. I can't spend too much time with negative people. Any confrontation at all makes my heart race and my hands shake, even having to deliver a polite message that may be taken wrong. An old guy who lives opposite has had my favourite 100 year old Darwin book for two years and I haven't the guts to go ask for it back (what was I thinking lending books to people!). I accept this, there are worse things.
I take the horned poppy as my symbol of resilience. It stands there on the shingle, battered by storms, covered in salt spray, but still the most persistently cheerful blighter on the sea shore. It could have been any other flower tucked in a comfy hedgerow somewhere, but it thrives on the excitement of the coast.
So that's my contribution to the mental health thing. I'm a little crazy. All the best people I know are.
Wednesday, 21 October 2015
I'm trying to keep Ollie interested in learning to read and write by providing varied ideas which he can see the immediate relevance of.
One which we started this week taps into two things, one being his fascination with jokes (he likes them, but he gets frustrated because he can't work out what makes a joke funny), the other is his love of making books.
Each night I write a joke out on our white board. Each morning when he comes down for breakfast Matt helps him read it.
After breakfast (and Octonauts) Ollie then copies the joke into a book that he is making for my Dad's birthday present. When one joke is copied in, he can either tell me the next joke he wants written up for him, or I chose one. The white board stays up on the kitchen table so that Ollie can come back and add to his book as he wants to.
I usually add a diagram to the whiteboard to help him work out what the joke is about, but then the final picture he adds is his own.
So if you have any good, short, clean jokes we'd love to here them please!
Wednesday, 14 October 2015
A post on Facebook by ethnobotanist James Wong reminded me it was the start of chestnut season, so hunting for nuts seemed a good aim for our walk.
We also took a flask of hot water to make bramble tip and nettle tea, so our first job was scouring the hedgerow for nice soft bramble tips and healthy looking nettle tops, which we stuffed in the flask ready for our tea break.
The chestnuts were easy to find along the paths, and we had fun stomping the prickly cases to release the nuts inside. I showed the boys how some nuts were thin and some nice and fat and helped them decide which ones would be best to collect. We also compared sweet chestnuts (edible) with horse chestnuts (not edible) so they could really get a good idea about what they were collecting.
I wasn't sure what to do with the nuts them once we got them, but a fortuitous meeting with a lady while we were having our tea led to the revelation that she peeled a bit of skin off, then put them in a pyrex bowl of water and microwaved them for 20 minutes.
I did this when we got home (carefully checking for evidence of maggots) and used the resultant soft sweet boiled chestnuts to make a nut loaf, recipe at bottom of page.
Searching for bugs in amongst the moss and fallen leaves was a popular pass time, with plenty of wriggly critters to spot.
Watching where you put your wellies was a constant reminder between the toadstools and the dog muck.
Note: Don't eat anything you're not 100% familiar with, and follow normal common sense and local guidelines when foraging. I had to be really vigilant with what and where the boys were collecting as the woods are a popular dog toilet. I don't allow the kids to handle any fungi I'm not certain I can identify as safe, which for me is most of them, but do encourage them to crouch down and have a good look at them.
Nut loaf recipe:
I made this up as I went along, but it worked pretty well. Better cooks can probably refine it a lot.
2 slices wholemeal bread, whizzed in a blender to make breadcrumbs
1 cup of boiled, peeled chestnuts roughly chopped
1 tin of chickpeas, whizzed to a rough chunky paste
teaspoon of salt
1 egg (not desperately needed, leave out if vegan etc)
Mix it all up, spoon into an oiled loaf tin (I laid a strip of baking paper inside to make it easier to lift out), pat it down fairly tightly with a spoon. It about half fills the tin, so enough for us with 2 adults and 2 small kids, but double ingredients for bigger servings. Bake in a hot oven (220C) for about 30 to 40 mins.
As I had the oven on I also did a crumble: 2 finely chopped eating apples and a cup of aronia berries (or any other tart berries) with a tablespoon of sugar (I actually use molasses) sprinkled over for the base. The crumble top was 2 cups of rolled oats, half cup of dessicated coconut, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, mixed and crumbled over the top of the base. Cook for 30 mins in hot oven. Good served with plain yoghurt or non-dairy alternative.
Monday, 12 October 2015
When the boys were happy with their arrangement they sprayed over their shapes. The spraying itself was fun, but when they removed the toys to reveal the white outlines they were amazed.
The activity was really quick to set up, and they loved it so much they kept going until we had used up all spaces available for drying large pieces of paper. I then explained how many examples of cave art exist around the world where our ancestors would spray colours made from ochre, chalk and soot over their hands to produce beautiful handprints. We made our own cave art hand prints on a piece of A4 card.
Once we'd finished being artists, the toys all enjoyed several bubble baths in the washing up bowl. It didn't take much to get the paint off as we didn't leave it long enough to dry on, but the bathing seemed almost as much fun as the painting so I was happy to let them have a few water changes.
The boys love the book we took out from the library 'Cave Baby' and have enjoyed looking at examples of cave art from around the world on the computer, so as well as a fun art play activity it links nicely with other things to find out about.
Note: I thoroughly cleaned the spray bottle before use, but it only had an eco cleaner in it beforehand, I wouldn't use something that had hazardous things such as bleach in it previously. A regular plant mister will work, but I'm happier with recycling a bottle for this as I won't worry if the paint clogs it up. As a way of using up that last bit of paint in the ready mix bottle it was good, but I found red paint looked a bit like something off a crime scene show while we were using it. I suggest not leaving kids unsupervised with this one either, and guiding the hands of little ones, to avoid paint sprayed over the walls and each other.
Tuesday, 6 October 2015
|Ollie, Ben and a fellow herb tutee|
We've had the great pleasure of joining Ben on a couple of herb walks in the past, and so jumped at the chance to join in with this latest series. My degree in Environmental Biology included a fair bit of fieldwork and plant identification, and I have been fascinated with the medicinal uses of plants since I was very young, but before going out and about with Ben last year I hadn't actually put much of my reading to any use. This was because I'm a firm believer that a plant in the field can be a deceptive little blighter, being significantly different to the type specimen depicted in the book depending on it's conditions of growth, and therefore you never know for sure what something is until an expert puts a plant into your hands to feel and smell and really get familiar with. Making teas,balms and lotions with him last summer opened a whole new world to me and I'm now a confident maker of nappy balms, foot creams and hand rubs using the techniques he taught us and a few of the herbs I'm sure of, including the plantain plants which confused me greatly when I read about their herbal uses when I was a child - to me a plantain was a big green banana I'd seen in a grocers shop (Milton Keynes, where we lived, was pretty cosmopolitan place, I'm not sure it's something I would have seen in many other towns in the 1980s).
|Curly dock, Yarrow and Sorrel as |
examples of different leaf margins
On this walk we crossed the train tracks into the top end of the Coombe Valley and discovered the plants of this area, including a beautiful swathe of Small Cow-wheat with it's little yellow snap-dragon like flowers.
We learned how leaf margins and bases are important features for identification of plants, how plants are related or different to eachother, to smell, feel, taste and really get to know the common wayside herbs.
For example fragrant Yarrow for staunching bleeding. I love the etymology of it's Latin name Achillea millefolium which reflects the story that it was given to Achilles by the centaur Chiron to use on battlefield wounds, with the millefolium part meaning thousand leaved and referring to the finely dissected foliage.
Sorrel, Rumex acetosa, or spinach dock, a trendy cooks ingredient with it's clean lemon acid bite that is hard to find in the shops but easy to find in the fields once you know what you are looking for.
Curly dock, Rumex crispus, related to Buckwheat as Ben demonstrated in inviting us to look closely at the curiously shaped seeds. I had been used to considering every type of dock to be just a bit of a nuisance at the allotment, but I'm having to rethink my stance on it.
A favourite for the kids was picking bramble tips, nettles and other herbs to add to the flask of hot water to make our tea ready for our picnic lunch. They were I'm afraid a little greedy with the tea, but Matt at least didn't feel he missed out as he's more a fan of Yorkshire tea bags than anything we might pick from a hedgerow, and much as I liked it I agree you definitely would feel odd dunking a chocolate hobnob in bramble tip tea. The tea tastes of autumn though and it's something that thanks to our foraging walks with Ben I enjoy with the kids regularly after rambling adventures with them around our local neighbourhood, where it's one of the few plants that reliably grows above dog soiling height.
of Butchers Broom, which I first met on fieldwork in the Picos in Spain but spent years in British woods before coming face to face with it again. Ollie liked this prickly character with it's lone red berry, perched like that single Christmas decoration that every year eludes the trip up to the loft with the rest of the baubles and tinsel.
We've lost so much of our connection with plants, been so drilled with 'don't touch, don't pick' messages that aimed to preserve rare flowers but which actually also stopped the last few generations having any relationship with the common weedy plants too. I noticed the difference walking along a lane at the local Pestalozzi village with a group of A-level and IB students a few years ago. The kids from Kenya, Nepal and around the world walked along holding small posies of wild flowers, wove flowers into their hair, made daisy chains and frequently reached out to touch and notice the plants. The local kids wandered along in a bubble, not touching anything but their phones.
Hopefully opportunities like this one with Ben will help to redress this lost connection where we were told by well meaning information campaigns 'don't touch, it could be rare, or poisonous'. How about we teach our children to know the difference, to pick a little with sympathetically and with guidance, to appreciate the bounty in our hedgerows and playing fields, and perhaps to want to conserve the green spaces because they understand them and love them. I certainly can't thank him enough for taking the time to teach us, and thanks also to the Transition Towns group for making this particular series of walks available.
Note: please don't eat anything based on using my photos to identify it - a good field guide such as Francis Rose's Wildflower Key, a foraging book, or even better a walk with an expert is safest if you're a foraging novice. As I've mentioned in previous articles, I have trained my kids not to put anything in their mouth without showing me first - every single time. Also common sense with regards where you're picking - not from dog soiled areas, not from alongside busy roads etc... and the legal side of what you can forage and where is covered amply if you do an internet search relating to your local area. We don't have much here in Britain that will harm greatly by touch alone, but I know my biggest audience is actually in America currently and you guys do have some stuff you don't want to touch like Poison Ivy, so go carefully lovelies. Respect for potentially problematic plants isn't the same as fear of them, but we do still have to respect them.
Friday, 2 October 2015
I see a lot of questions on forums along the lines of 'how do you home educate older children when you have younger ones demanding attention?'. I guess the answer depends so much on the dynamic in your family, what each child is like in temperament and ability and so on, so there's no easy answer. For me, I find doing as many things together as possible in a practical, hands on way that both boys can access is good with our small age gap. However I do spend more time on sit-down activities now that Ollie is nearly six, and this is the time that could be difficult to manage with a younger brother home.
Fortunately, Toby is usually really happy to get on with his own things with a little help and guidance. I set up a little table in the kitchen next to where I work with Ollie on the kitchen table. Toby often asks for his puzzles out, and will patiently go through jigsaw after jigsaw. Other times he will rush to join in and do the 'school books' that he asked for, which requires more input from me in reading tasks and helping him. This is good in it's own way too though as it gives Ollie thinking time and opportunities to have a go at completing whole tasks himself - I'm encouraging him to work through things himself sequentially and check the answers together at the end, rather than pausing after each small thing and waiting for direction.
When Toby has had enough of school books he might wander off to play, or will start another activity such as asking for his play dough, or paint box, or some cutting and sticking. Today he wanted me to draw him some pumpkins to cut out, then stuck them on green paper. He then used the scraps from cutting out the pumpkins to make more cut and stick pictures. Having easy to access, easy to set up, easy to clean up materials is a sanity saver for this - watercolours instead of squeezy ready mix paints, glue stick instead of gloopy glue, paper and scraps ready to hand in a kitchen cupboard.
Today Toby made four pictures, and after being suitably praised by Ollie and me and his favourite put up on the fridge, he decided it was time to crack on with some ironing. He cleared his table (tipped it onto the floor, but hey ho), fetched his toy iron and brought items one by one from the airing rack in the living room. After ironing a piece, he took it back to a laundry pile on the sofa and brought through another item.
By the time he had nearly finished his ironing Ollie was done with maths and phonics and we were ready to do a couple of pages from his science book.
Most of our science is practical, but we do a bit from workbooks every so often to make sure we are covering school topics. Ollie's flying through these, so although we're on 5 to 6 year old maths and phonics, his science book is 9+. I asked Toby to come and help us, as even at the age the book is supposed to be for it's just basic stuff about adaptations and food chains that Toby does well with. Toby said 'hang on, just finish this sock' and came to join us on working out which of a list of animals went with which of a list of adaptations. I showed them pictures of what the animals looked like, but they were critical of the leaf frog having skin colour to match it's environment rather than the impala since, as they pointed out 'the frog in the picture was a different green to the leaf it was on, but the impala was better camouflaged against the dry grass'. They were right, but I countered with a 'yes, but the statement says skin colour, not fur colour and I don't know what colour a shaved impala is and no I'm not going to look it up just right now'. I'm trying not to raise smart arse kids, but at the same time I don't want to go down the road of 'that's the answer they're looking for in the book, therefore that's the only correct answer' which obliterates curiosity and independent thought.
Toby can join in with French too, and this was less controversial than the vagaries of the science book as we made plate pictures based on word list of foods they did with Madame on Monday. Toby showed that he grasped the essentials by asking in French for a biscuit please, which makes me think he has heard Ollie asking this repeatedly at Madame's house. He had a minor meltdown that I put the picture in his file the way up it needed to go, not the way he wanted it (despite it falling out of the plastic pocket when done his way), but was happy enough when he finally got his biscuit.
We watched the kids science show Toby wanted at lunchtime, and since this was based on nice explanations of gravity and a funny story about cheesy rock monsters living on the moon, we followed up with watching a tour around the International Space Station. Toby was concerned they didn't have a proper kitchen (he loves cooking) but on the whole living in space was deemed to be 'cool' so the boys spent the next hour building a space station out of living room furniture and floating around it.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at Bodium Castle. We usually do sit down work in the mornings now, and spend the afternoon out seeing friends, at gymnastics lessons, the new sports club we've set up, the beach, the woods, play parks, castles and so on. Having memberships of NT, EH and the local aquarium is a mine of free afternoons out so long as I ignore the constant pestering for 'popping into the café for a nice cup of tea, or maybe a sandwich' (a polite request which made a lady we were walking past laugh out loud this afternoon).
Having time for sit down work with Ollie was the main concern I had when Toby decided he absolutely did not want to go to nursery any more, but actually it generally works out really well. The kids see me and Matt studying, so for them it seems a natural thing to do, and by interspersing lots of short, partly self-directed activities we don't have too many head aches. I gave up on them doing separate projects that they had chosen as wrenching my head between Vikings and Dinosaurs in things they both wanted a lot of my assistance in was tough, but they both enjoy working on the projects together so it's been a good decision.
I don't know what people do with bigger age gaps, but home educators (and parents in general) are nothing if not resourceful. As to when do we get any housework done, well the house frankly isn't going to show up in Ideal Home magazine, but I fit stuff in between activities, it's mostly clean and very comfortable, and one of the most important things kids need to learn is how to work as a team with their adults to look after themselves and a home. A little game they invented called 'hotel staff' was quite literally awesome tonight as they dried dishes, hung laundry, tidied and hoovered with me. After the chaos in the living room from 'space stations' I was super happy about the change of game. With a busy weekend of science parties to present and a foraging event to attend and document ahead, so I'm glad a big stack of housework isn't also on the list.