Sunday, 28 June 2015

Why the i-Scout brand has got it wrong

I'm a Scout, and I'm proud of it.  

In fact, I was delivering Module 1 of the Scout Adult Training Scheme this morning to ten new volunteers in my District.  I like Module 1 - Essential Information.  It's a huge amount of information for new Leaders to take in, but it covers vital stuff - safety, safeguarding, the structure of The Scout Association and... the fundamentals that underpin everything that Scouting stands for.  So as I was driving to this meeting I started to wonder about some of the branding that The Scout Association in the UK has opted for in the last decade.  Most of the branding is fine - there's this one:

and then there are brands for the Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Explorers and Network (which have just been updated, so make sure you're using the correct ones), and then there's this one:

and this is the one I think they've got wrong.  I can see what it's about - it's on-trend, it's snappy, it's great for marketing (you see i-kayak, i-camp etc so it's really selling the adventurous opportunities you get in Scouting), but it's too... well... it's too much "i".  It sends the message, to our young people and to everybody else, that we're about "what Scouting can do for me", and I think that misses a huge chunk of what Scouting is about.

Scouting is about reaching out, and as the World Scout Bureau strap-line has it, creating a better world:

In a world where pupils stab one another in classrooms because of gang rivalry, where kids throw bricks at fire-engines on the street just for a laugh, where a rogue gunman can walk on to a beach and shoot down random strangers because of ideological hatred, and where teenagers blow themselves up in crowded market places to make a point, then there's more need than ever for Scouts to reach out and build bridges in their communities.

"Doing a good turn every day" isn't about the past, it's a relevant part of an everyday attitude where Scouts are a central part of their community, forging links and promoting understanding and tolerance.

The Scout Association knows that.  This year sees the launch of the "Million Hands" initiative, calling on the half-million members of UK Scouting to work on community impact projects.  For several years now the Scout Community Week project has seen young people carrying out projects in their local communities.  Every week around the country Scouts are visiting fire stations, old people's homes and places of worship, are learning about poverty, homelessness and fair trade, and are carrying out litter-picks and pond-clearances and planting community gardens.

Scouting isn't all about "i".  Scouting is about looking outside, holding out our hands and trying to make the world we live in a better place.  So I guess ... if that's what Scouting is all about... then i-Scout.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Developing Children's Creative Writing

What is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is difficult to define.  It is the art of making things up; illuminating truths about the world and the people in it in an interesting and attractive way.  Creative writing is original and self- expressive.  Genres of creative writing include poetry, movie or play scripts, song lyrics and novels.

Why is Creative Writing important?

Creative writing develops thinking in children which extends far beyond their writing.  Being able to think creatively means being able to think outside the box and use imagination, which is essential for all types of problem solving.  

Creative writing is also a useful outlet for self-expression – sometimes it’s hard to work your way through a problem, express your feelings, or work out your own morals, but writing it down as a problem for a character to face, or in poetry or song lyrics helps to work it through and get it out.  

Thinking about characters, their motivations and feelings helps to develop empathy.  

Being able to express yourself clearly will lead to a lifetime of clear communication.

How to develop Creative Writing in children.

Most of these activities are for Primary School children, and can be done in class or workshop situations, but there’s nothing to stop them from being adapted and used at home or with younger or older children or even adults.
  • ·       The most important thing to do to develop creativity is to get lots of experience.  It’s difficult to write about a beach on a far-off planet, or a treasure island, if you’ve never been to the seaside or seen the ocean.  It’s difficult to write convincingly about something happening at a football match if you’ve never been to one.  While extensive reading, and watching television and films, can begin to bridge this gap, it’s no substitute for real first-hand experience.  While it’s true that if you lead a cloistered life, you can still write beautiful creative fiction or poetry simply by sticking to what you do know, or by creating something entirely from the realm of fantasy, wide experience gives you a lot more to draw from.
  • ·         Role play helps children to think through how characters might react to different situations, and how dialogue works.  Extended role play helps them to think about what makes a good story – a role play game of mums and dads where they get up, go to work and make dinner is all well and good for a while, but children soon work out that things get a lot more interesting if there is conflict or a problem to solve.
  • ·         Encourage children to describe using all of their senses.  A walk in the woods – what can you hear?  What do you see?  What colours are all around you?  What do you smell?  What does the air taste of?  What do the tree trunks feel like?  What does this peach smell like, taste like, feel like, look like and sound like?
  • ·         Pick any object or phenomenon and come up with as many similes and metaphors as you can.  For example, “this daffodil… is like a patch of summer… is like a beam of sun… is like a smiling face… is a fresh faced child on a spring morning…”  “The wind… is like a toddler tantrum, fierce and loud… is like a rollercoaster ride… is like a bully in the playground…”
  • ·         Start creative journaling.  Regularly open the journal to a new page and write something.  It might be a description of the view outside, a story opening, a descriptive passage about an imaginary character, or a poem.  Anything you like, as long as it’s unique and expressive.
  • ·         Create a character together.  Pick a name at random from the phone book.  How old do you think this person might be?  What’s their ethnic background?  What’s their family situation?  What kind of person are they? What do they look like?
  • ·         Take the previous suggestion to the next level.  Either using a character from a known story, or an invented character – start to think about how they would behave in different situations.  Is their bedroom tidy?  How would they behave at a football match?  Would they make a good friend?  If you lived next door, what would their garden be like?  Would they feed your fish while you were away?
  • ·         Once they can describe a person, an object or a situation using all their senses and some wonderful descriptive adjectives and similes, it’s time to introduce them to ”show, don’t tell”.  Think about their character eating a peach.  We could tell: “He ate a juicy peach”, or we could show: “He bit into the peach, and hurriedly wiped away the sticky juice that dribbled down his chin” which also gives information about the character and how he might be feeling.
  • ·         When you’re reading stories and poems together, stop and think about what description the author or poet has used.  How do they describe the character?  How have they begun the story?  How have they brought it to an end?  Is their dialogue long and descriptive or short and punchy?  How do we know how the character is feeling in this situation?

There is so much to include in this topic, that we’ve only really covered description of place and character, and haven’t even got started on plot development or poem structure, which is going to have to form the basis of a future blog post.  Children are innately creative and imaginative, so developing creative writing is simply about harnessing that, getting them to use what they see around them, and find the words to put it on paper as written art.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Nuclear energy vs wind turbines

What do you think about global sources of energy?  Do you believe that the burning of fossil fuels creates Global Warming, a world environmental and ecological catastrophe in the making?  Do you believe that we are running out of fossil fuels, and if so, what should we be using instead?

There's a general consensus that electricity is a good thing.  We all like to have the lights on, put the kettle on and be able to see where we're going.  In addition, as many people are shunning gas guzzling cars and turning to the new generation of electric vehicles, we'll need to be plugging them in somewhere every night.
image from

There's also a general, though not unanimous, consensus that burning fossil fuels is pretty bad for the planet, and that we ought not to do so much of it, and that we might be running out of oil and coal.  Estimates vary widely, with the possibility that there might be as yet undiscovered stores of fossil fuels under Canada and Siberia, but it's possible that coal might run out in just twenty-five years and oil in as little as fifty years.

There is no consensus at all on what we should do instead.  Even in our current UK parliament there is no agreement: The Conservatives have pushed through a deal to build twelve new nuclear reactors across five sites, Labour think that Nuclear is an important part of the power generation mix, and the Liberal Democrats are staunch supporters of wind technology.  

Hydroelectric power is probably the most efficient renewable power, but building huge dams, creating enormous lakes and blocking rivers from their natural flow relies on having the necessary geographical terrain, and can cause massive ecological problems too.

Solar energy relies on having sun, and is very inefficient.  Even in a sunny state like Texas, a solar array the size of Texas would be required to provide the power used by... Texas!

So, with a few small and mostly insignificant exceptions, that leaves us with Nuclear Power or Wind Power.  They both have their drawbacks, and when they are planned, they both create uproar with local people protesting that they don't want them.  Here's a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of each.

Nuclear Power
image from Sellafield

+ We already have the technology
+ With increased investment, technology will be improved to develop ever more efficient and safer technologies with less waste.
+ Nuclear waste is solid and can be transported and stored well away from human populations.
+ there aren't any greenhouse gas emissions.
+ while there are huge costs involved with building and running nuclear power, it's actually a cheaper way to produce electricity than any other.

- Poor reputation for safety
- Technology for nuclear power and nuclear weaponry is the same - do we really want more potential for nuclear weapons in our fragile planet?
- Historically, there has been a lot of secrecy around nuclear development and power.
- Nuclear waste is dangerous.  It remains dangerous for thousands of years.  It needs to be stored somewhere away from water, populations and tectonic activity.
- Building and decommissioning reactors is extremely expensive.
- The fuel for running nuclear power is also finite.  Turning exclusively to nuclear will shift power to the countries where it can be found, and it too will eventually run out.

Wind Power
image from

+ safe
+ green - no pollution
+ enormous potential
+ completely renewable, will never run out.
+ efficiency and technology are improving
+ operational costs are low

- fluctuates according to the wind, so to meet base demand would need to be stored by pumped hydro or batteries.
- space inefficient - you'd need to build 30,000 new wind turbines, over an area of 1200 sq km, to produce the same amount of electricity as one nuclear power plant taking up only 1.7 sq km.
- unsightly
- damaging to scenery, and unknown wildlife impact at this time.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tuesday Tutorial - How to make a campfire cushion

 Some of you  may remember my post a few weeks ago about the tepee I made for the children to play in the garden.  I also made a campfire cushion and some bunting to go with it.  From Bug's point of view, the tepee is certainly the most successful item, and she also loves the bunting, and has plans for me to make a lot more of it.  For me though, I was most pleased with the cushion.  I've now made several more of these campfire cushions, am sending one to a friend from Scouting (I sent me something awesome several months ago, so if he reads this he'll now know who he is), and have some for sale on my Folksy shop, with a posting coming soon on Etsy.  So here's how to make one:

You will need: 
  • canvas or other fairly hardwearing light coloured fabric.  I used lightweight canvas because I had plenty left over from the tepee construction.
  • a square each of red, orange, yellow and brown felt
  • fusible interfacing (bondaweb or similar)
  • red thread and natural thread
  • polyester toy stuffing - large bag
  • cutting tool (I use a rotary cutter and mat), scissors, sewing machine, needle

 - First measure and cut your first triangle.  Each side is 40cm (about 16 inches).
 - Cut around this triangle to cut three more.

 You can either cut your felt into flames and log shapes first and then fix them to the fusible interfacing (as I've done in this picture) or you can fuse the interfacing onto the whole sheet of felt and then cut out the shapes (which I did when I was making eight cushions at once).  Either way, you get your flame and log shapes with the fusible interfacing on the back.
 Peel the backing paper off the interfacing and arrange the flames and logs how you'd like them to make your fire, then iron them through a damp cloth to stick them.
 Use the sewing machine and red thread to stitch over the edges of all your felt pieces.  This not only stops them from peeling off in the future, but also adds some definition to the fire.
 Next, pin the triangles together right sides together (making sure to keep all the fires the same way up) to make a pyramid and stitch with cream or natural coloured thread, leaving a small gap on one of the bottom edges to turn the right way out.
 Turn the pyramid the right way out, stuff and then overstitch to close the gap.  
Et voila!  A cosy campfire cushion to inspire creative play and just to look gorgeous around the home or garden.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Dos and Don'ts of Wild Swimming

Wild Swimming is basically swimming outside.  When people think of swimming they think about sanitised chlorine wafted swimming pools, where you know how deep the water is, you know where the edge is, you know (hope) there won't be anything odd floating about, there are lots of other swimmers and a nice friendly qualified lifeguard to make sure that everybody is safe.
The Roman Baths at Bath - from
Swimming in swimming pools is a fairly recent phenomenon.  While the oldest watertight public tank that we know of was built in Pakistan 5000 years ago, and organised swimming and public and social bathing were popular in Greek and Roman culture, public swimming pools didn't come back into regular use until about 150 years ago.  By 1837 there were six man-made indoor swimming pools with diving boards in London, and after swimming races were included in the reborn modern Olympic Games in 1896 the popularity of indoor swimming began to spread.
Chudleigh Community Swimming Pool - from
Today, most regular swimmers will rarely venture away from the security of the man-made pool, with the exception of an occasional paddle in the sea on warm holidays.  They are really missing a trick, as the UK's many wild swimmer will testify.  Whether you opt for endurance swimming, swimming in the sea, in rivers or in lakes the feel of the water is very different to a swimming pool.  It's colder for a start, but then you begin to notice variations in water temperature in and out of the current, in shallow pools or on the edges.  Sea water feels different from river water, some water is soft and silky, while another river might have a grittier feel.  Swimming in the rain has a very different feel to a sunny afternoon, and a night swim is different again.  When you put your feet down are you in soft tickly grasses, sand, pebbles or rocks - and was that a fish that just brushed against your ankle?  As you swim in a river you're part of the wildlife scene, you might see a kingfisher darting over head, keep your distance from that nesting swan, and just float on by as a mother mallard leads her ducklings across the water.  The surface of the water sparkles in the sunlight, waves lap at the shore or the river bank, and leaves rustle overhead.  What could be better than swimming in such an inviting landscape?
wild swimming in Rydal in the Lake District from
Most people are nervous of swimming outdoors, thinking that it must be dangerous.  Stories in the press about drownings can be pretty scary, but of the 381 water related deaths by accident or natural causes in the UK in 2013, eight were in the bath, six were in the swimming pool, 14 were sub-aqua divers, 31 were boating, and one hundred and twenty six were walkers or joggers who fell in the sea, canal or river.  Only fifty five were wild swimmers.  To put this in context, in the same year 1,713 people died on the UK's roads.  When wild swimming though, you don't put your safety in the hands of the swimming pool and their attendants.  It is up to you to choose where to swim, to assess your own capabilities and the risks of your swim, depending on weather conditions, water level and your own ability, and to keep yourself safe.  Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

DO - 

  • always be polite to other water users and landowners.  
  • swim with somebody else - this is particularly important in cold water (officially, UK water is cold year-round).  They could be in the water with you or on shore.  This keeps you safe and makes the swim more fun.
  • wear a wet-suit when the water is cold, and get into the water slowly to allow your body to acclimatise.
  • Until you are used to swimming outside, and understand your body's "getting too cold" signals, don't stray too far from shore.
  • Keep cuts and grazes covered up.
  • Report any obvious signs of pollution to the Environment Agency (and Surfers Against Sewage for coastal areas)
  • wear a bright coloured hat so that other swimmers and boats etc can see you - a tow float can also be useful where there is a lot of boat traffic.
  • Build up your swimming ability, the better you are at swimming indoors, the better you'll be able to manage outdoors where the conditions are very different.

DON'T - 

  • trespass to get to the water.  Use public footpaths or other rights of way
  • stay in too long.  All UK water is classed as "cold" year-round - staying in too long increases your danger of cold incapacitation (you can no longer swim effectively, and may struggle to climb out of the water at the bank).
  • Get in to water that looks murky and unappealing or smells funny.  
  • Swim in privately owned reservoirs unless it's clear that it is allowed
  • swim under the influence of drugs or alcohol - EVER.
For more information on wild swimming in the UK, check out The Outdoor Swimming Society.  Their website gives lots of information on staying safe and where it's okay to swim, as well as including a map showing local wild-swimming spots that have been recommended by users.  It's well worth starting with some of these, as they have been tried and tested and comments on the map can tell you what conditions are like.
Lady Alice Douglas wild swimming in Wales, from

Monday, 4 May 2015

From Stay-at-Home-Mum to Work-at-home-mum... diary of a transition

My journey from being a stay-at-home-mum to two gorgeous, vivacious and characterful little monkeys, to being a work-from-home mumpreneur has been a little bumpy just lately. 

At the moment C is at school every day, and Bug is at pre-school two days a week 9-3.  On the three days that she's at home we go to a play-group, go swimming, do the shopping, walk the dog, go to play-parks, do housework and play together.  On the two days that she's at pre-school I try to cram in things like going swimming, taking the dog for long walks, and working.  In the evenings I'm trying to work, do housework, do exercise, walk the dog and occasionally do some Scouting.

I'll be honest here, things haven't been as easy as we hoped since the move from Scotland to Herefordshire.  Hubby's job is hard mentally and emotionally, and he's taken quite a while to settle into that, and been pretty exhausted when he gets home, so I've been doing pretty much all the dog-walking and housework etc.  We're also both suffering a bit from the tension of having an empty house sitting up in Scotland which is taking a very long time to sell and costing money.  Don't get me wrong, things could be a lot worse, the house we are renting is not at all bad, it's just not ours, and we can't make it feel like home because we know that as soon as we sell the house in Scotland, we'll be buying down here.  We're just unsettled and edgy.

As you'll know if you've been reading these posts, I've been trying to do a combination of writing and crafting, hoping to build up a portfolio of work and sales, enough that I feel confident to work from home once Bug is at school.

I was doing okay.  I was working hard at the writing and getting a bit of money for that, and I was selling a few bits and pieces on Folksy and Etsy, but it was not enough to call a proper business yet, and a craft fair with zero sales was also a bit disheartening.  We've managed fine on Hubby's income for the last six years, so it's not that we're desperate for cash... its more my peace of mind and sanity really.  I feel like I've so much more to offer in life than the ability to iron and cook.  I'm reluctant to spend any money on me because I'm not earning any, so would really like to contribute financially - so I can buy clothes when I need them, decorate and buy nice things for the house and garden and so we can go on more holidays together.  I NEED to be working and feeling more fulfilled now - I'm not saying that I'm not fulfilled as a mum, I love it, and I've loved being at home with the children and I know that I've done the very best I can for them (and they are awesome), it's just that I've reached a point now where I need to be moving on and doing more.

So anyway, I realised (actually Hubby pointed out, during a rare argument one evening) that I was spending loads of time tapping away at the computer and getting frustrated with him and the kids for interrupting me when I was "working", but actually Bug isn't even at school yet, I'm actually not making any money, and surely the whole point of it all is to make family life better.  So I took a deep breath and re-evaluated (again).  I took my foot off the pedal.  I've concentrated on doing a few jobs around the place to make this rented house a better place to be, since we're going to be here for at least the next couple of months.  I've tidied up the garden and planted lots of pots of flowers, I'm painting the back door, I made a tepee for the children to play in the garden, I painted Bug's bike.  I'm still trying to write and make stuff to sell - but that's only when I have time.  Family needs to come first.

Then I started applying for part-time jobs starting in September.  Mostly teaching jobs, but not all.  Anything which appears to fit my interests, experience and aspirations and also fits in around school.  One in particular really sparked my interest as a job I would love to do, and since I'm trying to be better at self-esteem I can say (not boasting) I know I would be good at - I'll likely hear in the next couple of days whether I've been short-listed.  I'm not holding my breath.  I know I'd be good at it, but I don't quite have the experience listed in the person spec, and I know that if I am short-listed it will most likely be as the "wild-card".  Plus, before I settled down in Scotland for seven years, for various reasons, I kept moving around the country, so my CV is somewhat patchy, and now I've had a six-year break.  I guess that makes me a bit of a gamble.

If I get one of the jobs I'm applying for, that's great!  It will be part-time, which will allow me to work hard and earn some money, but I'll still have time to be there for the kids, to do the house-work (I am going to pay somebody to do the ironing though!), to get out and get some me-time, and to continue writing and crafting in my spare time.

If I don't get one of the jobs, then I'll keep trying, but I'll also have more time once Bug is at school to do the writing and crafting and try to make that work a bit more.  I might make my career even more of a tapestry by adding a few other things to the mix too, making more of my teaching experience by doing story-telling, writing and 'eco' workshops in schools.

As you can tell, I'm at a bit of a cross-roads at the moment.  I really don't know what direction I'm going to go in, but just now I feel that they will all take me somewhere good, so I don't really mind, and I'm just going to keep plugging away and let serendipity find me and guide me in the right direction.
When we finally sell the house in Scotland (it will happen, and soon we hope), I know too that Hubby and I will also suddenly feel a huge weight lift from our shoulders, and life will feel brighter and easier, and we'll be ready to settle properly into this lovely part of the world and make our new home and new life here.

Do keep me company on the journey.  It might be bumpy, but we'll get there in the end!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Ancient Tree Hunt

If, like me, you love trees, then you'll understand the joy of finding an ancient, gnarled old specimen.  Put your palm against the bark and feel the heartbeat, put your ear to it and listen as it tells you stories of the history that it's witnessed.
Trouble is, unlike historic buildings, until recently nobody has been keeping a record of our spectacular ancient trees, so apart from the odd few they had little protection or recognition.
 Now the Woodland Trust is changing things.  A massive project, the Ancient Tree Hunt, has used volunteers and partner organisations such as The National Trust to "register, classify, celebrate and protect" the UKs most special trees, many of which are host to an enormous range of life too.
If you visit you can access maps, satellite imagery and the inventory to find the ancient trees registered so far in your locality, and also details on which ones are accessible to the public, so that you can go and visit some of these mighty veterans.

I've photographed us climbing amongst a couple of ancient oaks at Croft Castle (National Trust near Leominster) - 
What's your favourite ancient tree?  

Monday, 20 April 2015

Monday make - Tepee tutorial

So pleased to have finished this.  I've been wanting to make a tepee or something for the garden for the longest time.  See here for my plans to make our rented garden a more inviting place to play.  I then started looking for tepee ideas on Pinterest, and came up with the plan for this one.  I'll be following up with tutorials for the bunting and the campfire cushion (I'm so in love with this cushion, and will be making and selling more of them) in the next couple of weeks.

So... without further ado... how to make a tepee (teepee):

What you need: 

  • 12 ft by 15 ft painters canvas drop cloth (or two 9 ft by 12 ft cloths, some waxed linen thread and a stout needle).  This is the cloth that painters and decorators use to cover furniture and carpets while they work.
  • 10 x 8ft garden canes or similar (see note later)
  • eyelets and eyelet inserter
  • stout string
  • short length of sturdy cotton or linen tape

I wasn't able to get hold of 12 x 15 foot drop cloth, though you can get it in the USA which is why I've included it here.  If you can't get hold of it, then your first job is to lay out your two 9 x 12 foot cloths with a 6" overlap between two 9 foot edges and join with two rows of running stitch on each side of the overlap.  You'll end up with a 12 by 17 1/2 foot cloth.

Measure 7 1/2 foot along the long side of your cloth and stitch on a loop of cotton or linen tape.  Tie the end of a piece of string to this loop, and then tie a pen 7 1/2 foot along the piece of string.  Get a willing volunteer to hold the loop still, while you pull the string taut and use the pen to draw a semi-circle on the cloth with a 7 1/2 foot radius.  Cut out the semi-circle.

Insert eyelets down the straight edge of the semi-circle on one side of your loop.

Now take your canes.  I used 8 foot long heavy duty garden canes.  Most places only sell them in packs of 50 or 100, but I did find a place that sold a pack of 10.  Actually these weren't as sturdy as I expected or hoped and we're having to take the tepee down overnight and wouldn't leave it up in the wind.  In the future we'd consider replacing them with steel rods, metal piping or 2"x 1" wood to add stability and we'd then tie down a couple of guy ropes which would give us a lot more confidence.  Fasten the canes with string in a variation on the tripod lashing about 6 inches from the end.  

Spread the canes out in a circle approximately 5-6 feet in diameter.  Stand on a step or chair and hook the loop (half way along the straight edge of the semi-circle of canvas) over the top end of one of the canes.  Wrap the canvas around the canes.

Sew the top of the tepee closed using the first few eyelets, and sew loops of string in place on the non-eyelet piece of canvas to open and close the door using the other eyelets.

I hope this is okay.  I'm still quite a tutorial beginner, and now I've found that I didn't take enough photos of each step to make it clearer.  I'm sure I'll improve in the future!