Monday, 30 January 2012

Home Farmer

This is going to sound just a little bonkers, but today my trip to the doormat to collect the mail let to a whoop, and a "Yay! Yay! Yay!  Mummy's magazine is here!  Yippee!".  What could cause such delight and celebration?  

My copy of Home Farmer arriving from the hard-working hands of Postie.

I've spent many years searching for a magazine that suits me, that interests me and that I look forward to enough that I'll subscribe to it.  For Hubby it's Wanderlust - tempting his itching feet with adventures to plan and look forward to in the future.  I quite liked things like Essentials and Prima - but while they included recipes and crafts, they still had too much emphasis on clothing and make-up for my liking, and seemed to be aimed at a different generation.  I had a go at some of the parenting or Mother and Baby magazines for a while too, but they seemed geared to the worriers and the buy-everything-brigade.  The ads for nappies and gadgets and paraphernalia put me off immediately.  There just didn't seem much in there for my taste at all.  I tried Gardeners World too, but while I liked knowing what jobs to do each month, it was just more detailed than the time I have available allowed for.

I discovered Home Farmer by chance on the supermarket shelf, bizarrely I think it was with the car or computer magazines and just happened to catch my eye as I walked past.  After two issued I went ahead and subscribed, I knew that I would want to read this magazine every month.

Regular articles include:

  • crafts
  • jam making
  • wine-making
  • what to do on the veg patch this month (not just geared to the south England either - also appropriate to further north in Scotland)
  • chicken keeping
  • other animals
  • bee keeping (while the animals and fowl are beyond me, I still find it interesting to read)
  • recipes
  • self-sufficiency (or partial)
  • low-impact living
I love this magazine!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Seasons change - Central Scotland in January

Out and about today, as well as all the evidence of a mild but pretty wet and stormy winter, I'm beginning to spot some signs of Spring!  Bizarre to think that this time last year we were only just beginning to see the ground again after several weeks of snow, that the small glaciers on street corners where the snow had been heaped by the diggers and ploughs were still there in May.  Of course, I mustn't speak too soon.  It was sleeting today and there's still plenty of time between now and April for a good dose of snow and ice!  Here's what I saw today:
C's garden is looking a little on the unkempt side.

Every time we clear up all the leaves we get gales again and the piles reappear!

My perennials are looking a little bedraggled.

The greenhouse lost a lot of glass in the storms.

But my Christmas present wind-chime makes it look gorgeous!

Spring bulbs are poking through.

C decided we needed to say hello to these guys today.  And sing to them.

Wrapped up very cosily in there.

They swapped hats.  He preferred the pink flowery one.

The meadow is looking brown on the surface, but there's fresh grass under there.

snowdrops by the stream.

soaked with sleet, but still determined to take his time and get every ounce of adventure out of the walk.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Jubilee Weekend

It's possible that I could be accused of being a little hypocritical here... I don't really see what place a hereditary monarchy has in a democratic society... but at the same time, I don't have anything against this particular Queen, she's never done anything to offend me... so I'm more than happy to stand for the National Anthem, to make the Scout Promise ("I promise that I will do my best, to do my duty to God and to the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Scout Law") and to use the opportunity presented by our Queen's Diamond Jubilee to get involved in the local community and try to promote further community cohesion.  
Portrait of The Queen, taken in 2002 © John Swannell/Camera Press
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee weekend is the first weekend in June, and the whole of the UK gets two Bank Holidays!  Whoop Whoop!

She ascended to the throne on 6th February 1952 and the coronation took place on the 2nd June 1953.  The Diamond Jubilee celebrates 60 years.  She's only the second British monarch to celebrate sixty years on the throne, the first being Queen Victoria.
Jubilees and other milestones
I'm on the "steering group" in our village.  We're going to have a party - outdoors (fingers crossed for sunshine please).  We were thinking about a street party, but plumped for the village play-park.  There's plenty of space for a couple of Mess Tents, one for food and one for shelter etc.  We haven't decided yet whether seating will be at tables and chairs or "bring a blanket", though we'd provide chairs for the elderly.  Play equipment is right there; we'd get a live band, budget permitting; lots of bunting; fancy dress competition for the children; everybody bring a plate/platter of food to share; 

I can't wait!  My initial job is to source the mess tents and canvas support up one of the streets in the village (plus, since the street I'm doing is closest to the play-park, negotiate a power cable!).  I also think I might write to a couple of local businesses to see if we can drum up some sponsorship, but have to run that past the rest of the group first.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

How to be Free - Get out of the City

I’ve mentioned Tom Hodgkinson on here before.  He’s the editor of The Idler, and has written books “How to Be Idle”, “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent”.  I love the principles expressed in “How to be Free” (though not all the ideas in the book), and while I don’t agree with the term Idle I think The Idle Parent is a must-read and describes well how I was brought up and how I wish to bring up my own children.

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring these two books, and the ideas contained in them further, in the hope that this will help me to explore further the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.
How to Be Free

Chapter 5 - Get out of the city – RENT AN ALLOTMENT

Ever since cities have existed, there has existed, like an equal and opposite attraction, the dream of escaping from them and living in the countryside.  It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be though; the dream of rural communities looking out for one another and being a communal, supportive and friendly place to be is in reality few and far between and has to be made rather than hoped for.  In truth many rural “idylls” are full of empty holiday homes for much of the year.  Little local employment (farms don’t need lots of employees) mean that the residents are often retirees, meaning that local schools and services are closing down, or commuters, in which case they shop on their way home from work, and local shops are closing down.  In order to live the GOOD LIFE out there in rural back-of-beyond you really need support and society.  Otherwise, unless you possess hermit-like qualities, you’ll be hot-footing it back to the busy anonymity and easy services of the urban sprawl faster than you can say “live the dream”.

There are of course, many positives about city living.  The main one is the diversity.  You can pretty much do what you like and find somebody who likes the same thing, whether it’s Dungeons and Dragons, Bridge or dinner parties.  Whether you’re a Trekkie, a climber or a punk.  The choice is yours.  You can go out at two in the morning and find somewhere that sells bread and milk, not to mention a curry or pizza.  You can pop out to the theatre, find public transport within easy reach and at all times of day, have a choice of cinemas and restaurants, shops for anything and everything.  All these things of course require you to spend, and therefore earn money… but at least they are there if you want them.  There’s no doubt that a rural life makes it easier to spend less  money, as temptation is a considerable car or bus ride away!

Can you combine both?  Can you spend part of your time in the city and part in the countryside?  Can you live in a small city and make the best of it?  Aim for partial sustainability, or a bash at a more permaculture lifestyle.  Do what you can with what you have to bring the countryside to wherever you happen to be.  You don’t have to leave the city to escape city life.

How does this concept match up with the Ink Spots and Grass Stains life?

I think I’m already working my way along this route.  We don’t live the Good Life on a small-holding or croft.  But within the boundaries of my time and creativity I am trying to grow more of my own fruit and vegetables, make more things myself and buy less.  Yes, we use the city.  Yes, we still shop in the supermarket (for now!).  Yes, we still buy most of our clothes.  But we are working our way along the spectrum at a pace that we can manage.  Also, I’m doing my best to build that idyllic rural community here in our village (more on our community Jubilee celebrations tomorrow!).

Tom and Barbara were well ahead of their time, and definitely my heroes!

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Year of the Dragon

Happy Chinese New Year!
image from 

Today is the first day of the 4709th year of the Chinese calendar, since the Yellow King (legend has it he was the first king of China) back in 2697BC.

Following the Chinese stem and branch system of keeping track of years, days and months, this year is the year of the Dragon (more specifically, the Black Dragon or the Water Dragon).
image from 

In Chinese legend, dragons come from the sky, are mystical, related to heaven and a very auspicious animal.  The most powerful dragon is the five clawed dragon, which only appears on the yellow imperial robe.  Technically, the astrological year of the Dragon doesn't start until 4th February, despite New Year being today.  This is because the Chinese zodiac year begins on the first day of Spring in China, which is in twelve days time.  Luckily the New Year celebrations last for fifteen days, until the 6th February!

There will be celebrations across the world, with dancing, rituals to encourage good fortune, processions and parties.  I'm attending a Chinese New Year celebration at the University of Exeter on the 4th Feb (down in Devon visiting the folks, and my sister is works in PR at the Guild of Students, so is heavily involved with the organising).  I'm really looking forward to it (more info here).
image from   
Traditionally, it is important to cleanse your house and your life of all negativity during or before the New Year celebration, so that you are ready to move forward with your life.  Reconciliations, spring-cleaning, making amends, all are an important part of the run-up to New Year.  It's perhaps something  that we should all make a bit more of.  So many of us are carrying baggage from our past.  Choose yourself a deadline, be it a landmark birthday or a New Year and take the time to make your peace, clear your clutter and free yourself of all that baggage so that you are ready to move into the New Year with positive energy.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Art and Craft Area

All our art and craft bits and bobs are kept in a chest of drawers in the spare room.  At least, that's where they are supposed to be.  In reality, the books were in the conservatory, and everything else has been scattered across half of the spare room as it's been vaguely returned after or during various activities or projects.  

Today I decided I'd quite like to see the spare bed again (it's also used as a laundry sorting zone), and also that I ought to tidy it up a bit before Hubby took it into his head to do it, in which case I would never find anything ever again.

I won't show you a before photo - too dreadful.

I now have a box (I'll pretty them up at some point in the future) for each of the following:

  • drawing (with chalks, oil pastels, crayons, pencils, charcoal and drawing pads in)
  • painting (sponges, paints various, brushes, pots etc)
  • paper crafts (lots of different types of paper and card, glue, stamps and stampers, stickers, scissors)
  • textiles (big lacing shapes, large beads, knitting doll, pom pom circles, scraps of wool, felt, fabric)
other bits and bobs are in the drawers.
I've tidied my knitting box, my wool basket and my sewing box.
I've brought my crafty books through from the conservatory for inspiration.
On the bed-side unit is a tin full of ribbons and a spice rack full of buttons, bells, mini-pegs and all sorts of other little attractive-looking bits.

Oh, time well spent, I feel entirely satisfied about this area now.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Green Balloon Club

Has anybody out there seen the Green Balloon Club?  It's on CBeebies on the weekends at 4pm.  I'm pretty selective about which children's programmes we put on, here's my list:
Green Balloon Club
Best - 

  • Green Balloon Club

Good - 

  • I Can Cook
  • The Wombles
  • Thomas the Tank Engine
  • Postman Pat
  • Balamory
Okay - 
  • Bob the Builder
  • Mr Maker
  • Nina and the Neurons
When either C or I feel like switching on the TV, I tend to say, "Let's just have a look what's on".  If it's anything in the "Good" category, then we'll watch.  Anything else and the TV stays off.  I'll make a special effort to remember to switch on at 4pm if we're at home on the weekends.  I'm not sure if I make C watch the Green Balloon Club for his benefit or because I enjoy it, though he talks about it often, so I'm pretty sure that he's getting something out of it.  
The premise of the show is that the Green Balloon (a hot air balloon) is a clubhouse for a group of children, a dog and a couple of adults.  They do nature stuff.  You can print out your own Green Balloon Club membership badge and certificate on the website, C's is laminated and the badge worn on a lanyard (like Daddy's work badge).  Each week they have a "spot of the week" where they tell you something to look out for in the outdoors, so the other week they showed pheasants, and told you what to look out for.  You can also print out a "spotters card" and some stickers to record your finds.  They encourage keeping a scrapbook to remind you of your activities, do environmental type crafts and teach the kiddies about the wildlife here in the UK.  In addition there are songs.  On the website there are games to play, colouring sheets to print and clips to watch.
Just wanted to share my favourite children's television programme at the moment!
For anybody not in the UK, you can check out the Green Balloon Club on their website

Monday, 16 January 2012

Easy five minute activities - toilet roll people

Another quick activity that is also free!

When your toilet roll is finished, take the cardboard tube and, depending on the age of the children, either they decorate it as a person, or you get them thinking about the person and decorate it with them: "Is it a man or a lady?  (Man), will they wear a jacket or a jumper?  What colour hair shall we give them?  Are they happy or sad?  Do they have a beard or a moustache or neither?"  Once you've made your character you can play with them, and gradually build up a collection.  You can also go for specific characters - fairies with wings, pirates, firefighter, swimmer etc.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

How to be free - Reject career and all its empty promises.

I’ve mentioned Tom Hodgkinson on here before.  He’s the editor of The Idler, and has written books “How to Be Idle”, “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent”.  I love the principles expressed in “How to be Free” (though not all the ideas in the book), and while I don’t agree with the term Idle I think The Idle Parent is a must-read and describes well how I was brought up and how I wish to bring up my own children.

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring these two books, and the ideas contained in them further, in the hope that this will help me to explore further the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

How to Be Free

Chapter 4 - Reject career and all its empty promises – FIND YOUR GIFT

Is career all it’s cracked up to be?  Or is it a constant struggle for “something better” which will always elude you, because after all, how much space is there at the top?  In order to progress in your career, somebody else can’t.  It makes every day and all your life choices about your career, about where you are going instead of enjoying where you are. 

In order to progress in your career you have to become very good at it, which invariably means that you become very specialised, and less good at all sorts of other things (or have less time for them) which means that you have to pay somebody else to do them; Which means that you need more money; Which means that you need to advance further in your career; Can you see where this is going? 

Women decide that they need to escape the oppression of domesticity (playing with your children, hanging out with your friends, being creative and doing a bit of housework?) by getting a job and getting on the career ladder, where you are certain to be oppressed – and let’s face it, mostly you still have to do the more mundane parts of domesticity as well! 

Far better to seek creative fulfilment in whichever field you enjoy (or several).  Don’t try to “climb the ladder”, just seek to do enough work that you have enough money, and make sure that you enjoy your work, and then do other things that you enjoy as well – some for money, some not.  Instead of aiming for “work-life balance”, why not make work a pleasure and life a pleasure and muddle through the both of them.  Avoid the professional label at all costs – because that restricts you to one thing. 

Find your vocation by finding out what you tend to do if you have nothing to do.  If you have a couple of months holiday, after you’ve done the things that need doing, and you are left with leisure, what do you find yourself doing?  Do you take to writing?  To music?  To the garden?  Whatever  you turn to is your vocation.  Make enjoyable work the centre of things, and not money-making or advancement.

How does this concept match up with the Ink Spots and Grass Stains life?

I completely agree with this chapter.  I started off with a “career” or profession.  I was a Primary School Teacher.  I loved the work, I loved the creativity and the children.  I even quite liked to be labelled as “a teacher”.  But there was more I wanted to do too.  I wanted to write.  So I kind of slipped off the ladder.  Then I had children and became a stay-at-home mum and everything became a lot clearer.

At the moment my focus is very definitely on my children.  They are of an age where they need a lot of attention.   Soon enough that will change.  They’ll spend more time playing independently and then will go to school.  When that happens I’ll have more time to do other things.  And based on the last couple of years, the things I do when I can are writing (this blog and other projects) and creative projects.  If I can find a way to turn those into a bit of cash then I will.  If I can’t then I’ll get another job, but always in the creative / writing / education fields I hope – enough to pay as much cash as is required, but sparing plenty of time for playing with the children, gardening, creativity, and writing.

This isn’t very fair on poor hubby.  He works extremely hard at a job he doesn’t enjoy.  Partly because he’s got used to a certain lifestyle and can’t imagine life without the security of a monthly wage or a big change to that lifestyle, and partly because he’s gone so far up the career ladder that he worries that he now couldn’t do anything else.  I think my job, again, once the children are older, is to earn enough through creative endeavours – my vocations – to show him what’s possible, and to take the earning pressure off him.  He’s hopeful.  Has more than once mentioned the day when I write my best-seller or we win the lottery.

Here’s to a creative and career free future.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Family Adventure - RRS Discovery

Today we went on another family adventure.  This time to RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery in Dundee (Scotland).

The RRS Discovery was the last wooden, 3 masted ship built in Britain, and was designed for expeditions in very cold climates.  Her first big trip was the successful 1901 research expedition taking Scott and Shackleton to Antarctica, where she spent 2 years locked in sea ice while her crew mapped parts of the Antarctic coast, travelled by sledge the furthest south that anybody had yet been, relocated the southern magnetic pole, discovered that the Antarctic was indeed a continent and made countless other geological, geographical and biological discoveries.

She was also used as a cargo vessel by the Hudson Bay company, as the HQ for a Sea Scout Group, as a research vessel in the Antarctic again, as a rescue boat for Shackleton's later Antarctic mission (they were rescued before she got there) and again by the Scouts as a training boat in London.  In 1986 she went home to Dundee where she was built, and was moved to a custom dock where she is the centre-piece of the Discovery Point museum and visitor attraction.

The museum is very well put together, with lots of information, exhibits and hands-on interactive things to do for younger ones.  After looking at the exhibits you go through to the ship itself.  She's beautiful and you really get a sense of scale - just how many bits go into making a sailing ship (with auxiliary engine), and how difficult it must have been to maintain in freezing conditions.  Also, what conditions on board must have been like, very close quarters without much heat for two years in atrocious weather, Edwardian fine dining for the officers, preserved food, the amount of supplies they would have needed to carry for a two to three year expedition and how cramped it must have been.  And what on earth it must have been like up in the rigging in the South Seas on a stormy day!  They've tried to restore the interior to what it would have been like on later expeditions in the 1920s.

C. was beside himself with excitement.  On arrival there was no way we were going straight to the cafe.  Instead we took a short-cut to the ship and had a good explore.  Once he'd had his fill we went to the very decent cafe (lovely soup, sandwiches etc.) for a spot of lunch.  Then we went through all the exhibits and displays in the museum ("lets go into this bit now", "we'd better go and see what's in this room"), before going back out to the ship once more.

Well worth the £8 per head (under 5's free) entrance fee, which allows you to visit as many times as you like in the following year!  I would definitely recommend a visit here if you're in this part of Scotland.