Life in the Countryside · Parenting

Forest school

Now this is a bit of a bizarre update as it has nothing to do with the cottage garden but it is something which is playing an increasing part in our lives and I think is worth talking about. For those of you that don’t know I work in a primary school and my daughter attends a nursery nearby. Both offer forest school as part of their provisions. What is forest school I hear you ask? Is it the latest parenting trend? We didn’t have forest school back when I was at school, why do we have it now? Well the truth is, in my opinion, that childhood has changed somewhat over the past few years. I worked in a secondary school for a number of years and over that time I noticed that children were becoming increasingly isolated from each other. For boys in particular this was a problem. They would spend hours and hours every day in their bedrooms playing computer games or on their phones and iPads. Alone. Inside. Not engaging with anyone else apart from online. Forest school is basically taking children outside (ideally to a forest of course) and re-introducing them to nature. Frequently there is a fire and a fire circle of logs surrounding it forming the centre of the ‘camp’. Fire based activities tend to include gathering logs (the lighting of the fire tends to be left to an adult) and various forms of cooking. I’ve seen popcorn popped (using two metal sieves attached together at the end of a long pole to hold it over the fire), marshmallows toasted on sticks as well as soup and pasta cooked in a more traditional way.

A common feature of a forest school is a mud kitchen. Now I don’t really remember having much of a play kitchen when I was younger, but that could be old age catching up with me, but we definitely did lots of making potions in the garden. A mud kitchen can take various forms. It can be as simple as some pots and utensils that children can play with or as fancy as a proper wooden outdoor kitchen. Mud kitchens have become very trendy at the moment with various companies charging not insignificant amounts of money for high end personalised ones. Children of all ages seem to really love them and a quick search on Pinterest will bring up a vast array of homemade versions. I have ambitions to create a covered one for C in our garden this summer out of pallets but haven’t finalised a design yet. I’m looking at putting it into the corner of our orchard and so far have out a base of four pallets down which I’m planning to secure together. The walls will pretty much be pallets stood on edge with some shaping and a window cut in maybe. Then I’m going to use the corrugated iron for which currently tops our coal shed as a roof. Ideally I’d like to create a kitchen bench type thing inside using our current kitchen sink and making a hob of some kind. Or at least thats the plan. I’ll start working on it sometime when the evenings start getting lighter so watch this space.

I can’t put up any photos up from my forest school experiences for child protection issues so I’ve added some of my random favourites in just to add a little colour. Forest school at a nursery level involves lot more crafty activities. Some of the ones I’ve seen include:

  • Taping a piece of paper onto a tree and using crayons to do bark rubbings.
  • Painting using mud as the paint.
  • Making a bird feeder by threading cheerios or similar onto a pipe cleaner (great for those fine motor skills too).
  • Using circles of cardboard and strips of sellotape across it to make a ‘stained glass window’. Stick leaves and twigs and other things found in nature onto the sellotape then backing it with more sellotape.
  • Using sticks to draw shapes in the mud.
  • Making faces and collages using twigs, leaves and other things found in nature.

The older children love building dens with ropes and tarpaulin and creating pretend battles. I’ve also seen children pretending to be dogs chasing each other and children digging for bugs and building homes for worms. What really stands out to me though is that forest school seems to be a place where children can just be children. Away from technology and the pressures of our society, children really relish the chance to just be children. The chance to let their imaginations take hold. Whilst it is amazing to see and be a part of, it saddens me. The fact that such activities don’t exist as part of childrens lives unless we specifically arrange it is a pity. Seeing how some children struggle to play outside without the structure we often give them just reinforces to me how much we need to keep making sure kids stay as kids for as long as they can. That they don’t miss out on being outside and enjoying the wonder that is nature. That’s my rant over. I promise my next post will update you more on what the cottage garden trio have been up to.

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Life in the Countryside

A Month off blogging

So at the beginning of October it was both my and my daughter’s birthday. Then we were away for the weekend and life just got in the way for five minutes. I knew I hadn’t blogged for a couple of weeks although I’d started to write a couple of posts but never finished them so I decided instead of trying to catch up that I would have a month off blogging. I did post the odd picture on instagram but I stayed away from my blog. And do you know what? It did me the world of good. Let me explain what I mean. I started my blog back in April for two reasons. Firstly I wanted to have somewhere to record the work we were doing in our cottage as I had been taking loads of photos but not really actually doing anything with them apart from just keeping them on my phone. My second reason was as a way to share with friends and family who don’t live nearby what we were up to. I found I was becoming a bit of a bore with updates every time I saw or spoke to people. I’ve really enjoyed writing on my blog but it had sometimes got to the point that I was feeling every time we did something I had to immediately write up about it. Which is a bit silly really as the blog was supposed to be enjoyable and not a burden. So instead I’m going to try and write once or twice a week and not try and talk about everything we do. But first, here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to this past month.

Birthdays

Both C and I had our birthdays, she was three and I was 32 (again, I decided that I liked the age 32 so have decided to stay there for a while). C was so much more aware this year about her birthday and was ridiculously excited in the build up to it. Her actual birthday was on a Tuesday and she had her party the Saturday before which actually worked really well as it meant we could spread out the present opening. And boy she really got excited about presents this year. And I have to confess that I did too as she’s reached the age of Playmobil and Sylvanian families and Disney princesses, all the toys that I remember fondly from my childhood. As her party was a pottery painting party I did a multi-coloured layer cake covered in pink icing. I’ve started writing a post about it but for now here’s a sneak preview.


Sheds

We are now the proud owners of three sheds which fit nicely onto our concrete slab next to the garage. Currently they are fairly empty but the plan is that when we do our big house rennovation next year we will use them to store our house contents in. Though they may not be to everyone’s taste as they are plastic, they suit us perfectly as they need no maintenance at all.


The caravan

So we’ve spent our first weekend away in the caravan and I have to say we have, thankfully, made the right choice. It was lovely to have all our stuff already packed in it, with food in the fridge and cupboards ready for the weekend. Although I played no part in the actual hooking up of the van once we arrived at the campsite (that was all J’s role) it was a relatively quick process and it really felt like a home from home. I’m not naive enough to think that it’ll be a breeze living in it, but I think it will be manageable with the added bonus of having a take along holiday home when the house work is done. 


The animals

We have the sheep back in the field and they are living in relative harmony with the chickens (although I think that’s mainly down to the electric fence). We do have one of the chickens currently not laying but as it’s one of the ‘normal coloured’ egg layers then we don’t know which one it is and we don’t really know what to do about it. They all seem fairly healthy so we’re just letting them get on with things as normal and are hoping that it resolves itself in time. Jessie is getting on fairly well with the other animals. That it she doesn’t try to chase them too much although she has been very curious about the sheep. She’s going through a phase of wanting to chew everything as she’s losing her baby teeth (we haven’t found any yet but I think she’s eating them) and is a right old scamp when it comes to helping in the garden – she loves racing around the recreation area and jumping in the raised beds. 


Holiday

We have just come back from a week away in Rhodes, our first time going away in October half term, and it was just what we needed. We stayed at an all inclusive resort on the south of the island in a lovely suite with a private pool and were blessed with weather that was very warm but not too hot and we all had a relaxing time. I’ll do a write up soon about our trip and suggestions for anyone thinking about visiting Rhodes but for now here are some sneaky pictures.


There are lots of other things that have happened over the last month which I’ve probably forgotten, but for now that’s it. The cottage garden trio are still here and still surviving life in the countryside slowly working on creating our dream family home.

Dog

Puppy update: managing a puppy whilst working

So I realised the other day that I have been putting pictures up on Instagram about Jessie but haven’t done an update on life with her for a while. Jessie is now 14 weeks old and has grown so much since we first got her. She is now allowed outside to interact with other dogs as she’s had her final set of injections (for now, I think she needs a booster at about a year old). J has found a lovely route to walk with her from our house, just up the round and onto a bridleway where she can be let off the lead. So far she is really good at coming back on command and doesn’t stray too far from us. We still put her back on the lead when we pass horses but she has shown a restrained curiosity about them so far. We’ve also taken her up to Westonbirt Arboretum which is great for both children and dogs as they have a huge section where dogs are allowed and have dog bowls and bins at various places as well as a cafe, shop and good toilets and changing facilities for children. We’re planning her first beach visit in a couple of weekends time which I’m sure she will love. 

 

She’s dropped down to two meals a day now, by her own volition really as she wasn’t eating her meals properly when she was on three so we switched her to two and increased the amount at each and now she eats everything up straight away. We made sure to keep offering her a good number of treats in the transition from 3 to 2 so she didn’t end up hungry. And we’re still soaking her last meal of the day for about half an hour before dinner, on advice from the vet, so that she doesn’t need to have water available in the night and it helps keep her fuller for longer (apparently). We’ll probably keep doing this until she is six months old. Though we have had the occasional upset food bowl when she brings a toy out with her to breakfast time! Thankfully she cleaned up after herself. 

The big transition has been after the summer holidays I’m now back at work so she’s had to spend some more time by herself during the day. My father in law very kindly volunteered (was asked to volunteer) to help out with the pup up until October half term during the day. I think he has actually enjoyed it and has often had Jessie over at his for the whole day instead of popping over to ours for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. It’s been really helpful especially when J has to go to work early and his dad has been able to do the morning walk. Long term it isn’t reasonable for us to expect him to look after Jessie everyday and so we’ve looked at some other options. A dog walker would cost up to £10 a day for the four full days that I work, if we presume that I walk her on my halfday. So as I work in a school I work for 39 weeks a year, so in one year we would end up spending £1560! And that’s presuming I can find someone who is willing to only work termtime. That’s a pretty insane cost when you think about it especially as walking the dog is one of the things we wanted to get a dog for. Even getting someone to come in daily for a comfort break would probably be about £5 a day. And both of those options would still mean that she was spending most of her day in a cage. So we’re looking into getting a kennel and run for the garden. So she would be in there whilst we’re at work and will have space to run around and space to do her business and hopefully won’t get bored. It will cost a bit I think, but will be much cheaper than having a dog walker in the long run. What does everyone else do about managing a dog and working? Are there any better options? I mean I can’t be the only one to work and have a dog. 

Life in the Countryside

What a difference a year makes…part one

It is now just over a year since we moved into the cottage and so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we’ve managed to achieve in a year. Both J and I have moments when we just want to walk away from the cottage as there is so much to do and it can feel stifling at times. Sometimes it seems as though what we have to do is unsumountable and that we will never get to the end of it so I thought it would be quite cathartic to have a look back at how far we’ve already come to help gear us up for the next phase of our work. I had originally planned this as one post but having started to write it there were just way too many pictures for one post so I’m going to spread it across three or four weeks. So this week we have the orchard.

The orchard before:


The orchard after:

When we first moved in the trees in the orchard were looking a bit sorry for themselves and the fruit trees hadn’t been picked properly for years so weren’t fruiting that well. The big pile of rubbish next to the garage was the furniture that we cleared from the house, totally filled with woodworm or infested with mice. That went on the fire. 


When we came to empty the solar (the building behind the pile of rubbish in the first picture above) it had a wasps nest inside and the floor collapsed so it had to come down too and onto the fire it went. The horse chestnut tree (centre of the second picture above) was diseased so has been removed and the stump is now a climbing frame for the chickens.


 Where the pile of rubbish was now stands a concrete slab large enough to fit three sheds (due to arrive in the next few weeks) and there is a gravel drive leading up to it (excuse the chicken in the middle of the drive).

 The massive composting pile of garden waste (picture three at the top) had to be removed and we had another fire or two. That took a long long time.



Now the far corner of the orchard is where I’m planning on building C a cafe/shop thing out of old pallets as its a nice shaded area. The rest of that cleared space is mainly occupied by the chickens, you can see the behind the fence of the photo below where I have a nice space for C’s cafe.


I mentioned earlier that the trees in the orchard needed some serious pruning. J has taken charge of this even though he really has very little knowledge on the subject. The two apple trees in the orchard had  a number of lower branches pruned back although I confess that was mainly to make it easier to get the mower round as the branches hung very low but it was also quite overcrowded. The plum tree also had a bit of a prune too. This has given us much better quality fruit yields this year. 



J has built two pens to store leaves and create leaf mound. 


The pampas grass that was in the middle of the orchard has had to be hacked back a bit after the chickens starting using it as an alternative nest. That still needs some work doing to it.



There is obviously still a bit to go in the orchard. The trees will get another good prune soon and hopefully will keep improving as the years go by. The pampas grass needs either cutting back and tidying up or digging up. There are a number of damson trees which have grown up in the centre of the pampas which need removing as there are too many crowded into a small space. I need to create a nice shaded play area for C in the corner and build her a cafe/shop. We have another couple of trees to plant in the orchard, another plum and another apple, in line with the existing apple trees. The sheds have to be bought and assembled on the concrete slab and the edging to the driveway needs to be finished. That’s probably about it for the orchard for now although that may change in time. Not bad work for year 1 in the cottage. Next week I’ll have a look at the recreation area which is the area I’m probably most proud of. Be sure to follow us to make sure you don’t miss it. 

Parenting

Preparing to go back to work

So I work in a school and so am lucky enough to have the school holidays off with C which is amazing. But it’s now the end of the glorious six weeks off for summer and time to get back into our term time routine. C is currently with a childminder when I’m at work and has been since I first when back when she was just shy of a year old (she’s now nearly three, where has that time gone). I remember being very nervous before I first went back as I’d felt fairly on top of things whilst at the end of maternity (well as on top of things as you can be with a child). J was working in London at the time during the week so I only had his help on weekends and was likely to be working away for the whole academic year (I worked in a school). I was normally managing to vaguely keep on top of the washing and cook for us all from scratch every day and get C out of the house as well. I felt as though I had just about got us a routine that worked. But going back to work meant that the wonderful time to get things done in the house whilst she napped (she was still napping twice a day then for about an hour and a half at a time at that point, oh how I miss naps). 

Anyway, so I managed to vaguely get myself into a routine for the past two years, which as is always the case with children had to constantly change, but I’m moving schools in September and we now have the dog so we will have to find a new routine again.  I’m generally considered fairly organised amongst my friends (although I would beg to differ) and I thought I would jot down some of the things which I do to help me juggle the balance of being a working mum. 

  • Batch cook, lots. I love my freezer (I have a couple) and often take time to try and fill it. I use my slow cooker a lot for this – a huge batch of bolognese or chilli or a casserole is very easy to cook in there (just chuck the ingredients in there and leave it). I use old butter tubs to store portions in the freezer (I’ll often wait until its frozen and then pop it out and wrap in cling film and label if I’m running low on tubs). That way for the time and effort of cooking bolognese once we can enjoy several meals which are very quick to reheat after a day at work. I’ll mainly do batch cooking on weekends or holidays and tend to try and add to my freezer stock once a week. 
  • Keep leftovers. Most weeks I’ll do a roast dinner on Sunday and purposely cook a bit extra of the veggies and we tend to have leftover from our roasting meat anyway. Then I can portion up a couple of dinners for C from leftovers to keep in either the fridge or freezer. Or sometimes I’ll cook a dinner for J and I one evening and C will have it as leftovers the next day, I have the least time to cook for C once I get home from work (as she tends to east at 5:30pm) so anything that is easy to heat up is great. 
  • All three of us need packed lunches and I try to prepare as much as a can ahead of time. I portion up as much as possible at the weekend into little tupperwares. Things such as crackers, breadsticks, raisins, blueberries and other soft fruit, popcorn, cucumber, carrot sticks, hummus, sweetcorn, peppers, cherry tomatoes, cut grapes all do well being prepared on Sunday for the week ahead. So it’s then fairly easy the night before to make up a sandwich or wrap fresh and add the Tupperwares to the lunch boxes. I also often use dinner leftovers for lunch the following day or cook an extra chicken breast, for example, to go into wraps. 
  • I always pack C’s bag the evening before and have our clothes set out ready for the following day and used to, when J was working away and I had to do bedtimes by myself, prepare Monday to Friday’s clothes for C ready laid out in her drawers. Even though it may only save me a minute or two in the morning (or longer now C likes to try and choose her own clothes) when you are working to a strict time scale trying to get out he door then every minute helps. 
  • Online food shopping has been a lifesaver for me. I tested it out first when I was pregnant and now I would never go back to having to do a weekly shop in a supermarket (especially dragging a child along with me). That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the odd potter about in a supermarket but having to try and fit that into my working week would just be a pain for me and so time consuming. We get our shop from Tesco as we’ve always found our local one very reliable. So easy to just book an hours slot that fits in with your routine and then adjust items in your basket as required and then forget about it. Also as baby brain has made me very forgetful I love being able to have the app on my phone to just add things the minute they ran out. 
  • Meal planning, which kind of goes with a lot of the above. Gone are the days when I could come home, see what I felt like for dinner and just pop out for any stray ingredients. Once I have worked out what we are having on what day it makes it easier to make sure I’ve ordered the correct food on my shop, taken out what I need from the freezer and know exactly what I need to do for dinner when I get home from work rather than flapping (which I’m rather prone to). If we have also planned together what we are doing for dinners for the week then we are more likely to stick to it and can both step in and help with dinner/childcare as required in the evening. 
  • Working together is a huge part of what we do. Both J and I know our daughter’s routine very well and either of us could do dinner and bedtime by themselves if needed. We’re good at keeping each other informed about the week ahead and are lucky to have J’s dad nearby to lend a helping hand if necessary. In the evenings J tends to arrive home normally after C has had her dinner or when we’ve just gone upstairs. Between the two of us we tend to juggle, bath, story, milk and bed with tidying up C’s room and putting away washing, laying out clothes for the next day and any other upstairs chores that need doing. 
  • I’m better in the mornings than J so I tend to take control of looking after myself and our daughter then and J just has responsibility for himself (and now the puppy). We try to help ourselves out by having breakfast things laid out ready and even go so far as having tea bags and sweeteners etc in mugs ready. Again they may only save you a minute in the morning but it’s one less thing to do in the morning panic, especially if your child is anything like mine and has days where she refuses to get dressed and so you have to spend extra time battling so she doesn’t go out naked with just her wellies on (this happens way too frequently).
  • I always make sure I’m up, washed, dressed and make up done before my daughter wakes up at seven but I have gotten in the habit of getting up even earlier than I need to. Why, I hear you ask? So I can have time to have a latte from our trusty coffee machine and spend half an hour either reading the news or browsing Facebook on my iPad or watching a bit of TV or reading a magazine. I find that just having half an hour of calm me time in the morning really sets me up for the day (I’ll admit that the caffeine probably helps too). Then whatever stresses the morning or the rest of the day brings, at least I’ve had half an hour of me time, half an hour of not being a mum or a wife or a worker. It’s amazing what that little time to yourself can do for your morale – I definitely recommend it. 

So those are the things which I do to help get the balance of being a working mum, does anyone else do anything similar? Any inspiring ways to help with the evening madness? Let me know your suggestions, I’m always looking for ways to be more organised.

I have no inspiring pictures to go with this post so I thought I’d just share some I liked!



Life in the Countryside

Toddlers and life in the countryside

So let me preface this by saying that both J and I adore C, she is amazing and we are so proud of her. However, at the same time she is a big pain in the bum. I don’t think it’s personal to her, I think all toddlers seem to go through this phase. There are now a good number of outside chores to be done daily and obviously trying to do them all after C has gone to bed can sometimes prove a challenge. She gets very excited about checking if there are any eggs (which I have to say is also one of my favourite chores) and then also checking if there are any poos which of course there inevitably are. So we can generally combine topping up food and water and socialising with the chickens with egg collection. I should point out that socialising with the chickens takes on a whole new meaning as a toddler it basically means trying to force feed them whatever she can find, mainly sticks or leaves, and then chasing them to try and stroke them. The girls are very tolerant of her although they do tend to run away from her at first, hopefully they’ll slowly start coming round to her.

However, C is less keen on venturing towards the field. Particularly the hose. Now that means that my options are to either drag her to the field under duress which just results in lots of screaming and crying or leaving her in the house plonked in front of the TV whilst I dash back and forth between the field and back to the house to check on her. Does this make me a bad parent? Or is it sometimes a case of needs must? There’s no doubt that completing the work on the cottage and garden would be so much easier without her but we are doing the work here to create our family home and to give C the upbringing that we want for her. Once we have some gates I will feel better about leaving her in one part of the garden whilst I dash to the other. And when the extension is done on the cottage then the kitchen will overlook the recreation area so C can be out playing whilst I’m inside cooking the dinner. That’s the kind of idyllic future I’m hoping for at least. How on earth do other people manage to manage the conflicting pulls of work, parenting and household chores.