The Final Stretch – Nomadic Life Here We Come!

So this post is a little late, but it’s ok, there’s a good reason for my tardiness – I’m in the late stages of a slow and even descent into madness. That counts as a reasonable excuse, right?!

This month so far has been a whirlwind (Understatement. Huge one. Raging typhoon is more accurate) of learning, planning and packing. I am now officially unemployed, and Pete is currently finishing up his final job. We are exactly 11 days away from elective homelessness. 11 DAYSHOMELESSNESS! I think a little descending is perfectly acceptable given the circumstances, and the madness is simply a prerequisite of the task at hand – so I’m not worried. Do I feel the immense pressure of the situation? Yes. Am I over-analysing anything that can be analysed? Definitely. Am I worried that we’re doing the wrong thing here? Nope, not at all. As I said – madness. Despite spending my nights poring over routes and plans into the wee hours and the days juggling this with the children – plus the constant whirring of my brain while I mentally run through any and every terrifying scenario that my frazzled mind can conjure, and the endless sorting and packing and selling/donating/recycling of our entire house – the overriding emotion is anticipation. I may be scared silly of the trials to come, and I might be so exhausted it takes an enormous effort to form coherent sentences, but above all I’m excited to see what our future holds. I know that any upheaval we’ll face will make us stronger and better – as individuals and as a unit – and that we’ll have an awesome time; we always do when we attempt anything together. Whether we make it for a few weeks or a few years we’ll all be glad to get out there and experience something new, learning the skills we need to achieve our goals from people who are living them, and spending our time together.

The children are possibly even more excited than I am and so incredibly motivated to learn; Maddy can’t wait to get stuck in on a permaculture project and Brendan’s excited to learn about eco building. At home they’ve increased their research and discussion on their related areas of interest and have completed the ‘to see’ and ‘to experience’ lists; and we’ve even managed to take breaks for parties and a little outdoor fun. Oh and Easter, we fitted Easter in too!

They’ve also completely overcome any attachment they may have been harboring for their belongings and have been piling toys, clothes and books into ‘donate’ and ‘recycle’ boxes with gay abandon – it’s brilliant! This week we have sent a whole Transit van’s worth of household items and toys to our local recycling center, and my goodness do we all feel lighter for it.

The children were a little sad to see some beloved (but very tatty!) cuddly toys taken away but, as usual, managed to see the bright side. While I was reveling in the thought of a clutter-free existence Brendan was thinking much deeper, declaring that all of these discarded items were now going to have the honor of upward reincarnation and that we had helped them on their way to bigger and better things. His beautiful perspectives on these simple acts never fails to amaze me, and I love that both he and Maddy have the unerring ability to find the good in any situation.

It really is amazing how much your perspective can shift in such a short space of time. It wasn’t so long ago that my shelves were filled with designer bags and my shoe collection was something to be admired – or so I thought. I had wardrobes and drawers full of clothes but not a thing to wear, a plethora of fancy gadgets but no idea how to use them, and so much stuff that I had a ‘rotation’ for shelf and display items. I didn’t realise just how restricting all of these things and, more importantly, my attachments to them were. They took on lives of their own – needing love and care to maintain them – and became a hindrance. It all took up time, energy and money that could have been better spent; and only served to distract me from more important things. Because none of it was important, just things; clutter. When you remove the chaos of clutter you can breathe a little easier, think a little clearer and hear yourself a little better. The same applies to the myriad play-things that the children had – so much that they couldn’t see the wood for the trees, spent an insane amount of time keeping the hoards of toys in some semblance of orderly tidiness, and rarely actually engaged with any of it. Most of the ‘in’ things that we often struggled to afford and almost always had to fight off other rabid parents to get to have remained packed away in boxes since moving house 2 years ago, and those boxes have now been stacked for donating without a second thought to their contents – because it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is in those toy boxes hasn’t mattered over the course of the past 24 months, so it’s unlikely to matter in the next 24. This was a great eye-opener for the children who were able to figure out pretty quickly that if those toys don’t matter now – and they must have before because we brought them with us – then perhaps their whole system of value-placement was flawed. It prompted a bit of soul-searching from both of them and a whole lot of reevaluation; culminating in a strong sense of true value and clearly defined priorities. Brendan, eco-warrior that he is, is so proud to be doing his bit to cut pollution, consumption and waste; and Maddy is overjoyed to be sharing her wealth with those less fortunate. They both feel like they have more despite having less, and really enjoy the things they’ve deemed important enough to keep.

However, even with all of these positives, this is undoubtedly one of the most chaotic and stressful times we’ve faced yet. We have all of the usual stresses and strains of a house move, without the security of a new house and with the addition of facing the absolute unknown. We’re not packing our things to unload into a new house, we’re saying a final goodbye to the set and props of many happy memories. We’re trying to reduce everything we need to a small enough quantity to carry in our trailers (which will incidentally also be carrying our new homes) and let go of everything else. And I do mean everything. The most difficult thing to let go of has been that nice sturdy life-raft of ‘normalcy’. I’ve been happily paddling alongside mine for a while now – not quite brave enough to let go completely but no longer scared enough to stay inside – but this huge change looming already has me trying to scramble back in. It’s just a natural reflex to the unknown, and I’m working on knowing this and owning that sensation, but for now it’s just another self-made obstacle to achieving our goals. The thing with obstacles is, it’s in their very nature to be overcome or bypassed – obstacles are learning opportunities disguised as hurdles in a path, not a dead-end – so again I’m not worried. And this is the thing that has struck me most throughout our preparations – the perception of obstacles. Most people have been incredibly positive and supportive of our plans, and many have even expressed regret that they didn’t do something similar when they were younger, but even these people often wonder at how we’re actually managing to get past all the obstacles meant to keep us in neat little boxes. When I talk about whatever hurdle we’re facing at the time the most common response is something along the lines of ‘oh well, it was a nice idea but I guess you’re staying put’. To me, that kind of thinking is the real madness.

 

 

New Season, New Life, New Lessons

The past few weeks have been filled with the joys of Spring and we’ve all been doing our best to make the most of it – the weather is getting warmer, the sun is gracing the sky more often and our environment is awakening and blooming all around us – what’s not to like?! The children have been practically living outside; Maddy up a tree with her nose in a book and Brendan making some marvelous contraption under said tree, with the occasional ‘Hey, aren’t you glad we’re not in school?!’ thrown in for good measure. Their days are so happy and fun-filled it’s sometimes hard to believe they’re actually learning anything at all, but then I remember that learning is supposed to be fun!

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At this time of year it’s hard not to love home educating. There’s so much to see and do together, so much to learn and experience. The children have always been barefoot, wild at heart nature lovers and since we began home educating in December the natural world has been our classroom – and that has been all-round awesome! In the process of a seasonal change our classroom is bursting with excitement, and the new life that the vernal equinox brings has given us plenty of opportunities for learning and exploration.

One sunny Wednesday was spent hiking to our favourite spot by the river, picnic in hand and dog off-lead. The children did as children do, laughing and exploring and observing – constantly driven by their curiosity, and constantly learning. They took up their chosen tools and set about understanding what was happening around them, and it went something like this; ‘What’s that growing over there…what can we use it for?’ ‘Is that a hard or soft wood?’ ‘Why does the water in the river look different to the water in it’s contributory stream?’ ‘What on Earth is that and how is it jumping on water?!’ ‘Oh, so the lens can make heat…can we make fire with it?!’ ‘Ah, baby lambs…why do animals have babies in Springtime?’.

They spent hours in the field (literally!) investigating the answers to these questions and many more, much longer than a school day could afford, and continued with their research closer to home over the next few days. One trip can inspire such a varied and thorough quest for knowledge it really is astounding to behold, and such an honor to be involved.

We also took advantage of the improved weather to put some of our indoor learning into practice, taking our work on forces to the great outdoors. ‘Forces Day’ began with a 6k bike ride, and what a ride it was! As we meandered through the countryside shouting back and forth about centrifugal force and inertia, how Maddy’s riding position was effectively reducing drag, and how Daddy’s adjustment to Brendan’s gears was causing more friction than fire-starters, we probably embodied the ‘Mad Hippy Home-Ed’ers’ stereotype pretty thoroughly, but hey – why not?!

After our rather unconventional ride we were all ready for some time on the water. Kayaking gave the children the perfect opportunity to put their understanding of buoyant force to the test, and this they did – along with drag, aerodynamics and thrust. Brendan also had a particularly interesting lesson on equal and opposite reactions and the impact of sudden cold on the body when he capsized! Despite getting a soaking Brendan had a great time learning a new skill, and it was clearly a huge bonus that this skill could be converted to speed – his newfound dream of being a sprinter is still alive and well. Having kayaked before, Maddy was most at ease on the water. That said, Maddy has a wonderful way of ‘pin-balling’ her way around any given course in any given vehicle, but boy does she own it. She loved every second and, with one-to-one instruction from a professional, was cutting straight lines in no time. By the time we left the water the children had learned far more than we expected, and perhaps the most valuable of the days’ lessons were not about forces at all; but rather the persistence and resilience which they both demonstrated beautifully. The character building continued with stamina as the focus on the return journey, we were certainly less vocal on the way out!!! I for one was thankful when a family of buzzards gave us a good excuse to stop and rest, and yet another opportunity for observation and learning. We watched the two adult birds and one young hovering, manouvering and diving over the field a few hundred yards from where we stood, prompting the addition of another branch to our project on forces and an entirely new fact-filing mission.

In between all of this we have attended home-ed groups, experimented with solubility, played with friends, foraged, cooked, learned about chromatography and colour psychology, spent an unnatural amount of time willingly working through maths (thank you Khan Academy!) and generally absorbing any information they can get their hands on like little sponges. It exhausts me just thinking about it!

Along with the sunshine, blooms and babies, the equinox also appears to have graced us with a fresh chapter to our home-ed journey. The children seem to have rounded that dreaded ‘deschooling’ corner and are definitely getting into the swing of autonomous learning; using their initiative and trusting that their own questions are as worthy of investigation as an adult’s. Reaching this milestone has been a tough haul for both children, but especially for Brendan. Maddy gained her trademark assertive confidence some years ago and I think this helped somewhat with the whole school-to-home adjustment period, whereas Brendan began his childhood with a confidence that was soon to be eroded by his experience with school, and that made the process a little trickier for him. It’s surprising how institutionalised a child can become after just a few years of school and I’m happy (and relieved…hugely relieved!) to see them both adjusting so well to their new found freedoms.

Of course, they now have another set of obstacles to overcome and another drastic lifestyle change to adapt to as we move into our final month of ‘normal life’. The arduous task of sorting and packing is now well underway, and though that may sound simple and mundane, to a child it runs much deeper. This is the first time that their grasp of true value is really being tested, and it’s been tough on them at times. Giving up some of the things that they own – many of which they have chosen and paid for independently – was a bitter pill to swallow when we first broached the subject some months back; but they soon began to realise that they were unduly attached to inanimate objects, and that this wasn’t good. They understood the practicalities of packing for a trip, knew that they couldn’t possibly carry their ‘stuff’ as well as the necessities, and couldn’t believe they’d let that strange attachment cloud their logic. Since then their knowledge of true value has strengthened immensely but I expect this final phase of preparations to be hard on them regardless, it’s bound to be – it’s tough on us adults too! I have to constantly remind myself that, in a years time, I won’t be crying into my tea over my beautiful dressing table that’s now gracing the bedroom of a lucky Cheshire farmhouse, nor will I miss the amazing dress I bought but would never wear that’s currently jazzing-up the wardrobe of someone more suited to it than I. So yes, it is hard, but it’s undoubtedly worth it. If the children gain as much insight into their priorities and principles as I have from this experience, their world will be better for it.

 

 

 

Foraging – Spring Edibles Pt. 3

This week’s foraged goodness is a real little ray of sunshine and is probably blazing its way across your lawns right now – the dandelion. If you missed last week’s instalment on Hairy Bittercress, you can find it here.

Dandelions are so abundant and persistent at this time of year that people spend hours trying to eliminate them – a quick google search tells me that we’re spraying, digging, salting, smothering, even torching (really?!) this gardeners blight – when what we should be doing is enjoying their deliciousness.

 

The dandelion ‘weed’ can be found just about anywhere grass grows and can be harvested at any point during their cycle, though the leaves do get tougher as they age. Just make sure the land you’re foraging is chemical free (no roadsides!) and you really can’t go wrong. I sent my children over the garden fence to gather ours, they spent a happy home-ed morning sprinting between patches of dandelions and wandering the tree lines; returning with a basket full of the flowers, a ‘shopping list’ of found foragables and a plan to spend a family day in the fields sampling them. I love that they can engage with their environment in this way – and are sensible enough not to graze unattended!

As well as being readily available, dandelions are also easily identifiable. There are other plants, namely the Cat’s Ear, that look similar at a glance; but with a closer look their differences are plain. This site is a good source of information on spotting the difference, though there’s no need for the beginner forager to be concerned. These plants aren’t just similar in appearance; they’re also equally edible, used in the same way and have similar nutritional and health benefits. The humble dandelion has been used by many to treat ailments such as muscle aches, gall stones, liver disorders and cancer; and scientific study into its potential as a medicine is producing promising results. It’s also known to be a good source of vitamins A, C, B6, D, E and K; along with iron, calcium and lots of lovely detoxifying antioxidants. Dandelions – like many foragables – are an effective diuretic so bear this in mind when using with other plants. Also take care when using with other natural remedies or medications and seek appropriate advice prior to use.

 

Dandelion Recipes

Dandelion Set Syrup

  • 200 dandelions
  • 4 cups (1l) water
  • 1kg white sugar
  • Lemon (1/2)
  • Sharp knife
  • Medium sized lidded cooking pot
  • Sieve
  • Jug

Day 1

  1. Wash the dandelions thoroughly and leave to stand for half an hour (give any bugs chance to escape!)
  2. Using a sharp knife, remove the petals by cutting just above the base of the flower – any green that you can separate from petals at this point, do* – and put the petals into a medium-sized cooking pot.
  3. Add 4 cups of water to the pot, cover and bring to a rolling boil
  4. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for an hour
  5. Allow to cool then put in the fridge overnight

*Too much green and your syrup will be bitter, but if cut close to the base the surrounding leaves should come away fairly easily.

Day 2

  1. Remove from fridge and, using a sieve or cheese cloth, strain your golden liquid into a jug. Press the petals with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid.
  2. Transfer the liquid to the pot, add juice of half a lemon. Cover and warm over a medium heat
  3. When warm, add white sugar to your mixture a cup at a time. For a thicker syrup, add more sugar; and vise versa.
  4. Increase heat and bring to a rolling boil
  5. Reduce heat to low and cover pot, simmer for around an hour – until thickened
  6. Pour your syrup into a warm jar. Use fresh and hot over waffles and store leftover syrup in the cupboard to show off share with friends 🙂

The syrup can be refrigerated for longer storing, just remove the jar from the fridge and place in hot water prior to use. You can use the same warming method to thin down syrup stored at room temperature.

This syrup is like sunshine in a jar and we’ll put it on pretty much anything – so get creative with the sweet stuff! Try adding a few spoons to a batch of plain cake batter or biscuit mix for a subtle natural flavour.

This recipe makes a set syrup of a similar consistency to set honey. For a runny syrup suitable for drizzling you will need to adjust the method slightly, and use the juice of a whole lemon; on day one boil the liquid for one minute, cover, and refrigerate overnight. On day two add the lemon juice with the sugar and simmer until most of the water evaporates. Do not bring to a rolling boil. Allow the mix to cool, then simmer once more until it reaches the consistency of maple syrup.

 

Bacon and Dandelion Stir Fry

  • 1 cup lardons – bigger is better
  • A good handful or two of dandelion leaves (1.5-2 cups when wet and chopped)
  • 1 cup baby carrots
  • 2 cup broccoli florets
  • 2 shallots
  • 1tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1tbsp soy sauce
  • Wok
  1. Wash and roughly chop the dandelion leaves
  2. Peel and thickly slice shallots
  3. Heat sesame oil in a wok and add carrots, shallots and lardons. Stir-fry on med-high heat for 5 minutes
  4. Add soy sauce, broccoli and dandelion leaves, stir fry for 5 minutes until tender-crisp.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

We like ours mixed in with egg noodles and couscous, but it’s just as good on its own for a quick lunch. The bacon can be substituted for pine nuts (toss in for the final 5 minutes of cooking) for an even healthier and equally tasty outcome.

Eating foraged foods is enriching beyond the nutrients they share. The experience of taking your food from field to plate, all by yourself, is incredibly rewarding. It reminds you that you are inherently connected to the Earth and all of its cycles, and with that knowledge you can begin to sustain yourself.

We’d love to hear about your foraging adventures, share your tips and recipes in the comments or head over to our Love Learn Wander Facebook page and share your photo’s!