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Month: July 2012

Farm Kids

Farm Kids

One of the joys of the last couple of months has been visits from friends who have yet to spend time on our new farm.  The adults are complimentary, which is always enjoyed, but it is the reactions of the children that really enchant me.  They collect eggs like each one is made of gold, a special treasure to discover and show off, they are right of course.  They realise the pigs are much bigger and dirtier than perhaps they had expected, but delight in hosing them down on a hot day just as we do.  They hold chicks with excitement and a little fear, feeling what it is to hold a tiny life in your own hand; a feeling we parents are familiar with.

It can be easy to forget how recently this world became our day-to-day, when I remind Huwyl that not everyone has regular access to baby chicks he looks at me a bit puzzled, even though we’ve only had our own since last summer.  To him that is forever, his reality is collecting eggs every day, surrounded by fields and regular visits to the veg patch by Mum or Dad for at least part of dinner.

In the daily hustle and work of the farm the outer world, and the world before this, can become a little hazy.  This now possesses so much of our thinking I sometimes wonder how we kept ourselves occupied before this.  But hearing my friend’s beautiful girl saying (extremely firmly) “Mummy I want to live on a farm.  I want to live on a farm tomorrow” reminds me that we have landed somewhere wonderful.  It is work, every day and forever, but what it yields is more than just vegetables or meat, more than the sum of its parts.  I don’t even know what to call it, but I know I’m happy to be here. I’m even more happy to share it all with friends.

Seven Years Boy

Seven Years Boy

On Saturday we celebrated Huwyl’s seventh turn around the sun.  My boy, my little lightening strike is growing up for sure.  He requested a Harry Potter themed birthday party and I was happy to oblige.  We had a wand care class, charms class (making bead bracelets and necklaces), a potions class (this was really popular and Huwyl has repeated it several times!), a transfiguration class (mask making) and of course a visit to Honeydukes.

Stephen hand carved wands for each child and stained them so each one was unique.  The wood came from our own land so that had a very personal touch to it.  He made labels for each one and we showed them how to care for their wands by rubbing beeswax polish on them made from coconut oil and local beeswax.

As usual we were too busy to take very many pictures so you’ll have to trust me when I say fun was had!  After some serious noshing at Honeydukes we brought out the cakes.  The first cake was a white cake shaped like a castle and iced in blue and white , the second was a vegan chocolate volcano cake as we had children at the party who couldn’t have dairy or eggs.  This cake was for Neirin as he was sick for his birthday party and so spent what should have been his party on the sofa with a fever.   It was lovely to see everyone tucking in and enjoying themselves, celebrating our precious boy.

Huwyl loved the Hogwarts theme and was fully kitted out as Harry Potter (thanks to Nana), we’ve just finished book 2 and he is all about the world of Hogwarts and the magic therein.  The children really embraced each activity and especially enjoyed the potions class.  I was very much aided in my organising by my friend Cheryl who held a HP party last year and wrote a blog post with all the links I used on it.  I also got ideas and links for signs from here, a brilliant resource that saved me much hassle when it came to decorating.

After the official party was over we moved outside, the children scrambled up and down the hay castle Stephen had made for them, and explored the farm as fully as they could (that is another post in itself!).

As everyone headed home Stephen and I slumped on the sofa, utterly exhausted.  Not unlike the feeling of 7 years ago when our little lad came into the world!  To see him so strong, so full of life, love and valued by friends made the work all worth it.  Happy Birthday my beautiful, magical boy.

Night Sounds and Belgian Brood

Night Sounds and Belgian Brood

All you north american readers probably won’t believe this, but the night sounds of crickets, frogs and neekerbreekers, night birds and other buzzy insects isn’t one you hear at night in England. It just way too damp and besides, the countryside and its creatures have long since learnt to hush up or risk being shot by a nobleman or built on.

Consequently, the deafening noise of Canada at night constantly takes me by surprise. At best as a kid I used to listen to the sound of a timid snowy owl who perched unobtrusively every now and then in the small copse of trees beside our house and the occasional drunk staggering home from the pub along the back path and singing the trombone part of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” to anyone unfortunate enough to encounter him. In comparison, Canada’s night-time chorus is much more relaxing.

Of course, not all flying, buzzing, chirping creatures are to be embraced and I’m not just referring to mosquitos. Sure, they will plunge a hypodermic needle into your flesh at the slightest opportunity and happily drink your blood, but at best they’re annoying. I’m not even talking about Deer Flies who never give up until they manage to tear off a chunk of said flesh and take it home for a snack. No, what I’m referring to are Rogue Bees and Wasps.

Back in May I was deeply in love with my bees. It was a honeymoon period, pun fully intended. I’d never been stung, thought I could handle everything easy. I had the knack, I was The Hive Master. But having fed them sugar water for a month, then lovingly tended their needs for another couple of months, I am forced to conclude that not all bees are made equal. My first hive, let’s call it Alpha Hive, is thriving. The bees are multiplying and off doing bee things like making me lots of honey. Great.

However, the second hive, Beta Colony, has a weakness at its core. If bees had a nationality, I’d suspect they were Belgian: lazy, slow to reproduce (which rules out the French) and unexpectedly belligerent. Beta Colony bees just don’t seem to be in the programme of making me honey. So, in desperation I called The Bee Guy and was advised to give Beta a little kick. Not literally, since that would be rather stupid. Instead, he suggested I take a frame of strong brood from Alpha and swap it out for a weak frame from Beta. That sounded like good, logical advice and so that evening, I resolved to implement it.

Unfortunately for me, that evening temperatures were touching 36 degrees C, with the humidex taking it well over 40. The bees weren’t in a co-operative mood and were spreading out on the outside of their hives to cool down, but being The Hive Master, I decided to press on. So, I cracked open Alpha Hive and worked on the supers for 10 mins which stirred them up into a frenzy quite nicely. Then I stole a heavy rack of brood and using my Bee Brush, proceeded to sweep the bees from it. Now, with hindsight that wasn’t very clever. The bees, understandably, were hot, disturbed and didn’t take too kindly to a gigantic brush smacking them on the head. However, having gotten that far, I really had to continue.

Most of the bees from Alpha were now airborne and making a noise not unlike a B52 bomber. Bravely I opened the Belgian Beta Hive who, up to this point, had also been cooling themselves outside their hive, drinking little cappuccinos and exclaiming smugly that they would never put up with such disgraceful, rough treatment from an Englishman.

At that point many an experienced beekeeper would no doubt have sealed up the hives and gone home for a cup of ice tea. Not me, oh no. From the depths of my childhood the phrase “don’t start what you can’t finish, Thompson” rang through my mind, bolstering my resolve. So, despite there being now two competing and angry hives (many of whom were airborne) to contend with, I took my Bee Brush and swept the Beta Hive brood frame clean of bees. That’s where it all went wrong.

See the Belgians, it would appear, really don’t take kindly to being smacked with a brush. Dropping their cappuccinos, they rose in fury and three of them, let’s call them Pierre, Jacques and Alein, found their way into my T-Shirt sleeve. In defiance of the established Belgian rules of self-preservation and cowardice, each proceeded to sting me near my armpit.

Three things went through my mind almost instantaneously.

  1. “Fuck…fuck…fuck, that hurts! Ow, ow, ow, you Belgian bastards, ow, fuck.”
  2. I can’t drop the frame! Must smite these bastards. Aargh! Indecision.
  3. You’re now going to go into anaphylactic shock and die, stupid

Fortunately, I was able to place the frame carefully on the ground, smite the unfortunate bees who’d probably just realised that in stinging me their arse had just been ripped out and then run in circles like a demented stork flapping at the many hundreds of Belgian bees who, inspired by the selfless bravery of Pierre, Jacques and Alein were trying to penetrate my shroud and finish the job.

It wasn’t my finest hour.

However, I did return and swap the frames. Then moving with haste, I closed up the hives and shuffled home clutching my arm and muttering furiously about the Belgians. Emma administered some medicine and reassured me that I wasn’t about to keel over in a systemic shock and suffer a full neural shutdown. Relieved, I allowed her to pamper me for the rest of the evening and comment on how brave I’d been which wasn’t a bad result.

I managed to put all thoughts of stings from my mind for a few days. Then Nelson, The (New) Man, came and mowed our fields for hay and baled it into shining round bales. In working one of the last fields, he claimed to have run over a bees nest and wanted to show me it. Obviously I wondered if he’d stumbled into the reason Beta Hive wasn’t as strong as it should have been. If Beta had swarmed in the spring, that would explain why they were weak and not making much honey.

Again, my eagerness got me into trouble. Peering over the nest to identify if they were my missing bees, first with confusion, then with horror, I realised it was a wasp’s nest. And they were starting to fly out. Obviously tipped off by the filthy Belgians, I recoiled but it was too late. Like Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star, one or two had made it into my T-Shirt and let rip against my nipple.

Of course Nelson thought that my stork impression was hilarious and after admonishing me not to set fire to all our fields in a frenzy of blazing retribution, recommended gasoline poured onto the nest to kill them all.

So in the course of one week, I’ve gone from no stings whatsoever to three on the arm and two on the nipple. It’s been a bad week and while I have to give the Belgians another chance, the wasps weren’t so lucky. If only I’d been able to drop a match after pouring the equivalent of Kuwait’s weekly petroleum output onto the filthy nest…still, at the end of the week I have over 100 bales of hay, at least one functional bee hive and a new nipple. It could have been a lot worse.

Hay Time

Hay Time

Over the last couple of weeks our neighbour has been cutting, tedding and baling our hay.  This weekend the bottom field was baled and the rest of the fields were cut.  It was beautiful.

 

The sun began to go down, tinting everything with a soft glow, the world couldn’t have looked more harmonious.  Walking our land, clear of high growth for the first time since we bought it (for the first time in many years actually), we began again to have a feeling of space around us.  The horizon seemed further away making the details more pronounced.

 

The next evening we took the boys for a good long walk across our land, we visited places we haven’t seen in a year.  The boys ran themselves ragged and we all enjoyed the excitement of the new hay and the resulting openness.  We let the longer shadows cool us as we drank up this new vision.

 

As the children and dogs chased each other in and out of woods, over long rows of grass and the kinder climbed on a bale Stephen tipped for them, we soaked up the feeling of well being washing over us.  We have a real crop, one that has value to us and our neighbours, that can sustain animals through winter or be sold to help build our farm up.

The sun dipped lower as we headed home, we talked of all the possibilities and forthcoming harvest.  We talked of a future full of goodness.

Summer Fruit Fun

Summer Fruit Fun

Is it me or is it hot?  Anyone else notice this?  It’s a bit like, how can I put it, being on the surface of the sun while opening the oven on a hot day.  Yup.  I know I’m not the only one suffering right now but I don’t handle high heat well.  No running, no chores and definitely no cooking.  Luckily this is the perfect season for fruit, for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner!

I’m really pleased to have a post on this very topic over at Playful Learning, the lovely Mariah has invited a few other mamas to contribute to her wonderful blog and I’ve written about how to include more fruit in kids’ diets.  Good timing given the heat!  Pop over if you’d like to have a look and get a few ideas for having fun with natures summer treats.

I’ll be back midweek with (many) pictures of hay.  Now if that isn’t enough to keep you on the edge of your seats I don’t know what is.

Cloud Sand

Cloud Sand

What do you do on a boiling hot afternoon (37C with humidity) when you can’t head to the pool because one of your number has a poorly tummy?  You make a double batch of cloud sand and stay in the shade of course!

For something so incredibly simple (flour and oil, that’s it) this was a real hit.  The boys played with their trays of sand for the best part of an hour, giving Mummy the chance to sit down for a bit whilst trying not to melt into a puddle.  It also got us through that 3-4pm time slot and got Neirin just messy enough for a cool bath with lavender oil while Huwyl listened to an mp3 of greek myths.  What could have been a tough afternoon ended up being tranquil and nicely occupying without being overly taxing; I was glad we all got out unscathed!

As Neirin approaches the end of his preschool year (and won’t be returning next year) I’m conscious of providing more sensory experiences for him.  Luckily Huwyl loves this kind of thing too so it really is win-win.  I have a preschool pinterest board that is rapidly filling up with ideas and I’m planning on attempting one or two a week over the summer to discover which ones work for us.  Its a great opportunity to vary our school life and give the boys opportunity for creative, kinaesthetic play that develops all of their senses.

Plus there is the sitting down; the sitting down is good.

Highlights

Highlights

Despite my best efforts and homeschooling know how our days at the moment vacillate between high bliss and high pitched screaming.  Not all of it from the children.  The usual bickering, wailing and gnashing of siblings goes on as it does in all homes all over the world.  It can be easy to feel that our lives are dominated by these moments but I know it isn’t true so I’m trying to refocus and remind myself of the highlights.

Picking a basket of dew soaked salad and chard is definitely a compensation for the mania of a 6.30am wake up call because the dog has pooed on the landing and up the wall.  Yep.

Standing in the garden, listening to the sounds of many birds calling each other quietens my spirit a little.  I can feel the frustrations and stresses that exist within any normal family home, slip away as I focus on bending, picking and sorting.

Cashews soaking on the counter promise a vegan cheesecake later today; my new to me breadbox reflects the morning light on it’s super groovy 50 year old surface and the yet-to-be-constructed bee super pleasantly scents the air around it with the hint of pine and beeswax.

In between those moments there’s stories, cleaning, lego, more cleaning, cooking, even more cleaning and the ever present moderation of the ongoing battle between two small people who really do love each other very much.  Despite all evidence to the contrary.  It can feel trying, it can feel frustrating, it can feel joyous, these are the ups and downs of motherhood.

But I don’t have to look far, not far at all, to see the beauty and life that literally surrounds us.  The sweet scent of summer earth wafting through our open windows, the distant chit-chit of birdsong and the ever present pulse of thuds and bumps that affirm the children are up to something, somewhere.  That’s ok, I’ll deal with that later.  For now I’ll enjoy the view.

Missing

Missing

This morning Neirin disappeared.  We couldn’t find him.  We searched and searched, at first with irritation and then with growing panic.  Huwyl and I called, looked in every room and called some more.  I looked outside, I ran to the pond my heart pounding, he was no where.

We searched the house again and again, I looked in his cupboard, under the beds, in every nook and cranny I could think of.  It took about 30 seconds.  I called his name but no response.  I could hear Huwyl outside, calling his brother, searching everywhere; inside the silence was complete.  Choking.

At 20 minutes I was hysterical, I phoned Stephen screaming, I didn’t know what to do.  At 25 minutes I was in the car driving up and down the road than runs by the farm.  He’s never gone up the drive or near the road, I knew he wasn’t there but I couldn’t think where else to look.  Over and over I kept saying This is Hell, I’m in Hell.  I feared that I had slipped through the ice into the bad reality, that somehow madness had taken over.

At 30 minutes I think my heart stopped beating.

My mind kept saying that he couldn’t have left the house.  He was upstairs asleep, Huwyl and I were in the office downstairs, we would have heard him come downstairs, we would have heard the door.  I ran back upstairs, to the rooms I had already searched, the rooms I’d run through calling then screaming his name, crying into the silence.

I gave it one last try, I calmed my voice and called “Neirin, Neirin darling are you there?  Tell Mummy where you are darling, I have ice cream for you, we’re going to eat ice cream”.  Then I heard him crying.  I heard him calling me and I felt like I was born again.  I ran into his room and still couldn’t see him, he’d tucked himself in the back of his cupboard and stayed there in silence.  Silence.

I held him so hard and he clung to me, I cried and sobbed and asked over and over Why did you hide?  All he could tell me was I don’t know, I just did it.  We called Daddy to tell him we’d found him, I cried on the phone for a while as Neirin clung to me.  We went and found Huwyl and he sobbed and hugged him just as I had.

Then we called Grampa, who informed me that when he was three he used to do the same thing.  Huh.  I suppose we know who to blame then.  Then he told Huwyl a story to cheer him up, a story about Sammy the Seagull and his friend Neville who gets lost in a cave.  They found him in the end and we all felt better.

Eventually we had to go out and run errands, then we went to the thrift store and bought crazy stuff for the dressing up box.  Whatever the kids pointed at I bought, they got crazy robes and silly hats; Neirin is now the proud owner of a stuffed tiger.  A really big stuffed tiger.

On the way home I bought them ice cream.  My heart still hasn’t settled down, I think it might take a while.

I have no words of wisdom or final finishing line to this story, but this quote seems to fit,

It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.  ~ Phillip K Dick.  

I think I need to lie down.  With the children in full view.

A Single Moment

A Single Moment

Joining Amanda today to celebrate the beauty of the everyday.

This boy, this three year old, who tells me very seriously about how eyebrows are stuck on with glue, how he wants to drink milk so that he can grow big like me and draw pictures whenever he likes (even after bedtime).  This boy who calls me ‘Princess’ and tells he will guard me from monsters, who is in turn a puppy, kitty cat and robot.  Sometimes all at the same time.  This boy who says “Can you read this book to me?” in such a way as to make any heart melt.  This boy who hugs like he means it, will all the strength and intensity his little body can muster; when he hugs you, you stay hugged.

This boy who is not really a baby anymore but is still my baby.

Sensing Fun

Sensing Fun

Since Neirin finished preschool I’ve been conscious of trying to create more activities with him in mind.  I’ve been pinning lots of different ideas for sensory activities that I can use with both boys and so far this week it has been going really well.

The first try, boxes of soapy water, was a resounding success and had the happy by product of clean toys!

I love how something so simple can be so soothing and entertaining at the same time, Neirin particularly enjoys moving water around, pouring it from one vessel to another and rescuing his toys from the depths of the tiny ocean.

Our next outing was more ambitious, I created spaghetti sensory boxes that I saw here using a corn pasta that I didn’t like and was glad to be rid of.  It was stickier and dried out a bit quickly so I think I would use a gluten pasta next time.  The boys wrapped and cut the pasta, using it to create scenes with their toys and seemed to enjoy the experience.  The chickens also got the benefit of an afternoon pasta snack which they scoffed in record time!

Neirin played with the pasta for about half an hour before it got too sticky, he then moved on to the bathroom sink where he spent another 20 minutes or so washing his hands and cleaning his toys.  It is fascinating to me how a sink of water never loses its appeal no matter how fancy a Mummy tries to get!

This morning I broke out the Cloud Sand that we made a couple of weeks ago, the boys still really enjoy it and it gave them a good half hour of fun; for me that justifies the cleanup required as no matter how hard we try that stuff just goes all over the place!

My goal is to have some kind of sensory activity available each day, in addition to outside play and pool time, all valuable large body work.  Though Huwyl happily joins in I’m focusing my attention on Neirin’s needs for this one.  Moving as we are into the more complex emotional work of a nearly seven year old (gulp) I sometimes forget how straightforward the threes are.  Play, food and attention at regular intervals really do cut it as far as my little chap is concerned.

Oh and cuddles.  Lots and lots of cuddles.  At Mummy’s request of course.