The Olympics Games – A Fifth Grade Waldorf milestone.

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At the end of the Fifth Grade, when a child is of secondary school age, it is a tradition amongst Waldorf schools to hold an athletics event, that they call the Olympics, based very loosely on the original Olympic Games held in Ancient Greece. In the fifth grade curriculum, pupils study Ancient Greek and Ancient Civilisations, so by the end of the school year they are very familiar with Ancient Greece.

Waldorf schools consider children of 11 years (grade 5 age), to be at the height of their strength and stamina, before the onset of puberty, and what better way to celebrate this time than this unique athletics event.

My daughter’s school went one step further and turned the whole preceding week into a feat of determination and stamina, when they undertook to hike the 24 mile plus distance between their school and the host school.

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Here they are being waved off and cheered on by the whole school 

Leaving on a hot Monday in late June, they walked eight hours a day, for three days, cross country, in the relentless heat. Every night they camped somewhere different.

Parents were tasked to set up and take down the camp daily and were responsible for catering, shopping, walking and all the preparations. It was a big job, but absolutely worth it: the teacher and children so appreciated arriving at a well set up camp and immediately being able to relax, cool down and play after their long walk. They most certainly deserved it!  I hear there were plenty of water fights! 🙂

We were so impressed by this small class of nine’s determination and fighting spirit to complete the walk without complaint and to enter into the spirit of the event.

They arrived at the host school, to a “Welcome”banner and many of children from other schools, who had just arrived by bus, were in awe of their achievement, before any of the athletic training had even started!

This particular Olympics was held at a large Waldorf school with extensive grounds. There were over twenty different schools taking part, from England and abroad, including Poland, Bulgaria and Germany and all were camping on the school grounds in preparation for the event.  I estimate around 350 pupils or so.

My daughter’s class had spent many months last year training; with morning runs around a track in the park and practising a variety of Olympic sports, including javelin, discus, high and long jump and wrestling, so they were well prepared for the next three days.

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There were two days of training before the actual event, where the children from the different schools were divided up into groups, representing Ancient Greek Cities. It  was an opportunity for children to get to know other Waldorf schooled children. Each City was led by an Archon, who was typically a fifth grade teacher, and had a different ribbon colour. Ribbons were tied to a long pole that the Archon held, so that the groups knew where to assemble. My daughter was in “Marathon” which had a light blue colour. She was happy with that, loving blue as she does 🙂

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It was such an inspiring event, I just had to share it with you and I must say I am enjoying reliving it myself! 🙂  Unfortunately I lost my camera battery the day before the event and didn’t have the time to purchase another. Luckily after trying all kinds of options, I was able to borrow a friend’s camera for the event. The photos aren’t as clear as I would have liked, so I apologise in advance for some of the fuzzier photos, but I wasn’t used to the camera and there was a lot of movement! I wouldn’t have missed recording this milestone event in my daughter’s life, for the world. It really is such a glorious way to mark the end of the primary school years and this memory will last the children lifetime, of that I am sure.  I certainly still carry the memory in my heart with such pride. 🙂

The families were able to camp onsite overnight on the Friday, but away from the pupils. This was just as well as we had to rise early on Saturday!

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By 7.45am we were all gathered for the Opening Ceremony. It started with a steady drum beat echoing through the arena, followed by a torchlit procession of children (one child chosen from each City). The other children followed in their “Cities”, all dressed in white tunics with bare feet, as they would have been in Ancient Olympia.

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Each child wore a belt that they had made themselves (parents had made the simple tunics). My daughter had embroidered some Ancient Greek writing on hers. I don’t think it was anything too meaningful though!!

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The big torch was lit and the Games could begin.

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The first event was the “Marathon”, which was a mile long run around the grounds, finishing on the running track. My daughter loves to run and is the fastest in her class, over long distances, which she is proud of. Due to every child running the race, she found herself quite far back at the beginner’s line and it was difficult for her to push forward until part way through the race, but she did herself proud, being one of the first girls to reach the finish line and beat a lot of boys in the process- an important detail!! 😉 She is only a slight thing but built for speed, with fierce determination. She certainly doesn’t get her athleticism from me – I was always last to be picked for sports!

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Then there was a sprint, called “The Dash”, where the children raced 70m, ran round a javelin, and raced back. This was divided into girls and boys races.

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High jump and long jump followed. The children could choose between these.  My daughter chose the long jump and each child was allowed three attempts.

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The queues were long, but the excitement was papable and every child was applauded for their efforts.

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Wrestling was next. My daughter didn’t want to participate, but we watched her classmates. The wrestling is done standing up in a circle. The aim is to push your opponent out of the circle, whilst palm to palm. No other part of the body is to touch the other. It was a very civilized sort of wrestling!!

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Then came the javelin or discus. These events went on simultaneously, so the  children had to choose between them. My daughter chose the javelin, as she said she didn’t want to offer up the discus to Zeus!!! 🙂 They were once again allowed three attempts.

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There was a “mini marathon” in between that my daughter didn’t participate in, which was a 400m race I think. She and her classmates enjoyed wandering around and enjoying refreshments instead.

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The message was clear: the event was not about winning; it was about participation and doing the best of one’s own ability. The children were each praised for their own individual efforts: the grace of their running; the focus in their wrestling; the steadiness of their hand in their throwing; their determination and skill. It was a very encouraging event.

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Lastly there was a relay race, which everyone took part in, running 80m each. Luckily my daughter took part in an early race as the heat was really getting to us and I was suffering from bad hayfever due to being in a freshly mown field all day long!

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After the final race, there was a very moving closing ceremony.

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The children sat in their ‘Cities’, in a circle around the central Olympic torch. The Archons called each child up individually and gave them a medal with a ribbon in their ‘City’ colour and praised them for their acheivements on the day and told each child what they had appreciated about their individual performance and efforts in the previous two days.

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Some children were given slips of paper with these written down. My daughter’s group didn’t receive one and she has forgotten what was said to her because of all the excitement. I remember hearing grace, focus and determination, which I would definitely say apply to her! It was very moving and meaningful. Apart from tears of emotion, my eyes were unfortunately streaming with hayfever and the heat of the big torch close by, that I could barely see any of this or even find my way back to our camp without help!! 😦

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There was a lot to celebrate, not least our lovely, supportive School Community 🙂

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I love how Waldorf education celebrates the seasons, yearly festivals, important  milestones and The Individual. There is so much reverence and meaningful attention to detail. I feel this sends an important message to the Children of the Future; that their contribution is recognised and valued and that the Earth and it’s gifts are to be treasured and protected.

Anyone who has visited this blog will know I am a passionate advocate of Waldorf (Steiner) education. For those that want to know more, I wrote this post.

In the past I have written about the wonderful celebrations in the Kindergarten years, including the beautiful Kindergarten birthday celebration and the very moving Kindergarten leaving festival – see here and here.

In previous years, I have written about the meaning of some of the festivals we celebrate at school and how we honour them at home. These include: Candlemas  (2nd Feb), Valentine’s Day (14th Feb), EasterMay Day festival (beginning of May),Whitsun festival (end of May), Midsummer and St John’s (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September), Martinmas (11th Nov) and Advent (four weeks leading up to Christmas). Hope you find some food for thought here for creating your own seasonal festivals. 🙂

***May your life be filled with awe, reverence and celebration – of Mother Earth and of the gift of Life! ***

 

 

 

Surrender – lessons in letting go

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I am slowly learning to let go…to accept things as they are….to trust in Divine Order…to surrender….

There are circumstances in life that can be trying. I find that fighting them or resisting them can be exhausting and cause more suffering than the actual circumstance itself.  I have been on a spiritual path for several years, but it has taken me a long time to reach this understanding and to be able to use the trials of life as “spiritual practise”.

To trust that everything is unfolding as it should be – that there is Universal Order, is difficult for us humans to comprehend. We like to control outcomes, to measure, to have scientific proof, but if we could only let go and trust, rather than micro-manage our lives, things would flow easier and the channel to our higher wisdom and the Divine would be more accessible.

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As we trust that a seed will grow into a plant that will nourish us or lift our spirits with joyful colour in the spring and summer months, we must trust that we too are undergoing necessary growth and development through the challenges we meet. If we trust in Divine Order, the struggle goes out of things, we can relax and be open to receive. There is great freedom in this.

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At this time,  both my daughters and my husband are ill in bed with a virus and I am holding the fort with a heavy cold of my own. 😦 All our lovely plans for the weekend had to be cancelled as well as a long awaited meeting with a dear friend after College on Tuesday.
I have been practising patient acceptance for a while now and realise I have a choice – to feel frustration and disappointment at what I could be doing (and to try to do some of it anyway…college work etc); or to surrender fully to this time at home and let go of expectation. In the act of surrender, I am able to be completely present to minister to my children both day and night and to answer their calls for loving care and physical affection at this time of vulnerability.  I am grateful for this time of closeness, when usually the girls are so independent.

Now my daughters’ fevers have passed and they are more alert, we have been watching some cosy old fashioned films together, including our two new favourites: Little Women and National Velvet and we will watch Anne of Green Gables (which we have already read and enjoyed) tomorrow, as these were some of my favourite films from my childhood, that I had yet to introduce my daughters to.

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We have also cuddled up to read some of our favourite winter books, including The Sea Mice and The Stars, enjoying ginger biscuits and spicy apple juice as the Sea Mice do in this wonderful story. 🙂

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I rarely sit down to share a picture book with my eldest daughter anymore, so it is a treat for me!

I have had a chance to do some knitting whilst my daughters rest and am making good progress 🙂

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and even managed to sew two sets of bunting for my sister’s friends in the snippets of time in-between caring for the children. Hurrah!

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The girls have helped to make pom poms for a “snowball” garland in moments when they have felt like sitting up, so we even have something to show for our time spent at home 🙂

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And I have been inspired to write this post slowly…but surely…

It will probably be a couple of days before the girls make a full recovery, but what could feel like an inconvenience has actually been a gift. A gift of the present moment, of connection, of retreat, of hibernation even 🙂

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There is always a gift if we look for it, I find. Happiness does seem to be a choice.

During the months, whilst I have been away from this space, there have been a few challenges in our lives. One of these has been changes in my childrens’ school life:

My eldest daughter’s class size shrunk at the end of last year (when some children left to start their secondary school education in the State system, including a best friend). This resulted in a class merger between her class and the class above – Grade 6/7 – and her class losing their teacher to a younger class 😦 My daughter felt her disappointment fully and whilst I sympathised with her frustration and disappointment, I tried to remain calm and centred so I could be proactive. Some words that resonated with me at this time were:

” God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”  Dr R Niebuhr

So I did all that I could to prevent the merger, including rallying parents, helping with marketing efforts to try to attract more students to the school (with Brexit, these are difficult times for attracting new business…), writing copious letters and arranging a string of meetings with members of staff to see if there could be another way forward. I used prayer and meditation to help ground myself, but ultimately I had to accept that the merger would go ahead and that our dream of my eldest daughter staying at her Waldorf school until 16yrs may not come to fruition. I have had to let go and trust in the greater plan, whatever that will be. It will become clearer in time….

At the same time, I was meant to be studying for my Biomedicine exam in June and had to resign myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to study as much as I would have liked, due to prioritising my daughter’s class’s needs. I did what I could with the time at hand and had to trust that if this is my path, I would do o.k. It was another lesson in letting go and trusting in the rightness of things as they are. Fortunately it seems I am on the right path…..

And just this last week we found out that our youngest daughter will also be losing her much adored teacher in May as she returns to her home country.  😦 My daughter spent a whole day sobbing on and off, but has reached a level of acceptance despite her sadness. I think when something cannot be changed, all we can do it accept it. The future remains uncertain, but we are choosing to stay positive and trust that whatever changes come along, we will find a way that works for us.

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I am trusting in the bigger plan and trying not to get too caught up in the detail, whilst still being proactive. This has not been my habit in life thus far. I have been an over thinker and worrier – a family pattern –  but it has got me nowhere, except spiking my cortisol levels and affecting my health and wellbeing. I see that now.

I think trusting in the bigger plan is really helpful in difficult times. And remembering that we have a choice about how we react to things. Our thoughts and attachment to ideals can be our biggest enemy; imprisoning us and making us truly unhappy, if we identify too closely with them.

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The fire at our house that I mentioned in my previous post and the consequences, are another example of something that was beyond our control and where I had a choice about how I could react. I could have been frustrated that it created so much chaos and work and just before Christmas and even let it overshadow our preparations for Christmas, or I could accept what was and work with it.  I chose acceptance because it allowed my energies to be used productively; arranging our Christmas festivities etc. Of course I did feel fully the horror when it happened –  I certainly don’t want to deny my feelings.  But it really has been a revelation to see life’s obstacles as an opportunity to practise patient acceptance rather than resistance.

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a page from the year planner that a kind friend gave me for Christmas 🙂

I have had some health challenges over the past years, which were highlighted last year when I started my studies.  Nothing major, but some chronic short term memory loss, difficulty concentrating and very low energy levels, which were interfering with my ability to study. I have been seeing a healthcare professional since September and following a protocol, including going to bed around 9pm for several months and have been following a restricted diet with numerous supplements to support my recovery. It has meant letting go of seeing friends in the evening, starting new projects and spending time alone with my husband in the evening, but I have had to accept this as part of my recovery and that my body needs a lot of rest and nourishment to be able to restore a balance again after years of neglect. I have put some of my life on hold and trust that if I put the effort in with the protocol, it will be worth it. This certainly has been an act of Surrender on my part as the results did not show for quite some time and I am still in the process of recovering and will probably be for some time. But I know that if I am to study and do the things that I feel a calling to do, I need to be in good shape! So I must patiently accept this time of waiting…I am still studying this year; learning about all the different modalities in brief – Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Chinese Medicine, Nutrition and Iridology. It is fascinating!  It is supposed to be a lighter year in terms of study requirements, but there is still an exam at the end. I haven’t found time to study yet, with one thing or another, but am once again trying to relax and trust that I will be granted enough time to study so that I can pass the exam in June.

It is a great comfort trusting all will be well. In fact, one of my favourite simple mantras for uncertain times is:

“All is well,  all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well”

I put it to a little tune and sing it to myself to soothe myself and to silence the worried voices. It really helps.

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The agapanthus decided to bloom again in January 🙂

I could see all these challenges as a catalogue of frustrating circumstances that are ruining my peace of mind or getting in the way of my life’s purpose, or I can see them as an opportunity to practise surrender again and again. This does not mean denying frustration. Frustration at change or dismay/deep upset at bad news is totally understandable and a normal reaction to something that puts our life, as we know it, on hold or changes it irrevocably. It is necessary to feel our feelings fully, but ultimately we need to move beyond that to acceptance and surrendering to what is and move forward from that perspective. Surrendering may not change the circumstances, but it is a way to freedom and peace of mind.

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Because of the fire, we have a much reduced winter Nature Table scene, but King Winter had to make an appearance 🙂  

I attend a monthly Spiritual Philosophy group, in which we always do a guided meditation/visualisation. It is my absolute favourite part of the session as I spend time with my guardian angel. So much comes to light in these sessions, it is incredible. Last Thursday, we were encouraged to go sledging and we would meet our guardian at the bottom of the slope. I usually sledge with my feet as brakes when I don’t know the terrain or if it is a fast ride – I am cautious in that way – but as this wasn’t “real life”, I decided to take the brakes off and fly down the slope. Wow! My heart was so light and I felt so deliciously free, just imagining it. I can see this as a metaphor for life. If we put the brakes on (and try to control events), we are interrupting the natural flow of life and the joy of being in the moment. Life can pass us by and the opportunities that could arise often don’t when we are in a state of resistance. My guardian as usual had some wise words to impart, advising me that I already know what to do…I do think the answers are within us, the clarity that we seek, but we so often cloud things over with our overthinking, using our precious energy to try to control outcomes.

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So I am trying to make a point of noticing when I tense up and if my shoulders and jaw become tight (when I am resisting something or holding on too tightly to an ideal outcome) and consciously making an effort to let go.

Another mantra that a friend and counsellor gave me that I have put to a simple tune and sing when I feel the need is:

“ As I let go, I heal on every level”

I would highly recommend it. It literally dissolves my stress. My shoulders lower and I know letting go is the answer.

When I attended an Artist’s Way group some years ago, on the first session, we were asked to write three goals for the course down. We were given a few arts and craft materials and five minutes to do it in! Here is mine:

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To let creativity and ideas flow, we must let go and trust. In so doing we are opening the channels to Divine inspiration and what’s not to enjoy in this freedom! 🙂

These are of course just examples of my own recent personal challenges. The world is full of much greater challenges on a larger scale, but perhaps practising  meeting our own personal challenges with equinamity and acceptance is a good start. Many things are not within our personal control, so we do need to learn to live with uncertainty every day and accept it as part of life. But we do have some control over our inner terrain, our thoughts and reactions and we can practise choosing  peace and harmony.

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This has become an epic post, written over many days!!!  I felt I wanted to share my feelings on this subject as I know we all go through trials and challenges, some that in retrospect may seem trivial and some that shake the foundations of our life as we know it. We all need to have a toolbox of aids to get us through these times. Above all else, I think Faith is the most important; be it Faith in our ability to handle things; Faith that things are as they should be; Faith in Universal Order and of course Faith in the Divine.  Faith is such a comfort and so strengthening.

Wishing you all a good dose of Faith in your lives xx

I leave you with one more mantra that I have put to a tune and sing often. So joyful!

My love is vaster than a mountain,
My peace is a deep as the sea
My joy is like a radiant sun,
My spirit is strong and free”

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Why I chose a Steiner (Waldorf) school for my children – a UK parent’s perspective – highlights and misconceptions

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I am writing this because I don’t think enough parents have heard of or understand what Steiner (Waldorf) education is.  I thought it was time to shed some light on the subject because I believe it is a viable alternative to mainstream education and could benefit many children whom the current state system is failing. There are many misconceptions in the mainstream about Steiner education, so I also want to go about setting the record straight.

Let me say a little about our journey...

I have two daughters at a UK Steiner School and we have been involved in Waldorf education for nine years, since starting in the Parent and Child group when my eldest was two years old.

From an early age, I was aware that my daughters needed a different setting from the typically loud and chaotic toddler groups. I myself didn’t feel at home in the busy, noisy environment either, so I looked around for an alternative; somewhere quiet and safe for my children and somewhere to meet like-minded conscious parents. I was blessed to come upon a local Steiner School, who run a weekly Parent and Child group. As soon as we arrived, I knew I’d made the right decision. The mornings had a lovely rhythm: with free play, parent craft time (what a luxury!), baking bread, outdoor play, circle time and a shared lunch (which parents contribute an item to and always results in a feast!) There was an atmosphere of respect, anticipation, and joyful contribution and the space was wonderfully held by the Parent and Child facilitator. During this time I discovered a lot about Steiner education and realised it would be a good fit for my children. I already felt that an early start at school would “wake” my sweet dreamy children “up” before they were ready for it and knowing that most other countries do not start school until their seventh year, I felt confident that Kindergarten was the answer. I was not disappointed.

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My youngest daughter on her last day of Kindergarten with a hobby horse she made herself!

The Kindergarten years are the Wonder Years. The children slowly unfold at their own pace, unhurried and protected from the faster pace of life outside the school. They are free to make discoveries, to play, to imagine and create, without the pressures of academic achievement. Children are only assessed for their readiness for school in their seventh year (6-7yrs).

I fail to understand why the UK Government, contrary to the educational reports they receive on child development, insist it is in children’s best interests to start academic learning as soon as possible. They are even trying to push it into preschools! There is a feeling that children need to get ahead and this can foster early competitiveness in children or feelings of inadequacy,  particularly in younger, more dreamy children who are simply not ready for a school structure or academic learning at a young age. These feelings can remain for their whole educational journey if not handled skilfully by the teaching staff.

I have heard from both family members and friends how the daily pressures of homework, high expectations, not to mention SATS, have left their children feeling stressed, anxious and even depressed by the time they enter secondary school. Of course there are children that breeze through it all, but many children suffer big knocks to their confidence and many more feel demotivated at an early age. It saddens me that so many children are becoming a casualty of this misguided system.

Studies have shown that an early start can actually discourage a love of learning after a few years. There is absolutely no proof that an early start has a positive effect on learning outcomes. The UK has not improved its position in global education rankings, compared with several countries in Asia, Germany. Scandinavia and Finland, all of whose children start school at six or seven years.

In many countries, Steiner education is a State funded alternative to the mainstream education and it has produced many highly esteemed professionals. In this country, we have not reached this point yet, although there are currently a few Steiner Academies in Frome, Hereford, Bristol and Exeter.

I have heard that there have been further cuts to the Arts in schools. How sad that there is less and less of a place for creativity in schools. We are so much more than just our brains and not everyone will excel academically.  In Steiner schools, song, movement and art are integral to their learning, with teachers encouraging the children to produce beautiful work to feel proud of.

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Getting ready for our annual Christmas Fayre

Anyway back to our story…

As I mentioned, my children are very sensitive and don’t thrive in large groups: they feel invisible and quickly lose heart. I felt that mainstream education would do them no good because their needs wouldn’t be met in such large classes. The Steiner school class size is much smaller, with a maximum of 22 pupils and often smaller classes, and an emphasis on getting to know each individual child. The child feels seen and heard. It is a great gift, especially for a quieter child. My daughters have been allowed the time to develop in confidence and to learn at a pace that suits them. They are still enjoying a relatively stress-free childhood. I have seen my once shy and retiring children grow from strength to strength in confidence and ability. My children are now very confident speakers in their class, something I feel sure would not have happened if I had followed the mainstream option.  I fully believe that this type of education should be a model for the future.

Mainstream education tackles subjects like politics, sex education, environmental concerns and other subjects I feel are inappropriate at primary school age. Children can lose their innocence and belief that the world is good far too early on and some children can feel overburdened with worry when they are powerless to change anything. In contrast, such subject matter is introduced in Waldorf education when the right level of maturity is reached to receive it.

In Class 1 (6-7yrs), the child is in a reception-like environment with an emphasis on setting boundaries for behaviour in a school classroom and introducing the child to life in the main school. There is still much wonder and fairy tales form an integral part of the curriculum. Letters and numbers are introduced creatively as a prelude to writing and mathematics. The children are assessed individually so all their needs can be met, whether they are early readers or still need time. The child will still only initially attend one long day until 3.20pm. By the end of Class 1, they attend two long days. This increases every year until Class 4 when they attend every day until 3.20pm. In many countries, such as Germany and Finland (who are globally ahead academically) half days are still very common.

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A beautiful picture drawn by a class teacher in Class 1

Ideally the child will be with their class teacher from Class 1-8 (6-14yrs), so there is continuity of care and the teacher gets to know the child deeply. The child as a whole is educated, not just the brain, but the body, heart, mind and spirit. There are no screens or textbooks. Instead the child creates his/her own subject books, called the Main Lesson book. These are a real feast for the eyes and soul. Below are examples of a few pictures from my eldest daughter’s main lesson book. So inspiring, I find!

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Part of the Geometry main lesson. If you are going to do something, make it beautiful!

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In my eldest daughters class (Class 5) this year, the children are studying Ancient Civilisations, Local Geography, Geometry and Botany. There have been wonderful local geography project presentations, a superbly crafted class play of “the Adventures of Odysseus” and the children are currently working on a self guided Botany project. In the class the children support each other’s efforts. Other subjects in Class 5 include languages, as well as Ancient Greek , handwork, clay work, sports and a special kind of dance movement devised by Steiner called Eurhythmy. Below are a few samples of this year’s work. 

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A Local Geography presentation on the Lake District.

Each summer, the children go on a class trip to reflect what they have learnt in their curriculum that year and the stage in their development. The children in Class 5, at 11 years old, are considered to be at the peak of their strength (before they enter puberty), so in their final term in the Lower school, they will compete in a special Olympics, held in a large Waldorf school with extensive grounds, where they will meet up with other children of their age from Waldorf schools across England and from abroad. The children will undertake a three day hike, camping along the way, and will spend several days preparing for the Olympics. There is a tremendous sense of achievement by the end of the week. The children are feeling excited and proud of their place in the school.

My youngest, at eight, will be staying away for one night at a youth hostel with her class. She started school after she was seven as she wasn’t emotionally ready at six and I am so glad she waited as she is doing brilliantly and has fully embraced school life. They are in their second year of Handwork and she has been bringing back gorgeous knitted toys including this kitty and a piglet that our puppy has taken a liking to! 

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In this day and age, we are in such a hurry to “grow our children up”. We, as adults, surely know that there is no going back to the innocent days of our childhood; with no responsibilities, time on our hands and not a care in the world.  I feel we need to protect our children’s childhoods from the pressures of adult life as long as possible, especially in primary school.

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We all love our children and for many,  mainstream education fits the bill and children do well there, but I fully believe that at least 20% would do better elsewhere. There has been a 40% rise in Home Education because schools are failing many of our children. I believe Steiner schools are a viable alternative for many families, where parents would rather be working than teaching their children, but I think that not enough people know there is another way.

I have seen children breathe a sigh of relief when they enter a Steiner school after leaving mainstream education, once they have adjusted to the different way we do things. Finally a place where they can be themselves, be recognised and are allowed and supported to grow into the independent, confident people they can be, given the time and support they need.

To summarise, some of the Highlights of Steiner education for me are :

  • The creative curriculum – each year of the Steiner curriculum is designed to reflect where the child is in terms of their development. There are no text books: the teacher imparts all the information and the children create their own beautifully illustrated books by their own hand. They use good quality materials to achieve a high standard of work that they can feel proud of. Music, movement, art and handwork are an integral part of the curriculum and allow a holistic educational approach; educating the child’s mind, body and spirit. I can’t think of anything children need more in this day and age.
  • Recall – The class will spend a little time every morning going over what they learnt in the previous school day, having slept on it. This helps them to integrate their knowledge before moving on to the next topic.
  • Continuity – the teacher ideally stays with the class for seven years (6-14yrs) so there is continuity of care and the teacher knows his/her pupils deeply. This is not always possible in every case, but new teachers will work closely with a departing teacher to ensure that the children’s needs are still met. There is certainly greater continuity than in the mainstream, which I appreciate for my children, who do not do well with too much change.
  • Smaller class size – class size is no more than 24 pupils and often less, so each child feels seen and the teacher has a chance to know them deeply, not just based on academic performance.
  • Individual attention – often more reserved children in larger schools feel invisible, not heard and not able to access what other louder, more confident children can.  At a Steiner school, each individual child matters and the teacher will go to lengths to help the child to feel like a valuable part of the class. There is a sense of belonging and inclusiveness. There are also regular Parents Evenings and easy access to the teacher to voice concerns.
  • Later academic study  – children are considered ready for academic study from the time they start to lose their teeth. This is usually from 6 years. There is no pressure to comply with a fixed learning curve and each child will learn to read and write at their own pace with the encouragement of the class teacher. If a child is a late reader, as my eldest was, they still very much participate in the class and do not feel less than the others. There is learning support if necessary.
  • A cooperative attitude –  the children are expected and encouraged to behave respectfully towards each other and collaborative work is important. It is incredibly inspiring and heart warming to see how supportive the children are of each other’s work in the classroom.  It has certainly not been my personal experience of school life!
  • A community school – My daughters know most of the children’s names in the school. The children feel held and safe in a community of pupils, staff and parents. As they say ” It takes a village to raise a child”. This is the closest I have found to this. Parents are invited to be involved in school fundraising and caring for the school, including cleaning the classroom once a term, which is a lovely opportunity to care for your child’s learning environment and gives the parent an insight into what goes on in the classroom. There is even a school shop, selling healthy foods, run by parent and teacher volunteers which is a hub of the community.
  • Handwork Lessons are a wonderful opportunity to learn various skills. The first two years are devoted to learning knitting and the children make themselves a selection of gorgeous knitted toys of which they can be proud. The children learn crotchet in Class 3 and Cross stitch in Class 4. In Class 5 they return to knitting, making socks and my eldest is now knitting gloves. Here are a few examples of her work. What a wonderful achievement. 

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A cross stitch pin cushion made in Class 4 following a painting of their own design

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Cross stitch Christmas cards made in Class 4

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Knitted socks in Class 5

  • Yearly Class Plays – every year each Class performs a play for the rest of the school and their parents, which ties in with one of their Main Lesson subjects. The play forms part of their Main Lesson for half a term and the children work hard together; painting scenery, making props and some costumes and advertising their play.  This year, my eldest (in Class 5) performed a play of “the Adventures of Odysseus” to tie in with her studies of Ancient Civilisations and learning Ancient Greek.

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My youngest (in Class 2), performed a play about St Francis of Assisi to tie in with her studies of the Saints. They were both superb and the children felt they were part of something very special.

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School festivals – festivals are such a lovely way to mark the the passing of the year and reflect on seasonal changes. They range from special assemblies around Easter and Christmas, to Maypole dancing and jumping over a little fire at Midsummer.

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Lantern walks in November, as the light dwindles, are another highlight of the Early Years calendar and continue for a few years in the main school.

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The Festivals are particularly beautiful in the Kindergarten years when parents are able to participate in the festivities. The children are all very much involved.  

 

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My youngest daughter serving strawberries and cream at the Early Years ‘Strawberry Fayre’ festival  in her last year in Kindergarten 

So those are the highlights, now to tackle some of the Misconceptions of what a Steiner school is:

  • “A free for all Attitude”  –  Steiner Education was designed to educate the “whole child” in “freedom”, which has been misconstrued as a ‘free for all attitude’. This is absolutely not how a Steiner schools works. Children know their place and boundaries for behaviour in the classroom are clear, including expectations of respectful behaviour towards classmates and the teachers. The teacher is in charge and the children are led and held by them. Parents are free to speak to the teacher as often as they need to and there is an open line of communication so things can be tackled early on if necessary.
  • ” A load of hippies” –  If being a hippy, means believing in a peaceful, respectful environment for your child, then I’m fine with that! The school has rules and regulations, just like any other school. There is a code for dress and behaviour. It is not a democratic school. The teacher is there to guide and inspire the children to achieve a high standard of work and behaviour.
  • “Children just play” – In Kindergarten much free play is encouraged. There is a rhythm to the Kindergarten morning, with a walk in the park, followed by circle time, free play, the occasional seasonal craft, a snack, tidying up time and outside play, followed by story time. The children are encouraged early on to contribute to the class; by tidying away the playthings, accompanied by a song and they also help lay or clear the table at snack time. They learn a sense of responsibility and their place in the class through contribution. The ages are combined from 4yrs to 6yrs and the younger children learn from the older ones whilst the older ones are happy to inspire the younger ones by their example. It works very well.  There is no academic work at all. Instead the children have time to evolve as human beings, through their play: Play is considered “a child’s work”.

From school age, play is reserved for the playground and children are expected  to care for the classroom as part of their daily routine. There are movement games but this is all structured by the teacher. 

  • No discipline – this again is not the case at all. Teachers are very much in charge. Parents can approach teachers to speak about their children in detail and children can voice concerns, but ultimately the teacher is in charge and the children can relax and get on with their work. It is a school after all!
  • Not academic/scientific – the Steiner curriculum differs from that of mainstream education and this continues into the Upper school, where pupils will also study for GCSE’s. Although children do not study the three sciences separately,  the curriculum includes science from Class  6 onwards and several children from our school have gone on to study engineering and excel in their fields of interest. Sixth form colleges welcome Steiner pupils because of the broad curriculum and the children’s thirst for knowledge.  

I am so grateful that I was guided to the school so early on in my children’s lives, but it is never too late to give your child the kind of education that meets their need for a creative curriculum, that lets them grow and learn at a pace that suits them, without being overloaded with targets, SATS, homework, because after a long day at school, shouldn’t a child have some free time to download what they have learnt!?

So many of us were impoverished in the way we were taught as children. I for one, would have loved to have been Steiner educated. Being sensitive, creative and an observer, the competitive environment of a Public school killed my joy of learning: It was all about outcomes and exams. I withdrew and although I have come out whole, with very good grades,  it did nothing to build my confidence or self esteem to tackle the big wide world.

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My eldest selling her handmade gifts at the school Christmas Fayre. 

The way the world is going today, we need to find more ways to support the creative thinkers, the entrepreneurs, the inventors as we will need them even more for our future survival.

 

Short but sweet..

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We had a lovely cosy home day on Sunday, with our daughters playing happily and imaginatively for much of the day.

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On Sunday mornings, I traditionally enjoy a lie in – if I am lucky! 🙂 (my husband has his on Saturday mornings) and our daughters appreciate the opportunity to spend time with Daddy; colouring in his funny pictures and drawing their own.

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They decided on the theme of “Under the Sea” and drew mermaids (good and evil!), fish, sharks, treasure chests and an underwater castle with windows to open! 🙂

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By the time I had woken up, they were in the process of cutting out their characters, and sticking them onto short skewers with sticky tape, so they could be used for an impromptu “puppet” show! They haven’t staged a puppet show for us in a long time, so it was a nice surprise!

My eldest covered the playframe with blue/green coloured cloths and they each took it in turns to stage a little show for us.

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The storyteller 🙂

There were little mermaids peeking out of the windows in the castle below, but I wasn’t allowed to take photos at the time. So sweet!

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My eldest did sound effects for her sister, which brought the show to life. Here are a few of the instruments in question!

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Our Schleich animals were also recruited for a jungle themed show 🙂

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It was so lovely to see the girls enjoy their playspace and to experience them being imaginative and creative. They tend to play in private nowadays, so it was a real privilege to be party to their imaginative play on this occasion.

I do so appreciate these times; when things go smoothly and we spend warm and happy times together.

Our Schleich animals continued to have a great time for the rest of the day 🙂

 

 

 

December already!

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It’s Wednesday evening, my daughters have broken up from school and I finally have time to reflect on what we’ve been up to since I last wrote…in November!….Goodness, how can it be that we are already in mid-December! The last week passed in a bit of a blur with a sickness bug affecting all our family in turn. I became sick on Monday (missing my usual spot for writing here) and by the time I was feeling better on Wednesday, my youngest took over and we spent a whole long night in and out of the bathroom 😦 This weekend it was the turn of my eldest. I think we are all on the mend now and are hoping to stay well for the rest of December!!!

Somehow we have still been keeping up with our Advent traditions. This period is so precious to us, we wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂  I wrote at length about these traditions here, but here are a few glimpses:

We have been reading our Christmas books– we found a use for the failed papier mache lantern – it’s now a beautiful bowl to hold our Christmas book ‘lucky dip’ 🙂

All the different ways we mark the passing days of December/Advent.

Mary is travelling on her Star path towards the stable. Due to illness, we have had a few false starts (!) and she has remained on a particular star for a couple of nights…but we help her catch up 🙂 We dim the lights before bedtime, light the candles (according to the weeks of Advent) and sing “Mary’s Starpath” as one of my daughters moves Mary forward to the next star.  It creates such a beautiful reverent mood, I really appreciate it.  As you can see, the path is filling up slowly; with crytals and golden shells (placed in the  first week of Advent) and pinecones, little trees and golden hazelnuts this week. Toadstools are on their way 🙂 These are added by the “elves” overnight, both to our main Nature Table in the lounge and to my daughters’ own Nature Tables in their rooms. The elves have been known to forget (especially when they don’t want to disturb sick children!) but generally they know how important their job is 😉

Steiner attributed each week of Advent to a different Kingdom and I base my Advent activities and additions to the Nature table around this:

The first light of Advent is the light of stones,
Stones that live in crystals, seashells and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants,
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts,
All await the birth, from the greatest to the least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind,
The light of hope, that we may learn to love and understand.

This Advent, there are only three weeks in total due to the fourth Sunday in Advent falling on Christmas Eve, so we will start the arrival of the animals to the Nature Table a little earlier so there is enough time to add the humans too!

In the week of stones, I don’t usually do too much craft-wise as the children are still at school and there are a lot of things to organise and events to attend at this time. I do always give the girls a rock to crack (with a hammer) on one of the mornings and they each receive a lovely crystal (I cover the crystal in white clay and leave it to harden).

We sometimes make clay or saltdough ornaments, but due to illness, we had to forgo that this year. No matter…

This week I have a couple of crafts in mind based around plants. I will report back in  my next post. I feel this post is going to be long enough!!!

So to rewind, we had our Gnomes Bonfire on the evening of 30th November to bid farewell to autumn and decay and make way for a peaceful light-filled Advent. We let go of all the dry leaves, acorns and conkers we had collected on our autumn walks and warmed ourselves by the fire accompanied by warm drinks and spicy biscuits 🙂  The girls set the gnomes up and took over  most of the procedure this year. These traditions are so deeply ingrained they always know what to do 🙂

I  felt a strong urge to tidy and clean the house thoroughly in preparation for Advent: It helps to set the mood to one of anticipation when the decks are cleared and the energy is lifted. Things can get quite tired looking at the end of a season, I find.  It is always a joy to set the Nature table up for a new season and there is no season I love more than Advent 🙂

The girls wrote their letters to Father Christmas which the ‘elves’ took during the night. The elves also filled our angel Advent Calendar with ornaments to adorn the bare branches over our Nature Table.

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On the 2nd December we had our school Christmas Fayre. We helped set the Fayre up on Friday and my husband did the cooking, as he has done for many years now.

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The school looked really fabulous, all decked out in homemade goodness. I always feel so proud of our school at this time of year, when everyone pulls together to make it happen.

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We baked some cakes for the cafe as every family does. My daughters were keen to be involved.

I love that my youngest felt she needed to wear high heels for this 🙂

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As I mentioned, my eldest daughter had a stall in the Children’s Market.

She sold most of her doll skirts and paper angels and all of her needle felted baubles and window stars and made a grand total of £75! She paid a percentage to the school, paid me back for the materials and gave her sister some money to treat herself with and there was still £55 left for her. She was delighted as you can imagine. The needle felted Christmas pudding my youngest made was one of the first things to sell, so she is considering making more for next year….plans are afoot already 🙂

St Nicholas paid us a visit on 6th December. The girls put their boots out by the back door and were richly rewarded.

“Our” St Nicholas always brings nuts and clementines and a little present. This year he brought a festive glass and a special coin, which the girls were intrigued by.

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We like to read this book about dear St Nicholas and his helper Ruprecht. It is in German – it’s a shame it isn’t translated yet.

The girls have also been making presents for their teachers and “secret santa” presents for a particular classmate. They both decided to needle felt something as they were already in the rhythm.

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When my youngest started to feel better, but was still too weak to go to school, she sat on the sofa and felted this very cute Christmas elf for her classmate!

Her teacher is receiving another Christmas pudding that she made a little while ago.

For her “secret santa” gift, my eldest needle felted a snowman, with a felt top hat.

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She cut a circle of felt out and cut a smaller circle out of the middle. She used the ring of felt for the brim so it fits snuggly over the snowman’s head and used the  small circle for the top of the hat. I helped her cut out a rectangle to create a tube for the middle section. It came out really well I think.

Both of these were made by attaching two polystyrene balls to each other using a cocktail stick – my eldest daughter’s idea. I do feel proud of how they come up with these lovely ideas. They need very little help and what they make is of a really good standard – I am always impressed.

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My eldest needle felted her teacher a bauble for her Christmas tree and also gave her one of the beautiful paper angels, that her teacher admired when she popped in to see the children’s work at the Fayre. She was pleased.

I am glad my eldest managed to make these on Saturday morning before she became ill as there was no time between then and now, with all the end of term festivities, carol service, plays etc. It has been a full time and is good to have a little outbreath now from all the activity and errands and take our (favourite) place at home; doing crafts;  baking and enjoying lots of cosy reading by the fire. My kind of happy 🙂

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I have been writing my Christmas cards when possible.  Somehow I made an error when I took my letter to the photocopy shop to be copied. I asked for 20 copies of the 4 double sided A4 pages I had written, which would have been 80 pages in all. I agreed a price and the chap said it would take a little while, so I went for a walk. When I returned, I noticed a huge pile of coloured paper collecting on the tray next to the photocopier – he had thought I wanted 80 copies!!! Eeek!! I don’t have 80 friends to send this too – it really is only for my friends abroad. Ooops! What a waste of paper. Of course I paid him as I had agreed the price. I think we shall be using the paper to keep warm this winter 😉

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In between illness, the girls have been helping me with packing presents for a couple of friends abroad and for our relatives.They have been busy little elves with the wrapping paper, cellotape and lots of stickers!! 🙂

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Well that’s some of my news from the last couple of weeks. To finish, I just wanted to share these fab handmade socks that my daughter came home with from school today!

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Rainbow socks – a girl after my own heart 🙂

As for my own makings, things aren’t going too well. I am having second thoughts about the teddy bear making for Christmas. I chose some yarn for the dress and shoes, but knitting it up, it just doesn’t suit the teddy’s colouring 😦 Sob! I have ordered some more yarn to see if I can find a more suitable colourway. Fingers crossed! Not long to go…may have to be a New Year’s present….

Hope you have had a peaceful and joyful Advent so far. Enjoy all that the season has to offer. Many blessings. 

Creative time …

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I was mentioning changes here in yesterday’s post and forgot to mention that I have started a course of study in Naturopathic Medicine, which is taking me away from home one weekend per month (lectures are from 10am – 6pm on both days – quite a marathon let me tell you!). I am studying Physiology and Biomedicine this year – all very interesting, but it does feel rather taxing for my brain after an eleven year hiatus. I studied this material when I became pregnant with my eldest daughter in 2006, so it isnt totally foreign to me, but it does still feel like I am starting from scratch again. Originally I was interested in becoming a Nutritional Therapist, but since discovering the wonder of herbs, I feel more inclined to study Naturopathy with Herbal Medicine. Let’s see…I need to take one year at a time and things will become clearer if this is the path for me. It is a part-time course so will take several years. I felt it was the right time to start doing something for myself as my children are getting older and need me a bit less and it still allows me plenty of time for family life and homemaking which I love:-)

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The long lecture days are very tiring for me and by 3pm, I don’t feel I am taking anything in anymore 😦 I always feel so glad to be home at the end of the day, where it is warm, cosy and colourful – just the right combination to relax me after a long day indoors looking at a big screen under artificial lighting! It really has been a while since I have been in a classroom environment and things have changed a lot in 11 years! (everything is on Power Point for a start!) 😉

My sweet daughters, knowing that I am struggling a bit with the change of environment, draw me sweet pictures to take with me 🙂

On Saturday evening, all I wanted to do was work with my hands, so I sewed some little beech and oak “leaf children” to hang from the branches on our Nature Table. I must say after a day of study, working with my hands was very soothing.

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I really wanted to make something autumnal and since I have been making a lot of flower children this year, leaf children felt like the next step 🙂

Basically, I traced a couple of leaves onto paper, pinned the paper to wool felt and cut two leaves out per “child”. The child is made out of a 2cm diameter bead and a pipe cleaner for structure (see above). The pipe cleaner is popped inside between the leaves (it acts as a shoulder) and then the leaf is sewn together around all the sides using blanket stitch. At this point I glued wool on for hair and used a glue gun to stick the acorn or beech nut hat on. I sewed some simple vein lines on too.

I rather like them and am pleased how they turned out 🙂

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My youngest daughter was keen to have a go and made a couple over the weekend too. She wanted to draw faces on hers and the beech child has hands. Here they are suspended from branches on her own nature table amongst a paraphanelia of other random “precious” items 🙂

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My eldest daughter needed a quick project as she was busy making things to sell on  her stall at our school Christmas Fayre (like last year), so she whipped up a little pine cone ‘child’ in a few minutes! So simple and sweet 🙂

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For two weekends now, my daughter has been working on her “wares”. She has sewn some doll skirts again as they sold well last year and has made lots of lovely paper angels for the same reason. She has also started needle felting little Christmas baubles and seems to have other plans too. Let’s see what she manages to get done in the next couple of weeks.

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She is a fast and determined maker and is very motivated to earn some real money!

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My youngest had a go at needle felting a few things too. Here she is working on a Christmas pudding 🙂

We had friends over the weekend before last to celebrate their daughter’s Birthday (she was born 4 days after my eldest and they have known each other all their lives). We had a lovely time, playing, eating and drinking and there were some fireworks and sparklers too as it was the 5th November.

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At some point we noticed the children had gone quiet for a while, so I went upstairs to find them on the bed quietly weaving Ojos de Dios!

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They look so pretty, I had to display them 🙂

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Apart from these endeavours, it was Martinmas on Sunday. I wrote at length about Martinmas last year so won’t go into any detail here. We have been on a couple of walks up to our local park with our lanterns over the past week and are due to go for a (postponed) lantern walk with my youngest daughter’s class this Friday. It is so lovely to be out in the darkness with our lanterns lighting the way and sweet songs on our lips. 🙂

We attempted to make papier mache lanterns this year, but unfortunately the tutorial we were following wasn’t very detailed, so the lanterns weren’t a great success. 😦 It didn’t mention to use several layers of light coloured tissue paper all over (but then again not too many – I think six is probably about right), so we guessed…One lantern is rather dark – we cut some moons in there to disperse the light – and the other was too flimsy at the top, so my daughter cut the top off making it rather shallow. The girls enjoyed the process, but were a bit disappointed. Note to self to look at more than one tutorial!!! 

Any tips on making one of these would be welcome as we plan to have another go next year 🙂

To make up for this, we made some star paper lanterns for the table yesterday after school using this very detailed video tutorial. 

We all had a go and with a bit of help, we all managed to make these lovely little lanterns to adorn our dining table. We are rather pleased with the results.

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Well that’s the round up of our creative time this week. I hope you are enjoying some cosy creative moments at home too. Joining Nicole for Crafting On.

 

In Sickness and in Health…

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As I sit here writing, the warm sweet smell of cinammon and apples is wafting across from the kitchen. I am making a fourth batch of apple sauce 🙂

My daughters have just returned to school after a week of sickness (colds/viruses) and the house is quiet once more and I have some much needed head space.

I went for a walk in our local park this morning, where I delighted in all the seasonal changes.

I haven’t been on a solo walk for quite some time. Autumn is definitely in the air now. I picked a few more blackberries (to add to our porridge when the days get cooler) and some rose hips (to dry for tea making). Foraging wild food on my walks is always an added bonus. 🙂

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Before my daughters became sick, I had a couple of days to myself in which to sort the house out and I started to do some home sewing. I have all kinds of plans for making things for our home. September is like that for me: I feel the need to nest a bit and make things cosy and colourful for the colder months ahead when we shall be spending much more time indoors. I suffer from SAD  as I explained in a previous post and this time of year is very challenging for me emotionally, so I like to surround myself in uplifting colours and sights.

To that end, I have started to make some log cabin style cushion covers for our dining chairs. Our dining chair cushions have been ragged for quite some time but as they are tucked under the table I keep forgetting about them (out of sight, out of mind and all that)…Anyway I am pleased to finally have some time in which to update them.

I have a big box of colourful fabrics that I have saved for patchwork purposes (leftover from old projects) and am pleased to finally use some of them. I have chosen to do two distinct blocks of colour: one block in pinks, reds and purples and the other in greens and blues, which are all colours that are in our dining room/family room (we like things colourful here!)

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I managed to make four cushion fronts before my daughters became ill and later, when they were feeling up to it, I sat down with them individually so they could choose the fabrics for their own cushions.

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So I have made six fronts and now need to buy some batting to back them with before I can continue. That will involve a trip to town later this week I imagine. I have plenty of left over fabric for the back of the cushions, so I am mainly recycling fabrics we already have, which is always a good feeling! 🙂

I took some photos whilst making them and may write up a tutorial if I get a chance. They are easy to make once you get going and I love the cheery look of them :-). Let’s see… I still need to catch up on my Road Trip posts!!!….

Eventually I would like to make some more for our sofa and for the girls’ “little house”, but first I need to make two pairs of curtains for our long back doors. I have had the material a while but the project had to go on the back burner. Now that the nights are drawing in, I really feel the need for some curtains so we can retreat from the darkness. The fabric is a pretty floral fabric that I found in a local store at a reduced price. More on that next time hopefully.

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I have started work on a short sleeved pullover for my eldest (for her October Birthday). My daughter chose purple yarn for it – it will be the fourth item I have knitted in a purple shade this year! 🙂 I am at the point where it’s just knitting all the way down. I shouldn’t think it will take too long. I would like to make her a patchwork skirt too with some of the fabrics we have. Let’s see.

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My daughters spent most of last week resting (and coughing and sneezing..) In a way it was nice that they were ill at the same time as they were good company for each other, cuddling on the sofa, doing a bit of beading, watching cosy films and when they were feeling a bit better – on and off – playing together. They continued work on the bead curtains they are making for their “little house” in the garden. We now have seven beaded strings and probably another two will suffice. It’s been a great way to use up all those random beads we have accrued over the years.

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Later in the week when they were feeling a little better, my eldest did a bit of reading aloud of this book that she is enjoying. Her reading has really come along which is encouraging.

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and we looked at Alphabet Cards with my youngest which we all enjoyed.

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She is just at the stage of learning three letter words, like cat, hop, mug etc. My eldest enjoyed teaching her and it kept them happily entertained for a little while.

We love these cards – they are so beautifully vibrant. As there are not many letters included in the pack, I photocopied the front of the cards (several at a time), stuck coloured card to the back and cut them out to add to our selection.They are more muted in colour, but it is good to have a lot more letters to make words from.

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We also have the Grimms Number Cards. I think I may need to do some more photocopying of those too at some point.

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We got ourselves a puzzle of the U.S.A. and have been enjoying finding where all the individual States are and looking at the States we travelled to.

I imagine we will know the position of all the States by heart at some point!!! 🙂

Another thing we do when the girls aren’t feeling good is drawing silly pictures for us to laugh about. We make up animal pictures, using bits of all kinds of animals

This pig has a cow body, horses tail, ducks bill, leopard’s neck, meerkat’s ears, the front legs of a chicken and the back legs of a guinea pig! 🙂

As for all those apples I mentioned in my last post, I have been making a few things with them including apple cake, which I made as a treat for my daughters to enjoy with some mulled apple juice, hoping to raise their spirits.

They also love fruit leathers so I made some with our dehydrator. They are really easy to make, either in a dehydrator or at a very low oven temperature:

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  • Puree your fruit – I used apple sauce and very soft pear for one of them (with a squeeze of lemon to preserve the lighter colour) and applesauce and cinnamon with a couple of blueberries for the other.

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  • Pour the pureed liquid onto special non stick drying sheets (or if dehydrating in  the oven or on a hot summer’s day, pour the puree onto a flat non-stick baking tray used solely for this purpose or a flat baking tray covered with cling film)

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  • Dehydrate at 57 F for approximately 4-5 hours. Check after four hours.
  • When it is dry to touch all over, pull gently at the sides  and slowly roll it off the tray as shown below:

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  • Cut the fruit leather into strips and roll up into individual portions

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Enjoy – yummy! 

NB: Make sure the outside edges are thicker than the inside as the outside dries quicker.

Last but not least I made spiced apple chutney, which is a favourite of ours. I am planning to go round with a jar to our neighbour who kindly gifts her windfall apples.

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Because I love to share all that is good 🙂 the recipe is as follows:

  • 1 kg cooking apples
  • 3 red chillies
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 heaped tbl chopped fresh ginger
  • 500g demerera sugar
  • 700ml apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • grinding of black pepper
  1. Peel and chop the apples and finely chop the onions.
  2. Remove the seeds from the chillies and chop finely.
  3. Put all the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil.
  4. Cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes until the mixture thickens.
  5. Spoon into cleaned sterilised jars and place a sterilised lid on top. I sterilise my jars by washing them in warm soapy water and then placing them on a baking tray in a preheated oven at 160C for 15 mins. I wash the lids and cover them with boiling water before they are used. 
  6. Place a small greaseproof paper circle on top of the well filled jar and turn upside down. Allow to cool. Label.

          Makes 6-8 small jars 

Well, that’s a round up of what we’ve been up last week. The girls are back to good health now, so hopefully I will get around to more of that home sewing 🙂

Sharing with the crafty folks at the Frontier Dreams Crafting On

 

These last weeks back home…

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I am half way through writing my next travel post, but as I was browsing through my photos today, I felt I wanted to write about our last couple of weeks at home instead.

The first week or so after getting back was very low key. Jet lag and general transitioning back to life at home kept us close to home. We slowly unpacked, did homely activities, played and took our time to land gently back into our life.

The garden was looking very wild after five weeks without attention, plus a lot of rain with sunny intervals (!)  Many of our vegetable plants had gone to seed, like this giant sunflower,

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or just shrivelled up, but despite the neglect, we still have quite a bit of fruit and veg to enjoy, including the yummy purple, yellow and green beans that my daughters like to pick and eat straight off the plant.

We have apples on a couple of our espalier trees for the first time which is lovely

and there are some tomatoes in the greenhouse (with more to come).

The courgettes are doing well, the beetroots are huge (!)  and there is plenty of chard for us and the hens 🙂 so we are feeling grateful.

Our flower/herb bed is wild but beautiful and we have been bringing flowers into the house regularly to enjoy.

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One of our neighbours puts her windfall apples out on the street everyday, so we have been helping ourselves to those and using them to make apple sauce. I followed Brandy’s advice to just cut the apples in half or into big pieces (no peeling and coring as I usually do), place them in a big pot with some water, let them soften and then use a food mill (that I rediscovered in our garage – I bought it in a flea market years ago to make jam and totally forgot about it!) to remove the pips, peel etc. It worked a treat (thanks Brandy!). I added cinammon as we like it that way.

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I froze the bulk of it and left some in the fridge for the children to snack on.  Just when I thought I was on top of all the apples, my husband came back with a huge trug of apples for me!

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 what to do with them….apple cake, apple chutney, fruit leathers, more dried apple….hmmn..let’s see….:-)

We have also been trying out our new exciting dehydrator!  I have wanted one for years and thanks to a kind gift, we could finally treat ourselves to one. Hurrah!

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The girls were so excited to try dehydrated fruits and were very helpful in preparing them. We had a little production line going for the apples 🙂

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The fruit is going down really well as you can see! We are on our second batch 🙂 Bananas and pineapples are particularly decadent.

I have also had a go at drying herbs in the dehydrator on a very low temperature, but I do think hanging them up is easy enough and pretty and fragrant to boot  🙂

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My husband dried courgette slices with a bit of chilli too. They were delicious, but took a loooong time. We are still experimenting and enjoying exploring the possibilities. 🙂

The girls have had fun rediscovering their toys and played happily for hours. I think they are  glad to be back home. Here they are in a game of Pippi Longstocking 🙂

My husband worked in our garden for a few days when we got back to ease himself back to work. It was lovely to still have him around. He laid a patio under the new pergola.

We decided to add a few little sections of colour using these glass nuggets,  My husband raised the area with a mortar base. When that was dry he laid the nuggets on tile adhesive and filled it all in with grey grout the next day.  They will blend in better with time, but they already look so pretty and it adds a lovely element of colour and texture to the area. We are planning to do something similar with the risers of the steps leading up the garden when we get a chance, this time involving the children more.

He also laid some astroturf in the children’s play area.

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We had bark chip down, but the neighbourhood cats were using the area as a toilet and it was putting the children off, not to mention their shoes coming into the house covered in not so fragrant poo! 😦 So we bought a green ‘carpet’ for that area instead. Personally I wouldn’t use astroturf for a lawn, but for this area it is perfect. The girls are really enjoying using the area now.

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Here is my youngest giving her toys some fresh air 🙂

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By our second weekend, we felt ready to venture out. We spent a nice afternoon just the four of us at a favourite local National Trust place, playing pooh sticks,

running around and following a trail that also involved a bit of dressing up 🙂

That evening, there just happened to be a free firework display and fun fair a short walk from where we live, so we thought we would go along and have a look.

My eldest daughter is getting more adventurous with age and has never got dizzy (as a little one, she used to spin around looking at books or singing to herself for long swathes of time!) so she was very game to try a few rides. My youngest found it rather busy and noisy, but after watching her sister and daddy on the rides, she decided to be brave and have a go and she really loved it.

The firework display was too loud for her, so while my eldest and Daddy went forward to have a look, we had to move as far back as possible. She is very sensitive to outside impressions and noises (like her sister is in other ways).

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As we walked back home, we marvelled at the almost full moon reflecting on the water. A surprisingly fun spontaneous evening was had 🙂

We saw a few friends in the last couple of days before school began, including going on a blackberry picking trip. The original plan was to find elderberries, but the trees had been stripped bare already 😦 and besides the children were much more interested in the ripe and ready fruit on offer, eating it straight from the bush.:-)

We did manage to take a little punnetful home with some encouragement (!) We returned home with cuts on our hands and legs (from the brambles), purple stained lips and fingers and a healthy glow.  It was lovely to be out in nature with friends, enjoying nature’s gifts.

Going back to school was rather tricky as we hadn’t managed to wake up at 7am before then. I had tried to wake us up a little earlier every day, but 7am seemed too much of a shock to the system. I didn’t manage to take a first day back photo (as is our tradition) as we were rather late. Ho hum….

I am sure we will get in the rhythm again. It is difficult to let the longer, easy, more leisurely days of summertime go…..

On Friday we attended a party for one of my youngest daughter’s classmates. It was really enjoyable and they played some unusual games, including devising a box/invention to house an egg, so that it wouldn’t break when thrown from a considerable height! The children had such fun doing it and were really engaged. Amazingly only a few eggs broke. My eldest daughter didn’t go to the party, but wanted to have a go inventing something similar. She dug a few things out of our recycling and succeeded in making a cardboard contraption that protected the egg from breaking. Great Fun!

 Soon after she decided to make a shower for her mouse 🙂

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We had a rather busy weekend for us. On Saturday we went to a local festival with friends (I left my camera at home). It was forest based, with arts and crafts, storytelling and various other activities. Unfortunately we got there rather late and it started raining, so we spent most of the time in the craft tent, making flower crowns and decorating little wooden figures with foam clay which was a nice idea and produced a good effect.

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On Sunday we hosted a party for friends who are going to travel the world for a year with their eight year old daughter and who have recently married. They have given up their home to be rented, so we offered to have a celebration and goodbye party at ours, inviting other friends from our craft group (which has evolved over time) and their families. It was a lovely gathering – really warm and supportive.

My daughters helped with the party preparations including putting these pretty fruit skewers together.

My husband was keen to do a bbq, despite the British weather (ie rain!) It’s only our second bbq this summer….

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The children had a fine time – there were nine in total ranging from 7 to 13 years – all sweet children – and they all seemed to get on well. They enjoyed playing outside, having adventures and lots of hide and seek went on too.

There was dressing up in the evening, music making and a very harmonious atmosphere.

After a couple of s’mores each (we had to toast the marshmallows in the oven due to the rain outside, but it worked just fine), the children (and adults!) had chocolate smeared faces and were slightly high on sugar! (it is rare moment in our family – I think my youngest was almost drunk on the stuff!)

They wound down with some quiet time with Daddy at the end of the evening on the sofa.

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So that’s the round up of our weeks. It’s been full and lovely to be back.

Crafting on…on holiday

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I am finally back here after a six week break. It feels good to be back!

I had originally planned to write a weekly update on our five week road trip in the States; a diary of sorts, but I got the distinct feeling that things were conspiring against me on that front:  Firstly we left the power cable for my husband’s computer at home, then the wifi wasn’t great in the places when I did have a few moments to write (once we had power), not to mention it taking me far too long to upload even a few photos onto my site. After a few failed attempts, I resigned myself to an enforced rest from all things technological. It freed me to be more present in the moment and to take a break from outside input, except that from my immediate vicinity. So in that way it was a proper break 🙂 I do so benefit from a break from technology – I think we all do!  We can switch off completely in a way that doesn’t seem possible otherwise, despite our best efforts.

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I have sooooo many photos – over 700 – and really don’t have the time to write about our trip now, but it was an adventure; fun, wondrous, surprising, interesting and at times very challenging and exhausting.

I shall no doubt write about it as a record of what we did, but I will need time for that (I have so many photos to look through for starters!!) So for now I thought I would drop in and write a little about the crafts we did on holiday 🙂

Because we were only staying for three nights at each location, we settled into a little routine of having a “home day” on the first day. We found the girls needed it; to settle, play and get their bearings. On the second day, we typically went on an outing; to a National Park, to visit a beach or take a hike. It worked out well that way and we did make a few things on those home days.

My daughters completed the pom pom garland by the second house we stayed in and after that we hung it up on our arrival at all the holiday properties 🙂

We also started collecting things for a little nature table which we set up in every holiday home. By the end of the trip we had a quite a little collection of drift wood, redwood bark, blue jay feathers, pine cones and shells – and a borrowed lighthouse:-)

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We made some little felt Daisy ‘girls’ when we had a full day of rain, whilst staying in our cosy holiday home in Williams, Arizona (luckily we had sunshine the day after for our visit to the Grand Canyon!). We loved sitting on the porch where we could stay dry despite the rain. Porches are such a lovely addition to any house – you feel more connected to the outside world, yet totally at home.

By the time we got to the next place, the little daisy population had doubled in size – after all daisies always come in little clusters 🙂 I particularly like the ‘girl’ with the purple hair my youngest made.

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And here is our nature table in various locations, growing steadily with each journey

A couple more weeks into our trip, we added the felt Dandelion ‘girls’  when we had another quiet day at home and the girls weren’t playing.

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The Dandelion and Daisy Children are both made very similarly to the Felt Flower Children I made here, We added hair this time as it felt right with the hats being rather flat. We are thinking of making Poppy Children next 🙂

The girls and Daddy also enjoyed making some tiny things out of Fimo clay for the few Sylvanian family friends they had brought with them. These were dried in the oven.

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My daughters also finished sewing their quilts by hand, except for the final quilting, which I will probably do by machine at some point.


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As planned we did some tie dyeing!

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We managed to find a tie dye kit in colours the girls loved, a lovely purple bucket (!) and some cheap white T-shirts so we were all set :-).

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Luckily the house we were staying in had a big outside area and a great washing machine and dryer, so it went pretty effortlessly. We watched a couple of tutorials on youtube, but basically just followed the instructions in the kit.

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The girls are really pleased with the results so we bought a selection of satchets of  Koolaid ‘flavours’ from the supermarket to try some more dyeing at home when the opportunity presents itself. Tie dyeing is quite addictive we find!

I also made myself another purple knitted item!

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It’s an adult version of this sweater that I made my daughter in June. I just used the child’s pattern and worked out the stitches for a 36 inch bust. It was pretty straightforward. I added another section of the yoke pattern to it as I was unsure of having just three sections over the bust and I added two more button holes, but to be honest, I think it would have looked just fine having the three panels and three buttons as per the original design, but I couldn’t work it out at the time even when trying it on. Laura was very helpful with advice. My eldest daughter has her eye on the short sleeved pullover  version that Laura recently  released. I might try to make it for her Birthday in October. Let’s see.

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It took me about three weeks of knitting on the 4-5 hour drives we were taking every few days.

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It was an enjoyable knit and I am pleased with the way it turned out. I look forward to wearing it over long sleeved tops come autumn and winter 🙂 I think I may try to find some nicer buttons as the colourful plastic ones are all I had on hand. They look jolly though.

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I also knitted myself another Wurm hat.

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My friend in Colorado rather liked the turquoise Wurm that I made earlier this year, so as I didn’t get any wear out of it (it being almost summer!), I am going to send it to her as a surprise. This one has a bit more subdued colours, but I like the two colours together. I am going to make another in pink and purple next I think.

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I love this pattern as you can guess!

I think that pretty much covers our craft efforts on holiday 🙂 I will be back soon with more updates as the time presents itself. For now we are feeling very jet lagged and things are slow and rather disorientating, but it is good to be back home 🙂

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Goings on

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I haven’t visited this space for a little while as life has been rather busy and writing here is really an enjoyable luxury for me. The last week has been spent finalising our travel arrangements (in all manner of ways) and enjoying end of term plays, concerts and celebrations. The girls have been making teacher presents:

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my youngest brought home her first grade knitting project (modelled here by her sister)

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and my eldest brought home her own original design cross stitch project. I love it!

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The design is of a watercolour ‘splodge’ painting, where the children painted coloured splodges on one side of a piece of squared paper and folded it over to make a mirror image on the other side.

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This was then translated onto another piece of squared paper to create a clear design as shown below:

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I fancy having a go myself  – such a lovely idea. I love Waldorf education for all the handicrafts and beautiful paintings.

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What with  travel preparations and end of term busyness, I haven’t done much creating myself. I ordered myself some lovely purple yarn to make myself an adult version of the sweater I made my eldest a few weeks ago. I love the design and can almost fit hers, so I thought I would give it a go too. I also have yarn from my stash for making a shawl, so I should be fine for car knitting!

I have been putting together craft supplies for our holiday, including Fimo clay, which we are all addicted to at the moment!  The girls haven’t finished their doll quilts, so I have cut out the borders, batting and backing so they can continue their work while we are away and their dolls will be able to enjoy their new travel quilts 🙂

My daughter was off school last week as she was feeling unwell – she is suffering from quite a bit of anxiety about the flight and travel to the unknown and I felt a home day would be helpful. She spent the morning rolling yarn into little balls so the girls can make pom poms while we are away – possibly on the plane – so that we will have a garland of colourful pom poms to hang everywhere we go 🙂

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We will be changing accommodation every three days so it will be hard to feel settled, but small things like this can help us to feel more at home.

We will probably be making a few more things, no doubt, with craft supplies we find in the US, but for now, this is a start. My eldest is keen to do some tie dyeing after her eurhythmy (dance) teacher tie-dyed a green T-shirt for her. I hear that you can tie dye with Kool Aid, so I imagine we will be having a go with a few cheap T-shirts when we are on our holiday!

Apart from holiday craft plans, my eldest spent some of the morning threading beads onto long lengths of yarn to make a beaded curtain for their little house at the back of the garden. We have so so many beads, buttons and bells, all collected over the years of parties that they didn’t fit in the tin anymore!

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I have been thinking of ways to use them. Finally we have a plan! 🙂 So far we have emptied the bead tin by a third, making four beaded panels. Probably another four will do the trick. I think they will look nice and effective and the best bit of course is that they are homemade 🙂

We had dear friends over for the weekend. Usually we go camping with them every year in early August, but since we will be away for over five weeks, it won’t work out this year, so we had a “glamping” experience at ours 🙂 Everyone had a bed to sleep in, but we still spent lots of time outdoors, had a bbq, built a fire later on and toasted marshmallows. It was really relaxing and fun to have our friends over.

We have done quite a bit of work in the garden in the last week or so – my husband mainly! The little play house is finally painted:

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my husband has excavated an area for a pond:

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which the girls could not resist using as a pool during the hot weather we have been having – they have had a lot fun,  including a massive water fight at the weekend with our friends!

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Eventually we are going to put plants and a pump in and hopefully attract lots of lovely wildlife and hopefully have some fish in there too. Water is so soothing in the garden.

My super talented husband has also built us a new seating area right in the middle of the garden, where the sun still shines until late.

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It was so lovely to sit there on Saturday night. We didn’t feel we were disturbing the neighbours at either side or the back with the smoke, so we could relax. This is always an issue in built up areas, so we are pleased we now have a solution. Am fantasising about fires in the winter too 🙂

Our back garden is starting to take shape. My husband has lots of lovely ideas, being a Garden Designer. Our front garden is very magical at this time of the year with all the tall perennials creating a secret garden feel.

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My husband is planning to do much of the same in the back garden in September, which will be lovely. He is so talented and clever – we are very lucky to have him!

The veg garden is coming along. We are enjoying copious amounts of cut and come again salad and some sweet tender peas. The cherries are almost over – I do believe my eldest daughter ate almost all of them (!) and the first yellow courgettes are on their way. We won’t be around to enjoy the abundance until the end of August, but I have encouraged our pet sitter to take all that she would like for herself and for our pets, and of course she can enjoy two freshly laid eggs daily. She has agreed to water the garden daily in dry spells, so hopefully things will keep growing and we will have juicy ripe tomatoes to look forward to 🙂

I am harvesting the chamomile flowers daily to dry for chamomile tea

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and we have a herb bed – volunteer herbs mainly, with lots of dill, chamomile and fennel and we have now added lemon balm and calendula.

I haven’t put my heart and soul into the garden this year, but it is still thriving somehow. Everything wants to grow – the life force is always there.

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I will stop now as we will be travelling later today. Here are my daughters playing  Panda airways 🙂

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I expect I may write a weekly update on our travels as a record of what we will be getting up to. I hope you are all having a lovely summer so far.

Warmest Wishes, Anna