Elvaston Castle, Elvaston

My middle boy is still working his way through birthday Lego. Today he’s exhausted, up late with every excuse under the sun not to get to sleep last night. He’s parked up at the table before I’ve even dragged myself from crumpled bedsheets. My youngest has been up and down all night, waking me sporadically for, seemingly, nothing more than a 2 a.m. chat. 

I get the feeling it’s going to be a long day. 

As I sit sipping scalding tea in a vague attempt to get some life and movement into me, the boys play upstairs with new diecast lorries Daddy brought home yesterday. I’m grateful for the peace they’re providing me with. 

By 7.30 we’re dressed and in desperate need of fresh air. We climb in the car and head to Elvaston Castle. 

Despite Elvaston being so close to home, we rarely come here. It’s an early morning kind of place, getting busier and more overwhelming as the day wears on. Plus I have issues with the fact they have about ten ticket machines and only one of them ever seems to be working (never the same one twice). 

The boys start in the play area as I sit with my coffee before we set off across the field towards the pathways. 

We are surrounded by solitary dog walkers, each one starting across the same field, but heading in different directions. We never see the same folk twice.

For the first time this year, I notice that the leaves are beginning to turn. Under the many oak trees scattered across the grounds lay the first few acorns. The boys hurriedly stuff them into their pockets to add to their collections of useless things to horde that we know will drive Mum crazy. 

The boys play on equipment fashioned from wood, a crude, rotting obstacle course that is so much better than the metal equipment in the play area. 

They climb up and over, clamber across makeshift ladders and jump from tree stumps, avoiding the nettles pushing up as they go. 

They screech as they find more wooden sculptures. They say, ‘hello!’ to every passing person and my middle boy says to me, ‘we should never be the one to not say hello.’ Quite right, kid. 

Strangers smile at happy boys enjoying the simple things in life. 

There’s something so peaceful about Elvaston. I can’t even explain what it is. Maybe it’s the water, the quiet calm that comes with being close to the water. Or maybe it’s the tangled, chaotic roots of trees; some cut down for safety and others still growing strong. Perhaps it’s the sweeping, clumsy arcs of stone that litter the grounds. Beautiful memories of years gone by. 

I don’t know what it is. But I do know we should visit more often. 

The boys weave between the rocks and trees playing hide and seek. The hiding is fluid – such are the possibilities of slipping to the next crevice as the seeker approaches. They rarely get ‘found’. Instead they see how far they can sneak without being detected. It’s endless, yet the boys love it. 

Several hours later, the car park is filling quickly. We slip past the families on the bridge and head back to the car. The boys make me promise that we can bring their bikes here next time, and actually, that sounds like a really good idea. 

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Old News

I wrote this post last July, but it needs a home. Here is as good a place to live as any other. 

I took the dog to my favourite place tonight. It’s been a while. Everything is overgrown and the grass is dry; going to seed, as if summer has been and gone without me even noticing. 

The beautiful buds of the gorse bushes have gone, leaving dry brown carcasses hanging like row after row of empty chrysalides. The life has gone, taking with it the fleeting beauty that I’ve loved since I was a little girl. The scent of the gorse bush remains one of my favourite scents.

The hedgerows are laden with the delicate flowers of the bramble, and as I sweep my eyes across them I can see tight little nubs of tiny green blackberries beginning to form. And it fills me full of longing – the cooler days, strolling with buckets in hand collecting pints of plump, juicy blackberries. Hands and lips stained purple, children crying out with happiness, shouts for home made ice cream and meringues. 

It leaves me nostalgic for my own childhood when my parents would make jam, the kitchen thick with the cloying scent of slowly rotting fruit. The clatter of fresh oven-hot jars ready to be filled with the bubbling mixture, teaspoons coated with jam to test the setting point and left discarded. 

I walked and walked, through a field full of wild poppies, bedraggled and windswept in all their delicacy. The red petals were a stark contrast to the grey evening. 

It has rained so much that the water is flowing in the ditches and the most noticeable thing is the lack of smell. There’s something so absorbing about the smell of stagnant water, so ripe and fetid it’s almost comforting.

I’m home now, sitting with a glass of Rioja and looking out onto the garden. The dog pants softly at my feet. I can see the raspberry canes – some peeking over the six foot fence into the neighbours garden, others so laden with fruit the canes are drooped and falling. As I contemplate retying them I am reminded of sitting in the same spot, mid February and looking at the raspberries – mere knobbled twigs no more than 2 foot high, stark, minimalistic, hard – everything winter is, and I am hit hard in the gut with the reminder that everything has its season. To see the raspberries now, thick with foliage and heavy with fruit – some a candy pink that wouldn’t look out of place on the lips of a 16 year old girl and others the deepest burgundy, over-ripe and somewhat reminiscent of blood – you couldn’t link it to a single spoke of fragile wood rooted into the hard winter soil. 

My thoughts turn to a friend, who after losing her son 3 months ago is going through the toughest season of her life. It’s so hard to watch her, fragile and broken. She is winter personified. But I hold tight to the knowledge that summer will come once more. 

It has to. 

Day in the Life: Home Ed.

I’ve been meaning to post more on home education since I started this blog, but I haven’t yet found a voice I like to run through our days. I can’t bear to write posts ‘First we…… then we…….. after that…….then…..’ I don’t want it to read like a teenager’s science experiment write up, but inevitably it does. 

Yet here I am, 8 months down the line of blogging, and I’ve deleted too many of these posts to even count. 

I’ve decided to just start writing and posting, and hopefully they’ll flow a bit more smoothly with time. 

Apologies, in the meantime.

The morning started early after a weekend of birthday celebrations. Within moments of waking, bleary eyed and pyjama-clad, my middle boy was sat at the table to continue with the Lego project he started yesterday: an enormous prison on its own island, with a helicopter and landing pad, policemen, bad guys, boats, a hot air balloon….. 

He finally finishes it just before dinner, and his sense of pride is infectious. It’s taken him two days to build and he’s done it all on his own. 

The boys sat together after breakfast to do some Reading Eggs, which is really helping with their fluency. I mostly leave them to it, but stay present enough to help them if they need it. 

We read the latest copy of Whizz, Pop, Bang: Secrets of the Deep. This is a new  subscription for us, but the boys love it. I’ve figured out what QR codes are many years too late, but we’re loving the secret worlds behind them from magazine pages. 

Later this week we have plans to try two experiments from the magazine, helping the boys to understand water pressure, and a craft showing the different zones in the ocean. 

My eldest helped me to cook dinner. Weighing out lentils and measuring out sweet smoked paprika, cumin, ground coriander, oregano. He crushes garlic, peels and chops carrots, pours kidney beans and tomatoes into a bubbling pan. Later, he helps me to make a nectarine and plum crumble. Snack time led to us discovering the plums were over ripe; their jewel like skin beginning to pucker, the first signs of imminent decay. 

As dinner is cooking on the stove and my middle boy continues building Lego, my eldest is painting polystyrene planets on the patio table – a birthday gift we never quite got round to doing back in May. He studies the pictures, mixes the acrylic paint and sets to work. The kit contains Pluto and we discuss its status as a planet. 

Topics covered today: shipwrecks (specifically The Mary Rose – we’re going to try and visit the museum in Portsmouth when we visit the Isle of Wight in September), the effect of plastic on the ocean and how we can help, how plastic is finding its way into our bodies through water bottles/plastic food containers/cups, watching a submersible dive down into the ocean for a research project, water pressure, the different zones of the ocean and the animals which live in each one, the solar system, weighing out food, reading out recipes. 

And as always, we read. Endlessly. Passionately. We read. 

Links:

Greg Foot – Dive to the Deep

The Mary Rose

A Plastic Ocean – Film Trailer

Whizz, Pop, Bang Magazine 

Reading Eggs

Six

My middle boy turned six. 

And with the day came a sense of overwhelming joy, that I never would have understood was possible before I had children. 

Yet as the day draws to a close, a mellow grief envelops me for the time already passed. I lay in bed with a tired soul snuggled up in his new pyjamas, and I say to him before I tuck him in, ‘what do you think you’ll do differently now that you’re six?’

‘I think I’ll probably ride my bike less.’ 

And that, right there, hurts. One more day ticks over and he thinks the older he gets the less he’ll like to ride his bike. The same bike he’s covered hundreds of miles on. The one responsible for the sheer number of angry red scars on knobbly elbows. The reason I won’t let him wear shorts to Beavers because he’s fallen off so many times his legs are black and blue. 

But he’s loved every minute of it. Begging me to let him take his bike blackberry picking like we did last year, or the genuine, all-consuming happiness at getting to buy a new helmet. Watching  him help Daddy to replace tyres or fix brakes or raising the seat. Endless trips to the BMX track where he races until he’s red in the face, breathless and in desperate need of water. We cheer from the sidelines, watching the concentration on his face as he navigates the ramps.

His passion is so consuming, I can’t imagine a day where he no longer loves his bike. Yet, I remember the days when I wondered if he’d ever play with anything other than the wooden train track. But it sits in the corner these days, gathering dust and faded memories. 

It’s bittersweet, this motherhood journey. But my goodness, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. 

As sleep begins to caress him, he mumbles about having had the best day.  I kiss him softly on the forehead, savouring these kisses while he lets me indulge them. I tuck him in, glad he still asks me for this night time ritual. 

Birthdays remind me of how blessed we are to have so many wonderful friends who make the boys’ special days so damn good. The cards and gifts and the time that people give to us to share the celebration of my gorgeous boys. 

The days are shortening now and 9 p.m. brings darkness and a chill to the air that’s not been there for a while. I sit, patio door still open, with a glass of red wine. I’m content, knowing my boys are sleeping soundly upstairs, happiness coursing through them. 

And tomorrow, we’ll spend the day building the Lego sets he received today as presents. I can’t imagine a day when Lego no longer makes everything better. Though I know it will come, probably sooner than expected. 

It’s the sweetest sadness and the greatest joy, and I’ve got so many more of these birthdays to come. 


Grey

These last few weeks it feels as if the rain has seeped into my soul. Everything is grey. 

What will we do with such a gloomy day, Mama?’

Good question. That’s a very good question when it takes all my willpower to even get dressed right now. 

Sleep has been eluding me lately. I lay under an open window listening to the soft sound of the rain continuing its descent and my mind won’t shut off. My husband is warm and solid next to me, lost within his own dreamlands. When sleep finally finds me, clutching me in its spindly, cold fingers,  my dreams are gritty and unvarnished. I wake, with the faces of people I have long forgotten the names of in my thoughts. I am nervous and jumpy. The destruction of my usual calm leaves me unsettled. 

I get like this from time to time, and it seems not to matter how many hours I sleep, I wake feeling as if I have not slept at all. I look out of the window to yet more rain and I briefly try to figure out what day it is. But the grey remains. 

I’m looking for colour, desperately searching a bleak landscape for something that smacks of life. The trees, usually so resplendent in their varying shades of green, look bleak and lonely. The sky is leaden, white in places, yet not a single spot of colour seeping in at the edges. The puddles gather, their darkness swelling as the day continues. 

Yet underneath the grey is life, still spinning its web. Literally. Metaphorically. Life goes on. We just have to keep looking. 

I’ll Miss These Footprints 

It's rained this week. Endless showers that have flooded the garden and left us confined to the house. Thunder rumbling too close for comfort and bright flashes of lightening that bring so much joy to three young boys. 

This morning I slipped outside at 7a.m. to clean out the hens while it was still dry. More storms are forecast and they desperately needed doing. The silence was deafening. Nothing but the gentle cooing of the chicks pecking softly in the dirt. The rhythmic actions of a task so familiar it's become somewhat comforting. 

Once the boys were dressed we headed to the park and made good use of a waterlogged sandpit. They sat sculpting sand-men, concentration evident on tanned faces. They balanced on the obstacle course, spotted the conkers growing thick and fast in various corners of the play area and made friends with a little girl called Maria. Squirrels danced in the trees, putting on a show of hide and seek for the children.

Returning home for lunch, we sat in the warm sunshine. The boys play in the garden, splashing through muddy puddles. 

I call them in, but they ignore me. So I go to them. I take the bread board outside, the flour, the yeast, the salt. They run inside briefly to wash their hands, trailing wet footprints through the living room. All the while I tell myself, like a mantra I don't quite believe: I'll miss these footprints when they're gone. 

We sit on the patio making pizza dough, soaking up as much of the day as possible before the heavens open once more. The wood on the benches is damp, but somehow it doesn't even matter. 

Later, as the boys pass through the kitchen, they fling their toppings on freshly rolled pizza bases, haphazard and clumsy. There's grated cheese all over the place. My eldest has a smear of tomato purée across his eyelid. 

As the rain finally arrives, the boys climb into the bath to wash muddy legs and speckled faces. We find fresh pyjamas and settle down to read a couple of chapters of Treasure Island together before bed. 

Simplicity. Sundays. They fit together so perfectly.