Time for change

When I first started this blog it was meant to be a way for me to share what we had been up to, exchange ideas for sustainable living and, yes, to give the occasional shout out to promote my business.

As I scroll back through the things I have posted over the last couple of years  it strikes me that so much of it is no longer relevant. Of course we still need to live greener, simpler lives. Of course we still need to consume less. Of course we still need to educate ourselves about the impact our actions are having on the planet and the effect that it’s going to have on our children and our children’s children.

The problems just seem to have become so much bigger. Or maybe it’s not that they are bigger, it’s that there is an increasing awareness of how much damage is being inflicted to line the pockets of the few at the expense of… well it seems to be at the expense of just about everyone and everything.

I used to think that there was a way to opt out. To live on the fringes and lead a simple, low-consumption life. That if we just shared our ideas our collective consciousness would grow. That if enough people took action we really could change the world and leave a better future. I’m beginning to suspect that I was incredibly naive.

Like many people I spend most of my time content in my little bubble. I try to live an ethical life, supporting local business, fair-trade and environmentally sound initiatives because I do believe that consumer power is one of the best ways to effect change. After all, the whole world seems to be run on this made up thing called money.

Of course those that have the majority of the wealth want to keep it all to themselves. This is not news. I find it ridiculous that they want to do this at the expense of just about everything else, but it seems that they do. And it’s getting ever more difficult to get away from the corporations and profiteers who are robbing each and every one of us blind.

I get so angry about it all. I can’t even find the words to express myself anymore. Well I can, but they’re mostly expletives. My partner calls it “Toryettes Syndrome” but I seem to be affected by every single politician, not just the f***ing Tories.

The cost of living keeps going up and the wages keep going down. Every day we are told that we have to work harder for less, be grateful to have a job and yet there are fewer and fewer jobs to be had. If you don’t/can’t work you are labelled a scrounger and, despite the fact it’s illegal and immoral, you can be forced to work for a big corporation for free. This means there’s less paid employment for everyone.

And all the time the big companies make bigger profits and the banks keep getting bailed out. I mean, what the actual fuck?

It won’t be long until self-employed people like myself will be in the same situation as those who are unemployed. Like many working parents, I am entitled to Tax Credits to top up my income, however under the proposed new system I could be forced onto Mandatory Work Activity if my earnings are low.

Never mind the fact that it’s incredibly tough for a small business like mine to compete with the big boys, especially when they get free labour as part of the governments “welfare reform”. Not to mention the numerous tax breaks big businesses get plus their rampant exploitation of natural resources and people all around the world.

I just want to opt out, really I do. But how do you go about opting out when those with the money have all the control?

There’s just so much to be angry about but the thing that makes me most angry is how bloody ignorant so many people are. I am constantly stunned by the bigoted and self-righteous comments that I read on social media, newspapers and blogs. Is it really that difficult to understand? Or is it just that people are so brainwashed by the corporation controlled media that they have forgotten how to think for themselves and empathise with their fellow human beings.

Take a few steps back and put on a wider lens. The bigger picture is pretty terrifying.

We really need to take action. Now. But where do you start? Clicking “like” on a picture on Facebook won’t do it, that’s for sure. We need to get out into our communities. Meet each other. ORGANISE! Share our stories and educate each other, because we’ve all got a lot to learn.

About yesterday…

I had so much planned for yesterday. Then my day started with my coffee escaping from the bottom of my favourite coffee cup.

I thought I was just having a morning moment at first. After all, I was pretty sleepy. My evening cuppa had been absolutely fine but yesterday morning it just seeped away over the worktop. I suspected the faeries may have been at work.

Sure enough, when I woke up enough to check, there was the teeniest fracture in the bottom of the cup.  The universe had spoken. Yesterday was a day to play.

Yes I was supposed to be working. I had a new website to launch, a fundraiser to plan and stories to prepare for Interfaith week next week. But instead we spent the day exploring some of the new stock for the stall, and ended up treating ourselves to a new game, book and yoga CD. Well… the universe and the faeries had said we needed a play day😉

We spent the day playing Stone Soup (new) and Children of the World (an old favourite) then practised our stories before heading off to Circus Club. It was great. Even getting completely soaked by the most torrential rain on the way home didn’t matter, yesterday was a day to play.

I suspect the universe had a part to play in the rain too. I mean, I really did intend to get back to work in the evening. But after getting soaked to the skin, I really couldn’t be bothered. Good thing too. It turned out our modem had decided to bite the dust and we were without internet *gasp* with the exception of my not-so-smart smart phone (nokia x3-02), or my laptop which no longer has a functioning letter “T”.

Needless to say, I am so glad I listened to the universe yesterday. Everything still (sort of) got done and there’s still tomorrow to come.

Books, Faeries and a Mad Hatters Tea Party

I am very aware that my being a Barefoot Books Ambassador has sort of taken over this blog lately. So much so that I’m actually in the process of creating a whole new website for my work from home business (more on that later). That doesn’t mean that Barefoot Books has totally taken over our lives. In fact it’s quite the opposite.

The main thing that’s been keeping me from updating this blog is that there’s just been too much other stuff going on. Take the Plymouth International Book Festival for example. I was lucky enough to have a Barefoot Books stall at the Plymouth Artists Book Fair but the girls and I got the opportunity to participate in a fantastic range of events and workshops too.

There was plenty of free stuff happening such as a comic making workshop for kids from the Etherington Brothers (creators of Monkey Nuts and Baggage) and the Making Great Illustration exhibition which featured work by Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers and Rob Ryan. I also got to attend a talk entitled “How Short can a Short Story Get” from the fabulous short story writer, Tania Hershman (apologies again for the coughing fit during her reading of Einstein Plays Guitar).


There were so many amazing things happening over the week of the book festival, I wish I could have gone to every event. I was gutted to have missed talks by Babette Cole and Audrey Niffenegger but there are only so many hours in the day! If I could have taken a whole week off from life and immersed myself fully in the festival I would have done. But home schooling and work had to be squeezed in somewhere, and as I had been booked for my first ever Barefoot birthday party I had to restrain myself.

Fortunately the Book Festival provided me the perfect opportunity to research for my faerie themed birthday party because BRIAN FROUD was there. He gave a q&a session before a special showing of The Dark Crystal. A once in a lifetime chance to meet one of the most influential artists of my childhood.

So… according to my eldest daughter I turn into a blushing, gibbering, shaking wreck when I meet one of my heroes. I did manage to hold it together long enough to ask him to sign my copy of his book Good Faeries, Bad Faeries. If only I’d managed to tell him that my daughter is also a bit of a faery expert. She has actually seen one after all.

The 150th Anniversary of Alice in Wonderland

Us home-schoolers also managed to hold our own little “unofficial” Book Festival event too. Inspired by the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland events that The Story Museum, Oxford held over the summer, we decided to do the same.

The idea was to bring the book to life with a “not-back-to-school” Mad Hatters Tea Party in a local Plymouth park. Everyone brought along food and tea-cups and dressed up as characters from the much loved tale. Our party feast consisted of jam tarts (of course), cucumber sandwiches, bread and butter flies – we even had blue bread caterpillars to munch upon, as well as organic squash to drink (I must admit the bottles of squash do look like wine bottles in the pics – I assure you it’s not alcoholic!)

The day before the party the kids and I made up a bottle of crazy coloured liquid with a “Drink Me” label tied to it. We designed our fancy dress, created a pocket watch which told the day of the month rather that the hour of the day and made our plans to recreate as much of the book as we could.

For the party we hired a giant mushroom from Plymouth Play Association & Scrapstore (where we also get all our craft materials) and dressed it with an ornamental hookah and a variety of different editions of the book. The kids decorated biscuits with the words “Eat Me”. We had a Caucus Race, tried to perform The Lobster Quadrille and played human croquet by dividing into teams of hedgehogs and playing cards as balls and hoops. We even found a real live caterpillar while we were roaming round the park. It was a brilliant afternoon – thank you everyone who came and made it special!

So yeh, once again I’ve been neglecting this blog somewhat but I hope I can be forgiven. When my new Barefoot Naomi website is launched I should be back on track with recording some more of our adventures in sustainable living here at My Borrowed Planet. In the meantime, I’m going to keep on juggling home-school, my Barefoot Books business and making the most of all of the opportunities life offers us.

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Native American proverb

Completely and utterly lost the plot

Today was a sad day for our adventures in sustainable living.  One of our biggest missions in self sufficiency has been to try to grow as much of our own food as possible.  Unfortunately, after nearly 3 years of struggling against the elements, I’ve finally decided to give up on my little allotment plot.

It certainly wasn’t an easy decision but it had to be done.  When we joined the waiting list I had just one child who was at school and quite a lot more free time.  By the time we’d waited 3 years for a plot to become available I’d had another (very demanding) baby, was running my own business, and we’d started homeschooling.  Although in theory homeschooling and allotments should go hand in hand, I found the reality to be quite different.

The kids love pottering around planting seeds and weeding when they feel like doing it. Dragging them half a mile down the road to battle the ever increasing jungle that was our plot 3 or 4 times a week was a completely different matter.  It stopped being fun.  In fact, on those frequent occasions when we hadn’t made it down for a few weeks (or even months) the feeling of dread about what we were going to find down there took all the joy out of growing our own.

I do think that if we’d been able to eat everything we grew it may have been different.  However a lot of our crops just vanished into thin air.  Yes I know that there are plenty of birds, mice and rats on allotments who will help themselves to your raspberries and other soft fruits – not to mention the slugs – but that’s just one of those circle of life kind of things.  When you go down on Christmas Eve to pick your abundant harvest of sprouts and find that each and every plant has been stripped bare it’s another matter entirely.  And as for the person who decided to help themselves to our asparagus in its second year, killing all of our plants in the process (asparagus needs at least 3 years to establish before it can be picked).  Well, I hope they enjoyed it because we certainly couldn’t.

It’s not that I don’t like sharing our food – far from it.  In fact in our years of plenty most of our friends have been inundated with various crops (actually, they’ve usually been inundated with lots of courgettes and rhubarb but you know what I mean).  However, I can kind of see how the kids lost interest when they weren’t actually getting to eat the things they had invested so much energy into growing.

To be completely honest, despite the occasional thefts and the moaning kids I could have put up with all of it to continue on the plot if it hadn’t been for this year’s TERRIBLE weather.  2012 being the wettest summer on record was the final straw.  Nothing grew except the weeds – everything else rotted!  We couldn’t get down there at all, and to be honest there wasn’t really much point in even trying to go.  The ground was so wet that walking on it would have damaged the soil structure.  The DPM which protects our growing soil from the arsenic (our plot was along a disused China Clay train track) ensured that the water couldn’t drain.  Even the most seasoned and experienced allotmenteers lost practically everything they grew.  It just wasn’t happening.

So today I phoned the council and handed in my notice.  Our allotment days are over.  Although I was told I could go on the waiting list again for another plot, I really don’t think the allotment lifestyle is for us.  There are too many highly specialised pests and diseases, too many chemicals, and too many interfering busybodies to make having an allotment worthwhile.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t had fun over the past few years.  There have been some really cool things about having an allotment (the winter of apple wine being one that particularly springs to mind). We’ve got muddy, we’ve had a laugh and we’ve got to enjoy loads of new foods that we’d never have even thought of making had it not been for our various gluts.  Courgette bread anyone?  How about beetroot and chocolate cake?  Omnomnom!

Now my focus is turning to creating a Vegetable Yarden instead.  We’ve got a backyard, albeit a small one and we’re not afraid to use it to its fullest.  I’ve found this amazing website called Vertical Veg which is full of tips for growing in small spaces.  I will beat the slugs that live under the decking and grow as much as I can outside my kitchen door.  This might be the end of our allotment but when it comes to growing our own, this is only the beginning…

bye bye allotment, we will miss you!

Sock Puppets and Animal Tales

Have you ever seen a rabbit on the moon? I must admit I’ve never seen one before, but after this month’s Barefoot Book Club I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for her whenever I need a bit of inspiration. I just hope this monsoon-like rain stops so we can actually see the moon the next time it’s full!

I never thought that running a children’s book club in Plymouth would be so much fun. Eleven home schooled kids (including my two) descended on my house on Monday for our second ever Barefoot Book Club. It’s a 2 hour session of storytelling, creativity and play and so far it all seems to be going really well.

This month we used The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales from Around the World as our inspiration. This beautiful book is written by the acclaimed story teller, Naomi Adler, and features amazingly playful illustrations from Amanda Hall. It is a joy to read out loud and provoked some interesting philosophical debate from all the kids and the grownups too.

We couldn’t cover all 9 stories in our two hour session so I chose to focus on just a couple – The Rabbit in the Moon from India, and the German story of The Musicians of Bremen which was made famous by the Brothers Grimm. I must admit I decided to tell two stories because I wanted to be sure we had enough activities to fill the session, but I really needn’t have worried. Even though our group ranged in age from 3 to 11 years old, the first story alone provided us with enough discussion topics for a really interesting debate.

So what about this rabbit on the moon? How on earth did she get there? And why is it a rabbit when there are so many other animals to choose from? In actual fact many cultures believe that there’s a rabbit on the moon. Stories from Mexico, China, Japan, Korea and South Africa all feature rabbits on the moon but the original, or so it is thought, comes from the Jataka Tales – an ancient collection of fables from India.

The Jakata Tales are a collection of 500 or so stories about the Buddha’s previous lives in both human and animal form and, like all good stories, they all feature some kind of moral guidance. The stories have been handed down from generation to generation and have even been used to embellish the stories of King Arthur from the Welsh bards as well as inspiring  The Pardoners Tale by Chaucer.

To demonstrate how stories evolve and develop as they get handed down through the generations we started our session with a game of Telephones, aka Chinese Whispers. After a brief discussion about what shapes we see in the sky and what stories they make us think of I asked the child on my right (who happened to be my eldest daughter) to think about what shapes she sees on the moon, then whisper it to the kid next her, who in turn whispered it to the next child and so on and so on (just in case you don’t know how the game works). There were a couple of moments of abject confusion (as I mentioned before, some of the kids are really young) but we finally got there. By the time we got from the beginning of our story circle to the end, the initial statement of “I see dips on the moon” had been transformed into “A diving turtle on the moon” – how cool is that?

Next we looked at some pictures of the rabbit on the moon before starting our first story in which the rabbit is rewarded for her absolute selflessness by being placed in the moon. She’s put there by a heavenly being to remind each and every one of us about the infinite power of kindness and love. It is a truly beautiful and captivating story, even for the very young, and one which I think resonates throughout all different cultures and religions. Telling the story led to a fascinating discussion about what it means to be a good friend and whether or not the people around us can influence our behaviour – something which I feel is really important for our kids to consider.

We talked about what it means to be brave and whether you can be afraid and brave at the same time. We talked about our fears and about how love can make you feel braver. We even talked about the nature of selflessness (and its opposite) and whether it was really possible, or even a good idea, to be as selfless as the rabbit was in giving up her life for a complete stranger. Even the littleys were piping up with some really interesting observations and the adults were just as involved in the discussion as the kids themselves. Being part of the process was absolutely fascinating.

In retrospect that one story would have been enough to fill the entire session, especially with the craft activity which follows our storytime. When I do this session again with another group I will definitely leave it at one story, but I had my heart set on telling them the Musicians of Bremen as well, to show the contrast between cultures and to inject a bit of raucousness after our philosophical debate.

The story is about an old donkey who after years of hard labour is about to be sent to the knackers yard – and he really, really doesn’t want to be sent to the knackers yard! After all, is that really a fair reward for all the hard work he has done? So he decides to run away to Bremen to become a musician instead. On the way he meets an old dog, an old cat and an old cockerel who are all headed for the same fate. By working together they overcome a group of robbers and live out the rest of their days in comfort and happiness. I felt it was a great contrast to the first story as it showed there are times when a little bit of “selfishness” can be a good idea – especially when it benefits your friends as well!

I firmly believe that stories should be interactive and that storytelling is a two way process, so all the kids joined in by making the “music” of the animals they had chosen. Goodness knows what my neighbours thought about the racket but telling that story was really good fun!

Like all stories from The Brothers Grimm, this one has many morals such as respect for your elders, the importance of teamwork, the fact that change is not necessarily something to be feared and the knowledge that things are not always what they seem at first. We never got around to discussing it though, because after all that braying, barking, miaowing and cockadoodledoo-ing the kids were definitely ready to get started on their craft of animal sock puppets – hooray!!!

I was so impressed with the amount of creativity and imagination that went into their puppets (check out the pictures below!). I gave them a pile of (clean) old socks and some bits and bobs from Plymouth Scrapstore and literally just let them get on with it. On the whole they needed very little help, and I was particularly taken by the amount of vision and determination they showed in creating such amazing creatures from the random pile of materials they had been given. What really made my day, though, was one of the mums telling me about what her kids had done the day after the session. They had spent the whole morning creating their own stories and had put on a complete puppet show of their very own devising. I was so pleased that they had got so much out of the session – it’s exactly what I’d hoped for when I decided to start up this style of book club for kids!

The group is meeting again for another book club next month, and we’re hopefully having a Barefoot storytime for the under 6s in a couple of weeks time. It is a lot of work preparing all the resources, but it’s a lot of fun too and both my kids and I are really enjoying it. I’d love to expand and start running a regular Barefoot Book Club for kids from all over Plymouth, but it is going to take a bit of time to find a good location and to get the word out. In the meantime we’ll just continue as we are and see where it takes us. Love living Barefoot! ❤

The stories of The Rabbit in the Moon and The Musicians of Bremen can be found in The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales from Around the World  which is a collection of nine different animal stories from nine different cultures.  To see see more culturally diverse titles from Barefoot Books visit my website at www.barefootnaomi.co.uk.

Inside the Creative Cauldron – The Barefoot Books UK Ambassador Conference 2012

The Barefoot Books Studio, Oxford

Where do I start with this amazing weekend?  I just love the Barefoot Books Ambassador Conference.  It’s one of the highlights of my year when our small but ever growing Barefoot Books community of artists, storytellers and entrepreneurs get together to share stories and inspiration.  We had 2 days of workshops, presentations and good old chinwags over a cup of coffee and biscuits. We took a peek inside the creative cauldron and learned some of the stories behind the stories from Tessa Strickland, the Editor-In-Chief.  Nancy Traversy, our CEO, nearly brought a tear to my eye as she shared the story of her own personal Barefoot journey with all of its highs and lows.

Storyteller Daniel Morden had me on the edge of my seat as told us some of The Adventures of Achilles. I was already pretty excited about this book which is due to be released in the autumn and now I literally can’t wait! When I finally get to read it I will be hearing the words in his captivating Welsh accent and I am so looking forward to being able to share these ancient stories with my girls.  Getting the opportunity to look at the entire creative process from rough drafts to the completed, beautifully bound, hardback book is a real privilege and I feel so fortunate to be able to participate.

The Adventures of Odysseus

Naturally I also took advantage of the chance to get my much loved copy of The Adventures of Odysseus signed and learned some great tips about storytelling from a master of the art which I will certainly be putting into practise in my own  work.   I make no apologies for my gushing enthusiasm about the whole weekend – I love beautiful artwork and I love gorgeous stories.  Needless to say I was in seventh heaven!

This year I was even asked to share some of my own expertise and present a workshop on how to hold successful home shopping events.  I received some great feedback and I’m really looking forward to doing it again and helping more Barefoot Books Ambassadors to achieve success through home parties.

Friday night was devoted to an amazing Djembe workshop where we learnt some traditional African rhythms.  I think it was a perfect illustration of the magic that can happen when you all work together and to a greater or lesser extent, that’s what being a Barefoot Books Ambassador is all about.  We’re part of an inspiring community of women (and men) who are committed to bringing beautiful stories and fantastic illustrations into the lives of children everywhere.

Playing the giant sized Children of the World memory game

But what were my children doing while I was busy enjoying myself?  One of the best things about being a Barefoot Books Ambassador is their total commitment to making sure that the kids have a great time too.  The whole family were invited to a delicious dinner at The Perch on Saturday night where we were entertained by the Barefoot Busker, John Ruddock, who performed a great selection of Barefoot Singalongs and other music.  The girls spent Friday and Saturday exploring Oxfords many museums with their dad (The Pitt Rivers Museum is an absolute must see) as well as popping in and out of the studio throughout the day.

In the Storytellers Chair!

On Sunday we spent the whole morning together in the Studio where they had their faces painted, listened to stories, played games and enjoyed a lovely organic meal from the Storytellers Cafe before we made the journey home.  You really couldn’t ask for more.

To top it all off I actually won the most beautiful Donkey puppet in the prize draw!  I ADORE puppets and he is just perfect (not to mention the fact that I never usually win anything, ever!)  This puppet must be magic because he can talk my youngest into doing whatever I can’t get her to do.  He is a very welcome addition to the family!  All the Ambassadors also received a goody bag packed full of the latest book releases, marketing materials and even some lovely foot treatments to make our (bare) feet scrummy.  I feel totally spoiled and totally inspired!  Thank you Tessa, Nancy and the whole of the Barefoot Books team for giving us such a fantastic weekend.

The Genius of Leonardo

I thought it was about time I wrote a little something about our first Barefoot Book Club, especially as I’d promised a tutorial for our craft activity quite some time ago.

For those of you that don’t know I have started running Barefoot Book Clubs with our little home ed group here in Plymouth.  I find that out of all the subjects we cover in our unschooling “curriculum”, literacy is one of the hardest to explore without being part of a group.  I believe that understanding and exploring stories is a largely a collaborative process, and that discussion can play an integral part in getting the most out of a really good book.

Does that all sound a bit formal?  It probably does, but actually our Barefoot Book Clubs are a very informal space where a group of children can gather together to hear a story, discuss the text and create a little something to take away with them.  Oh and there’s plenty of cake and biscuits too!

For our first Book Club, The Genius of Leonardo seemed like the perfect place to start.  It is the story of Leonardo da Vinci’s life as seen through the eyes of his 10 year old apprentice, Giacomo.  The book has some beautiful illustrations by Bimba Landmann and features many original quotes from Leonardo’s own sketchbooks such as “Giacomo has come to live with me.  He is 10 years old.  He is a liar, a thief and a greedy brute.  He eats as much as two boys and causes as much trouble as four”!  Do you know any kids like that?  Quite a few of our book club participants do, or so they say!

Of course, the story of Leonardo is one that’s particularly relevant to home educating families such as ours.  For him there was no difference between art, science and maths, they were all integral to helping him understand how the world works and he had a great deal of reverence for the natural world too.  Not only that, but Leonardo didn’t go to school himself.  As a child born out of wedlock, traditional schooling was not an option for this great man.  Instead he did much of his learning as an apprentice to the sculptor and painter, Andrea del Verrochio.  Until he surpassed his master, that is, and went on to become the genius he is remembered as today.  So I guess Leonardo could be the original example of how far unschooling can open the imagination and lead to great things?

I was a bit worried about having a group of 12 kids in my house for a two hour session of story, discussion and crafts but all the kids who came were fantastic.  We had some great conversations about Leonardo’s approach and had a look at some of his original sketches.  They did an amazing job of answering questions about the story and all of them made their own sketchbooks to take home with them and record their own discoveries and ideas.  With an age range of 3 – 10 years old it could have been bedlam, but they all did brilliantly and are almost all coming back for our next Book Club session, with the exception of a couple who can’t make it due to other commitments on that day.

If you want to know how to make your own sketchbook then check out this tutorial. I got all of our materials from our local scrapstore at Plymouth Play Association.  We used wallpaper for the covers and adjusted the design slightly by doubling up some of the paper and using hole protectors to make the sketchbooks more durable – I’m a great believer in making things that will actually last!  All the resources such as wordsearches and crosswords for the kids to take home with them are available to you as a Barefoot Books Ambassador, as are the discussion questions for the book if the thought of coming up with your own fills you with dread!

Running a Barefoot Book Club is such a great way for me to earn money as a Barefoot Books Ambassador and to provide a fun learning experience for my kids and their friends at the same time!  I absolutely love it and the girls and I are really looking forward to our next get together which is almost fully booked already.  The kids have chosen The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales so I am scurrying around looking for craft activities and materials to help them make the most of their club.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

%d bloggers like this: