Monthly Archives: July 2012

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!

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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.


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