Marooned in the Modern World

In conjunction with my book "Swiss Family Suburban" this blog is from my diary; the diary of a wife and mum in a world where neither is valued highly. Beth Bill.

31st May 2010

I'm exhausted! We spent the whole of today in a field counting grass stems (specifically Purple Moor and Yorkshire Fog). You'd be surprised how tiring that really is. The children needed to complete a science project and then write a lab report, and we chose a plant diversity project. Using a 10cm x 10cm quadrat we had to count the number of plant stems (not leaves) in 100 squares three times along a chosen transect. It's unbelievably difficult to count grass stems when that particular plant isn't in flower. I suspect our calculations are a bit awry, but we did give it our best shot. Not surprisingly we discovered that grasses were the most prolific plant, buttercups occurred in open ground where there was most sun and vetch was only to be found in shady hedgerows with taller shrubs to climb up. I could have told you that beforehand!

In the past we have completed 'in the lab' type experiments; we dissected a dead bee we found and also a dead butterfly we found - I can't bring myself to begin with a live 'subject', and it did help in that the bee was quite dry inside, which made dissection more approachable and everything was more visible that way. I thought that, this time, it would be a good idea to get out into 'the field' (quite literally as it happened). I think the dog looks just how we all feel!

28th May 2010

After our discussion of ball games (see 23/05) the boys have suddenly developed a craze for playing with a tennis ball again, and Em isn't too unhappy about tagging along. It's quite pleasant to see two 16 year olds and a 14 year old playing catch - although it is quite a bit rougher now they are older! The main break time occupation is a form of cricket, but using an old conifer branch as a bat, which makes the direction of the shot quite unpredictable. Matt is addicted enough to be happy simply bouncing the ball or throwing it against a wall (though not inside a sock!). However, it does mean that I'm having to curb too many prolonged outside breaks. I guess it's because we've finally got a bit of sunshine!

I was hoping to spend this afternoon working through some exercises on Figured Bass for the children's music theory lesson but the twins are SO close to finishing the dreaded Geography course (that seems to consuming their days) that I thought it best not to interrupt their cognitive flow - they need to get it finished before half term. Figured Bass is quite an involved topic (or I think it is) so I'd rather leave it until I can have their full attention. Instead, I spent the afternoon marking tests (my fault for leaving it for so long). It wasn't unpleasant though, as I took all the paperwork into the garden and spent a pleasant couple of hours under the gazebo, with the dog dozing on the lawn and the hens clucking down the garden - a sure sign of another egg!

Regarding eggs: Yaayy, Verity is no longer brooding on the nest all day! The tough treatment of locking her out of the nest seems to have done the trick. We just need her to start laying again. Charity does seem in better spirits now that the warm weather is here. Her comb isn't quite as shrunken and she is pootling about more and taking dust baths (when the others will let her). She mustn't be able to cope with the cold as well as the others, this first winter must have been a shock to her. However, she isn't laying yet...

23rd May 2010

After all this glorious sunshine we finally managed our first barbeque of the year. It was an impromptu affair, but I think it turned out for the best that way. Obviously everybody else would have the same opinion and so I knew that there wouldn't be a single bread roll in the supermarket, so we made do with what was to hand. As such we were a little more creative and it resulted in a far nicer meal. We had chicken, bacon and mushroom kebabs, and also chicken strips wrapped in bacon secured with a cocktail stick. Of course there were the obligatory sausages (even the dog got a taste!) and the lack of bread rolls made the affair less stodgy and overfilling. There were also chicken burgers (we had no beef burgers in stock) as well as salad, home made garlic bread and tortilla chips with cool salsa or hummus. For dessert Em had made cornflake cakes with marshmallows and we made fruit kebabs with melon and apple interspersed with marshmallows drizzled with lemon juice and sprinkled with grated chocolate. Yummy!

Ordinarily Swing Ball is the order of the day at a barbeque, but as ours is broken (left over from last year) the boys just threw a tennis ball about. This got us talking about the ball games we used to play. 'Kerbie' is universal, although my children have never played this as we live on a main road (though I discovered that our council have banned ball games on any street - how silly. I doubt it is much enforced.) I remembered that I used to spend hours playing with a tennis ball in a sock, which everybody else thought was hilarious - it does sound quite silly now, but it really was fun. If you stand with your back to a wall and build up a rhythm of swinging the sock so the ball hits the wall to the left and then right you can build up speed and then start bouncing it under your legs - quite theraputic, honest! Nobody else had ever heard of such a thing and it made me sound as if I was from some bygone era where "we made our own enjoyment" - perhaps I am, though I'm not that old!

22nd May 2010

Jonti played in a KEMS (King Edward Musical Society) orchestral workshop in Macclesfield today, playing Holst's "The Planets". He's wanted the opportunity to play this for ages, as it has a brilliant percussion score, especially in "Mars, the bringer of War". I do think that it's ambitious to tackle the whole suite in a day for a one off performance. David went to see the final performance and said it was very good. (I couldn't make it as I needed to pick Em up from work and get everything ready to dash out again in the evening).

As soon as David and Jonti got home and had rushed a quick sandwich for tea we were straight out again to see our friend in an amateur performance of the play "Dry Rot", a farce by John Chapman. The play is set in a country hotel and is all about 'knobbling' race horses. It really was very good. I think I prefer amateur productions as they have a more cosy ambience. The ice creams are cheaper too. This is quite a timely theme as I've just read my first Dick Francis mystery, all of which are set around the racecourse. It was a brilliant read.

20th May 2010

I reckon I can plant my veg out now! A pupil of mine obviously possesses green fingers (as well as pianist's fingers!) and has some spare veg to plant on. I've just got a small selection of lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower to go alongside my beans and peas. There isn't really much room for anything else in the area that has been fenced off from the hens.

Mind you, what the hens can't get the slugs will. I'd made some cloches out of cut down water bottles to try and protect the new shoots but the slugs have just crawled in through a small hole at the top. I'd left the lids off to allow rain water in, but I guess it would have been as well just absorbed from the surrounding soil. Although I appreciate the concept of organic gardening I really do need a little bit of help, so I'm afraid it's slug pellets for the bits where the hens and dog can't get!

I'm turning the other area of soil, that was originally for veg, into a herb garden. The raised section can be for edible herbs and the flat section will be for scented herbs. So far I have thyme, rosemary, chives and mint at the top and just lavender at the bottom. I know that herb gardens are usually ornamental and often have gravelled or paved areas, but mine is just soil with a paved walkway in between. I'd like a bench there, at some point, so we can sit and appreciate the aromas in the setting sun - if I can keep those pesky cats away!

19th May 2010

I took my Great Aunt shopping in town today. Ordinarily she only gets a few bits and bobs from a local Spar shop (mostly cakes!) but she needed to go to the bank and so we ventured into the local Market for some real food. Well, I say real food but I don't think I could eat it.

On the shopping list were items such as Ox tongue, tripe and savoury duck! I remember selling tripe (literally a cow's stomach) as a teenager, in my parent's shop. The old ladies that came got quite feisty over getting some of the 'seam'. It's really rubbery, like a jelly honeycomb - I never did pluck up the courage to try it. Apparently its served with lashings of vinegar and mushy peas. Interestingly, my Grandma and Great Aunt sold tripe in the very same market during the war ration years.

My great uncle told me about how he worked for a butcher "When 'e were a lad," and the butcher made 'savoury duck' - sold for tuppence. I can't imagine why it's called 'duck' as it's made up of left-over pig bits (tail, ear etc.) with a few herbs. It was cooked in a meat tray and covered with fat, which they called 'the veil' and was served with gravy. Needless to say, we didn't try these recipes when we lived for a week on WWII rations!

I am wondering if I'm brave enough to try an oxtail casserole. I used to like tinned oxtail soup, although I haven't had it for years. I wonder if fresh oxtail tastes at all similar?

17th May 2010

Gathering eggs is still something of a battle as Verity just won't shift! However, in order to show her who's boss, we lock her out of the hen house as soon as we know that all the other hens have laid their eggs - I don't want them dropping all over the garden. Once she has been ousted she is quite content scratching around with the others. Hopefully she will soon get it out of her system if we continue in this manner (I hope.)

I know this sounds silly, being the middle of May, but is it too cold to plant any veg out yet? I think last night was the first night we didn't have the heating on! We could have a fire in, but we haven't had time to sit and appreciate it recently - and the rest of the house would still be freezing. Isn't it sad, how those things that seem to be the important little details in family life seem to drop to the bottom of the list and get forgotten. Now that the children are older we don't seem to have toast on the fire anymore, or Em and I don't get any embroidery done, or we haven't played a game of scrabble in ages. Who'd think that you need to fight to preserve such times? Perhaps some of this is inevitable, as the children grow older they do more by themselves, or they have more responsibility and less time. Years ago I would have had the children working the veg patch with me. When we first started home schooling we lived on WW II rations for a week and tried a 'Dig for Victory' veg patch. Absolutely every meal required something peeling, I felt like I was never out of the sink. Although the children did their bit in the garden they preferred to just randomly dig, rather than tend the produce. Now they are busy elsewhere, so I have to decide whether or not to plant veg for my own pleasure, rather than as character building for my kids. Mind you, Em did ask that I at least put some beans in, she couldn't cope without anything growing. Perhaps just having to nip out and pick some beans for tea is sufficient - if they grow! I haven't seen a single bean shoot yet, and just a couple of tiny pea plants. Is it down to the cold weather, perhaps? Hopefully everything will shoot now the sun if peeping out a bit.

Had a lovely lunch with my home ed curriculum provider co-ordinator. She is such a lovely lady who drives all over the nation just to help and encourage. It is lovely to speak to someone who is a little older and wiser. Happily, she likes textiles and sewing as well! Sometimes it's good to hear someone reaffirm the old home truths, even if nothing new is being said. Having a nice lunch out finishes the picture!

16th May 2010

For the first time that I can remember I've had a completely uninterrupted day at home. Matt cleaned the cars, David and I tidied the garage and I created a nice little utility room. The washer is plumbed in inside the garage, but it's always been a rough and ready affair and a bit of a dumping ground. The previous owners must have made a laundry room of sorts but it had gone into disarray. I've always wished that I had a proper laundry room (and a pantry!) so I've cleaned, tidied and arranged the one in the garage into something more official - I even scrubbed the buttons on the washer with a toothbrush! I realise that this might sound trite but I get quite a 'lift' now, each time I go and put a load of washing in. David made me a nice white shelf and a wicker basket that my mum gave me now holds spare coat hangers. I'm thinking that if I'm going to be doing innumerable loads of washing I might as well give it a bit of flare. For those who have indoor utility rooms this will seem superfluous, but in my 'make do and mend' fashion I feel that I've now made good the deficit. While the weather is good I've even had clothes drying in there - when the washing line is too full or it's too late in the day to put another load outside. This is a pleasant change from the usual 'pant trees' that line the shower rail ( I think it's the only 'crop' I manage to be fruitful in). When the children were small they probably learned their colours by playing snap with wet socks to hang on the smalls hangers. These hangers affectionately became known as pant trees, because you had to go and pick the pants (or socks) off the hangers which were high up on the shower rail. It's the end of an era for them to be out of use for a season!

All in all though, I reckon it's no bad thing to have a flood of satisfaction from a clean washer and nice arrangement of white goods (even if they are old). There's no point in pursuing much else until the absolute basics are in order, and it's too easy to forget that - so whatever it takes to keep the right perspective. I might see if David will paint me a little sign for the door ...

13th May 2010

I do wonder if we are letting this little doggie take over a little. Today we took Beejay along to Em and Jonti's music lesson. It perhaps isn't quite as bad as it seems when you consider that their flute/clarinet teacher, Mae, is my friend and she did want to meet him. Nevertheless it did seem a little eccentric taking his bowl and a bottle of water to a music lesson. It did help, as it meant that the children could just get on with their work when they got back home as the dog had already had a good walk during their lesson time. I taught the children all their music for years, but now they are more advanced they would benefit from someone who is better than I am - my brain has been full of domestic matters for the last decade and a half. I do still teach them piano and music theory, although during this last half term lessons have been squeezed out owing to one thing or another. Why is it that the most important things are those that are most easily skipped? I suppose that it is easier to do the less demanding things - something which needs addressing! (My fault here - another reason not to get a job!)

We've got Verity up and about this afternoon. To begin with Matt has been ousting her from the nest a couple of times a day, but she doesn't stay up and about for very long - straight back to brooding in the nest. This is a problem as, not only is she not laying, but she could prevent the others from laying and she isn't eating, drinking or moving either. Once I knew that the other hens had laid their eggs I locked them all out of the hen house and have given them the run of the garden - herb garden included! The others were quite happy with this arrangement, having lots of lovely things to nibble. Verity seems quite happy, on the whole, but does keep nipping back to the shed to see if she can get in. At least she is eating and moving now. Hopefully she'll get the broodiness out of her system soon, if we continue in this way. I might consider locking her away from the hen house all day tomorrow, if the weather is good.

12th May 2010

Verity is broody! This is not a good thing. Not only has she herself stopped laying but we have to risk life and limb to get any eggs that are in the nest - if the other hens can get into the nesting box themselves. She is sitting on any available egg and hisses and bites us when we try to collect them. I was hoping she would get it out of her system quickly, as hybrids aren't bred to be broody, but I guess hens will be hens!

A neighbour of ours encountered this problem and the only solution was to give her some eggs to hatch, and so she mothered some of the cutest little ducklings. I'm not sure how to go about this though. Only the other day Em and I were chatting about family life and I suggested that having the hens, and now the little doggie, were part of building a home - as opposed to just cleaning a show-house. But, I think I'm changing my mind... Verity has become a sufficiently vicious creature and I'm not too hot on the topic of breeding and fowl husbandry. I hope she snaps out of it, but I'm reading up on raising chicks just in case.

9th May 2010

Today the children went to a Folk Music Day with 'Rootz', the Stoke-on-Trent City Music Service's folk band that they are a part of. Although this meant over an hour of driving for David it was still a surprise to notice how much time we had in the day. Although the children are older it proves how much time being/raising a family requires. After a leisurely start to the day the majority of our time was spent in household chores, but the day still seemed so long. Another thought is that, when the children have left home, the amount of chores will decrease whilst available time increases - leaving still more time for our own pursuits.

I've been looking about me, now that the children are older, to see about more full time employment, e.g. teaching. As I've investigated further into the working world I've become less and less convinced that this is a good time to start. I realise that home education has exacerbated the matter, but I'm convinced that I'm still needed at home. I've spent so many mornings, this last few weeks, taking the children - in rota it seems - to either the doctors or the orthodontist that I really don't see how I could have a 'proper' job without being a really unreliable employee! And, this is at a time when all the children are well!

I remember a BBC Horizon special that looked into the concept of the 'career mum' and their findings were quite revealing (though not surprising, I don't think). If a mum returns to work the family are actually worse off, financially. When they did a break down of some family's accounts the poor woman broke down into tears when she discovered how much it actually cost her to go to work - not to mention the emotional cost. And, my last few weeks have proved how unreliable an employee we make - unless we don't take our children to the doctors or dentist. We can't do both things well and I can't choose to put my family in second place. Additionally, if I aren't around to see to these sorts of things David will have to do it and he has more than enough on his plate trying to build a business in the depths of a recession. He needs my help too! Although the peer pressure and 'pull' to return to a career is evident, after building a home for over a decade I can't bring myself to abandon it. So, it's back to 'make do and mend' for a while longer - it's what I do well!

The conclusion of the BBC episode was that, as a mum it is impossible (yes, impossible) to have a career and a family without both suffering. It is quite a relief to acknowledge this fact, after a few little struggles, instead of striving for what really isn't workable. After 15 years out of the industry I'm not going to make it to the top of the tree! However, it is feasible to have a job of sorts which can fit around the family. Each family will be different and so the aspects of a little job will vary accordingly. I remember reading an article in a bank's magazine which explained the concept of a Career's Portolio. Increasingly more and more people are choosing to have two or three jobs, instead of one (even those without a family). In that way they are gaining more job satisfaction (instead of one all consuming job which requires body and soul), they have executive control over their timetables and also have more creative working lives - or life in general. So, perhaps I can venture into 'this and that' now that the children are older - but with a more creative approach to the word 'work', and perhaps just a little here and there.

4th May 2010

I think that the Bank Holiday mood has overtaken us: the sun is shining and although today is a school day I still have 'the wanderlust'. All of a sudden the boys NEED to get some picture frames for the artist proofs of the motorbike sketches that David has given them. Despite the pleading eyes of an abandoned doggy we decided to venture to Ikea. In the end they hadn't got any of the cheap frames in stock - but the trip was worth it for the hot dogs. I ate far too many!

3rd May 2010

David and the boys went to the British Super Bikes race at Oulton Park today - for purely business reasons, of course! David has produced a composite sketch of Leon Haslam, which Leon has countersigned, and so they went to promote that. (Click here to see the Leon Haslam print "Triple First"). The boys (all three of them!) thoroughly enjoyed the day. There was sufficient carnage on the track to make the day thrilling, but without anybody getting too seriously hurt and so tarnish the day. (I remember watching the Grand Prix when Senna died, and I still feel weird thinking about it, the hush that descended was eerie and the thought of it still unsettles me.) They had packed food and drinks enough for the day, but when you are surrounded by so many burger stands it's hard to resist and so Jonti and Matt indulged in a burger each - at £5 a piece!

This left the girls home alone so David dropped Em and I off in the City Centre for us to have a little shop around. I'm not really much of a shopper though and all we were really interested in was Wetherspoon's Belgian Waffles with chocolate sauce, and their coffee and hot chocolate. We did sandwich a little shopping spree between two drinky stints, but for Em and I a real shopping excursion involves a stationery 'fix'. Coincidentally 'The Works' were having a paper sale and we filled a box full for only a couple of pounds, which should keep us scrap booking and card making for some time. However, the main purpose of the trip was the Belgian Waffles, Mmmm!

An added extra to the day was the bus journey home, which was something of a novelty - I don't think I've caught a bus for years. This was an especially brave endeavour as it was a bank holiday and the bus service to our home is sparse, but this particular route was well serviced and thankfully we got home seamlessly. (We did have our neighbour's telephone number in our bag, just in case we were stranded. It is great living in such a lovely community!)