Hello, and welcome to my monthly newsletter!
I can't begin to express how lovely it feels to be writing again after such a long, unplanned break. For those of you who are new here, I took an intentional break from writing my blog in August, as I wanted to enjoy a summer holiday. Then, at the beginning of September I had a mental health breakdown (I suffer with the occasional seasonal and/or stress induced panic disorder episode) so was unable to work for around 8-10 weeks. A lot has happened in the months that I've been away from my blog, and this newsletter today serves as a bit of a catch up space. It's a long one, so grab a cuppa!
You can read my last newsletter, written at the end of July here.
August feels like a lifetime ago. It's so hard to recall the feeling of warm sun on my skin, while we're in the depths of winter here. It was a busy month, with a full week of holiday childminding, various day trips and play dates, a short trip to Wales, alongside all the usual reading, playing and home educating shenanigans. Most notably, I was feeling well, although probably ignored some of the early tell tale signs that anxiety was creeping in.
We made a start on our painting project, which is one of a few new projects we have planned for this academic year. You can read about all our current home education projects in this blog post. We're following the tutorials in Paint Lab for Kids, and in August we managed two of the tutorials. The first was a masking tape resist piece, and the second a watercolour blending technique. Both were simple, yet effective, and didn't require resources that we didn't already have in our supplies. I like that each tutorial references a living artist for inspiration and further research.
Cooking together is another of our priorities for this academic year. In fact, it's been a priority for us for many years now, but this year we wanted to push ourselves to cook together even more. Back in July, we started following some of the recipes in Jamie's 30 Minute Meals. In August we had a go at making his Summer Veg Lasagne recipe, which was so fresh and delicious.
During a week of childminding work, the children and I made the most amazing courgette cake, following this recipe. The grated courgette makes the cake moist, and the lemon curd filling and lime icing are to die for. Highly recommended. I love this cake so much that I baked it again this December for my birthday.
We also had a trial with a new meal box, using a friend's discount code. We had no idea at this point that our Gousto boxes would become a lifeline over the coming months, when I didn't feel inspired to cook and didn't have the mental capacity to meal plan and shop. We were impressed by the variety of recipes to choose from, the quality of the ingredients, the ease of preparation and the tasty meals to share. If you'd like to give Gousto a go, you can use our discount code for 60% off your first box. You'll find the code here (we are not affiliated, but we do receive credit for each new sign up. Our online communities have literally been feeding us for the past few months, for which we are so grateful).
Earlier this year Bean learned how to make a pancake batter (I've always made pancake batter by eye, but her Daddy taught her the 3-2-1 recipe: 300ml milk, 2 eggs, 100g flour), but I have always cooked them for her on our gas hob. In August I taught her how to safely cook her own pancakes on our gas hob, using her own batter.
Bradford on Avon trips
We had two trips to Bradford-on-Avon during the month of August. The first, with Bean's Granny, to walk part of the Kennet and Avon canal. This is one of the walks recommended in the book, Kiddiwalks Near Bristol and Bath, of which we have walked many now (this is one of a series, so I recommend looking to see if there is one for your area). It was much busier than any we've walked before, likely because Bradford-on-Avon is a popular tourist spot and it was the school summer holidays. We visited after a few days of heavy rain, so it was quite hard work navigating the narrow footpath between puddles, people and cyclists, and we had to turn back completely after reaching Avoncliff as the path was treacherously muddy.
Our second trip was to see an outdoor performance of Peter and the Wolf at Belcombe. We were invited by some dear friends of ours who had won tickets by entering a drawing competition. The grounds were so beautiful, and it felt like such a treat to be listening to a live orchestra in the glorious sunshine. We were able to explore the grounds a little before and after, then headed back to our friends house for homemade pizzas. This was very much one of our summer highlights.
At the end of August we had yet another short trip to Wales, this time to stay with Bean's Granny in Carmarthenshire. We found ourselves back at Hillend campsite, where we walked the length of Rhossili beach, up onto the clifftops, and along the headland to visit one of the National Trust sunflower fields.
We ended our day with a swim in the sea and ice creams at GG's Gelato in Pen-clawdd.
At the beginning of August I launched a brand new digital play guide, 31 Days of Outdoor Play. I never tire of seeing photographs of children enjoying the activities in my guides, and I still can't quite believe that people buy them, use them and enjoy them. The guides that I launch in August are always really popular, with families spending more time together over the school summer holidays.
I also put together an Ocean Play Dough Collection, inspired by our trips to Rhossili beach over the summer. I added a tablespoon of play sand to the natural dough, which adds a bit of texture, making it feel and look more like real sand. I still have a handful of these in stock I believe.
September was a really difficult month for me on a personal level. At the end of August our builder surprised us with some very last minute availability to build our extension. He gave us a week's notice! Despite feeling overwhelmed by the short notice, we were mostly very excited and I threw myself into clearing out and preparing the space. Sadly, we were not able to reach an agreement with our neighbour on our party wall in time. The whole experience was incredibly stressful, and costly, both financially and on my mental health. It all came to a head the Sunday before we were due to leave for our trip to London, and on the Monday morning I awoke sick with anxiety. For me, once panic sets in, my mental health spirals quickly, and it is often a long and slow journey to recovery.
Our trip to London was brief, but so special in many ways. The weather was absolutely beautiful, hot and sunny, and despite feeling so unwell, I worked hard to keep my nerves at bay and carry on with our plans regardless. We spent most of the afternoon outdoors, walking from Victoria Coach Station, via St James's Park to the South Bank. London can feel overwhelming at the best of times, but I was really struggling.
After a late afternoon rest at our hotel, we took a trip on the London Eye, and then went for dinner at Wagamama. The South Bank was absolutely buzzing, and Bean so enjoyed taking it all in. Once back at our hotel, Bean went off to sleep, but I spent the entire night awake, crying and vomiting, and desperately trying to plot a route home. I was so exhausted, and physically sick with anxiety. I woke Bean up at 5.00 am and we were on the 6.00 am coach back to Bristol. It was utterly heart breaking.
Homemade Bath Bombs
September passed by in such a blur. Bean's Granny came back and forth from Wales to look after me, and Bean spent some days with her Daddy too, to give me a little respite. I tried to focus my attention on meeting our basic needs, and taking everything one day at a time (sometimes one hour at a time). At some point, in amongst the fog, I found the motivation and energy to set everything up for us to make a bumper supply of homemade bath bombs, to see us through the autumn. These are so quick and easy to make. We like to make mini ones, using silicone ice cube moulds, as that way they last longer and we can make lots of different scents and colours. You'll find the recipe here.
Cookery with Live Learn Cook
Sometime in late September I managed to get Bean to her cookery class, where I sat quietly in the corner trying to keep my panic at bay, while Bean cooked up a feast. It was an Italian theme, with the children making mini calzones and a layered lemon dessert.
In September we only managed one of the tutorials from Paint Lab for Kids, but it was a fun one. We used cardboard and foam to make our own stamps. I've been carefully filing away all of Bean's art work, as I had hoped that we may be able to submit it for an arts award, but it doesn't look like that is quite how it works (I'm still researching). I can't wait to get some of her work up on the wall in our new art area in the extension.
A New Baby
Then, at the very end of September, we welcomed a new baby into our family. My brother and his partner have had two pandemic babies, the first of which was born just as we went into lockdown in March 2020. Just 18 months later, and another beautiful baby has come along. We could not be more delighted.
October continued to be a difficult month for me personally, but with a sense of there being a light at the end of the tunnel. I had wonderful support and care from the NHS mental health team, as well as from my private counsellor. By now, many of my close friends had realised I was in crisis and had rallied round to support us. I found so much comfort in the warm and loving friendships I've made through my online communities too, many of whom I've never met in person but who showed such compassion and love during a really difficult season. I will forever be grateful.
Festivals and Celebrations Project
In October we made a start on our festivals and celebrations project by reading about the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. We have an international balloon festival here in Bristol too, so Bean was interested to read about another. Our reading spine for this project is A Year Full of Celebrations and Festivals, with Children Just Like Me: Celebrations providing some further reading. Over the course of a week or so we worked on a pair of papiermache hot air balloons to hang from our dining room ceiling. They were quite a labour of love, but we are so pleased with them.
Then, for the last three weeks of October we were very much focused on preparing for Halloween. We started by brainstorming all of our ideas, and then systematically worked through our list. We built Halloween Lego, carved pumpkins and made lollipop ghosts. We made Halloween costumes for our guinea pigs, and Bean put together her own Wednesday Addams outfit too.
In October we managed a couple more tutorials from Paint Lab for Kids. The first was such a fun one, using straws to blow diluted watercolours and then spraying with rubbing alcohol. The second tutorial was a bit more work, with various stages over a couple of days, but equally as enjoyable. I love that these tutorials provide a starting point, but that they are open ended enough for us both to be inspired and follow our own paths of inquiry.
At the end of October we had a short trip to stay with Bean's Granny. I was still feeling so unwell that I literally moved my resting place from home to home, but it was nice to have a change of scene. We managed a little walk around a local nature reserve one morning, and then Bean's Granny surprised us with a trip to this tiny little cinema somewhere in 'the valleys' to watch The Addams Family 2, which was an absolute hit with Bean.
I was really beginning to feel stronger in November, and we started to see friends outside our immediate bubble again. I started again with the whole building project, trying to find a new builder and renegotiating with our neighbours. Our painting project took a back seat while we prioritised making things for the Children's Market I had planned at the end of the month (read on for more about that).
By November I was beginning to get my appetite back and to enjoy cooking and eating again. Bean and I are big fans of the chain restaurant Wagamama, and have been wanting to learn how to make chicken gyoza for a while. I've made them once before and remembered that they are quite a fiddly thing to prepare, so knew that they would be an ambitious project for us. We made plenty of the filling, which was a challenge in itself as we have the tiniest little food processor. Bean loved preparing the gyoza in their little parcels, but I took over with the cooking as the frying and steaming process was quite alarming! They were absolutely delicious!
During November we had a steady supply of Gousto boxes, so I was able to have a proper break from meal planning and shopping, and was eating nutritious and delicious meals, which I've no doubt helped enormously with my recovery.
Cooking with Live Learn Cook
We also had another wonderful cookery session with Sara at Live Learn Cook, this time making Portuguese custard tarts, which were absolutely marvellous. I had always turned my nose up at them in the past, feeling unsure about an egg based dessert, but I have been missing out. They were absolutely amazing! Sadly, this was to be our last class with Sara for the foreseeable future (read on to see why) but I'm looking at how I might be able to rectify that in the new year.
Bean Learning Bristol
While I was unwell in September and October, I thought a lot about how my periods of acute anxiety impact on my daughter. It can be very unsettling for her, despite being quite brief and infrequent (it doesn't feel like that at the time, but in the grand scheme of things). During this particular episode she was still having one day a week with her Daddy, and one day a week at Farm School, but I wasn't able to facilitate much more. To cut a long story short, I signed her up for a trial day with a new, self-directed learning community here in Bristol. Bean went along to her trial, and she loved it, and just one week later she was off to join the community on a permanent basis. Bean now attends Bean Learning Bristol (it's like it was meant to be, right?!) three days a week, term time only. It's early days, but so far she is enjoying her time there. The community is moving to a new, purpose built setting in the new year, and will be expanding, so if you're local and interested, do check it out.
At the end of November we had a lovely trip with our extended family to Westonbirt Arboretum to celebrate Bean's Granny's 69th birthday. We lucked out with the weather as it was a clear, crisp day, so perfect for playing in the leaves and admiring the autumn show of colour. We are loving having two sweet babies to fuss over, and once they went home for naps we were able to have a decent walk. It was so, so beautiful.
I don't really have the mental capacity to put into words what has been going on with our building project, as it's all just been so much more difficult and stressful than I ever could have imagined. We have a new builder now. Work has started. It's all very hard, and I am not enjoying it one bit. That's all there is to say about it right now.
If you're really interested, I have a Home Extension story highlight on my Instagram grid (in fact, I have two, and will likely have a third, as it's a looooong process). At some point, when this is all over, and I am feeling stronger, I'll share more of the story. I hope it will be beautiful and worth it, in the end. This photograph was taken on 22nd December, 17 days into the build, and is how things were left over Christmas. Work will resume at some point in the new year.
At the very end of November I hosted a children's market for home educated children. It is something that I have wanted to plan for a while, but the pandemic scuppered any action. Back in the summer, I impulsively booked a hall, and advertised the event in my local Home Education network. Lots of families signed up. Then I became unwell, and tried to put it to the back of my mind, as I couldn't imagine feeling well enough to attend, let alone host.
Anyway, slowly but surely, things began to come together, and the day arrived. Setting up was somewhat stressful, as I'd requested 40 tables and it transpired that they only had 20! So, everyone squeezed up, and a couple more tables were found, and eventually everyone was in. It was so inspiring and uplifting to see the quality and range of handmade and homemade things for sale. There were also some really creative fairground games, and some talented buskers. The children completely blew me away! It was especially lovely for Bean to have her Daddy come along, to see for himself what a vibrant and wonderful community she is a part of. Below are some photographs from Bean's stall.
And... at long last... we have got to December (well done, if you're still reading!) December has felt quite quiet really, with Bean attending her new setting three days a week. I've been spending most of my days moving stuff around our house in preparation for the next phase of our build, as well as daily mopping (the mud!)
At the beginning of December we learned about the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, and had a go at making latkes, a type of fried potato pancake. We thought they were very similar to hash browns, and enjoyed them dipped in tomato ketchup.
On the days that Bean has been at home this month, we turned our attention to advent and Christmas. We visited Whitehall garden centre in Whitchurch, which always has the most amazing Christmas displays. We also had a wander around the German Christmas market in Broadmead. We decorated mini gingerbread houses and played with our winter loose parts. We decorated our windows and put up our Christmas tree.
Then, just a week before Christmas we welcomed a new rescue guinea pig into our family. We saw her advertised on our local guinea pig rescue Facebook page, and simply fell in love with her. She was all on her own, and looking for an indoor home with a pair of sows. We were keen to offer her that loving forever home. She's settled in so beautifully, and it's hard for us to imagine life without her now.
The Fundamentals of Play: Loose Parts Play
Did you know that I have released the second guide in my brand new, self directed course, The Fundamentals of Play? This course is a work in progress, but it will eventually be a collection of 24 guides, split into four units of study (Play Matters, Independence, Play Materials and Play Areas). This second guide on Loose Parts Play has been compiled with love, and shares all my knowledge and experience of introducing and cultivating a culture of loose parts play within your home or childcare setting. I'll be working on the first in the Independence series, on self care next, so keep an eye out for that coming soon.
You can download a few taster pages from this guide for FREE here.
The Simple Art of Toy Rotation
My signature online course is back for the third year running. It will run from Wednesday 12th January 2022 until Tuesday 15th February 2022, with a two week gap between the release of the third and the final week content, to enable you to implement changes. Booking is now open. You can read the full course description and sign up here.
Did you know that I now offer a self-directed version of this course, for those of you who prefer to work alone? The course content is exactly the same. The only difference is that you will not benefit from my coaching or the support of a Facebook community group. The self-directed version is an instant digital download. You'll find it here.
I couldn't possibly attempt to share the books that we've been reading over the past five months, but I'll share a few of our favourites here:
Respect: Consent, Boundaries and Being in Charge of You - You can read a mini review of this one in this post.
All About Diversity - This is one of a series, and Bean really enjoys them. They're non-fiction, but with nice illustrations, and clear presentation. We like to discuss our own experiences in relation to what we read in these books, and find them a great starting point for those discussions.
This is London - This book was published in the 1950's so some of the facts included are out of date (we had fun fact checking them though) but the illustrations alone make it well worth a look if you're heading to London.
The Buildings that made London - This is another with beautiful illustrations, and information about some of the most famous London landmarks.
London - This is one of the Usborne Beginners series, which we are big fans of. Just enough information, alongside photographs, illustrations and maps.
Story of London - This one is packed with information, but we found it quite difficult to read as it is all presented in a disjointed way, with lots of labels and captions.
Allotment Lane in London - Another vintage find, with a sweet story about a school trip to London.
A Year Full of Celebrations and Festivals - This is our reading spine for our main project this academic year, and we are really enjoying it. It shares details of some of the lesser known celebrations and festivals around the world, as well as the more major ones.
We really enjoyed listening to Kaspar: Prince of Cats which led us down a rabbit hole of learning about the Titanic. Then, this autumn, we have been listening to Listen to the Moon which we both loved. The unabridged version is 8 CD's long, so prepare yourself for a long slog, but we were very invested in the story and it was lovely to have something to see us through our long journeys to and from Farm School.
I wouldn't ordinarily share television recommendations, simply because we don't tend to watch much, but while I was unwell in September and October, I watched the entire back catalog of The Repair Shop, on BBCiplayer. If you are looking for something gentle, comforting, heart warming and interesting, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. It's so inspiring to watch master craftspeople at work, and I was completely gripped by the stories behind some of the items that were brought in for repair.
This Autumn, Bean and I have got into a sweet little routine of watching a different series together at bedtime (in bed!) with a special snack platter. We watched the entire first series of Sort Your Life Out, on BBCiplayer, which prompted many rounds of decluttering and organising. We're now watching Get Organised with The Home Edit on Netflix, which is having a similar effect. Bean and I also really enjoyed series 5 of The Great British Bake Off, and are giving The Great Australian Bake Off a go now.
Here are the three most popular blog posts I wrote in 2021, just in case you might have missed them.
If you have enjoyed reading this monthly newsletter, and don't want to miss another one, perhaps you might like to subscribe? I can promise not to flood your inbox with spam (but I can't promise that I'll remember to send newsletter reminders either!) Scroll down to the bottom to subscribe. I'm in the process of planning some exciting blog posts for 2022. If you have a specific request, please drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next month, I'll be sharing highlights of our building project as it enters it's final stage. I'm dreading this part a bit (while also recognising how privileged we are) as the builders will be moving indoors, creating more noise and dust. We will need to vacate our dining room and so will be squashed into the living room with our guinea pigs, all cosying together during the coldest months of the year. There'll be the usual project updates and book recommendations too.
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.