About Me

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I am a home educating mum of 2 living in the Northwest of England. I long to travel with my family (including the fluffs) to see the world and have amazing adventures, because life is too short to worry about paying off a mortgage!

Friday, August 11, 2017

One Of My Favourite Places - Lowther Castle in Penrith

The stunning backdrop of the castle from the large lawn area in the gardens

Having visited Lowther Castle last year for the first time we finally got a chance to re-visit at a nicer time of the year. It has to be one of my favourite places to go even if we don't get here as often as I'd like.

I could happily wander through these gardens every day they are so extensive and intriguing; whether following the meandering paths or wondering at the huge trees you can almost imagine all the people who have walked here before, and perhaps this is why I love this place so much, it captures your imagination on so many levels.

The history of the castle is fascinating and being in the ruins feels both inspiring and sad, it's a shame that such a beautiful piece of architecture can't be fully used as once intended. Trying to imagine where all the floors were, how it was adorned and who may have once swept through the halls is a great way to engage the kids and make the history come alive, or at least keep them from moaning about history....?

I would love to see an interactive way to show how the castle would have looked back in its full glory especially when you are stood in that particular part of the ruin.

Inside the castle ruins

From the family point of view this place provides a full day out for the kids; the Lost Castle is a play area of sheer beauty and even the most play park jaded adult will appreciate the effort that's gone into it (and enjoy a play or two themselves!). You can easily lose a good few hours on here alone.

The lovely rope swings in the trees

Then back to the extensive gardens, honestly they are huge! We really enjoyed the bear hunt trail that was on when we visited and we discovered some lovely areas of the gardens that we didn't see on our last visit. There are hidden gems everywhere and even when it's busy you can find secluded parts where you can appreciate the beauty of the nature around you.

Bow and I enjoyed the peace of the pond
Another bonus, it's dog friendly! They aren't allowed in the play area section but are allowed on lead everywhere else; it's nice to have the furry members of the household join us too and means we don't have to keep an eye on the clock to get home for them. 

The children just love being able to explore the grounds and there's a little something to find around every corner. We had to tear them away from the little house they discovered.

A little den for them!

There's a lovely cafe in the courtyard, again dog friendly, and on warm days it would be lovely having a picnic in the grounds. It's not the cheapest entry £29 for family ticket, you can also get 10% off if ordering online, but it feels like great value for money as you can easily while away the whole day there and guaranteed with all the running, climbing and fresh air the kids will sleep like logs at bedtime!

Since we head South on our way home we also got to visit the infamous Tebay services on our way home and picked up some interesting foods for our tea. For deli food, unusual finds and splashing some cash (it's certainly not the cheapest!) this place ticked all those, I think it must be the only service station in the country that doesn't house a fast food chain which says it all really!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Exploring Dubrovnik in Croatia

After finding some cheap flights online (thank you Monarch) we had a mini adventure to Dubrovnik in Croatia and what a find!
People told us how beautiful it was before we went and yet I still didn't anticipate how lush the scenery would be and how every spot is as picturesque as the one before.

View from our apartment

If you love the bustle of the city yet crave the peace and calmness that the seaside brings then a stay in the new part of Dubrovnik is a perfect fit.
We stayed in a modern self catering apartment a stones throw from the harbour. Well laid out gardens provide a lovely walk right round the harbour and play areas for the kids are nestled between in these green spaces. A lovely daily food market is adjacent to the boat moorings and the kids were fascinated to see which cruise ship had appeared in the dock by morning.

Miss L enjoying the vista

With it being the new part of Dubrovnik it was much less crowded and calmer than the old town and after our visits to the old town it was nice to get back, catch a breath and enjoy a more chilled city vibe.
A note on the friendliness of the locals by the way, we made an effort with the language as we always do when abroad but rarely did we find this really broke the ice here, maybe they just get tired of tourists. However whenever Miss L said Hvala (thank you) or Molim (please) she was returned with squeals and huge smiles so we felt like that was at least a bit of a break through!

Island Of Lokrum
Dubrovnik Old City down below

Places To Eat

If you enjoy food, as we do, then there are just hundreds of choices in both the old and new parts. Sadly on day 1 due to a kerfuffle with our parking pass we were late exploring and got caught out by a typical tourist trap area; think paying a premium for mediocre (at best) food. After being charged 49HRK (Croatian Kuna, no it's not the Euro!) so around £6 for a seasonal fruit platter which ended up consisting of a massive wedge of water melon; no exaggeration! Throw in 2 x cheese toasties and we were £30 lighter which was a bit hard to swallow! Of course they are catching the hordes of tourists that descend from the docked cruise ships so these are best avoided if you like spending your hard earned cash on decent grub, a good lesson learned.

We did manage to unearth some wonderful places though, a stunningly located Konoba Dubrava up in the hills in Bosanka where we sampled traditional lamb and veal cooked for 3 hours under the iron bell (glad we ordered ahead on that one), delicious - although I would have left out the starter had I known how large the portion sizes were!

Starter platter at Konoba Dubrava
One of our best meals had to be at Peppers Eatery in new Dubrovnik, everything was delicious, the kids sampled calamari and we loved all sharing a selection of the meals. We were also treated to the best sunset once we had finished, it was a perfect evening.

Peppers Eatery
Sunset at Dubrovnik New town harbour
Finally another amazing place to sample some traditional delicacies was at Konavoski Dvori up in the hills of Konavle next to the beautiful river Ljuta.

River Ljuta in Konavle
It's a whole new experience sitting beside a babbling waterfall watching stunning, iridescent dragonflies and butterflies fluttering across the water. After, we wandered down the river to the mill, playing pooh sticks on the way and dipping our hot toes in the icy cold water - perfect in the high 37 degree heat.

Places Of Interest

Dubrovnik Old Town.

Steps in the centre
Entrance to the aquarium

The Old Town was a wonderful maze of narrow, cobbled streets, beautiful architecture, huge stone walls and of course (if you're a fan) Game of Thrones filming locations. Our first visit was so crowded with cruise ship tourists it was hard to get a true feel of the place, but on our second, much quieter visit we could really see the beauty of the place. Rustic stone buildings and reading the history and role of the city and it's huge walls made for an immersive experience. The kids adored the aquarium where we escaped from the blazing heat for an hour, some of the tanks are in the old gun holes. Although, sadly the size and decoration of the tanks for some of the fish seemed questionable (think octopus in a small tank with nowhere to hide). 

Sailing trip on the Karaka

We set sail on the Karaka for a wonderful Elaphiti Island day cruise exploring 3 of Dubrovnik's Islands - Kolocep, Sipan and Lopud. 

The Karaka
Stunning scenery aboard the Karaka

From start to finish we loved this trip. The Karaka (oh, also used in Game of Thrones!) for starters  is a stunning ship, especially when they lowered the sails. A trio of musicians played wonderful, cheery Croatian music during sail and got everyone joining in and a well made buffet lunch was provided whilst at sea.

I have never seen such clear turquoise water with so many fish swimming, the whole area is protected by UNESCO.
The islands were all beautiful and most exciting was getting the chance to have a dip in the sea at Lopud and then sample some Nutella ice cream crepes afterwards whilst sat by the beach, sheer bliss.

Swimming in Lopud

 The Island of Lokrum

Finally we headed to Lokrum, a nature reserve set on a stunning island a mere 15 minute boat ride away from the Old Town. It cost around 120HRK for the boat trip and combined entrance fee and it was easily a full day out. 
We made the steep climb to the ruins of the fort at the top through lots of pine, cypress and olive trees and were rewarded with the most sublime view; the sparkling blue Adriatic filled with magnificent ships and a lush emerald green backdrop. 

Atop the island of Lokrum
There are lots of secret bays to explore and swim in as well as the dead sea which is a lovely, if pretty chilly, cove. It's also pretty pebbly so we had to watch our feet!

A hidden cove with steep steps down.
There were free running peacocks and rabbits and the whole place buzzed with Cicadas, I couldn't think of a more calming, inspiring place where the kids can explore and run free in nature then this. 
Underground Tunnel
Racing through the forest

We visited the dead sea, the ruins, the play park, the restaurant (naturally) and the underground ruins from the monastery where the Game of Thrones iron throne is sited after being gifted by HBO to the city of Dubrovnik.

 Finally the boat ride home and then it was the end of our adventure in Croatia. I can't believe people only have a day or two here there is so much to see and do and explore. This is definitely somewhere we will be visiting again!

Enjoying the sea air

Friday, July 7, 2017

Some Of My Favourite Education Resources (So Far!)

I've stumbled across a lot of information on education and the development of children in my research of home education. It's such a huge decision to decide to home ed and take on the responsibility of my children's education that it can be terrifying at times.

These are some of my favourite resources on the topics, that have helped me to base my decision to undertake this task, retain my sanity, realise that education isn't as cut and dried as I think we're led to believe it is and that the state, sadly, doesn't have it all figured out.

1)     Ken Robinson's Changing Education Paradigms TED Talk

It took us a long time to decide to home ed, and we looked very carefully into the pros and cons, but a video called Changing Education Paradigms by Ken Robinson had to be one of my first aha moments.

Having never heard of the name Ken Robinson prior to home ed I discovered he is an expert in creativity and a big advocate of change in schools to better reflect the current needs of society and in particular the development and creativity of children.

I watched the video with interest and it is one of those talks that just starts to click things into place, from discussing why schools were created to why they are now failing today's children.

The clever illustrations by RSA Animate really helped to map out the info (I am not one for taking a long time to digest something I like things communicated clearly, easily and succinctly otherwise there's no chance I'll digest anything- probably why I didn't do great in exams!)

So here's the video link. Many home edders rave about it and quite rightly so, if you've ever pondered the education system and felt that it's not quite right somehow then this video is for you!

2)      A.S Neill's Summerhill

This book for me was just a breath of fresh air. From the beautifully informal, easy to read style of writing to Neill's amazingly thought provoking content this book had me nodding along, writing my own notes and chuckling at his anecdotes (then making my husband read it). The guy was so ahead of his time (this was published in 1960!) when it came to the meaning of education that it makes me sad that the majority of schools are still stuck in the same old archaic ways that he disliked and commented on back then and despite his successes with Summerhill no progress has been made to learn from him to improve our current system.
A superb read.

3)     Play by Stuart Brown

This was one of the first books I read on play and the importance of it for children. Once again it was an easy read although the content does require a bit more concentration at times. It's fascinating really that we need these kinds of books to point out just how important play is for children's development as well as being a key to our happiness as adults. A really thought provoking book that helped me realise that all the play Miss L and JJ get to do is actually benefiting them in a huge way.

4)     Free To Learn by Peter Gray

A massive advocate of home ed, Peter Gray has picked up where the main spokesperson for home ed, John Holt, left off.
I'm still working my way through the book as it hasn't been as quick a read for me as some of the others, but the content is still rich, interesting, inspiring and has helped me organise my thoughts on what education is.

5)     Future Learn's Course on Exploring Play

I really enjoyed taking this course, offered by Sheffield University on the Future Learn platform. It was clearly laid out, very interesting and informative and I could easily fit it into my busy schedule which is of course a bonus.
The platform itself is very easy to access and they use  mixture of media to present the content so there are pieces to read, videos to watch, audio and discussions to join in with which all create a very rich environment in which to learn the topic. I really enjoyed doing this one and would definitely recommend it as a good introduction.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Visit to Hayes Fairy and Dragon World

Hooray the schools have gone back after Easter so we can start venturing out again. Honestly when you get so used to the quiet of venues during term time it's like some form of torture having to visit during the holidays.

Now the schools are back we excitedly booked in for the Fairy and Dragon World at Hayes garden centre in Ambleside. Having visited the last two events they have put on (fairy and Santa) we were pretty excited to see this one and expectations were high. The verdict? I have to say I think this one was their best yet.

JJ the knight and Miss L the unicorn
For those not in the know a small part of the centre is transformed into a sensory, twinkling wonderland that awakens the wonder in every young child and even the parents! 
Think lots of twinkling fairy lights, atmospheric fog, sensual sounds and running water not to mention so many things to see that it's guaranteed you'll probably miss a load of it!

The little ones get to choose this year whether they are a dragon slaying knight or a unicorn and they select the appropriate head wear (Miss L was less enthusiastic about wearing her horn but JJ loved his helmet).

Then you enter and the fun begins, Expect 30mins of ooohing and ahhhing and getting way too excited over fairy ornaments than you ever thought possible!

One of the clues
A mini activity

I don't want to give too much away for those intending on visiting as half the fun is in the unexpected, but honestly my photos don't even begin to do it justice and I won't let on too much as to the content of crafts, goodies and the trail etc.....
Fairy flower trees, pretty in pink
Watch out it's a dragon!
One thing that really stands out so far is the thought that has clearly gone into this year on year and this year's has definitely been my favourite so far; the format of arriving at your time slot and wandering through at your own pace made it feel more relaxed and the meandering path was perfect for our little ones.

A little quiz and trail help keep the amusement going, I think all kids love a good spot the XXX (insert anything really) and the mini craft makes at the end were a lovely addition.

Unicorn horn hoopla

We felt that it's great value for money too as not only do you get entry, plus crafts, plus the experience but you also get a little lunch box full of lovely nibbles, a mini prize for completing a task and a goodie bag which the kids loved, all for a mere £10 per child (adults £2 each). For the effort that's gone into it and all the little surprises it leaves the feeling that it's a reasonable price tag.

Needless to say we also came away with a, very well priced, professional photo on a magnet, really who can resist??

Suffice to say it was a great afternoon out and we'll be hugely looking forward to whatever they come up with next. JJ has already been asking to go back so it just shows how well it's captured the kids' imagination!

If you're close by or on a visit to the Lakes, book in and visit I don't think you'll be disappointed!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Making The Best Of A Bad Day

We set off Good Friday, some might say rather optimistically, to head to a friends near Cheshire way. A stint down the M6 and M56 is not pleasurable any day of the week but on a packed Easter weekend it added another dimension of hell. Particularly seeing the queues we'd have to face getting back home again, clearly everyone was heading to the Lakes! 

Long story short a 90min journey turned into a 140min journey and when still about an hour away from our destination with 2 hungry kids, excited dogs and a potential car sickness inducing road ahead we were forced to stop and rethink. 
Plans duly postponed for another less agonising day we opted for a pub lunch which was refreshingly tasty and then stumbled on nearby Apple Jacks Adventure Farm.


Here's where the day of driving up and down a motorway was saved!!
What a gem of a place.

Miss L Excited by the Zip Line (Age 6+ though sadly for her)

It's an outdoor adventure delight for bored, energetic kids and their M6 jaded parents.
JJ's entrance was free, Miss L a concession and £8 for adults so it's not pocket draining. We had a dilemma as no dogs allowed so my husband volunteered (gallantly) to stay in the car and give the dogs a walk, (returned later to find him asleep hmmmm!) 

Once the kidders and I headed in it was remarkably quiet but then given the crappy weather it wasn't a surprise really. It's a huge place and the first thing to keep the little ones amused was the large play area (naturally). It's a lovely space where you can easily sit in the centre and allow them to run riot from one 'section' to another.

Map, it's huge!!

Miss L loved the huge inflatable slide, JJ loved the climbing frame, I loved the fence maze and they both loved the giant bouncy pillow (as it happens it's exactly as it sounds!). 

Running through the fence maze - it was harder than it looked!

One thing I really noticed and couldn't fault was the energy from all the staff, who all seemed to be teenagers, I don't think I spotted one adult! They were friendly, chatty, helpful and really engaged with the kids, especially in the mini show, with hardly any audience, yet the girls still gave it their all which was lovely to see. Teens don't always get a good rap these days but the park should be proud of their guys they really did it proud.

All in all it certainly turned around what started out as a flop of a day and pleasantly passed a few hours despite impending drizzle.

So if you live nearby, are passing or don't mind a long drive to it I'd certainly recommend trying it out, your kids will love you for it I'm sure.

You'll be glad to know we made it home relatively unscathed, all the earlier traffic buildup no doubt now stuck on some winding Windermere road instead, it's times like these where I'm glad Morecambe isn't a hub of tourist activity!

Main morals of this story; visit Apple Jacks, never venture out of the house at Easter, particularly Good Friday.

In fact just don't use the M6 full stop......

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reflections On My Own Education & How My Careers Advice was Crap!

Recently I spent a portion of the day poring over my old high school reports and after digesting 6 years of education condensed into a neat paragraph per subject I feel like I've gleaned a few interesting things from them. It's funny that, when read individually each year, these things just weren't noticeable at all but when read back to back certain patterns emerge, in fact you could say they are almost glaringly obvious now.

For starters, consistently across the 6 years these phrases crept up again and again:

Love the Artwork?? 

I was frequently praised for my "good attitude", being hardworking, organised and pleasant, all positive so far, yet there were always undertones of not doing as well as expected particularly in exams, I was criticised for being too quiet in class and I apparently had trouble applying concepts to topics (no change there then).

interestingly though the overall focus on every report was how I wasn't living up to expectations in my exams and needed to study more/revise better/do more practice on old exam papers etc etc.

Surely in those 6 years someone must have thought 'this kid just aint good at exams'???

There's a little part of me that feels sad for my younger self, going through school thinking I was crap academically, never quite good enough. Yet now re-reading these I've found little glimmers of hope, the true me, my actual strengths. Honestly all this information would have been much more useful when I was 20 but who re-reads their school reports really?

It's certainly made me question the guidance that young people get in schools. As part of careers we were given a large book full of jobs and their descriptions to look through and that was about it (although maybe things have changed now?). No dedicated teacher chatting to other teachers finding out what you're good at, where your strengths lie etc, and what a huge shame that is. Imagine a school where they actually put resources into actively pinpointing your interests with you, finding your 'element' as Ken Robinson would put it, I certainly could have benefited from that I'm sure.

For example, it turns out my best marks and comments were in design and technology something I just never realised I was particularly good at, having that pointed out to me may have resulted in a complete change in direction.

The other thing that I noticed was how I gelled with a teacher was so important to how well I did in a subject. I was unfortunate enough to have been stuck with a particular teacher I just couldn't settle with for a few years in a couple of subjects, once that teacher changed wow, things improved majorly.

Grab a brew and your old reports and get reading!
I have over the year had a good few wobbles in my decision to home ed, reading these however has certainly helped me realise more reasons why I want to continue as long as I can.
If I can help guide my children from a better position in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, if I can more fluidly nurture their true passions and exclude things they really have no interest in then maybe they can forge a successful and, more importantly, happy career ahead of them. It's hard for a parent to really know these kinds of details if they are relying on a busy teacher who has multiple kids to monitor and it's no surprise really that the kinds of career advice I got was what it was, I understand the limitations of school funding and time, and feel for overworked teachers, yet if they could put as much effort into guiding young people rather than having to constantly focus on grades, grades, grades then maybe we'd have a happier, more satisfied and successful workforce today?

So when you get a spare few minutes on a sunny Sunday afternoon, grab a coffee, biscuit and all your reports and honestly try reading through them. See what patterns emerge for you and if there are any surprises, and then if you have older kids make them read theirs!!!

I'd love to hear if other people find it useful and discover things about themselves they never realised. It's sad really that it's taken me all these years to realise I had clues to some real passions all those years ago and yet never quite fitted the pieces together....

Monday, March 27, 2017

Illuminasia - Bright Lights Fantasy Lands

We recently found ourselves bored on yet another rainy day and so headed out to an exhibition we'd spotted on at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool called Illuminasia.

Huge Chinese lanterns transformed the vast space into dazzling scenes spread out over themed rooms, including a nod to 'Honey I Shrunk The Kid' (remember that film?), a Chinese garden, an underwater world and a wonders of the world collection.

Miss L and JJ loved running from room to room and spotting the large gold coins we had to find for the special coin trail (you get a prize at the end if you spot them all) and I enjoyed the scratch card quiz for which I earned myself a certificate! (A proud moment!).

Stairway to another world
It's the perfect rainy day activity, the kids can have a good explore, burn some energy and it's interesting enough for us adults.

The bonus? It's not another bloody soft play area that's simultaneously guaranteed to give energy busting peace for an hour as well as a dose of some viral disease! Sorry I have a love hate relationship with soft play, phew glad that's out in the open.

Knowing that a small team have travelled to create these masterpieces including hand making the fabric covers and hand painting the effects makes you really appreciate the effort that has gone into the creation of this exhibition, and although that notion is wasted on the kids it made me want to just sit and absorb the atmosphere for a bit longer.

Surreal giant's garden complete with dog, bird and insects!

They were in the middle of putting up a dinosaur room when we visited so it's a great reason to head back there on an, inevitably, crap day (probably somewhere around August time).
It's also a great starting point to get the kids asking questions around arts, environments and culture, if they stand still long enough that is.....

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hooray - Learning Really Does Happen Everywhere (i.e. my kids do sometimes listen to me!)

One thing you hear a lot when starting out with home ed is that kids will learn anywhere, especially if they're interested. It's a theory that's really difficult as a parent to put your full trust in, especially having been through the school system where you're told that learning only happens in a classroom with a teacher.

So I was pretty thrilled this morning when Miss L came bounding up the stairs with this picture she'd drawn (a regular occurrence in this household, she loves drawing).

This is her masterpiece of the morning

To explain, the main picture is of a bean plant growing and the orange bit is it being watered.
The icons across the top are everything that "a plant needs to grow" (her words not mine!). These include dirt, seeds, sun, water, the shoot and the final plant.

To add some context, a few weeks ago we started a Spring board (more on our boards in another post!) and Miss L expressed an interest in growing something, so after some rooting around we found some random beans and planted those. We had a natter at the time about plant cycles and what a plant needs and in true 5 year old fashion it looked as though not a lot of what I said had really gone in. 

Our wild random bean growing experiment

Yet here is the living proof, tah-dah, that some things clearly stick. It's actually a pattern I've started to notice emerging. We'll visit somewhere, chat about something or do some kind of activity where the attention at the time seems non existent, then somehow 1-2 weeks later (sometimes longer) they'll suddenly utter some pearl of wisdom gleaned from earlier activities and I'll be surprised at how much they were actually paying attention to (also sometimes not, honestly there are times it's like I'm talking to a brick wall!).

I think it just goes to show that placing a bit of faith in a child's desire and ability to learn and that their natural curiosity will shine through isn't a bad thing and that they will pick things up, despite how it may look at the time!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Who Doesn't Love Lazy Mornings?

Who doesn't love a nice chilled morning?

No frantic school runs for us, the kids full of colds (again!), the rain trickling outside and after a busy week today is going to be a nice quiet day.

So what better way to start it than a yummy toast breakfast sat in front of a live Crufts feed?
We're thoroughly enjoying watching the agility heats, the kids are seeing how it should be done at a highly competitive level and I'm trying to (unsuccessfully) get Bow to watch and learn - soak it up pup,soak it up...

As you can see the toast is far more interesting than the agility dogs...

Our recipe for days like these goes a little something like this:

  • Long pick 'n' mix breakfast
  • Film cosied up in the lounge under throws, possibly with popcorn
  • Baking (anything)
  • Tonnes of Lego building
  • Copious amounts of book reading

This is how Bow 'chills' in front of a film...

You've got to love days like these right?!