The subtle art of being skint

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How to live life on the edge of your pants when you don’t have shed loads of money to throw at fancy trips.

Becoming a parent is absolutely humbling. That, and just about the most challenging thing any of us would ever have to contend with. Just imagine someone gave you a precious sports car and told you to drive it through the Namibian dessert at night. Not only that, you don’t get a map, you have never had a single driving lesson and you actually have gone temporarily mad due to 3 years of sleep deprivation and worry about said trip. Your body will feel like it has been battered with a hammer during said torture and you have forgotten what a hot meal is. It’s a winning combination for success. If we approached the work place with such a lack of preparation, it would be insane, but instead you have to study for years, get some experience, have a mentor check on you and a bi-annual review.

My children are constantly re-educating me on how to be a human. Hedonism is something which is slowly drilled out of us as we get older. My quest this year to complete 52 micro adventures has led me into all kinds of new and terrifying experiences. We also stop taking risks and I think as we do so, we progressively stop believing in ourselves. The biggest asset my new year’s resolution has given me is a massive confidence and happiness boost.

I am currently at adventure #41: Go on a cray fish hunt.

Here are some of our best family Micro adventures (with minimal cost)

#1 Go fossil hunting. My kids genuinely thought they had found a fossilised dinosaur poo. They were thrilled.

#2 Make art on a beach with found items. It never ceases to amaze me how children can only concentrate for 10 minutes in a classroom but hours on a beach.

#3 Breakfast picnic. Our favourite is to go to a bakery early (one of our kids wakes at 4am) and sit in the park on a sunny morning in complete solitude apart from us four, the birds and the flowers swaying in the breeze.

#4 Climb a mountain (or big hill). You may have to invent a creative game to entice them up, but the views are humbling to all. Seeing places you recognise gives you a humbling reminder of perspective in life.

#5 Go on a fungus hunt in a forest. My kids get points for each different type and bonus points for especially ugly, colourful or massive ones. It is amazing how attentive they are. They nearly always triple my score.

#6 Tell a shared story around a fire. Anyone can make a fire and we could all make up a tale, but google has replaced creativity and experimentation. Sometimes I long to not know the answer to a question, to ponder and consider. Some of the times my kids have absolutely laughed the hardest is about one of my ridiculous stories.

#7 Make dinner together. We have arrived at a really strange state of cultural climate where it can feel like our offspring are small princes with which we constantly serve. Kids these days don’t seem to do chores, partly because the likes of dishwashers, washing machines etc have made life easier, but I am constantly astounded at how the art of cooking, a basic human need, is one which we leave too late to teach. Kids bloody love cooking!

#8 Collect forest treasures. The world is full of wonder and awe when you are 5. I have rediscovered my inner child by finding pleasure in examining acorns, looking for four leafed clovers and singing Victorian songs long forgotten about nature.

#9 Draw an observational sketch of a found object. There is a great deal to be gained from slowing life down and disconnecting from screens. Children’s vocabulary is suffering in this digital age. The sheer act of using language to do art together is deeply wonderful. They will disclose all kinds of weird and wonderful thoughts about the universe.

#10 Watch clouds. Do you remember that? Being bored as a child and finding the mundane fabulous. Nebulous thoughts are so relaxing. Sharing this moment with your children is an act of bonding.

So let’s try to stop distracting our kids so we can “Get on with stuff” and realise that perhaps it is the stuff, which is distracting us from our kids. Because they are the most precious and important thing we have in our lives. Everything else is just glorified dust.

Fire up your soul

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The lost art of fire building

One of the very things that makes us uniquely human, is our ability to make fire, and yet we so rarely use it these days.

I don’t know anyone who says “I hate fire”. There is something primeval and spiritual about sitting around one, whether it is in a home, while out camping or one a beach. It brings people together and opens up conversation. Or it allows people to sit together silently watching the flames flicker. Not that long ago in history, it was the only way to cook, heat water and warm your home. Everyone was taught from a young age how to light one. Now it is a lost art which you can pay a lot of money to learn on a bush craft course.

Fire pit bread

I recently took my two boys to a “Story telling in the woods” holiday session. At the end of the walk and story telling, a fire was lit and the children all made stick bread. It probably cost pennies, but they went crazy for it. Even if it was too doughy or singed and crusty, it tasted of success. Everything tastes better from the fire. There was no shoving or arguing. They helped each other. There was something beautiful about it.

On holiday recently, I spoke about how we made a fire on the beach and cooked scallops, venison sausages and sardine fillets. I was worried beforehand that I did not how to do it. Which way do you put the sausage on a stick? How do you know when the fish is cooked? Am I going to poison everyone with the shellfish? Turned out, we all got involved and did what people have done for thousands of years, we put it on, if it wasn’t working, we changed the plan. We used intelligence and problem solving, we had to be resourceful with what was around. Are we gong to set fire to our sticks, who knows? I know, lets soak them in sea water first! The boys loved this improvised group learning. The reward….an absolute feast, washed down with a mini bottle of prosecco.

We wandered home with salty lips and smoky hair and slept like babies, dreaming of adventure.

At my forest school training last week, we cooked every day on the fire. Everyone got involved and helped in some way. The food was delicious and each person contribute a different food item. Traditionally, I am sure this was how we were meant to cook and eat. The conversations around the fire varied hugely each day, but they were all punctuated with laughter and camaraderie.

I now wonder if this missing piece is contributing to rising mental health problems? You just don’t get a sense of achievement from the ping of a microwave. You don’t squeal with delight when the gas hob lights. No one feels they have earnt the central heating warmth, like you do when you have walked through a forest gathering kindling. These small achievements lead to a shared group/ family experience which leaves us all with a warm glow on the inside too.

The Devil and the Angel

Two contrasting micro adventures

Bristol botanical gardens

Adventure #29 was to go to a place which I had thought a million times “I should go there.” And just never got round to it. I have lived in the city for 16 years and never stepped inside the botanical gardens.

It was an absolutely glorious day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the trees were dancing. The spring blooms were beautiful and exotic. I felt such great, deep joy sitting by the lake I wanted to buy an annual ticket. It was a small oasis of tranquility in a city full of chaos.

Dappled sunlight

Aside from learning a lot about pollination and about medicinal purposes of plants in the Chinese herbal garden, I just loved the tiny naked cherub statue I sat next to as I had a cup of tea.

If the lord himself has wanted to send an angel down to England, it felt like a fitting location.

The devils pulpit

Today I went for a ‘soft’ interview. After wrecklessly giving in my notice in April, I needed to start to find some way to earn money. If I could do something in the great outdoors, I would be in heaven.

Afterwards, I took the opportunity to stroll a length of Offer’s Dyke to the Devil’s pulpit. It was said that this magnificent outlook was used for the Devil to preach to the monks below in Tintern Abbey. The Forest of Dean looked spectacular with its great undulating forest slopes and the winding river running through it.

As I sat there quietly contemplating a new career, I just marvelled at the beauty of nature. I have spent the last 20 years studying and teaching design only to realise the greatest architecture is growing all around us.

Wild flower

The art of hedonism

The world has a song and no one hears it

Dave Jones
The beauty of simple things

I managed to squeeze in two micro adventures this weekend. #27 was a family walk round Warmley forest park. I have lived in this city for 16 years and I had no idea of its existence. It is not the most striking of beautiful places, but what amazed me was how much public space there was. We hardly saw anyone. People seem to prefer malls and fast food and being glued to their phones.

I have recently met some incredible women as part of a new group. I was chatting to one husband while out for a drink. We tried to bring him into conversation as he was the only guy, the rest of us having failed to bring our partners and all us women are pretty big personalities. “What do you do?” Is a question social norms tell us to ask. “I am a farmer.” He replied. “He absolutely loves it!” Said his wife. “I love every day.” He said. And he had a wonderful poetic soul and spoke of his connection to nature and meaningful work.

Most of us start our working lives following rules which tell us we should strive to join a “profession”. If we do this we will earn lots of money, buy a nice house, get a flash car and then we will be happy. Career advice at school fails (like so many things in school) to ask us the most important question “what do you enjoy?” If the starting point for decision making is based on money, it will almost certainly end with pain. If the starting point is happiness, the rest will probably follow.

I text a friend about a year ago. “How are you all?” Her reply has been indelibly marked on my grey matter “We are poor, but happy.” For a while I had visited this friend while her partner was working. I would cycle over and have cheese and wine and we would analyse life and motherhood. As I would go to leave, I had to unlock my bike and happen upon a scene of the two adults through the window who showed each other pure love. They looked so happy.

You never stop learning nor growing

Sy

Adventure #28 was an adventure with the little one and I. He had been feeling jealous that the big one was having a Granddad day. So we bunged our bikes in the van and went off to Colliere’s way cycle path. I had been along it when Z was about 2 but not since then. He sung and weaved around in the dappled sunlight. It cost us nothing and he was happy as it encompasses two really great play parks.

A cycle through the mendips

I accidentally took us on a 10 mile trip. By the end we were both really tired. But it cost us nothing apart from the ice cream we chose to buy.

Three books changed my life. One of them is called ‘lost connections’ by Johan Hari. He talks about uncovering the real causes of depression and cause six is “Disconnection from the natural world.” The wonderful thing about this book is that you realise by the end that there is no barrier to you really feeling better. The resources are right in front of you and at your disposal.

It was while on this micro adventure that I devised a new idea for a business. Could I build a new carrier path based on what makes me happy? I knew it would not pay as much as teaching but imagine waking up every day excited! Most of us spend 50 weeks of the year being miserable in order to be happy on a two week holiday. What if we, like the lovely farmer, could flip that idea on its head?