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The earth in our back garden is full of treasure and I am like a beady eyed magpie forking through the soil looking for the next brightly patterned piece, another curious shape painted an old fashioned delicate hue.

It all started three years ago, on a family holiday at the Cornish coast, poring over shingle beaches, close to the water’s edge where the tide had lethargically been ebbing out. Here, our treasures are sea glass, polished smooth, semi translucent pebbles just right for holding in the palm of a little hand and turning over and over. If we are really lucky, a bottle blue or mermaid green piece – a prize longed for by our little people especially when a sibling manages to find one and squirrels it quickly away. We fill our buckets and label each one, bringing them home to create pictures. And we are hooked on treasure, me and my little magpies.

This spring, in the new house, we spend hours digging, moving plants and unearthing bulbs. The ground is an unexpected trove of treasure. I dig deep, forking the earth over and over in readiness for raised vegetable beds and my little helpers are keen to spot the treasure every time mamma turns over another forkful of soil.

The girls love the shiny pieces. They wash and polish them in buckets in the mud kitchen.

sun-56239_960_720The little fella is fascinated with their shapes and asks me if I think the pieces will tessellate. I stop digging and we sit on the edge of one of the  sleepers to look through his treasure. I tell him that they can also be called pottery and I share with him my own story of growing up in a pottery town, watching the delicate pieces being painted by hand. He loves his new word and lets it play on his lips over and over while he fingers the muddied pieces. I ask him where he thinks all the pieces came from and I expect a story in return of pirates and treasure like some of his story books. But the one he tells me is an imaginative tale of the old lady who previously owned the house and her precious tea pot that got broken, sending the pieces flying into the garden to be lost forever. He describes to me how she searched for the pieces but to no avail and he promises to dig for forever and a day to rediscover all of the missing pieces so that she will be sad no more.

It is a strange glimpse into the lives of two or three generations past, imagining families eating from the willow-patterned pieces which we unearth. The kilner jar on the kitchen window sill fascinates our visitors, full of an eclectic mix of pottery shards with vivacious colours and teraccota hues. It is a funny thing to get excited about, yet the history behind them sparks the imagination and there is something quite romantic about it all.

I think there is just that little bit of magpie in us all.

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The Mud Kitchen

mud kitchen

In the Spring, when we move into the house, we take down the six foot fence which runs bizarrely though the middle of a flower bed and extends nearly half way down the garden. Daylight floods the garden and we find another two or three feet of land which is also ours, plus a hedge struggling to survive in the gloom. I cut back the hedge and save all the beautifully straight lengths of wood. I pack them tightly all together, tall and strong, in endless odd buckets rowed up along the patio. The children ask me what they are all for. I tell them I have a plan.

We find a long established and sturdy bay tree in amongst many other shrubs at one end of the old fence, near to the house. I shape and cut away all the under branches and make a space, a cosy hidey hole, a den, just big enough for my little people to get into. This space is part of my plan.

We are out the back playing, when my friend calls to say he is at a local wood store and there are pallets going for free if we would like some? He thinks he can fit two into the back of his car for us and drop them round. I am so excited. I have been trying to lay my hands on a couple of pallets for a while now. I have plans for them too.

The pallets arrive and they are so pretty, perfectly matching, easy to line up and nail together one on top of the other. I ask the little fella if he would like to have an insect house in his under the bay tree den? He and the girls spend hours bundling up the long, straight sticks, gathering just the right pine cones from my collection and stuffing each of the little sections of the pallet with extra things they scavenge from the garden. Our insect house is looking packed full and just ready for a whole army of little creatures to move into our under-the-bay-tree shady spot. Continue reading The Mud Kitchen

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Food Growing For Plant Killers

I love to grow food. There’s something amazing about creating a dish around food that has grown through your attention. I love to garden.

But as much as I love to garden and grow my own food, I am very sporadic about it, to say the least. As with my many passions in life, I go through cycles of things, and gardening is one of them. I’ll have a week where I’m set on attacking a part of my yard, and do so with great conviction… But the next week, I’m into crochet or drawing or golf. I don’t easily stick to things. And with my busy mind, I’ve murdered more than one plant.

If you’re like me and plants shun your existence, how do you grow food that will actually end up on your plate? Continue reading Food Growing For Plant Killers

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Nature Inspired Art & Craft Celebrations

Nature Inspired Art & Craft Parties (The Mother Magazine)Birthdays in our house are always a time of huge excitement and I usually start the planning stage just as the guests from the previous sibling’s birthday party are making their way home.

With four little ones to celebrate for, we are always rather grateful that their birthdays each fall three months from the previous and within a different season of the year. Our love of home-made parties stemmed from needing to squeeze guests into a small two up two down cottage early on in our parenting journey.

However, as our family grew, it developed into needing to watch the pennies, as well as a growing awareness of the environment and wanting each member of the family, down to the littlest in a baby sling, to be at the celebration too.

Nature inspired art and craft parties at home have become a bit of a tradition with our children.

Nature Inspired Art & Craft Parties (The Mother Magazine)

It all starts with excited family discussions, copious lists of which natural and recycled materials the children would like to collect, how this might fit into a theme, and what they could shape, fashion and create out of the materials we will have collected.

A few crazy months of saving everything and anything recyclable and reusable then ensues, coupled with scavenger hunts to local woods and parks to collect pine cones, twigs, sticks and such like.

The night before usually sees me organising our collections into the largest recycled containers I can find, alongside some old art and craft staple supplies – twine, scissors, glue and pens. On the day, the children are always really keen to get on and make, explore and chat.

At some point we break for something to eat, then they continue, eager to finish their creations and be able to take them home to display. As they leave, imploring mum or dad to please carry their pine cone hedgehog carefully so that it can be displayed at home, no one even notices the lack of customary party bags or sugary treats.

We have many family favourites, chosen time and again.

Salt dough is amazingly easy to make and lends itself to so many creations as it can be manipulated and shaped by the children, left to dry on a warm windowsill or baked in a low oven. We especially love salt dough woodland sprite faces or salt dough mice, complete with twigs, sticks and stones to show facial expressions or to make ears, eyes, nose and tail.

We have experimented with small rounds of rolled out salt dough, stamping them before air drying to create pendants or decorative embellishments for the fronts of cards.

Another favourite is collecting twigs of similar length and tying the corners together to create a frame which can then be decorated or ‘hung’ with leaves, sprigs of flowers, pine cones, feathers and conkers. These look especially beautiful hung by themselves inside or out, with a small piece of twine or coloured raffia and they also make gorgeous gifts.

We love planting too. Whether it be seeds or bulbs, the sense of anticipation in taking home a small pot adorned with a personalised twiggy plant label is just too exciting and the children all love to keep you up to date with how their project is coming along!

I love being a presence at these parties, where the children’s creative language comes to the fore intent on describing to each other what their creations are all about. Not only does creating with nature intensify their descriptive language and observational skills, but also draws out in the children a sense of collaboration and sharing, helping each other to shape a piece of salt dough or cut the twine to the right length.

There is a sense of calm and an opportunity to ground themselves, talk, share ideas and relax. A sense of peace and of being at one with the world.

This year sees a change for us as our eldest daughter moves onto secondary school and birthday celebrations are already feeling as if they will need to take on a different feel.

We are up for the challenge though. Watch this space!

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