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Bombaround

Bombaround, unschooling, writing

Family travel | Chiang Mai, Thailand (ARGH! ELEPHANTS!)

30 June, 2015

The baby elephant swung its thick grey trunk over to Ramona, moving his snout across her body while she ripped the sheath from a corn cob. Before she could hand the sweet corn over, another trunk, this one about 8 times the size, reached over her shoulder and pinched it. Grandad elephant, with his big gnarly tusks, doesn’t get the snacks after the whipper snapper, thanks very much.

It was magical, getting up close and personal with these jungle beasts. There was a crowd of them right next door to where we were staying, a motel at the foot of the mountains outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

We’d wake up to the sound of them trumpeting to each other as their mahouts got ready for the day ahead. We followed them on a little trek, Juno shouting POO! POO! most of the way because, turns out, the jungle is where they do most of their biz. We were even there for the precious moment when the baby elephant did a sneeze and farted at the same time – such a classic. We were all completely delighted!

As we spent more time there, we watched them carry tourists around the jungle, splash in the river on command and pose for a photo.

And we were left pretty saddened by it.

It wasn’t really at all what the website portrayed it to be with it’s “Keeping Elephants Alive” slogan…. Keeping them alive, sure, but shackled and controlled.

It is incredible standing next to one of these magnificent creatures, but you also feel like you’re not really meant to. They are meant to be crashing around a dense jungle, stampeding together, getting furiously protective of their babies, not chained too many metres away to even stroke them with their snout.

We still enjoyed our time in the foothills of the Chiang Mai mountains- we visited a waterfall and ate our weight in tropical fruits. But it was with relief that we got in to the city, where we didn’t feel accused by the neighbouring elephant’s eyeballs.Family travel in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai turned out to be incredible! Totally wasn’t expecting to fall so in love with it. We were surprised (and gladdened to our CORE) to find tasty flat whites amongst the street food stalls. We stuffed our faces with every kind of noodle and curry. We sat in little shacks filled wall to wall with enormous cuddly toys. (Yeah, it was weird, in a way only a city full of hipster designers can be!)

And then we came across Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai’s only true elephant sanctuary. We were finally able to visit a herd of elephants with good consciense! (We had good conscience, I can’t tell you about the elephants – cheeky, a few of them were, I suspect.) The Thai woman who began this elephant sanctuary actually has royal protection as she has received so many death threats for being so determined to rescue Thailand’s elephants from illegal logging, and an often undignified and cruel tourism trade. Here is a video I made all about this part of our trip:

There are over 40 elephants spread around 300 acres, and they aim to try and rehabilitate some into the jungle where possible. There is no riding, no shows, humans are the ones that have to step back when an elephant goes where it wants to go – it was perfect and totally soul-lifting. family travel thailand - elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai

We only had 8 days in Thailand so tried to tick off a few Must Dos – i.e a massage. Mine was done by a blind man, a member of the Association for Blind Massage, a Chiang Mai social enterprise. It was completely brutal. Sheesh. I almost cried – except that I didn’t want the big Thai lady getting a massage next to me, who did huge, smelly burps every time her masseuse rubbed her back, to think I was a wuss. But I did feel about an inch taller afterwards. Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand - elephants and pad thai

Less of a typical “Thailand Must Do”, but a major “Our Family Must Do” was a visit to the local Chiang Mai flea markets. Unexpectedly enormous and filled with old delights, the Prince Royal College secondhand markets were full of proper Asian antiques, and – the stuff I love- a load of manky household crap. BRILLIANT. I bought, get this, a big Pestle and Mortar. Hahahahaha. It weighs 8 kilos. Exactly what we need in our suitcase at the start of a 3 months travelling adventure. I was like; BAG IT MY FRIEND!

We spent our first few days feeling sad about chained up elephants and also being extremely jetlagged and basically all really mad with each other. But by the end of our time there we were just floating on a massive Pad Thai buzz. Happy that we had spent our baht on some good, ethical stuff.Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand

What is the trick to finding good ethical tourism? I don’t have lots of great answers. This week showed us just how entangled the industry is with untruth and propaganda. Research as much as possible online (we didn’t touch the local tiger place as I’d read about some awfully cruel practices there), talk to lots of people on the ground, make one or two choices to support local social enterprise. But mostly, realise that travelling is less about ticking off all the “Things To Do” and more about being in a place, eating the food and talking with people. That is where the real experience is to be had. I reckon.

Like, if we’d filled up our days with all the suggestions of visiting exotic, caged creatures, how would we have found ourselves perched at the foot of a two storey marble cat with a moustache and a handbag, drinking the yummiest mango smoothies ever?

Bombaround, unschooling, yurt life

Heart-thumpingly, fringe-snippingly exciting

23 June, 2015

We are off! We have 15 minutes to go; Tim is making last minute coffees, the girls are bouncing around in the corner simultaneously wrestling and playing Mummies and Daddies (this involves Ramona giving birth to Juno over and over again) and I am doing a sneaky little blog. These sum up our priorities EXACTLY.

We are facing down a 12 hour flight to Thailand, the start of a three month trip that involves frolicking with elephants in Chiang Mai, touring about the UK with our friends and family and then a whizz through San Fran. HOORAY!

We have packed down our little yurt and said cheerio to all our beautiful friends in the Coromandel, for when we get back to New Zealand in September we are going to be moving onto our new land! ARGH!

*reins in the exclamation marks*

I am generally excited about everything right now, this is obvious in how short my fringe is getting- I’ve come to understand that when I am buzzing out a little I tend to gravitate to the mirror and cut my hair.

Here are somethings I am weeing my pants about:

Happy Hair Workshops in Bristol and London
THESE ARE HAPPENING! SO cool! They are open events, everyone is invited, I will be talking through the world of giving up shampoo and toxins and covering other Hippyshake kind of stuff. I did the last New Zealand one of these a few weeks ago, 75 people came and we had an absolute BLAST. So much fun. Please do come! Find the Bristol event here and the London event here.  

 Camp Bestival
One of the funnest weekend in our family’s life was when we took Juno and Ramona to Camp Bestival just before taking off around Europe in our campervan. There is incredible music, stack loads of creativity, an enormous arts and crafts tent; just this weird little universe of families all letting loose together.  I saw a sign there that year, scrawled by a mum, “Families who festival together stay together” – it makes up in truth what it lacks in rhyme.

Partying in the meadows of a castle, with the tunes of musical legends beating down around you, while the children are being entertained by a Picasso inspired style Puppet Show. Nothing beats it. Let me know if you are going so we can hang out…

Annie here has the full download- everything you need to know and here is the Camp Bestival site itself.cb

Staying in super spesh places
We have booked loads of our accommodation through Air BNB for the first time ever. It has been really cool being able to tailor make our wants/ needs and then hit search and discover loads of unique places to stay. In Thailand we are staying at someone’s apartment in Bangkok, next door to an Elephant sanctuary in Mae Wang amongst other places. (It’s possible- but I’m not entirely sure- that if you sign up using this link that I get points… try it and see, it will be like giving me a virtual high five…)

It sort of feels like for the next three months we are going to join that tribe of digital nomads, families blowing on the breeze, lives made possible by the Internet.

Here is a little conversation I had with Juno this morning:

Last, but not least (cos GOSH that would be offensive!) SEEING OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY!
About 7 million of my friends have had babies while we have been away, so of course, I CAN NOT WAIT to meet these new souls. And my nephews and niece have grown up into giants so I need to do some serious playing of Hide and Seek and Ninja Mermaids and stuff with them. I get the tingles when I think about crunching all these people I love up!

HOORAY! Right, Tim has turned the car around, we are really, really DOING THIS… think I still have time for one more snip of the fringe though…

Bombaround, writing, yurt life

How to travel around Europe with your family

18 May, 2015

So, you want to travel around Europe with your family? Perhaps in a campervan? Or camping?

Good luck with that!

Hahaha. Oooh, I jest, I jest.

Two years ago we sold our house in London, and most of our possessions. We packed up our troubles in an old kitbag, and hooned off in a cool little VW campervan called Betty, to bury them beneath the sea. (Ideally the Adriatic sea… off the coast of Croatia.) After an agonising wait for our baby’s first passport and other hiccups, we were finally on the road. The woes of being very unorganised people. How we get through every day, let alone go on epic adventures, is QUITE a mystery.

I can hand on heart say that those months travelling around Europe with my husband, a three year old called Ramona and a baby called Juno held some of the most special, universe-exploding-with-joy moments I have ever encountered in my thirty years.Family Travel Camping Europe

(It also induced several poke-my-eyes-out-with-my-toothbrush moments of stress and agony too, but more about that later. Some troubles just won’t be buried.)

Our adventure sent us through France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and Spain…. ending up in a flight to New Zealand to begin a different sort of life as farmers. (Yeah, weird eh. We actually bought a cow yesterday. I don’t so much do the farming as writing about it and eating the food that grows.)

I have been writing this post in my head since the day that trip ended. I wanted to put together something really useful, to help people take this dream of travelling around Europe with their family, and make it a reality. So this is pretty long, and pretty comprehensive. Here are practical tips, links to much more detail, websites we relied on, and our ultimate trip highlights.How to plan a family adventure around europe

So, you want to travel around Europe with your family? This is for you.

Things you will need:

Money.
(yeah, I know. duh.) It says a lot that the cost of our first night camping in our campervan on our Great Journey blew our brains. £25! We tossed and turned all night wondering how one earth we were going to manage £25 everyday for accommodation for 5 months! How little research we did before we left! Laughable really. So, if you are going to camp in campsites, plan in a good wack for accommodation. And have masses of money. For us, we decided to free camp. And that decision led to almost entirely free accommodation for 5 months and lots of adventure.

Time.
We spent our first 3 weeks on a total mish- buzzing from place to place “Having An Adventure, Really, Arent We?!” and almost went insane. Aim to spend lots of time in places, meandering, getting to know little villages and rivers, and it will be a lot more pleasant for all of you! Especially for the children. Family Travel Camping Europe

Loose ethics (1) – wifi at Mcdonalds. We were so surprised that there wasn’t wifi all over Europe. You could get it at £25 a night campsites… but there was none free anywhere else. Apart from Mcdonalds. I had successfully avoided Maccas for two decades before we went to Europe. But when we discovered their free and fast wifi, we were sucked in. With a side order of fries. Once we got to Spain we managed to get our heads around buying a SIM card and having a special short term deal. We genuinely couldn’t work this out in the other places!

Loose ethics (2) – compromising on food ethics/ health. When we are settled we try and eat mostly organic. We found this really hard to do whilst we were travelling. In France they had good, obvious “bio” options, but we struggled to maintain our commitment to that, and also general awesome nutrition, over the five months. It could be done though, with much more effort put in to the food side of things. But we didn’t prioritise it. I do regret this a little, as I think Juno’s dental health was impacted by me mostly eating bread and foraged figs whilst breastfeeding. But I raise it in order to say that there are some things, whilst constantly on the move, that are tricky to work out. And there does need to be a little compromise, I think.

Fearlessness – or exceptional organizational skills. Our courage increased as we went. We became better and better at turning up at place expecting to find somewhere good to sleep. We tried hard to always arrive at a place in the daytime so we could suss everything out well once we were there. Alternatively, you could plan ahead. We are not good planners at the best of times, and when it required so much time in Old Macdonald using up there wifi, we basically stopped planning anything.

An open heart. The absolute best thing about travelling is the random things you end up doing. But you do need to have an open heart for this. I guess if you are planning a trip of this kind, then you have it. Say yes when an old granny offers you some cherries, invite another family on the campsite up to the café for chips, ask locals for the good swimming spots and ALWAYS skinny dip at the Playas Nudista. After taking a punt and asking another family out for dinner they became our fast and firm friends and we met up with them several times over our adventure- we celebrated two birthdays with them.

Suspended hygiene. The truth is, if you are doing a lot of swimming, you don’t need to shower. And if you are free camping, showering and doing laundry and all those things can be a bit tricky. RELISH the freedom of being a bit smelly and read up on all the reasons a bit of bacteria is so good for us. Hehe. Honestly though, we were probably swimming two times a day, for most of the trip. If you are not a big swimming family – you might need to suck it up and stay at camp sites more often. (But do also read this post: Do Children Need a Daily Bath- 8 Reasons To Stop Washing So Much.)

Family Travel Camping EuropeA hobby. Because travelling is best done at a snail’s pace it is really nice to have a little hobby to turn to. Sketching or writing poetry or taking photographs – these can help you see a place through a different lens. And they can pass the hours while your children bury each other endlessly in the sand. I learnt the ukulele while we were travelling around Europe and now I play and sing everyday.

A purpose
Before we left I did a bit of a shout out on my blog, asking for people’s suggestions of where to go. We decided to visit a few projects around the place that people had pointed us towards. Such as the Forest Kindegarten in Germany – read about their knives and stuff, if you like, and the Sunseed Eco Village in Spain (read about the hippy that laid a golden poo there.) We also did as much of the Wild Swimming France book as we could. This just adds a bit of a fun dynamic.

Amazing Insurance/ Breakdown Cover. Because if you have this, you CAN be a little bit fearless. And, you know, you might break down. Really seriously. Twice. *Ahem*Family Travel Camping Europe

Baby Wipes
They can clean ANYTHING! I’m not gonna lie to you, at least 3 times I did a day’s worth of dishes with a few baby wipes.

Audiotapes or mixtapes your friends make you for the journey. We tried to make the journeying quite pleasant, so rarely did more than 100 miles in a day. But you still clock up a lot of time on the road and having stories and new music from our friends was really cool.

Be prepared for:

All the emotions (1) – From your children
For the most part, our children were buzzing out on our own good vibes of freedom and happiness. However, our three year old did express a lot of emotion quite often. Sing goodbye as a ritual (we used to name each of the things we loved in each place, as I strummed away on the Uke) Give lots of time for goodbyes (oh- I have an AMAZING Guide to Helping Children Say Goodbye RIGHT HERE!) Find ways to incorporate your children’s wishes and aims – one of the families we travelled with had a family meeting every morning where everyone said what they wanted to do that day, and everyone’s ideas were respected equally. This could be quite a disempowering time for your little ones, unless you support a better alternative for them.

All the emotions (2) – From you
The highs! The lows! There is something about travelling that rips open your heart. At 4:30pm you’ll be sitting by a river with tears in your eyes because you are JUST SO HAPPY look at our angelic children and my dashing husband we are all perfectly content and we love each other so much! And then, inexplicably at 4:50pm, you’ll be like F*CK THIS SH*T WHAT ARE WE DOING LET’S GO HOME YOU B*STARDS

I think that having a lot of empty time makes you more attuned to your feelings. Emotions that you’ve perhaps tucked away neatly in order to carry out an orderly, systematic breakfast/work/mortgage/ dinner sort of life are suddenly given some space to pop out and yell BOO in your face.

Be prepared for it. And get good at mindfulness. Hehe. True though. We downloaded the app Yoga Studio and it SAVED THE DAY! (Tim and I aren’t naturally yoga-y, although we would like to be, we would rather eat chocolate and read Jack Reacher. But when you have lots of extra time it is quite do-able to fit in some mindfulness practice and did really help us.)

Country Guide
Here is a little whiz around the countries we went to, with particular reference to the camping situ….

France – France introduced us to wildcamping.  Staying by lakes and rivers, also almost every town has a free motorhome car park. We met lots of beautiful people doing this, all very respectful of the spots. France was such a breeze, a really wonderful intro to camping around Europe. In fact, we could easily spend three months in France alone.

Switzerland– the odd bit of free camping and absolute gobsmacking beauty. The stunning buildings and clear lakes and mountains. We fell in love with Bern all over again…. but pushed through quite quickly as everything was so dear and we did feel like we were chancing the free camping a lot. One night we accidentally stayed over in a Graveyard. We arrived in the dark thinking we had found a wonderful peaceful spot and in the morning realised it was a cemetery. OH! We zipped out of their pretty fast. Read more about our campervan bustling around France and Switzerland.

Germany– There was the odd bit of freecamping to be had in Germany, but not in the touristy spots – probably rightly so that the Black Forest should be protected by rangers. We did some cool things here in Germany and it is very easy to travel around with only your one pathetic language under your belt. Bit of a warning though, the German elderly are completely and utterly OBSESSED with your babies being cold. I am talking stopped-in-the-street-on-boiling-hot-days-every-single-day OBSESSED. Be prepared for them waking your baby by squeezing their bare feet and sternly saying KALT!KALT!

Italy – we stayed in campsites in Italy (mostly because we were broken down but also because we heard it was slightly unsafe) And we blew our budget somewhat on the incredible pizzas and pasta – this was absolutely the culinary highlight. It was an absolutely lovely place to be for the children – people literally call across the street “CIAO BELLA!” just to be kind and jolly to the children. If you do Venice- stay at the campsite over the water and get the boat in. Far cheaper and lovely way to do it. Read about how to do Italy and Venice hear. Also, another breakdown story. Eep.Family Travel Camping Europe

Croatia– Be warned, there is NO FREE CAMPING there. As a result of landmines in the past, they are very strict about not wandering/driving off the beaten path. Croatia was surprisingly expensive, not the tuppence-a-day place people remember it as, and there was a sort of tourist-weariness amongst the people there, they are still quite clearly recovering from a very tragic conflict. It still made it into our highlights, though. (Read on.)

Spain – if a lover of France is a Francophille is a lover of Spain a Spancophille? Sounds totally wrong, if you ask me. But I am now one! The freecamping around Spain was PERFECT. A real community. Read all about campervanning around Spain with your family, and a surboad and a caterpillar here.

Handy Websites:
There were two sites that we referred to on a weekly basis.
Wildcamping Forum – this was very important to us – so much good advice for travelling around the Uk and Europe in a campervan. Their Spain Forum was so helpful.

Trip Advisor – we had some lovely house-stays in Spain as a result of Trip Advisor. (Courtesy of our breakdown insurance….) If you stay 3+ nights in a place it can be super cheap. We relied on Trip Advisor a lot for restaurants and hotels and ideas for things to do.Family Travel Camping Europe

Highlights:

The national parks in Croatia were incredible, despite being very touristy. Well worth the visit. And the completely astonishing Croatian shoreline, azure ocean and islands. We didn’t really enjoy the vibe there (got to make your own fun, for the most part) or the food available to buy (don’t hate me, I am just being honest) but we loved foraging walnuts and figs all over the country and we fell head over heels with Dubrovnic and Split. In Love. Wouldn’t have missed them for the world. Read about flea markets in Split here.

Seville in December. What a wonderful place! We loved the cafes, the culture, the street art, the late night churros and hot chocolate, the general vibe. In fact- Spain. It is amazing! We LOVED how much they cherish children there, and how involved in all of life. We adooooooored being out on the town at midnight with all the children having fun!

The Black Forest, Germany. We were fortunate enough to make wonderful new friends in Frieberg and perhaps this tinted our time there. But we loved the wildness of the Black Forest, picking millions of tiny wild blueberries on walks to little lakes and buying smoked fish outside the Cathedral and chasing paper boats along the mini waterways.

Wild Swimming and the Children’s Festival in France. Some of the river swimming in the mountainous areas of France is out of this world. Shockingly cold but, injects YEARS of life into the weary bones of parents! We also went to Le Grand Bornand Bonheur des Mômes festival in the Alps –the biggest kids festival in Europe and what an inspiration! So much fun – an acre of wooden train set to build and a whole pasture filled with massive musical instruments made from random recycled rubbish – La Jardin Musicale.

Frequently asked questions:

How did the kids cope? Generally, I reckon if parents are happy, than kids are happy. We were all carried along in a spirit of nomadic freedom.  We prioritised their needs, planned travelling around sleeps and tried to park in places that they would thrive in. They LOVED having both parents around and the unstructured time.

What about stuff? We took waaaay too much stuff. Could have chucked half of it.  Pack your bags and then take half of it away! We also didn’t plan places for everything. The other family we roadtripped for a while with had a perfect place for everything. Do this, would you? It will help with the madness. 
Family Travel Camping Europe
What about baby paraphernalia? We didn’t have too much. We cosleep, so that was easy, and just had slings. And we are nappy free so Juno didn’t even have stacks of that. At night time she used to wear a Tena, hehehehehe… we rescued a massive stash of unused adult incontinence pads for the trip….

Argh, recalling everything is giving me a fluttering in my chest, and ants in my pants, and a desire to fling my clothes off and pretend my local seaside is a Playas Nudista.

What about your budget? When I say we were thrifty, I mean we were like, super cheapskate. We freecamped. We cooked almost EVERY MEAL apart from birthdays and special occasions with friends. (Well, apart from completely not resisting Italian carbs and Mcdonalds chips. Wifries.) A ferry trip, cover price to the Alhambra, and entry to Croatian national parks were probably the only activities that weren’t free. We chose walking and swimming and dossing over actual activities. We don’t feel we missed out at all- in my opinion theme parks look the same the world over. We lived on less than we lived on whilst in London, and made do on a mixture of savings and a tiny bit of income from my writing. Petrol and groceries were our two big costs.

Embrace the fear, race your kids along the shore, scrabble over the cliff to a waterfall, dig out your inner nomad and have a family adventure that will set your heart aflutter for a lifetime.

PS I hope that was helpful! If you have any other questions, please ask them in the comments and I imagine I will edit the extra questions and answers into this mahoosive post.Family Travel Camping Europe

Bombaround, Parenting

Do you wanna dye the chickens?

2 July, 2014

For several months now our household has been run to the soundtrack of Frozen. Rarely is a question ever simply posed, always it is sung Anna- styles to the tune of Do you Wanna Build A Snowman. (Please tell me we aren’t alone in this?)

Here are some of the things going on in our lives, brought to you through our favoured communication method… We are all especially adept at making any number of words magically, and majestically, fit to the ditty…

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Do you wanna vomit in this bucket?
Last week we travelled for two days to go to the winter NZ unschooling camp at the bottom of the North Island. What an incredible time we had. It really feels like a bit of a tribe. All these families who just love the idea of natural learning and consensual living. Unfortunately a bug swept through the camp and took out 100% of the children. There was spew EVERYWHERE. We were there for two vomit filled days… and then we spent two days travelling home- Juno vomming all the way. It says an awful lot that we still enjoyed ourselves.

Do you wanna pop some tags?
While we were down there we explored the town of Feilding which, I reckon, is THE BEST TOWN FOR POPPING TAGS IN THE WHOLE OF NZ!! We got so many wonderful things for just a few cents. And best of all they had a little homemade map showing where every secondhand shop was – why doesn’t every town have this, eh? Get on it, towns. Ramona has taken to singing Macklemore, but with a funny switch in of words…. she sings “I’m gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my bottom” PAAHAHA. What a comic.

Do you wanna wear your gum boots?
We have had some RAIN over the last few weeks. Real hoofing down, smashing onto the canopy of the yurt rain. Which has meant wellies have become a key fixture in our lives. In NZ welly boots are called gum boots and Juno is OBSESSED with her gum boots. She will happily put them on, take them off, put them on, take them off, put on Ramona’s taken them off, put on mummy’s, take them off, put on daddy’s, fall over and bosh her head, for half an hour.

Do you wanna dye the chickens?
I am a rubbish farmer. We are on such a steep learning curve and there is so much I don’t know about agriculture and this self-sufficent life. I feel like I keep doing ridiculous things. Last week when Ramona and I did the chicken run (each family takes two days a week to milk the cow, feed the hens and collect the eggs etc) I tipped our scraps out just as the chooks ran under the bucket. Within our scraps was a whole load of beetroots entrails that splatted right on the two white hens. They were instantly pink and stayed pink for a WEEK. Rock and Roll hens, eh?

Do you wanna blow your nose?
We all have colds. Snotty, hacking, eyeball aching colds. We are making the most of all the home-grown lemons and ginger and honey from the next door neighbour’s bees but, uggggh, we feel blah. We are having rough nights- Juno can’t breastfeed easily so cries a lot and we are all just tossing and turning. Tim snores when he has a cold and last night I am fairly sure it was his snoring that attracted a possum over – I woke up to hear a possum cackling away RIGHT NEXT TO MY HEAD – only a sheet of canvas between us. Rascal.

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Do you wanna build a house?
Over the last couple of months Tim has been building an extension on to the yurt. He has used recycled walls from other houses, old windows and other bits and bobs and it is all coming together. It is already making winter much, much easier than living in the yurt alone. It also means that we are happy where we are, on the farm, and that we are going to wait until something even better comes along before we move – like an actual, co-owning, intentional community something- or other. And this could be quite a while away. It is so nice to feel content and not in a hurry to get to the next thing. We haven’t had that for a while.

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You see? It doesn’t have to be a snowman…

Okaaay, byyyyyyyyye.

Bombaround, Parenting, Thrifty

Yurt Sweet Yurt – Family Life under Canvas

8 April, 2014

Yurt Sweet Yurt – Family Life under Canvas

Waking up with something crawling on my face has pretty much been a lifelong fear of mine. A fear that was finally realised last Wednesday when a tickling sensation on my cheek pulled me from my dream (my dream was probably about sleep – both my day time and night time reveries are basically about getting more sleep…)

I pulled the tickling thing off my face and flung it on to the floor, I hunkered under the duvet and begged my dream to return quickly, quickly, quickly. But it was too late, I was wide awake and needed to know what the Thing was.  I grabbed the torch and peered under the bed.

I was actually relieved to find an enormous Praying Mantis. Far, far better to have a goggle eyed, try hard stick insect having his devout way with my face than his cruel, shiny black scurrying cousin, the Cockroach.

We have a lot of cockroaches and other members of the insect community in our place. ALOT. There isn’t much you can do when the outside is so inside, y’know? Little cracks where the canvas wall meets the floor and gaping holes in the tree house kitchen. There are some serious blurred lines between our home and nature right now. family living in a yurt

If the rest of it wasn’t so darn perfect it would definitely be too much.

family living in a yurt

But fortunately (unfortunately?) we LOVE living here.

We love the yurt which feels like an almost sacred space with it’s circular fluidity. The few things we lugged over from England just fit in it so ideally. The look is retro-yoga-retreat-chic, yeah.Yurt Life

We actually love having nature all up in our grills. We spend 90% of most days outside, which is what life is meant to be like I think. It is still HOT here so we eat our meals on the deck. Both the girls have swings that fly off the deck too.living in a yurt

We have a sort of kitchen cabin off the deck, and through that an old caravan which has become a bit of a play / craft room. We don’t have a bathroom (we smell more than usual) and have a little walk to the composting loo which takes a bit of getting used to.
living in a yurt

We love living cooperatively with the other two families on the farm. It is making us fairly certain that we want this community life for our family.living in a yurt

We are surrounded by these little native owls called Moreporks and they sing us to sleep cooing “morepork! morepork!” There are plenty of nocturnal possums too but they have an unwelcome, evil witch cackle.family living in a yurt

We love milking the cow (Yep! I am rubbish at it as I have way too much empathy) and collecting the chicken eggs and eating whole meals with 0 food miles. family life yurt

We will have to see how we get on with the winter. It will involve waking in the night to put a log on the pot belly stove and pinning up wooly stuff all over the inside to insulate. It will be cold but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, eh? We will be so jolly hardy by the end of it.family living in a yurt

I just need to be more assertive and get on less intimate terms with the local bugs.

Bombaround

We live in a Mongolian tent now

13 March, 2014

So in a comic turn of events we now live in a yurt. Yep, one of those massive round tents that Mongolians thrash out their harsh lives in (and middle-class Londoners go glamping in. Hehe.) *

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It is so beautiful. This circular canvas space, a rope you pull to reveal a sphere of blue sky in the ceiling, a bare wooden floor and rustic pot belly stove inside. It just makes me want to meditate. (Actually just being a mum makes me want to meditate.) (By “meditate” I mean “sleep loads” yeah.)

It is such an intense glimpse into self-sufficiency it should probably only be described in a Biblical way.

The yurt resideth in the glory of a citrus grove. (Officially they are Ugly Fruit. They taste amazing but they Sho Is U.G.L.Y – Tim picked one tonight that resembled, pretty much EXACTLY, a willy.)

There is a beast of the field; a cow from whom we gather the milk for our cup of tea. And tiny dinosaurs with wings. (Chickens, some people call them, but I know better.)

There is an abundance of vegetables that we yanketh out of the ground and devour for our Daily Bread.

The sun provideth our only energy and forgeteth the internets. (Pfft.)

We must release our bowels into the open pastures (kinda – outdoor compost loo, of which I am a MASSIVE fan.)

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For more about how this came about you really MUST read my article, Barefoot and Happy, for Loved By Parents, whom I write for each month. It covers what on earth we are doing here and how we know Ramona is 100% Kiwi.

I’ve been involved in a couple of other cool projects lately, despite being a bazillion miles away.

New Mama pack is a brilliant, amazing package for a new mum that comes out of a woman’s own experience of feeling quite alone in those early days. Each week something PERFECT will drop into the New Mama’s inbox, be it a song, a video, and article – each item handcrafted by artists and writers and poets. I wrote one about how Parenthood is the real Change The World stuff. Instead of getting friends and family to buy loads of silly stuff for the Baby Shower, people could club together for this and make a beautiful difference in the life of a new mum. You will also see it advertised on the right hand side here, as I am a contributing affiliate so get a proportion of the money when you buy through this link.

Similarly, I am also advertising the Mindful Parenting Package because, Oh, My, Days, it is a true, proper, beautiful BARGAIN. Over 36 e-resources; ebooks, PDFs and audio books worth £500 are being sold for £30. A year’s subscription to Juno Magazine (great name, eh – I have an article in the Spring Issue) plus loads of books on babywearing, yoga, gender neutral parenting, natural birth, the commercialisation of babyhood – it is pretty much the attachment and gentle parents library and it is a mega deal.

(Sorry if this last bit sounded like a sales pitch, I am just WELL excited by those two resources and think they could generate a lot of peace in this world.)

So, yeah. That is kind of us at the moment. From Berty to Yurt-y. Hehehe.

PS- I shared a photo of the yurt on Facebook yesterday. And lots of people were like “Woo!” “Living the dream” and stuff. And I guess I wanted to just say that yep, we feel super lucky to be having this adventure, and sometimes pictures and my blogging does make it look like it is all just lush. I tend not to mention the things that go wrong because I don’t want it to be like “Woe is me, the stalk of the aubergine I just picked pricked my finger!” But in order to keep it real here is some stuff that wasn’t/ isn’t perfect: I had mastitis for the FOURTH time, Juno was teething REALLY BAD a couple of weeks ago and hasn’t slept for ages, despite having all the time in the world we struggle to be organised and get super frustrated with the mayhem that surrounds us, both the girls have colds, we spent loads of money on a car that was actually a smoker’s car and we are gutted, I am having really bad RSI in my wrist and thumb which scares me as writing is my living, lalalala, etc etc. *keeping it real fist bump*

Bombaround

The pockets of others

26 February, 2014

I was remembering recently some of those days when Ramona was a baby and my husband would go off to work, how I would look despairingly at the long day ahead, how it seemed to yawn on and on. 6:30pm, that exhilarating moment when Tim would open the front door, was so completely in the distance that it wasn’t even a speck on the horizon. It had dropped off a far flung cliff, like a suicidal Woody Woodpecker, a mocking laugh, a wisp of smoke.

And I LOVED being a mum. But, sheesh, those days alone just. Stretched. On,

People with one baby quite often ask “How is it with two kids?” and I begin to say “Oh, AMAZING and SO EASY!!” and then I remember that the four of us have been on the road together, in each others pockets, since Juno was four months old and really I barely have a clue about juggling the needs of two little people at one time!

How fortunate are the girls, to have their dad around so very much? And how fortunate am I, that when I am feeling a bit clung to I can easily take a breather? And that the days are full, chockablock, bursting at the seems with stuff to do, too MUCH to do?

It couldn’t be more different, these days.

(We weren’t really made to do this parenting thing solo, eh? We need gaggles of friends and neighbours and sisters to thrive. One of my friends, Jenny blogged beautifully about this very thing this week.)

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We have slowly etched our way around the coastline of the North Island (of New Zealand, that is, NEW ZEALAND, a whole other STRATOSPHERE! *googles stratosphere* Oh, actually, no, I mean, WHOLE OTHER HEMISPHERE) catching up with friends. And there are new family members, children and babies, oh, so many bonny babies. It has been amazing just bustling about with them, living in each other’s pockets, doing our days all together. Charity shopping together. Pretty much mostly just charity shopping together.

We’ve been hunting through possibilities of dining tables for the bus. We had our hearts set on a formica table but in this land awash with ancient woods they KNOW the value of a nice formica table. Pfft. We have looked high and low, we’ve had every friend on the hunt with us and finally, last week we found one, HURRAH! There was much back slapping and hooting, as if Tim and I had really succeeded at something. Yep, folks, our ambition has shriveled to this.

We’ve been so inspired by the stuff our friends are up to – our friends who have an organic bulk buying co-op thing casually going on, those friends who do a great bit of co-housing, the family with the beautiful home who Know The Way Of The Vintage Tapestry.

I made new friends in Wellington, bloggers I knew from the Internet who were actual Real Life People. Thalia from Sacraparental and Tasha from Maybe Diaries. Two awesome new feminist, attachment parenty, social justice loving friends.

We went to the New Zealand Unschooling Camp and met a crowd of people who stunned us with the simple ways they were fully living their dreams, growing food and having adventures. (A whole other post about unschooling coming soon!) A family who are travelling in a bus and unschooling their FOUR BOYS for OVER A YEAR, one woman who unschools with a little tribe, a kindred-spirit mother unschooling with her awesome lad.

Gosh.

We’ve been busy.

So busy that I sometimes forget this little ache in my heart that just wishes my sister, Jo, and her family were close by. Her taunting me by blogging amazing recipes involving cream cheese and salted caramel doesn’t help. I want to have a cup of tea with her and eat her baking.

We are coming to the end of our nomadic stage… we are thinking of heading back to Thames this weekend, a cool little town at the start of the mightily majestic Coromandel. We might nuzzle down for a bit. Perhaps learn about growing stuff properly, search for a bit of land to call our own. (Bit more serious than a retro table, eh?) We have not at all been swayed towards Thames because they have some of the best charity shops in New Zealand. (We have.) (What, dad?! That is perfectly reasonable criteria to base a new land ownership on!)

Life might start to look slightly more normal. But we are going to cling to our sense of adventure, seek a tribe to live life with, pockets to dwell in.

And we will try as hard as we can to avoid anything that might leave one of us staring at the clock willing the minutes to pass.

This is a featured post – please see my disclosure for more on that.

Bombaround

New Year, New Home, New Zealand

28 December, 2013

Today has been our last full day in England for a while. Tomorrow we fly to New Zealand to begin something wholly new. We don’t know what, but we have a few (billion) ideas.

The last week has been a bit emosh, to say the least. My heart jumps into my throat at the littlest thing- my nephew Hudson reading Ramona her bed time story, looking at photos that have captured fun moments from the last few years, saying weepy, snotty Goodbyes to friends who’ve been my besties since I was seven.

It’s been the most overdrawn goodbye in some ways. We began properly telling everyone that we were moving to New Zealand at the start of the summer, mostly through, er, this blog. *note to self- best to tell employers about such a big move before blogging about it*

Then we said Cheerio and galavanted about Europe, than came back with a broken van, then said Laters again and trundled to Spain, then had a leaving party last week, and now, after a million farewells and six months of preparing to go, it’s here for real, quick as a flash, the time to leave.

I fall in love with New Zealand when I’m there. I really do. I moved there when I was 18 and lived there until I was 24. I met Tim there and when Tim and I were having those hypothetical conversations with each other about the possibility of marriage (you know, “If two people had only just met but really loved each other should one, like, ask the other one to get married? It’s just for a friend…”) he asked me which place I considered home. I didn’t think twice. I’d lived in New Zealand for five gleeful years already, three with my folks about and two more without them, without any family at all; “New Zealand! I never want to leave!”

We left about 18 months later, in response to an urge I had to be close to my sister while she had her first baby. And we’ve been here almost seven years…

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My sister and I this week- matching blankets, coats and babies! (She is on her third now.)

For about five generations my family has been fairly nomadic- staying in places for just a couple of years at a time. Every generation, until us, have been ministers of religion, living all over the UK and the world for different vocational roles.

My grandparents, whenever anyone asked them what place they loved the most, which area they called home, would always reply, wherever they were, “Right here!”

I guess it’s in my blood a little bit, eh? This love-the-place-you-are thing.

20131228-194147.jpg My folks, this week.

Because right now I really feel I am tearing myself away from here. I feel like the London that I spent much of my childhood in has been in my bones all along. That returning to the neighbourhood I grew up in, and raising my girls for a bit here, has kind of unlocked a deep sense of home, a primal “This is my land! These are my people!” kind of thing. (Also, “These are my fried chicken bones! These are my fallen out hair weaves!” – not a patch of ground exists in South London free of these. But they weren’t actually mine, you see…)

We have just had the most wonderful 7 years here. We’ve made so many good, new friends and have rekindled old ones. We’ve had such a lot of adventures, riding our bikes, joining in protests, communal living, wandering streets, going to festivals, picnicking, swimming in rivers.

We arrive in New Zealand at 11:45pm on the 31st December- that is quarter to 2014! It’ll be weird celebrating the New Year with strangers around the baggage carousel (but I’ve had weirder, especially the one involving lots of elderly Scots and bagpipes.)

So, a new year and a new home, and lots of new adventures awaiting us. I just need to find out what a Zealand is, then I’ll get a new one of those too.

Have a lovely celebration yourself, and I wish you a great sense of hope for the year ahead.

*looks around the room at my family, has a bit more of a cry*

Bombaround

The desert hippy who laid a golden poo

5 December, 2013

“I’m doing a seminar in menstrual activism this afternoon, if you want to come?”

Hold on. Menstrual? Activism?

“Um. Oh. I, er…”

I am not very often taken aback. Especially when it comes to bodily functions and protest. These are, like, two of my fave things, y’know?

We were in the middle of the Spanish desert, in the barren landscape of the Deep South, staying in a tiny oasis – an alive, green, eco community bustling with hippies. At least once an hour someone said something completely absurd and completely accurate.

“Excrement is GOLD, worth more than money!” (This statement was accompanied by a handful of “humanure” shoved under my surprised, and therefore unfortunately gaping, nostrils.)

This was Sunseed, a group of people devoted to living sustainably, off grid, who were slowly restoring one of the desert’s many “lost villages”. The project began as a way of developing technologies that harness the earth’s power and an attempt to thrive in a pretty hostile land. It continues to do that, hosting volunteers from around the world who will hopefully return home bubbling with ideas about solar energy, converting waste into, er, gold for the garden, and generally living in peace with their environment.

We pooed into compost bins, built walls with local clay, harvested pumpkins and every vegetable under the sun to eat, prepared olives for jarring, showered with the river water heated by the sun, ate every meal together, talked a lot about menstruation. IT WAS SO FLIPPING INSPIRING! .

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We spent the spare hours wandering around the desert, poking about in ruins, buildings long abandoned by villagers unable to survive in such a dry land. We watched a whole family of turtles sunbathing by the local river and tracked some wild pigs along the gorge. Tim and I spent whole afternoons discussing the eco-house we will build when we get to New Zealand.

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(I know; this is the MILLIONTH thing we have seen on this trip and decided we are going to do it. You’ve got to dream big, right? So far it seems that we are going back to New Zealand to create an imaginative kid’s festival celebrating the wilderness, run a Forest School, on a bit of land where we are building our own house out of clay, with a compost loo, in an intentional community full of families loving each other and eating together, whilst building a vineyard, an avocado orchard and running a Centre for Peaceful Adult-Child Relationships. Hmmm. It’s all compatible. We just need that cloning technology to hurry the heck up. Or YOU could join in, if you like? Come on, it’ll be WELL fun!)

I bloody love hippies. I love being in an environment where people are so passionate and it was a JOY being amongst other people for whom it makes complete sense to not wash their hair, rather than being the weird one. I didn’t get to the seminar on menstrual activism but I read a brilliant book on it that evening and am completely convinced! (It’s going to be a whole other post: WHAT A TREAT FOR YOU!)

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It was just five little days amongst our kind new friends at of Sunseed but it was like stepping in to new pair of boots; it kind of got us ready for a new home and life in New Zealand. It hasn’t felt that real, the whole “moving to NZ lalala” thing, but imagining the kind of eco-lifestyle we will nurture over there got us well excited. As long as I don’t think too hard about the family and friends we will be leaving in England. *Heaving sob*

We are on the very last leg of our European roadtrip, just five more days. We have passed through the snowy peaks around Granada, and we are now in sunny, warm Seville. We had to say another farewell to Betty a couple of days ago – can you actually believe it?- as she blew another head gasket and required £700 to fix her up that we just don’t have. If we hadn’t already spent £2000 on her pesky innards this trip alone we might have considered it but we decided to get her towed home for a DIY job over Christmas. It was a bit stressful but we are having a cool time zipping around in a rental car courtesy of our insurance, so it could be a lot worse. *Frank Spencer voice* Oooh, Bettty.

Bombaround

Campervanning around Spain with two kids, a surfboard and a caterpillar

25 November, 2013

A Spanish señora, as bronze as she is old, as rotund as she is wrinkly, wearing nothing but the very clothes she was born in raises her ams in the air and claps, everything jiggling. This was not the start of a rude flamenco though, but the middle of a series of star jumps, half submerged in the Mediterranean sea. Superbly, gloriously uninhibited.

Only in Spain.

We are in a desolate, sheltered cove just beneath an old castle built by the Moors. I’m sat here with Juno, poking plump pink jewels from a pomegranate in to our mouths. Tim and Ramona are building the castle in miniature form out of sand and there in the sea just behind them was this buxom old lady, butt naked, tanned deep in every crease. Doing aqua aerobics.

The only other people in sight are a Wedding Cake Top couple perched on the rocks next to the castle having their photos taken. They preen into every classic pose, her glistening white dress billowing, his waistcoat stiff.

It’s as surreal as a Dali, who hails from just around the corner. The sheer peculiarity of the scene strikes my heart with the wand of joy and my brain with the wonder of how we get to be here now, doing this.

These funny little moments happen a lot on the road. I feel tender; easily surprised, amused, unbound and unburdened.

It is obviously the basic awesomeness of having very little to do but sit around in the sun having bizarre things take place around us while the alternative was simply slogging away in the grimey depths of winter in South London.

And perhaps this general, elated sense of feeling is simply just an extension of that; the sense of alternatives. After getting totally lost amongst a tangle of tiny, dodgy streets in the middle of a massive city, coming across a huge square in the shadow of a beautiful basilica where it seems a micro fiesta is taking place just feels completely exhilarating. Because the alternative was getting mugged and stranded and still lost. Waking up next to a roaring ocean, the sun bouncing into the window, is a moment filled with relief that we didn’t get turfed out of the free parking spot by the Guardia over night.

(Or maybe aqua aerobics in the nick, grand basilicas and sunrises on a beach are simply enough in themselves.)

I think I could travel like this forever. This lazy, wild, seize-every-moment or just-sit-around-if-we-want kind of living.

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Back on the beach, the lady wades out of the water, pubes dripping, and two enormous Alsatians have bounded onto the castle tower and are barking aggressively at the Just Marrieds. Juno has cast the pomegranate aside in favour of a gob full of sand. Ramona has begun to cry and I realise it is way past lunch and all we have is a gritty pomegranate and half a packet of rice cakes we opened when we first hit the road 4 months ago.

When we first left England our Campervan was jam packed. But new things have been added everyday. There is a Julia Donaldson book, A Squash and a Squeeze, where a wise old man advises a woman who feel her house is too small to take in collection of farm animals. (Mansplaining, I think it is called these days.) At the end of the book she gets rid of the animals and realises her house is perfect for one.

We have acquired a double buggy, for rampaging over dunes. And a secondhand surfboard, which we couldn’t resist but takes up a lot of space. And a pet caterpillar which doesn’t take up much physical space but rather a lot of mental space, trying to keep him alive amidst the mayhem. (We shouldn’t have let him in. It will only end in heartache. His name is, predictably, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.) I concentrate on the principle of A Squash and a Squeeze; this is great preparation for whatever new home we end up in eventually – anything will feel like a mansion compared to this. But mostly I swear as my foot gets stuck in a potty as I’m rummaging in the dirty laundry for the least stinky tee shirt and I bump my head on a bunk. (We are still bumping our heads.) It is a tiny, tiny space but we’ve somehow managed to misplace our two knives so I’m crouching next to the surfboard cutting an onion with a pocket knife.

Calm descends on the beach again. The Guard Dogs have disappeared, the bride and groom have gone to their banquet somewhere and the bare naked lady has gone. We caper around the beach as uninhibited as her, the need for lunch suspended. We are roaring lions, we are diggers, we are splashers, we are laughing baboons.

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We are on the same team the four of us. It’s my favourite thing about this trip. With no agenda there are very few power struggles, with all the day to accomplish very few tasks there is no stress bleeding into the adult-child communication, making a gory mess. We all go to bed at 10pm and sleep until the delectable hour of 8am.

We’ve crawled slowly down the southern coast of Spain, coasting from cove to cove, and have landed in the barren, rocky beauty of the Cabo De Gata. We are climbing hills and collecting shells. Foraging pomegranates and oranges. We saw Africa on the horizon, it was pretty epic.

We are unfettered. Free as birds. Each one of us as wild and excitable as toddlers.

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We pack up our beach things, now covered in pomegranate, sand and rice cakes gone mushy with sea water. We need to find a shop not having a siesta so we can buy lunch stuff. As we scramble up the hill we pass another old soul, kindred of the Señora, a man this time, himself completely starkers. We obviously missed the NUDISTA sign posts (again!) You know the Nudist Beach signs here are simply stick figures? Two stick figures, one with with two breasts and one with a penis almost as long as his leg. I imagine that for this beach they were probably naked male and female stick figures doing star jumps. An Official Aqua Aerobics in the Altogether beach.

Only in Spain.

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