25 Mar 2014


These are the jolly yellow flowers of colt's-foot, much loved by children, probably because they are one of the earliest to spring up in wild places. In fact the flowers come before the hoof-shaped leaves which give the plant its name. This unusual habit gave rise to another name son-before-father. It has many many other names, suggesting that it was widely known and used by country folk. The leaves were gathered and smoked as tobacco, supposedly good for asthma - hence British Tobacco, Coughwort or Baccy Plant. The leaves are furry underneath and this fur was scraped off to use as tinder.

The plant is sometimes used on a spring altars to welcome in the bright sunny days of Imbolc and new growth - although, like most members of the daisy family it will tend to close its flowers sadly when picked, as I discovered as a small child, to my great disappointment. For that reason I think it is better appreciated in situ. It grows widely on waste ground, especially in damp places, especially on clay soil. You can still buy sticks of colt's-foot rock at my local heath-food shop. I haven't had any for ages, so I think I'll go and get some. Takes me right back!

21 Mar 2014

Frogspawn - hooray!

Very good news - my frog calling ritual was a success! (See my post for 15th Feb if you have not read it already.) My pond is now a mass of frogspawn and the tadpoles are starting to develop, as you can see. I am so chuffed about this.

When I was a child people always brought frogspawn into school in jam-jars and we watched it develop into tadpoles. (That sort of thing was allowed back then when it was not illegal or against health and safety.) The windowsills that bore the jam-jars were high up - it was a Victorian school room. I am not THAT old actually, but my school room was, and when it was built people thought it distracting for children to be able to see out of the windows. Instead we just got distracted by the exciting wriggling tadpoles and the opening sticky horse chestnut buds in other jam-jars that spoke to us of wild freedom and fields and spring.

It seems to me that people are still making mistakes about how children learn. It's not a competition! Children don't learn by ticking boxes, passing tests, and having teachers who are stressed and watching their backs all the time. They learn by having their interest aroused. They learn when they want to. My daughter taught me this when she was about two or three.

Like many keen young mums I started out in the competitive school of thinking - you know the sort of thing - who is on solids first, who sleeps through night, who crawls/stands/walks/ poos first on the potty etc etc. On this occasion a friend had come round for a play date and proudly announced that her daughter could now write her name - Janice. This was duly demonstrated, much to my alarm. The friend turned to my daughter and asked smugly `Can you write your name yet?' My heart sank. I knew fine well she couldn't. Any attempts to encourage her had met with a blank, obstinate refusal. But she grabbed the pencil and paper and said, in her business-like voice `No. But I can write Janice.'...and proceeded to do so, with ease!

My children and grandchildren have taught me many lessons since then. They never cease to amaze and interest me. Ever since that day I have known that children do not develop in a linear, orderly kind of way, according our adult rules and agenda. They have their own ideas and interests.

Things to Do
Get out there. Look for frogspawn. Get muddy and wet and find out what pond-weed feels like. Print off a chart of tadpole development and stick it up on the fridge. Make frog art, with froggy colours and patterns; put on green clothes - I am wearing my frog green dress today as a celebration of spring.

Do you know the difference between a frog and a toad? Frogs are smooth and greener while toads are bumpy and brown. Frogs hop, toads prefer to crawl. And toads are often bigger. If you are working with children, find some frog and toad stories - Jeremy Fisher and the Frog and Toad books are good, and the old story of the Frog Prince.  Maybe you know of others?

20 Mar 2014

Why Childcare is So Expensive

Why is childcare so expensive?
I am utterly amazed that this question even needs to be asked. It's enough to turn me into a frothing, raging tyrannosaurus rex. ARRRRGGGGHHHH
But it has been asked - so here is my take on it;

  • Looking after small children (properly) is a very important, responsible and demanding job. 
  • It goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There are no holidays, no let up and - if you look after your own children yourself - no pay whatsoever. In fact it will cost you a whole living wage unless you can manage a part time job AS WELL
  • Anyone who has ever been responsible for the care of small children will tell you that this is exhausting and tough going. But - it is worth it in the long run, because....
  • .... our children are very, very precious. Tell me why should we be surprised that their care costs more than our mortgage, our cars, our new designer kitchen, our holiday in Crete, or whatever? I am baffled, frankly.
  • The first five years in a child's life are absolutely crucial. They develop more rapidly mentally, physically and emotionally then than at any other time. Get this part right and the rest will follow on, with hiccoughs, problems and heartbreak, yes - but your firm foundation will be there. A good friend of mine who was a social worker told me this when my own children were little. Stick it out, she told me - it will be worth it when they get to their teens. She was right.
  • Why on earth would anyone want to give this immense responsibility to a badly paid, untrained stranger? Which, logically, is what we will get if we pay LESS for childcare. If we need to pay someone else to do part of the child care then surely that person deserves a really good living wage for a difficult job, and should be someone with integrity whom we can trust and relate to. Ideally they should feel like part of the family. They are, after all, effectively just that from the child's point view.
  • Our children are our future. ALL of us - not just those who have children. They grow up into teachers, plumbers, nurses, entrepreneurs, entertainers, doctors, refuse collectors, rocket scientists....They ARE our future society. If we screw them up we screw up our whole society. We foul our own nest. It's a simple as that. 
  • Think about it. Families are where we live. Children matter. For goodness sake, let's wake up and get this right.

4 Mar 2014

A Pebble Oracle

In Britain our Norse ancestors used an alphabet of rune symbols for divination, and these are still used today. Usually each rune is marked on a small pebble and these are then put into a bag and drawn out at random in order to gain insight on a question.
If you are not familiar with the runes it can be fun to make your own pebble oracle. Collect a set of about twenty pebbles of a similar size. You can use those glass nuggets that they sell in florists shops if you don’t live near a beach or river. Now think what meanings you want to have for your pebbles.
Make a list – for example, you might have:
Man  Woman  Child  Travel  Money  Joy  Gain  Yes  No  Doorway  Star…and so on.
Some of your meanings may be more abstract –for example `star’ could mean a special event; `sun’ might mean happy things and `moon’ might mean using your intuition. It’s really up to you because this is going to be an oracle with special personal meaning just for you.
Think of a simple symbol for each meaning and then draw it onto one of your pebbles with a waterproof marker pen. Choose one special pebble to be the `significator’. This pebble represents the person who is asking a question and is left blank. When you have finished you may wish to fix them with spray varnish. Make or buy a small bag for your pebble oracle to live in.
The simplest way to consult your oracle is to ask a question and then draw one or more pebbles without looking. These will provide an answer to your question. If it is not clear just try again!
When you have practised a bit and got more familiar with the way the oracle works you can try `casting’ your pebbles. Think of a question and then tip all the pebbles out of the bag. Remove any which have fallen the wrong way up.
Now read your oracle, taking note of patterns, pairings and so on. Pebbles which fall nearest to the significator show events in the near future and those further away represent things which are more distant, or less likely to happen.
Another simple way to do a reading is to ask a question and then chose three stones. The first one - `for' - is for positive aspects of the situation. Then chose an `against' pebble, for negative aspects. Finally a third stone `outcome' that shows what is likely to happen if you continue along your present path.
Make a chart of your chosen oracle symbols drawing each symbol and recording its meaning. Don't forget to write down your readings too, and any comments that you wish to make. It's often very interesting and revealing to look back at readings later on. You can see how you are progressing, as well as spotting repeating patterns that you get stuck in, and beginning to think out ways of escaping from them. You may also find occasions when your oracle has weirdly predicted events that unfolded soon after the reading.