A Dazzle of Zebra, a Journey of Giraffe and a Crash of Rhino

The journey was long, an 11 hour flight overnight and a three hour transfer into the Waterberg region in the North East of South Africa. We were particularly relieved to arrive at Ants Hill Safari Lodge not just because of the journey but due to a “mix up” with some paper work which could have seen on the next plane back home again without setting foot outside of the airport… I won’t go into detail here as I don’t want to get myself or anyone else into trouble but I will say that from now on I’m going to check, re-check and triple check all paperwork before I leave home. Thankfully the kindness of a stranger (and probably some middle class, married, white privilege) saw our holiday wasn’t ruined before it had started! And even more thankfully that was the only minor hiccup of what was otherwise the most perfect family adventure ever…

The welcome at Ant’s Hill at around 2 o’clock was warm, friendly and instantly relaxing. The weather was also warm, sweltering in fact and so some cool drinks and a light lunch was perfect. The kids were far too excited for sensible things like naps after the long journey so we had a dip in the pool before getting geared up for our first horseback safari that evening.

It was Rob’s first time ever sitting on a horse and luckily he loved it. The kids took to it too, although Alfie was a bit nervous as he still has a clear memory of our friend Angela getting kicked in the face by her own horse on our farm a couple of years ago… frankly I’m still pretty traumatised by that myself so it’s no wonder it’s well imprinted in Alfie’s mind! By the end our four days at Ant’s Hill Alfie was cantering.

On the first evening though it was a matter of easy going walks around the huge 12,500 acre reserve. Orla took to her mischievous and elderly pony and enjoyed riding so much that she started to fall asleep! I noticed from a few horses back that she was slowly slumping and sliding to the side… we had to keep her talking until we reached the sundowners.

Sundowners… drinks at sunset. Yes it is a slightly colonial concept but it’s also totally awesome to ride on horseback to a high spot for the best views over the South African mountains to watch the sunset with an ice cold glass of wine or gin and tonic. We were on holiday!! The other guests all meet at the same point so you can compare notes on animal sightings and horse riding experiences.

Us being us, we were rather relieved that there weren’t any other Brits staying for the first couple of days, although most guests were European, which, let’s face it, are rather embarrassing to be around these days whichever way one voted. At least Brexit wasn’t off bounds in conversation until other Brits turned up at which point it becomes a rather basil faulty-esque case of “don’t mention Brexit” lest we should disagree! Ahhhh… Brits abroad, all our funny ways are inflated and seem more comic than normal. Anyway, I digress…

After sundowners we get safari trucks back to the hotel, as we’ve let the horses go off into the wild to make their own way home. A bright torch scans the trees for elusive bushbabies and spots nightjars and mongoose. Dinner is superb; impala fillet, but we’re so exhausted it’s a struggle to get through and little Orla falls asleep at the table with her mouth full of impala. When Rob picked her up she woke up and carried on chewing!!

The days at Ant’s Hill are relaxed and don’t involve the traditional safari early starts; Breakfast at 7.30am-ish, hopping on the horse about 8am for a morning ride, getting right up among the zebra, giraffe, warthogs and antelope. Back for a swim about 10am and a leisurely lunch at 12ish either at the hotel or out in the South Africa bush. More pool time and parents taking turns for naps followed by another horse ride to the sundowners spot. What more could you ask of a holiday? Not a lot… but we certainly got more!

One evening instead of horse riding we climbed into the game drive vehicles and headed to the sister hotel, Ants Nest on the far side of the huge estate. The owner, Ant (obvs), is dedicated to the Save the Waterberg Rhino conservation project and to that end has a Rhino breeding programme on the reserve. At this time of year, the tail end of the dry season, they are feeding the rhinos and other animals on the reserve – an expensive necessity in this arid landscape. However, for us this meant we were able to get extraordinarily close to these magnificent, pre-historic beasts as they fed on hay just below the platform we were on. We also got to see the two week old baby rhino feeding from her fiercely protective mum. I’ll write more about the plight of the rhinos in a future post as it warrants awareness raising efforts all round.

The other incredible experience at Ant’s Hill was the opportunity to take part in a game capture. Within a managed reserve such as this it’s vital that an active game management strategy is employed to control populations and ensure the health of the various herds on the estate. There are a few leopards within the reserve but no lions or other major predators so it’s all the more important for humans to manage them. An old, lone, male buffalo was causing problems and given his genetics were already strong within the buffalo herd it was time for him to be moved to another reserve were he could sow a few more seeds. Also a male eland (the largest of the antelope) was unwell and needed to be assess by the vet and potentially isolated for a time. It was an earlier start and a picnic breakfast in the car that day as we set off in the direction of the helicopter noise. It was a rapid and bumpy drive up the mountain to where the buffalo in question had been spotted and by the time we got there the vet had already darted him (from a helicopter into exactly the right spot… IMPRESSIVE!). It takes a lot of strong men to get a buffalo onto a moving stretcher and then into a trailer. And it has to be done before the sedative wears off! It’s also important they keep his gigantic tongue out and a blindfold on him. The eland was next and after another speedy drive across the rugged terrain (because helicopters are a hell of a lot fast than cars!) we found him staggering around having just been darted again with incredible precision by the vet. This one was treated and hauled onto the stretcher but instead of going to a trailer he was moved onto a neighbours patch for a while and we got to see him being woken back up and wander off looking a bit confused.

Other highlights of our stay at Ant’s Hill include waking up to a noisy squirrel looking at me from our bathroom and watching a warthog wander past the bedroom window and then there was Craig… Craig the snake man whom our kids developed a major hero worship for. He keeps snakes; big snakes, little snakes, harmless snakes, highly poisonous snakes, fast snakes, slow snakes, friendly snakes and very unfriendly snakes… most of his snakes were a combination of those things. For example the brown house snake which is harmless, fast and friendly. Or the puff adder which is highly poisonous, very unfriendly but thankfully also slow! He brought us snakes to meet. It was an experience! The kids loved it… me? Not so much. But Craig was also great at catching lizards and geko and was an absolute font of knowledge and Patrick has decided he wants to be Craig when he grows up. He spent a fair proportion of the sundowners creating villages for the giant millipedes and then gathering millipedes to populate them faster than they could crawl away (pictured below was one that settled in his new house!).

It spoke volumes about the area that with so much on their door step Ant’s Hill was popular with people from Johannesburg as a weekend getaway and we were lucky enough to hit it off with a family whose son was Alfie’s age. I say lucky… basically they got my kids playing a game which involves rolling impala poo in your mouth and seeing  who can spit it the furthest and eating live giant flying ants. I didn’t (boring!) but the rest of them and Rob did!

Ant’s hill was only the first half of our trip, next we moved onto Madikwe Game Reserve which I’ll tell you about soon.

For all the photos from the trip follow me on Instagram @MumaDean or on Twitter or Facebook.



The majestic Sable antelope was the logo for Ant’s Hill


Canoeing and Wild Camping

To celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary this year Rob and I left the kids with the grandparents and embarked on a canoe expedition course to learn the necessary skills to head off on our own adventures. In that week we fell in love with canoeing and on our return invested in two canoes and the various paraphernalia required such as life jackets, dry bags and so on. The kids have been desperate to get out on the water with us but I’m in the final stages of dissertation writing for my MSc and with weather and tide considerations a couple of weeks passed before we had a chance. That chance came last weekend and we went for it, full bore!

We could have fit way more stuff but this is all we needed for the five of us overnight

We could have fit way more stuff but this is all we needed for the five of us overnight

We set off just before high tide going up stream with the flow which made for easy initial paddling. Although as we rounded a corner the wind caught us and with only my 8 year old in the front of mine we were much lighter than I had anticipated and we kept getting turned. Even with the camping kit there wasn’t a lot of weight in the canoe and it was very much in the middle (kit) and back (me)… first lesson learned in terms of kit positioning.

drifting paddling

Eventually after spinning in the water for a while and even walking along a stretch of shore until we were past the bend in the river that was catching the wind, we were back on route and arrived at our camping spot.

tide going out drying sicks high tide

Traffic on the river was busy around high tide and we didn’t want to draw too much attention so we didn’t set up the tarp until much later but we set about collecting and processing firewood. We lit the fire with a flint and steel using tinder we found around us and the kids played in the water before the tide went too far out. Rob strung them up a simple rope swing which proved fun for hours (and also caused irritating “my turn” arguments!!)

processing wood

Boys processing wood for a fire

rope swing water fun summer fun whittling

Dinner was a basic chicken curry and here I learned another lesson… when taking curry powder in a pot seal the pot in bag or decent container… the curry powder spilt in one of the dry sacks and covered EVERYTHING! I salvaged enough for dinner and sucked up the lesson. We had taken about 10 litres of water with us but actually on such a hot day and with cooking dinner and washing up this was only just enough. On our course we had learned about finding water on an expedition, filtering and sterilising but the river we were on is largely salt water so that wasn’t an option. There was a stream feeding into the river nearby that we could have got water from had we been desperate and next time we’ll take a suitable filtration system in case we need it.

cooking dinner

Cooking dinner on the fire


Curry with a view

After dinner and some bird watching we set up the tarp and as the sun set we got the kids to bed and us shortly after… we had to be up at 5am to catch the outgoing tide back home or we would be stranded until mid-afternoon!

bird watching setting up tarp camp sleepign babies

The early start was brilliant, we had the camp packed down and ready to set off in half an hour and we made sure that we left no trace that we had been there… an important principle we are pressing hard on the children!

early morning

Up and ready to set off at 5.30am

The trip back was effortless on a mirror still river drifting with the tide. Of course at 5.30am we were the only human life on the river but it was teeming with bird life and the beauty of a canoe is that you can silently drift along without disturbing them.

morning shot misty morning one of me still waters

We were back at the car by 7am and heading home for a big old breakfast and a nap.

heading home for breakfast

heading home for some breakfast

Lessons learned the hard way


We hired a canoe (well in fact we exchanged canoe hire for some knowledge and experience!) and we set off up a creek… I’m not telling you which one… it was against the tide and seriously hard work! There is a lot of mud in Cornwall along the river banks and therefore not that many places to moor up. We’re talking 4 foot deep river mud in places and it’s dangerous to get stuck in it. So, in the end we found a little stream trickling down to the creek from the woods, disembarked and carried the canoe up the hard stream bed, sliding it along the soft mud where we could.

On reaching the bank we found a nice hard spot, off loaded the kit and set about collecting fire wood and tinder. Now the theory for collecting firewood in very damp conditions is to collect dead standing wood. That is bits of trees which have died a while ago but are still attached to the tree or have got caught and therefore not fallen on the ground. This wood may be damp on the outside if it’s been raining (apparently sometimes it doesn’t rain!) but inside it should be dry and seasoned ready for burning. You can chop it up to get kindling from the dry inside and it’s meant to be a reliable way of getting a fire going in wet UK conditions.

Amazingly (for this part of Cornwall) we also stumbled across a mature silver birch tree… the treasure chest of fire lighting materials. Silver birch drop lots of matchstick thin, dark brown twigs all over the floor beneath them and collecting them is easy and satisfying. These twigs contain lots of the fabulous fire starting oils that make the silver birch the firelighter’s best friend and in theory will catch light easily even when wet.


Birch twigs usually make for easy fire building even in wet conditions

So, as you can imagine, we were feeling pretty darn confident when it came to actually lighting the fire… less than twenty minutes of preparation had given us plenty of kindling of various sizes and a nice stack of firewood which had never touched the damp ground. Rob had got a snazzy little tinder box for his birthday that morning so he wanted to use that with a fire flash to light the fire… given that we frequently use much more challenging methods, such as a flint and steel, just to light the fire in the sitting room of an evening it didn’t even occur to us that this would prove to be a challenge!

And boy was it a challenge! The tinder went up fine… but the birch twigs, kindling and all the wood we had collected was so sodden all the way through that it simply steamed until the pathetic embers snuffed out.

We got there in the end, hand picking the driest finest twigs, removing out bark from wet twigs to expose the dry slivers of inner heart. Rob hiked up the hill to find standing dead wood from higher and therefore dryer ground and from the edge of the wood where the wind will have dried it out better. We split this down and meticulously carved off damp bark and outer layers. Everything was just so WET!

Finally we had a fire and eventually it produced some heat. We cooked lunch, had a cup of tea and discussed the challenges and alternative solutions. We reflected on how helpful a folding bow saw would have been (and have since purchased one!). We watched the tide reach its lowest point and start to return. Eventually we packed up, hauled the canoe back down to the water’s edge and put very little effort into drifting on the tide home.


It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day!


Since our amazing trip to America I’ve had very little time for more adventure and travel. Instead I published two books, expanded the Charity I run including opening an office on our farm and taking on a full time employee and I’ve embarked on an MSc in Clinical Research at Plymouth University… So I’ve been a bit too busy to blog!

But this year, to stretch myself further I’m going to try to get back into it. We’ve got loads of adventures planned and booked, from staying in a shepherds hut on Bodmin Moor this spring to a Safari in South Africa in October!

I’m also hoping to get my camera back out as it’s not had a lot of use since our big trip and I miss it! I didn’t actually decide this until after this weekend though so this post is rather lacking decent pictures, sorry.

Bushcraft is a major passion of mine and this year has various bushcraft adventures in store including attending the Bushcraft Show in May and a week-long canoeing and bushcraft course in July for Rob and My 10 year wedding anniversary.

We kicked off our bushcraft fun this weekend with an Encounter Cornwall Kayak trip from Golant to Lerryn where we scouted out some ideal spots for a bit of wild camping later in the year. The kids loved it and Alfie and Patrick are both pretty good with a paddle. It was pretty cold so Orla was wrapped up in a blanket.

When we got home we cooked a rabbit stew on a fire that Alfie and I lit with a flint and steel. I’ll post the recipe soon. We slept out under a tarp in the garden that night and although it was cold it was also good fun. We have a tree that seems to be a key spot for owls to declare their territory and I was woken up about 6 times alternately by barn owls and tawny owls declaring their presence a matter of feet from our camp.


Alf and I sleeping under a tarp in January

The next day we had a go at making a little stove from an aluminium drinks can which we had seen on a friends blog, Chasing Wilderness. It worked brilliantly and Alfie is planning to make a little video for his own blog on how to make one yourself. Check his blog out at www.bushcraftalfie.co.uk


A little stove made from a drinks can… Alfie is going to blog about how we made this

Once we’d tried it we headed out into some local woods to cook lunch. If I’m honest it’s more suited to cooking for 1-2 people rather than a family of five but we managed it and cooked pasta in the woods while the boys whittled. Then we had a little fire to warm water for tea as the mini stove wasn’t likely to cope with another 5 cup brew. Alfie is intending to blog about all sorts of bushcraft stuff like how to clear up a fire to leave no trace, so I’ll leave that for him to cover.

Finally we spent the evening on Sunday watching Survival Lilly videos on You Tube and planning were we could build our own “bug out camp”.

I can’t promise that I’m going to be great at keeping this blog up to date in any regular kind of way… I’m mid-way through my MSc and am as busy as ever but I really enjoy blogging about our adventures and it’s a great way of storing memories for the kids so I’ll do my best, feel free to follow and I expect that will inspire me to provide more!

Happy Tuesday folks!


Dairy free milk substitutes… Yuck

So it turns out Patrick is allergic to cows milk protein and soya too. We’re still experimenting with egg so not sure if that’s a problem or not yet.

I’ve bought various milk substitutes for him to try and started with a very positive attitude as so many people online seem to rave about these alternatives and how delicious and milky they are. I was confident I could figure out making yoghurt with them and I’d master using them in cooking too I was sure… The problem is… it’s all a load of bollocks. They’re all revolting!

Or at least to Patrick and the rest of our family members they are.

Patrick does quite like the shop bought almond milk so he will have that on his cereal if I haven’t got any bread made for the morning and I use it in smoothies. But apparently you can’t make yoghurt from shop bought Almond milk, only homemade fresh stuff. Okay, no problem, I’ll just make some. A quick look around google convinced me that home made almond milk was a squillion times nicer than the shop bought stuff anyway, so even better!


First soak the (surprisingly expensive) almonds overnight

Almond milk is easy to make at home for those of you interested. You basically soak a load of almonds in water overnight, discard the water in the morning and blend the almonds with fresh water (about double the amount of water to dried volume of almonds, ie. A cup of almonds and 2 cups of water). Blitz it up in a blender, processor or hand blender and then strain through some muslin or cheesecloth. It’s really very simple and doesn’t take long. It’s a hell of a lot easier than milking a cow that’s for sure.

Then blitz them up with a blender, food processor or hand blender.

Then blitz them up with a blender, food processor or hand blender.

Strain through some muslin into a clean jar and squeeze all the liquid out

Strain through some muslin into a clean jar and squeeze all the liquid out

The problem is – it’s just not very nice. It’s similarity to milk ends with it being a white liquid.

Obviously I didn’t go to the effort of making it into yoghurt after faces were pulled by every family member as they realised the “delicious” drink I’d eagerly offered as a treat was in fact a trick and was “totally gross”. But I did try adding a little honey and a pinch of salt… no improvement really, it was just sweet nutty yukness!

So although he didn’t like the shop bought oat milk I figured I’d try home-made oat milk as it might be a bit nicer. I found a recipe online which used oats and a bit of coconut which I though he might like a little more. Like the almond thing you soak it overnight, blend it up and strain. The only difference is that you don’t need to change the water, blitz it with the stuff you soaked it in.

Straining it into the jar... Making mess and extra washing up for myself is a hobby I particularly enjoy... it allows me to feel like a martyr for my children so I particularly enjoy it when the end product is too revolting for anyone to drink.

Straining it into the jar… Making mess and extra washing up for myself is a hobby I particularly enjoy… it allows me to feel like a martyr for my children so I particularly enjoy it when the end product is too revolting for anyone to drink.

He liked this even less and it was a much further stretch from real milk than the almond version, it wasn’t even entirely white.

I haven’t tried making rice milk yet but perhaps will try that next. He doesn’t like the shop bought rice milk so I’m not holding much hope. My initial positivity is waning rapidly and I’m mourning the lack of bovine in our lives. I’m obviously very pleased that Patrick isn’t suffering symptoms any more but after quite a few weeks now the novelty of not being allowed stuff is wearing thin for him too. He’s missing cheese and yoghurt and custard and some of his favourite dairy based family meals.

If anyone has any other suggestions for milk substitutes which obviously do not contain soya either please let me know.

Here’s that face again:

Patrick's reaction after he enthusiastically took a big gulp

Patrick’s reaction after he enthusiastically took a big gulp

Dolls to Identify With

When we decided to have a third child I was all set to be the mum of three boys. I’ve never been much of a girly girl, I didn’t get on well with the girls at school (which at an all girls junior school wasn’t ideal) and I was never particularly into dolls. I had a few but I never really looked after them, I cut their hair, drew on them and bandaged them up. I was more into penknives and bonfires to be honest. My teens saw a very girly phase with excessive make-up, short skirts and skimpy dresses but by the time I was in my early 20’s I’d reverted back to walking boots and den building. So when we found out, mid pregnancy, that we were in fact welcoming a little girl into our family it took me some time to get my head around it.

I set mental rules about the amount of pink allowed in our house and I tried not to think too much about the future with dolls and make-up and pretty dresses that need ironing. I worry about the unhealthy impact images marketed at girls and young women have on their self esteem and mental health, perhaps this is heightened for me by someone close to me being severely affected by a condition called Body Dysmorphic Dysfunction (BDD). It’s hard not to look at “girls toys” and see them only as BDD inducing, self esteem eradicating, equal-rights suppressing junk.

You see dolls do play an important role in children’s lives. They are meant to be identified with. They help children process everyday events through playing with them and engaging them in role play. They learn from them and practice social skills on them, from empathy and caring to skills like dressing and washing.

Anyway, to get down to the point… I recently discovered the movement of up-cycling second hand dolls, started by this wonderful lady in Tasmania. The process involves taking off the heavy manufactured makeup and “sexy” clothes of second hand dolls such as Bratz and redoing their faces, hair and outfits to look like normal people your child can identify with. These dolls make me feel much easier about the whole “having a daughter” thing and it’s also got me thinking about other ways we could alter dolls for children in other specific circumstances.

My cousin’s children are mixed race and she was telling me it’s very hard to get hold of dolls with which they can identify and have similar hair and features. So I’ve bought a couple of mixed race looking dolls with long straight hair, which I’m going to attempt to give afro-hair dos to for her daughter (and son if he wants one!)… I’ll post how to do it once I know for sure it works.

And this led my thoughts to children with disabilities or anything “out of the ordinary”… make a doll or two they can relate to… got a kid with one eye? Make them a doll with one eye! Your kid got a scar or birthmark? Make them a doll with a similar one!

Perhaps in addition to these “normal” looking dolls we should start a movement which includes dolls in wheelchairs, dolls with prosthetic limbs, dolls which have Down’s Syndrome features, dolls who have lost their hair and come with a cannula and drip stand for kids who are going through chemotherapy, dolls with little stoma bags. There will probably never be enough demand for manufactures to produce these unique dolls but there is no reason that we can’t have a go ourselves!

Now just to be clear I am not criticising other parents who buy Bratz, Barbies or any other doll for their kids… What you do and how you raise your kids is your concern. I personally have an issue with the desensitisation of sexy clothes, unrealistic body images and lack of healthy identification. I worry, perhaps unduly, about the impact of presenting heavy makeup and long hair as “ideals” or even just “norms” and frankly I just don’t like them. But perhaps I’m over sensitive due to my knowledge of BDD, or because I’m not into girly stuff myself. Perhaps I have too much time on my hands (LOL!) or could even have the opposite effect by “over protecting” my daughter. My friend raised her daughter vegetarian, her daughter now in her twenties, lives on MacDonald’s! My point is – each to their own – If you like the dolls as they are then great, if you don’t then here is how to re-do them. By me re-doing them I’m not having a go at you, I’m just doing something I enjoy – phew, got that clear!

How to Up-cycle Dolls

Get some dolls

So the first step is to get hold of some second hand dolls. I got some on Ebay for a few quid for a box of 8 dolls. I also have a friend with a teenage daughter who has some she no longer wants and you can check in charity shops and second hand shops for some. It’s handy to have a few – my third was much better than the first!

A box of 8 Bratz cost about £6 on Ebay

A box of 8 Bratz cost about £6 on Ebay

Gather what you need

Next you need the kit to remake them:

  1. Acetone based nail polish remover
  2. Eucalyptus oil (or probably any mild oil would do, it just stops the pain smearing as you take it off)
  3. Cotton wool or kitchen towel
  4. Water based acrylic paints
  5. Decent quality fine paint brushes (I bought some cheap ones on Amazon first but they were pretty rubbish so I got a couple of better ones at a local craft shop for £1.50 each)
  6. Fabric off cuts to make some clothes or wool to kit them (or a friend who can do such things)
  7. Can of spray matt varnish (Amazon or craft shop)
  8. Scissors/bobbles/hair brush, whatever you need to sort the hair out.
This lot is easily available online or on the high street, costs less than one new doll and would last for hundreds of doll re-makes!

This lot is easily available online or on the high street, costs less than one new doll and would last for hundreds of doll re-makes!

Taking the makeup off

Put some oil on one cotton wool pad and nail polish remover on the other, wipe the face first with the oil and then the remover and alternate, you’ll see how the oil lifts the smeared make up. It comes away pretty easily.


If there are patches of glitter over the eyes or on the cheeks this takes longer and is harder to get off. Try not to scratch it or you end up scratching the plastic face (not that it necessarily matters, she could have a scar from where she fell out of a tree?). Just keep rubbing with the cotton wool.

doll-2 - Copy

Once it’s all off I rinse the face under the tap with a bit of soap to get the oil and remover off.

She looks better already!

She looks better already!

Re-painting the face

I’m really not an artist and my expectations of my ability with a brush and acrylic paint is already very very low… so I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is!

Print off some close up pictures of other peoples achievements so you can copy them. I also started sketching the eyes and brows with a pencil first to make it easier (partly why doll 3 is much better than doll 1!).

Be realistic about your own abilities and don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t look as professional as others on the World Wide Web! Your daughter really won’t be able to tell or have a comparison and anyway, they aren’t meant to be perfect… they are hand made!

If you don’t like what you’ve done take it back off and try again. Oh and do this when the kids are not around… it takes some concentration and the last thing you want is acrylic paint spread around the house while you’re working on an eyebrow!

Paint on the lips and any other features you want, like freckles, moles, birthmarks etc. In fact, if your kid or a relative has something your want to normalise

Assuming you are reasonably okay at this it doesn’t take very long at all.

My first attempt wasn't great but I quickly got better and had better brushes for the last one.

My first attempt wasn’t great but I quickly got better and had better brushes for the last one.

Varnish to set

You need to spray on a matt varnish to set the new face. I cut a hole in a piece of kitchen towel, or paper would do, then I put her face through the hole so that I didn’t get varnish on her hair.

It only takes a tiny spray from some distance so don’t overdo it and then leave her to properly dry. Be careful not to get hair stuck in the varnish. It’s shiny to start with but dries matt.

The kitchen towel protects her hair and surrounding area

The kitchen towel protects her hair and surrounding area

Sorting out the hair

Most of these dolls have a ludicrous amount of hair an some are in bizarre and complicated hair dos! Thankfully giving a doll a haircut is seriously fun… who doesn’t want to eh??Chop away and do what you like with it.

This ones pla

This ones pla

If the hair was in a complicated do that, when you take it out, leaves the hair permanently kinked and messy then pour some boiling water into a bowl, fully submerge the hair into the very hot water for a good 10 seconds at least and then comb through and allow to dry flat. Definitely DO NOT use hair straighteners on it… I haven’t tried it myself because I would imagine that it would melt instantly ruining both the hair and the straighteners and causing an almighty stink, I don’t know that for a fact but I don’t want to try to find out. Hopefully you’re thinking “well duh… I wouldn’t be so stupid” but I’m sure if I didn’t specify then someone certainly would try it!

(If my afro hair works for my cousin’s doll I’ll post on how to do that soon)

Dressing the doll

If I’m not a great painter then I’m even less of a seamstress and I’m an even worse knitter. Therefore to dress the dolls I resorted to two alternative methods.

  1. I recruited a friend who can sew, she has some bits she’s going to make up for me but I’m not holding my breath that I’ll see them anytime soon.
  2. I bought some second hand boys Bratz cloths on Ebay

The boys clothes are a bit big around the waist so I may need to add a stitch or two to stop them falling down but otherwise they’re cool and representative of the sort of clothes we wear, jeans and a jumper or tee-shirt – an improvement on the shiny black catsuit one of them came in!

Not the sort of outfit I want my three year old to idolise and identify with!

Not the sort of outfit I want my three year old to idolise and identify with!

If you’re good at sewing or knitting then you can of course make your own. You can chop up old clothes for fabric or use off cuts.

Feet are an issue

Bratz dolls feet come off, leaving little stubs that you can put different feet and shoes on. The feet are weirdly big, I think so they can stand up. That doesn’t really bother me and I kind of like that the body and feet are all disproportionate – they’re not trying to be achievable and realistic like a Barbie is. The waist on a lot of the dolls are not overly think which I like and it’s not like young girls are going to look at the feet and think “I must strive to have abnormally gigantic feet”.

So far I’ve had enough normal looking feet with trainers, sandals or bare feet come with the dolls. But I’ll have a go at making some welly boots out of Sugru putty and let you know how I get on.

Ta-da, Órlaith loves them!

This was number 4 with better quality brushes.

This was number 4 with better quality brushes.

And although the boys haven’t admitted fully to it yet, they clearly think they’re quite cool too and are showing a lot more interest then before they are re-made.

Interestingly she’s named them after 3 of the women who work at the nursery she attends, Kelly, Nat and Jade, who I think she thinks they look like. She’s never named her dolls or teddies before other than “baby” and “teddy” and I think that’s because she couldn’t relate them to real people.

She's absolutely besotted with them!

She’s absolutely besotted with them!

Have a go!

If you’re feeling nervous or think you wouldn’t be able to do it just go for it. It’s surprisingly easy and doesn’t take a lot of cost investment… I’ve probably spent less than £15 including the varnish, paints, brushes and dolls. I already had the acetone remover and eucalyptus oil but they too are just a couple of quid each. I don’t know how much a new Bratz doll is but I’ve currently got 5 remade ones out of the £15 I’ve spent and apart from fresh dolls and clothes the items I’ve bought will last ages and ages!

I have absolutely zero intention of selling these dolls… I really don’t need another business on top of the three jobs I currently have, plus up close mine really aren’t that good. But if you wanted to then I reckon there is a good market for up-cycled “normal” looking dolls.

I would, however, be up for having a go at some “unique circumstance” dolls, such as a down syndrome one or one with a specific disability so if you have a child who would appreciate a unique to them doll they can relate to get in touch and we’ll have a chat about it.

A Spanner in the Dairy Works


Having almost sourced ourselves a dairy cow, getting to the point of discussing price and dates for TB testing we received a slight spanner in the works… Our middle child, Patrick, might be allergic to cows milk!

We have to take him off all dairy and soy for 4 weeks and see what happens. If he is it doesn’t mean we won’t have any dairy in the house but there to have a dairy cow we would need to be using a substantial amount of milk, butter, yoghurt and so on in our family meals.

On the plus side if removing dairy from his diet is the simple answer to his awful ongoing health problems and all the pain he’s been having then great! And he’s such a positive, cheerful little chap his response, when we were talking in the car about all the things he must not eat was “Can I still have water?” me: “yes water’s fine” Patrick: “Yippie! I love water!”

Here is another example of an hilarious/embarrassing conversation our middle son had with his little friend when he phoned him to make arrangements for playing after school:


“Hi Finn, guess what! We got chickens, they’re going to lay eggs. When we kill chickens to eat them we turn them upside down and put sting on their legs, then we bash them on the head and cut their throat so all the blood comes out… did you know that?”

Amazingly the parents are still okay about letting their kid come to play!

We also have two little piggies the kids are trying to train… best hurry up though as they’ll be pork in a couple more months!


Turning an American leaf


It’s nearly a year since we departed on our mammoth journey across the United States and an incredible year it has been.

Now I’m going to be honest… there were a lot of things about America that we really did not like: the religious extremism which is accepted as the norm; the wacky politics resulting in mind boggling social division; the racism; the consumerism and appalling culture of waste. All these things made us thoroughly glad to be British as we welcome being stereotyped at that.

That said, America is a truly conscious expanding experience and we loved so much of the vast, diverse, welcoming and beautiful country. And we had experiences there which we so deeply appreciated and loved that we are now incorporating them into our own lives. And I’m not just talking about the American fridge I bought complete with ice dispenser for the copious amounts of ice tea I now drink, or the American coffee maker I set on timer for after the school run, or the ball jars that we had shipped over and use now for anything and everything, although all those things definitely enhance my day to day life, God Bless America!

While we were travelling we volunteered with two families in particular who were living in a way which inspired me. The Scott-Pelman family in Washington and the Sabo family in Montana welcomed us onto their farms and introduced us to the American way of homesteading. Homesteading is a much bigger thing in America than it is here – we would call it smallholding or living self sufficiently. To do it properly here is considered a pretty unusual lifestyle, almost stepping out of society and into the world of “hippies and dreamers”. It’s an all or nothing… you’re either living the extreme lifestyle or you fit in and get a nine to five job and shop at one of the major supermarkets. There isn’t much of an in-between, although we attempted an in-between with our small scale farm that demanded such long hours marketing and selling our produce that there was little time left to enjoy it.

But in America self-sufficiency is a respected and normal lifestyle… homesteading is what the country was built on and many families living modern lifestyles are only one generation removed from their homesteading grandparents. They also do it in a much more effective way, canning their products for storage in larders and not batting an eyelid at milking a cow every morning. Okay, so part of their love of self sufficiency is due to their major paranoia about an apocalypse which, stemming from the cold war, is continuously fuelled by the aforementioned religious extremism as well as the government’s scaremongering billboards across the nation reminding citizens that “Winging it is not an emergency plan… what will you do in a disaster?” Remember folks… have a shit load of tinned food, hand guns and matches cos that will really help you when Yellowstone blows… honest!

Government campaigns across the States feed the national obsession with survival and hoarding!

Government campaigns across the States feed the national obsession with survival and hoarding!

Anyway, I’m a huge fan of apocalyptic literature so I’m all up for having a plan and making sure I can survive without supermarkets, electricity and running water… even if I do think it’s an utterly futile exercise, so what if it’s fun? I love imagining a born again virgin world with hardly any humans left. I think about which vehicles would be best to stock up and how to store the fuel and tires to ensure they run until I’ve figured out horses or dogs or something, I’d suspend the tires obviously……. I’ve rather gone off on a tangent here… back to the point.

I’m buying a cow. I’m going to milk her and yes we’ll drink it raw. I can already make seriously good yoghurt thanks to Cory’s instruction at Swinging Bridge Farm and I’ll figure out cheese, cream and butter before long thanks to Ashley we met at the Sabo Ranch and her great blog. We’ll be hosting wwoof volunteers again soon which will allow for our ongoing mini adventures and my rather demanding dedication to the HG Community. We’ve also got new chickens arriving tomorrow and some piglets at the weekend.

Yummy homemade yoghurt in one of America's best kept secrets... Ball jars

Yummy homemade yoghurt in one of America’s best kept secrets… Ball jars

We’re not doing it in a commercial way as we did before, we don’t need to with our low cost home, both earning, childcare costs now reducing and self sufficient for much of our food… this is for us, it’s where we started and are now returning to. We’re homesteading, providing our children with quality home grown nourishment and an understanding of where it all comes from. Plus they’ll gain useful skills like milking a cow and shearing a sheep and shooting a gun (actually Alfie can already do two of those things) so that should the apocalypse happen in their lifetime they’ll be just fine.

Cleaning an old chicken house out for the new arrivals this week

Cleaning an old chicken house out for the new arrivals this week

2015 – Bushcraft and Bird Watching Adventures


Well, it’s been some months since we returned to the UK and in that time I’ve worked harder than I thought possible, publishing my book, putting in funding bids, attending awards dos and holding conferences, oh and doing the odd TV and radio appearance too… There hasn’t been much time left over for adventure and fun. But now it’s a new year that is set to change.

Me on This Morning with Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby talking about hyperemesis gravidarum

Me on This Morning with Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby talking about hyperemesis gravidarum

This year, instead of the massive, all consuming adventure of travelling the USA, Team Dean is going to have a series of mini adventures closer to home and fitting around school and work so as to balance the load a bit better. Last year was a year of extremes, the first half on the road, juggling work and adventure, writing and blogging from tents and motels. The second half of the year was so utterly consumed with work that there was no time left for adventures, let alone writing and blogging about them! How I wish I could type in my sleep, or simply not have to sleep at all…

So what new adventures in 2015? Well, we want to focus on bird watching this year and have already started with a day at Slimbridge Wetland Centre on Sunday. Now I’m going to be honest… Bird watching with three small kids isn’t quite what it was in the pre-parenthood days, where we could settle into a hide and wait patiently for the birding experiences to come to us. The days when we had the time to accurately identify birds we were unsure of in our books and then listen and learn their sounds too. Oh how I enjoyed those days…

A Bewick Swan at Slimbridge. The bill markings on Bewick's are all individual so birds are identifiable as individuals!

A Bewick’s Swan at Slimbridge. The bill markings on Bewick’s are all individual so birds are identifiable as individuals!

A black headed gull (their heads aren't black in winter though!)

A black headed gull (their heads aren’t black in winter though!)

The boys (Rob included) go through a whole "don't say boo to a goose" thing, every time we see a goose... it never seems to get boring!

The boys (Rob included) go through a whole “don’t say boo to a goose” thing, every time we see a goose… it never seems to get boring!

Bird watching with three kids in tow is more a matter of taking it in turns to either briefly attempt to spot and identify something interesting or attend to the varying needs of the younger two… who want to take their shoes off the moment they’re in a (freezing cold) hide, then want snack, then want to climb the wooden walls and play post box with the little viewing slits and need picking up when they trip and then have snot pouring from their nose, then one needs a wee and the other needs a poo… you get the gist.

It was hard to get this bank vole in focus as he moved so quick, the light was low and I couldn't use the tripod where we were standing

It was hard to get this bank vole in focus as he moved so quick, the light was low and I couldn’t use the tripod where we were standing

On the plus side all three kids were impressively quiet in the hides, much to our amazement and admiration. For those who know our kids, “quiet” is not a word that would generally be associated with them (or us for that matter). But in and around the bird hides they really did do well!

I focused on photography for the day and despite it being a cloudy, dull day I was pleased with some of the shots I got. Alfie did exceptionally well and was interested and engaged all day which was rewarding.

This water rail was cool to see but again I couldn't get a shot in focus as it was too crowded to use the tripod needed for the low light.

This water rail was cool to see but again I couldn’t get a shot in focus as it was too crowded to use the tripod needed for the low light.

Another area we plan to focus on this year, like last year, is our bushcraft skills. Alfie’s fire lighting is excellent now and he’s really good with the axe he got for Christmas, chopping most of our kindling for us and lighting the fires most evenings.

I’ve booked myself on a carving master class with Ray Mears, which I’m mega excited about and hope that I can then relay techniques to Alfie, who is also getting pretty good with his knife. I’m hoping to do a family bushcraft course with Alfie in the summer and I’d really like to learn tracking skills which we can practice in woods close to home.

The tricky part is going to be finding a balance between work and play. I’m so passionate about the work I do helping women with hyperemesis that it can be hard to switch off and say no… I’m always so aware that there is always more I can do and stopping is hard when you haven’t finished. But I’ll never be “finished” and accepting that will help with stopping from time to time, it’ll be there to start again on Monday.

Boys at Golitha Falls

Boys at Golitha Falls

So I’m going to balance it… I’ll work hard in the week while the kids are at school and come the weekends it’s bushcraft and birdwatching time. And in the holidays we’re booking things to do. At Easter we’re going to travel the Wild Atlantic Way along Ireland’s west coast in a camper van. Before that we need to book something for the Feb half term… suggestions welcome. And then we’re heading into Summer where our outdoor kitchen can house us for periods of times and we can live off our own land away from the house…

2015… it’s going to be a great year!


Bewick's Swan

Bewick’s Swan

I asked Alf if he could guess why a tufted duck was called a tufted duck... "Because they are really tough?" he asked!

I asked Alf if he could guess why a tufted duck was called a tufted duck… “Because they are really tough?” he asked!

Pigeons are pretty up close

Pigeons are pretty up close

Goliatha falls... I plan also to try to improve my photography this year.

Goliatha falls… I plan also to try to improve my photography this year.

The Van and The Plan


We’ve been back in the UK now for a week and a half and in that time we’ve bought a mini bus/van, converted it so we can all sleep in it, driven hundreds of miles around the UK seeing all sorts of friends in a variety of campsites, bought another car as well and driven home to Cornwall… phew! So that’s why I haven’t had time to update you. And quite frankly I’m still trying to block the rather horrendous return plane journey from my poor, tired and traumatised mind… they didn’t sleep, we didn’t sleep… it was a no-sleep nightmare!


We brought a lot more home than we took – our initial two bags returned as six!

Anyway, we’ve recovered from that now and have been enjoying the van camping, although I think our memories of camping in Britain while still state-side were somewhat rose tinted – we forgot about the rain! But it ‘s been fun none the less with barbecues and campfires, games of cricket and football and plenty of wine with friends.

The van conversion is a great success. We stripped the panels off the inside, insulated and boarded the sides and doors. Then we hung blinds and built beds for us all with plenty of storage underneath. We bought blocks for levelling it up at campsites and we unpacked our bags into convenient tubs.

The Van!

The Van!

Adding insulation

Adding insulation

Stage one complete

Stage one complete

Then we built the beds!

Then we built the beds!

Then we set off and covering the South of England visited friends in Cambridge, Surrey and North Devon, stopping at Swindon en route to pick up a Toyota Starlet for me. I have a history with a starlet and this car makes me very happy…

Since returning to the UK I’ve been thrown back into the deep end of the hyperemesis gravidarum world and despite the improved time difference the road side working simply wasn’t working. Not wishing to turn this blog into a discussion about the running of a charity, it became clear to us that there was an immediate need for me to position myself somewhere I could work full time for a few weeks – so we descended last night on our house sitter, who rather conveniently happens to be my bezzie mate. Our house is much bigger than we remember after living in a car for the last six months! Today, with a stonking hangover far worse than I’ve experienced in quite some time after celebrations and stories last night, I have worked my little socks off trying to get things back under control and catch up with matters that were simply on hold while I was away. I can’t bring myself to look at the two draws full of six months worth of post… it’ll have to wait.

Rob in the meantime is getting started on the outdoor kitchen, compost loo and solar shower… we’re not actually “in” our house you see… there are people living here! We’re camping in our van still, we have a tent arriving tomorrow and will set up at the bottom of our fields to live outdoors for the next few weeks, poddington pea style!

The outdoor kitchen at Bruce and Pat's in Montana... the inspiration for a Dunmore Farm version.

The outdoor kitchen at Bruce and Pat’s in Montana… the inspiration for a Dunmore Farm version.

We’re also planning our adventures for the next few months, ponds, woodlands, hot tubs and all sorts are beginning to take shape in our minds and on paper… it’ll be the All New Adventures of Muma Dean and her Team, in the most beautiful place in the world – Cornwall.