Monthly Archives: March 2014

Rain in New Orleans

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Leaving Virginia on Thursday morning, we were a little sad to say goodbye to the friends we had made there but excited to move on, particularly to the warmth of the South. Eight hours of intense travel saw us leave the state of Virginia, cross right across Tennessee, cut the corner of Georgia, traverse the whole of Alabama and arrive in Mississippi in the evening. We found a decent budget hotel which exceeded expectations and slept well, although not for as long as desired due to the time zone change in Alabama meaning the kids woke an hour earlier.

After a surprisingly good breakfast included in the price we set off again for New Orleans and at this point our phones started alarming with warnings of extreme weather and flash flooding. The rain came and went but when it came it really seriously came, heavier than I think either of us have seen before. Cautiously we pressed on observing that no one around us seemed phased by the weather other than, thankfully, leaving a little longer stopping distances so for a change.

As we arrived in New Orleans the weather served to add to the apocalyptic appearance of the city outskirts. Greenery infringes everywhere and people look like they are loosing the battle, or have accepted their place and embraced the look perhaps? That changes as you get into the city centre but not a lot. It adds a fragile beauty to the man made structures which appealed to us outdoorsy types and an intriguing appeal to explore. I felt like I was walking amongst the pages of novels, although the pouring rain helped keep me in reality. We got soaked!

Lunch was at a funky restaurant in the French Quarter sampling as much local Creole cuisine as possible including Jambalaya and Gumbo along with fried alligator, crawfish and catfish. Stuffed full we wandered around the dripping wet streets, Patrick danced in giant puddles determined to get as wet as possible, and we dashed over well used tram tracks to see the great Mississippi River with it’s paddle boats heading off playing jolly tunes with a steam organ.

We had hoped to stay in New Orleans so that we could experience some Jazz and soak up the evening atmosphere but it turns out you need to book! Pretty much all year round too. There isn’t a specific event on this weekend but literally everywhere was full so we headed back to the suburbs and found a Holiday Inn with a pool for the kids, which they loved. Today we are heading to a Plantation to learn about the history of the area and it’s slave foundations. Tomorrow we have a swamp wildlife adventure planned before moving on for the 25 hours of West bound travel.

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Life in the Airstream

We’ve had lots of requests for pictures of life in the Airstream… keen as ever to oblige my loyal readers here are some pictures of our days at Swinging Bridge Farm.

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Breakfast time, having put our bed away

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The view the other way

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A jigsaw before bed

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Bed time for the children

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Our bed involves putting the table away and stretching out the sofa

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Painting on a rainy day

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Alfie milking Meadow the Jersey cow

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A cup of tea on the campfire, with our Lazy Pond mugs and milk fresh from Meadow

Simple living

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I’ve taken to hand washing our clothes. Our host is more than happy for us to use their super giant washing machine but with the lovely weather we’ve been having and the washing line Alfie made for me in the tree outside the Airsteam I’ve been enjoying doing this basic yet essential task without modern conveniences.

It also sets a good example for the boys, letting them see that there are other ways of doing things… Alternatives which can actually be enjoyable.

A friend of mine once commented that she couldn’t understand why we would want to try using flint tools when we have modern steel knives and so on. Whereas I couldn’t understand her inability to understand… It’s what bushcraft is all about, being able to live, in relative comfort with just the natural resources we have around us.

And the boys have certainly been embracing the natural resources around us to get stuck into some bushcraft. We built a den, we dragged fallen trees from the woods for the fire, we collected kindling and tinder and all the while I heard “Ray Mears would like this den, Ray Mears would think this was a well prepared fire, Ray Mears uses his saw like this, doesn’t he mum!”

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The boys collecting firewood and kindling from the woods behind the Airstream

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Alfie constructing his shelter.

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Not exactly rain proof but a good wind break!

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A well prepared fire with tinder, kindling, larger sticks and the logs just out of view… not sure what the shovel was for or the sunglasses and wellies?

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Sawing safely

Now I’m not sure we are quite at the “Den suitable for sleeping in” stage with this but for two boys aged 6 and 3, yes, Ray Mears probably would like this den. And preparing a fire properly was a key goal for Alfie who is prone to rushing to the lighting stage so he’s doing really well making sure he has it all ready first now. It’s hard for Alfie to use his saw with his left arm crossed over because his arms are still kind of short but he’s certainly practising and keen to learn the proper, safe techniques for these skills. We’ve started Patrick on “carving” sticks with a vegetable peeler which is safer for his stage and a great tip for parents wanting to get their kids into safe knife use, helping them gain control of tools and learn safety techniques like “elbows on knees”.

So our days have been full of fun, tracking deer through the forest, cooking on the campfire and spotting bald eagles… It’s amazing!

Let me paint you a picture

Meadow wouldn’t move. It was just after 9 am and Rob and the kids were listening to Derby versus Forest, which, bizarrely, is easier to listen to in the depths in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia than it is to pick up in Cornwall. I had collected the metal milk bucket and soapy water to wash her udder with and left them in the barn, now all I needed was Meadow to plod serenely ahead of me into the stall as she does each morning without question. This morning she wouldn’t budge. I sighed and turned around to give her minute more chewing the cud… And there they were… An adult bald eagle and a young one!

They swooped silently into my view and the adult landed on the grassy bank opposite me. Far less graceful on the ground I wondered if there was a reason for her landing there so I crept forward trying not to disturb her yet aware that she knew exactly where I was. She called out to her young eagle and he flew down next to her… They were eating! Pulling the dead creature apart into strips, I couldn’t see what it was but hoped it wasn’t one of the chickens providing our eggs at the moment.

Utterly spell bound I watched for 20 or so minutes as the adult took a seat on a high branch above the river and watched as it’s successful offspring enjoyed his new wings, flying back and forth along the river. Then in came another infant. Two baby bald eagles after a harsh winter, how wonderful! Well done you magnificent bird.

I’d been watching for a while and the Adult eagle knew I was there so I decided to try creeping through the gate in the hope of the clearest view a few feet away. From the mass of trees on the slope opposite me a second adult appears and let the first one know it was time to go, perhaps I got a little too close.

A family of four right here on the river! Tingling with the excitement of what I had just had the once in a lifetime opportunity to witness I went to milk Meadow, who happily walked with me to the barn to be relieved of the two and a half gallons of milk in her udder.

I felt like I was in my very own nature programme, living the dream.

Oh and the Bald Eagle’s Barmy Army won 5-0!

To see a short video I took of the eagles follow me on Facebook Adventures of Muma Dean

All play and no work

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Finding the balance at the moment is kind of tricky. I’m am meant to be working whilst on the road. The book I’m currently writing about a medical condition is just not progressing as I had hoped… it was easy at home when I had childcare and evenings without distraction – I flew through chapters churning out thousands of words in a day. Here I have the children all day, Orla has dropped her nap (oh joy!) and then in the evenings it’s hard to find the motivation to carry on after blogging and sorting through emails.

The days are a combination of fun farm work, like milking the cow and collecting eggs, the mundane like sorting out meals and washing up (which is still pretty fun and novel in the Airstream), the mind numbing, like changing nappies and picking up clothes constantly, and the unbelievably exciting, like watching a bald eagle fishing on the river here. Plus we’ve been having campfires and using the bat detector and tracking deer through the woods (and, ahem, watching Game of Thrones on DVD). But that doesn’t leave a lot of time for blog and book writing or charity administration. I am proud to say though that I got up at 06:30am on Friday, sneaked out to the car (turned the heaters on!) and attended an online meeting. I suppose getting up early to work is an option that many people in my situation would embrace but honestly… it’s not going to happen so lets not pretend it is. I’m far more likely to get up at dawn to look for owls and coyotes and listen to the dawn chorus while watching the sunrise. And even that wouldn’t be a regular occurrence – sleep has become far to precious since having children.

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Rob and Patrick cleaning out the chickens

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Alfie and I spend a while trying to get a picture of him kicking a ball. This was my favourite.

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He climbs everything!

Slightly more frustrating is the lack of time with my camera. I am determined to get a decent picture of a bald eagle. Last night at dusk we spotted it flying along the river and when it perched I grabbed the camera, I got this rather ridiculous picture from our door in the hope I could see it more clearly on the computer but alas it was too far.

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Spot the eagle…

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Zoomed right in, barely visible… but proof none the less that we have seen a bald eagle! It was somewhat better in real life 😉

This morning we saw him again perched on a branch by the river but this time we were about 40 metres away from him… without a camera or binoculars! “Why on earth don’t you just take the camera out with you all the time?” I hear so many of you cry… You people with none, one or maybe two children… With three kids in tow I can only take the camera sometimes and only if I also have Rob with me. Picture for a moment if you will… me laden with kids coats they are refusing to wear, chasing Orla down the road (man can that girl move when she wants to!) Alfie is chasing her for me and I diligently have my camera over my shoulder and across my chest resting on my back while not in use chasing them both. Patrick is somewhere near me but he is sly like a fox and moves around me shadow style. Orla stops suddenly, Alfie crashes into her and down they both go like a sack of spuds. I catch up, anticipating the howls that are about to start and on swooping down to retrieve Orla to her feet the lens on the camera cracks Alfie on the head… On turning to comfort him and apologise Patrick is taken out, again by the lens… I can’t pick any of them up in case they kick the damn thing and they are all now crying and it’s starting to rain…

This scenario happens on a daily basis, add Swarovsai binoculars in to the mix and there is even more chaos. Actually, that’s not true, it happens multiple times every day and the only aspect of it that I can alter or improve is the camera/binocular element. It’s the kit I’m worried about obviously… the kids heads will be fine, it’s never a particularly hard clonk!

That said, I do take it out with me when Rob is with us (so he can sort out the scrapes and falls without braining the children in the process) and I love using it when I can. I just have to accept my limitations. But you all know me, when I’m determined to do something, like get a photo of a bald eagle… I do it, and I’m even more proud of it knowing the challenges I faced in getting it.

Swinging Bridge Farm

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We headed out of Washington on Monday to a new wwoof placement which we were feeling pretty confident about. Despite having only contacted Nathaniel and Cory the previous week we had managed to secure a place on their beautiful farm in south west Virginia for the next few weeks and were feeling confident on our drive down that we would like it. A couple, a similar age to us and with two children, Orla and Patrick’s ages. They are building their own straw bale house and have a small farm with a milking cow, chickens and some goats. No mention of any extreme religious views on their profile… we were sure we would get along fine.

So my lack of posting since is simply because we are having so much fun! Yesterday the weather was so glorious it was like the height of summer in England. We milked the cow called meadow, played in the garden, planted some apple trees, had a campfire, drank their incredible homemade cider and just hung out.

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As soon as we arrived the boys found a tree to climb!

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Garlic and thyme flat bread on the fire. Chinese pork cooking in the pot.

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Mashmallows are a must!

Today the temperature has dropped and the kids and I went to the local library with Cory and her two kids, Leroy and Ember, for story time while rob worked with Nathaniel. The characterful lady leading the session had such a strong accent the boys couldn’t really understand the stories but they joined in with the dances and Orla ran wild and rolled around with a couple of small boys who have a further 11 brothers at home.

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Trailer living

We are staying in a funky old Airstream trailer which is right up our street and the wildlife here is phenomenal. There are bald eagles nearby which we are watching out for and there are turtles in the river and the stunning red Northern Cardinals and Bluebirds flitting across the roads. I haven’t had a chance to get my camera out yet so these are all from my phone but it’s such a photogenic place I’m looking forward to getting my camera out soon.  It’ snowing now… crazy to have such a change from one day to the next!

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Washington DC

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The Grand Hyatt in the centre of Washington DC is just wonderful! A stones throw from the White House and Capitol Hill it could not be more child friendly and generally welcoming. Which is lucky because when we rocked up in our crazy child filled car with a roof box on which needed dismantling and storing separately in order to fit in the tight city car park, a friendly welcome and patient help was just what we needed… and got.

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The Old Post Office is soon to be turned into a Hotel. The view from the top of it’s tower is amazing.

Yesterday we visited the National Museum of American History. With three tired children and time limited by an appointment with our bank we just picked a couple of areas that interested us and wizzed round them. Having just watched the TV series Revolution it was fun exploring the section about Edison and invention of the light bulb. We also went around the transport section and got to see original Model T’s. In the Naval section we learned about the slave ships and also about pirates. Here are four facts about pirates that we learned:

  1. They don’t tend to go “Arrrgggghhhhhh” – that myth is thanks to a couple of pirate films
  2. They did have parrots. Not generally on their shoulders but certainly lots in cages on their ships
  3. They did drink lots and lots of rum, all the time.
  4. They didn’t make people walk the plank… again from films, the reality of the tortures and murders they committed where far more violent and gruesome.

Today we visited the Lincoln Memorial and the visitor centre at the U.S. Capitol. It’s hard not to be impressed by the stunning architecture of these important places. But more impressive is the history, which by UK standards is virtually yesterday. Appreciating what this young nation has achieved in such a short time helps us understand the current psyche of the people here. Given what they have overcome for their freedom, just a few generations ago, it is easy to understand their obsession with independence and personal liberty.

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The Capitol

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The Capitol (sunny side)

I am impressed by their humble, open discussion of the more shameful parts of their history, in particularly the slavery which built so much of the country. Far from shying away from it they openly talk about it and display the brutal facts, lest we should forget. They admit to the columns of the Capitol having been created by slaves and the statue of Rosa Parks is clearly their most prized piece within the building which buzzes with statues of impressive figures. The UK is not quite so willing to openly discuss their atrocities and that’s a problem with our nation as to better our selves we must learn from the past, not deny it. People will always make mistakes but we can strive to be better.

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Rosa Parks… the most famous statue in the Capitol. People visit just to see this statue. Today is International Women’s Day so a particularly special day to see this work of such a great woman.

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Emancipation is a major theme in the Capitol buildings

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The Lincoln Memorial. Alfie asked if he was really that big!

The Lincoln Memorial is equally overwhelming and inspiring. It’s purpose is clear and effective as you can’t help but leave utterly determined for equality….

Okay so I’ve just been totally distracted from blog writing by a knock on our hotel room door… Our waitress from dinner sent us up a card with a bottle of wine and some cakes and desserts! How wonderful.

And now I’ve been distracted by Orla having done explosive diarrhoea all over her cot… Housekeeping brought new sheets but have to come back for the s**t covered stuff… nightmare…

Signing off to finish sorting poo bed clothes and cracking the wine open after that! I’m rather lost my train of thought on Lincoln and Rosa Parks but I’m sure I’ll pick up the tread again in the next few weeks. Now I’ll leave you with this rather interesting photograph I took today… Bon poo et bon nuit

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