Reading List – second in a series of random book related posts when I think of it

I’ve been reading books and researching other books and ordering books from the library all relevant to what we’re planning. Here’s the latest clutch:
I listed this in the last post but hadn’t actually read it then. I have now and it’s ace. I really enjoyed reading it for various reasons. Primarily because it is really well written. John is a great writer; engaging, interesting, self-deprecating and amusing. But of course it is also highly relevant content-wise as it gives an account of a year’s experiement to live off the land, hunting, fishing and foraging. John has a stock of honey and not a lot else and makes his flour from ground chestnuts, his coffee from acorns, his beer from nettles, his wine from elderflowers and elderberries, feasts on rabbit, pigeon, fish and green collected from the ground and the hedgerows. It is interspersed with anecdotes, autobiographical bits and insights into John’s wife and children and their take on his year of living wild. I really enjoyed it, learnt stuff and have insisted Ady read it next.

Having finished that I have just started the next book in the pile and have been immediately sucked in. Not only is Nick’s adventure a local one based in my home county of Sussex it is also frank, refreshingly honest, has plenty of beer and wine and staying up late chatting with mates it is also exciting, educational (with plenty of how-to guides, step by step pictures, recipes, photos and information about what he has foraged and loads more) and another of those books you read where you actually care about the person writing. I’ll do a full review once I’ve finished it but so far, so good.

In the to-read pile I have the following, obviously no recommendations yet other than the fact I deemed them interesting enough at first glance to get them ordered.

You can’t take it with you….

which will be the case for pretty much everything we own next year but unlike the usual use of that warning we will be able to take some of it. A little bit. A teeny, tiny amount.

Which has us looking at the space in the van and trying to work out what is essential and has to have room found for it, what is desireable and would be nice to fit in if possible and whether there is space for one frivilous item each (not the life size papier mache dalek though!)

There are the things we need to stockpile and take with us, things we potentially could buy along the way, little touches that might make the tough times that bit easier.

I think, in the same way we manage when camping that being super organised and keeping everything tidy and put away is the best way to cope with a very small space. Dedicating cupboards and cubby holes to certain things will likely be essential both in making sure everything fits, keeping the van a safe place to be while on the move and knowing where things are when you need them.

Our planned basic essential kit is:

  • First Aid Kit – plasters, bandages, eye wash, painkillers, travel sickness pills, cold & flu remedy, medical wipes, anti-histimine, sun cream, antiseptic cream.
  • Toiletries – this is a tricky one, clearly we won’t have room for a years supply of loo rolls, we won’t need perfume and aftershave but we will want razors, deodrant, toothpaste. I wear contact lenses (daily disposable ones) and even if vanity didn’t prevent me from giving them up for the year in favour of glasses I’d need to buy new glasses, which cost about the same as a years supply of lenses and run the risk of getting broken or lost or just being a nusiance for manual working. So some things we will stock up on if space allows, I will get my mail order for a years worth of lenses and we will stash toothbrushes and maybe several bottles of shower gel to get us going and see whether these are things we need to keep stocks of or can be used at hosts houses and therefore not needed.
  • Food. We will work out a weeks worth of basic food rations in tins and packets to keep on board the van and replace if we have to dip into them. It is part of the deal that hosts feed us but some seem to think this means a main meal only plus we will have times when we are not working, or travelling from one host to another or a host might not work out leaving us without food until we travel to the next one. There is a double cupboard under the sink which I intend filling with pasta, rice, noodles, tinned beans, fish and meat, bags of flour, bottles of oil, packets of yeast, salt, sugar, herbs and spices. We’ll keep cartons of long life milk and supplies like biscuits and chocolate for the bad days :). I’d hope milk, butter, eggs and fresh supplies like fruit and veg could be gotten hold of either from hosts or locally and we are planning on learning about foraging and wild food collecting including shooting and fishing. We have a couple of small fishing rods.
  • Clothing. I am expecting to be able to make use of a hosts washing machine at least once during a weeks stay, assuming they have one of course ;). If not we will either hand wash (so a couple of bottles of travel wash will be in the basic kit along with a washing line to string between the two front windows of the cab and some clothes pegs to hang out stuff to dry inside the van with the heater on) or find a laundrette. So on that basis I’m reckoning on a weeks worth of clothes each – that’s pants, socks and t shirts clean each day, 3 pairs of jeans and 3 fleeces or jumpers each. Wow that looks really scary written down! We will each have a shelf in the tall wardrobe section of the van to keep clothes on. We’ll probably go with two sets of bedtime clothing each (pjs or similar) and have additional warm stuff such as thick socks, gloves, hats. We’ll need shoes / boots and wellies each along with a set of waterproofs and at least one big, warm, waterproof coat each. The wellies will live in an outside storage section in the van where the gas bottles are stowed. I have a fancy welly bag that came with mine and intend making one each for the others so they can be put away muddy and not cover everything else. This will be great for using up some waterproof fabric I have in a stash I need to get rid of :). Ady, Dragon and I have decent boots, Star still needs to get some before we go. We all have plenty of jeans, t shirts, jumpers and fleeces but decent coats and waterproofs are among the things we need to look out for.
  • Kitchen equipment. We have no shortage of this currently, with a very well stocked kitchen and a full set of camping kitchen stuff but I think I will want to be drinking from proper mugs and glasses and not eating off plastic plates so we will bring with us just four of everything – mugs, glasses, plates, bowls, knives, forks and spoons. There is a cutlery tray in the cupboard under the sink which will take the above along with sharp knives, scissors, tin opener, bottle opener /corkscrew, a few other cooking utensils and the plates and bowls. One of the upper cupboards in the van has an insert for putting mugs, cups and glasses into so they don’t rattle about while you’re driving so that is already dedicated to that use. We only have two gas rings on the hob so two pans is all we’ll need. We have a large one which also has a colander that fits inside it so that will be one and a smaller one also with lid can come along too. The van came with kettle and toaster so those will come with us and inside the oven we will stash as many roasting trays and baking sheets as we can fit from our kitchen at home. 
  • Other essentials. We have a very small library of books we’re intending bringing along. Our River Cottage diary, a selection of Collins Gem books about the natural world. Star has some treasured books which she’ll be bringing (mostly about animals), Dragon is bringing his best books too. It’s my plan to gather new books to read from charity shops as required and then give them back to charity shops along the way when finished with. We will be bringing a netbook, several cameras, mobile phones, walkie talkies and associated chargers. We have a portable dvd player, MP3 player all of which indivdually are tiny but collectively will take up space.
  • Dragon and Star have a small cubby hole at the back of their bunk which they can use for anything they want to bring along. Dragon intends bringing: DS and PSP (gaming consoles and games), knife for whittling, one or two selected cuddly toys, art materials. Star is bringing: DS, some cuddly toys, art materials and a little box of assorted ‘treasures’. They both have rucksacks with ‘essential stuff’ such as penknives, fire steels, lighting materials, first aid bits and are bringing those along to reload as we go.
  • Space-wise we have the cubby hole outside the van where the gas bottles live which we intend putting wellies in, the large wardrobe cupboard which we’ll shelve for our clothes, the kitchen cupboard and oven for all the food and kitchen equipment, six cupboards one of which will be for cups and mugs, four of which will be declared ‘one each’ for whatever we personally want to bring and one I think for first aid, toiletries, cosmetics etc. The shower can be used for stashing things in when not in use, probably towels, coats etc. There are some pegs for hanging more coats on the back of the shower door or we may have various bags hung there for keeping things in. Bedding will live on the kids bunk when not being used – we’ll take pillows, sleeping bags, space fleece blankets which will get moved around the van over the course of the day. The cab can also be used as a storage ‘room’ when parked up and we’ll get a screen to block it off from the outside so you can sit in there or store stuff in there. There is plenty of space in the cab generally so things like shoes and maybe waterproofs can be stashed there all the time behind the seats. 

Which leads me to the list of stuff we want to get that I am starting to work on. There is waterproofs, coats, work boots, a solar charger and anything else that we think of along the way which would be space saving, make life easier or just be a nice touch.

Thinking inside the box

Contrary to popular advice telling us to think outside the box, we’re currently doing the very opposite!

We’re coming to the end of ebay-able belongings and as the car boot sale season has ended we are needing to think of other ways to clear boxes of stuff. We have just five weeks before it is my ambition to reach a state of everything left in the house either being stored or coming with us.

We have several bags of outgrown childrens clothes; these will be coming with us to a group holiday with friends where there will be several smaller children to pass them on to. My own wardrobe is next on my list of things to tackle – I have a work wardrobe which I can pare right down to sufficient clothes for my last couple of months (I only work two days a week so don’t need too many ‘costume changes’) and the time has probably come to question whether I ever intend wearing business suits again and if not those can go. My wardrobe for next year will be very much jeans, t shirts, fleeces and jumpers so everything else can go in the ‘to go’ box. I’ll keep my wedding dress, a black suit for funerals to put in storage and everything else can go. A friend who is fundraising for her disabled daughter is about to do a Nearly New Clothing Sale with a cut of what you sell going to her funds and the rest to you. Love that idea for selling my clothes, getting some cash and supporting a worthy cause too :).

Ady  needs to do the same exercise but he has rather fewer clothes… 😉

We should then be left with a last few clothes to get rid of at the very end, probably a charity shop will benefit there and our very basic working wardrobe for the year.

We have already culled music, dvds, videos to the level which will be going into storage for the year, simply a matter of boxing those up just before we go, along with TV, video, DVD player, telephone and the other few electrical bits and pieces we’ll be keeping but not taking with us.

Furniture wise we don’t have a lot to begin with; a couple of sofas, a table and chairs, four beds and a few bookcases along with some dresser tops we were given by friends and love far too much to get rid of. Our bedroom has built in wardrobes, all of the rest of our furniture is very much at the end of it’s useful life anyway, kids wardrobes with missing knobs and wonky doors, chest of drawers with drawer bottoms that fall into the drawers below. These will go in the next couple of weeks either chopped up for firewood or taken to the tip.

Toys and books play a large part in the house still looking quite full. The toys have been more or less reduced to the level of stuff being kept. We have loft voids in our house where boxed up toys can be kept and by the time we go away I’d like to have a finite amount of boxes filled with toys that we know will fit there. Books have been a tricky thing to get rid of; I’ve had some listed on amazon marketplace, some on ebay, taken some to car boot sales and not really had much success in either unloading them or raising money. I’ve come up with the idea of a Book Sale Open House here next week when people can come by for a cup of tea and chat and browse the large selection of books available at flat rate prices of 50p each or 3 for £1. I’m hoping to end that day with some extra funds, fewer books and lots of cups to wash up! Anything left after that will probably be gracing the shelves of the local charity shop.

Which leaves us with a few boxes of things like bedding, kitchen stuff like crockery and cutlery, pots and pans. Probably only a box or two and worth storing as costly to start again with. We have things like breadmakers, sewing machine, microwave, slow cooker all of which are also worth keeping. We are likely going to have a room in my parents house where we can store stuff. A layer of furniture with a layer of boxes on top is what I am picturing – kind of scary how it can all be reduced to one room in one house and at the same time I also wonder whether I will really want those appliances with plugs and the kids will miss those toys made of plastic when we’ve done without them for a whole year.

Our to-do list for November is as follows:

  • Clear the garage. This is labour intensive and  boring and dirty. It contains a washing machine which we are hoping to part exchange for a new cooker, two small chest freezers which we’ll try and reduce to one and then none and either freecycle or sell just before we leave. And a whole host of other crap all of which just needs loading into the back of a car and taking to the tip! A couple of days work on dry days preferably not weekends when the tip will be busy.
  • Clear the wardrobes of clothes – the kids have been cleared into stuff they will wear until we go and stuff we’ll take with us. They can now go in boxes and the actual wardrobes can be chopped up and got rid of. Our drawers need the same process as does our wardrobe, with stuff for the Nearly New Sale labelling and pricing ready to hand over to my friend.
  • Books need to be gone – hopefully by route of the Open House Book Sale, if not freecycle / charity shop.
  • Get toys boxed up so we know how many boxes we have and they can be kept tidy and ready to store away.

Reasons to be cheerful…

2010 has been a bit of a landmark year. For a long time Bad Stuff has been something of an abstract concept really. I’ve never been bereaved, never had what I consider to be anything awful happen to me or mine. I am aware that ‘anything awful’ is rather an abstract concept and that what I am able to brush off and put down to experience may be what fells someone else, that said I have always felt able to take full responsibility for pretty much everything that has come my way. Own it, deal with it, move on from it.

But this year there have been events happening to people I love which I have felt utterly unable to claim responsibility for, explain away, prevent or make better. This year I have seen friends lose parents, siblings and children. I’ve seen people come to terms with fatal illness, try to package up their life and tidy up lose ends in the same way as we are doing in preparation for heading off on an adventure for a year, except that they are quite literally packing up a life to put it away forever. I have witnessed people coming to terms with truths so sad, so unfair, so far from what they expected their life to be, create new normals and deal with realisations that everything they thought to be the case was infact wrong. I have stood, hand clapped over my mouth in horror as if watching in slow motion as dramas unfold, lifes are forever altered and in a moment nothing is ever the same again.

These experiences make me cry, make me want to rage at the world, make me want to run off with everyone I love and hold dear and wrap them all up, hold them close to me and protect them from the world. But you can’t do that can you? Life is for living. We can’t effect what gets chucked at us, we can only control how we respond to it and deal with it once it’s happened. My personal belief is we are here once. We have one chance to grab life as it slips, slithering and mercurial through our fingertips. We should cherish every moment, grab every opportunity, love, laugh, learn, make it all count.

I hear too many tales of lives cut prematurely short, not completely lived, not given the chance to make all those dreams come true. I listen to old people, blessed with all that history and a long life behind them, cursed with shoulda, woulda, coulda regrets. My mantra has always been I’d rather regret the things I did do than the things I didn’t. How I can live with looking back and recalling mistakes, laughing at silly moves I made, learning from every foot I put wrong, how I couldn’t live with never having given it a go. Being scared is not reason enough not to do something. Taking risks to make us gasp is what keeps us breathing in, breathing an exhalation sigh of relief is what keeps us breathing out. Living is what keeps us alive.

Wondering Wanderers is our ‘all on the black’, but we’re keeping enough in our back pockets to shove on the red if that black choice looks a bit wonky. It’s our ‘here is what we really want, this might just be the path to lead us there’. And when we put it like that it begins to occur to us we don’t really have a choice. 

Zone One Complete

We now have the first three months, Zone One, fully booked with just a couple of weeks left to slot in the hosts that had said yes to us but didn’t want to firmly book dates until the new year.

We have a nice variety of places including a couple of intentional communities, a campsite, a pair of self-built, off-grid livers, fruit and veg growers and animal rearing smallholders. We have several one week stays, a couple of two weeks and one three weeker where we are hoping to learn some butchery.

This means it is time to move on to booking Zone Two – North Wales. The dates for Zone Two are June, July and August – a full half a year plus away so we will be doing more speculative emails at this stage, asking for two week stays at our short-short listed places with dates confirmed nearer the time. Before we head off in March I will do the same for Zone Three – Scottish highlands and island ready for September, October and November. The final few months we will leave open until nearer the time as we’ll be coming back ‘home’ for Christmas and can plan the last bit from there.

The van has been serviced and is running beautifully. We have a few more things to tweak with her – she has a slight oil leak, the exhaust manifold is cracked and needs welding and we are looking at having seatbelts fitted. The MOT is not due until May 2011 but we will get it done before we go so we don’t need to worry about it during the year we’re away. We also need to have the shower heater fixed / replaced and the internal electrics are still not running off the leisure battery, only a mains hook up. We did have a run around in it at the weekend though, taking it to fill up with petrol, making a cup of tea and some soup in the supermarket carpark and sitting in it on my Dad’s driveway to test the fridge and have a chat. It feels very cosy, homely and ‘right’ to be sitting in it. We have also practised putting the blocks down at the rear and D can do this all by himself. It’s really important that the kids learn as much as we do about how everything works.

On the subject of the kids we have been chatting about the whole Wondering Wanderers blog and I asked how they would like to be refered to on here. I don’t use their real names online, not because I am particularly paranoid about protecting their identities now, more that I don’t want someone to be able to google them in years to come and find loads of stuff their mother wrote about them when they were children! They are welcome to fill facebook, twitter and the internet with stuff about themselves in their own time but I’ll save that joy for them ;). Having already refered to them by initials they chose to think up new names for themselves using those initials. So D will now be known on here as Dragon and S will be known as Star. Dragon chose the name because ‘it sounds cool, I like fire and I like the way dragons are imaginary so you get to create colours, sizes and stuff about dragons yourself’. S chose Star as ‘is goes well with Wondering and Wandering and I like the way stars light up tke sky at night’. Makes me feel quite boring sticking to ‘Nic’ 😆 😆

Van Education

I’m aware that at the moment most people reading this blog are friends, or friends of friends or at the very least not that far removed from us. But as one of the questions on the post below was regarding Education for D and S and I realise to someone happening upon this blog who doesn’t know us and hasn’t arrived here via a link with the Home Ed community I thought I’d write a little about Home Education and what will soon be Van Education :).

We have been Home Educating D and S from the very beginning, as most parents do when their children are tiny but we took the decision when D was 2 and S was a baby that we would continue to do so and not use pre-school or school but educate our children at home. This is perfectly legal and anyone can do it. The duty to ensure your children receive an education  appropriate to their age, aptitude and ability has always rested with the parents, it’s just that most of us in this country chose to delegate it to schools. For most parents, and most children this arrangement works perfectly and everyone is happy, educated and content with the arrangement. For reasons which have altered over the 8 years we have been Home Educating our arrangement of not using school works for us and we are happy, educated and content with it.

Our style of Home Ed has evolved over the years to specifically suit the four individuals in our family. It’s a regularly tweaked lifestyle which aims to meet the needs of all. We do not follow a curriculum, use work books or focus on any specific subjects. We don’t seperate out literacy, numeracy, science, history, art from each other, we simply believe all of the above fall into the catch all category of Life and Living and that any skills which are required, relevant or necessary will be picked up as we go along. Our philosophy is that if you try hard enough you can do anything and if you approach life with passion, curiosity and positivity your reward will be an interesting an fulfilling experience.

This means that knowledge acquisition is self driven and autonomous, often practical life skills or answers to questions that have simply arisen due to visiting someplace, a conversation in the car, a TV show or news item, sparked by a story from a favourite author or shared by a friend. Both D and S have passions and things they are personally interested in and we find ways to help them quench their thirst for information and skills in these areas – S loves animals, wildlife and nature so along with hatching chickens, ducks and quails eggs and helping to raise them and look after them she also attends a monthly group at our local RSPB reserve, has done Keeper for a Day sessions at local zoos, has DS games where she gets to play vet / look after the animals, has a shelf on her book case full of stories about animals, encyclopedias about animals, dvds of nature documentaries etc. We visit zoos, wildlife centres, nature reserves, animal sanctuaries and encourage her to talk to pet owners, animal trainers, zookeepers, wildlife handlers etc.

D is interested in archaeology so attends the local branch meetings of the Young Archaeology Club monthly, has visited museums, had loan boxes of geological samples and learnt about rocks and fossils, watched and listened to adaptations of Stig of the Dump, visited various caves around the UK, attended history workshops at various museums. He is into bushcraft, survival and woodworking so we have done Forest School, greenwood working lessons, furnished him with a penknife, lots of wood and Ray Mears books and dvds and done a bushcraft weekend where we built our own shelter to sleep in. He loves film making and animation so we have bought him equipment to make his own films and taken him to events on filmmaking, museums of animation and watched endless ‘making of’ films on dvd extras.

Both children are interested in food so we do lots of cooking, not just baking but proper, knowing all about the ingredients, growing them ourselves if we can and learning about what processes they undergo type cooking. We also shop together, they know that food doesn’t come from Tescos but from the ground, the trees, the animals, via processing plants and factories, with food miles attached. We are hoping to take this a step further with our WW adventure both in learning even more about where our food comes from and cutting out several of those middle men and food miles but also learning about self sufficiency, whether we can hunt and gather and grow to feed ourselves.

The whole Wondering Wanderers idea has been a good example of how our brand of Home Education works really. It was a plan born of conversation, exchanging ideas, hopes and dreams and hatching plans for our ideal lives. Everyone in the family had a voice, a valid contribution to offer. Everyone had concerns and compromises to make and everyone had an equal vote in which way we go about this. We all have things we want to achieve from it, new skills we want to learn, we’ll make plenty of it up as we go along, enjoy not just the end result but the whole journey and process and thrive on the challenges and changes along the way.

when the going gets tough…

I really enjoyed thinking about and answering the questions asked for the post below. I will keep checking comments on that thread so if anyone wants to ask more please do go ahead. I hope I answered your question sufficiently if you asked one.

It got us all talking and thinking about the plan and coming up with strategies to help with the hard bits, trying to anticipate what some of them might be and plan accordingly.

We are all anticipating missing family and friends. We see my parents and brother fairly often as they only live a mile down the road and my Dad often looks after D&S while I am at work. A’s brother and his family live about 20 miles away and we see them most weeks too; they have three children who are also Home Educated and the five cousins are very close. I count my sister-in-law as one of my closest friends. We have many other local friends who we hang out with pretty regularly and our happiest days are spent with children playing and adults chatting and drinking tea. We have a large circle of friends scattered all around the country who we meet up with in larger and smaller groups probably most months to celebrate birthdays, holiday together and spend time with. This is very much part of the rhythm of our lives and will be tough to adjust to I think.

The trade off for this difficulty will of course be more time together as a foursome. We will be learning new skills and meeting new people on a pretty much continual basis – as sociable people I think this will meet our need to be with others. We will come home for at least one visit at Christmas and stay with family, catch up with friends. Various family and friends have expressed an intention to come and find us during our adventure and come and stay near where we are or join us when we take the odd week out of WOOFing and camp up somewhere instead. When we are near to friends as we travel around we will make sure we meet up and we are hoping to get to one or two of the regular meet ups throughout the year too, specifically planning some of the year around them.

All that said we will be having a Goodbye Party a couple of weeks before we go and I know how tough saying goodbye will be.

Re-homing our birds is another hurdle. Not the actual finding homes for them, that is proving pretty straightforward but that goodbye thing is always tough. S said goodbye to her ducks this weekend just gone. She hatched them, looked after them in her bedroom as tiny ducklings and spent hours every day with them outside in the garden. The duck (we had a duck and a drake) started laying eggs a couple of weeks ago so she did the full circle from egg to egg with them. After lots of thinking and several new home options she chose a friend with a huge lake on their land complete with a couple of islands in the middle to cite their wooden house safe from foxes and the dogs that live there.

We took them over there on Saturday, rowed a boat out to the island with the ducks and their house, let them go and after a bit of watching them get used to the fact their world had just expanded dramatically we left them there.

 as hatching eggs

 With S, having their first swim at two days old

 out in the garden, a week or so old

 Last week, fully grown adults, laying and egg a day.

 Being rowed out to their new home

 chasing the boat back to shore!

It was tough for S, although we had quickly realised the ducks were much larger than we were hoping for when they hatched so rehoming them was always going to be a necessity as they simply didn’t have enough space in our garden. S has loved the experience, was sad to see them go but happy to have raised them and taken them somewhere so lovely to live.

The whole taking the ducks to a new home experience brought up one of my own wobbles about the coming year mind you. I have been Very Afraid Indeed of dogs since I was tiny. My Dad tells me I was once nipped by a dog as a toddler, which I don’t recall but clearly was the trigger. I used to be *really* scared and would go to extremes of crossing the road to avoid walking past a dog, checking before I went to someone’s house whether they had dogs and generally struggling when being around dogs. I have tried hard to overcome my phobia since having children as I didn’t want to pass it on to them. Neither of the children are remotely scared of dogs and I would probably call myself cautious rather than terrified these days. I can cope with being around them aslong as other people are in the room and I can even stroke them or hold a lead if pushed. This had occured to me as a potential problem with WOOFing as many of the hosts are likely to have dogs and I won’t be able to guarantee my ‘always someone else around’ proviso happens. I had been ignoring the worry and deciding to deal with it as and when it came up rather than overshadow things.

But when we took the ducks to our friend their dogs (four, gun dogs used to retrieving shot down birds) tried to get the ducks and I found myself facing off two of them, shouting them down and grabbing their collars to drag them off one of the ducks. Adrenaline kicked in and I managed to assert myself. A friend has been teaching me odd bits about dog psychology and pack mentalities and I feel confident I can conquer this so it doesn’t hamper me while we’re away.

I think the key to dealing with the difficulties we will inevitably face next year will be anticipating as many as possible, having crisis plans already made (eg food stash to last a week, cash stash for petrol to get us home, breakdown cover to ensure we don’t get stranded) and the attitude that everything we encounter will teach us something new, help us cement just what we want in our lives and what we don’t and in the same way as your questions challenged us and made us feel even more positive we are doing the right thing, saying goodbye to the ducks, clearing the house, planning a goodbye party and arranging to redecorate our home in neutral tones ready to rent out all feels bittersweet but constructive, positive, liberating and right.

Question Time at Wondering Wanderers

Ever since we started thinking about this crazy idea I have been talking to as many people as possible about it. This has helped to cement in my mind a proper plan, as in explaining it to others you have to be able to clarify and articulate it properly. It also means we get all manner of interesting questions and challenges to the idea thrown at us. By talking to all sorts of different people I get many different perspectives.

My parents are fairly opposed to the idea, but then they are also fairly opposed to the way we Home Educate, go camping for holidays, keep chickens and ducks in our back garden and many other such things. They are still supportive and because they love us and more than anything else they want us to be happy they can see that this is something that is right for us to go and do even if it is their personal idea of hell in campervan! Plenty of their comments have been really helpful in making us realistic about the plan, sensible about what risks we are prepared to take and conscious of being responsible parents along the way.

Friends are largely supportive, envious, not surprised, excited on our behalf. Several have come up with great ideas and suggestions for the plan and we feel like we have lots of people cheering us on from the sidelines and planning to follow us virtually as we go.

Work colleagues, casual acquaintances and random people we know and have told vary in their responses. I have to say it is less daunting than explaining about Home Education in many ways as for most people it is something they would simply never do so it doesn’t really challenge them or make them feel defensive whereas Home Ed does seem to push people’s buttons.

Anyway, the purpose of this blogpost is to ask for your questions. If you are reading and have a burning desire to know just how / what / when / when / why the bloody hell… something then please ask. You will get your question answered, other readers might get something interesting read and it might throw up something we haven’t yet thought of. No question too silly / personal / trivial, providing it is actually related to our WW plan I will attempt to answer it.

Over to you…

I’m going to edit in questions from people and my answers underneath this post, so keep ’em coming 🙂

Joyce said…

OK, too tempting to ignore 😉 I guess I have a couple of things I’ve been wondering. The first is about how you will fill the gaps between woofers. I know you plan to have as few as possible, but I would have thought it inevitable that you will have some, even if they aren’t planned for. The second is about how you will live while away. So while I understand that you would be as self-sufficient as possible, with most meals and parking provided, I can’t help wondering about how anyone can manage money free for a year? So things like petrol, food when you just want to eat by yourself, prescription costs, occasional camp site parking, van repairs, toilet roll, the odd bottle to wine ;-), needing to replace kids shoes etc…I’m interested because I’ve been trying to work out how we would do it (NOT that we are thinking about it, lol), and I can’t seem to get my monthly maintainence costs down to less than about 300 per month. Hope that’s not too nosey!

First question – the intention is to fill the year aside from planned breaks, staying with friends etc. We are never more than a days driving away from someone we know who would be happy to let us park on their drive. The reason for having a campervan is that we can live in the van if needs be. There is of course the element of risk of a WOOF hosting going wrong but our contingency plan is to have a basic weeks worth of food in packets / tins (we’re planning on working out what that is pretty soon) in the van at all times along with keeping gas bottles topped up and ensuring we always have enough money to fill up with petrol so if all else fails we cans simply drive to the nearest friendly face. We will keep a hard copy of the WOOF hosts directory with us which has phone numbers so we can also contact the nearest host and see if they are up for having us.

Second question – We intend taking as many clothes, supplies of things like basic food rations, loo roll, drugs (of the painkilling, cold remedy, general medicine variety), stuff like contact lenses, toothpaste etc as the van can hold. We will supplement this with fishing, trapping, foraging where possible for food to make up any short fall from WOOF hosts. Any food / shoes etc we need along the way we can hopefully pick up from charity shops.

Money wise we will be renting out our house which should cover the mortgage, a couple of monthly bills I would prefer to carry on paying and give us about £200 a month income too. Along with child benefit (we don’t get any other benefits / tax credits) we should have just under £100 a week. This should cover petrol, any food / clothing expenses, pay as you go mobile and internet etc. It is our intention to have paid for car tax and insurance before we go. We are also hopefully timing leaving so that we go with our final months wages which will give us a bit of a contingency fund – not much but hopefully enough to cover the inevitable emergencies we haven’t factored in or thought of yet!

Jay said
The money thing was making me wonder too.
Also, how will you stop from going mad in a confined space for *such* a long time? I can see it being fun for a fair chunk of time, but living on top of one another for a year in such close quarters? 4 people in about half the size of a room where no upset or hormonal kid old can strop off to his/her room, not much chance to be alone with your thoughts and no privacy for, well, sex. I was wondering how you’ll manage for that sort of stuff.
Then again, personal space is A Big Thing for me and for L but not so for everyone so maybe it doesn’t apply?
What happens if you can’t stand the people you are WOOFing with?
How do you think the kids will do without regular friends to see, just each other and a new group of people to live with every few weeks?
DO you think any of you will struggle being “visitors” for a year so always on nicest politest behaviour? I need to revert to my natural witchy self after a bit of Playing Nice For Company; not that you’re witchy, but will Willow provide you with enough of a get-away?
I’m not wanting to be negative, Nic – you know I think it is a marvellous plan – but I was wondering what you’d thought about these potential issues.

Confined space – yep, I can’t deny it could well be an issue. That said we don’t have oodles of space in our house and given our Home Ed lifestyle the kids and I are pretty used to doing the all day, every day thing in each others’ company. In theory we will be staying in the hosts houses in most WOOFing places, the van is the back up, which should give us time away from each other. Also we are planning to be working outside most days so even when we are sleeping in the van it should be just that – sleeping. We don’t have much stropping off to rooms here and as it simply won’t be an option while we’re away (what with not having a room to strop to and all ;)) I guess if they are going to be kids who do that they will have to delay it til we come home or amend it to ‘stropping to behind a tree’ or something :). I’m hoping a brisk walk with a parent or leaving the other three behind for a while should give everyone the personal space they need as and when they need it.

The kids will still have each other and they are very definite that each other is the others best friend (did that sentence make sense? Not sure but you get the idea). I do think kids need kids but they do have their best friend alongside them, I think family is just as important and a huge plus of this plan is the amount of Daddy time they are going to get. Various of the hosts do actually have kids – some even Home Ed and I think kids are great at making transient friends who suffice just fine for playing with. We will be catching up with friends along the way (we are lucky to have friends scattered all over the UK so will be doing lots of meeting up with people as we go). I can’t deny they have some local mates and cousins they will miss but I think they will get enough from the experience to compensate.

If we can’t stand the people we are WOOFing with we will either have a massive row with them and have to leave early (see reply to Joyce as to what happens then)or we’ll put up and shut up on the basis it’s so very temporary with an end always in sight. I can’t deny I can be very hot headed and often decide I hate everyone and am crap at hiding it. I think I will learn a lot about tolerance and living with others during the year, even if what I learn is that I can’t bloody do it! A big part of having the van is for those ‘I can’t possibly be on my best behaviour for another single moment so I need to go and be a complete cow’ times when I intend dragging the neares member of my family into the campervan with me and being horrid to them until I’ve got it out of my system! We do do a fair bit of communal living over the course of a normal year though – in 2010 we will have spent a week sharing a villa holiday with another family, at least 8 weekends either staying with other families in their homes or having families to stay with us in ours, several weeks camping alongside other families, a week in a youth hostel with 13 other families cooking communally. I’ve just flicked through my diary and I reckon we spent at least a quarter of the last year living in the company of other people.

Merry said…

I’m curious as to how exactly you are going to convince a nosey social worker if someone reports you and you get barraged with “well, how exactly are you going to make sure they learn all the basic National Curriculum ideas they need like maths, science and literacy this year then????”

(Not because I am remotely worried about this or don’t know the answer but I can well imagine you running into a jobsworth or two who refuse to understand and could make life awkward!)

I guess in the same way as I deal with it now really. It will depend on who is asking and how real the threat of them interfering is. A genuine interested question will be met in the spirit is is asked, I doubt a social worked will come knocking on our van door as we’ll be moving along so frequently. I am confident that D and S can carry themselves well enough to appease any genuinely concerned people. But for the record – I think this will be an incredibly rich educational experience for D&S with geography (travelling all over the UK), science (couldn’t get more hands on for biology – how plants and animals grow, physics – how the van runs, how machiney operates, how work moving heavy loads etc gets done, chemistry – what feed is used in plants and animals, what medicines and chemicals etc.), literacy (reading will be a daily skill in that lifestyle just as it is now with the navigating involved in travelling, the writing of job lists, the reading of books and stories and cookery books, the widening of their vocabulary, the conversing with so many different people), numeracy (how much feed for animals, how many eggs collected, how many lamb chops per animal, what yield percentage on crops). If I wanted to spin this to fit someone’s tick boxes and agenda I have no doubt I could manage it ;).

HelenHaricot said…

i just wondered how you will blog from phone! you’ll have to be 1 word instead of 7!

Lol – we’re planning on going down to one contract phone a month with internet on it although when we take a closer look at finances that might go too. We will get a PAYG dongle for laptop use and many of the hosts state internet access as available at their house. It will be sporadic I suspect and you are right, I may have to become rather more brief ;).

Em said…

I have been thinking and thinking about any questions I might have, and it sounds rediculous but I don’t! But then, I’m of the mind that sort the basics out and the rest will sort itself out. If a family can not kill each other on a tiny boat for a year, a van and dry land is ooooodles of space 😉
and then came back later with:
I have one….how will Ady manage without a carpet to vac?

Lovely, LovelyEm 🙂 Ady will be getting a dustbuster rechargable by cigarette lighter as he assures me the tiny square of carpet in the van will need to be kept hoovered!

Bob said…

Will you be able to have a library card / loads of library cards that let you use the library wherever you are? If the form filling etc. isn’t a barrier, your affinity with libraries and need for free entertainment that only temporarily takes up space means I guess libraries are a Good Thing for you.

What will you do with things that you and/or the children create while you’re away. I expect that D and S will want to draw pictures to do with where you are, or make interesting things. Will you just photograph them and then bin them? Post them somewhere e.g. a friend to hold until you stop wandering?

How will you get things posted to you?

What will you do about backing up computery things like photos? Will you just trust Blogspot, Flickr etc. to look after everything, or will you post memory cards like posting children’s drawings? (Which requires buying new memory cards.)

and then because one Bob comment is never enough he came back for more with:

Forgot this one. Will you have any hello or goodbye rituals? Maybe nothing as extreme as this although biscuit-related does sound good. (She has qualifications in performance art and english, which might explain it.)

I am intending getting one of those Universal Library Tickets that so much fuss was made about earlier this year, if indeed any libraries actually took up on them. I know mine didn’t. Our policy is anyone can join with proof of address and you can join as a holidaymaker for a limited amount of taking out books. I think we will probably just scour charity shops for books / dvds as and when we have time to read / watch and have run out, probably swapping in our own used / unwanted ones as we go to keep van contents to a minimum. Hopefully hosts may have books to lend too and I may think about something like bookcrossing as a possibility.

I’m hoping creativity can be gifted to hosts, temporary or creative juices given over to building / planting etc. Anything too precious to leave but too bulky to keep can indeed be posted home to be stored.

We will be redirecting our post to my parents. I believe you can arrange to collect things from post offices if you have stuff sent to you there and of course with prior arrangement we can have things sent to our hosts address for us. Our official postal address will remain here at our house although it will actually get sent to my parents.

I think we will trust flickr / blogger etc for pictures, I have til this point and am shockingly bad about not having stuff backed up. We might get photos printed and sent home or send memory cards home as they are pretty cheap these days.
I’m waiting for a BobFact, then my blog will feel complete 🙂

LOVE the cookie rolling. I think our plan is a pic of the four of us in W W pose (see side bar) at every host. We’re also hoping to get hosts to sign our River Cottage diary on the relevant page date that we stayed there. I suspect we will get more able to do the WW pose as time goes by and we adopt the basic principles of weight loss – eat less, move around more – you can see by our faces that A and I struggled rather 🙂

Mazportico said…

How often and where do you think you will have sex?

Funnily enough not the first person to ask this question! :)and then
My proper question.

On 13.09.10 you said (after sustainability camping trip):

‘We decided not to camp in the end as we were simply camped out, the kids were really tired and likely to crash and burn and we all felt just one night in our own beds hadn’t quite been enough’

How do you think you will feel after 7 weeks rather than 7 nights ‘camping out’?

I suspect as regularly as we do now but with more creativity and different venues 😉

Good question – it did occur to me when I wrote that very sentence you have quoted and my answer is I don’t know yet. I am hoping that in the same way you get used to being parents or living in a different house you get a new normal rather than getting back to the old one. We will have our own beds, it’s just that they will be fold down ones in the back of the campervan, we shouldn’t be tired because this will be our life for a year rather than a one week holiday when late nights / lots of drinking / eating marshmallows every night is okay.

I guess we will either adapt well to the nomadic lifestyle or we won’t. If we don’t then we will need to rethink a whole year away and either decide we can tolerate it for that length of time knowing we will be living in a house again at the end of the year or we will cut the year short and come home.

Ali said…

Loving the questions!
Mine is ‘which of the four of you will struggle with which aspect and which aspects are you each particularly looking forward to?’

Ooh good question 🙂
Nic – I think I will struggle with being more flexible about what I will and won’t eat. I can be a proper princess with my food and I know I will have to get used to being grateful for what is put infront of me and either eating it or going hungry. I will miss my bath, I will miss my hour or so after everyone else has gone to bed and I sit alone.
I am looking forward to meeting some very interesting people. I love getting to know people and finding out about different ideas and takes on things. I am looking forward to learning loads of new skills and finding out whether the dreams I have now are really what I want to be doing.

A – says he will struggle with the insecurity of not having a regular income, worrying about what happens if things go wrong and what will happen at the end of the year. He is most looking forward to not having to deal with spreadsheets, office politics and to all the time he is going to have with D & S, really getting to know them well and just being alongside them all the time.

D – says he is finding saying goodbye to our chickens and ducks hard, is struggling with getting rid of stuff and feels he will miss seeing friends. He is looking forward to ‘living a different lifestyle, working on farms and living outdoors, learning new stuff’.

S – is going to miss her ducks and the chickens, will miss friends and is unsure of how we will get on with all the new people we are going to meet along the way. She is looking forward to ‘learning about animals, a cool adventure and living in a campervan’.

Frustrations and set backs and modifications of plans

Otherwise known as Improvement Opportunities – never failings ;).

This weekend has been a very frustrating one, my car hates the damp and we limped over to a friends’ house in pouring rain on Friday and have had to leave it there ever since. We attempted to start it yesterday and failed. It’s safe there but clearly no use as a vehicle when it isn’t running and it’s 20 miles away from home 🙁

I consoled myself that at least we have Willow as a back up vehicle. I sorted out insurance for her last week and got it to start from today. Except that when I popped out to just turn the engine over and see if she was running okay I couldn’t start Willow either 🙁 So there we were, two vehicles in two locations and neither of them running. We’d got up super early (which I always resent unless I have a very good reason) and had a wasted run over to where the car was parked and a full week ahead of places to be at with no mode of transport to get there, very little cash to throw at any of the problems and the need to prioritise just where to spend funds.

We spent the day productively engaged in listing loads of stuff on ebay. We had various bits we’d brought home from carboot sales thinking we could try and sell them on ebay, several piles of books and large amounts of videos, dvds and cds that we’d sorted out. We photographed and listed and packed things up into lots – the plan is to see things as wholesale bulk lots now, collection only and if they don’t go after two listings on ebay to freecycle them.

We have eight weeks before we are away on holiday for a week and my Dad is going to magnolia-ise the house for us while we’re gone ready to get agents round to get it on the rental market. We need to have cleared everything by then, so it is easy for Dad to decorate and nice and clean and empty for viewers. The plan is to live with just stuff we are using up / taking with us / putting into storage. Everything else must go. Our lounge and playroom area already in this state (well the playroom sort of is, there is the pile of stuff for sale in the middle of it but we have sorted everything in there). Which leaves our bedroom and the kids bedrooms, two bathrooms and the kitchen. We also have a garage rather filled with stuff which needs going through too. My plan is to concentrate on one room per week and get it into the above state.

Will be back with updates on that as we go. Will commit here to doing one or both bathrooms by this time next week 🙂

So there we were last night, tired from being up early and fed up when there was a knock at the door and there stood Willow’s previous owners. It turned out they had not got all the details needed on the log book paperwork. We had mentioned to them that we knew their next door neighbours so they had obviously described us to them (we never exchanged names) and got a vague address of where they thought we lived then driven round looking for Willow :). So we were able to ask them all the little questions we had and also get assurance that they’d never had problems starting her. To prove it he jumped in and got her going :). I’ve failed again this morning to get her started but at least I know it is me not having the knack rather than something the matter with the van.

I know have her insured and breakdown cover sorted and she is booked in for a service next week. Am fully expecting to be using her once that is done and intending to take her for a night or two away as soon as possible.

(My car is now back home after A got it started too – all’s well that ends well.)

In other WW related news I have joined the Bedford CF club – already got loads of friendly greetings from the ‘Bedheads’ on the forum – I suspect that will be an invaluable source of support and advice to us.

I have also spent some time perusing the WWOOFing section of the Low Impact Living forum and we have concluded from various sources that our initial plan of a week at a time staying with hosts won’t give us the experience we want. We have thus decided to re-shortlist our Zone two potential hosts and contact them for 2 week stays during June, July and August. That is the next big job to do. But first, more fundraising and crap clearing and van running.