Story so far…

 We’ve done five weeks of WWOOFing, nearly seven weeks away from the house and totted up over 400 miles so far so we’ve been chatting about how we’re finding it. I think we’ve all hit a wall here and there, had moments of loving it and moments of wanting to click our fingers and make it stop. We’ve all learnt loads and made an excellent start to achieving some of our list of aims and objectives for the adventure.

We have had a pretty diverse mix of host in just the first three – slept in a tent, in Willow and in a cottage. We’ve had time living communally, time left to our own devices and times spent mixing the two. Work has been varied, expectations have been different and we have met the biggest mix of people from the most amazing variety of backgrounds and cultures.

Unexpected advantages have been Ady and I enjoying working together so much, I miss the kids being off doing their own thing so much but I don’t remember the last time Ady and I had so much child-free time together, even if we are technically working. Not having as much time with the children as usual for me has been tough, in our previous life we were together most days, all day, often doing our own thing around the house or garden it’s true but always with time cuddled up together watching half an hour of TV, reading a book, chatting about something or finding out answers to their questions together. I’ve missed that and they tell me they have too, I’m keen to find time to make sure that has been a temporary blip rather than a long term casualty of the year. We are definitely on the way to a fitter and healthier lifestyle – again this past two weeks have been a slight blip but even so we are eating and drinking far less and spending far more time outside, being active. I think regular swims and walks more than made up for the less physical work anyway.

We’ve learnt lots about nature – we’ve seen buzzards, sparrowhawks, otter, deer and various other wildlife, spent time with dogs, pigs, chickens, sheep, ponies, goats as farm animals and learnt about feeding and keeping them. We’ve sampled local delights including eggs and sausages from places we’ve stayed, local wine, cider, beer, cheese, ice cream, butter and so on. We’ve experienced an extreme off grid lifestyle, done tent dwelling in heavy frosts, lived in the van without hook up, seen some beautiful sights, some stunning scenery and above all met some amazing, inspirational and interesting people.

It’s been a fabulous start to our adventure, everything we hoped for and more really. We’re starting to anticipate what might be potential issues and discuss how we will deal with them as and when they might arise, getting a real flavour of what our year might bring at the same time learning that unexpected twists and turns to our careful planning are around every corner, along with new opportunities and unforeseen offers. We need to be flexible, subject to change and ready to roll with whatever comes along. These are great lessons to learn, a fab code for living and teaching all four of us so much about ourselves, each other and all the other people we meet.

I was expecting to only stay on farms, I was expecting to stick to our planned hosts rather than get invited to stay with people we only just met. I thought living in Willow would have been harder than it is. I’m not missing electricity as much as I thought I would, not missing a real bed, I probably sleep better in Willow than my bed at home. I’m having lots of fun, I feel healthier and think I sleep better. Before we left I thought I’d miss our house so much but I don’t miss it at all. I am missing friends who live near us – Toby, Archie, Eliot, Jack, Maisie & Lorna and Granny & Grandad. I am missing friends who are far away but can’t wait to see them while we’re travelling. I love the fact that before we go to each host I am never sure what they will be like or what that part of the country will be like and so every time it is new and exciting, not like at home when all our days out were to places we had been before.

I was expecting us to have to work or we wouldn’t get fed and there to be lots of rules and do as we were told even if we didn’t know how to but it hasn’t been like that at all. I really miss the chickens, ducks and our house but I am loving the freedom to run around, play in woods, going for adventures with dogs, goats. I like living in Willow because I like the fact everything is all here like our beds and the sofa. I like spending more time with Mummy and Daddy.

So far I am finding the adventure far easier than I thought I would. Living in the van, travelling in the van and the work were all things I was worrying about but so far they have all gone really smoothly and far easier than I expected. The variety of people we are meeting, the generosity of people we meet is overwhelming and I never realised people could be so kind. I struggle with moving on from place to place, I get really at home and find it hard to say goodbye and move on. I like the work, being physical and outdoors.

Two weeks to go

Two weeks from now we will have left our house. Three weeks from now we hope to be somewhere in Dorset or Devon, enjoying the early onset of Spring and sleeping in our van. Four weeks from now we’ll be sleeping in a tent at our first host.

Today was another ‘last’ at work for me, my last Wednesday shift. I have two shifts left at work. I told a couple of the regular customers today – both retired women well into their senior years and got resounding positive responses from both. I do sometimes wonder if the older generation look at my age group and wonder just where all our adventurous spirit has gone, hopefully we’re reassuring them it’s still there if a bit hidden under worrying about pension plans and plasma TVs.

A neighbour also came knocking on the door for a nosey chat too and was also very encouraging and supportive, telling me that her and her husband have a series of virtual boxes that they like to think they will tick all of before they die and aim to tick at least three or four per year. Ady and I both chatted to a very dear friend on the phone tonight too (waves at Rob) who was also full of the sort of positive encouragement it’s nice to hear.

But let’s have some ‘firsts’ shall we? Today I had my first real life conversation with one of our hosts. The place we will be staying at second. The host rang to confirm and to just tighten up plans, introduce herself with a real voice and say she is looking forward to meeting us all. There will be another family (with four kids) staying there the same time as us and she has loads planned to keep us all busy and give us a real flavour of what the lifestyle involves. It felt really exciting and very real to be actually talking to someone. We have had another couple of yes replies from hosts in Zone 3 and are now as booked up as we need to be, which is a great feeling.

Willow will be very briefly in our hands again tomorrow too as we are picking her up from Doom Monger Mechanic who is thankfully charging us a very reasonable rate indeed for the battery and some leads to make jump starting easier (the battery is in a *very* inaccesssible place, only really get-able to from inside the van, he’s fitting some leads with a key operated switch meaning we can jump start the van from the outside if the need should arise. We have a really good charge-holding power pack with jump leads which should mean we have a first line of defence against unreliable older engines, with decent breakdown cover being our second line of defence. I’m not thinking too hard about a third – I suspect it will resort to chocolate, alcohol, sobbing and quite probably ringing my Dad to come and bring us all home again because we’ve had enough! Let’s hope we never reach the third line of defense… So we’ll be collecting her, finally, and then taking her straight to Happy Bodger Mechanic who assured me on the phone today he could pug the manifold and get it through an MOT *and* have it back to me for next Wednesday. It’s tight, it’ll cost money and it will mean we have just one week with Willow to get her packed up and ready to go but it’s doable. A big characteristic of this whole adventure is the fairly small margin for error. We’re on a tight budget, travelling in a van which is well into advanced years while we are not far behind ourselves but hope, optimism, sheer bloody mindedness, a huge support network of friends wishing us well is enough to propel us at least halfway round the country and I reckon the van is up to the other half at least.

Bad, good, learnt today

 Every year in January Ady, Dragon, Star and I sit down and make a list of the things we’d like to learn, achieve, see, experience, visit in the coming year. Although we Home Educate we don’t follow a curriculum or have a structured approach to education, viewing our role as facilitators rather than instructors, cheerleaders rather than coaches, fellow learners rather than teachers. It’s true I seek out things I think will interest Dragon and Star, introduce them to ideas or concepts, arrange visits to places I think will inspire them but it is very much a partnership with them asking questions and me helping them find the answers rather than something driven by me. This sitting down together talking about hopes and dreams and plans for the year ahead is a really valuable exercise for us and one we replicate to a lesser degreee throughout the year with regular conversations about how life is going. The whole Wondering Wanderers Adventure has been talked through in this way over many hours in the last nine months.

Last year for a while we did an exercise where all four of us would share something new we had learnt today with the others. These nuggets ranged from interesting factoids to startling new discoveries. Sometimes they were more ‘life lessons’ than trivia but it was an interesting exercise that we all enjoyed. Somewhere along the line life got in the way and the ‘what I learnt today’ sharing got forgotten but one of the suggestions Dragon made when we sat down this January of things he’d like to do this year was to reinstate it. I added to that with a Good and Bad thing too. I’d read a book recently which talked about sharing one good thing and one bad thing about the day with the rest of the family at dinnertime each day and I really liked the idea. I like the focussing on the positives, sharing the negatives and the realising that in every day when you summarise it there are good and bad bits. So for the last month or so we’ve been sharing a ‘Bad, Good, Learnt today’ chat before bedtime. I do record what we all say on a private blog and they are interesting to read back over.

Anyway in the same spirit of Bad, Good, Learnt today here is an update as we hurtle ever closer to Leaving Day.

Bad: Willow is still at the garage. Apparently a part is needed for the exhaust manifold. A part that is no longer made so will need to be sourced second hand and doesn’t appear to be available anywhere. The mechanic has had the van now for over 2 weeks and I went from congratulating myself for getting it packd off there nice and early with 5 weeks still to go before we head off to panicking madly that it won’t be ready to go in time. I want it back parked on our drive, MOT’d and ready to start packing stuff into. Instead I’ve been ringing the mechanic every couple of days for updates and getting nothing other than ‘nothing to report’ responses. Ady has now been along and talked to him and he’s doing a couple of minor other things and getting the van back to us. Un-MOT’d and without the manifold done. We have another mechanic (who serviced it for us back last year) in mind to see if he can get it through an MOT and sort the manifold out but I am really very twitchy about it all being ready in time. We’d not really reserved any funds for the van before we go either, so that will be coming out of the ‘contingency fund’ we were hoping to keep more or less intact for emergencies along the way.

We are finding it tear jerking saying goodbye to family and local friends, knowing that seasons will have passed, life will have moved on, everyone will have had birthdays and other special occassions while we’re away.

Good: Everything else really I guess! 🙂
We are getting such touching and supporting emails, texts, phonecalls, facebook messages and things said to us by friends, colleagues and people we know. It’s so lovely to know we have people encouraging us and cheering us on, it really does mean the world to us.
The tenants are all still on track to move in, their references, credit checks and other paperwork is all coming back satisfactorily, the TO LET board outside the house has been changed to a SORRY, IT’S LET board and the agent is drawing up the tenancy agreement. They want to keep some of our appliances and the chickens which means we don’t need to rehome them.
We are kitted out with waterproofs, thermals, boots, warm socks and other such essentials. Three have supplied us with a MiFi to try out (which I will blog more about once we’re actually using it) so we’ve got our internet access in hand for the beginning of the journey.
We have pretty much filled our three zones with willing hosts. We have the odd week here and there empty which was always our intention so we have some flexibility built in to change plans or stay longer in some places, to take some down time and find a campsite or even pick up some casual farm or fruit picking work to boost our finances a bit if required. we have had some overwhelmingly positive responses from some hosts and we are so excited at the prospect of meeting people who we already feel a connection with having exchanged a few emails.
We’ve made great headway packing everything up. The house is starting to get put into boxes. With the exception of a couple of things still to be listed on ebay I think we have gotten rid of everything that isn’t about to be boxed up or put into the van.

Learnt: I’m sure we’ve learnt loads already. I know my UK geography is already massively improved just by all that plotting on maps, trying to coordinate a route and book in with hosts. We’ve not learnt but have certainly experienced mass decluttering, carboot sales, living with less, letting go of the ‘stuff’ and working through what we actually really need and how little that is. I know the list of ‘good and bad’ will grow and grow throughout the coming year but I reckon the biggest list by far will be the ‘learnt’. I’m hoping that the phrase ‘live and learn’ will be an equal ratio of massively enhanced learning via massively enhanced living.