Author Archives: sophieblovett

Presents for my almost four year old

The unschooling diaries: week forty-five

Christmas has been creeping in determinedly to our house this week.

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We spied a little tree when we were out and about last weekend, which Arthur and I decided would be perfect for my study – we spend so much time there after all, writing and playing by the fireside, that it’s nice to make it festive.

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It was there Arthur wrote his very first letter to Santa this week. Well, I say wrote – he dictated, and I scribed the words. He added pictures too – the bow and arrow and the spaceship, and a little self-portrait with a woolly hat.

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He very rarely wants to draw – it’s one of the things that niggles at my brain as I worry that he should be doing it more often. It was lovely to see him pick up a pencil for something other than scribbles, and he was so proud of his pictures that I think he might just be tempted to do it more often…

We actually made another tree too, this time for Arthur’s bedroom. Again it’s somewhere he spends a lot of time – often playing there for at least an hour in the mornings before he emerges to start the day. There was a large cardboard box waiting to be recycled in the kitchen, so we decided to put it to better use.

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So far it is decorated with a fairy and some glow stars, but creating some sparkly baubles is top of our list for the week to come.

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Alongside all this, my mind has been mulling over presents. it’s not just Christmas we have to prepare for – Arthur’s birthday is only three days later, so I need to get myself organised for that too!

I’m really keen to add to his inspiration bank at home – it feels especially important because he spends so much time there. His interests have flourished over the past couple of months, so he’s given me lots of ideas.

These are just a few of them…

A book of poems

Arthur is developing a real love for poetry, which began with listening to poems read by Daddy during his bedtime baths.

I love the idea of this book, which has a wonderful selection of classic poems, one for every night of the year.

A little friend

Whilst Arthur’s social skills are coming on in leaps and bounds, he is also very happy to play alone. Recently, though, he’s enjoyed chatting away to his dolly – a Waldorf doll I made him for his first birthday.

I think he’s going to love this Finn doll, from the makers of the child-friendly Lottie. Especially because he’s small enough to not only play with at home, but also to come out and about with us on our adventures.

A marble run

Arthur discovered marbles a couple of months ago, and we’ve experimented with making marble runs from cardboard and networks of tubes in the garden.

This set from Hape looks incredible though – giving him the tools to create his own structures to send his marbles whizzing round. He’s really into building too, so I think he’ll relish the challenge.

A lego community

This love for building has recently exploded with the discovery of ‘grown-up’ lego. He still enjoys his duplo, which we’ve moved to his room to keep him entertained for those early-morning wake-ups, but he will spend literally hours piecing together tiny bricks to give shape to the forms in his imagination.

His selection of mini figures is essential to the process too, inspiring him to create new structures for them to inhabit. I reckon this set of community figures would be a brilliant addition to his kit, and give him all sorts of new ideas about what to build.

A kid-safe knife set

Arthur is always keen to help in the kitchen, especially if it involves cutting things. We bought him a child’s knife last year, but the blade is really not sharp enough to be much use.

This chef set, which includes a peeler too, looks much more effective. And might just have the added bonus of him taking over peeling the potatoes!

I know that too much of a focus on ‘stuff’ isn’t healthy, but I really do take pleasure in selecting gifts for Arthur which he will enjoy and which will help him learn.

(And I’m sure I can help Santa find a fire engine and a spaceship and a bow and arrow too).

I can’t wait for the start of December so Christmas can begin in earnest: choosing and decorating our main tree, and putting up Arthur’s advent calendar!

I do love this time of year.

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Impartiality in our post-truth age

At what point, I wonder, will history judge us to have crossed the line?

There’s no doubt that this year will factor large in the curriculum in the years to come. Maybe as part of a wider module, one on the collapse of neoliberalism and the rise of the right. Or perhaps just all on its own: a year which, in its myriad of tragedies and political upheavals, will come to symbolise the downfall of modern society.

I have been trying to keep abreast of the news this week, but every time I read a headline or watch a report I feel like I have accidentally sidestepped into an alternate reality – one where the rules have all changed, and the values that I and so many others have fought to protect for so long have become obsolete.

I have found myself shouting at the screen, exasperatedly suggesting alternative ways of presenting things which would cut to the heart of what is actually going on.

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Like when The Guardian suggested that Trump’s insistence that Farage would do a ‘great job’ as the British ambassador to the US put Theresa May in ‘a difficult position’. I mean, what? Since when do foreign leaders get a say in who is appointed as ambassador to their country? And since when would the government even consider a man who has failed in his attempts to be elected as MP no less than seven times? It’s absurd, even when you take party politics out of the equation, but the attempt to keep a distance, to balance both sides, makes it sound like Trump is being genuinely reasonable.

There’s the language being used to describe Trump too. BBC journalists have been referring to the president elect and his allies as ‘controversial’ and ‘populist’ – both things which sound pretty positive to disenchanted ears, and completely belittle the fact that he has publicly bragged of sexually assaulting women and has vowed to remove an entire religious group from the United States. In comparison Corbyn is regularly described as ‘hard left’ and ‘extreme’ – mainly as a result, it seems, of his desire to move towards a more equal society.

This comparison of the way right and left wing politicians are described is significant, especially when it comes to the BBC. For years the beeb has been attacked by conservatives for showing bias towards left wing ideals – though as someone who has closely followed both politics and BBC journalism for at least the last thirteen years this simply doesn’t ring true. Ironically most of the people I know who work for the BBC – and I know a few – largely share my political views. If you were just to look at the demographic of the broadcaster’s staff then an accusation of bias might hold some sway. But as they are educated, thoughtful professionals, and closely bound by the directives they have to follow – directives which ultimately come from the government, upon whom the BBC are reliant for their funding – they would not dream of allowing their personal views to influence their reporting.

There appears to be a fear amongst left-wing journalists of seeming to take sides – especially with the side they are, ultimately, on. And yet in their pursuit of balance, of attempting to appear impartial, very often the content that is produced leans heavily towards the right. Or at least towards the status quo, which with our current staunchly conservative government is very much the same thing.

I think the problem lies in the way in which this concept of balance is realised. I’ve experienced it first hand, in interviews for local TV news. For every opinion I expressed, there had to be one on the opposite side to counter it. So far so straightforward – except in reality it was more problematic.

There was a story on my work as a councillor exploring bringing refugees to Brixham, for example. In order to balance out my opinion (tentatively expressed as an elected representative) that this would be the morally right and appropriate course of action to take, the opposite view had to be shown – represented in this case by screenshots from the Facebook pages of the extreme right ‘Populist Party’ and ‘Refugees not Welcome in Devon’, pages which are full of racist bile (the latter has since been taken down). They both declined to comment, but their views were validated by being given that platform, and no doubt gave weight to the unease some local people were already feeling in the wake of the bombardment of scaremongering from the tabloid press.

I got into a discussion which reminded me about all this with an old friend on Facebook today. His argument was that we had to give a platform to these views, had to bring them out into the open, as otherwise they would just fester. We were specifically discussing Milo Yiannopolous, whose appearance on Channel 4 news made my jaw hit the floor when I saw it earlier.

He is charming, charismatic, persuasively condescending. And, like others who are part of the ‘alt-right’ movement, he views women, non-whites, people with disabilities as essentially non-humans, who have no right to be offended by the verbal attacks he perpetrates.

This is a view that no doubt resonates with many to some extent or other. And yet for Yiannopolous, and for others like him, you could substitute ‘neo-nazi’ for ‘alt-right’ and find it hard to separate out their views.

And I’m pretty damned sure we should not be impartial about that.

It is possible to argue, convincingly, that in a free press all of these opinions, however reprehensible, should be given air time in order for people to make up their own minds.

But we live in a society where the whole of our media is dominated by right-wing propaganda. Where the vast majority of headlines evoke fear through their demonisation of minority groups. Where the outspoken voices of the far right are not afraid to employ overt rhetoric in order to get their views across – where charisma and personality count for infinitely more than the facts at the heart of the matter.

It’s ironic, given that the ‘alt-right’ claim to be reclaiming facts over feelings. But in their post-truth universe spin trumps integrity – and that universe is emerging all too neatly out of our own.

Meanwhile our few remaining ‘respectable’ news outlets are too polite to play the game. They let people have their turn, they trust that the population will see through the spin to the immorality that lies beneath it.

And yet nothing about 2016 suggests that will be the case.

So when does it stop? At which point do these hate-fuelled, extremist views get recognised for what they are, and at which point do our journalists refuse to endorse them? To be impartial when faced with racism, misogyny and xenophobia is to condone it, to qualify it as a justifiable way of looking at the world.

But it is wrong. It is all so wrong. And one day people will look back on us, on the media we bankrolled and the news we accepted as truth, and they will judge us with the outrage and disgust that we deserve.

 

Writing Bubble

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

We went to the Advent Fair at South Devon Steiner School at the weekend. It was a lovely event, and a real reminder of how different education can be.

There are still several things about the Steiner approach that make me doubt whether we could embrace it entirely, but Arthur was most definitely inspired. Whenever we’ve talked about school before he has been adamant that he doesn’t want to go, but when I explained to him that this place was a school too his eyes widened: “It’s just like a big boy’s forest school”, he exclaimed. Needless to say, he LOVES forest school.

The highlight of his day came towards the end. I’d got distracted by the stalls, and emerged to find Leigh and Arthur peering through the gate of the forge whilst the school’s blacksmith crafted something in the flames. It turned out that Arthur had got chatting to him and asked for a sword, and the blacksmith cheerfully agreed.

So Arthur watched, fascinated, as the metal was heated and twisted and sculpted into shape, and when it was cool he held it in his hands.

We’ve had some serious chats about the responsibility that comes with such a gift – its end is blunted, but it’s still a solid lump of metal. Arthur chose a hook for it in the kitchen, and we’ve agreed that he will only handle it when we’re there – that he can use it as a prop in his imaginings, but it is not for play fighting.

So far he’s risen to the challenge, and handles his very own sword with the utmost care. It is wonderful to see what these little people are capable of when we trust them.

Adventures in friendship

The unschooling diaries: weeks forty-three and forty-four

As I type, the rain is beating against the windows and the wind is howling its displeasure in every nook it finds. There is something comforting about being inside, with the crackle of the fire and the glow of the computer screen, but still a bigger part of me is yearning for the simplicity of the temperate outdoors – or more specifically, for a yurt in Lanzarote.

We had the most glorious holiday there, last week. I feel almost guilty for having had such a lovely escape at a time when the world was plunging into new depths of disastrousness, but it really was the perfect place to be. Beachfront tapas, good wine, fervent discussion under the stars.

We cooked up this plan as the summer in the UK drew to a close with one of my oldest, bestest friends and her family. They are currently living in a yurt, and I was eager to show them the yurtastic idyll that is Lanzarote Retreats. We’ve been there already once this year, but it has been such a year that Easter feels like forever ago. And besides, to launch into this adventure with friends was a whole new level of awesome.

Especially for Arthur.

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Emily’s oldest daughter is mere weeks younger than him, and over the past few years, during sleepovers and festivals, they have formed a quiet bond. Her youngest is now old enough to be a proper little person, and the three of them, during our week of adventures, became thick as thieves.

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There is something lovely about watching children come together when they are faced with experiences that are new and unusual, watching them make sense of the spectacular windows on the world that travelling affords.

These three embraced the adventures they were offered in parallel, bouncing their interpretations off each other and finding solace from the strange in the familiarity of friendship.

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And that friendship was built in lego bricks, in early mornings and stolen moments back at the camp. Arthur brought with him a little stash, one which he swore on the plane on the way over that he would not share. That didn’t last long, though.

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Holidaying with friends is not something I have done often, but it is something I really hope to do again – soon. Especially with these ones.

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I am always proud of Arthur’s ability to play alone, but it was wonderful to watch him create a world with these girls. In the closing hours of our commune he had begun to refer to them as his sisters. I don’t think that relationship will be lost, somehow. Though I wish our respective homes were not quite so far away.

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The whole experience really made me think about community, and socialisation, and how we are going to create that without the status quo of school. We need to find the people near us who will make us glow like these friends do. But whilst we’re working that out the nourishment this magical break gave our souls should last for a good while yet.

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Writing at the end of the world

Let’s just take stock of where we’re at.

The UK is hurtling towards an ungainly Brexit, voted for by just over a third of the adult population and headed up by an unelected Prime Minister who is swiftly making Margaret Thatcher look like some sort of socialist saint.

The US, not to be outdone, has voted in a billionaire who openly gloats about tax avoidance and assaulting women. The percentage of the population who are happy about this is even lower than the ‘overwhelming mandate’ leading our country into disaster, and both of our nations, who can thank for their successes generations of immigration and open-mindedness, are battening down the hatches for an extreme right-wing orgy of which Hitler would be proud.

Alongside this, the world is still facing (if not yet facing up to) the worst humanitarian crisis since World War One, military leaders from Russia to China are seemingly putting things in place for yet more global conflict, and our media is having a field day in this post-truth age which has never been less interested in the facts of the situation where there’s a good story to be had.

And don’t even get me started on the travesties that are quietly being played out on our doorsteps behind this international shitstorm. The health and education services that are being dismantled and sold off to the highest bidder, the fat cats getting fatter whilst the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are living hand to mouth, or dying behind a smokescreen of spin.

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It is hard to know what to do.

It is hard to know what the point is of doing anything.

And yet…

I was reminded the other day about why it is I am a writer: why I love books, and art, and culture. Why it matters even more when everything else is falling apart. It was one of those rare moments when the different parts of my life collide: I was at a Torbay Culture Forum meeting to discuss ideas for the future of Shoalstone Pool, and I found myself surrounded by a table of inspiring, talented people who have an unshakable belief in the ability of culture to affect change.

I do, too: that’s why I was passionate about teaching literature and drama and film as well as the more functional elements of literacy and media studies. It is why I trained as an actor many moons ago, and is why I have spent so very many hours over the last few years carefully crafting three novels whilst learning what it is to be a mum.

It is easy to forget, though, at times like this. It is easy to think that it is only by addressing politics head on that you can really make a difference, and that artistic endeavour is frivolous and self-indulgent. I think I’ve been stuck in that space for a while now.

But it’s time to break out. Something clicked when I was away last week, and I have come back with a renewed sense of what I’m doing and why.

I have an idea for a collection of short stories, inspired by this impending sense of doom but altogether more hopeful than that sounds. I’ve been putting pen to paper, playing around with words, and finding the whole process quite therapeutic. As stories emerge I’m planning to set them free into the world and see if any of them can find a home, but I’m feeling strangely liberated by the fact that I’m envisaging this as a collection too, a cohesive work that I might be able to put out there myself someday soon.

I say soon, but I still have no idea where that bigger picture of submissions is taking me. What I do know, though, is I need to own this writer hat, to separate it out from the new-mother angst that spawned this blog. So I have a separate writing blog in the works, which hopefully will be ready to launch in the new year.

This links in to another realisation I’ve had, about what it is that ties together all the stuff on this blog that isn’t about writing – and that is, surprise surprise, linked closely to that sense of creeping armageddon too.

It’s all about changing the world, basically. About nurturing a new generation – as a parent and a teacher – that will do things differently. Do things better. And I think I want to explore this more explicitly, with a blog dedicated to this idea of child rearing as a quiet and determined revolution.

It fits quite neatly with all my thoughts already about parenting and education, but I think the time has come to own that side of me too – not just to voice my thoughts and apologise afterwards for failing to embrace the status quo.

So.

Change is afoot.

Time to silence that demon who has taken a break from criticising my writing to laugh at me for believing that I can make a difference, however small that difference might be.

Because if not me, who? And if not now, when?

Writing Bubble

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

We spent last week in Lanzarote.

It was a bit of an unexpected trip. We never normally go away in the autumn, and apart from places where people we love live we never normally go back to the same place twice. But after an amazing visit in the Spring we could not resist a return when the chance arose – and the way this year is panning out I was supremely glad to have the opportunity for a bit of an escape.

I’m still digesting the photos and the memories, but these two moments stood out for me: admiring the expansively beautiful view at Mirador del Rio and studying the otherworldly forms at the Jardin de Cactus.

Arthur was simply in awe of so much that he saw. It really is a very special place.

Dressing up

The unschooling diaries: week forty-two

One of my very favourite things about Halloween this year was the week-long dress-up fest that preceded it.

Arthur had decided some time in advance that he wanted to be Luke Skywalker on the day. Not for any particularly special occasion you understand – we weren’t going to a party, or ‘trick or treat’ing – but just because it was Halloween, and so he could. Daddy was going to be Darth Vader, and I would be Princess Leia. Totally fine by me.

As Halloween approached, Arthur basically decided that he needed to be in fancy dress whenever we left the house (or even if we didn’t).

So he was a bat in the woods at Occombe farm…

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And a spaceman for an organised foraging walk we went on.

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(It was a particularly apt outfit for exploring the new adventure playground at Dartington when we were done).

This might not seem like too much of a big deal: three year old, any excuse for a costume, pretty standard. But it took AGES before he was even vaguely interested in fancy dress, and so it still has a certain novelty value.

More than that, too, his dress up games are now imbued with the wonderful imagination that is blossoming in him, and he embraces the characters he takes on with gusto.

The highlight of our Halloween adventures was a walk up to Berry Head – in costume of course. I had a meeting at the pool on Sunday morning, and Leigh and Arthur came to meet me there – in costume and clutching their lightsabers.

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(These lightsabers are worth an aside themselves. I made one for Arthur a while ago using a bubble wand, and whilst it was pretty cool it way no way nearly as awesome as the discovery he made whilst I was raiding our fancy dress boxes for other props… He found the ten-year-old pop up lightsabers with lights and sound that Leigh had bought for himself and his brother and squirrelled away for his future son. And boy was his son excited.)

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Arthur led us through the overgrown pathways up on the headland, taking his mission very seriously until we reached an open space. And then he took great delight in lightsaber duels with anyone who was interested (quite a few random kids as well as just his dad it turned out).

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By the time we headed for home, and lunch with Arthur’s best mate, he was brimming with excitement and adventure.

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Amazing how being in costume can transform your experience of well-trodden paths. And it’s Christmas soon, right? Cue all sorts of festive role-play…

In pursuit of popularity

We moved on to the third series of Black Mirror this week, which began with the slightly too close to home satire of Nosedive.

I say too close to home, but actually as I was watching (and judging) the protagonist as her picture-perfect life descended into chaos after her pursuit of people’s approval became just that bit too obvious I spent most of my time thinking how glad I was that I had managed to avoid getting sucked into the social media cess pit that already bubbles just beneath the surface of our society.

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Sure, I have a pretty active online presence. There’s this blog of course, and the instagram and twitter and Facebook accounts that go with it. But I don’t strictly use them as promotional tools. I mean I use them to promote my posts sometimes of course. But not exclusively, or even mainly. And the rest of what I post is just observation or record-keeping. I don’t really care if anyone reads it, or if I get more followers as a result.

Not much anyway. At least I don’t think I do.

I mean, I don’t even know my Klout score.

I’m not even sure I really understand what Klout is, but that’s what I thought of as I saw Lacie delight over the positive reviews she received and despair as her rating began to plummet. And if you’re serious about blogging, or social media in general, then of course you have to come out on top, right? Of course people have to like what you do the best, because otherwise why would anyone want to invest in you, to use you to help sell their brand and bestow on you all the perks that come with that?

I guess it is different in that ultimately the things being rated are brands themselves, yes? It’s not the people who are being judged, even if sometimes it’s tricky to tell where the person ends and the brand begins. And really that’s the whole stamp of a successful brand in this personality-driven blowing culture I’m dipping my toes into – it needs to be authentic, to have integrity. Otherwise what’s the point?

Anyway. I’m not doing that. That’s not what this blog’s about – it’s not what my social media presence is about. I don’t care about my ratings. It doesn’t matter how popular I am. I just want to write.

Except…

A few days ago I heard back from the administrators of the competition I’d entered one of my novels into. It was a standard response – exceptionally high standards, yada yada, I should be proud of even finishing a novel, yada yada – the upshot of which was that my novel hadn’t made it through to the next round. It hadn’t even been longlisted.

And I reassured myself that it was the response I’d expected, obviously. I hadn’t thought I’d hear back so soon, had figured I’d be able to hold on to my optimistic imaginings for a little while longer, but I hadn’t really dared hope that my novel would get anywhere.

Except of course I had, because that’s why I’m still doing this. That’s why I’m still writing, and editing, and submitting, because one day I believe that someone will pick up one of my books and declare it a masterpiece.

But not this time.

And really, why should it bother me? It’s just the opinion of one person after all. One more person, who admittedly counts for rather more in this fickle world of publishing than your average reader, and in fact is one of the gatekeepers who decides whether the average reader ever gets to make their own mind up about the book I’ve written, but still just one person.

And it’s not really about me. It’s about my words – my work. Except I haven’t quite mastered the art of separating that out from the very essence of my soul quite yet.

Ultimately I guess there’s less than I thought that separates me from Lacie, and that whole slippery slope of the popularity game. I could ignore it completely I suppose, just write because I love it – because I do love it. But if I’m honest I’d quite like people to read the stuff I write, and to like the stuff they read.

So I’ll keep on keeping on, nurturing my corner of the internet whilst not being too bothered if it sometimes seems a bit littler than I might like. Writing the things I feel like writing, occasionally reaching out to the gatekeepers who might help me find a bigger audience but trying not to mind too much if they don’t respond.

It’s all a bit of a minefield this aspiring author business.

I think I might need a holiday…

 

Writing Bubble

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

One major advantage of not driving is that we have to get the bus way more than we otherwise would. And Arthur loves it!

He had been fast asleep not long before this photo was taken, curled up on my lap on the top deck of another bus, when the driver asked us all to change to the one behind. Cue major grumps for a few minutes, until all was forgotten when he spotted a Star Wars game machine in the arcades.

I like that it’s not easy to get places – that we have to slow down and remember that the journey is just as important as the destination. Still, the inevitability of learning to drive is creeping up on me with increased urgency as Arthur gets older.

So I’m going to savour moments like this while I can.

Perfect pumpkins

The unschooling diaries: week forty-one

This is not a reflection on my amazing pumpkin-carving skills, but rather just a realisation of how the humble pumpkin makes a perfect vehicle for learning.

Our pumpkin journey began back in May, with three tiny plants from Rocket Gardens. Arthur helped me plant them, and over the weeks that followed we watered them and watched them grow.

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And grow.

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And grow!

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To be honest I had probably been a little ambitious with the amount of plants we tried to squeeze in to our raised beds, but the pumpkins soon made a break for freedom and found the space they needed by crawling across the deck.

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Arthur has been asking since August whether it is Halloween yet – he has been desperate to bring the pumpkins inside and carve them into lanterns. And this weekend we finally did.

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He was bursting with excitement as we cut the pumpkins open and scooped out the seeds and flesh from inside

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He had very clear ideas about what he wanted to create from his pumpkins: a ghost, a spooky dog, and an astronaut (we had to pilfer a squash from our veg box for the third one).

We looked online for images that fitted his vision, and then he guided me as I drew the outlines on the orange skin. We worked together to carve the shapes out, using Arthur’s ‘ghost knife’ that we’d picked up this time last year and a handy little saw.

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As soon as the lanterns took shape Arthur sought out candles to illuminate them, insisting that we took them somewhere dark immediately for a better view and staring full of wonder when night began to fall and he could watch the flames flicker at the kitchen table before we finally dragged him off to bed.

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This was only the start for the pumpkins, though.

Whilst Arthur and I had been carving their shells for Halloween lanterns, Leigh had been busy making pumpkin pie for Sunday lunch.

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And once the carving was done, we dried and roasted the pumpkin seeds for snacking on – a real treat in my nut-allergic world where every packet of commercially available seeds warns of possible cross contamination!

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There is even a portion of pumpkin puree left in the fridge, waiting to be cooked up into Halloween cupcakes this afternoon.

Honestly, who would have thought a simple vegetable could bring so much joy – and so much learning? I think we’ll all be sad to see the pumpkins go once this week is out. I’d best get thinking about what we can grow next…