Sunday, December 31, 2006

Like my weather sticker?

... in the sidebar.

Hat tip to Dorothy!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The world according to Star

(1) Star: What colour are my toes?
Me: [Looks] Red.
Star: Do you know why they are red?
Me: No. Nail varnish?
Star: No. It's felt tip [marker]. I coloured them red to remind me to wear socks. If I forget the socks then everyone will see my red toes and I'll look silly.

(2) Star (with set of quiz cards): Which English king abdicated?
Me: Edward the eighth.
Star: No ... Edward the vee-triple-one.

Hmm! Seems we need to look at Roman numerals. And yes, she did remember to wear socks. (Star refused to wear socks for a long time, until I clicked that she is sensitive to the feel of clothing. Now she will wear them so long as they are soft, fluffy ones, but hasn't quite got into the habit.)

Friday, December 29, 2006


One of my Christmas gifts this year was a nice, thick bound notebook, with a brightly striped cover, that I plan to use as a journal. I love having an empty book to write in - particularly a good quality one - and I enjoy writing properly, the old fashioned way, with a pen. Much as I love my computer, tapping away at a keyboard just isn't the same, for all the convenience of being able to cut, paste and edit without dispiriting scribbles highlighting every error and second thought.

I think it will be part journal, and part commonplace book. In the past I have tended to use different notebooks for different things - notes on books I am reading, copywork, diary, homeschool planning. This year I plan to keep everything in the one place, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the book develops. So far it has only some ponderings on new year resolutions and notes on what I am planning for next term.

I'm so enthused about the idea of commonplacing that I have assigned it a blog label. It sounds so much nicer than "miscellaneous stuff".

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Last Term

Hits ...

Maths 2XL (also known as Conquer Maths) - apart from one brief hiccup a few weeks in, maths with Angel has been painless. What can I say? Patrick Murray, the Australian tutor who wrote and presents these maths lessons, is my hero. Maths is no longer a trauma. Long may it last!

Saint Patrick's Summer by Marigold Hunt - catechism the easy way for Star.

Latin Prep 1 from Galore Park - just the right choice for Star, who is sailing through the basics of Latin. Challenging, but she is responding to the challenge.

Gloria Whelan - three great read alouds in one term (Homeless Bird, The Angel in the Square and The Impossible Journey).

And misses ...

Story of the World vol.2 by Susan Wise Bauer - we tried, but Star grumbled and we just didn't get into it.

Hands-on science - great in theory, and I'm sure the girls would have enjoyed themselves, but with a young baby (what was I thinking?) and afternoons out decluttering Mum's house it just didn't happen.

Adventure of the Amethyst by Cecily Hallack - I love it, but Angel didn't.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Saint Thomas of Canterbury

One saint I almost feel I know personally is Saint Thomas of Canterbury. At university I was tutored by the editor of his letters, and her enthusiasm for Thomas rubbed off. I took a course she taught on King Henry II, in which she spent almost as much time discussing Thomas as she did the king and his reign. My good luck!

Feast Day: December 29th

A Few Facts
Born 1118 in London, died 1170 at Canterbury
Ordained as archbishop of Canterbury 1162
Patron of clergy
Saint Thomas is often known as Thomas Becket, though he himself never used the surname, or as Thomas a Becket, which is a much later variation. His correct title is Thomas of Canterbury.

If All the Swords of England by Barbara Willard (published by Bethlehem Books)
Murder in the Cathedral by T.S.Eliot (play)

Online: Thomas Becket the Chancellor and Thomas Becket the Archbishop from Stories from English History by Alfred J.Church
Eyewitness account of the martyrdom of St Thomas
And my own version of the story of St Thomas: Murder at Canterbury

A Virtual Tour
Find Cheapside, the street where St. Thomas was born, on a map of the City of London. The City of London is the old city, now the financial district and only a small part of modern city. The ancient medieval streets still exist, but they are now lined with office blocks.

Any surviving remnants of the City St. Thomas would have known were destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, which also destroyed the medieval St. Paul's Cathedral. You will have to make do with a visit to the "new" St. Paul's designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

Visit Canterbury Cathedral, the site of St. Thomas's martyrdom.

Activities for the Feast of St. Thomas
from Catholic Culture

Other Resources
Teaching activity from the British Library using original sources to investigated the story of St Thomas.
Links to articles and activities from
(Both of these are aimed at 11-12 year olds)

O God, for the sake of whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas fell by the sword of ungodly men: grant, we beseech Thee, that all who implore his aid, may obtain the good fruit of his petition. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

Christmas comes but once a year ...

... and with it a rendition of Christmas carols from Star and A-next-door on the Mongolian nose flute (more commonly known as the recorder). Believe it or not, they sounded good.

Our usual Christmas routine was upset this year as my poor Mum was still in hospital. There were no physiotherapy services over Christmas, and the physio had not been able to work through everything with her beforehand, so she was stuck, poor dear. We hoped she would come home today, but the doctor is concerned her wound isn't healing as it should and wants to take another look tomorrow. God willing she will be allowed home then. Other than that she is doing well.

Tevye took Angel and Star to visit Grandma in the morning, while I stayed home with Little Cherub and cooked our Christmas dinner (which we have at lunchtime). After years of having my mother, my brother, and my mother's friend with us for Christmas it was sad to have empty spaces at the dining table - not just Mum absent, but also her friend who moved to a different part of the country last spring. Then, of course, we had Little Cherub added into the mix ... and delightful as she is, she can be rather a handful at mealtimes once her own dinner is finished! She appreciated her stocking, though ...

Advent Retrospective

Our makeshift Advent blundered on until it fell apart more or less totally for the last week ... Mum in hospital, Christmas preparations, six month old baby ... 'nuff said.

We did manage to make six O Antiphon ornaments ...

Yes, I know there are seven O Antiphons, but this was one of those activities I wished I hadn't started and six was enough of a challenge to my patience. The theory was this. Cut out card templates, scrunch up kitchen foil and glue to each side to give 3D effect, wrap entire ornament in more foil, add a layer of papermache and paint. Have you ever tried making a pointed crown or sun out of foil and papermache? If not, then my advice to you is DON'T. It is not fun. Your children will head rapidly for the nearest exit leaving you in a muddle of foil and newsprint, getting more frustrated by the minute. Star at least stuck around long enough to make a book (to represent Wisdom), but Angel saw the way the wind was blowing and scarpered. Still, I soldiered on, having got to the point where I had invested too much effort to give up, and the end result - with the addition of some gold marker - was not bad. Not brilliant, probably not worth the time and frustration, but good enough. I decided to scale down by buying a purple star for the top of our Advent tree for the seventh, "O Emmanuel" antiphon. Of course I then couldn't find a purple star, so O Emmanuel will just have to wait for next year.

We also made sixteen of the twenty four Jesse Tree ornaments before our Jesse Tree readings fell apart. I'll add the other eight this week (I know, I know ... what is the point of adding to an Advent tree after Christmas? At least we will then have them ready for next year.).We never did manage to match up the readings and the ornaments after the first few days, but we got through more readings than ornaments, which is probably the better way round.

At least I am going to be really organised for next Advent, with nice new Jesse Tree symbols and O Antiphon ornaments all ready to go! I just need to find a purple star, or it will be back to the papermache ...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Some Christmas listening

Thanks to the BBC's "listen again" facility you can still enjoy these Christmas treats ...

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
from King's College, Cambridge.

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature - abridged version of a new biography, being broadcast in 15 minute chunks Monday to Friday this week. Available to listen again for seven days.

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. (Skip the first two minutes if you don't want a news broadcast including this story.)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas!

Little Cherub wishes you all a very

She isn't quite sure what all the fuss is about, but she thinks wrapping paper tastes good.

Have a wonderful day celebrating the birth of Jesus. Better still, make it a wonderful twelve days!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease

This morning as I drove to Mass our neighbours were three cars in front driving to their Church, and we passed a friend and her family walking to yet another Church, and the reality of Christian division hit me in the face. (Yes, I know. I'm slow. It is only 450 years or so since the Reformation.) I thought how wonderful it would be if we were all going to the same Church - ONE Church - worshipping together, celebrating the same feasts, visibly part of the single Body of Christ ... and I grasped at a deeper level than before that this was once reality. And it was bigger and more fundamental than just all Christians belonging to the same Church - in western Europe it meant the whole of society, for with few exception all were Christians. Of course I appreciate the sense of being part of the Body of Christ that comes with being Catholic, but imagine how much greater that sense would be if Christianity was not divided. Then imagine what it must have been like to live in a truly Christian country, with a complete overlap between Church and society.

For the first time I understood the way the Reformation fractured not only the Church but society as a whole. That sense of unity ripped away; the common understanding of the meaning of life (and death) gone. And also I understood why the rulers of Western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were prepared to fight (literally, catastrophically and regrettably) to maintain unity, whether Catholic or Protestant; why the Tudor and Stuart kings and queens were prepared to persecute dissenters - both Catholic and Protestant - in order to ensure as best they could that English society and the Church of England remained one and the same. It was not just a megalomaniac urge to have everyone worship the way they chose; they truly believed it to be an essential for a united realm.

Ever the optimist, I always tend to focus on what we share with other Christians, but today I was just overwhelmed by the tragedy of a fractured Church. At the most simple level, friends headed in different directions to worship the same Lord ... and tomorrow to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. Divisions within divisions, making unity harder than ever to achieve. And worst of all, here in England at least, Christian society broken ... Christians a minority, where faith is considered at best a harmless eccentricity and at worst a threat to the very society that was built on Christian principles in the first place.

Still, as I said, I am an optimist. If there is ever a time when we can feel hope for an end to division, it must be Christmas. This morning at Mass we sang my favourite Advent carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which includes this verse ...

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

I love that at Christmas is that there is enough peace and goodwill in the air to feel a little of that lost unity. Tonight there will be community carol singing in our High Street, organised by the local Churches Together and attended by people from all the Churches and none ... all singing to welcome the Baby whose birth changed not just the world but heaven too - Emmanuel, God With Us. Thank God for that Baby, and for Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Party time

Last night was Hannukah party time. This has become a favourite annual tradition, when we invite our neighbours over to celebrate Hannukah with us. Tevye reads the story of Hannukah to everyone, we light the candles, play dreidls for sweets, and eat latkes and salt beef (if we can get it, or slices of roast beef if we can't) followed by doughnuts. Then the children disappear to make noise while the adults sit around drinking tea, coffee or wine and engaging in (slightly) less noisy conversation. At the end all the children get "hannukah gelt" - chocolate money - except that last night I forgot to give it to them and nobody noticed!

Playing dreidl at Hannukah is a highlight for most Jewish children. As a child Tevye attended a children's synagogue where they always supplied a sack of monkey nuts to use as chips. We usually opt for Smarties (similar to chocolate M&Ms). A dreidl is a four sided spinning top, with a Hebrew letter on each side. To start, each player puts two sweets (or nuts, or whatever ...) into the pot. Then everyone takes turns to spin the dreidl and follow the instructions for whichever letter lands face up:

  • נ (Nun) - Do nothing
  • ג (Gimel) - Win everything in the pot
  • ה (Hay) - Win half the contents of the pot
  • ש (Shin) - Put two into the pot
After a gimel each player puts two sweets into the pot. The game continues until everyone is out of sweets (there tends to be a certain amount of attrition during play) or the players get bored.

I usually skip the dreidl playing to grate potatoes and fry latkes (you can find the recipe on my Cookbook blog). Every year I make more than the year before, and every year the bowl ends up empty.

Overheard yesterday afternoon:

Star: It's Hannukah tonight
A-next-door: Hannukah! I love Hannukah!
Star: That's weird. You're not even a bit Jewish ...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hospital update

Mum is doing OK ... not great, but not badly either. She was anaemic and has had blood transfusions which have made her feel a lot better, but this meant a delay in getting her up and moving. Hopefully she will be allowed to try walking tomorrow. As she will not be allowed home until she can walk up and down stairs, it is beginning to look as though she may be in hospital over Christmas. Also visiting is difficult as the weather has turned against us, with frost and fog making it a very nasty drive. Prayers for her continued recovery and mobility appreciated!

Where is my pudding?

There is no doubt about it. Little Cherub is a baby who knows her own mind.

She has recently discovered food - with an enthusiasm that suggests she might need to be renamed Little Piglet. Over the past few days, if she has still looked peckish after eating a meal, I have given her fruit for dessert (or "pudding" as dessert is often called here). Yesterday she had her lunch along with the rest of us. After feeding her a fair amount of her food - which she apparently enjoyed - I took a break to eat some of my own. When I turned back to give her some more, she became inexpicably grumpy. Didn't want it. Wasn't pleased. Various efforts to mollify her failed. Cherub was decidedly cross. Then it dawned on me. She wanted her pudding! She had worked out that a pause in the arrival of food normally meant that first course was done and something fruity was on its way. She was expecting fruit, and there was I trying to shovel down more of the main course she thought was finished. Result: one seriously displeased baby. I fetched fruit. One mouthful and the Cherub's angry squawks stopped ... and she proceeded to wolf down the lot.

I have a sneaky feeling that Little Cherub as a toddler could be something of a challenge.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Brass Band Advent

I have just got back from visiting Mum in hospital. [She's a bit down - in a lot of pain, brain-fogged from morphine and not yet out of bed. This to me seems normal for less than 48 hours after major surgery, but someone (I know not who) had given her over-optimistic expections, so she is feeling demoralised.] It is an hour's drive each way, so I had time to listen to CDs without interruptions. [For the benefit of British readers, she lives in Buckingham, is under a consultant at Stoke Mandeville, but has been shunted out to High Wycombe for the op - I'm not sure whether this is due to major building work at Stoke or government policy, but as an exercise in isolating patients and making visiting difficult, it would be hard to beat.]

(Apologies. This post is suffering from an excess of hyphens and parentheses, but I'm tired and don't have the brain power left to disentangle them.)

I digress ... as I drove I enjoyed listening to the CD of Christmas music that Angel and Star's brass band recorded at the beginning of the year. It is only an amateur community band, so the recording has its share of duff notes and tuning hiccups, but it also has parts where they really get into their stride and sound very good. Until the girls got involved I had never appreciated the range and variety of brass band music. This CD has a good mix, including a couple of tracks just right for the later stages of Advent, both of which I listened to several times. The first is the old medieval carol Gaudete, a favourite of mine and very apt given that we have just celebrated Gaudete Sunday. I hadn't realised just how medieval a brass band can sound (what Angel tells me is a repiano cornet with mute particularly so), and this arrangement starts with very medieval harmonies. Towards the end it switches unexpectedly to a very exuberant rock style arrangement. Sounds odd, but it works. The middle ages could be pretty exuberant too.

The second is The Kingdom Triumphant by Eric Ball, which starts with a fanfare before moving into arrangements of three Advent carols and ending with a magnificent brassy flourish and cornet descant. The first tune I didn't recognise, but the others are two wonderful traditional hymns ... O Come, O Come Emmanuel (which always sends shivers down my spine), and Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending. This is an old favourite from my Methodist childhood, which I have never heard sung in the Catholic Church. A shame, as it is another powerful Advent hymn:

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Which is, after all, what this whole Advent and Christmas thing is about. God appears on earth to reign. Hallelujah.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Prayer request update

Mum's surgery is safely over :). I was able to speak to her this evening and she sounded woozy (unsurprisingly!) but herself. Deo gratias!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I just saw ...

... a giant, inflatable, illuminated Winnie-the-Pooh, wearing a Santa hat.

And I wondered. What would A.A.Milne have thought? Would he be amused that his creation had taken on a life of its own and was now competing with snowmen, santas and reindeer in the oversize Christmas lights market? Would he be offended that his bear had been given the Disney treatment and turned into merchandise?

And I also wondered ... where is the line? At what point do Christmas decorations cross the boundary between the non-religious and the irreligious? We don't have a large number of decorations because of Tevye's Jewish sensibilities - a tree, a Nativity scene (two this year, as Little Cherub has her own soft, squishy, chewable one), cards and a few oddments; no lights, except on the tree. What we do have is a mix of the religious and the secular. Our tree has a sprinkling of Nativity ornaments and angels, mixed in with snowmen, stockings, teddies, Santa sacks, and other miscellaneous baubles (the style is decidedly eclectic!). All - or almost all - have some sort of wintry or traditional Christmas association. But Winnie-the-Pooh? I can see a few cute Christmassy Winnie-the-Pooh tree ornaments, mixed in with other things. But what about an entire tree trimmed with Disney characters? Or the aforesaid giant bear? When does it get so far away from the real focus of Christmas that it begins to take away from the spirit of Christmas? Maybe it doesn't ... maybe only a Christmas decoration that is actually offensive or sinful would do that. Maybe Winnie-the-enormous is just a lighthearted bit of fun. But he made me wonder.

Prayer Requests

Tevye drove my Mum to hospital today ready for her hip replacement surgery tomorrow. She is 79 and had heart surgery a few years ago, so I am worried about her. I would really appreciate your prayers that all will go well and that she will have a smooth recovery.

The other request is for little Jonathan. I knew he had two small holes in his heart, which it was initially hoped would close on their own. I spoke to his mother today and it is now apparent that the larger one will need surgery, but they need to get Jonathan's weight up first. He had to spend a night in hospital because fluid round his heart was causing breathing difficulties. He is now on medication to prevent this, but as you can imagine it is worrying and stressful, and they very much want to get the hurdle of surgery over with as soon as possible. Please pray he will gain weight and that the operation can be done soon and successfully.

Thank you!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

More preparations

Preparations of a different sort are happening on the S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen where Gaudete Sunday will be a very special day. Please join me in saying a prayer for Jennifer's daughter Marianna as she makes her First Communion.

A babble of babies

I don't know what the correct collective noun is for babies, but I think "babble" does pretty well! Whatever, the last week has been a good time for babies. Last Saturday my good friend and collaborator on Mater Amabilis, Michele, gave birth to her tenth baby, a beautiful little girl named Maria. Maria's arrival was closely followed by a local friend's long-awaited first baby, born safely after a rough pregnancy and an emergency c-section.

Continuing the baby theme, today I played the flute at the baptism of Jonathan, a very special little boy born with Downs Syndrome. Three-and-a-half years ago I played at the funeral of his sister, who died from cardiomyopathy just before her second birthday. Since then his family have set an extraodinary example of courage and fortitude in the way they coped with this tragedy and a number of other trials. Our whole parish has taken baby Jonathan very much to its heart. Please pray for him on this special day, that he will have a happy and healthy life and will continue to be a source of joy to his family.

And finally, Little Cherub would like to announce that she is now six months old, and very happy about it!

I took her to be weighed in honour of the occasion. She now weighs 13lbs 12oz and is 24½ inches long, making her exactly average ... for a four month old! I think that means she is officially two-thirds of a baby? Petite as she is, she is still chugging happily up her own (small!) curve, and has strength and noise making abilitiy out of proportion to her size.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hag Sameach!

In our mixed bag family festive seasons and holy days tend to pile on top of each other. The girls and I are already knee deep in Advent and looking forward to Christmas, and we are now also celebrating Hannukah, the Festival of Lights, with Tevye. This evening Angel, Star and I went out to sing and play Christmas carols. We then came home to join Tevye in the prayers for the beginning of Hannukah, to light the menorah and to exchange Hannukah gifts. Christmas and Hannukah coincide most years, as do Easter and Passover, and we have learned to take double celebrations in our stride. Even though they make what would in any case be busy seasons busier still, it is worth the extra effort to be able to enjoy the richness of both strands of our family heritage.

On the way home from our carol trip, I asked Angel and Star if either of them could remember the Hebrew greeting for Hannukah. "Yes" piped up Star, confidently ... "sheket, b'vakasha!" Er ... not quite! Sheket b'vakasha is Modern Hebrew for "quiet, please!" (or more colloquially, "shut up"). Tevye remembered this snippet from a trip to Israel, and taught it to the girls long enough ago not to expect them to remember it. Odd things stick in Star's brain. And yes, the monkey did know what it really meant! What she should have said was ...

Hag sameach! Happy holidays!

The Loveliness of Preparation

Welcome to The Loveliness of Preparation, the latest in the series of Living Lives of Loveliness fairs. If you were able to join me in real life I would hand round a plate of mince pies and brew a big pot of tea. As it is, I'm afraid I can only offer the virtual kind.

I love Christmas. Maybe the excitement isn't quite as much as when I was a seven year old expecting Father Christmas to visit, but it isn't far off. Preparing for Christmas is my idea of fun. Decorating the tree, baking Christmas treats, rehearsing Christmas carols, wrapping presents ... I love all of it! And that, of course, is just one side of the preparation. We are also preparing for the real focus of Christmas, the celebration of the Nativity, with our Jesse tree (this year, an Advent tree), our Advent candles and our prayers. As the posts have come in for this fair it has been lovely to see what other families are doing to get ready for Christmas. Now it is your turn. Please take a mince pie, pour a nice cup of tea (or a steaming hot mug if you prefer), put your feet up and share this glimpse into their Christmas preparations ...

Last month Jenn hosted a magnificent Loveliness of Advent fair at Family in Feast and Feria , with a host of ideas all aimed at helping us to keep the real meaning of Christmas at the centre of our preparations. Ruth's Jesse Tree and Alice R's Advent wreath show us some of these ideas in action.

Jenn herself is halfway done preparing for Christmas. Admire her husband's splendid first effort at carpentry ... a Christmas tree platform. What a treat for a small boy (or a bigger one!), and what a lovely new family Christmas tradition. Bridget and her family are also in the midst of their Christmas preparations, and already have a tree, lights, cards and a large quantity of cookies to show for their efforts.

Many families enjoy celebrating the Feast of Saint Nicholas, the real Santa Claus. Alice and her family ventured out from the Cottage to join friends for an afternoon of St.Nicholas Day crafts (don't miss the photo at the end of the littlest member of the family enjoying herself). Dawn of By Sun and Candlelight has been making colourful Christmas crafts at home with her boys, and is enjoying a season of colour, light and joy.

For most of us cooking and preparing food is a big part of the Christmas season. At A Living Education Katherine puts this into perspective with a thoughtful post on the gift of hospitality, reminding us that the preparation of food is a privilege and a true act of love. Stef, as her blog name attests, is a queen of the kitchen. Her Christmas confections are not only scrumptious, but allergy free. We have also been busy in the kitchen ourselves. Here in England Christmas means a turkey dinner with all the trimmings (no Thanksgiving, remember!) followed by a traditional Christmas pudding. Star and I spent a busy afternoon measuring, chopping, grating and mixing our puddings on "Stir-Up Monday" (we were a day late for Stir-Up Sunday). Next week we will be on a mission to produce mince pies.

Christmas for most families includes a fair number of outside activities as well as domestic preparations. We have discovered that Christmas is a very busy time for brass bands, and Angel has been rushing around playing Christmas music at various shopping malls and social clubs. Tonight we will be wrapping up warm for Christmas carols on the village green. Angel and Star will both be playing with the band and I shall enjoy getting the chance to join in the carols - usually I miss out on singing because I am playing myself. Over in Louisiana Cay shares joyful photos of her children's Christmas pageant (love the little angel with the cookie!). She also shows us how it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Cajun Cottage Under the Oaks and gives us an important reminder - what matters is not how much we do, but that we focus on the spirit of the season, relax, keep it simple and enjoy preparing for Christmas.

A big thank you to everyone who has contributed posts to this fair. Compiling it has given me a warm, seasonal glow ... I hope reading it has done the same for you. May your Advent be blessed, and your preparations for the great Feast of Christmas be joyful ones! I'm going to leave the last word to Tracy, who is enjoying her Christmas preparations to the full:

It’s beginning to look at LOT like Christmas,
Everywhere we go…..
Take a look at the stressed out folks,
running to and fro,
They frown like scrooge,
and make me feel so low!

Well, that’s IF I let them! And I don’t! I have had the Christmas spirit since October 13th, when a HUGE “October Surprise” storm hit our area, knocking down trees, and huge branches of trees, power lines, and every other line you can think of, obliterating my most favorite season of the year, Autumn. It was then that I decided I’d not allow that to upset me, and I’d just move on to my very favorite Holiday of the year,

My daughter and I began watching Christmas movies right away, one of our favorites like Christmas with the Kranks. And we watched one given to us as a gift by Grandma last year but hadn’t yet seen, The Polar Express. Our favorite song of course is Josh Groban’s, *Believe*. We ordered a few from Netflix that we had never seen, some oldies like Christmas in Connecticut, and White Christmas. Our family watched our traditional VERY all-time favorite, The Christmas Story.

We’ve been listening to many of my huge Christmas CD collection since then too, my favorite Christmas CDs from my favorite artists like James Taylor, Manheim Steamroller, Amy Grant, Jim Brickman, Harry Connick Jr., and Bing Crosby. And we’ve listened to other collections like our all-time favorite, Charlie Brown Christmas!

Little by little, our home is becoming decorated. The outside was decorated first, with pretty, white lights all throughout the bushes, and our beautiful hand made silhouetted nativity, made by my boys (my husband and two boys) glows in front of our home, while passersby on our busy street get to see it glowing happily. While everything inside isn’t up yet, our Advent wreath has been on our table since the first Sunday of Advent, a new record in our home. *g* And over the course of a week, our Christmas tree has been put up and decorated. We can’t have a real tree, because I’m allergic to pine (*sigh*), but we love our tree, it fits our tiny living room perfectly. ;o) My huge snowman collection, which is put in the bathroom is now up. And we just put up our nativity on our entertainment center just a few days ago. It sits on a pretty white sheet, and little blue lights surround the nativity, making it a pretty feature in our home, just as it should be! :o) I just remembered our felt advent tree isn’t up (better do that today! (blush)). And we still have to put the village up on the piano. We have a huge village that comes to life on our piano at Christmas. That, and our joyful choir of carolers and angels will go up, and we’ll be well decorated for the beautiful holiday!

Christmas cookies are being planned, but I always wait to make those, because I like fresh cookies. Snickerdoodles will be the cookies made for our family Christmas cookie exchange. Then for our family, and the trays I bring to family gatherings, we’ll have our traditional favorites, most from my childhood, when my mom would make tons of cookies. We’ll make cut outs (and decorate as a family as per our tradition), cream cheese, thumbprints, and peanut butter blossoms. What a neat time of year this is!

I love our Christmas traditions. We’ve brought together some from both sides of our family, and made some of our own over our 18 years as a family. We spend a joy-filled time with our huge extended family, Christmas eve with husband’s side, and Christmas afternoon with my side. My dh is one of 9, and me, one of 6, with over 50 cousins here in our area to celebrate with! Dad is an organist, (besides his full time job), so our Christmas is always a bit different. Our Christmas morning, we have to get up early, after celebrating with dh’s side of the family, and being at Midnight Mass the night before (which is at 10 pm. LOL). We open gifts, have a nice breakfast, then dad goes to play Mass while the kids “play”, and I regroup. ;o) *bwg* Then comes Christmas with my side of the family. It’s really a beautiful and wonderful way to celebrate the joyous Christmas holiday, and the blessings which God has given to our family…… HIS life and our Faith, our beautiful extended family, and our precious family here in our tiny house in Amherst, NY. Little by little, our Christmas here is being prepared and made to be the incredible celebration it should be….a day to celebrate the JOY, PEACE, and LOVE of our precious Savior as He came to earth to bring us all home one day with Him. PRAISE GOD, and MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of you!!!

With Love,
Tracy Q and the Q family

Postscript: My email has been behaving eccentrically over the past couple of days. Please let me know if you submitted something for the fair and it is not here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Our St. Nicholas icons

We finally finished them. Star found some bronze coloured card which worked well as a background. We have been displaying hers in between the two Advent calendars, though it has now disappeared behind our nativity set (not enough space to display everything!)

We'll be putting them away at Christmas and keeping them for next year. I'm hoping that if we do crafts like this for different saints and feast days we can build up a selection of simple items and pictures to display through the year alongside our liturgically coloured candle holders.

The Charlotte Masons

Every now and again something nice pops up unexpectedly in my life. It turns out there are not one, not two, but three other homeschooling mothers in my local area interested in Charlotte Mason. One I've known for years, the other two I had only met in passing. Last night we had the inaugural meeting of the MK Charlotte Masonic Lodge (someone's husband's joke about secret societies got out of hand!) ... in a bookshop, of course. There is a large new Borders in MK - well worth a visit if any of my British readers are in the area - with a Starbucks. Coffee, company, conversation and Charlotte. What more could I want? We are planning to make it a regular thing.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Eureka! I think I got it!

After an enthusiastic start at the beginning of the year I have carried on reading science books in a desultory sort of way - I have started several books but not finished them. I am now reading A Short Histoy of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson ... which comes close to living up to its title. It is certainly wide ranging. I think (only think, mind you) that courtesy of Bill I have finally understood - in a vague sort of way - something that has eluded me whenever I have come across it before.

Fanfare of trumpets ... I think I get - almost - vaguely - the theory of relativity! Not that I understand how it all works, I just think I now know what it is. Earlier this year I read part of The New World of Mr Tompkins by George Gamow and Russell Stannard, and made it through the special theory of relativity before stumbling into a morass with the general theory of relativity and drowning. But now I have it! Maybe.

Speed is limited. Nothing can go faster than the speed of light. The closer something approaches that speed, the more distorted it becomes in both appearance and time - it appears both shorter and slower than it really is. This distortion is relative - only the onlooker travelling at a different speed can perceive it. That is the special theory of relativity.

The general theory of relativity works much the same way except that you have to add in an extra dimension so that everything is relative to everything else in both space and time. This fourth dimension is known as "spacetime" and provides a kind of intangible fabric that holds everything in the universe in a relative web. You can imagine the universe as a "saggy mattress" in which all things create their own dent, causing anything nearby to roll down into that dent, unless it has a bigger dent of its own. Of course, these are only relative dents, not real, tangible ones, but ... hey presto! You have an explanation for gravity! You also have an explanation for all sorts of measurable but intuitively improbable (or impossible) effects in space and time. I think.

My brain hurts. But after all that mental effort I thought I'd share the fruits of it. If there is anyone out there who is a science minded person ... have I got it right?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Still stumbling on

... through our makeshift Advent. We are just about up to date with the Jesse tree readings, but behind with making the symbols. Yes, I know they should go together, but as G.K.Chesterton said "anything worth doing is worth doing badly".

Our St.Nicholas icons are almost finished. At least, Star's and mine are. Angel got "bored" part way through painting hers and abandoned it. I think "bored" was really shorthand for "fed up of trying to paint with a scrubby, nasty brush from a toy paintbox, but not prepared to admit it". Moral: do not just assume that a nearly 12 year old has the sense to find an appropriate paint brush. Check!

We now have two chocolate Advent calendars. We were given a Barbie one which is sitting rather anomalously alongside my nice nativity calendar, my Advent candles and tree. Both Star and Angel now get a chocolate each day, though we still have to remember whose turn it is to have one from each calendar as the Divine nativity chocolate is considered superior. Fortunately Little Cherub has not realised that they contain anything edible. She has just discovered that food also comes in non-liquid form and is very enthusiastic, making determined grabs for anything she thinks may be edible. Eating with the Cherub on my lap is now a challenge. If I don't distract her with baby rice cakes or a crust to chew on she does a splendid imitation of an irate octopus. I'm sure there are more hands than two trying to get into my dinner!

I now have a nasty cold - the sort where you end up sleeping in a chair because it is hard to breathe lying down. This morning I just about had enough voice to say the Angelus responses. What was left of my voice has now disappeared and I am reduced to communicating in short, inaudible whispers or signs. (Little Cherub definitely understands one baby sign. Milk. I wonder what the sign is for rice cake?) This does not bode well for reading anything aloud next week. At least I have bought purple paint ready for making O Antiphon ornaments, so there is something we can do even if I haven't regained the power of speech.

Look what I found!

For years we lit a candle each day when we said morning prayers, but over the last couple of years we got out of the habit. Then yesterday, while looking for a blue candle to light for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception - yes, I know leaving shopping for a candle until the day you want it isn't what you might call organised - I found something better ... these coloured glass tea light holders.

Now not only can we go back to lighting our morning candle, but we can use the correct liturgical colours. I bought five: purple (albeit rather on the pinkish side!) for Advent and Lent; clear for Christmas and Easter; green for Ordinary Time; red for Good Friday, Pentecost and the feast days of martyrs; and blue for feasts of Our Lady.

If I had been looking for something like this I would never have found it. As it was they all but jumped off the shelf and shouted at me ... just like the Advent tree tags.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Maths manipulatives ... eek!

This morning I wanted to demonstrate division with remainders to Star and asked her to bring me five of something ... anything she liked. What did she bring? Eggs. Raw eggs ... or more precisely, four raw and one boiled. Why???? What was wrong with spoons ... or pencils ... or soft toys ... or Playmobil people ... or something normal.

Yes, we did use the eggs as a manipulative. And yes, they did stay in one piece ... but the combination of Star and raw eggs is not good for my peace of mind.

Moral ... when dealing with Star, always be specific. Giving her carte blanche is not a good idea.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Book Review: The Impossible Journey

Title: The Impossible Journey
Author: Gloria Whelan
Age Suitability: 10+ (or 8+ as a read aloud)

In this sequel to The Angel on the Square thirteen year old Marya and her young brother Georgi travel alone from Leningrad to northern Siberia after their parents are arrested by Stalin's police. With help from a kind doctor and a tribe of Samoyed reindeer herders, they make it to the town where they believe their mother is living in exile.

We loved this book. Both Angel and Star were hooked ... and I was hooked too! There was lots of information about 1930s Russia and the difficulties of life under Stalin, but it was all neatly wrapped up in an adventure story package. If the last two books of this quartet are as good as the first two, then they will combine into a great study of twentieth century Russia. Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Real Santa Claus

Title: The Real Santa Claus
Author: Marianna Meyer
Age Suitability: Age 7 or 8 up

As today was the feast of St.Nicholas we read The Real Santa Claus by Marianna Meyer. Unfortunately it was one of those books that I expected to be a success but the girls took a dislike to. Despite some grumbling I ploughed on to the end, but it was a damp squib. I loved the wonderful art used to illustrate the book, and I also thought it was a good retelling of the known facts about St.Nicholas and the various legends attached to him. Angel and Star decided it was boring and that was that. Why? Because the style is a little heavy. The author does tend to use a long word where a shorter might be better. I think this is more than outweighed by the positives, but the girls thought otherwise.

Oh well. Can't win 'em all!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Baby Bookworm!

Star just managed to take this picture before Little Cherub decided eating the book was much more fun than reading it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Come, Lord Jesus!

We clicked into gear with our Advent activities today. Our little tinsel Christmas tree has been transformed from a plain old Jesse tree to an Advent tree with the addition of some purple baubles and a purple chain. We are replacing our old Jesse tree symbols (white card discs) with these purple and gold tree-shaped Christmas gift tags. We drew the first six symbols (two each) on tags and coloured them with watercolour pencils. This time we are keying the symbols to the stories in The Jesse Tree by Geraldine MacCaughrean. So far so good, except that we never got round to reading today's story!

This is how the tree looked with the tags ...

Next year I want to replace the tree - ideally I would like a branch, but if I can't find a suitable one then I think I might opt for a white Christmas tree as the purple decorations would show up better than they do on the green. It will also need to be a little bigger. By the time we have 24 symbols on this little tree it is going to be decidedly overcrowded.

This year for the first time I caved in and bought a chocolate Advent calendar. I was able to find this one, which has a Nativity scene, short sentences under the flaps telling the Nativity story, and chocolates which are Divine by name and divine by nature. And they are fairtrade chocolates to boot! Our little row of sadly undecorated Advent candles sit in front of the calendar.

Today was also our "Stir-up Monday" and we now have four Christmas puddings lined up cooling in the kitchen.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

More on Makeshift Advent

I should have pointed out when writing my rushed post this morning that the Advent activities and reading and Christmas preparation are intended to replace our other schoolwork and reading, apart from the basics of maths, English and Latin or French (and finishing off the last bit of The Impossible Journey). And the activities are all going to be kept simple. And I am also not going to stress over anything that does not get done!

I am glad to report that all the tools have reappeared on my blogger posting form. Faced with no means of adding links, pictures or anything other than plain text I felt bereft. No idea why the tools disappeared ... just grateful that they saw fit to come back! My Advent post is now much tidier :)

Makeshift Advent

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat;
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!

The first day of Advent! Christmas is coming! ... which flipped my brain into this half-forgotten nursery rhyme, and I had to google for the rest. Having found it, I may as well share it :). I have always loved Christmas and preparing for it, even when I was not practicing any form of Christian faith - so much so that the anticipation of Christmas led me to attend my first ever Mass on the First Sunday of Advent, 1985.

The Advent Wreath is not mine. Our Advent Wreath is a cobbled together mix of a wooden candle ring and greeen tinsel and purple ribbon wrapped round a wire coathanger. Purple candles were not to be had anywhere in town this year (or last, when we made do with silver). Then I noticed that I still had a row of four pinkish / purplish candles set out on a tray for Halloween and thought they would do nicely for Advent, with some holly trimmings. Nice idea, but the only place I can think of where there is lots of holly is our local country park - ancient woodland, and a site of special scientific interest from which visitors are not supposed to move so much as a twig for fear of upsetting the delicate ecological balance. Life has been so busy that I never got the chance to hunt for an alternative. So now I am left with a makeshift Advent Wreath that has seen better days and has no candles, or a decidedly un-Adventy row of undecorated candles. I think I will go with the second option, and add decorations as and when I can.

The Advent Wreath - or lack of it - sets the tone for our Advent this year, which is going to be a makeshift one. I sat down last week to plan for Advent. I read through all the wonderful ideas from Jenn's Loveliness of Advent fair and started a list of things I wanted to do. I even wrote most of a blog post about my Advent plans. But lying in bed that night trying to work out how we would fit everything in I was hit by the realisation that we simply wouldn't. I wasn't being realistic. This year is an exceptional year. Between trying to get through as much decluttering and organising of Mum's house as I can before her hip replacement surgery, supporting her through the surgery, and taking on various extra Christmas preparation tasks on her behalf (not to mention that Angel has seven band concerts and carol playing sessions in eleven days ... eek!) the key has to be simplicity. So this is our scaled down Advent plan:

Jesse / Advent Tree - make new, simple decorations to hang on our Jesse tree, which I want to transform into an Advent tree (inspired by Katherine at A Living Education). We will also re-read The Jesse Tree by Geraldine MacCaughrean.

Saint Nicholas and Icons - read The Real Santa Claus by Marianna Meyer, Brother Joseph Painter of Icons, by Fr.Augustine deNoble and The Miracle of St Nicholas by Gloria Whelan. Make Saint Nicholas icons.

O Antiphons - make a set of O Antiphon decorations for our Advent tree. Angel made a fish using an idea from a TV show (Art Attack), and I think the technique would work beautifully for tree decorations. More on this later.

Light our Advent candles and say the Angelus daily.

Read Dickens' A Christmas Carol to Angel and Tolkien's Letters to Father Christmas to Star.

I also have a list of various activities and Christmas preparations I will pick from as and when we have time.

I desperately wanted to use Alice's Advent Cube idea, but had to admit to myself that it just wasn't going to happen this year. This Advent there are bound to be days that would get missed - possibly many days - and we would end up with half a nativity scene and goodness knows what other deficiencies!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

What's cooking?

Over at my new cookery blog you can find recipes for shipwreck stew, Shrewsbury biscuits (cookies) and cholent, along with an introduction to my Auntie and her cookbooks.

Temperamental monster

Being curious about where visitors to my blog come from and go to, I couldn't resist signing up with MyBlogLog when I heard about it a while ago. I was mystified today as to why someone found their way to me through a Google search on "temperamental monster". It turned out to be a post on Angel and maths. Should have guessed. Still, I am delighted to report that despite the odd blip, the Maths 2XL CD-Rom is still proving a pretty good cure for temperamental-monsteritis. And that alleviates the associated disease of frustrated-motheritis. Phew!

Note: My Blog Log is free, so long as you are happy just to see the top ten hits to and from your blog. I may be curious, but not so much so that I'm prepared to pay for the privilege of having my curiosity satisfied!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Of blogs and babies

... and the connection between the two.

(1) Having a nursing baby makes me hungry. Really, really hungry. Is it any surprise that I have started a cooking blog?

(2) I have lots of time to read blogs while nursing said baby, but as I am not a good one-handed typist I often don't manage to comment. If you don't hear from me, it doesn't mean I'm not reading.

(3) I can't resist a good baby photo. Or two.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blog of the Week

As I try to collect my scattered thoughts and focus on Advent it has to be A Living Education, where Katherine has posted a whole series of Advent ideas:

O Antiphon Houses
Jesse Trees
Advent Trees
An entire St. Nicholas Unit, together with a downloadable St.Nicholas flipbook she made for her six year old.

These are just part of the treasure to be found on her blog ... lots more liturgical celebrations, and some wonderful art. Don't miss her Christ the King icon slideshow.

Thank you Katherine. I love it!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Are you ready for Advent?

I'm not. I'm afraid I have hardly thought about it yet - surprising, given my usual planning mania, but life is just so busy at the moment. Fortunately I know other people have been thinking about it for me. Over the next couple of days I am going to be savouring the creative ideas at Mary Ellen's Advent blog, O Night Divine, and at Jenn's Loveliness of Advent fair. I already have some good ideas from Katherine at A Living Education and Ruth at Just Another Day in Paradise.

With all this help I'm sure I will have a plan by next Sunday. When the plan materialises, I'll post it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Bookworm's Cook Book

After all those food related posts I got carried away, and here is the result ... my new cookery blog.

The Bookworm's Cook Book

I have copied over the menu plans and recipes I already posted here, and plan to add more recipes, food quotes, and other food related items. I imagine I will post there sporadically, so will post links to new Cook Book posts here as and when I write them.

In part I am inspired by finding my great-aunt's old recipe books while decluttering at my mother's. One is a hand written notebook, that looks as though it may have been kept during cookery classes; the other a simple housewife's recipe book from the 1920s - basic, no frills home cooking. I'm looking forward to exploring them both. I'm a basic, no frills home cooking type myself. My food usually tastes better than it looks!

Do come and visit. (And admire the pretty pictures of food I managed to put across the top, after much cutting and pasting in Paint!)

Quiz Night

We are having a thoroughly sociable weekend. First, Friday's Greek evening, then last night a quiz evening to raise funds for the girls' brass band. We were the only team with younger children, but called ourselves The Unbeatables in an attempt at positive thinking. Thanks to sterling help from Angel and Star we proved ourselves unbeatably bad and came last. Last turned out to be good as we "won" the booby prize - a small box of chocolates each. The evening was fun, and we were well fed on baked potatoes, chilli, crusty bread and salad. (Note to self: Why is this blog turning into a monologue about food?)

This sample gives you a feel for just why we were a little handicapped in the quiz department ...

Question: What small dog originated in Germany and has a name meaning "badger dog".
Answer: (Star) Great Dane!
Er ... good try - apart from being the wrong size, the wrong country and having nothing to do with badger dog in the name! (Correct answer? Dachshund!)

Greek Night

Friday night was Greek night. I've written before about how fortunate we are in our neighbours. Earlier in the year we had planned with our next-door-but-one neighbours, D and A and next-door neighbours K and A to try out a nearby Greek restaurant, but Little Cherub came along and it never happened. As a Cherub-friendly alternative, we decided on a do-it-ourselves Greek meal. D and A played host and cooked the main course, we provided the starters, and K and A the dessert. Angel and Star stayed home with my brother supposedly in charge (given that they were still not in bed and asleep when we got home at 11.30, "in charge" is clearly a rather loose description), and the Cherub joined the fun. We enjoyed a convivial evening, good food and a glass of wine or two, and reflected yet again on just how fortunate we are in our neighbours. Cherub alternately catnapped and popped up to join in the conversation.

The menu?
Starters: Mezes - a selection of Greek salads, olives and stuffed vineleaves
Main course: Lemon-roasted lamb, roast potatoes with rosemary and mediterranean vegetables
Dessert: Galaktambouriko (Greek custard pie) with yoghurt and honey ice cream

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Left brain, right brain

Because I can't resist a good blogthing ...

You Are 70% Left Brained, 30% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you're left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

Hat tip: Mary G at St.Athanasius Academy

Stir-Up Sunday

Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Collect for the Sunday before the First Sunday of Advent, Book of Common Prayer)
Tomorrow is Stir-Up Sunday, the day for stirring up Christmas puddings, an essential part of dinner for Christmas Day here in England. We won't be making ours tomorrow, but Star and I will be preparing them next week. Until this year my mother has always made them, but standing for any length of time is too painful as she waits for her hip replacement operation (she now has a date for surgery ... December 18th!), so I have now inherited the job along with the family recipe she has always used.

Christmas puddings are normally very rich affairs, laced with quantities of brandy or rum, but our recipe is a lighter, alcohol-free version. It came from Mum's adoptive aunt, who inherited it from her mother. They were Methodists, hence the teetotal pudding. I love Christmas pudding in any shape or form, but often people who dislike other Christmas puds enjoy ours. Here is the recipe ...

8 oz breadcrumbs
8 oz plain flour
8 oz suet (we use the vegetarian version)
8 oz currants
8 oz sultanas
4 oz raisins
a little mixed peel
2 tsp salt
8 oz castor sugar
2 tsp mixed spice
rind and juice of 2 lemons
6 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 grated apples
2 grated carrots
4 oz glace cherries, quartered
1 or 2 tbsp black treacle (dark molasses?)
a little milk if mixture is stiff

Mix all ingredients together and beat well
Put in greased pudding moulds (should be about two-thirds full)
Cover with greaseproof paper
Steam for 3 to 4 hours.

After steaming remove the greaseproof paper and cover with foil. Puddings will keep for about 6 months. Steam a second time for at least 3 hours, and serve with any combination of brandy sauce, brandy butter, custard or cream. I need to check just how many puddings this quantity of mixture will make, but I think it would probably be two 2 pound puddings and two 1 pound puddings, or thereabouts.

Note: If anyone in the US is interested in making these, let me know and I can post conversions into cups.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Menu: Week 4

While I am posting menus, here is Week 4. This blog is certainly not very literary at the moment ... I just seem to be posting a series of lists!

Lunch: Roast lamb, roast potatoes and vegetables
Dinner: Sandwiches

Lunch: Tuna sandwiches
Dinner: Shipwreck stew, green vegetables (a crockpot recipe I found on the internet with minced beef - hamburger? - potatoes, beans and tomato soup. Very easy, very tasty)

Lunch: Baked beans on toast
Dinner: Chicken and mushroom casserole, broccoli, mashed potatoes

Lunch: French bread with chicken tikka
Dinner: Chicken pie, roast potatoes, sauteed cabbage (frozen ready-made chicken pie, not home cooked - Waitrose roast chicken pie, for anyone in the UK who wants to know)

Lunch: Egg mayonnaise sandwiches
Dinner: Oven chips (fries), fish fingers, carrots

Lunch: Cauliflower cheese
Dinner: Pasta with tuna and sweetcorn

Lunch: Vegetable soup, homemade bread
Dinner: Scones and cake

Menu: Week 3

A bit behind the times, but this was our menu for this week (Week 3 of my four week rotation) ...

Lunch: Roast chicken, roast potatoes and vegetables
Dinner: Sandwiches

Lunch: Turkey rasher sandwiches (we use turkey instead of bacon)
Dinner: Potato wedges, fish fingers, sweetcorn

Lunch: Cheese omelette and baked beans
Dinner: Lamb stew and dumplings

Lunch: French bread pizza
Dinner: Chicken stir fry

Lunch: Turkey sandwiches
Dinner: Baked potatoes and cauliflower cheese

Lunch: Pasta with tomato and cheese sauce
Dinner: Fish and chips (fries!) (from the takeaway, not homemade)

Lunch: Beefburgers or steak sandwiches
Dinner: Hot takeaway chicken, crusty bread

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thankful Thursday

As I am going through a phase of living up to my blog name (after a long spell with few book oriented posts), my Thankful Thursday list this week is a literary one. I want to take the opportunity to express my thanks for my favourite authors ...

1. C.S.Lewis, for his way of getting to the heart of Christianity and writing about it with such clarity, and because one of my roads to faith was through Narnia.

2. J.R.R.Tolkein, for being inspired to use his deep understanding of myth to create a masterpiece of the mythological imagination and the greatest fictional battle between good and evil.

3. G.K.Chesterton, who makes me proud to be English and Catholic, whose incisive insights and wit make his work such a pleasure to read, and who demonstrated in both his life and his writing that Catholicism and joy are inseparable.

4. Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason, whose habits of thought and study combined with a deep love of children to produce a philosophy of education that is as inspirational today as it was one hundred years ago.

5. Elinor M. Brent Dyer, whose Chalet School books gave me an imaginary but far more satisfying alternative to real life school, bringing to life a place where children enjoyed good, clean fun, where there were wonderful examples of large, happy families, where faith, principles and responsibility were all pre-eminent, and where many favourite characters were Catholic.

6. Elizabeth Goudge, for books in which adversity is overcome by good moral choices, and which leave behind a glow of satisfaction.

7. Jane Austen, whose gentle humour has kept alive a lost world for two hundred years, showing that the essence of humanity doesn't change.

8. Gerard Manley Hopkins, for being the first poet I discovered for myself, rather than as an assignment for an English literature class. His poems opened my eyes both to ways in which language could be used, and to a Catholic world that hovered attractively somewhere on my horizon.

9. A.A.Milne, for Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends, who I loved with a passion as a child. I even had Winnie-the-Pooh wallpaper. And this was long before the days of Disney and children's book characters as marketing opportunities.

10. Gloria Whelan, who may not be in quite the same literary league as the others, but whose books have brought history and geography to life for us this term.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

One hundred books

Another long list of books for you ... this time, my one hundred favourite children's books. I am restricting myself to fiction, and to only one entry for each author - which, I suppose, means this could also count as a list of my one hundred favourite writers for children. Where books have a sequel or are part of a series I am giving the first title and marking it with an asterisk. Not surprisingly, the list is shamelessly biased towards British authors and books for girls.

Starting with picture books for little ones, and arranged very roughly in age order ...

1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)
2. Owl Babies (Martin Waddell)
3. We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury)
4. Guess How Much I Love You (Sam McBratney)
5. *Elmer (David McKee)
6. I Love You, Blue Kangaroo (Emma Chichester Clark)
7. Peepo! (Allan Ahlberg)
8. The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson)
9. The Tiger That Came To Tea (Judith Kerr)
10. Dogger (Shirley Hughes)
11. Handa's Surprise (Eileen Browne)
12. *Old Bear (Jane Hissey)
13. Christmas Trolls (Jan Brett)
14. Green Eggs and Ham (Dr.Seuss)
15. *The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter)
16. *Spring Story (Brambley Hedge) (Jill Barklem)
17. *Little Grey Rabbit (Alison Uttley)
18. *Katie Morag Delivers the Mail (Mairi Hedderwick)
19. *Floss (Kim Lewis)
20. *Thomas the Tank Engine (Rev.W.Awdrey)
21. *Madeline (Ludwig Bemelmans)
22. The Clown of God (Tomie de Paola)
23. *Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Parrish)
24. The Story of Holly and Ivy (Rumer Godden)
25. *My Naughty Little Sister (Dorothy Edwards)
26. *Teddy Robinson (Joan G.Robinson)
27. *Milly-Molly-Mandy (Joyce Lankester Brisley)
28. *Paddington Bear (Michael Bond)
29. Charlotte's Web (E.B.White)
30. My Father's Dragon (Ruth Stiles Garnett)
31. *The Happy Orpheline (Natalie Savage Carlton)
32. *Little Mrs Pepperpot (Alf Proysen)
33. *Sophie's Snail (Dick King-Smith)
34. *It's Not Fair! (Bel Mooney)
35. *Winnie-the-Pooh (A.A.Milne)
36. *Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren)
37. *Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
38. *Famous Five books (Enid Blyton)
39. *The Story of Doctor Dolittle (Hugh Lofting)
40. Mr Popper's Penguins (Richard Atwater)
41. *Beezus and Ramona (Beverley Cleary)
42. The Miracle of St.Nicholas (Gloria Whelan)
43. The Weight of a Mass (Josephine Nobisso)
44. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (Susan Wojciechowski)
45. Saint George and the Dragon (Geraldine MacCaughrean)
46. *Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls (Caryl Houslander)
47. English Fairy Tales (Joseph Jacobs)
48. Saint Patrick's Summer (Marigold Hunt)
49. *The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S.Lewis)
50. *The Wizard of Oz (L.Frank Baum)
51. *Half Magic (Edward Eager)
52. Peter Pan (J.M.Barrie)
53. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
54. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
55. The Secret Garden (F.Hodgson Burnett)
56. *The Borrowers (Mary Norton)
57. *Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
58. *Little House in the Highlands (Melissa Wiley)
59. By the Great Horn Spoon (Sid Fleischmann)
60. *Five Children and It (E.Nesbit)
61. *Emil and the Detectives (Erich Kastner)
62. The Door in the Wall (Marguerite de Angeli)
63. Ballet Shoes (Noel Streatfeild)
64. The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling)
65. Tom's Midnight Garden (Philippa Pearce)
66. Stig of the Dump (Clive King)
67. Jotham's Journey (Arnold Ytreeide)
68. The Thirteen Days of Christmas (Jenny Overton)
69. The Small Miracle (Paul Gallico)
70. Kensuke's Kingdom (Michael Morpurgo)
71. Cue for Treason (Geoffrey Trease)
72. *The Children of Green Knowe (Lucy Boston)
73. *Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome)
74. The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge)
75. *All of a Kind Family (Sydney Taylor)
76. The Princess and the Goblin (George McDonald)
77. Heidi (Johanna Spyri)
78. Pollyanna (Eleanor Porter)
79. Treasure Island (R.L.Stevenson)
80. The Woolpack (Cynthia Harnett)
81. Warrior Scarlet (Rosemary Sutcliff)
82. Sun Slower, Sun Faster (Meriol Trevor)
83. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Roger Lancelyn Green)
84. I, Juan de Pareja (Elizabeth Borton de Trevino)
85. The Striped Ships (Eloise Jarvis McGraw)
86. The Box of Delights (John Masefield)
87. Charlotte Sometimes (Penelope Farmer)
88. Fattipuffs and Thinifers (Andre Maurois)
89. *Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (J.K.Rowling)
90. *What Katy Did (Susan Coolidge)
91. *The School at the Chalet (Elinor M.Brent Dyer)
92. The Silver Sword (Ian Serralier)
93. Journey to Jo'burg (Beverley Naidoo)
94. The Hobbit (J.R.R.Tolkien)
95. Moonfleet (J.Meade Falkner)
96. The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare)
97. Grace (Jill Paton Walsh)
98. *Anne of Green Gables (L.M.Montgomery)
99. The Adventure of the Amethyst (Cecily Hallack)
100. *Little Women (L.M.Alcott)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Homeschooling Update: Star

I seem to have been on a roll with book posts and haven't said much about our homeschooling for a while. Time for an update, starting with Star ...

My lengthy, detailed planning has now gone the way of all my detailed plans, into a general structure and vague sense of direction. I think I now have a better handle on how to approach educating Star. I mentioned before that Star has developed the habit of inattention ... more accurately, it has always been a problem, but after our erratic pregnancy and new baby year it has become more apparent, and the time has come to work on it. My plan is to start by getting her to focus better on just a few things - short tasks that require concentration. I'm starting with three:

  • History narration ... I have abandoned Story of the World Vol.2 and the medieval period as it wasn't catching her interest. She is listening in to some of Angel's twentieth century history read alouds, and I have picked out another book purely to practice her reading comprehension and narration skills. A Nursery History of England by Elizabeth O'Neill is an old book which tells the story of English history in very short snippets, each with an illustration and with many colour plates. (When first published it must have been a rather delicious book, though my copy is tarnished and has had some illustrations cut out.) The brief stories, each just one or two paragraphs long, will give her the chance to practice reading and narrating, without being long enough to become a bugbear. She grumbled the first time - slight understatement ... it was more of a screech and wail session - but today she whizzed through it with an accurate narration.
  • Latin ... Latin Prep lends itself to short lessons, and I split longer exercises into two. Keeping them short helps to keep her focused. In my opinion Latin is great brain exercise. It teaches grammar and thinking skills, all in one neat package. Star, so far at least, seems to have just the right sort of brain for Latin and works on it quite happily.
  • Maths ... daily maths in some shape or form. Usually Singapore My Pals Are Here, but sometimes computer games or other maths activities. Again, sticking to short lessons.
As her narration and reading comprehension skills improve I can increase the reading and narrating assignments. No rush though ... if this school year is spent mainly on developing her skills in these three areas, I will be happy. Add in read alouds and independent reading time, and she will be learning a good deal.

Early Reading Memories Meme

Yes! Another meme! And a nice bookwormish one at that. Thank you to Faith at Dumb Ox Acadamy for tagging me.

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?

Apparently I had started reading by the time I was two, and was reading fluently at three. Mostly I taught myself. My mother taught me the alphabet, then I insisted that she must follow along with her finger as she read to me from the Ladybird Keywords books - familiar early reading fare for my generation in the UK, and the same books I used to teach Angel (Star preferred their newer, Read With Me books). From there on I just picked it up by osmosis.

2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?

Many, many books. My dad was not a reader, but my mother was so there were always a lot of books around (scaling down her library is our current decluttering task - mother dear, just how many commentaries on Matthew's Gospel can one person need?). One book I still have is a Faber Book of Children's Stories, which the inscription says was given to me for my fourth birthday. Other early books I remember are Enid Blyton's Noddy books and Winnie the Pooh. My mother has old leather bound copies of the Pooh books and A.A.Milne's children's poems including a couple of first editions that used to belong to her aunt and uncle, and I remember Auntie reading to me from them.

3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?

I don't remember any specific books I bought, but I can remember when I was six or seven saving all my pocket money to buy books. At sixpence a week (pre-decimal coinage) it took me four or five weeks to save enough for a Puffin paperback, which in those days cost either two shillings or half a crown (two shillings and sixpence).

4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?

Oh yes, a constant re-reader! Favourites were C.S.Lewis's Narnia books (though I disliked The Last Battle so never re-read that one), Elinor Brent Dyer's Chalet School series, historical fiction by Geoffrey Trease and Henry Treece, E Nesbit, and Noel Streatfeild, the Little House books and Hugh Lofting's Doctor Dolittle.

5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?

I can't remember! I know I read The Lord of the Rings when I was fifteen and loved it, but was certainly reading adult books before that. Another book that caught my imagination was Tolstoy's War and Peace. My interest was piqued by the BBC's 1972 serialisation, so I think I must have read that before LOTR.

6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?

I never enjoyed The Wind in the Willows as a child, but grew to appreciate it through reading to Angel. Although I read - and loved - Anne of Green Gables, I only discovered there were sequels a few years ago, which led to a fun reading binge.

Now for the tagging bit ... Mary G, Karen, Jenn, Jennifer and Elizabeth/Doris. Over to you!