Wednesday, May 31, 2006


The BBC is currently running Springwatch, a nature programme with live updates from around the country. Check out the website, watch online and view the webcams. Don't miss the playful otters in the Shetland Islands!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Family charisms

One aspect of blogging I particularly enjoy is the insight into how families develop their own special gifts - what you might call their family charism. This may be a common love of a particular subject, a shared hobby or talent, a special character given to a homeschool by the family's circumstances or location, or a style of homeschooling with which both the family as a whole and the individual children bloom and flourish. Families that develop their own charism play to their strengths. The enthusiasm that shines through in these blogs often inspires me to add a dash of their special ingredient to our own lives - for example how could anyone read Cottage Blessings and not want to attempt at least the occasional craft?

Take a tour round some of these blogs and relish the possibilities ...

Literary families: KarenEdmisten and Here in the Bonny Glen, totally at home in the world of words and books

Sporting families: talented soccer players at Real Learning; baseball at the Gypsy Caravan

Beautiful crafts: Cottage Blessings

Nature study: enjoy the squirrels at By Sun and Candlelight (and not a blog, but don't miss Wild Monthly at MacBeth's Opinion)

Educational styles: lapbooks and unit studies with Lapaz Farm Home Learning; thematic unschooling at Living Without School

Location, location: life at sea on the S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen; and I'm looking forward to hearing about homeschooling in Austria when St.Athanasius Academy arrives in Europe

Many of these families could easily fall into more than one category, and the list could go on and on ...

As for our family, what is our charism? I'm not sure I know yet. I think we are still at the stage of growing into our gifts. Music and dance? With a dash of science and technology thrown in? Before my daughters got old enough to develop their own gifts I would have predicted literature and history, but it seems they have other ideas ...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Picnic lunch

As today was a public holiday we planned to share a picnic lunch with our neighbours. I have this mental image of picnics. A rug spread on cool green grass, clear blue skies, a bulging picnic hamper (never mind that we do not possess a hamper!), leisurely eating and drinking while the children play happily. By now I really ought to know better. The problem is not the lack of an elegant hamper. It is English weather. We are blessed with a mild and temperate climate. Unfortunately our weather is also ridiculously unpredictable, even in these days of weather satellites and computer simulations.

To be accurate, we originally planned a barbecue. Since the middle of last week we have watched the weather forecast. First it predicted a wet weekend from Saturday through to Monday ... then Saturday was to be good followed by rain on Sunday and Monday ... next the BBC weather service admitted they didn't know ... rumour had it Monday was to be sunny and warm ... no, it would be Sunday ... hold that forecast, Sunday would be dry but cool, Monday damp. Maybe. Neither family could make Sunday, so Monday it had to be. Perhaps a barbecue was not the best idea. We would go out for a picnic instead. After all, the weather might not be bad. It might at least be dry. And if we only indulged in outdoor pursuits like picnics if there was a cast iron guarantee of good weather we would rarely get out at all.

This morning I checked the BBC online 24 hour forecast for our area (specific to a town less than ten miles away). Dry at 7am, wet at 10am, dry again at 1pm, and warming up as the afternoon went on. Tevye checked the BBC forecast on TV. Rain arriving at lunchtime. Does the BBC's right hand talk to its left? Is right or left a better predictor of weather? We consult with our neighbours and decide we are too robust to be deterred by unpromising weather. We only planned to visit a canalside picnic site a couple of miles away, so could always abort our plans at the last minute and have an indoor picnic instead (is that a contradiction in terms?).

We planned to leave some time after 1pm in the hope that the 10am rain would have passed. The morning was bright and sunny. At 1pm there was a heavy shower. It passed. The sky turned blue. We packed picnics and children into cars. The sky turned dark grey. As we set off another heavy shower began. Four hundred yards up the road we passed the edge of the shower. A mile later it caught up with us again. We arrived at the picnic site. No rain. To the left, blue sky; to the right, heavy grey cloud. We were, quite literally, under the dividing line. Which way were the clouds going? Yes! Away from us! Do we picnic? How long before the next rain cloud passes overhead? Where is that British spirit that pushes on in the face of adversity? We have made it this far, we are not giving up now! Nobody had cut the grass at the picnic site, and the long grass was more than a little damp. We were prepared for that one, and had brought a large plastic sheet to put under a picnic rug. We sat down ... in sun ... and began to eat. Thirty minutes later we were finishing off our assortment of crusty bread, chicken, crisps (potato chips) and salad and contemplating fruit and cake for dessert. Drip. Another drip. Many drips ... yes, the rain has caught up with us. We stuff everything back into bags, stuff bags and children back into cars, and race for home in heavy rain to eat dessert indoors!

When will I learn to put aside that romantic mental image of a summer picnic?

Postscript: When I started writing this blog entry at 6.30pm there were sunny blue skies and Angel and Star had just gone outside to play. Halfway through they came back in because it was raining. Now the blue skies and sun are back.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Twenty years today

On May 27th 1986 - twenty years ago today - I was received into the Catholic Church, confirmed and received Holy Communion for the first time.

I was an odd convert. Before asking to be received into the Church I knew no Catholics. In fact, I had never knowingly met a Catholic. Of course in reality I must have done - with hindsight there were a handful of Catholics in my school class, identifiable in that they (along with the Jewish girls) did not attend religious assemblies or classes - but their religious allegiance never impinged on my consciousness. I had never attended Mass, or visited a Catholic Church as anything other than a tourist. I had read no theology or Catholic apologetics. I was raised in a devoutly Methodist family. Yet I knew that the Catholic Church was where I should be. Why? A mix of impressions, from a very young age. As a child, falling in love with the national Marian shrines (both Anglican and Catholic) at England's Nazareth, Walsingham. My beloved great-uncle - who was in all essentials a grandfather to me - was the Methodist minister of the nearest town, and when we visited we often spent time at Walsingham. Discovering the beauty of liturgy through attending occasional Church of England services. As a teenager, a holiday in Malta where the sense of holiness in the Catholic Churches there made a deep impression. Returning with a rosary and trying to work out how to use it. Ideas from an odd selection of books, ranging from Elinor Brent Dyer's Chalet School series to Maria von Trapp. An attraction to the Catholic Middle Ages. A sense that the Catholic Church was somehow "further up and further in". The clincher? The visit of Pope John Paul II to the United Kingdom in 1982.

As a teenager I became first a lapsed Methodist, then a lapsed Christian - at best agnostic. Gradually faith returned: first a kind of vague deism, then a conviction that Jesus was who he claimed to be. I realised with much the same sense of horrified inevitability that C.S.Lewis describes in his conversion story, Surprised by Joy, that if Christianity was true then I had to act on it. If I was going to join a Church it must be a liturgical one. Which? Church of England or Catholic? I knew the answer. I was also petrified. It took three years to be brave enough to walk through the doors of a Catholic Church, hear Mass and ask to be received. Heck, those Catholics might eat me! On more than one occasion I walked the streets trying to pluck up the courage to ask to speak to a priest. Finally, on the First Sunday of Advent 1985 I attended my first Mass and knew without doubt that I had come home. After a few months of instruction from the elderly Irish parish priest I was received. No RCIA then, just the simple approach of working through the old Penny Catechism.

So here I am, twenty years later.Still home. Still filled with gratitude for the treasure I found; riches beyond anything I imagined when I first walked through the door. The depth of spirituality and sanctity that is the heritage of all Catholics (more than that - of all Christians, though many may be aware of it only partially or not at all) never fails to astound me. Today I know more. I have acquired a fair smattering of dogma, Scripture, apologetics and theology, though I have done little more than scratch the surface of all there is to learn. I have made friends with saints from all centuries. I have grown in appreciation of the great gift the Church gives us in the Sacraments, especially the privilege of receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist. I know myself to be part of the People of God. I have heard Mass in various countries and languages, and have gloried in the familiarity of the form and sense of unity with my fellow Catholics even while the words are strange. I have grown in appreciation of the Mass, whether said in the quiet of a monastery, with liturgical fervour in a packed Oratory, or in the mild chaos of a parish Church attended by many young families. I love being able to spend time on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament in the peace and quiet of an empty Church (would that I did it more often!). I have become a Catholic mother, bringing up my daughters in my adopted Faith, always faintly surprised that I have a family of cradle Catholics. I have rejoiced in their baptisms and First Communions. I have mourned the loss of Pope John Paul II, surely by any standards one of the greatest men of the twentieth century. I have discovered the jewels of the English Catholic Church, ranging from the martyrs of penal times to those literary greats of the twentieth century, G.K.Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. So many riches. So much to be thankful for.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Quote of the Week

I have no fashion sense whatsoever, but fabulous taste in books. (Melissa Wiley)

I knew my friend from Here in the Bonny Glen was a kindred spirit! Check out her new blog at The Lilting House. And Lissa, be reassured ... I never notice messy floors, as my long suffering husband will testify.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Keeping it together

"It", in this case, being paper ... the weird and wonderful assortment of writing, pictures, printouts, worksheets, maps and assorted stuff we produce in the course of our homeschooling. Over the last couple of years we have evolved a ring binder system that gives us the satisfaction of seeing what we have covered, that keeps everything in one place, and that doesn't tyrannise us with the need to finish everything we start. And I admit it is nice to feel we have a "product" to show for our efforts, without the production process becoming a stressful one.

Both Angel and Star currently have three binders each - one for history, one for geography and one for science. Next year we will combine various works in progress into a fourth binder for religion. All our pieces of paper go into the relevant binder or binders - if subjects overlap we make a copy and put it in both places (I love my printer / scanner / copier!). For example, a page on giant pandas would go into both the geography folder (China) and the science folder (zoology). Each binder is divided into sections which make it easy to file and find particular topics.

Over time we have experimented with various different "products" - lap books, project folders, home made books - but I'm afraid we are never good on following through to the end. Sometimes we barely get past the starting post; other times we manage to get most of the way through, but lack of completion always bugs me. If we dismantle the project or folder and simply file what was done in a binder it miraculously changes - in my mind, at least! - from an irritatingly unfinished item into an encouraging addition to a work in progress. For example, earlier this year Angel started a flag project while we were studying South America for geography. As we studied each country she produced a page about the country's flag. After four countries we both realised that it doesn't take long for flag information to become boringly similar and enthusiasm waned. A display folder with only four pages looked distinctly pathetic and abandoned, so we took it apart and added the pages to her geography binder, where they made a nice addition to various other contributions on South America.

Our binders are simple, easy to maintain - we tend to have a filing blitz every two or three weeks - and keep everything satisfyingly together. In keeping with Charlotte Mason's dictum that children should be encouraged to tell what they know, they provide a positive record of what we have achieved.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Saint Bede the Venerable

Tomorrow (May 25th) should be the memoria of Saint Bede the Venerable, but this year he gets shunted out by the Solemnity of the Ascension. I would hate for the Venerable Bede - the first great English historian - to be forgotten, so here is a little diversion to early medieval Northumbria

A Few Facts
Timeline: born 672, died 735
Birthplace: Wearmouth, Northumbria
Patronage: Lectors
Declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1899

The story of Bede from Great Englishmen by M.B.Synge, courtesy of the Baldwin Project
Article from British Heritage Magazine
Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England online as an E-text
Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Bede

... to this BBC radio programme on the Venerable Bede (Note: I have not previewed this) and check out the links on the associated research page.

Take a virtual tour

Bede's World - the Museum of Early Medieval Northumbria on the site of Bede's own monastery at Jarrow.
Durham Cathedral to see Bede's tomb (don't forget to visit the shrine of Saint Cuthbert while you are there.

Picture Study

And I pray thee, loving Jesus, that as Thou hast graciously given me to drink in with delight the words of Thy knowledge, so Thou wouldst mercifully grant me to attain one day to Thee, the fountain of all wisdom and to appear forever before Thy face.
Venerable Bede
Prayer to St.Bede:
Careful Historian and Doctor of the Church, lover of God and of truth, you are a natural model for all readers of God's inspired Word. Move lectors to prepare for public reading by prayerfully pondering the sacred texts and invoking the Holy Spirit. Help them to read in such a way that those who hear may attain learning and edification. Amen.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Baby blanket

A picture of a beautiful blanket on the equally beautiful Babylove blog inspired me to attempt an imitation. Mine is a smaller, lighter version to use as a pram / carry cot blanket for Little Cherub - though here someone has used it to put Piglet, Tigger and a chipmunk to bed! I am one of those fortunate people who can knit and read simultaneously, so it only took me just over two weeks to knit. I started to add fringes, but they came out small and scraggy so I shamelessly gave up. I enjoyed making it so much I'm planning to make more as baby gifts for a couple of pregnant friends.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What kind of mother are you?

Hat tip to various members of the Real Learning blogs webring (see the sidebar) ... couldn't resist this short quiz to see what type of mother I am. The answer?

The "Independence" Mother
* Full of energy and confident in her own self-sufficiency and competence, the ENTP mother encourages her children — as a role model and as a teacher — to be independent and confident on their own in the world.
* A “big picture” person, she points out options and possibilities along the way. Objective and logical as well, the ENTP wants her children to evaluate their choices and learn from the consequences of their own decisions.
* The ENTP mother is resourceful and action-oriented. She likes going places and doing things with her children, exploring all that life has to offer. She is less concerned with rules, routines, and schedules. Introducing her children to new concepts and activities, challenging them, and stimulating their intellectual development are top priorities.

Hmmm! Not so far off the mark - unlike the last online quiz I tried. A book quiz (hat tip to Karen Edmisten), it told me my literary match was Lolita. Huh???

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Star's First Communion

Star's First Communion Mass this afternoon went beautifully. I was so proud of her as she read the welcome - loud and clear, and with expression. The whole Mass went smoothly (apart from the organist starting one hymn with the wrong tune!), and all twenty one First Communicants behaved immaculately. Everyone remembered what they were meant to do and when.

For our family the celebration of a new sacrament is a bitter-sweet thing. I suspect many converts feel something of this, as we cannot truly share the joy of the sacrament with our closest relatives, who may be hostile, faintly disapproving, or just plain baffled. In my case not only are my family not Catholic, but relations of any persuasion are thin on the ground. I only have two surviving relatives, apart from a few distant cousins with whom I have no contact - my Anglican mother and my agnostic / atheist brother. Dear friends came along to support Star, but I admit to feeling a pang or two of envy for those large cradle Catholic families in pews overflowing with relatives.

More importantly, our children's sacramental milestones are moments that bring the pain of an interfaith marriage into focus. For Tevye, it is a painful reminder that in marrying me his Jewish line came to an end. His daughters do not share his faith and will never make their bat mitzvahs. That hurts. For me, it brings into stark relief the loneliness of having sole responsibility for transmitting my Faith to my daughters. While Tevye is always supportive - he has taken on most of the load of driving Star to her catechism classes over the past two years, which is beyond the call of duty for a Jewish father! - to attend the First Communion Mass would be to compromise his own faith. Neither I nor the girls would ask that of him, but there cannot help but be sadness in the sense of separation on what should be a united family occasion. We have always known that this bitter-sweetness would be an inevitable consequence of an interfaith marriage where both of us take our respective faiths seriously and after fourteen years we rarely notice it in the course of our normal routine, but the special days remind us that there is a price to pay in maintaining our integrity as Catholic and Jew.

But the bottom line is ... our precious daughter has set out on a new stage of her life as a Catholic. Star, we are both proud of you, and pray that you will grow ever closer to God ... the God we share.

I can't believe I did that!

I really, really can't believe I did that! I'm blaming pregnancy brain. This morning Star and I went to confession to prepare for her First Communion this afternoon. I always switch my mobile phone off in Church. Always. Except today. And Tevye sent me a text while I was in the confessional. It gets worse. My phone used to just make a fairly subtle buzzing noise when I received a text, but I kept missing them because if the phone was in my bag I didn't hear it, so a couple of weeks ago I reset it to the loudest of its limited selection of ring tones ... the Can Can. Oh, was I mortified! Talk about an exercise in humility. Fortunately our priest has a sense of humour. And Tevye only sent the text to say he loved me, so I didn't have the heart to complain. How I am looking forward to recovering normal brain function. Please don't remind me just how long that takes after having a baby!

Star's Big Day

Star will be making her First Communion this afternoon. She is reading the welcome for the Mass and is a little nervous about remembering what she has to do, but otherwise excited. This evening we are going out for a family meal with Grandma. Tomorrow morning the First Communicants dress up again for the parish Mass, then are given a breakfast in the parish hall afterwards. In the afternoon we are having a party at home with her godmother's family and our neighbours ... so it will be a busy weekend!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Monthly Medley

With what is probably ridiculous timing given Little Cherub's imminent arrival, I have started a new blog. As part of our normal homeschooling routine (in the days before it fell to pieces!) we cover a wide variety of different subjects, but tend to add in extras that focus in on one of the topics we are studying. Each month Bookworm's Monthly Medley will give suggestions and reviews of resources for a "topic of the month". My rationale is that it will overcome Blogger's lack of ability to categorise posts by allowing me to keep individual topics together and build them into an easily accessible archive. At least, that is the theory!

I have started posting reviews for the first monthly topic, which is ... CHINA.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Flutter tonguing

Our house sounds like Escape of the Lizard Man or some other reptilian horror movie. Angel is trying to learn to flutter tongue - a special effect technique for brass or woodwind players which gives a kind of fluttery-wobbly-gargly sound. She informs me that there are three types of people when it comes to flutter tonguing: those who can do it naturally; those who can't do it at all; and those who can learn to do it. We lift share with a friend (K) for band practices. K apparently comes into the first category of natural flutter tonguers whereas Angel is in the third category, so K spent the journey home last night trying to teach Angel. The result is Angel wandering round the house making strange hissing and growling noises like a giant reptile, interspersed with occasional cries of triumph - "did you hear that? I just did it!"

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I just went to the fridge in search of a snack and pitched on a jar of olives. As I was taking them out I spotted a tub of vanilla flavoured yoghurt and briefly savoured the interesting possibility of yoghurt with olives. I did decide against ... but it worries me that the thought even entered my brain!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Whoopsy daisy!

Star worked very hard earlier this week on a newspaper-style collection of funny stories about our family. All carefully typed and all her own work - nobody was allowed to see it until it was finished and printed. She gave me permission to share a couple of her stories here. Spelling, punctuation and grammar is unedited (I think we need a little work on punctuation and the past tense of "do"!)

Star's Done a Whoopsy Daisy's Oh No
Star was looking for woodlice in the garden with her friend F and Star was looking underneath the patio tiles and she lifted it up and crack it snapped she went inside and said "I sort of had a whoopsy daisy's" so Dad went "Oh no!" because he knows what that means, what have you done now? So Star went to show him what she'd done. Another of Star's whoopsy daisy's once again.

Weeds Weeds Weeds
Because there was lots of weeds in the garden Dad tried to get rid of them he done a good job at it but he took all the rose bushes out as well, while he done that Mum was at her mums so when she got back she wasn't happy at all.
[True!!! Gardening is not my strong point and few plants survive my lack of attention. I'd managed to keep those rose bushes going for two years.]

Book Review: The Young Life of St.Maria Faustina

Our Easter read aloud has been The Young Life of St.Maria Faustina by Claire Jordan Mohan. I'm afraid it has been a bit of a chore, though we did persevere to the end. In the past we have read and enjoyed other books in the same series (Padre Pio and Mother Teresa), but for some reason we just didn't click with St.Faustina. It is a perfectly good book about a perfectly good saint, but it just didn't capture anyone's imagination and I can't pin down why. Perhaps she was just a bit too good and naturally pious for Angel and Star to identify with? So I'm disappointed. I wanted to like it; I tried to like it; I wanted my daughters to like it. But it just didn't happen. Ah well, on to our next book ... if you are wondering, it is Our Lady's Book by Lauren Ford, in honour of Mary's month.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Well done Star!

A few weeks ago I posted about Star's ballet exam. Yesterday, she got her results ... A grades for both ballet and modern dance. Well done Star! We are very proud of you! Apparently Miss Absent-Minded wasn't spending quite as much time floating on another planet instead of paying attention to her dance teacher as it appeared!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Our pegs fell down

I now know why so many of the things we used to hang on pegs during our day have fizzled out. Our pegs have fallen off the wall. Specifically our morning pegs - basic things like getting up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and having a mid-morning snack. I blame morning sickness. "You want breakfast? Fine! You know where the kitchen is. Just don't mention food near me ...". I also blame the sleep requirements of eleven year old girls. Or at least my particular eleven year old girl who has taken to sleeping in late in the mornings. I'm assuming that if she sleeps for twelve hours it is because she needs it, and given that she is my child who falls apart big time if she gets tired I'm leaving her to sleep. So we now have a situation where everyone gets up at wildly varying times, eats something approximating to breakfast as and when it takes their fancy or under pressure of parental reminders. Their morning diet has become peculiar in the extreme ("no, a chunk of cucumber is not breakfast!").

So ... given that I have finally come out of seven and a half months of pregnancy fog - is this the second trimester burst of energy twenty weeks late? or is it a pre-birth energy surge? - the time has come to screw some pegs back into the wall. The breakfast debacle must end. Those of us who are awake are going to eat a proper breakfast at a reasonable time. If Angel is still asleep, then she can catch up when she wakes. Once we have a breakfast peg we can find something to hang on it. After a decent breakfast we can plan for a mid-morning snack (less grazing on crisps and other junk!), which will give us another peg.

Time to get today off to a good start with poached eggs and English muffins ...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Learning Styles

Yet another book that had been sitting on my shelf unused for some time is Discover Your Child's Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson. A few weeks ago I pulled it down and had Angel and Star complete the questionnaires to determine their learning style. Star ran out of steam half way through, but I did get as far as determining both their dispositions - the basic temperament that "determines the way they work, communicate and learn". Angel, it seems, has a Performing Disposition, and Star an Inventing Disposition. This is what I have to work with ...

Performing people prefer subjects and activities that are entertaining by nature, have immediate relevance, offer variety and challenge, provide hands-on experiences, and give plenty of opportunity to move, act, and do. They learn best when the teaching materials and techniques used are short and to the point, allow movement, and involve games, manipulatives and audiovisuals. ... Performing people need flexible spaces that provide lots of room to move around. They thrive in atmospheres that are fun and challenging and allow for unscheduled free time. They love field trips and "real-life" learning situations.
Inventing people prefer subjects and activities that are experimental by nature, that provide inspiration and new solutions, and that give opportunities to question, design and discover. They learn best when the teaching materials and techniques used are direct and offer "intellectual" ideas, theories, models and time for exploration. ...To a person with an Inventing Disposition, nothing is quite so compelling as a mechanical problem that could be solved in a creative way. Getting the job done quickly is not important. Getting the job done efficiently is not important. Above all, the aesthetics of the device, structure, or creation are not important. It doesn't have to look good. What is important is that it works in a unique way.
And as for myself, I have a Producing Disposition. My definining emphasis is on organisation. My preferred activities are schedules, outlines, workbooks, reading, writing and portfolios. Can you see a slight mismatch here?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Hobbit's Psalm

Psalm 130

O Lord, my heart is not proud
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
nor marvels beyond me.

Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother's arms,
even so my soul.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
both now and for ever.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Thomas Arnold on science

This morning I picked up A Feast of Days by Paul Jennings, a book with a saint and a diary extract for every day of the year. Today's diary extract from the nineteenth century English educationalist, Thomas Arnold, touched a nerve.

1836 ... physical science, if studied at all, seems too great to be given a secondary place in one's studies: wherefore, rather than have it the principal thing in my son's mind, I would gladly have him think that the sun went round the earth, and that the stars were so many spangles set in the bright blue firmament. Surely the one thing needful for a Christian and an Englishman to study is Christian and moral and political philosophy, and then we should see our way a little more clearly without falling into Judaism, or Toryism, or Jacbinism, or any other ism whatever.
I'm sure Charlotte Mason would not have agreed. And neither do I. Important as is the study of philosophy and theology, so is the study of God's world and how it works. And great as that study is, it need not become the be all and end all of one's studies. Sorry Dr.Arnold, I prefer polymaths!

Unpacking my hospital bag

Did I mention I have a tidy husband? Very tidy. Every now and again he takes it to a level that surprises me even after nearly fourteen years of marriage. Yesterday I started packing my hospital bag, just in case Little Cherub decides to make an early arrival (I tend to run on the slightly early side with babies - slightly late with everything else!). I packed a bag for Cherub and put a couple of items into a small suitcase, then got distracted and left it on the bed in what will be the nursery. In the evening Tevye informed me he had tidied up the nursery. Yes. That's right. He had unpacked my hospital bag!

Monday, May 08, 2006


Tevye recently read in a newspaper article that only one-third of people in the UK consider they have a good relationship with their neighbours. We are among the fortunate minority, and I have been pondering just how fortunate we are. To the right we have J-next-door, A-next-door, their elder brother D and parents A and K; next to them are D and A, a childless couple maybe a little older than ourselves. To the left we have M and L, a young couple in their twenties - no kids yet, one very playful dog. This weekend was a fairly typical example of the way in which our neighbours enhance life for our family.

Friday lunchtime - K fed myself and the girls bacon sandwiches (we don't have pig products at home because of Tevye, so this is by way of a treat). It was another sunny afternoon so inertia struck and we ended up spending a couple of hours in her garden drinking coke and chatting.

Friday evening - M and Tevye arrived home from work at the same time, so stood outside chatting. Others drifted out to join them - Dog, Star, Angel, myself, L when she arrived home. We all moved into our garden and Tevye opened a bottle of wine. Children were dispatched to see if K wanted a glass. K joined us. A-next-door appeared, and she and Star launched themselves on M, who spent quite some time spinning them round, with bemused but enthusiastic participation from Dog (who couldn't quite work out where his ball was supposed to fit into this game). J-next-door and a visiting friend came to borrow Dog and take him for a walk. Angel and L sat on the swing seat chatting.

Saturday - I took some spare computer memory round to D to see if he could make use of it, and ended up staying for 30 minutes talking with D and A about Little Cherub and asking advice on our choice of replacement computer. Later on spent time with K and A, also picking A's brains about the computer. J-next-door, A-next-door, Angel, Star and friend-of-J-next-door spent the later afternoon and evening drifting in and out of each other's houses.

Sunday - J-next-door and Angel walked up to the shop to buy chocolate for everyone. They knocked on M and L's door in the hope of taking Dog with them, but M, L and Dog were out. K took J-next-door and Angel with her to a discount clothes store to change some jeans. Much chatting and giggling in the car. A-next-door stayed here with Star and my brother while Tevye and I went for a walk. Later K and A joined us for tea and coffee while Angel and J-next-door sat on the swing seat, still chatting and giggling. A-next-door and Star spent a happy hour digging a hole to bury an unwanted key. Why? Who knows! My brother kindly refilled the hole after they lost interest. He also played football with D-next-door while the girls dug.

Now this weekend was just the fun, social stuff. That alone is good, particularly for the children who are enjoying a type of childhood that was common forty or fifty years ago, but has become increasingly rare as communities become more fractured. For us, it goes much further in that we know there is practical help and support available when we need it. Various neighbours have cheerfully stepped in and shifted furniture and other items we simply can't manage ourselves because of my bump and Tevye's back. We have been offered the loan of two separate laptops to tide us over our computer catastrophe. When Little Cherub decides to arrive the girls will go next door, with back up from other neighbours if for any reason K and A are not available. There are any number of ways in which help from our neighbours makes life run just that bit more smoothly. We truly appreciate our good fortune.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


If you ever wonder how it is possible to make your homeschooling day run smoothly, particularly in those times when life doesn't, then this blog entry from Here in the Bonny Glen is a must read: Nuts, Bolts, and Pegs. In fact, I recommend you read it, re-read it, inwardly digest it, and print it out for future reference.

Like Lissa, I learned about "pegs" from Leonie of Living Without School, and for years aspects of our day hung from various pegs. Angel practiced piano after breakfast, we listened to music while we ate a mid-morning snack, I read aloud to Angel while Star napped, and so on. As Star has grown our typical day has changed, and while it usually follows a routine, our pegged activities have fallen by the wayside. As the routine has disintegrated under pressure of morning sickness, illness and pregnancy inertia, we have been left with a vacuum. I am now inspired. Over the next week I shall be looking at our days, identifying good pegs and hanging activities on them. If one single thing will make our family life and learning run more smoothly after Little Cherub's arrival, getting our pegs up and running again is it.

Thank you, Lissa, for such a timely reminder.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A confession

I have a confession. My children are not readers. Look at the title of my blog and re-read that sentence. How sad is that?

I can qualify it a bit. My children are not non-readers. Technically they read easily and above their age level, and they go through spells of reading happily and voluntarily. Much of the time though, they will read when required to do so and no more. They balk at assigned reading, with cries of "I don't get it!". And in Angel's case, at least, she really does not get it. With Star it is a bit soon to say for sure, and there may be an element of imitating her sister, but generally speaking it seems that both of them want to do rather than to read. Angel in particular likes to be read to and to listen to books on tape or CD, and I have concluded that she is simply not a visual or print learner. Aural and kinesthetic - yes; but visual - no! I am currently reading to her Chu Ju's House, by Gloria Whelan which she is thoroughly enjoying, but I can guarantee that if I had given it to her to read to herself it would have been another case of "I don't get it!". Star will also listen to read alouds quite happily, but only if she is allowed to do something while I read.

So ... I have children who are reluctant readers. We also educate Charlotte Mason style and I am a convinced CM enthusiast. Isn't that a contradiction in terms, you wonder? Is a CM education not all about living books? About cultivating a love of books in children? Well ... no! Living books are indeed an important part of a CM education, but they are by no means the whole of it. A CM style education is a broad education. It encompasses both reading and doing, and it includes a wide range of subjects. CM's writings often emphasise the literary side of education because that was the novel aspect of her work. She still makes it clear that hands-on, physical exploration is important:

Children can be most fitly educated on Things and Books. Things, e.g.:-
i. Natural obstacles for physical contention, climbing, swimming, walking, etc,
ii. Material to work in - wood, leather, clay, etc.
iii. Natural objects
in situ - birds, plants, streams, stones, etc.
iv. Objects of art.
v. Scientific apparatus, etc.
The value of this education by
Things is receiving wide recognition, but intellectual education to be derived from Books is still for the most part to seek.
An Educational Manifesto, Charlotte Mason
A CM education is a varied diet to set before your children - some dishes they will enjoy, others they will simply want a small taste. Angel and Star feast on the Things - musical instruments, art and craft materials, hands-on science, computers - but when it comes to Books they need encouragement to broaden their palates. How do I provide that encouragement? For Angel I read aloud books she "ought", at eleven, to be reading to herself. I choose carefully. I generally choose simpler books for the subjects she finds hard - particularly history - than those I would select for a more literary child of the same age so that she does "get it". If a book doesn't fly, we drop it and find an alternative. We do short lessons, leaving plenty of time for the hands-on stuff. Will Angel and Star ever become enthusiastic readers? Maybe. Maybe not. But if they don't, they will at least have had the benefit of becoming acquainted with a wide range of authors and ideas from living books through their Charlotte Mason style education. And they will also have had the opportunity to develop their natural bent for creating, inventing, experimenting, performing and generally doing.

Book Review: Little Pear

We are meandering around China for geography, and I have been reading a book from our old Sonlight days to Star - Little Pear, by Eleanor Lattimore. A collection of nice, gentle stories about the escapades of a little boy in early twentieth century China, it makes a lovely read aloud for five to eight year olds (though Angel listened in quite happily); it also includes lots of information about life in rural China. One of my literary frustrations is that while there is a rich mine of historical books for children, both fiction and non-fiction, the pickings for geography are so thin. One of these days I shall pull together various scattered notes into a "living geography" list, which will include Little Pear. I notice there is also a sequel, Little Pear and His Friends, which I'm sure would also deserve a place.

One warning: do not read to small boys (or girls) with wanderlust. Little Pear is something of an escape artist!

New computer

We have been given a refund for the broken computer, so I have been spending my online time computer shopping instead of blogging. If only a new computer didn't mean having to reload everything.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Comatose mode

Forget relaxed mode. This is comatose mode. We are having the most beautiful spring day. Clear blue sky and temperatures in the low to mid 70s. Last week we bought new garden furniture - table and chairs, and a patio swing seat. The forecast is for cooler, wet weather over the weekend so we are taking the opportunity to relax outside. Angel is on a recliner chair listening to music; Star was on the swing seat but has now wandered off to write a letter to a penfriend; I should be going to bed for a nap but it is just too nice out here, so I'm writing this blog entry and then going to find a book. Spare a thought for poor old Tevye, who is working from home today and is stuck indoors doing battle with a particularly brain-boggling and obnoxious job.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Relaxed mode

After six weeks of little schoolwork, no schoolwork and abandoned schedules due to Tevye's surgery, pregnancy, assorted viruses and Easter break, I have finally decided that we need to officially move into relaxed, unscheduled mode for the little that remains of this school year. I have been slow to accept this because I like structure and I am reluctant to let go of it. For me having a plan and a check list of schoolwork for each day is a comfort rather than a tyranny. My schedule is a rubbery one that bends and twists to accommodate us, but without it I tend to fall apart and drift. But even with a flexible schedule there is a limit to how far it can bend before it becomes so contorted as to be useless. So there we are. The schedule is bent not just out of shape but to breaking point. Time for a relaxed mode that will allow me to go with the flow of high energy days (hmmm, maybe not! - let's say some energy days), no energy days, good weather days, bad weather days, days with or without the car, days with or without a voice, and all the other variables that are making a normal routine impossible.

Even with relaxed mode, I have to have a plan of some sort or we will simply vegetate. Here it is (in no particular order) ...

* Angel and Star to work on individual history projects. Angel has started one on the Titanic, with this Ebook from Hands of a Child as a starting point. Star is going to do one on food(!), bouncing off from the Food and Eating section of Usborne's Living Long Ago.
* Continue the study of China we have just started for geography, with various read alouds
* Finish reading The Young Life of St.Maria Faustina and continue with Bible stories from the Golden Bible.
* Art and craft projects, including some of the lovely Marian crafts from Cottage Blessings. (I'm inspired! We may only manage one or two, but even that is better than nothing!)
* Hands on science with crystal growing and magnetism kits.
* Daily (or at least most-daily) copywork or dictation.
* Some daily independent reading while I nap.
* Temporarily abandon the stressful battle to work through a maths curriculum with Angel. Star - who likes maths - can work on hers as and when it takes her fancy.
* Drop foreign languages for the time being (Latin for Angel, French for both)
* Plant some flowers.
* Knit and scrapbook. The girls can join me if they want.
* Get out for walks as often as possible.
* Play board and card games (preferably at least some educational ones)
* Watch movies (again, preferably with at least some educational benefit!)
I will pick ideas from this list and do as much or as little as works. And will definitely not stress about what doesn't get done!

Monday, May 01, 2006

The computer saga continues

The laptop saga rumbles on, but is finally moving in the right direction. (Can a saga move?) If nothing else, the sad tale has provided an opportunity for two companies to illustrate the difference between good customer service and bad customer service.

Company number one: Hewlett Packard
After negotiating various automated telephone menus, Tevye finally managed to speak to a Hewlett Packard customer service person.Having been through the entire fault reporting script, the call operator tried to set up a return code, only to find that the serial number on our laptop indicated we should be speaking to someone else. He gave us another number to call. Tevye called the new number. Several times he was cut off before making it to the end of the automated menu. By this time he was close to flinging the phone at or through something. This despite the fact that Tevye is a very mild mannered person! Finally he got through to the right place only to be told that Hewlett Packard's policy is that if the pin in the adaptor socket breaks it must be due to improper use (it wasn't!) and therefore was not covered under the warranty. No court of appeal. But not to worry! They would send us a quote for the repair. It turned out to be slightly more than the cost of buying the same laptop new. We sent a complaining email to which they have never replied.

After this fiasco we started getting quotes elsewhere for the repair, reducing the cost from extortionate to merely expensive. Meanwhile, a neighbour suggested that we should contact the company from which we bought the computer as they were legally responsible if they supplied faulty goods ...

Company number two: Ebuyer
This time we decided not to risk a repetition of the telephone frustration and contacted them through their online customer service system, complaining about Hewlett Packard's failure to honour their warranty. They replied with a sympathetic note asking us to go through their returns procedure. Slightly confused - did this mean they would fix the computer or not? - we wrote to their returns department. The next morning a friendly and sympathetic customer service advisor telephoned us, confirming that the broken pin was indeed a fault, and was covered by their own warranty. Could I negotiate my way through their online returns system, or would I like him to talk me through it? I could and did negotiate the system. Next step is to arrange for them to collect the laptop in order to either repair or replace it.

Meanwhile, we struggle on with our old and erratic machine, but it is at least holding together. How long it will take to get the other computer sorted I don't know, but at least it won't be hitting our budget. And if you are thinking or buying computer hardware, I can recommend Ebuyer.