Monday, April 30, 2007

"There are timetable things everywhere!"

Indeed there are, Angel. Indeed there are!

Most unusually, yesterday was a free day for us. We went to Mass on Saturday night in anticipation of doing something yesterday that didn't happen, and Angel and I decided to miss our brass band rehearsal as we were tired.

So I spent the day getting organised. This past week I finally realised why I keep feeling as though I am wading through glue. Doing anything with a high maintenance eleven month old baby is like driving across the Alps - you have to assume it will take at least twice as long as you expect. I'm a slow learner, but I get there eventually. Faced with this realisation I picked A Mother's Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot off the shelf to browse through in search of inspiration.

While I know I will never manage to fully implement a Rule in the way she recommends, I did find myself inspired to put things on paper, trying to work out a routine that will allow me to fit in everything necessary without that paddling like fury feeling. I now have copies of the following in a nice neat binder and displayed in the kitchen ...

  • Daily schedule for all five of us, in half hour increments. Yep. Even Little Cherub has a schedule (along the lines of "with Mum", "with Dad", "with Angel", and a slightly optimistic "nap")
  • Weekly schedule, in morning, afternoon and evening blocks
  • Evening schedule of who does what when and who drives them. Again even Little Cherub is included ("go with Dad to take Angel to dance" for example). This schedule alone made me realise why my brain was hurting trying to remember everything - and why one child ... ahem! ... got forgotten at dance one day.
  • Schoolwork and daytime activities for this week
  • Menu plan for this week
  • Basic weekly housework task list
Now, I am not by nature a "schedule every half hour" person, but I found it a surprisingly useful exercise. Drawing up a detailed schedule allowed me to see just what was realistic, and how to overcome the logistical problems in my day. Today I put the schedule to the test, and had the calmest, most orderly day we have had for longer than I care to remember (at least until Star had a five star bedtime meltdown).

I noticed that two things made a very big difference. Firstly, I was focused on what I should be doing at any given time and didn't let myself get distracted by what I wanted to be doing. Secondly, I had a couple of planned times to get on with practical tasks while someone else was responsible for Little Cherub, which meant the amount I could do increased exponentially.

Will it last? Watch this space!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ooh! I want this!

Doesn't this Salve Regina prayerbook look gorgeous. It includes some prayers from the pre-Reformation English Sarum rite as well as the full twenty mysteries of the Rosary illustrated with medieval art from the collection of Stonyhurst College, founded in exile by 16th century Jesuits. Recommended by Joanna Bogle, who also makes some comments on homeschooling in this post.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

We have been out and about

At least, Star and I have. On Thursday we went for a nature walk at a local country park, where Star took these photos of primroses

a solitary bluebell (there were more, but not in their full glory - I wonder whether we were too early, or whether this warm April has already seen them past their best)

and mallards asleep and awakeLittle Cherub came with us and found the fresh air exhausting, particularly after the weather caught us out and we got a little damp (you would think I would have learned by now not to be fooled by meteorological appearances).

Yesterday we went further afield and saw some more wildlife
.... made of Lego. We also saw Romeo and Juliet's balcony at Verona

Sacre Couer in Paris
and even made it as far as Houston. Being a Legoland model maker must be a great job ... and they really are masters of their art.

We also ate ice cream, rode the Jungle Coaster nine times (the advantage of going on a school day in April is that there are no queues!) and got rather more than a little damp - or should I say very wet indeed - on a water raft.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #3: Games

Our current favourite card and board games .... some we have played off and on for years, others are newer. Card games first, then others:

1. Uno ... simple enough for younger children, still fun for older kids and adults. The basic principle is matching colour or number, with special action cards to add a twist. We also had a Uno Extreme machine for a while, which spat out random numbers of cards mechanically, but the numbers were always too random and when it eventually broke we didn't miss it.

2. Duo ... similar to Uno, but requires matching of two characteristics out of three -shape, colour or number.

3. Blink ... yet another card matching game, but this one relies on speed. Rather like Duo, but with two players racing to get rid of all their cards.

4. Numero ... a maths game originally developed for people with Alzheimer's and memory loss. It can be played at a number of levels, starting with basic addition up to 10 or 15, then adding in subtraction, multiplication, division, and later fractions, squares and square roots.

5. Categories ... bought for 50 pence at a charity shop, this has been Star's favourite game for a while. You pick cards to get five categories, then pick five letters and spend two minutes trying to find a word for each category beginning with each letter. We ran out of the printed forms included in the game and are now having to write our own.

6. Monopoly ... enough said.

7. The Hobbit game ... Star and I both enjoy this one, though Angel is less keen. Travel through Middle Earth trying to collect enough jewels and adventure points to defeat Smaug and win his treaure.

8. The Dickens Game ... another charity shop find. Each player chooses one of four books by Dickens to "write". To write an episode you have to match a plot card with a character card and take them both to a writing desk. The winner is the first to finish all six episodes in their book. Includes suitable Dickensian characteristics as inns, stage coaches and a debtors' prison.

9. The Cooking Game ... I have grown to loathe this, but it is one of the girls' favourites. It involves a lot of time going round and round a kitchen collecting heaps of ingredient cards and not doing much else - apart from having to stop to do the washing up, stir the pots or lay the table. Exciting, huh? I suppose the interest, such as it is, is in the opportunity to take cards from other players. Collect all the ingredients for a main course and either a starter or a dessert to win. The game always lasts at least twenty minutes too long for me.

10. Anatomix ... educational! Answer questions about the human body to win pieces and build an anatomical jigsaw. Can be adapted for different levels.

11. Rummikub ... similar to the card game Rummy but played with tiles. Good for thinking skills as you have to manipulate the tiles in order to get rid of tiles from your hand. Like Monopoly, we have played this for years and it is still popular.

12. Pictionary ... really needs at least four people, though theoretically can be played with three. Two teams take it in turns to pick a card, then one player draws whatever is written on the card and the remainder of the team try to guess the word before running out of time. No need to be a great artist, and probably more fun if you aren't! We also have a Junior version of the game with easier words and two sets of graded cards, but have found that the adult game can easily be adapted by just skipping any cards with words the youngest players may not know.

13. Pit ... last, but not least. Loud. Fast. Great party game. Try to collect a set of eight stock market commodity cards by dealing with other players. Dealing means swapping cards by yelling the number you want to swap until someone else shouts the same number. Needs at least four players and can be played by up to eight. Danger of cards getting torn in the excitement.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Oops! Latin again!

This time she mixed up periculum and pecunia.

Star's translation of in periculo magno sumus ... "we are in big money".

What it should have been was "we are in great danger"!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

And there I was, thinking I was still suffering from baby brain fog ... thanks to Mary G. of St. Athanasius Academy I'm flattered to announce that this is officially a Thinking Blog. Mary is one of my very favourite types of blogger - a thoughtful reader who shares lots of book suggestions and reviews. She also has a link to the coolest bookcase ever ... or is it the coolest chair ever?

So what is the Thinking Blogger Award? A fun tag, with three simple rules:

  1. Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
  2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
  3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.
It's a tough choice, but here goes ...
  1. Willa at In A Spacious Place. Willa articulates the needs of her children and the way she tailors their education in a way that always helps me to focus my own thoughts.
  2. Karen Edmisten. Reading Karen's blog is like going out for coffee with an intelligent, well read, humorous friend.
  3. Lissa at The Lilting House. I could choose her blog for many reasons ... thoughtful posts on Waldorf education, unschooling and Charlotte Mason will do for one.
  4. Kristen at Small Treasures. For posts like this one on hospitality (and because I have a fellow feeling for families with small girls - though two of mine are no longer small).
  5. Dorothy at You Did What? Witty commentary on life as a homeschooling mother sinking gradually into decrepitude (oops! delete that! ... I meant scrumdillyumptiousness).

Monday, April 23, 2007

For St. George's Day ...

Prayer to St. George, patron of England

St. George, special patron of England and great defender of the faith, we invoke your intercession for our country in these times. St. George, defend our people from the error of trying to live without God. St. George, defend our people from the wiles of Satan. St. George, protect our families from sin and division. St. George, protect our young from all who would corrupt them. St. George, protect the unborn from the evil of abortion. St. George, protect the old and vulnerable from the threat of euthanasia. St. George, defend the Church from all spiritual, moral and physical danger. St. George, intercede for faith to return to the heart of our land, family life and government.

St. George we pray to you, our beloved patron and implore your powerful intercession for the conversion of England, once Mary’s dowry and land of so many Saints. Amen.

[from Walsingham Prayer Book]

Mean, but not lean!

Faced with the realisation that I can no longer put off doing some sort of regular exercise I have been looking for inspiration at Lean But Not Mean, a fitness blog kept by a group of Catholic homeschooling mothers.

My last push for fitness took the form of joining the gym at our local leisure centre. It worked! I went regularly two or three times a week and felt much better for it ... then came pregnancy and that was the end of that! Right now, I honestly can't see how I could fit regular visits to the gym or exercise classes into my week, so I'm trying out exercise videos and DVDs that I can fit into my normal day. My main criteria for choosing is cost. Given that I have no idea what sort of exercise routine I would like, having not done this before, I'm trying to pick up a selection of cheap used or discounted tapes and DVDs to try out. Hence the "mean, but not lean" title of this post (the "not lean" part speaks for itself!).

So far I have three workouts ...

  • Rosemary Conley's Whole Body Programme 2 - too easy, which is encouraging! I think I may recycle this one back to Oxfam.
  • Taebo: the Future of Fitness - as recommended by Leonie, so I was pleased to spot this for a pound at a charity shop. It combines a Taebo Live workout with instruction for beginners (that's me!). The girls think mummy kick-boxing is very funny. It is a stretch, but I can just make it through the 30 minute routine.
  • Kym Ryder's Burn and Firm Workout - promises "four weeks to a firmer, fitter you". Hmm. I guess that depends how often you do it and how much you eat. I'm not holding my breath. I tried the basic routine for the first time this morning - easier than the Taebo, but still felt like good exercise. There are also extra segments I can add in if I'm feeling inspired and have the time.
I did the Taebo work out four or five times the week before last, but last week went by the board as I struggled to get going after a weekend fighting a virus. No excuses this week, so I'm aiming for at least four workouts again.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Look at me!

... having fun at the farm. Am I cute or what?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What happened to the books?

For the first time ever, my plans for this term don't include any living books - just textbooks and hands-on activities. This is so not my natural inclination! But Angel has decided that at twelve she no longer wants to be read to, and the subjects she is working on are technical rather than literary (science can of course be learned through living books, but Angel really does do better with just-the-facts texts and workbooks). Star is also in a very hands-on stage and focuses much better on things she can be actively involved in, so I am going with the flow. For now, reading aloud can wait until bedtime for Star, and Angel (who at twelve has decided she is getting too old to be read to) can read to herself for pleasure.

Children are such a channel for learning humility. Here I am, a booklover with shelves full of lovely books I would love to share with my children, and with children who - at this stage of life at least - just don't want to learn that way.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Carnival of Toddlers

It has been a long time since I last had a toddler, and reading the posts including in this lovely Carnival of Toddlers by Meredith of Sweetness and Light has me looking forward to the toddler time that is just round the corner.

I love the baby days and with Angel and Star found toddlerhood hard work by comparison. This time I think the combined wisdom of homeschooling bloggers and a deeper understanding of just what a great gift toddlers are will make it a joy - though I hope the mammoth tantrum Little Cherub threw at her nine-month development check isn't going to be too regular a feature

As yet Little Cherub hasn't worked out how to get up onto her own feet so toddling looks a while off. Come to that, she hasn't made it up on to her knees either, and is slithering everywhere on her stomach - very efficiently, with a neat little side kick turn. Note to self: white t-shirts and commando crawling babies are not a good combination!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #2: Gadgets I couldn't live without

OK, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but all of these make my life easier or more fun.

1. Bamix food processor ... I inherited mine over twenty years ago and it is still going strong. I use it for everything.

2. Bread maker ... I really should get back into the habit of using it regularly instead of occasionally

3. Digital camera ... the useless photographer's friend. If it doesn't work first time, try and try again.

4. Printer-scanner-copier ... how did I ever homeschool without one?

5. Rechargeable electric screwdriver ... no blisters however much flatpacked furniture needs assembling.

6. Wine cooling sleeve ... from room temperature to chilled in ten minutes.

7. Baby bath seat ... she loves it, we love it. No more trying to cling on to a wriggling, slippery small person.

8. Clip-on book light ... if I can't sleep I can read without disturbing Tevye.

9. Memory stick ... for moving files easily between computers.

10. MP3 player ... I am trying hard not to covet an iPod

11. Mobile phone ... I used to despise them, but now I'm hooked. I think it was those Orange free texts deals that did it.

12. Pampered Chef toaster tweezers ... what? I hear you ask. Yep. Bamboo toaster tweezers. No more burnt fingers trying to fish those just-too-small crumpets or pittas out of the toaster. And no risking electrocution by trying to prise things out with a knife.

13. Paint rollers ... transform a room in the blink of an eye, and so cheap you can throw them away instead of spending hours washing the paint out. (Maybe it isn't very environmentally friendly to treat them as disposable, but I have never succeeded in getting one clean, so I have now shamelessly given up trying.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Art and music resources

Our local Charlotte Mason mothers' group (how lucky I am!) meets tonight, and we are planning to talk about art and music, CM style and share favourite resources. Here are a few of mine ...

I particularly like books that combine picture study with hands-on activities (that way I get to cover two subjects in one go!).

Artists Workshop: Animals by Penny King and Clare Roundhill is one of a series (other titles are Landscapes, Stories, Portraits, Myths and Legends and Sports and Games). Each book has a double page spread focused on a specific work of art, followed by another with art activities inspired by it. The artwork and activities are both very varied, ranging from stone-age cave paintings to modern art.

Oxford First Book of Art by Gillian Wolfe. Similar to the Artists Workshop series, but each double page spread includes two or three works of art linked to a theme, a "look closer" section, and a suggested activity.

Discovering Great Artists: Hands-on Art for Children in the Style of the Great Masters by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga. An activity based book with numerous art projects, including a useful table showing the difficulty level of each. You would need to find another source to view the original works of art by each artist (easy enough with the internet).

Artistic Pursuits
. This is a full scale art curriculum which combines picture study with art instruction. Begins with books for 5 to 8 year olds and goes right up to high school level. We have only dabbled in the two books we have - pregnancy inertia took over - but I like them a lot. You can even buy kits containing all the materials needed for each book.

There are a number of art books for small people I am looking forward to getting out to use again with Little Cherub ...

For picture study I Spy: An Alphabet in Art and other books by Lucy Micklethwait, including Numbers in Art, Animals in Art and A Child's Book of Art (one I missed last time round that looks wonderful). Lots of great art in picture book format.

Usborne's Playtime series was a wonderful source of art and craft ideas for this art-challenged mother ... titles include I Can Cut and Stick, I Can Finger Paint, I Can Crayon and I Can Draw Animals.

iTunes. Or any other source of music downloads. Being able to buy just the music I want to listen to rather than having to buy an entire CD, half of which I didn't really want, is wonderful.

The Best of ... series (like this Best of Haydn CD) produced by Naxos - covers all the major composers and reasonably priced.

Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten - a great way of introducing children to the different instruments of the orchestra.

Having instruments available for children to experiment with. They do not need to be anything fancy - a recorder and some percussion instruments would be plenty to start with.

I have never bothered with books about music or composers - probably because I always think of music as something we do.

Plans for this term

Angel is on a basics-only schedule (so that I can spend more time with Star) ...

Maths - Conquer Maths / a.k.a. Maths 2XL, sections on measurement, area, volume and statistics
French - plugging on slowly with Skoldo 3
English - finishing So You Really Want to Learn English 1 (3 out of 10 chapters to go)
Religion - on hold, waiting for a couple of books to arrive from Amazon for me to check out
Science - working on chemistry from So You Really Want to Learn Science 2. I'm thinking of buying Apologia General Science for next year for her. If I do, then we will probably start it early. I'm not sure whether it would allow her to work independently (more-or-less) for science, or whether it would simply cause traumas. I don't like the young-earth stance, but think I can work round that.

For Star I want to do some more time-intensive, hands-on and outdoor-oriented stuff ...

Maths - finish off My Pals Are Here 3B
Latin - chapters 4 and 5 of Latin Prep
Religion - read The Life of Our Lord by Marigold Hunt
Science - nature study, focusing on birds, trees and insects in that order
History / geography - making a lapbook about our local area, with lots of field trips to take photos.
Art - projects from Artists Workshop: Animals for the first half of term. We will probably use another book from the same series after that.

I used my wilting and under-the-weather weekend to plan out the term, and have nice schedules mostly finished. I have to have those boxes to tick! Not that we have ticked all of them over the past two days, but on the whole we have got off to a reasonable start. This term will be very light on "real" books, relying mainly on texts and activities - we need a change of focus for a while.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fruity Latin

The neuter ablative singular of magnus according to Star ...


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Better than chocolate?

Maybe not quite ... but this culinary delicacy is, as Angel would say, lush.

Ikea's Swedish gooseberry jam - especially good on soft, fresh wholemeal bread.

Getting out and about

We are enjoying an unusually warm April, which is whetting my appetite for getting out and about during the summer. Some ideas I have so far ...

  • Have Star do a local history project with lots of field trips (more on that later)
  • Start homeschool gym classes on Friday mornings - you are right, that is an indoor activity, but it means reorganising our week so that we have the car on Fridays, then we can stop off on the way home for a picnic lunch and some nature study, or take a trip somewhere else on Friday afternoons.
  • Take Little Cherub to the park.
  • Take Star to Legoland (a long promised treat)
  • A family trip to Chessington World of Adventures - Tevye used to go on annual trips there as a child but has never been back since, so he is coming along with us.
  • Visit Cadbury World - no, not outdoors either, but it will be a fun trip. And they give away free chocolate!
I am taking advantage of supermarket loyalty card deals for the last three - I can cash in vouchers for four times their value if I use them for day trips. For some reason Tesco seems to be particularly generous with bonus points on nappies and baby clothes, so I may as well make the most of them!

Silver lining to a cloud

We have some unidentified but unpleasant bug - I have a headache and feel wobbly if I move, Little Cherub's temperature shot up to 103 last night (then mercifully went rapidly back down after being stripped off, dumped - protesting! - in a cool bath, and dosed alternately on ibuprofen and paracetamol), Star is off colour and Tevye's neck aches.

The silver lining to this particular cloud is that I am taking a sick day and spending the morning in bed with the laptop planning for our next term which starts on Monday. I also had an email about a resources day a friend is organising for May 1st which has turned my mind to thinking about next year. I already have a fair idea of what we will be doing, but there are still some holes (mostly science-shaped ones) to fill, and it will be a good opportunity to check some things out. Resources days and curriculum fairs are few and far between here, so I'm looking forward to it.

Next term - and next year - I want to focus on Star, who for too long has been playing second fiddle to Angel. I'm planning to spend more time with her while Angel plugs on more independently with the basics. I hope. It is summer, so I want us to get out and about more - partly doing educational things, partly just fun stuff. It will be a term of two halves, with a long break in the middle. The first half term is a short one, just four weeks before we leave for a two week holiday in Corfu. When we get home it will be half-term for the schools here, so we will take an extended break - I know from experience that trying to work when all their friends are home is not a recipe for success! After that we will have a seven week stretch before we finish for the summer, which I hope will be broken up by enough time outdoors not to feel like a long haul.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #1: Life begins at forty - 13 things I have done in my forties

A friend introduced me to Thursday Thirteen (hey Dorothy ... what happened to them recently?) and I thought it would be fun to play. The thirteens can be anything you choose. So here goes - 13 things I have done in my forties (so far! still another three-and-a-half years to go).

1. Had a baby - biggest and best! (OK, maybe the baby is more cute and petite than big, but you know what I mean)

2. Driven across the Alps - which petrified me as I do not have a head for heights and it felt like driving along the edge of a mountain. I was too pigheaded to let Tevye take over driving, though.

3. Played in a symphony orchestra - strictly amateur, but still a challenge.

4. Ridden rollercoasters - Angel and I have some big ones lined up for later in the year.

5. Taken up scrapbooking - though I don't think I will ever manage to keep up with just current photos, yet alone catch up on forty years of backlog.

6. Written half a book - can I finish it before I reach fifty?

7. Spent a week on a canal in a narrow boat - steering a sixty foot long boat under a narrow brick bridge immediately followed by a bend is a challenge I'm not sure I would wish to repeat. At least I didn't have any disasters quite on the scale of Tevye, who reversed into a clump of blackberry bushes ... messy and painful.

8. Joined Weight Watchers and lost twenty pounds - but have since put it back on and more. I can't even blame it on the baby, as most of it had come back before she was on the scene.

9. Bought a tent and camped for the first time since I was in my teens - though I am strictly a fair weather camper.

10. Begun learning to play the euphonium - OK, so I have only been learning for four weeks. It still counts.

11. Started wearing skirts - more at some times of year than others, but maybe half the time overall. Quite a revolution for someone who hadn't worn one on anything other than special occasions for years (or would that be decades?)

12. Converted to a Mac - and after my experience with Windows Vista I am never, ever buying a Windows machine again!

13. Discovered I enjoy cooking - and that it is even possible to make something without being totally reliant on a recipe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Finding the new normal

Little Cherub is ten months old.
Grandma is settled in her new home and (almost) everything is unpacked.
We are all fit and healthy (thank God!) and my energy levels are pretty good.

After an eighteen month run of crises and survival mode, life is finally getting back to normal. But ... what is normal? In many ways we are having to make a fresh start, with completely new daily routines. Over Easter Tevye and I tried to pin down a routine we think will work. It looks something like this ...

Morning routine
7.15 Get up. Change and dress Little Cherub.
7.30 Exercise (I'm trying out exercise videos) while Tevye gets showered and dressed if he is home. Little Cherub can either watch my efforts or snuggle with a big sister if one is awake.
8.00 Shower and dress while Tevye looks after Little Cherub (on days when Tevye is at the office a big sister gets the job). Make breakfast.
8.30 Eat and clear up breakfast. Angel and Star dress and get ready for the day. Play with Little Cherub.
9.15 Prayers and start schoolwork.

Late afternoon and evening routine
In the days of the "old normal" Angel and Star were either in bed or well on the way there by 8, leaving Tevye and I with two or three hours to ourselves in the evenings. As the girls get older, that time is disappearing fast, so we are now trying to fit in time together earlier so that we can give the girls the time and attention they need later in the evening. Although it will vary according to the older girls' various outside activities our evenings should look something like this ...

5.00 (on office days Tevye usually gets in around this time) Sit down together for a drink and a chat. If possible go out for a walk together with Little Cherub - this depends on the weather, the dinner and the girls' schedule.
6.00 to 6.30 (again depending on the day's schedule) dinner and clean up. Bath Little Cherub.
7.00 Family time for whoever is in and wants it - time to play with Little Cherub, play a board game, watch TV or a DVD together, and so on.
8.00 Bedtime for Little Cherub (in theory at least!). Star gets ready for bed.
8.30 Bedtime for Star.
9.00 Bedtime for Angel (who can be relied on to get herself organised and ready for bed).

The morning routine is looking good so far, after all of two days. The evening routine will be trial and error, as Angel and Star have so many evening activities that no two evenings are quite the same. This week we are still on our Easter break, and I'm not sure yet quite how our schooldays will work. Again, I think it will be trial and error to start with. I definitely need to plan it around meal and snack times, as if the girls (or myself!) get hungry things tend to fall apart.

It all looks far more structured than I expect it to be in practice - it really is routine we are looking for, not a regimented timetable, but I know from experience that I need to start off with something specific and detailed to work towards or everything will just collapse back into muddle and chaos. I also have to write it down to get myself focused and to see that I have a realistic plan. Having the self-discipline to stick to it is the hard part.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A legacy of love

I am way behind on reading my favourite blogs and even further behind in posting here, but when Alice posted this story of A Promise Delayed I was reminded of a family story I discovered recently. I say story, but it is really only the bare bones of one, something I pieced together looking through family papers as I cleared out and packed up my mother's old house.

A while ago I posted on my cookery blog about my Auntie ... technically an adopted great-aunt, but in reality my grandmother in all but name. During our decluttering Mum and I found a box of papers and photos that had belonged to Auntie and Uncle. Among the photos were some of Auntie as a child. Born in 1903, she was the picture of a happy Edwardian childhood ... a contented toddler in frilled petticoats and buttoned boots, and later a smiling family grou0p of a young woman with her mother and father. The photos spoke eloquently of the beloved daughter of proud and doting parents. As indeed she was.

My mother knew that Auntie was an only child. What she did not realise was that her parents married in 1883 (we found their wedding certificate in the same box) and waited twenty long years for this precious child, born when they were both in their forties. Were there lost babies? Was there just month after month after month of bitter disappointment? I don't know ... but I can imagine what joy they must have felt at the arrival of this long awaited daughter.

Auntie herself was childless. She did not marry until she was thirty-five, and there was to be no late in life baby for her. For many years she taught small children, and then found her own family by unofficial adoption - first a lonely young woman whose own mother had shown her no affection, and then that young woman's children ... myself and my brother. Although she died when I was only in my teens, Auntie left the deepest impression on me of all my grandparents, and I realised recently why this was. She possessed what is perhaps one of the most important qualities of motherhood - the ability to make her "children" feel absolutely and unconditionally loved.

I wonder now whether that quality was a fruit of the great love her own parents showed for this child of their later years. If so, then it left an inheritance of love that has passed down the generations of our family. Another find during our clear out was Auntie's engagement ring, which my mother was happy for me to have. I had it altered to fit and now wear it as a reminder ... not just of Auntie herself, but of the warmth of the acceptance, love and joy that she radiated. And I pray that this reminder will help me to pass on to my own children this same warm feeling of knowing themselves unconditionally loved. What a legacy that would be.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Who am I?

That's for me to know and you to guess {big grin}
2. YOUR GANGSTA NAME: (first three letters of your name, plus izzle)
3. YOUR “FLY Guy/Girl” NAME: (first initial of first name, first three of your last)
4. YOUR DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite month, favorite drink)
September Champagne or May Pimms, depending on the mood of the moment

5. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, Street you once lived on):
Helen Mornington (works rather well, I think - more upmarket drama than Coronation Street)
6. YOUR STAR WARS NAME: (first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first name, first 3 letters of mom’s maiden name)
Faukadug (what does that make me? a wookie?)
7. SUPERHERO NAME: .)(fave color and fave animal)
Pink Elephant (better than White Elephant, but not as good as Pink Panther)
8. YOUR WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother & father’s middle name)
Nathalia John

HT: The friend known in detective circles as April Darjeeling.

Happy Easter

May you have a very happy and blessed Easter.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Passover recipes

I have posted three favourite Passover recipes on my much-neglected Cookbook blog. During Passover Jews avoid all foods with raising agents, and because of the risk of natural fermentation flour is also normally avoided unless in the form of specially prepared matzah meal. Cakes and cookies therefore become something of a culinary challenge, and most Jewish families will have their own seasonal favourites - cinnamon balls and coconut pyramids are my Passover standbys.

Good Friday, being a day of fasting and abstinence, may not be the obvious time for posting recipes, but my excuse is that the third recipe makes a good light meal for a fast day - chremslach, or matzoh meal pancakes. They are simple and meatless, though I'm afraid my family tends to regard them as a treat, as I rarely make them other than during Passover.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Holy Thursday

Today began with Star's dance exam, followed by a walk to the park for lunch and a play on the swings, an hour wandering round the shops, a visit to the doctor to be officially diagnosed with tennis elbow and given a prescription for anti-inflammatories, and a walk home - uphill! - with a very tired, very grumpy Star. Then dinner and a dash out to the evening Mass.

But after all the rushing around came the familiar dramatic liturgy of Holy Thursday - the return of the Gloria, the readings, the psalm, the washing of the feet, the stripping of the altar ... leaving the Church silent and stark, with statues hidden under purple and the Tabernacle bare and empty. Impossible not to be drawn into the atmosphere of the Easter Triduum. Tonight set the scene for tomorrow's remembrance of the Crucifixion, always emotionally draining, but also tinged with anticipation of the celebration of the Resurrection on Saturday night. As each layer of the Triduum unfolds it draws us "higher up and further in" to the great mystery at its heart ... that God became man, died on a cross for the sake of each one of us, and defeated death itself.

How grateful I am, both for that mystery, and for liturgy that allows even a tired, fuzz-brained mother, whose spiritual preparation has been sketchy to say the least, to experience at least a glimpse of it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tevye is visiting ...

... Gdansk, in Poland. Formerly the German Free State of Danzig and one of the ancient Hanseatic towns.

His father left in April 1939 intending to go to the United States, but never made it further than England. We think it is probable that he would have attended the last service held in the Great Synagogue on April 15th. The Synagogue was then sold to the Nazis and destroyed. Almost the entire Jewish community was evacuated from the city, although for the many who went to Poland (including Tevye's grandmother and one of his uncles) it simply postponed the consequences of being a Jew under the Nazis. Others went to the US, the UK or - often illegally - to Israel.

Which Church Father are you?

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

HT: Amy at Among Women

Monday, April 02, 2007

Holy Week and Passover

Yesterday was Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week and today Passover begins. With rare exceptions due to a quirk in the way Jewish and Christian lunar calendars are calculated, Holy Week and Passover always coincide. In our mixed bag Christian-Jewish household this makes for a very busy week, with two Seder meals and the need to cook without raising agents (no bread!) added to the preparations for Easter and the Easter Triduum (the three great liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday that form the culmination of the Church's year). Last year was the first year since Tevye and I married that Passover fell four weeks after Easter, and this year it is back to the usual double effect.

I have come to realise that my Holy Weeks are seasonal. There have been seasons of intense religious experience, particularly in my early Catholic days, before children, when time and lack of distractions made it possible to fully focus on the liturgy. There have been busy seasons, when I was in charge of music for the parish and Holy Week was hard work, but the effort and involvement helped to bring the meaning of the liturgies to life. Then there have been the years where everything is a rush, small children a distraction, practicalities a burden, preparation scanty and it is hard to feel spiritually connected.

Guess where I am right now? Yes, that's right, one of the rushed, chaotic years. Two years ago I had a marvellous, spiritually uplifting Palm Sunday. We had visitors from the US, a Catholic homeschooling mother and her seventeen year old daughter, and we spent Palm Sunday in London, beginning with Mass at the Brompton Oratory. A liturgically perfect celebration of the current Roman Rite in Latin - including a full reading of the Passion in Latin - in a beautiful Church. We even felt suitably penitential after someone occupied our seats during the procession with palms and we ended up having to kneel on a metal grille. Last year Palm Sunday was a write off. I was pregnant and ill and didn't even make it to Mass. This year? Well, I made it. Angel is an altar server, so she was busy and out of the picture so far as the rest of the family were concerned. I was playing the flute for the procession with Palms (the idea being that it helps the different ends of the procession to keep singing at least vaguely together. I have never known it to work.) This gave Star the opportunity to spot one of her best and most like-minded friends and for the pair of them to launch into a sword fight with palm crosses - or rather, several palm crosses, which they had somehow acquired. It also gave her the opportunity to wedge herself into a packed seat in church next to like-minded friend before I got there. When I asked friend's mother afterwards whether they had behaved well, the answer was "not one of their better days". Little Cherub was also not having one of her better days and had to be removed from the main part of the Church for a good half of the Mass. We have no crying room, so that means hovering in the entrance area at the back where one can see but not hear particularly well and going outside during particularly loud grumbling periods. Not exactly conducive to concentration.

The rest of Holy Week looks busy, if not chaotic. Today I have to shop and prepare for our family Seder tonight, and get rid of any bread and bread-like products from the house. Tomorrow we will be going to a Seder meal at my sister-in-laws - late night, over excited children, out-of-routine baby! An added complication is that Angel and Star have three dance exams between them, each of which will swallow up the best part of an afternoon or evening. They start today with Angel's ballet exam, for which I still have to sew ribbons on shoes (ballet shoe ribbons are one of my pet hates). I will get to the Easter Triduum feeling unprepared and unfocused, and regretting the lack of time to prepare the children properly. But at least we will get there! And this is, after all, just a season. The time will come when we do have time to prepare properly and celebrate Lent and Holy Week more fully. Meanwhile we will live Holy Week in amongst ballet ribbons and flat-packed furniture (yes, still assembling after yet another trip to IKEA!), over tired and out of routine children, with interrupted nights and tail-chasing days. And however imperfect our Holy Week, next weekend it will be Easter.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Last mystery destination clue

A final clue, and I'll post the answer tomorrow for anyone who has not got it yet ...

This city was the site of the first battle of World War II.