Thursday, November 22, 2007

Our little light went out

I had another ultrasound today. Our baby had not grown at all since last week and had no heartbeat. I did suspect that all was not well, so it didn't come as a shock, but how sad it is to see that little hope extinguished.

Goodbye, little one. I know you are safe and happy in the arms of God, but I am not going to get to hold you this side of heaven and my heart aches.

I am going to take a break from blogging until Advent, to give myself time to heal and to focus on the beautiful daughters God did allow me to meet. And how thankful I am for that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Advent and Christmas Books

A broad title for what is in reality a tightly focused post. I want to make a few book suggestions, not for Advent and Christmas books in general, but for those rarer books that can be read daily throughout Advent, and in one case, Christmastide. Please bear in mind that my age suggestions are based on my experience with my own children. Your mileage may vary!

The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean.
The perfect accompaniment to making and using a Jesse Tree. This book cleverly uses the device of a grumpy old carpenter being pestered by a small boy for stories while he carves a Jesse Tree as a vehicle to retell Bible stories from the Creation through to the Nativity. Without fetching the book to count, I am not sure of the exact number of stories - I have a feeling it is slightly more than twenty-four, but the book can easily be finished during the Christmas season. The symbols shown in the book are not identical with those I have seen elsewhere associated with specific Bible readings, but they are close enough to be able to fudge the differences. McCaughrean is a good story teller, and I love the way she has set this book up as stories within a story. Ideal for ages 6 to 10.

The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
I saw this recommended by Mary of St. Athanasius Academy and ordered a copy from the library. So far I am only half way through, but I already know I am going to have to buy my own copy. A boy acquires an unusual, "magic" Advent calendar. As he opens each window, a little more of a story is revealed. A girl named Elisabet travels from Norway to Bethlehem in the company of an angel and various others they meet on the way. An added quirk is that their journey is not only geographical ... as they travel they also move backwards through time, in order to reach Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth. Elisabet's story is intertwined with the mystery of how the story has come to be in the calendar. This book would probably work for age 7 or 8 up ... to any age. Although written as a children's book, it has also been published in adult editions.

Jotham's Journey, Bartholomew's Passage and Tabitha's Travels by Arnold Ytreeide
I feel almost mean listing these, as if you do not already have copies you are not likely to be able to get them. All three books are now out of print and used copies sell for ridiculous prices. I also feel smug, in that I managed to get all three before Amazon UK sold out. These books are a trilogy in that characters overlap between books, but they can be read independently and in any order. Each tells the story of a child living in the Holy Land at the time of the Nativity. They are packed with adventure, and most of the daily readings end on a cliffhanger. They are not for the faint hearted, as the plots include slavery, abduction, bandits, bloodshed, murder ... these really are gripping adventure stories! After each daily reading, there is a short meditation. These are written from a Protestant perspective, but could be either adapted or omitted by Catholics. Best for age 8 and up.

The Twenty Four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L'Engle
Not quite in the same category as the others as this one doesn't have daily readings. It does however tell the story of a family over the twenty four days, as they wait for the birth of a new baby and their daughter prepares to perform in a Christmas pageant. A simple chapter book suitable for younger children.

The Thirteen Days of Christmas by Jenny Overton
One of my favourite children's books and unique in my experience as it covers the thirteen days from Christmas Day to Epiphany. It is set in a fictional late medieval English town where Annaple Kitson's family, fed up with being the victims of her atrocious cooking, encourage her suitor to think up a romantic gesture that will persuade her to marry him. He decides on a series of gifts ... on the first day of Christmas a partridge in a pear tree ... on the second day two turtle doves. And a partridge in a pear tree. And so on. The book combines humour with lots of Christmas traditions - some real, some fictional. Probably more of a girl book (not that I have experience of reading to boys), for age 9 and up. And if you want a funny, light-hearted read for Christmas, buy it for yourself!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A little family history

My brother is sorting out old photos and papers left by my Dad and bringing them over to me in my self-appointed role of family archivist. He brought the first batch today, which included a soldier's issue New Testament from the First World War - kind of timely after my musings about the Great War last week. The cover is stamped "Active Services" Testament, 1916, and inside the cover it is engraved as follows:

Lord Roberts's Message to the Troops
25th August 1914
"I ask you to put your trust in God. He will watch over you and strengthen you. You will find in this little Book guidance when you are in health, comfort when you are in sickness, and strength when you are in adversity."
Roberts 1914
On the flyleaf is written
235566 Pte.Thos.Mead A.S.C. Remounts
Presented by the Friends of Avonmouth Soldiers Institute
Christmas 1916
Fight the Good Fight.
Inside the back cover is a "Decision Form" signed to say that he accepts Christ as his personal Saviour, and the following inscription:
I cannot see beyond the moment
Tomorrow's strength comes not today
But Blessed Lord I trust Thy keeping
For just the next step on my way.
- suggested by my dear wife, Jan 20th 1917
Thomas Mead was the husband of my father's Great Aunt Rose. "Aunt Rose" brought up my grandmother, whose mother (Aunt Rose's elder sister) died when she was little more than a baby, leaving four daughters and a husband who, from what I have been able to piece together, promptly went off to London to join his brothers there and left the four girls behind. I am not sure when Thomas died, but I am fairly certain he survived the war. Aunt Rose lived into her nineties and I remember visiting her for tea - oddly it was the only place where I would drink tea, which I never liked as a child. Maybe I found Aunt Rose too venerable to refuse? She was very much the family matriarch, and there was some consternation that I was not named Rose in her honour. I can't imagine myself as a Rose, but I did redress the balance slightly by using it as Little Cherub's middle name. The family were staunch Methodists, so the signed statement of faith comes as no surprise.

The Lord Roberts of the inscription was the Grand Old Man of the British Army, a hero of the Anglo-Afghan War of the 1880s and former Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army who died late in 1914. He was a personal hero of Rudyard Kipling, who wrote no less than three poems about him, including this memorial - Kipling was shown visiting "Bobs" in last week's TV movie, My Boy Jack. The historian in me just loves making these connections!

After a bit more Googling I worked out that Thomas Mead must have been serving in the Army Service Corps Remounts Service, which trained and supplied horses and mules to the rest of the Army. According to this summary at its peak in December 1917 the Remounts were training 93,847 horses and 36,613 mules, obtained by compulsory purchase. This gives another nice literary connection: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, a rare piece of historical fiction for children set during the First World War that tells the story of a horse requisitioned for army service.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jo Jingles

Notwithstanding what I said about avoiding overstimulation, since the big girls started school I have been taking Little Cherub to various groups and activities. Most of them are more informal, drop-in activities - our Church toddler group, monthly rhyme time at the library, a play session at the community centre, occasionally a pay-as-you-go swimming class. She loves to go places, I enjoy taking her, and having somewhere specific to go makes me more likely to make the effort - late autumn walks are not always appealing and often I need a purpose!

I did, however, sign up for one formal activity with her this term: Jo Jingles music and movement classes. I am very glad that I did, as it is truly the highlight of Little Cherub's week. I used to take Angel to these classes when she was a preschooler and she enjoyed them. I tried them again briefly with Star, and she was determinedly disinterested, but Cherub adores them.

The class I take her to is for one year olds, and is pitched just right for that age. It lasts 45 minutes, but she is totally focused for the entire time and really isn't ready to finish when it ends. While the class is structured - well structured, with a mix of action songs, time playing percussion instruments, simple circle dances, and movement with props - there is also some flexibility. If the little ones want to move around and do their own thing that is OK, so long as they are not disturbing the rest of the group. Cherub often wants to move away from me just to stand a little in front of the teacher watching, totally absorbed in the experience.

Do I think formal classes or activities are necessary for a toddler? Absolutely not! But they can be good if the activity is right for that child, which this very obviously is for Cherub, and if it fits into the week comfortably, without being the cause of too much rushing around and logistical strain.

I'm soooo sleepy ....

... I'm yawning as I type.

Sleeping when Little Cherub naps is a must, which means less blogging time. Still no nausea or sickness though, which is a luxury.

And the good news is that at an early ultrasound scan yesterday the sonographer saw what she was happy was a viable early pregnancy, with the tiniest of heartbeats at the very limits of what the scan could pick up. She thinks I may be a week out on dates, so I am having another scan next week to check everything is going as it should and to get a more accurate dating.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

When not to do your homework ...

Checking Star's homework folder tonight, I found her maths 80% done.

Me: Oh! You've almost finished! When did you manage to do that?

Star: During art lesson ...

Oh. Right. So there we have one of the differences between school and homeschool. When you are homeschooled, your teacher notices if you do your maths when you are supposed to be doing art.

If you are curious about what they do in school, maths homework for Star is always these Delbert's SATs Practice Sheets. In English schools children have to sit SATs (standard assessment tests) in English, maths and science at age 11. As these are used to rate the performance of the school, most schools put a lot of emphasis on them - this means far too much working to the test, in my opinion, particularly when the test is still eighteen months away. However, the Delberts suit Star, as she is strong enough at maths to benefit from the mental exercise of constantly switching between topics. She started the term in one of the middle maths groups, where she was given just one Delbert sheet a week. After a few weeks she was moved up to the top group (out of six for her year) where she was given two Delberts at a time, and since half term this has changed to two twice a week. I can see that her versatility and speed of working has improved already, so for her they are working well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gentle Learning: Avoiding Overstimulation

I was asked to expand on this one, and as I am not tackling my list in order, here goes ...

I added this to my list with only the vaguest ideas of what I meant by overstimulation. On one level it is the obvious things - too much stuff and too much screen time. Even though I think I am fairly selective with toys the number can easily snowball - already I can see this happening with Little Cherub, as it did with her sisters. I'm not sure whether I need to be more selective, or simply to be careful to rotate toys so that the number available at any one time is limited. Probably both. I do rotate things already to some extent, but find that extra stuff easily drifts out and doesn't get put away again. I have always limited screen time for little ones, but even so it is easy for more TV / DVD time to creep in. And Little Cherub is already intrigued by the computer. Arguably any screen time is overstimulating for a toddler or pre-schooler. I'm not sure I would go this far - or maybe I just don't want to? - but I do see a need to keep it within narrow limits.

On the wider level, I easily fall into the trap of too much. Trying to do too much, rushing around too much, and cramming in one thing after another. Avoiding overstimulation means slowing down, taking time to smell the roses and kick the leaves. Time just to be, without constantly moving to the next thing. I also want to achieve a quieter, calmer atmosphere. Our family is loud - vociferous and argumentative, with a tendency for everyone to talk at once. Loudly. I'm sure quiet and calm needs to start with me, and I'm not good at it.

I see avoiding overstimulation not just as a negative thing, but as something that opens up a positive way. It should allow the creation of what I think Charlotte Mason means by atmosphere when she talks of education as "an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" ... a calm space within which learning is as natural as breathing.

Only in England ...

Overheard in hospital waiting room ...

Receptionist (taking patient's details): Religion?

Patient: Not really ... just C of E [Church of England].

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Boy Jack

In the same Remembrance Day vein, I watched ITV's drama My Boy Jack yesterday evening. Originally a stage play, it told the story of Rudyard Kipling and his son Jack, who joined the army when he was seventeen and died at Loos on the day after his eighteenth birthday. Ironically, Jack had been turned down by both the navy and the army because of his poor eyesight, but Kipling had used his influence to win him a commission despite his disability. Jack was played by Harry Potter actor Daniel Ratcliffe, who did a good enough job that I completely forgot his HP role, despite a pair of glasses being an integral part of the plot. All-in-all well acted, believable, and a salutary reminder of the human cost of the War.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembering the fallen

Remembrance Day again, and this time I joined Angel playing with the brass band for a village Remembrance Day service. Again, I found the whole thing unutterably poignant, particularly as the list of young men who died in the First World War was read out. So many repeated surnames. All those families who lost not just one son, but two, or even three. So unbelievably sad.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thank you

Thank you for all the good wishes and prayers for my pregnancy. I'm glad to report that I'm fully recovered from the sickness and feeling amazingly good. For the first time ever at this stage I actually feel able to function pretty normally. I'm getting wonderful care from my family doctor and community midwife, who are determined to try to avoid a repeat of the various alarms and excursions we had with Little Cherub. My midwife - the same one who picked up that Cherub was in trouble at the end of my last pregnancy - visited today and was thrilled to see her cute as a button and so obviously fit and healthy.

There is a long way to go, but everyone is pulling together to give this baby the best possible chance. Beyond that, it is in God's hands and I am content with that. For now I am relaxing, enjoying being pregnant (imagine that! enjoying the first trimester!) and counting my blessings.

I'm a wanderer ...

It's the hobbit in me ...

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
HT: Michele

What Your Soul Really Looks Like

You are a wanderer. You constantly long for a new adventure, challenge, or eve a completely different life.

You are a grounded person, but you also leave room for imagination and dreams. You feet may be on the ground, but you're head is in the clouds.

You see yourself with pretty objective eyes. How you view yourself is almost exactly how other people view you.

Your near future is a lot like the present, and as far as you're concerned, that's a very good thing.

For you, love is all about caring and comfort. You couldn't fall in love with someone you didn't trust.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

School reports

While we were away in October we missed Angel and Star's scheduled parent-teacher evening and the opportunity to get feedback from their class teachers about how they are doing at school. This week we spoke to both teachers on the phone. Guess what? Despite having never been to school before, both girls have settled in beautifully and got glowing reports. I got the impression that the teachers were a little surprised at how easily they had adapted to school, though they were too polite to say so - I am no longer offended by the assumption that home educated children must somehow miss out on proper socialisation, just amused!

Angel's teacher was delighted with her - apparently she is well behaved, polite, working well, popular, throwing herself into everything with enthusiasm and a delight to have in a class. And you would never guess she was new to school.

We expected a good report of Angel, but Star was more of an unknown quantity given her natural out-of-the-box tendencies. Again her teacher was very happy - she is "bright, breezy and buoyant", behaving well, sensible(!), sociable and generally an asset to the class. Interestingly, her teacher was anticipating problems with her as she was very hyper at her taster day back in July, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the hyper classroom monster he was expecting didn't materialise.

So ... so far, so good. We may still be in the honeymoon period, but at least it is encouraging that the girls have both got off to a good start. And I admit to feeling a little smug that at least two teachers now know that homeschooling does not mean deprived, unsocialised children who would struggle to cope in a classroom. Ha!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NEW New Look for November

Tevye brutally politely pointed out that my autumnal leaf background was rather overwhelming.

He was right.

This background may be boring, but at least it won't give readers a headache.

New Look for November

I decided my blog needed a new autumn-and-All-Saints look for November.

That gives me a month to come up with something better for Advent and Christmas ...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Little Cherub's Book Choice: Usborne Look and Say

Our library has had a spending spree on board books over the last year and Little Cherub is reaping the benefit. One good discovery has been these Look and Say books from Usborne. They are perfect for older babies or younger toddlers who like books with pictures of familiar items for them to name and point out. The pictures are posed with Fimo models, and the main items highlighted with a gloss finish. The series has a range of titles. We started with Garden, and are now on Bedtime. I have a couple more on order from the library as Cherub has enjoyed these so much.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Belated holiday photos

After some initial nervousness Little Cherub decided a sandy beach was fun after all.

Experimenting with digging ...

Monkeying around at Monkey World, where there is also plenty for young humans to climb on.

Which can get exhausting ...

A little light reading

... is what you get when you visit my blog.

HT: Alicia at Studeo.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

News and a little drama

Good news: Little Cherub is well on the way to recovery following her stomach flu.

Bad news: I now have the stomach flu.

Really, really good - but in the circumstances, slightly complicating - news: I am six weeks pregnant. Yes, that's right. At 47, with a round-the-clock nursing toddler. (Me to doctor: "What are the chances of that?" Doctor (grinning): "Very low!")

Add together early pregnancy, stomach flu and a recovering-from-stomach-flu toddler on an all day nursing binge, and what do you get? A midnight trip to A & E (Accident and Emergency) to be rehydrated with i/v fluids and given anti-nausea medication to make sure I can keep down fluids. Everyone needs a little drama in life now and again, but I prefer it when our dramas don't involve a trip to A & E .

Thankfully, I am feeling a lot better now. Limp, exhausted and still a little nauseous, but human again. Tevye - who is himself walking wounded with a much milder version of the bug - has taken over everything and sent me to bed for the weekend. Please pray for a quick recovery from the flu, for a healthy pregnancy, and that we will get to meet this little baby at the end of June. Thank you!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Gentle Learning: Yearly Rhythm Part 2

Here is my attempt at pulling together a family calendar of feasts, festivals and seasons, starting with the beginning of the liturgical year in December. I have put the movable feasts into the months in which they most often fall.

  • Purple = Liturgical year
  • Blue = Jewish year
  • Green = secular or family events
St. Nicholas (6th)
St. Lucy (13th)

New Year / Mary, Mother of God (1st)
Epiphany (6th)
Baptism of the Lord

Candlemas (2nd)
Valentine's Day (14th)
Purim - story of Esther
Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day)
Ash Wednesday


Angel's birthday (15th)
St. Joseph (19th)
Mothering Sunday / Laetare Sunday
Lady Day / Annunciation (25th)
Tevye's birthday (29th)

Holy Week
St George's Day (23rd) - patron of England

Mary / May crowning
May Day (1st)
Ascension / Rogation Days - traditional time for blessing crops
Visitation (31st)

Little Cherub's birthday (8th)
Trinity Sunday
Corpus Christi
Sacred Heart
St. Alban (20th) - first British martyr
Birth of John the Baptist (24th)
/ Midsummer
Ss. Peter and Paul (29th) - Holy Day of Obligation in England and Wales

St. Benedict (11th) - patron of Europe
Ss. Joachim and Anne (26th) - Star's patron saint

Transfiguration (6th)
Star's birthday (13th)
Assumption (15th)
St. Helen (18th) - Angel's patron saint

Birthday of Blessed Virgin Mary (8th)
Triumph of the Cross (14th)
Rosh Hashanah - Jewish New Year
Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement
Our Lady of Walsingham (24th)
Michaelmas / Archangels (29th)

Harvest / Sukkot
Guardian Angels (2nd)
St. Francis (4th)
Our Lady of the Rosary (7th) - Little Cherub's patron saint
My birthday (15th)
Halloween /
All Hallow's Eve (31st)

All Saints (1st)
All Souls (2nd)
Bonfire Night (5th)
St. Martin (11th)
St. Catherine (25th) - my patron saint
Christ the King

A Flower Fairy Alphabet

I dithered after reading Elizabeth's recommendation, and finally succumbed thanks to Kristen's comments at Small Treasures (and I'm sure I read another enthusiastic review as well, but can I remember where? No!). Little Cherub and I are now happily listening to Cicely Mary Barker's flower fairy poems set to music in A Flower Fairy Alphabet.

"Fairy" music for children could easily be cute and cloying. This isn't. It is genuinely sweet and tuneful, with a gentle, folky feel. It would work particularly well as music to play while a little one is settling to sleep, or as calming background music for a quiet playtime.

My one gripe is not with the music, but with the pricing here in the UK. It is cheaper to buy the CD from Amazon in the US and ship it over than to buy from Amazon UK, and downloading from Amazon is half the cost of downloading from iTunes (UK version), but is barred to non-US residents. I gritted my teeth and opted for an iTunes download, while resenting whatever pricing policy causes such a big disparity.

I think the Flower Fairy Alphabet book will also be finding its way into Little Cherub's Christmas stocking.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sad Little Cherub

Poor Little Cherub is sick - vomiting, feverish and listless. Please pray she can keep fluids down and the bug disappears as quickly as it came. One minute she was playing happily in the bath and giggling, the next she was violently sick.