Friday, February 29, 2008

February Blues

The February Blues are a pretty common experience among homeschoolers. Guess what? I've discovered you don't have to be homeschooling to get them.

This month has definitely been a blue one. I haven't had to deal with schooling doldrums, but I have spent almost the entire month (and much of January) struggling with coughs and colds that triggered another bout the chronic asthma I had while pregnant with Little Cherub. Three inhalers later and it's finally back under control. Add in feeling generally run down and tired, and the keynote for the month has been inertia. I am way behind on my Eowyn Challenge.

Damp, grey February weather and a couple of cold snaps haven't helped. Or at least, that was my perception. According to yesterday's TV news this has been the sunniest February on record. It seems I must have been projecting my own greyness onto the climate! Damp and cold made my chest feel worse - and, I'm afraid, fit with my mood - so while everyone else was having a sunny February I was wallowing in my own cloudy one. I did notice a couple of warm, sunny, spring-like spells but I spent the best of them holed up indoors with a cold and they only impinged on the edges of my self-pitying consciousness.

This week I am finally feeling better. No longer coughing and puffing, and the tiredness has lifted. I have some energy back. Today we see the back of February (whose idea was it to add an extra day to my least favourite month?). Tomorrow is March. Spring is coming. Easter will soon be here.

Onwards and upwards!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty may be better known for falling off walls, but it seems he can also get into a jam.

Little Cherub finally achieved that inevitable toddler rite of passage ... getting something stuck in the VCR. Did she think that if she posted a book of nursery rhymes in there it would play them to her?

Not as creative as Star, who got a spanner into the works. Literally. (Blue. Plastic. From a Meccano set.) More creative, but easier to remove. The book was well and truly jammed. I finally managed to poke it out with a knitting needle.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I mentioned at the beginning of Lent that I had put together a Stations of the Cross box for Little Cherub, using a set of laminated cards of the Stations that I made and the items listed here. It has been an enormous success. Cherub adores it! At least once or twice every day she rushes over to the drawer where the box lives pointing and repeating insistently "bo'! bo'!" Today it was three times.

We sit down with her "box", tip out the contents and set out the cards one by one, matching the items as we go.

The first station ... "look, Jesus is having his hands tied with rope. What do we need?" ... "ro'!" She finds the piece of string and puts it carefully on the picture.

The second station ... "look, Jesus had to carry a heavy cross. Can you find a cross?" ... some dithering between the small crucifix (The Twelfth Station) and the little wooden cross, then she puts the cross on the picture.

And so on. Every station now has its own point of interest to her. The fourth station ... "Ma'!" (Mary) as she points at the picture of Our Lady. The eighth ... "Baby!" ("Yes, that is the women of Jerusalem with their babies. They are sad. They are crying because Jesus is going to die"). The tenth ... tugs at her dress to show me that Jesus' clothes were taken away. The eleventh ... much demonstration with a plastic nail (useful find in a magic set belonging to Star!) poked at her hands and feet, my hands and feet, and any other hands and feet in the vicinity.

The pictures on their own would never have held her interest in the way these little objects do. They make the story real and tangible for her. Many thanks to Irene and her husband for sharing their idea. It has made one little girl (and her Mum) very happy.

Next stop, Resurrection Eggs.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Reprise: The Best Laid Plans

... have gone pear-shaped again.

Plan A ... sleep until 7am, potter gently through a restful day at home with Little Cherub, taking a nice long walk to rack up some miles on the way to Rivendell at some point.

Cherub wakes up at 5.30. I am very much not an early morning person. Scrub Plan A.

Plan B ... blunder through the day feeling tired, ratty and disgruntled.

Decide Plan B is not desirable and realise that my energy levels are quite good, despite the woken-up-too-early tiredness.

Plan C ... cheer myself up by taking the bus to a nearby town. Potter. Visit County Museum. Use store card reward points to treat myself to a Boots Meal Deal for lunch. Enjoy a relaxed trip out with Cherub snoozing in her pushchair.

Star wakes up complaining of headache and dizziness. Dose her with Nurofen. Tell her she will feel better once she gets to school. Star complains she really, really doesn't feel well and really, really wants to stay home. Grudgingly allow her to take the day off. Feel extreme disgruntlement over loss of Plan C. Just about manage to suppress weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth (mine).

Plan D ... sulk. Spend the day at home feeling tired and sorry for myself with an overtired toddler and a whinging nine year old. (Star, when off-colour, has a track record of turning whinging into an art form.)

Think of the excellent blog post I read this morning (I was up at 5.30, remember!) by Jen at Et Tu? about the difference between God's will and our own. Decide Plan D is a severe case of clinging on to my own will. Manage to put aside the desire to weep, wail and gnash teeth. Take hold of myself, grit teeth, smile and sympathise with Star. Make pancakes for breakfast at her request. Star happy. Cherub happy (she has developed a taste for pancakes since Shrove Tuesday). Feel, if not exactly happy, much better for managing to set aside my resentment and crossness.

Plan E ... make the best of the situation. Revert to Plan A, minus the sleep until 7am and the walk bits. Resolve to pamper Star and snooze when Little Cherub does. Postpone Plan C until later in the week.

Enough blogging. Time for that snooze ...

What Punctuation Mark Are You?

You Are a Comma

You are open minded and extremely optimistic.

You enjoy almost all facets of life. You can find the good in almost anything.

You keep yourself busy with tons of friends, activities, and interests.

You find it hard to turn down an opportunity, even if you are pressed for time.

Your friends find you fascinating, charming, and easy to talk to. (But with so many competing interests, you friends do feel like you hardly have time for them.)

You excel in: Inspiring people

You get along best with: The Question Mark

HT: Lissa, my question mark friend

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What have I done?

I promised to take Star on this in May, along with a friend and his sons.

It's high. It's scary. And it is officially on the calendar.

I must have taken leave of my senses. Unlike Tevye and our friend's wife, who are planning to stay firmly on the ground.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Sistine Chapel

... in Goring-by-Sea, Sussex.

Take a look at this extraordinary labour of love.

HT: Auntie Joanna

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

LOAFing Again

My attempts to become an ethically-responsible consumer have plateaued since the last update on my LOAF plan. I'm still doing a lot better than I used to, but also have some way to go to reach the level I would like to achieve. Reading Small is Still Beautiful has given me a nudge which I hope will tip me further in the OA direction - organic and animal-friendly. Schumacher-Pearce (where does one stop and the other begin?) waxes eloquent on the evils of industrial scale farming ... animals produced in "factories", genetically modified crops, oversized fields, narrow base of breeds and plant varieties, mechanically intensive, dehumanising, unhealthy ... the list goes on.

All my instincts agree. As the daughter of an old-style farmer, my personal experience of farming is grazing animals, traditional field rotations (crops ... grazing ... hay meadows), natural fertilizers (as a child I spent a lot of time up to my ankles in noxious substances!) and everything on a human scale. I know, on a deep level, that this is how farming should be. But these days, the only way such human, animal and environmentally friendly methods are economical is when they are used on organic farms that can charge a premium for their produce.

There is the rub. The price premium and the lure of cheap food. My heart and my conscience wants to buy organic. My budget doesn't. Which is why I have prevaricated. Yes, I get my organic fruit and veg boxes, and the occasional organic beefburgers or minced beef if they are on offer as a token nod in the direction of organic meat. But chicken? Ugh! The price of free range chicken is scary, and the price of organic chicken is enough to make me stick my head in the shopping trolley and sob!

How to square the circle? Budget more carefully, and eat less meat. This Lent I am eating vegetarian, and I am gradually increasing the number of vegetarian recipes in my repetoire.
While I don't intend to stay vegetarian after Easter, I can cut down the amount of meat I eat quite easily - if the budget will only run to organic meat for two-and-a-bit, I can eat a vegetarian option with Star. Also I have found a couple for new veggie recipes that Tevye enjoys, which I can use to cut down our meat requirements without leaving him feeling a deprived carnivore. Then squeezing out waste elsewhere will allow me to increase my meat budget. Hopefully between the two that circle can be squared.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Small is Still Beautiful

I recently finished reading Small is Still Beautiful by Joseph Pearce. This is based on Small is Beautiful: a Study of Economics as if People Mattered by E.F.Schumacher, originally published in 1973, and is quite a departure from his usual literary biographies. I found it an odd book as parts are taken verbatim from Schumacher's book (with the blessing of his daughter), parts are Pearce's own, and the rest is a mish-mash of the two. The mixture of the two voices isn't particularly successful and the result feels bitty. It also still seems out-dated in parts, despite Pearce's additions.

Despites its weaknesses, I found the book worth reading. Although I think some of the arguments are simplistic, it does show the absurdity of economic systems that depend for success on never-ending growth and over-consumerism. It makes the very important point that economics should not be solely about economic utility, but should also encompass philosophy - essentially, economics should take into account other aspects of human well-being besides simply material ones. The part I liked best was the last section, which did a good job of setting out the argument against industrial scale farming and demonstrated how public demand for organic food is helping to buck that trend. There was enough here to convince me that I should be going further down that road. It also reminded me that I have been intending for a while to do some reading on "Catholic economics" - relevant papal encyclicals, Belloc and Chesterton on distributism, and any more recent books on the subject I can get my hands on. Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy by Philip Booth and Catholicism, Protestantism and Catholicism by Amintore Fanfani both sound interesting.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Three Sisters

... posing in front of the webcam. The colours are a bit odd, and somehow Angel manages to look younger than she does in real life while Star looks older, but it is such a nice picture I couldn't resist posting. And no, Little Cherub will not keep that cute hairband on for more than two minutes.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

For yesterday. Or tomorrow.

There are times when I am very slow on the uptake. And I'm not always the best at keeping track of time. Yesterday was a case in point.

I confess that being the unromantic souls that we are (or rather, I am - Tevye has a more romantic soul that is sadly wasted on my prosaic one) our customary way of celebrating Valentine's Day is to do ... absolutely nothing. We do, however, usually apologise to each other for doing nothing. Yesterday Tevye graciously apologised to me. How thoughtful, I thought, to remember in advance that he is doing nothing and to remind me to do nothing. I can cross "remember to forget Valentine's Day" off my to-do list for the next couple of days. For I had, amazingly, remembered that it was Valentine's Day in two days time. Or so I thought.

As the day went on, my inbox and blog reader took on an increasingly Valentine-ish hue. How prompt people were, how efficiently ahead of the calendar.

Sometime around six in the evening I finally put six and six together and made a dozen red roses.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. Not tomorrow.

So I hope you had a lovely day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

... of mice and men go oft awry.

Plan 1: Take Star for an evening trip to Borders, with hot chocolate in the in-store Starbucks as a treat.

Plan 2: Buy a new mouse mat.

The oft awry bit?

Plan 1: Discover Borders now shuts at 8pm instead of 10pm (since yesterday), with Starbucks shutting at 7pm instead of 9pm. Discover this at 7.25pm.

Plan 2: Fail to spot the small print on the mouse mat wrapper saying "not suitable for use with an optical mouse". Discover this when attempting to use said mouse mat with an optical mouse. The wrapper was right. It didn't work. Discover this only after failing to see that the packaging opened at the bottom and hacking at it with scissors, thereby making it impossible to return the mouse mat.

Damage limitation ...

Plan 1: Go to the adjacent McDonald's for chips (fries) and hot chocolate for Star, coffee and doughnut for me.

Plan 2: Donate very cute black and white, glossy, polka-dot mouse mat to Tevye to use at the office. Possibly destroy Tevye's street cred. (Does Tevye have any street cred?)

Cautionary note to any readers with optical mice: Do not buy shiny mouse mats, even if they are cute.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Music for Lent

I have been browsing iTunes looking for choral and sacred music to listen to during Lent. Here are my downloads so far (linked to Amazon so that you don't have to have iTunes to hear samples) ...

(1) Allegri's Miserere, sung by the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. This famous setting of the penitential Psalm 51 ("Have mercy on me, O God, in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offence ...") has to be the ultimate Lenten music.

(2) Nunc Dimittis by Geoffrey Burgon, from the same album as the Miserere. This was originally written as part of the soundtrack for a TV series (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), but don't let that put you off. The music is utterly haunting. The words are the Canticle of Simeon, part of the Night Prayer of the Divine Office.

(3) Litany to the Holy Spirit by Peter Hurford, sung by Emily Gray, a former choirgirl of the year. Another haunting modern piece, with the solo voice balanced by an organ accompaniment. The words are the first few verses of a by the 17th century poet Robert Herrick ...

IN the hour of my distress,
When temptations me oppress,
And when I my sins confess,
Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
If I had a bigger budget for music I would have downloaded the entire CD, Passiontide by Emily Gray and the Manchester Cathedral Choir.

(4) Totus Tuus by Henryk Gorecki, from Agnus Dei: Music for Inner Harmony by the Choir of New College, Oxford (Track 8). This hymn to Our Lady was written by the Polish Catholic composer for a visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland. From a description I found at ...

Totus Tuus (Totally Yours) was a phrase used by Pope Jean-Paul to describe his absolute devotion to the Virgin Mary. Totus Tuus, a hymn to the Virgin Mary, was composed in 1987 by Henryk Gorecki in honor of Pope John Paul II's third visit to his homeland of Poland. The choral text is taken from a poem written by Maria Boguslawska. The music is based on chants of the Polish Catholic Church and reflects Gorecki's deep love for the Holy Father; and for his country and its musical traditions.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Knitting Frenzy Meets Economy Drive

I've found myself contemplating crocheting Swiffer cloths.


Is this whole knitting-crochet thing getting out of hand?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Stations of the Cross: Three Part Cards

I made a set of Montessori style three part cards for the Stations of the Cross to go along with the Rosary cards I made last year.

You can download them as a .pdf file here.

Mother Hen

What type of Mother Hen Are You?
by Educational Resource

HT: The artistic Margaret in Minnesota

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Simply Lent

I am aiming to keep things simple this Lent, with very few specific plans.

Abstain from meat
Say morning and evening prayer daily
Read Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth

Angel and Star
Angel - abstain from crisps (potato chips)
Star - abstain from biscuits (cookies)
Some form of extra devotion, but I haven't talked to them to decide what yet.

Little Cherub
Stations of the Cross box using this idea generously shared by Irene on the 4Real Learning forums. I have also added a set of Stations of the Cross cards.

Other than that, I'll be aiming to keep things simple and "less" - eat less, buy less, reduce computer time and so on, though with no specific goals that I would only fail to achieve.

Note: My simple Lenten blog design is necessarily minimalist, because the background still insists on overriding everything on top of it. White background means white blog. Why????

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

E for Excellent

Meredith of Sweetness and Light has kindly granted me an Excellent Blog Award. Given how long it has taken me to acknowledge her kindness and get around to passing on the award, it was obviously sadly undeserved. As I am trying to put my affairs in order for Lent, I'm finally catching up.

The Rules

By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you have to award it to ten more people whose blogs you find Excellent Award worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want - even those that have received it already, but please award at least ten people.

My Nominations

Ten blogs picked from my Bloglines for more or less entirely random reasons ... but they are all excellent blogs!

  • As Cozy as Spring for recommending the perfect book for knitting Harry Potter enthusiasts. Oops! No! That should that be knitters who are HP enthusiasts - I don't think a knitted HP enthusiast would work well.
  • By Hand, With Heart for teaching me how to knit socks.
  • Fine Old Famly for decluttering inspiration
  • Frabjous Days for having a gorgeous new Candlemas baby. (What do you mean, that has nothing to do with blogging?)
  • Gladdest Hours for making me laugh. About placentas.
  • Homefront for loving G.K.Chesterton
  • Karen Edmisten for having the most articulate five year old in Blogland. (I'll overlook the fact that she also has the most unoriginal blog name.)
  • LaPaz Home Learning for the beautiful photo in the blog header and inspiring Montessori ideas.
  • The Wine Dark Sea for blogging about Bella, the second cutest toddler I know.
  • You Did What for being the only family I know that can combine a birthday party with cat-flea spraying

Monday, February 04, 2008

One, Two, Three ... Jump!

I mentioned in my Slow Time post that Little Cherub is most definitely not a risk taker. To put it bluntly, she's a wimp. She is now working on a new skill in true Little Cherub style.

She likes to stand on the windowsill in her bedroom so that she can watch the squirrels and birds in the garden. The windowsill is all of ... oooh ... ten inches high? I have been encouraging her to jump down from the window.

Me: "Are you going to jump?"

Cherub: Big grin and show of excitement. Starts to count ... "Wuh ..."

Me: "One ... two ... three ... JUMP!"

Cherub: Stretches out both hands for me to hold, leans on my hands for security and steps down from the windowsill, one cautious leg at a time. Stands safely on terra firma looking exceedingly pleased with herself.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Creative Writing

Today I have two very different exercises in creative writing for your delectation and delight.

1: Ocular Athletics

Inspired by G.K.Chesterton, my good friend Shari has a new approach to getting her sons to write. Participating in ocular athletics sounds so much more fun than a run-of-the-mill writing assignment. Enjoy the "tremendous trifles" they produced this week here.

2: Journalism - How Not to Do It

If you want an object lesson for your children in why they shouldn't believe everything they read in the newpaper, this article in today's Daily Record about Pope Benedict's preference for orange Fanta would serve the purpose beautifully.

Here is the apparent source of the story ... an entry on Fr. Tim Finigan's blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity.

And here are Fr. Tim's comments on the article, which takes "creative" writing rather too far.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Slow Time

I often find that different seasons interact... the chronological seasons, the liturgical seasons and my own life seasons. I always tend to lose momentum in the doldrums of winter - the February slump is a well known feature of homeschooling, and one of which I have plenty of experience. At the same time the Church is in an interval of Ordinary Time between the celebrations of Christmas and the spiritual astringency of Lent. But this year everything about my life has slowed ... right ... down. I am now in the middle of what I can only describe as Slow Time.

With the big girls in school, I am able to take life at toddler pace. Little Cherub is the least intrepid of small people and it has taken a long time for her to decide it is safe to walk outside. The first couple of times she tried she fell over, found the ground was hard and hurt, and it took another three months or so before she plucked up the courage to try again. (This is par for Little Cherub's course - she has only just decided it is safe to manouevre herself on and off a child size chair. She does not do climbing.) Last week, however, she decided she would like to walk to Grandma's - less than ten minutes on adult legs - and ... wow! ... she made it! Slowly. Very slowly.

I think this is the first time in my life that I have had both the time and the patience to go at this speed. Even when I have had the time, I haven't been ready to relax and allow myself to slow down. Now I am. Over the last few years the pace of life has varied from busy to hectic. Homeschooling is a hard option - good, and a route I'm glad I took, but hard - and the last couple of years had a series of added physical and emotional demands. Now here I am in my late forties at home with just a small toddler and not only slowed right down but enjoying it. Life is no longer a series of missed deadlines, many of them self-imposed and impossible. If it takes me forty minutes instead of ten to do a job because Cherub is helping, or because we stop in the middle to sing songs or watch squirrels, it doesn't matter. If she wants to walk and we go at a snail's pace, stopping to check out bricks, stones, puddles and leaves, that's fine. I'm in no rush.

After eight years of homeschooling this gentler, quieter, slower life is still very new. I am like a train that takes a mile to stop after the brakes are applied, and it is probably only in the last month that I have fully adjusted to the new pace. Over the last two or three weeks, slow has almost become stop thanks to coughs, colds and sore throats which have attacked me in various combinations. (Currently it is cough and cold. Sniffle.) But you know, it doesn't matter. It is winter; it is Ordinary Time; it is Slow Time. We can just hole up and take it easy until the coughs and sniffles go away.

Next week Lent begins. Easter and Spring will be just round the corner. What will happen to my Slow Time then? What is growing below the surface, I wonder? What new shoots will appear in the spring? For once I am not planning, just watching and waiting. What will my next season be?