Sunday, June 29, 2008

I'm Back!

... back from my spell offline and also back from a few days away with Little Cherub and my mother. This is what we have been doing.

Click to play At the Beach
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Out ... Of ... Touch ...

I am now the proud possessor of three dead wireless routers ... and no Internet connection. It may well be another two or three weeks before I manage to replace the routers and gets connection up and running again. Meantime I will be checking in when I can.

Are you receiving me ... crackle, crackle ...

Over and out ... splutter ...

Sunday, June 15, 2008


I am still zooming randomly around my Cornish memories ...

When we stayed in St. Just Manse with my Aunt and Uncle I had a small bedroom at the front of the house with a large low south-west facing window. This meant I could lie in bed with the curtains open and watch the lighthouses as I fell asleep ... counting the reassuring flashes of those great lights beats counting sheep any day.

This stretch of Cornish coast must be almost unique as a lighthouse-spotting point, positioned as it is on a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic and marking the northern edge of the English Channel. On a clear night I could see five or six (memory fails me on the exact number); two were almost always visible; and on the rare nights that they were blanketed in fog, there was the sound of the Pendeen foghorn. This interactive map from Trinity House (the Crown corporation that adminsters the major lights in the UK) shows the five lighthouses and one lightship in my line of sight. The lights were distinguishable by their different rhythms, and occasionally colours:

  • Longships (Lands End) - red light 5 seconds on, 5 seconds off (this was my view, from other vantage points it could be a white light with the same phasing)
  • Wolf Rock - white flash every 15 seconds
  • Bishops Rock - two white flashes every 15 seconds
  • Seven Stones Lightship - 3 white flashes, 5 seconds apart, every 30 seconds
  • Peninnis, St.Mary's, Scilly Isles - white flash every 20 seconds
  • Round Island, Scilly Isles (possibly, I'm not sure whether I could see this one or not) - white flash every 10 seconds

This website gives brief details and history of these and all the other South Coast lighthouses. Clicking through from the interactive map finds more detailed descriptions. Today they are all automated and lighthouse keepers are a thing of the past. Even the lightship is unmanned.

Longships and Wolf Rock were "my" lighthouses, and many nights I fell asleep to their soothing rhythm ... white flash / red glow, count, red glow / white flash, count, red glow, count, white flash / red glow ... and so on.

Pictures: Bishop Rock Light, Creative Commons photo by Jeremy Pearson; Longships Lighthouse, Creative Commons photo by Stuart100

Saturday, June 14, 2008

More Cornish History

Writing about the Jewish history of Penzance sent my thoughts off on a Cornish rabbit trail. I have been doing some more internet research and plan to bore you with the details share the results with you over the next few days. (This is a random, eclectic sort of blog, right? You enjoy the element of surprise, yes?)

During my pre- and early-teens my great-uncle was the Methodist minister at St. Just in Cornwall. (Look on a map, find the most westerly point of England - Lands End - and work up the coast a few miles). We spent many holidays there, and the area made a deep impression on me - so much so that I have had a hankering to live there ever since. When we were there we always attended Uncle's church, and being a very visual person who struggles dreadfully with aural learning I spent a lot of time reading the memorial plaques on the wall while the sermon washed over me. One particularly poignant one was a memorial to a mine disaster in the area, with substantial loss of life. For some reason this came back to me while I was thinking about Cornwall, and I decided to see if I could find out the background - what happened, and when.

I could find no record of the actual plaque on the internet, and concluded that it must have referred to one of two calamitous mining accidents that took place in the locality. The St. Just area has a long history of tin mining, and the area around St. Just is dotted with old engine houses and air shafts, all now in disrepair. It was a precarious industry, both economically, with periods of boom and bust (it is now irretrievably bust), and physically, with a high risk of accidents. In addition to the normal risks of mining, the proximity to the sea added another. The picture below shows the Botallack mine, perched on the cliffs over the Atlantic.

Picture: PZNow

The first accident took place at Wheal Owles mine near Botallack in 1893. Forty-one men and boys were working underground when there was an accidental breakthrough into a flooded, adjacent mine. Twenty were drowned. This report on one man's heroism was included in The Cornishman:
Five miners were saved by the efforts of one “Farmer” Hall who had been working with two boys at a stope in the 55 level. When he saw the sides shaking and gravel falling he realised the water had broken through from the old workings he called to the 2 boys to follow him and shouted a warning to two men working a short distance away. Hall found a tram-wagon, put one of the boys in it & told the others to hold on to him and each other and headed off at speed into the darkness. They overhauled another miner on the way and Hall told him to run on before them. To make matters worse, the boy jumped out of the wagon and fell down an 18ft cavity. He climbed up the side and when within reach was grabbed by one of the other miners, James Williams and pulled out. With the others scaling the shaft- side ladders , Hall went to see if he could find anyone else. He briefly spoke to others some distance away and below him. But then there was silence from their direction. “Farmer” Hall was the last man to leave Wheal Owles. (Source: West Penwith Resources)
A contemporary dialect poem The Flooding of Wheal Owles describes the disaster:
..Tellee about Wheal Owles, sir—the flooded Cornish mine!
’Ow the waters chuck’d the levels where the sun don’t never shine;
’Ow the twenty men are lyin’—stark, lifeless, lumps of clay,
Where the rushin’ torrent wash’d thum when the rock-wall brawk away ...
My hunch is that this was the disaster commemorated in the Methodist Chapel as a centenary memorial service was held there in 1993 and it was geographically nearer to St. Just.

The other possibility is the Levant Mine disaster of 1919, when 31 men were killed by the collapse of a "man engine", a kind of primitive lift (elevator). This extract from a full report in The Cornishman and Cornish Telegraph describes the contraption and the effect of its failure:
"The tragedy was the work of an instance. Something snapped - perhaps an iron cap or bolt - and what as been described as a living pillar of men, dropped down the man engine shaft, crushing many to death, mangling more with debris of breaking wood and metal - the beam of the man engine, the ladder ways in the side of the main shaft, and the platforms cut in the side of the shaft. Imagine square wood beams 40 feet long, braced together in long stems and held perpendicularly 1,800 feet in height in a mine shaft. Jutting out of this beam which moves up twelve feet and then down twelve feet like the Cornish pump which raises the water and drains the mine, are steps. On each step was a man, and from 130 to 150 were standing as a human pillar on this structure, or waiting on the side platforms to take the next step, as they ascended from their work. About twelve had stepped off in safety on reaching the surface. When the man engine ascends and is at the top of the stroke as on Monday (the men having completed their day's work about 2-30 p.m.), the machine was practically full of men, each one, as it were standing above the head of the other on the projecting step. An instant later all these miners would have stepped off and paused on the side platforms, or sollors, for the next up lift of the engine. That instant meant life or death to thirty or more men. The scene was indescribable. The rod released from its top cracked in several places, and the structure crashed down in a mass of debris. As its foot was at the bottom of the shaft it could only have dropped the twelve feet if it had not snapped in other places. The worst chokage was in the upper part of the shaft."
This disaster was still in living memory in the days of mass TV. These extracts from a 1969 BBC documentary are available online: a description of life at the mine (including a visual showing how the man engine worked), and a widowed mother recalling the day her husband did not return home. The Cornishman article includes a list of those killed and injured. The dead included many men with dependents; saddest of all was the widower whose wife had died a few months earlier leaving eleven children orphaned.

The Levant Mine is now owned by the National Trust, and a restored steam engine can be seen in operation there.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

But Excuse Me That is My Book (Charlie and Lola) But Excuse Me That is My Book by Lauren Child

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charlie and Lola are new to me with Little Cherub. She latched on to the book at the library because she has seen bits of the TV series and recognised the characters. I'm not keen on spin-off books from TV shows, but - like Thomas the Tank Engine - this is one of those series where the books came first and later spawned the TV version.

But Excuse Me That is My Book is written entirely in the voices of the characters - patient big brother Charlie and his little sister Lola, who wants HER book and can't get her head around the idea that it is a library book and someone else may have borrowed it.
Lola says, "But Charlie, my book is lost! It is completely not there!"

I say, "Lola, remember this is a library so someone must have borrowed it."

Lola says, "But Beetles, Bugs and Butterlies is MY book."

I say, "But it's not your library. Someone else obviously wanted to read your book."

Lola says, "But they can't. It's MY book."
The text runs on in this vein rather breathlessly. Whether you find the effect irritating or appealing is a matter of taste, as is the switching around between different fonts and the rather jumpy layout. It is very much a love it or hate it book. Cherub loves it and I enjoy it. Tevye doesn't.

Thursday Thirteen: Doubled

Two for the price of one today ... I saw this alphabet meme at the S/V Mari-Hal-o-Jen

A is for age:
Only 28 months to go until I hit fifty. Eek! My head says about 32! I only wish my body agreed.

B is for burger of choice:
Cheese and bacon burger. Calories? What are calories?

C is for what kind of car you drive:
Vauxhall Zafira. It isn't pretty, but it is friendly and obliging.

D is for your dog's name:
I'm allergic to dogs and Tevye is not a dog person. As a child we had dogs called Jock, Patch, Bess, Judy and Lassie. I wouldn't say originality in choosing pet names was a strong suit.

E is for essential item you use everyday:
My laptop.

F is for favorite TV show at the moment:
Grand Designs, in which people build their dream house. Something I am never likely to do, but I get vicarious pleasure watching other people.

G is for favorite game:

H is for Home State:
Does county count? Buckinghamshire, though I now live a few hundred yards over the border in Bedfordshire.

I is for instruments you play:
Funny! I just realized I have learned a new instrument every decade of my life! Piano and violin to start, then added viola in my teens, organ in my twenties, flute in my thirties, and baritone (brass instrument slightly smaller than a euphonium) in my forties. I also play guitar a bit. What should I learn in my fifties?

J is for favorite juice:
Pink grapefruit

K is for whose butt you'd like to kick:
Whoever is responsible for the Early Years Foundation Stage of the National Curriculum.

L is for last restaurant you ate at?
A carvery pub

M is for your favorite Muppet:
None. I'm not a Muppet fan

N is for Number of Piercing:

O is for overnight hospital stays:
Five. Tonsils, orthodontic surgery, three babies.

P is for people you were with today:
My husband and daughters. Usually I have a cup of tea with my neighbour after she finishes work before the girls get home from school, but I have to take Star shopping after school.

Q is for what you do with your quiet time:

R is for biggest regret:
That I was such an utter pain in my pre- and early-teens. My poor Mum!

S is for status:
Very married

T is for time you woke up today:
6.30, thanks to Little Cherub - quite late by her standards, early by mine.

U is for what you consider unique:
My ability to give completely random answers to questions I haven't listened to without realising I have done it. When you have children this can be a Very Bad Thing.

V is for vegetable you love:
Roasted parsnips

W is for worst habit:
Saying "just a minute" and taking ten (or more)

X is for x-rays you've had:
Dental and a foot injury as a teenager - turned out to be sprained not broken

Y is for yummy food you ate today:
Yesterday (it's a bit early today) ... Dorset apple cake I baked yesterday afternoon. Shame none of it lasted until today.

Z is for zodiac sign:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Painting Time

I talked a while ago about wanting to do more art with Little Cherub than I had with her sisters. I bought First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by Mary Ann Kohl, read it ... and did nothing! Inspired by Melanie's post about painting with Bella, her just turned two year old, I decided the time to let Cherub loose with paint had arrived.Last autumn I picked up a child's easel for a song at a nearly-new sale, and stocked up on squeezy bottles of paint, brushes and paint pots from the Early Learning Centre. I decided to start Cherub with two colours - she chose red and blue. I put each colour in a matching pot, with a matching brush, but didn't give her any instructions beyond saying "here's a blue brush for the blue paint, and a red brush for the red paint".

She was thrilled to see the effect of the paint on the paper.

To begin with, she kept the colours quite separate. This was her first masterpiece ...

By the time she finished she was mixing the colours together, and experimenting with putting the brushes into different colours. We added yellow at her request (she currently calls all colours "blue" and pointed at the yellow asking for "more blue"!)

She spent around 40 minutes totally focused on painting, working mostly silently with occasional happy noises.

The first time she got paint on her hand she was a bit worried, then there was a bit more alarm at paint on her clothes (second-hand trousers and a cheap t-shirt I'm keeping for messy art) and when she missed the paper with the paint. After I reassured her she was fine.

Like Melanie, I'm going to aim for an art project every week.

Turning points

At the 4Real boards Cay flagged up this turning point post at Crazy Acres. The author talks about her feelings as her "baby" turns four, and the end of those baby days. I can relate! We are not finished with the "little things" yet: Little Cherub is still in a cot (crib), and nowhere close to climbing out; she is still nursing; we still have diapers and pushchairs and strapping into car seats and all those other things that merge babyhood into toddlerhood. But I have been thinking over the last couple of days how two seems a turning point here.

Two just isn't a baby any more. At two she is confidently mobile and her verbal skills are improving daily. She has her own opinions and is able to express them ("Mummy! No talk Daddy!" I got yesterday, when she decided I was paying too much attention to Tevye and not enough to her.) She wants to do things herself. She knows what she doesn't want to do. The baby has turned into a little girl.

Almost certainly she is my last baby, and those baby days are over for good. I have been there before - I have experienced my youngest being two, and four, and seven. I have mourned the loss of the baby days ... and then they came again. This time round the sense of loss is outweighed by the gratitude for my good fortune in getting to enjoy all these stages of childhood over again. The turning point is still bittersweet, but it is also a milestone. It marks a point on our journey, and while it is good to look back and remember with delight where we have been, it is more important to enjoy the view where we are and to look ahead.

This year the view looks quite different to last year. We have a toddler for whom life is a whole new adventure, a new teenager growing into a young lady, and a daughter about to hit double figures and the dramatic pre-teen changes that turn a child into an adolescent. But you know, it is a good view. Where we are is a good place. I can see a number of other milestones ahead. Some which once seemed a very long way ahead are coming into sight ... the teen years, children growing up and leaving home, retirement for Tevye. The challenge now is to meet those milestones with joy, to savour the turning points rather than to regret the loss of what went before.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Religious Climate

Jenn at Et Tu is taking a survey of the religious climate in different parts of the world. I'm not the first to throw in an English perspective (one commenter only lives a few miles from me, I notice), but I'm going to add mine anyway - everywhere is a little different, and I'm guessing it will interest some of you.

  1. Where do you live? A market town in Bedfordshire, population about 35,000. It is just into the London commuter belt, but it is far enough from London for property prices to be affordable for families.

  2. What is church attendance like in your area? Are there many churches? Do they seem to have active memberships? One Catholic Church, two Church of England, two Methodist (one a small chapel), two Baptist (one a small Strict Baptist chapel), Christian Fellowship, New Life, Quaker and Salvation Army. The Catholic Church has three Sunday Masses, all full - but the Church building is really too small for the size of the town. I think average weekly attendance is about 450. The C of E Church my mother belongs to has a Sunday attendance of about 70 to 100, and I would guess the other is similar. The Baptist and evangelical Churches seem to be quite active. Average weekly Church attendance in the UK is only around 6%, and adding up the figures I don't think it can be much more than that here. However, there is more of a Christian "feel" to the town that the figures would suggest.

  3. Imagine a typical social event in your area. How appropriate would it be if a person were to explicitly acknowledge in casual conversation that he or she is a believing Christian (e.g. make a statement like, "We've been praying about this a lot" or "I've asked God to show me what the right answer is to my dilemma")? Would a statement like that seem perfectly normal or a bit odd? Those statements would definitely be considered odd - people would look at you as if you had two heads. However, it would be quite OK to mention that you were a Church-going Christian, so long as you weren't perceived as trying to push your religion on others.

  4. Imagine a typical neighborhood in your area. If a practicing Christian family moved in, how would they fit in? Would they blend right in or seem out of place? They would blend right in. There certainly isn't any anti-Christian feeling, and people are generally tolerant of religious belief, considering it a private eccentricity.

  5. How many families do you know who have more than two children? Many with three, a few with four, very few with more than that.

  6. What seems to be the dominant belief system of the people in your area? Vague agnosticism.

  7. Do you notice any trends? Less religious belief. More people would describe themselves as atheist than would have been the case twenty years ago. The tradition here has always been that if you had no other religious affiliation you described yourself as C of E. That is changing, with more people saying they have no religion - though the vague feeling that one must be something still exists. Interestingly, the 2001 census showed 71% of the population described themselves as Christian, though other surveys show only 50% or less believe in God. On the same census 0.7% described themselves as Jedi knight, following a campaign to get Jedi knight recognised as an official religion (the theory being that if enough people put it on the census, it would be a fait accompli). There is something to be said for living in a country where (a) it is legal to put Jedi knight as your religion on an official census, and (b) 390,000 people are mad enough to do so. Church attendance is declining (down one-third between 1989 and 2005, with Catholic Mass attendance down one-half). Locally it isn't that noticeable, but that may just be because I have only been attending Mass here for 8 years, and the town is growing which would mask a decline.
If you are a lover of statistics, this article Religion in the United Kingdom: Diversity, Trends and Decline will tell you everything you could possibly want to know.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: June 9th

For Monday 9th June

Outside My Window ... a beautiful, bright June Morning.

I am thinking ... that life is good.

I am thankful for ... finally feeling healthy and energetic after months of struggling with asthma, coughs, colds, sore throats and lack of energy.

From the kitchen ... the interminable sound of the washing machine, which grinds slowly through the interminable heaps of washing. Very slowly. A new washing machine is getting very close to the top of our priority list.

I am wearing ... cropped beige trousers and a white t-shirt.

I am creating ... a more peaceful and orderly home. Slowly but steadily I am making progress.

I am going ... to bake bread and Dorset apple cake, and make Lucy's Lazy Sunday Morning Chicken for dinner (even though it will be Monday evening, not Sunday morning).

I am reading ... "Education is ...", a free ebook from Simply Charlotte Mason, The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley, and National Geographic.

I am hoping ... to get lots of baking, cleaning and creating of domestic order done today.

I am hearing ... the washing machine, the occasional bleep of a mobile phone that needs charging, and the click-click of Little Cherub playing with Duplo she was given for her birthday yesterday.

Around the house ... various things out of place and untidy. A book on the stairs, knitting on my desk, breakfast dishes in the sink, a jacket over the bannisters. Ten minutes of simply going round the house putting a few things away would make a big difference.

One of my favorite things ... I asked Little Cherub what is one of my favourite things ... she says "go zoo!" True. I do like to go to the zoo. Though I think she was really telling me one of her favourite things. We are sympatico.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... dinner at my mother's tomorrow, which will be an opportunity to catch up with an old family friend who is staying with her for a few days. Take out gym membership at the local leisure centre for myself and Angel (they do a discounted summer membership for teens). Now I have some energy again I really, really need to get more exercise. I'm still walking, but nothing like as much as I should ... and as Little Cherub is getting less content just to sit in her pushchair, it is getting harder. Playing with the brass band at a village fete on Saturday.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ...

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Happy Birthday, Little Cherub

Two years old today!

Happy birthday, sweetheart.

This time last year you were still a baby.

Now you are a walking, talking, fully fledged toddler.

The Jews of Penzance

While I am on a Jewish history roll ...

I have loved Cornwall since I was a child, and Tevye and I have been talking seriously about eventually retiring there, probably to the town of Penzance (if you want to know why, take a look at the view in my blog header. Also, who could resist a place with a name meaning "Holy Headland"?). It is important to us that wherever we live there must be a synagogue within reasonable driving distance, so we did a bit of internet searching to check out the local Jewish community. We found that there is indeed a small but active community in Cornwall, but rather to our surprise we also discovered that Penzance itself has a Jewish history.

The Jewish community of Penzance dated back to the eighteenth century, attracted despite the town's remote location by the commercial life of its port. The community's heyday was the first half of the nineteenth century, and a synagogue was built in 1807. By the middle of the century membership was declining, and for some time the synagogue was kept viable only by the large family of the rabbi. It became increasingly difficult to form a minyan (the ten adult men necessary for a full service to take place), and often only scaled down services could be held. The last AGM and the last wedding both took place in 1892. For many years a single congregant - the son of the former rabbi - kept the synagogue open, praying there alone on the High Holy Days. He finally left in 1913 and the building was sold to the Plymouth Brethren. Today, all that is left as a physical reminder of the Jewish past of Penzance is its unusually well preserved Jewish cemetery.

Picture: Gravestone of Jacob James Hart (English Heritage)

A couple of nice snippets of information ... the Jews of Cornwall referred colloquially to London as Makom Lamed - the "L-place"! Also, a Jewish trader from Penzance with the wonderful name of Lemon Hart produced his own brand of rum, which is still available today. You can even buy it online. (Not that I would want to. Loathesome, vile tasting stuff!)

Source of information: JCR-UK

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Random Meme

Time for a meme, I think. HT: As Cozy As Spring

What was I doing ten years ago?

I can remember that very clearly. I was nearly seven months pregnant with Star, and we were spending a week's holiday in Belgium. My Dad was suffering from terminal cancer and had just been moved into hospice care, but seemed to be doing better so we decided to take a much needed break. He died the day after we returned.

What are five (non-work) items on my to-do list today?
  1. Pick up library books.
  2. Buy yarn.
  3. Update my budget and accounts.
  4. Wrap Little Cherub's birthday presents.
  5. Buy or make a birthday cake.
Five Snacks I Enjoy:
  1. Marmite flavour crisps
  2. Salted popcorn
  3. McVities caramel digestives
  4. Bananas
  5. Chocolate
Things I would do if I were a billionaire: (I'm just listing the fun stuff)
  1. Spend every summer by the sea.
  2. Take out lifetime membership of the London Library.
  3. Travel first class on trains and planes.
  4. Hire a personal trainer to motivate me to get moving.
  5. Buy a MacBook Air
Places I have lived:
  1. Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
  2. Walthamstow, East London
  3. Chingford, East London
  4. Ilford, Essex
  5. Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire
Jobs I have had:
  1. Assembling TV aerial parts in an electronics factory
  2. Sub-post office clerk
  3. Trainee actuary
  4. Lecturer in medieval history
  5. Publisher's reader
Anyone else want to play along?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Discipline: Taking Up the Challenge

Elizabeth has continued her summer Charlotte Mason book study with comments on the "Education is a Discipline" section of the free ebook Education is ... (well worth downloading if you haven't already). I already posted a bit about education as a discipline in my previous post, so for my contribution to the conversation I am just going to develop a couple of ideas that are particularly applicable in my life at this point.

"Developing discipline in our children requires huge amounts of discipline in ourselves"

Oh, what a conscience pricker! As I wrote the other day: "Self discipline is my great weakness, and I get trapped in a cycle of good intentions followed by backsliding." But there really is no way I can ignore this if I want to be able to help my children to develop good habits. Elizabeth emphasizes the point:

"When I read about laying down the rails of good tracks of character in the lives of my children and training them in order to cultivate healthy habits, I recognize immediately that this is going to take some serious self-discipline on my part. I need to be disciplined in order to provide an education that is richly disciplined.
So ... for those of us who are decidedly challenged in the area of self-discipline, where do we start? "Education is ..." gives five suggestions for helping to develop good habits in children, so why not see if I can apply these to myself:
  • Pick one habit. There is no point in allowing myself to be overwhelmed by all the different areas I need to work on. But where to start? One thing I always struggle with is responding promptly to my husband and children. I hate having to leave something half done - an email half written, an article half read, a row half knitted, a floor half cleaned. The number of times in a week (or a day!) that I say to someone "in a minute" - a minute that turns out to be five or ten - doesn't bear thinking about. How can I expect prompt obedience or responses from my children if I can't manage it myself? So I think that will be my starting point.
  • Be vigilant and consistent. I can exercise vigilance by examining my conscience on this point frequently. I can also ask Tevye to be my cheer-leader. Consistency is going to be hard, because of my weakness with self-discipline. Maybe reminding myself that it doesn't take long to form a habit will help. Every time I fail will make it that much harder to establish the habit. Is that enough incentive?
  • Living examples. I have one. Tevye, the king of prompt responses. Angel is pretty good too.
  • Appropriate consequences. What are the consequences of failing to respond promptly? Irritation with myself. An irritated husband. A daughter who thinks her lack of response is acceptable. A toddler who will soon learn that it is OK to prevaricate when asked to do something.
  • Encourage, don't nag. Don't nag myself? I do, you know. I am quite capable of harping on about how irritated with myself I am for failing to do something I know I should have done. So dwell on the positive. Pat myself on the back for my successes and don't dwell on any failures.
Discipline: beginning the process with a toddler

As far as my children are concerned, for now I want to turn my habit-forming attention to Little Cherub, who is right at the beginning of the habit-forming process. So ... where to start with a toddler? "Education Is ..." gives a list of habits to work on. Skimming through the list, I picked out these habits as being particularly applicable to a two year old ...
  • Cleanliness
  • Manners
  • Neatness
  • Generosity (sharing)
  • Obedience
  • Even temper
  • Outdoor life
  • Training the ear and voice (that over-excited toddler screech ...)
A toddler is largely a clean slate. Working with a toddler is about encouraging good habits and nipping bad habits (screeching!) in the bud before they have a chance to develop. At this age I think vigilance and consistency is far more important than anything else. Never allowing an instruction to slip by unheeded; always correcting the screech; cutting short every toddler whine with a distraction ... absolute consistency!

This sounds a near impossibility, but I am noticing that intervention as soon as I notice something undesirable is remarkably effective. Far more so than it would be with an older child. Take that screech. Usually it happens when she is playing with her sisters, who hype her up. The first couple of times I winced but ignored it. Then it dawned on me that I didn't want it to become a habit. The next time she screeched, I got down to her level, told her that the noise hurt my ears and she needed to be quieter ... and the squeal went down several decibels. There was more screeching today when Star pretended (repeatedly) to let Cherub push her over. Much excitement, but this time it only took a gentle reminder to quieten her down ... and she seemed both amused and pleased that she was able to control her own volume.

Distraction is also a particularly useful weapon with toddlers. Walking home with Cherub today she went into a full-scale whine, complaining because she did not want to be strapped into her pushchair. Instead of just waiting for the whine to subside - let's face it, she was strapped and trapped, and I had the upper hand! - I started singing The Wheels on the Bus and encouraged her to choose verses. Instant distraction and some rather surreal verses ("the car on the bus goes vroom! vroom! vroom!").

In contrast to older children and adults, where working one habit at a time is preferable, with toddlers I think it is better to take a broader approach, putting out the sparks of bad habits as soon as they appear and encouraging a number of good habits simultaneously.

I'm looking forward to learning more from Laying Down the Rails, but at least I now have a starting point in my journey towards developing good habits ... a single habit to tackle for myself, and a determination to be thoroughly consistent with Little Cherub.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Stone Soup (Flip Up Fairy Tales) Stone Soup by Jess Stockham

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Little Cherub has a "thing" about stones, so I hunted at the library for books with a stone theme. Stone Soup is a well known story, but one I somehow managed to miss with the older girls. I think in the original tale the travellers who ask for food and are refused are soldiers, but in this young child's version the characters are all animals. The text is rather run-of-the-mill and the story a bit wordy for Cherub, but the lift-the-flap pictures are a big attraction and help to retain her interest until the end. Not a book I am tempted to buy, as once the appeal of the flaps wears off I doubt we would read it again.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Little Jewish History

A colleague of Tevye's recently spent a few days in Budapest, where she discovered an unusual tourist attraction - the Great Synagogue, reputed to be the largest synagogue in Europe, and the second largest in the world. Anticipating Tevye's interest, she brought him back a postcard, and I have been meaning to find out more about it ever since.

Built in the nineteenth century, it is an extraordinary mix of architectural styles (Moorish, Byzantine and Gothic), and is impressive both inside and out. It was badly damaged by bombing in World War II and was restored in the 1990s, with the restoration largely funded by the cosmetics queen, Estée Lauder, herself a Hungarian Jew.

In the early 1940s the Jewish population of Budapest was 246,000, or whom nearly half died in the holocaust. The number of survivors was much higher than elsewhere in Europe because Hungary sided with Germany and was not occupied until March 1944. It was only after this that the Jews of Budapest were forced into a ghetto and subjected to the murderous attentions of the Nazis. Many were protected by the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who issued them with Swedish identity documents. Today the Jewish population of Budapest is around 80,000, the largest Jewish community in eastern Europe.

Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was born in a house next door to the synagogue. The house no longer exists, but the plot is now the site of a Jewish Museum.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Angelina Ballerina Angelina Ballerina by Katharine Holabird

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know how my ballet and dance oriented older daughters managed to miss out on Angelina Ballerina, but this is the first time we have made her acquaintance. Little Cherub was given a boxed set of Angelina books for Christmas, but is only now showing interest ... and Angelina the dancing mouse is right up her street. Dance classes and ballet shoes are familiar from her sisters (though they have outgrown the little pink ballet dress stage), and she has already been brainwashed into expecting that she will learn ballet too. The story is simple - Angelina neglects her daily tasks because she is too busy dancing, until she starts proper ballet lessons, works hard both in and out of ballet, and becomes a proper ballerina. For me the detailed, slightly whimsical illustrations lift the book out of the ordinary.

Simple Woman's Daybook

I have seen this in a few places and have been meaning to join in. This is the first Monday I remembered. Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

For Monday 2nd June

Outside My Window ... my washing is hanging on the line under a very grey, cloudy sky. I'm hoping it will be able to stay there long enough to dry.

I am thinking ... how tempted I am to take a nap, after several nights in a row of Little Cherub waking more than usual and an early start this morning as she was wide awake at 5.45.

I am thankful for ... time to sit with my feet up and blog while Little Cherub naps.

From the kitchen ... a tap dripping slowly into a sink full of water and bleaching cloths. Monday is kitchen cleaning day. The bleach has overridden the smell of yesterday's fresh baked bread. (I'm on an experimental bread making kick.)

I am wearing ... Jeans and a green sweater. A winter sweater. The weather is cool as well as grey and I draw the line at turning on the heating in June.

I am creating ... a summer cardigan and a blue kangaroo for Little Cherub, but I am regretting using cheap acrylic yarn for both and plan to pull them out and start again with something nicer.

I am going ... out tonight to celebrate my neighbour's birthday. Our family and his - four adults and six kids altogether. We are going to a pub by the canal that does carvery meals for £3.50 per person - meat and as many vegetables as you can pile on your plate.

I am reading ... Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence. Except I have got stuck about one-third of the way through.

I am hoping ... I won't fall asleep in my dinner.

I am hearing ... that dripping tap. Wait one minute while I go and stop it before it drives me nuts ... oh blah! It wasn't the tap. It was the overfilled sink dripping through the non-functioning knob that is supposed to operate the plug. Fortunately it must have done the same thing before as there was already a tub in the (broken, unused) cupboard underneath to catch the drips ... I am now hearing beautiful silence.

Around the house ... wet washing. It started to rain and I just had to go on a rescue mission. After our last tumble dryer died we decided we could live without one, so now the washing is spread around various (cold) radiators, the banisters, a drying rack in our bedroom and the (very small) airing cupboard.

One of my favorite things ... nap time when everyone else is out and it is blissfully quiet.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... not many. I may take Little Cherub to the zoo on Thursday as I have a season ticket and want to make as much use of it as possible. It will depend on the weather though. Whipsnade Zoo is very exposed, so if it is hot we fry and if it rains it is truly bleak. Then on Sunday we celebrate Cherub's second birthday. Two years already!

Here is picture thought I am sharing ...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

An Atmosphere, a Discipline, and a Life

After thinking and reading about Montessori and Waldorf for a while, over the last couple of weeks I have been digging my way back into Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy, and realising over again why I have always found it such a wise path.

With great timing, Elizabeth at In the Heart of My Home is proposing a Charlotte Mason conversation, and has kicked it off by talking about education as an atmosphere, a discipline and a life. If you click on the Mister Linky logo at the bottom of her post you will find the other contributions to the conversation (you don't need to add anything yourself to find the links, but they are not showing up on Elizabeth's post). I haven't yet checked out the Simply Charlotte Mason eBooks Elizabeth is delving into, so I'm going to throw into the pot some quotes from Charlotte Mason Reviewed by Jenny King. This is a short book (I re-read it in an hour or so on Thursday) written in the 1970s by a PNEU schoolmistress who trained at Charlotte Mason College in the 1930s. I'm not sure whether this counts as participating in the conversation, or running off at a tangent. Whatever!

Education is an atmosphere

"Charlotte Mason was not in favour of the creation of a special environment for children ... atmosphere is more subtle than environment ... It is the atmosphere of respect and understanding created in the home where the child knows he is wanted and the classroom where he can do what he is able to do.
... To create the right atmosphere we must consider again Charlotte Mason's insistence on the child as a person and not, as can be the case, a pawn in the lives of adults to be pushed around according to whim or inclination.
... It is the attitude of the adults to the children which creates the atmosphere in which they can respond and have room to grow."
I like the distinction between atmosphere and environment. Environment is physical; atmosphere is about attitudes rather than things. A child needs to be nurtured in an atmosphere of respect, where he is treated always as a person and a child of God. There is a contrast here with Montessori, which is also respectful of the child but is far more dependent on physical environment. Although it is possible to create a Montessori environment on a shoestring, it does require a certain amount of "stuff". CM's atmosphere doesn't. What it does require is self-discipline on the part of the parents, always to treat the child fairly, to exercise their God-given authority justly, and to lead by example. Respect for the child does not mean that the child rules the roost - that would simply be an atmosphere of indulgence, which is not at all what CM is about - but it does allow the child a certain amount of freedom to make mistakes and learn from the consequences.

Education is a discipline
"Charlotte Mason expressed the power of habit as being ten times as strong as nature. By nature she meant the natural desires, appetites, affection common to all humans, the sum total of which is called 'human nature'. Every society has its conventions and rules, children must not be left to the devices of human nature but directed along channels of activity by the force of habit. This is not a contradiction to the theory of letting them be but a way of easing their lives so that their attention may be taken up with interesting pursuits and achievement.
... The habit of paying attention to instructions is a case in point. Give simple instructions (one at a time to little children) and ask them to repeat what you have said before they dash off heedless of your intentions.
... The habit of consideration for others is learnt from example as are so many of the graces. This is the area in which we fail our children. We do not insist on the formation of good habits from the very start of life and we so often set a bad example ourselves.
... Charlotte Mason speaks of habits to be formed in every field of the children's lives: cleanliness, obedience, truthfulness, attention to detail. With this theory put into practice not only will human nature be trained, but also inherited traits can be brought under control, whether they are good or bad.
... So the formation of habits can be a liberating force in the life of the growing child, and in no way does it restrict the development of personality. rather it makes it possible for him to make more of himself."
Uh-oh! Habit! I can't pretend I have ever mastered the knack of instilling good habits, so I think I am going to have to tackle Laying Down the Rails: a Charlotte Mason Habits Handwork along with Elizabeth. I'm afraid example is my downfall here. How can we expect a child to have good habits if we don't have them ourselves? Consistently. And I don't. Self discipline is my great weakness, and I get trapped in a cycle of good intentions followed by backsliding.

One thing I have been doing recently is taking care over giving Little Cherub instructions, getting down to her level, making sure she looks me in the eye as I talk, and then checking that she understands. If I do that she will almost always comply - she will try to avoid my eye if she knows I am going to say something she doesn't want to hear, but once she is pinned down to "hearing" me she will follow the instruction.

Education is a life
"Charlotte Mason asks us to look upon the child's mind as a spiritual organism. It is alive and in need of nourishment just as is the physical body. Ideas are the natural diet of the mind. An idea 'strikes' the mind and is absorbed. It then begins to behave like a living cell in the physical body. By thought processes it grows and nourishes the mind. One idea leads to another and so minds make contact with one another. In saying that education is life Charlotte Mason is referring to the living ideas expressed in great works of art, music, and literature and in scientific progress in many fields. For children to effect any satisfactory relationship between their minds and the minds of great men and women they must be brought into direct contact through their works.
... When a child's mind is nourished in this way he becomes knowledgeable, that is, he is put in the way of experiencing what he learns. The faculties of reason, imagination, reflection, and judgement are brought to bear on the matter in hand which becomes part of the life of the child. If these faculties are not stultified by a diet of predigested information and illustrations which leave no scope for the imagination, or the cramming of facts which allow no time for reflection, or reveal the prejudices of the teacher, then the mind of the child will blossom and the intellect flourish.
... Men have spoken of the liberty of the individual conscience and have forgotten that there is such a thing as the liberty of the individual mind to choose or disregard the knowledge provided. Unless it is presented in the form of living ideas most of it will be disregarded."
In other words "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink". Unless something sparks a child's imagination, it will not be internalised. I think it easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we must cover everything when educating our children, when in fact we need to give them a diet of ideas from which they can expand their own knowledge, making it their own as they do so. I liked a point she made elsewhere in the book about visiting a stately home with a child - the parent tends to want to make sure the child sees everything, whereas the child's imagination may be sparked by a single room, or a particular view. Giving them time and space to make that room or view their own, to allow the working of imagination, is more important than seeing everything. For education to be a life, we have to allow time to process ideas. Just because reading one book is good, it doesn't mean that reading two, or three, or four, is better .. an overloaded mind doesn't have room to ponder.