Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 In Pictures

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Cherubisms

Looking out of the door to see a misty morning ... "It's very froggy out there!"

Inspecting the sour cream and chive dip on Star's plate ... "Can I have the same dump as Star, please?"

A cry of distress ... "I can't find my flat change!" That would be the paper money she had been given by a friend to buy Playmobil with. (What does a very girly three year old choose? A recycling truck.)

Noticing the little nativity figures on what had been a Jesse tree ... "It's the people from Bethlehem!"

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snow Snippets

We have had a few days of thoroughly wintery weather, which we rarely get before Christmas. Two or three inches of snow on Thursday night left us snowbound on Friday. Southern England never copes well with snow, as we get significant snow falls too rarely for it to be worth having the equipment to deal with it - no snow shovels, snow blowers, snow chains or anything of that kind here. Mostly people either sit it out at home or slide around in ill equipped cars. Usually the main roads are quite well gritted and salted, but side roads rarely or never see a gritter (hmm ... according to the local council's website they grit 47% of the road network. I'll leave the remaining 53% to your imagination). Our favoured snowy weather tactic is to park our car on the main entrance road to our estate and avoid driving on our snow and ice covered cul-de-sac at all.

A few snow diary notes ...

  • Thursday - came out of a carol concert in a village church to find snow falling and a light covering on the ground. Very atmospheric! Drove home ahead of the snow to find Angel peering out of the window wondering why it still wasn't snowing.
  • Friday - snow day for the older girls as most schools closed. Tevye didn't bother trying to drive into the office - we know from experience that if it is bad here, it is usually worse there. The roads cleared a bit so I ventured out to play carols on a village green. It snowed. Good job brass instruments are quite weather proof. Certain band members discovered tubas are useful for snowball target practice.
  • Saturday - town roads looked OK so we ferried girls backwards and forwards to the gym. Temperatures down to -5 (C). Star's friend made it over in the afternoon and stayed overnight. I made it into town in the evening for another carol concert.
  • Sunday - a little more snow overnight and road conditions much worse. Drove Star's friend as far as the edge of her village and left her to walk the rest of the way (village roads looked nasty!), then drove slowly and cautiously on to Mass. Walked in during the first hymn to find there was no organist. Found that I was the last minute substitute (or should that be later than last minute substitute?)
  • Monday - still cold and icy, but Tevye made it into work. Temperature dropped to -11 (C) at one point during his journey, but had settled at -7 by the time he got to the office ... to find the boiler had gone out and there was no heating. Fortunately someone more technically minded managed to get it going. He left early and was glad he did - by the time he got home it was snowing again. He went straight out again to take Star to a dance class, and just barely made it home as cars struggled to climb the hill on the main road near our house. I walked down later to collect her. By this time there was traffic chaos, with cars slipping and sliding everywhere and a tailback down the hill. Our neighbour took two and a half hours to drive ten miles home from work. Which leaves as at ...
  • Tuesday - a beautiful winter wonderland, and we are going nowhere!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 21st December

Outside My Window ... lovely snow. Not a US style blizzard, but a good coating that has been here for four days now, with no sign of thawing.

I am thinking ... about snowy winters of my childhood. Does anyone else remember ice slides in the school playground?

From the learning rooms ... a snow day for Angel and Star to end their winter term. Cherub's playgroup was still open, which made her happy.

I am thankful ... for central heating. I grew up in a hill top farmhouse without it. Warmth is something I don't take for granted. I am also thankful for good neighbours who have been checking my mother is OK, offering to get her shopping and so on while she is housebound by the snow. My brother and I have been keeping a close eye too, but it is good to know they are looking out for her.

From the kitchen ... supposed to be a cottage pie from the freezer, but I may have extra girls to feed and might have to rethink. Still haven't made those mince pies, and I also need to make some apple pies.

I am wearing ... pink pyjamas, woolly socks, superwarm fluffy blue dressing gown. No need to get dressed early today.

I am creating ... a nearly-done wrap for Mum for Christmas. I'm also hoping to get a hat done for Cherub. The two older girls both want mittens or gloves, but no chance of getting them made this week.

I am going ... to try to get the house clean and organised for Christmas this week. The trouble is I'm not good at converting good intentions into actions. Must. Get. Busy. (And yes, that is what I said last week).

I am reading ... back into a half-finished book on rural history and just started English Catholic Heroines by Joanna Bogle.

I am hoping ... for a white Christmas, to the point of obsessively checking weather forecasts. One is predicting heavy rain on Thursday, another more snow. The last white Christmas I can remember was in the early 80s.

I am hearing ... Peppa Pig.

Around the house ... handmade Christmas decorations  - paper chains and paper snowflakes that the girls have been making. Angel and Cherub have put some on their bedroom doors. Cherub's are all neatly stuck about two feet off the floor which gives a rather unusual effect.

One of my favorite things ... snow.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a bit of last minute shopping and wrapping; our usual Christmas Eve trip to enjoy the Christmas display at Milton Keynes (not the dangling legs!) and eat cake at John Lewis; Christmas Eve carol singing in the town centre (will make a nice change from playing them); morning Mass on Christmas day; Doctor Who Christmas special; lots of cosy family time.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Find instructions and links to othr daybooks at The Simple Woman

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sans Day Carol

I mentioned that I have been enjoying carols from Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band this Advent, and thought it would be fun to share some of the traditional English carols they sing over the next couple of weeks.

First up, the Sans Day Carol, a nineteenth century folk carol that originated at St. Day in Cornwall. Like many old English carols the words embrace the Crucifixion and Resurrection, as well as the nativity ...

1. Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk,
And Mary bore Jesus, who was wrapped up in silk.

Chorus: And Mary bore Jesus Christ our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly!
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly!

2. Now the holly bears a berry as green as the grass,
And Mary bore Jesus, who died on the cross.

3. Now the holly bears a berry as black as the coal,
And Mary bore Jesus, who died for us all.

4. Now the holly bears a berry, as blood is it red,
Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead.

It is best known in this arrangement by John Rutter:

I prefer Maddy Prior's more lively folk music version ..

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Nativity According To Cherub

I got the Playmobil nativity set out today for Cherub. Various snippets overheard since ...

"Stop that, you naughty sheep!"

"They went to Bethlehem ... and the bag was on the tail of the camel."

("Reading" from the Nativity story booklet - in German - included in the box) "The baby was born ... and then the shepherds went back to the fields."

(Singing) "They see'd a star
And came from far ..."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'Tis The Season ...

... of odd Christmas decorations.

First, there was the foil wrapped pub. The whole place was like this - every exposed beam that could be wrapped, was wrapped. The limitations of my phone meant I couldn't get a more panoramic picture, but take it from me, the overall effect was decidedly unusual. Perhaps someone needed to find a use for a job lot of turkey foil. Or maybe they had an obsession with shiny things. On the whole, I think turkey foil is better kept for turkeys.

Then there were the dangling legs in a nearby shopping centre (the one Cherub thinks is the name of a month, not the one where Dorothy got tangled up with an armed robbery). Not just any old dangling legs, but animated, kicking legs.

Over the last two weekends I spent six hours playing carols right next to the legs, but in the end still couldn't decide what they were meant to be. The giant from Jack and the Beanstalk trying to escape by climbing into a cloud? (The odd green thing underneath is definitely a beanstalk, though in the picture it looks rather dragon-like.) Father Christmas disappearing into a puff of smoke? Father Christmas being swallowed by a giant brain? Who knows!

Any interesting Christmas decorations in your part of the world?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 14th December

Outside My Window ...  more dampness, though it is supposed to turn colder this week and we may even get some snow. I'll believe it when I see it!

I am thinking ... of new musical adventures. I'm going to try playing a new instrument with the brass band after all the Christmas events are over. Scroll down to the end to see what the New Year has in store.

From the learning rooms ... last week of school and playgroup before Christmas. 

I am thankful ... for good health. I have felt so much better recently. After feeling old, tired and under the weather for months, whatever I had (something post-viral, maybe?) has shifted. Getting off the sofa has stopped feeling an effort, and I can even run upstairs again :).

From the kitchen ... pasta, pesto and creme fraiche for dinner. Mince pies to make sometime this week.

I am wearing ... dark blue jeans, red shirt with floral trim, cosy handknitted red socks.

I am creating ... a snuggly knitted wrap for my mother - hoping to get it done for Christmas, but as I only started it this morning that may be optimistic. I finished my brother's sweater, though.

I am going ... to try to get the house clean and organised for Christmas this week. The trouble is I'm not good at converting good intentions into actions. Must. Get. Busy.

I am reading ... not much. I have a pile of books on hand, but have been too busy pottering with local history research to get stuck into them.

I am hoping ... the doctors can work out what is wrong with J-next-door, who hasn't been well for the past few months - she has no energy and has had a number of scary passing out episodes. Nothing has shown up so far on the battery of tests and scans she has had. Prayers for her appreciated.

I am hearing ... Cherub talking to a Playmobil fairy.

Around the house ... girls' bedrooms so messy I don't even want to look through the doors.

One of my favorite things ... my MacBook. Can't imagine life without it.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... the culmination of a manic brass band Christmas schedule: Thursday, scouts' carol service; Friday, carols on the village green; Saturday, Christmas concert; Sunday, carols at a social club. Cherub has a playgroup Christmas party on Wednesday, but will probably decide it is too scary and she would rather stay at home. She has already decided singing Christmas songs in front of an audience of parents tomorrow is not for her.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Find instructions and links to othr daybooks at The Simple Woman

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Morning After the Night Before

What happens when a three year old has a bad night and no nap the next day? She sleeps so deeply the next night that she misses bladder signals, that's what.

Quarter past five in the morning is my least favourite time to get up and change toddler beds and pyjamas, as it is too early to want to wake up, but too late to be able to get back to sleep. Ugh.

She still brightens my day with Cherubisms, though, even through the sleep-deprivation fog. Today she brought home a calendar she had made at playgroup. Talking about the calendar led to a discussion of months of the year. What months did she know? ... December ... and June ... and Aylesbury. I explained that Aylesbury is a place, not a month, but she was clearly not convinced!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Night Duty

Between 10.30pm and 1.30am last night I ...

  • applied Vicks Vapour Rub to coughing child
  • checked child's peak flow
  • gave foot rub to insomniac child
  • tucked up grumpy insomniac child
  • comforted crying child and tucked her up in her own bed
  • comforted crying child and tucked her up in my bed (child stopped crying)
  • put child back in her own bed (child started crying)
  • gave Nurofen to child complaining of hurting knee
  • gave hungry child a cheesestring
  • drank mug of Horlicks
  • watched one episode of Little Princess and three of Peppa Pig
  • put child back to bed
  • gave up on trying to sleep and curled up on sofa with laptop
  • went upstairs to give child drink of water (twice)
  • managed not to lose patience
  • dozed off on sofa
Sometimes I want a job with regular hours.

    Monday, December 07, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 7th December

    Outside My Window ... wet, windy, leaden skies. So much for December.

    I am thinking ... of things I need to do before Christmas.

    From the learning rooms ... Cherub is practicing Christmas songs for playgroup, which she may or may not deign to perform before an audience of parents. I would bet on not.  

    I am thankful ... for umbrellas, the great British year-round accessory.

    From the kitchen ... turkey steaks, broccoli and some sort of frozen fries or wedges.

    I am wearing ... greenish-brown trousers, green and cream striped top, multicoloured striped socks.

    I am creating ... knitted Christmas presents. Sweater for my brother almost done, one sock for Angel almost done.

    I am going ... to get lunch for Cherub and myself at the supermarket cafe. It will save time and I want something more warming than our usual lunchtime sandwich.

    I am reading ... Reshaping Rural England: a Social History 1850-1925 by Alun Howkins.

    I am hoping ... for frost and snow at Christmas, not wind and rain.

    I am hearing ... Cherub singing "I'm a little snowman" to herself.

    Around the house ... lots of wrapped Christmas presents, hidden away in various places.

    One of my favorite things ... gingerbread latte.

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... orthodontist with Angel to get her braces fitted on her top teeth; Tevye's office Christmas meal; more brass band carol playing at the weekend.

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... on this week's to-do list ...

    (C) Musical Linguist; Wikimedia Commons
    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Friday, December 04, 2009

    Don't Panic, We're British

    Cherub and I went Christmas shopping yesterday. Clearly, we picked the right day ... unlike my friend Dorothy who went to the same shopping mall on Tuesday and managed to get tangled up with an armed robbery. Oops.

    The odd thing - apart from hearing gunshots in North Buckinghamshire on a December Tuesday, that is - was the reaction of the shoppers to the sound of shooting. They either went towards the incident to see what was going on, or simply carried on shopping (while diving for their mobile phones, presumably to provide a running commentary to their nearest and dearest) ...  

    The newspaper reports people running and screaming. This is SO not true that I wondered if the reporter had felt they HAD to write that just to make the story more exciting? No one ran. No one screamed. Most people just went on shopping. Even when BHS drew down their metal shutters, people were knocking politely on them trying to get in to buy their mum some slippers for Christmas.
    She wonders "British reaction in the face of threat - sanguine unflappability or complacent stupidity?" What do you think? As it turned out, they were firing blanks, though that wasn't apparent at the time.

    As for me, I'm fairly certain that I would have carried on shopping, due to a combination of slow reaction time, appalling lack of observation skills, and a dash of stupidity. By the time I worked out what was going on, it would have been long over. 

    Thursday, December 03, 2009

    Little Miss Stubborn

    That's our Cherub. She outdid herself this week after a minor snatching and sharing (or not!) incident with Best Friend N on Tuesday. When I told her to say sorry, she dug in her cute little heels  and refused. Consequence: I sent her to sit on the stairs until she was ready to apologise.

    Two hours later ... and there she still sat. Different stairs by this time - the episode started at Grandma's, and after 40 minutes we walked home and took up again where we left off - but one small Cherub was still determined not to give in.

    By now we were running out of time and options. We had alternately ignored and coaxed. N, bless him, had done his best to persuade her ("just whisper it in my ear, and then we can play ... nobody else has to hear"), but she was having none of it. Finally, we found a way out of the impasse. Cherub offered to write sorry**. N, who by this time really, really wanted to play, accepted gladly. With a bit of help - another minor battle here, as she insists she can both read and spell, determinedly disregarding all evidence to the contrary - she produced "Sorry N. xxxx Cherub" (the fourth kiss at N's insistence, after Cherub suggested three!).

    Honour satisfied all round. But honestly ... two hours? Angel was very similar as a small child, another stubborn apology-hater, but when we had the exact same battle with her she was a little older and only managed to hang out for an hour. Yikes. What next?

    ** Don't be over impressed by this or imagine we are going in for early academics. She can write the letters in her own name plus a couple of others, all self taught. All three girls have been naturally early writers - Angel was writing more, earlier, and bizarrely went through a stage where she could write and spell simple words she couldn't read. I think it is mainly a function of them all having good fine motor control and hand-eye coordination.

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 30th November

    Outside My Window ... Cold, grey, wet, miserable. Goodbye November. And good riddance.

    I am thinking ...  I should delete this section as I can never think what to put!

    From the learning rooms ... stuff I've seen over the last few days - Pythagoras theorem and tangent ratios (Angel), forces (Star), comparison of 17th and 20th century love poetry (Angel), World War I poetry (Star) 

    I am thankful ... that I managed to get Star + ingredients for cookery lesson + PE kit + cleaned trainers + ballet gear + lunch + money for chips on the way to ballet together and off to school on time without anyone melting down.

    From the kitchen ... pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs for dinner.

    I am wearing ... purple long-sleeved t-shirt, jeans, warm socks.

    I am creating ... knitted Christmas ornament for a swap, along with the same list as last week.

    I am going ... to dig out my collection of Christmas picture books for Cherub today.

    I am reading ... Reshaping Rural England: a Social History 1850-1925 by Alun Howkins.

    I am hoping ... the bout of back pain Tevye has been suffering for the last few weeks clears.

    I am hearing ... Christmas carols by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band. Happy place music. Check out their version of Ding Dong, Merrily on High on iTunes and try not to dance.

    Around the house ... Advent wreath, Jesse tree, Advent calendars. Also dust, carpets that need hoovering, a laundry backlog, toys and clutter. Blah.

    One of my favorite things ... Advent, which for me is a mix of preparation, anticipation, and appetite whetting Christmassy things (like those carols!).

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a meal at a canalside pub with our neighbours on Friday; playing carols with the brass band at local shopping centres on Saturday and Sunday

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... a very happy Star who took part in her first ever gymnastics competition (beginner level) at the weekend and won.

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Friday, November 27, 2009

    From the Records: Deaf and Dumb

    I thought I'd start a series of "from the records" posts to pass on any interesting snippets I find as I trawl through the archives. Before I start, I had better give my village a name - I don't want to use the real name as it is a little too close to home, so I think I'll call it "Bucksbury" to denote a random village in Buckinghamshire. Not very imaginative, but it will do.

    The 19th century census records have space to indicate whether an individual is deaf and dumb, blind, an imbecile, or insane. Today I noticed a young family living in Bucksbury in 1871 - mother, father, and two boys aged three and one, both deaf and dumb from birth. I wondered about the prognosis for a child born deaf in those days. I guessed it wasn't good.

    As it turned out, I was too pessimistic. When I searched later census records for the boys I found that they both did fine. In 1881 the older boy, Arthur, was being educated at an asylum for poor deaf and dumb children at Margate in Kent - a new branch of the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, the first English charitable institution for the deaf, dating back to 1792. It is still in existence as the Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate. By 1891 Arthur was back in Bucksbury with his family and working for his father, who at that time was combining the trades of baker and carpenter.  By 1901 Arthur was a carpenter and wheelwright in a town close to Bucksbury. He was married and had a two year old son, Bernard. Like Arthur, his wife Alice was deaf and dumb; Bernard was not.

    I couldn't find the second brother, William, on the 1881 census. He wasn't living at home, so my guess he was also receiving special education for the deaf. In 1891 he was lodging with a middle aged widow and her children and working as a farm labourer. By 1901 he was married with three young children, living in the same town as his brother, and working for a coach painter. His wife and children were all able to hear.

    Arthur and William's parents went on to have at least eight more children, all hearing apart from the youngest, Percy, born twenty-seven years after his eldest brother and like him deaf and dumb from birth. Presumably there was a genetic reason for the three boys' deafness, though whether it appeared in other generations of the family, I don't know. None of their father William's siblings were deaf, but I couldn't trace their mother's family.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Historical Research

    Realising how excited I felt about the idea of getting back to teaching history got me all enthusiastic about doing some historical research again - something I haven't done since I finished my doctoral thesis, back before Star was born. I wanted a project. Something big enough to get my teeth into, but not so big it would be overwhelming.

    My background is medieval history, and my doctoral research was a study of twelfth and thirteenth century knights. When I finished I planned on starting more work in the same field, and decided to translate and edit a thirteenth century cartulary (book of charters). I even had it photocopied, at some expense. The copy has sat gathering dust, untouched for the past ten years. I thought rather guiltily about picking that up again, but decided against on two grounds: to produce an academic edition I would need to spend a fair amount of time doing research in London or Oxford-based libraries and archives, which isn't practical; and even if it was, I can't summon up the enthusiasm to immerse myself in medieval Latin.

    So, back to the drawing board and a change of direction. Another interest of mine is local history, which has the advantage of being ... well ... local. Doing research in either the local library or the county records office twenty minutes away is far more manageable.  Rural history interests me more than the towns, as that is my family background - lots of Victorian farm labourers in my family tree - and I have a fair idea of what information is available from doing genealogy research. Once I started to thinking along these lines I realised I had an obvious subject - the parish where I lived in as a child, just a couple of miles away from our home. 

    A few years ago I dabbled a little in house history, trying to find out what I could about the seventeenth century farmhouse where I grew up. I wasn't very successful, but in digging around at the record office I found an unusually detailed map of the area dating from the late eighteenth century. This thing is huge, measuring around six feet by four feet - table sized - and shows who farmed every single strip of land before the common fields were enclosed.  Add this map (and some other estate papers) to the more commonly available records like censuses and parish registers, and there is a lot of material to work with.

    My plan is to put together a "prosopographical" study of the parish, starting in the mid-eighteenth century and ending after the First World War. Prosopography is a historical technique best explained as "group biography". It is a way of looking at the mass of people from the past for whom there simply isn't enough information to put together an individual biography. Collecting and analysing data about a defined group makes it possible to piece together a kind of collective biography that can then be used to answer particular historical questions. Similar methods can be used to look at very different groups, and it should work just as well for nineteenth century villagers as for medieval knights.

    Although I am going to look at a specific local area, it isn't really local history as such, as the point of this type of study is eventually to be able to put the results into a wider historical context and answer - or at least help to answer - bigger questions. That means a ton of background reading to really understand the context. To start with, though, it means lots of nitty-gritty data collecting and organising. Which is why I have spent the past couple of weeks copying census records into spreadsheets. Although my family suspect borderline insanity, it makes me happy, in a slightly masochistic sort of way (2,500 entries down, another 1,000 to go, and that's just for starters).

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 23rd November

    Outside My Window ... Yes. Grey, wet and miserable again. November at its worst.

    I am thinking ...

    From the learning rooms ... parent-teacher meetings for Angel this week, following last week's fairly predictable report - English better than maths, graphics teacher thinks she is wonderful, science not great.  

    I am thankful ... for online supermarket shopping, which has helped me out of a time crunch this week.

    From the kitchen ... frozen meat pie and mashed potatoes tonight, with whatever veggie I can find. It's one of those running out of food, scrape together whatever I can days.

    I am wearing ... green striped hoody, cord trousers that are meant to be "stone" but are actually more of a khaki green, brown socks (not hand-knitted).

    I am creating ... the same as last week - a jumper for my brother, a long cardigan for myself and socks for Angel.

    I am going ... to IKEA with an old school friend, after I collect Cherub from playgroup.

    I am reading ... Reshaping Rural England: a Social History 1850-1925 by Alun Howkins.

    I am hoping ... the rain stops soon, especially in the north where there is severe flooding

    I am hearing ... silence, apart from a little noise from the dishwasher.

    Around the house ... no tumble dryer + wet weather = laundry drying everywhere.

    One of my favorite things ... Dime bars and Swedish cinnamon rolls from IKEA. Yum.

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a gymnastics weekend. Star is taking part in a friendly competition on Saturday (her first), and Angel is competing on Sunday.

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... found on the memory card of my dead camera

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    That Job Application

    I mentioned the job application I sent in, but never got round to explaining it. I wasn't actually looking for a job, just clicking around the internet wondering about the possibilities for part time work once Cherub is at school ... and in the process I stumbled across a couple of Open University courses that looked right up my street to teach and had vacancies for tutors.

    The Open University is exactly what it says. Open to anyone, of any age, to study anywhere. All its courses are taught by correspondence (and increasingly online), with occasional local face to face tutorials where possible. Until a few years ago I taught medieval history part time at a university college that only takes older students wanting to combine part time study with work or family responsibilities. All its classes were held in the evenings which meant I could both homeschool and teach. When I saw the OU vacancies listed I remembered how much I had enjoyed teaching non-traditional students and decided to send in an application. As I would be able to work from home, largely in my own time, I should be able to juggle tutoring around family responsibilities if I end up getting offered the job.

    As it turns out, applying for OU tutoring appears to be a long game. Applications disappear into a database, and are only considered when or if a potential tutor's skills and location match up with student numbers and locations. This suits me fine, as my ideal would be to get work later rather than sooner - next year would be manageable, but the year after next would be much better. In theory, my experience matches the job requirements exactly, so I'm hopeful that something will come up eventually if I sit tight and wait. Watch this space ... but don't expect anything to happen quickly!

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Advent? Don't Panic!

    If you want to spend Advent preparing to celebrate the real reason for Christmas, go and read my friend Karen's No Panic Advent Series.


    Best Friends

    Cherub has a best friend. We call them the Odd Couple as they are such an unlikely combination. N is almost five and loves cars; Cherub is not quite three and a half and loves fairies and princesses. They met when Cherub first started playgroup back in January and for some reason took an instant liking to each other, despite Cherub being the youngest and smallest and N being one of the oldest and about to move on to "big" school.

    This term N's mum's working hours changed and he comes to us after school on Tuesdays, which makes Cherub very happy.  It makes us very happy too as he is a lovely little boy and we enjoy watching them together. They play ... and play ... and play ... very cooperatively, apart from the occasional sharing crisis. 

    Yesterday I took them to the farm, where they stroked rabbits ...

    And played crazy golf ...

    Sort of ...

    And walked off into the sunset, holding hands ...

    The cutest thing is that N is very protective of Cherub. For instance, in the car park yesterday, he heard a car engine start up, grabbed Cherub's hand and pulled her towards our car to make sure she was safe. He is also good at complimenting her pretty dresses!

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 16th November

    Outside My Window ... Dark. Wet. Yuck.

    I am thinking ... I must write our Christmas newsletter. Tevye had a good idea for this year's theme, but I've forgotten what it was. I hope he can remember!

    From the learning rooms ..."cookery" for Star today, or should I say "food preparation". They are making sandwiches. Beef salad baguettes for tomorrow's lunch is the plan.

    I am thankful ... for central heating. I grew up in a house without it, so don't take it for granted. I still remember just how hard it was to force myself to get out of a nice, warm bed into an unheated bedroom. Brrrrr!

    From the kitchen ... not sure what is for dinner tonight. I'm hoping inspiration will hit when I get to the supermarket. Also, Cherub is hoping to cook fairy cakes (little cupcakes) with pink icing.

    I am wearing ... pink pyjamas

    I am creating ...a jumper* for my brother, a long cardigan for myself and socks for Angel. I finished the shawl I was knitting for my mother but don't like the end result, so I think I will scrap it and knit her a scarf instead.
    * If you are confused as to why he would be wearing a jumper, it is British English for sweater

    I am going ... shopping this morning while Cherub is at playgroup. I'm almost done with Christmas shopping, but have a surprise present for the older girls to get. I also have authorisation from Santa to buy a camera. Lucky me.

    I am reading ... Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson, about the "surplus women" left with no men to marry after the First World War.

    I am hoping ... Tevye will forgive me for ordering that gorgeous Jesse Tree. I tried to resist, I really did, but it was just too perfect. And no, I don't know what I am going to do with the original spiral tree.

    I am hearing ... CBeebies autumn jingle on the TV, which is mercifully distracting Cherub from a 20 minute whine about the injustice of being sent back to bed at 6.15. She knows she isn't allowed to get up until the "hands are at the bottom" (6.30), but thought she would push her luck this morning. Then when it was time to get up, she decided to stay in her room and sulk. Loudly. Last week was a boundary pushing week. It looks ominously as though this will be another.

    Around the house ... nice new bright(er) eco lightbulbs, at ridiculous expense. They still don't come on instantly, but after a bit of effort they work their way up to something resembling a good old-fashioned 100w bulb.

    One of my favorite things ... my iPod Touch. Even after two years, the novelty hasn't worn off.

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a quiet week, I think. I haven't checked the calendar, though, so chances are there will be something I have forgotten!

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Kitchen Update

    Today's minor disaster ... set fire to the oven glove I was using to hold the handle of a pan. No injuries. Also no oven glove.

    7 Quick Takes

    This week seems to lend itself to quick takes ...

    1. Tevye the Compensation King won another small skirmish in his personal war against corporate Britain. A certain large supermarket provided "seedless" grapes that weren't. He is now in possession of a letter of profuse apology and a £5 gift card. I only suggested he should try to get some free grapes.

    2. Tevye gains, I lose. I got engrossed in the library and clean forgot I was out of time on my car park ticket.  Result: a £25 parking fine. Groan.

    3. Kitchen disaster number 1 ... a bottle of vinegar fell out of a cupboard and into a jug of gravy, which went flying, mostly over the floor but also over my hand. Fortunately it was only a very minor scald - stung for a day or so, but that was all. Also fortunately, nobody else was in the way. Moral: be more careful about putting things away tidily and not just shoving them in any old how.

    4. Kitchen disaster number 2 ... I managed to dislodge one of the door shelves in the fridge, sending an (unopened, bah!) bottle of wine crashing to the floor. Glass and wine everywhere. Then I managed to get a small splinter of glass in my hand - the other one - and bled over Henry as I hoovered up the remnants (what other vacuum could even swallow broken glass without wincing?). Moral: keep bottles of wine lower down.

    5. Yesterday was one of those days. I was tired, and three year olds are hard work, especially when they are trying to assert themselves. And there was the wine disaster. And constant interruptions. Enough said. 

    6. Cherub these days is very insistent that she is BIG. This despite the fact that she is still built on a very small scale, and is barely an inch taller than my friend's almost two year old. If anyone makes the mistake of calling her a little girl, she is most indignant. 

    7. Cherubism of the week ... practicing hopping with much concentration but little success ... "Hopping is very difficult. I'll learn to hop when I am older. I think maybe when I am eleven-teen."

    You can find more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Jesse Tree

    Since Angel was little we have set up a Jesse Tree for Advent - not quite every year, but most. For several years we used a large branched twig sprayed silver, until it got too old and tatty. Since then we have made do with a small artificial Christmas tree, but I have wanted to find something different, something that would show up the ornaments more clearly. Finally, this year, I found this silver spiral tree in John Lewis, which I thought would work nicely. I bought it, and patted myself on the back for being ahead of the game. 

    Then a couple of weeks after buying the spiral, I spotted this in the Lakeland catalogue, which would have been truly perfect! Don't you think it has "Jesse Tree" written all over it?

    Ah well! Maybe next year.

    Monday, November 09, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 9th Novemb

    Outside My Window ... grey, foggy November.

    I am thinking ... of how to kill time while Tevye is at a medical appointment this afternoon. The river and park is not looking good in this weather.

    From the learning rooms ... chemistry project for Angel on oil refining and petrochemicals. Not her favourite subject.

    I am thankful ... Tevye took Cherub to playgroup this morning so I could whizz round the supermarket after the school run.

    From the kitchen ... plans for German food for our pot luck international dinner with our neighbours on Friday. I've never cooked German food before. Should be interesting.

    I am wearing ... jeans, blue striped long sleeved top, blue hand knitted socks.

    I am creating ... Christmas presents. Concentrating on a shawl and socks at the moment.

    I am going ... to try to teach my brother to play the trombone. This will be something of a challenge as I had never tried a trombone myself until yesterday.

    I am reading ... nothing. I have hit a book hiatus. 

    I am hoping ... I can transcribe lots of census records during a two week free trial with Ancestry.

    I am hearing ... Cherub singing "Five little men in a baker's shop ... eating her curds and whey".  Interesting conflation of nursery rhymes

    Around the house ...laundry. Again. Sometimes I think my life is dominated by laundry.

    One of my favorite things ...  fresh, crusty bread

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... ophthalmologist for Tevye today (I have to drive him because of the drops they put in his eyes); dental appointments; potluck international dinner with neighbours on Friday (our turn to host); family meal at Dragon City (Chinese buffet) on Sunday.

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Sunday, November 08, 2009

    Remembrance Day

    These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
    Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
    The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
    And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
    These had seen movement, and heard music; known
    Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
    Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
    Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.
    Rupert Brooke

    All the more poignant this year with so many young men dying in Afghanistan.

    Thursday, November 05, 2009

    Bonfire Night

    • Wrapping up in winter coats and warm woollies to go out on a damp November night
    • Spending time with old friends
    • Eating hot dogs and sausages
    • A blazing bonfire
    • Ear muffs to soften the bangs for a nervous three year old
    • A three year old realising she likes fireworks ("Look! Fairy dust!")
    • Coming home to a warm house
    • Eating a large bag of hot chips (fries) in our pyjamas

    Wednesday, November 04, 2009

    Application Forms

    In the past couple of weeks I have filled in two application forms ... one to apply for a school place for Cherub, and one to apply for tutoring work with the Open University.

    So, school for Cherub. We originally intended to home educate her, at least for a while, but having the older girls in school probably made it inevitable we would end up considering school for her too. And once we did start to seriously consider it, the choice was an easy one. Although I enjoyed home educating Angel and Star, homeschooling is hard work. After eight years my energy and enthusiasm were drained, and I'm not sure I could motivate myself to start over with the high level of interaction I think Cherub would need if she stayed home on her own. Balanced against that we have a very good school option, right on our doorstep.

    Back in the summer, Cherub and I went to look round the school. We both loved it. The headmistress is exceptional, and over the eight years she has been there has transformed it from the run-of-the-mill, rather stodgy place it was when Angel was Cherub's age. The most recent OFSTED (government inspection) report judged it outstanding, not just overall, but in every single aspect they assessed. I could see why.

    In the UK children usually start school at four, and depending on their birth date some are at school full time soon after their fourth birthday. With her summer birthday Cherub could be one of them, and being stuck in a formal classroom all day at four and a bit is not what I would want for her. The early years unit at this school is a whole different ballgame. Children are introduced to school slowly, with two terms of part time school before they start full time in the term they turn five. The way the unit works is very similar to the way I would home educate at that age, with short lessons (in small groups) slotted into lots of free play and informal learning. I'm sure Cherub will love it.

    More about the other application later.

    Monday, November 02, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 2nd November

    Outside My Window ... a beautiful, bright autumn morning.

    I am thinking ... about a local history research project that is poking its way into my mind.

    From the learning rooms ... playgroup for Cherub today, but the older girls have a teacher training day and are not back at school until tomorrow.

    I am thankful ... for online grocery shopping with free delivery when I have been too disorganised to go to the supermarket. I'm not sure why Waitrose are currently giving me free delivery, but I'm taking advantage of it while it lasts.

    From the kitchen ... cottage pie for dinner.

    I am wearing ... khaki cord trousers, cream sweater and stripey handknitted socks.

    I am creating ... a cardigan-coat for myself, a shawl for Mum for Christmas, and a dress for Cherub. Then I have more presents to knit for Christmas - a sweater for my brother, socks for Angel, and a penguin for Star's collection. Star also wants me to make her a knitted nail varnish bottle. Huh? 

    I am going ... to enjoy getting back into our normal routine this week. School holidays are fun, but the lack of routine means grocery shopping, menu planning, laundry and housework all goes to pot.

    I am reading ... still Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. 

    I am hoping ... nothing else will break this week. Last week it was the phone and my camera. The week before it was Tevye's electric shaver. The gremlins have been out in force here.

    I am hearing ... Angel at the computer working on homework, otherwise everything is quiet.

    Around the house ... last week's autumn flowers still going strong.

    One of my favorite things ... libraries. I love libraries.

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a firework display on Bonfire Night (Thursday); playing at Remembrance Day services with the brass band on Sunday.

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... I'm hoping that Father Christmas may manage to bring me something like this. I miss my camera.

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Sunday, November 01, 2009

    Fallen Off The Meme Wagon

    I mention that my posting seems to be mostly Mr Linky memes and what happens? I promptly fall off the meme wagon.

    I'm afraid Corner View is on hold for a while so far as I am concerned, due to circumstances beyond my control ... namely, a dead camera. It makes hopeful clicky-whirry noises when I turn it on, but the effort to push out the lens and open the lens cover is too much for it. It is old, its battery performance has been deteriorating fast, and it certainly isn't worth fixing. So no camera, no corner view. At least I know what I want Father Christmas to bring. (Are you listening, Father C?)

    And when I started to write 7 Quick Takes on Friday, my brain froze. I am apparently no longer capable of seven coherent thoughts in one week. So, for the time being at least, I'm going back to random blog posts. I've been short of ideas lately, and maybe that will make me push my way past writer's block.

    Thursday, October 29, 2009


    Cherub has been battling valiantly with the English language this week. Here are some Cherubic-English translations ...

    Hairphones = headphones

    Tin oil = cling film (plastic wrap). Some confusion with foil there, I think.

    Chocolate liver = chopped liver (Jewish version of liver pate)

    Clock father = grandfather clock

    Mattress = match (as in "you need a mattress to light the candle")

    Crack! = Snap!

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 26th October

    Outside My Window ... night time, dark by six now the clocks have changed.

    I am thinking ... of a job application for part-time tutoring I sent off today. It would be flexible and mostly working from home.

    From the learning rooms ... half term.

    I am thankful ... for a replacement dishwasher. The new one we got in June developed a recurring fault. I had forgotten how much more effort it takes to wash everything by hand.

    From the kitchen ... pizza for a houseful of girls - both Angel and Star have friends sleeping over.

    I am wearing ... dark blue jeans, striped top and hand knitted socks.

    I am creating ... several things at once. I realised Christmas is only two months away if I wanted to make some knitted gifts I needed to get started.

    I am going ... to take Star and her friend on a shopping expedition tomorrow. Angel is Cherub-sitting as Cherub + Shops = Chaos + Frazzled Mother

    I am reading ... Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. 

    I am hoping ... that if this job application comes to anything, it will be the right amount of work and not too much.

    I am hearing ... Tevye watching TV. The girls are temporarily quiet.

    Around the house ... autumn flowers. Yellow, orange and rust-coloured chrysanthemums.

    One of my favorite things ... fresh bagels from a Jewish deli. A rare treat as Bedfordshire doesn't have Jewish delis.

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a trip to buy Angel new pointe shoes, band rehearsals (Christmas music already!). Not much else on the calendar. 

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... kung fu Cherub

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    7 Quick Takes

    1. Almost all my blogging lately seems to be part of one these Mr Linky memes: Simple Woman's Daybook, Corner View and these Quick Takes. Partly because they provide me with a kind of bloggy discipline of the "it's Monday, so I need to write my daybook" variety; partly because I'm short of ideas, and find it difficult to come up with more than seven thoughts in a week! I want to get back to posting more book reviews. Other than that, are there any types of post or topics that you, dear readers, would like to see more of?

    2. Over the past eighteen months or so I have almost totally fallen off my ethical shopping and eating LOAF plan (local, organic, animal friendly and fairtrade). And to think that two years ago I was doing so well. Two books I read while we were away have spurred me to try to get back on the wagon - Confessions of an Eco-Shopper by Kate Lock, and Spotted Pigs and Green Tomatoes: a Year in the Life of Our Farm by Rosie Boycott. Both were random library finds, but turned out to have connected content. This week I ordered an organic vegetable box for the first time in a year. Small steps.

    3. LOAFER or not, there is one eco-thing I despise with a passion. Energy-saving light bulbs. Hate 'em. I like bright light, and the wretched eco-bulbs we have are slow to warm up and don't match the light output of the old (now banned) 100w bulbs. I'm considering trying out a couple of these Ecozone Biobulbs in the lights that bug me most, but the thought of spending £10 on a single light bulb is not a happy one.

    4. As the mother of three gymnastics-loving girls it was wonderful to see two British gymnasts win medals at the World Championships in London. Beth Tweddle's tumbling in her gold medal floor routine was superb. Watch it here.

    5. We used to laugh at Angel and Star using instant messenger to communicate with A- and J-Next-Door on instant messenger. Now Tevye and I find ourselves chatting to A- and K-Next-Door on Facebook. Oops.

    6. Cherubism of the week: one morning she was a little constipated and I explained that she hadn't been drinking enough or eating enough fruit. How many drinks and how many fruits did she need, she wanted to know. Five, I said, randomly, and thought no more about it. That evening on the way to her bath and before bed toilet trip she turned back, wanting a drink. As I gave it to her she wanted to know if she had had her five drinks for the day. Almost, I thought. She carefully counted five sips of water, then announced triumphantly "I will poo easily now!"

    7. Definitive proof of my horticultural inadequacy: I caught myself looking at a bunch of artificial flowers and wondering why they were not dead yet.

    You can find more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Corner View: My Dream

    My dream? To live in the far west of Cornwall.

    With beautiful beaches ...

    A private library ...

    Grey stone houses ...

    And pirates ...
    ETA: This was maybe a little cryptic - the area is famous for some light operatic pirates. No real ones! The pirate boat below is a gift shop, I think.

    For more corner views visit Dana in Italy, who is playing host while Jane of Spain Daily is away.

    Next week's theme: water.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 19th October

    Outside My Window ... dark. The longer nights are my least favourite thing about autumn. There are high winds and rain forecast for the rest of the week.

    I am thinking ... of a list of things I want to accomplish today: a walk; a trip into town to post a parcel (hopefully it will beat the postal strike scheduled for the end of the week); a good long session reading to Cherub (we have got out of the habit lately); baking with Cherub; clearing out the boxes in the hall that hold Cherub's shoes and a jumble of scarves, gloves, rainwear, umbrellas and miscellaneous clutter.

    From the learning rooms ... a couple of belated subject reports for Star from last year (both teachers were absent for a time), including a very complimentary one from her art teacher. Catch up GCSE work for Angel after our week away.

    I am thankful ... for my car. After fourteen years of only having a car for a couple of days a week it is such a luxury to be able to hop into the car and go whenever I want.

    From the kitchen ... chicken pie and root vegetable mash for dinner, and I'm planning to make these banana and chocolate buns with Cherub this afternoon.

    I am wearing ... silly pink pyjamas.

    I am creating ... a little turquoise dress for Cherub, for which I have a sneaky feeling I am not going to have enough yarn. Ack!

    I am going ... to try to get into the habit of going for a walk every day.

    I am reading ... nothing. I just finished Confessions of an Eco-Shopper by Kate Lock (holiday reading), and haven't started anything else yet.

    I am hoping ... that by planning a list of three to five specific things I want to achieve each day I will accomplish more.

    I am hearing ... silence. Tevye has left for work and the girls are all still sleeping. One advantage of darker mornings is that Cherub sleeps longer.

    Around the house ... the inevitable post-holiday laundry backlog.

    One of my favorite things ... Costa Coffee's gingerbread latte.

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a routine week, a shopping trip with Angel on Saturday, and a trip down to Essex to visit Tevye's parents' graves on Sunday (we try to go once a year).

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... I have been taking part in my first knitting swap, with a "Something Blue" theme - everyone taking part had to knit something in blue for the person below them on the swap list, and make up a parcel with some extra treats (maximum spend including yarn to be £10). This is what was in the lovely package I received from my swap partner. The little beaded things in the corner are stitch markers, and the scarf has silver thread running through it that doesn't show up in the picture.

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Wednesday, October 07, 2009

    Corner View: Typical Souvenir

    This week's subject is "a typical souvenir of your city", which is a tricky one. Our medium sized market town doesn't do souvenirs, unless you count the handful of postcards available at the library. It isn't famous for anything in particular, and doesn't have any major tourist attractions ... but after a little thought I found two souvenirs for you.

    (1) The Borrowers by Mary Norton, written in and based on a house in the town (now a middle school)

    (2) Some traditional canal art ... the Grand Union Canal runs through the town, and there is an annual canal festival in August.

    Visit Spain Daily for more corner views. Next week's topic: love.

    Monday, October 05, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 5th October

    Outside My Window ... grey and damp. Looks more like November than October.

    I am thinking ... about stuff I need to organise before we leave on Saturday for the free holiday Angel and Star won at Easter.

    From the learning rooms ... forgetfulness. Forgotten lunches, forgotten PE kit forgotten dancewear, forgotten sicknotes, forgotten homework. There isn't much they haven't managed to forget this term.

    I am thankful ... for central heating. I'm old enough to remember just how cold houses were without it!

    From the kitchen ... shipwreck stew. And disasters. Burned honey cake and burned soup last week. It takes talent to burn soup.

    I am wearing ... dark grey cord trousers, light grey jumper, warm hiking socks, crocs.

    I am creating ... a sweater for myself, knitted top down and in one piece, so no seams to sew. I'm also procrastinating over sewing up a cardigan for Cherub and a sweater for my brother. This is why I need to master knitting without seams.

    I am going ... yarn shopping for lots of this. It is warm and soft and cheap, and I want to knit a long cardigan for me, shawls for myself and my Mum, and another sweater for my brother.

    I am reading ... Ripping Things To Do: the Best Games and Ideas from Children's Books by Jane Brocket.

    I am hoping ... my sore throat goes away and my voice comes back.

    I am hearing ... the TV. I'm taking advantage of Cherub's morning at playgroup and sitting with my feet up watching the remake of The Parent Trap that one of the girls recorded at the weekend. Also blogging and knitting (not simultaneously!)

    Around the house ... tidiness! Angel and Star blitzed their bedrooms at the weekend. If they keep them tidy, they can redecorate. Will that be enough incentive?

    One of my favorite things ... giggles and laughter as the older girls play with Cherub.

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a routine week, until we leave on Saturday.

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...  Weymouth harbour

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Friday, October 02, 2009

    7 Quick Takes

    1. First, a question. If you could visit anywhere you wanted in England, where would you choose to go? A dear friend is coming over from the US next year, and Tevye is going to hold the fort here for a few days while we take a road trip. We have ideas, but what would be your "don't miss" destination? 

    2. For some reason I can't manage to do my seven takes in the right order, starting at one and working down to seven. I have to zap them in randomly. One take may look like a Number 4, another a Number 7. There is, so far as I can see, no logic to this. Today I have ended up with a gap at Number 2. I'm sure I had seven thoughts when I started, but I seem to have lost one ... and the only replacement thought I can find is to wonder what this inability to write consecutive points says about me.

    3. Angel glanced up at a cosmetics advert on TV and announced that the model's flawless complexion was "so fake!" She has been playing with Photoshop recently and has discovered just how easy it is to airbrush blemishes, lengthen eyelashes, camouflage bulges and so on. I don't think I need to worry that she might get any ideas that real girls should look like models.

    4. Yesterday's little piece of drama ... I parked up at the library, glanced at the back of the car and noticed a flat tyre. I hate it when things like that happen. But I have to admit, if I was going to get a flat, I couldn't have timed it better. I was less than five minutes away from the tyre place we usually use, Tevye was home and met me there, and Angel was there to watch Cherub. In less than an hour the tyre was fixed and we were home. Phew!

    5. This morning Cherub informed K-next-door that she has spare underwear in the bag she takes to playgroup "in case she wants to wear a different colour". K suggested that maybe it was in case of accidents, but Cherub was adamant that this was bunkum and it was all a matter of sartorial choice. After all, a girl never knows when she might feel the need to wear pink pants with a bow instead of green ones with a picture of Upsy-Daisy. It's best to be prepared.

    6. Google and You Tube have led me into a frenzy of discovering new knitting techniques in the last few weeks ... continental style vs. British, russian joins, magic loops, two sleeves on one circular needle. I'll be standing on my head knitting with my feet next. I wonder if they have that one on You Tube?

    7. My Friday morning was brightened by discovering a beautiful new (to me) blog at Attic24. All this gorgeous, colourful crochet is enough to distract me from knitting. Almost.

    You can find more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    Holiday Reading: Reviews

    I got through almost the entire pile of books I took with me to Greece - such luxury, to have lots of time to read. The reviews, however, have sat half-written in my drafts folder. Here they are, finally, a month late!

    Baking Cakes in Kigali (Gaile Parkin) ... one of my favourites from the holiday pile. Reminiscent of Alexander McCall's Number One Ladies Detective Agency in the picture it paints of life in Rwanda, but with more bite. As Tanzanian expat Angel takes orders for her spectacularly decorated cakes, she becomes involved in the lives of her clients - many touched either by the Rwandan holocaust or the scourge of Aids. Humour and optimism outweigh the tragic element. An easy but satisfying read.

    The Independence of Miss Mary Bennett by Colleen McCullough ... more second rate blockbuster than Jane Austen. The author borrows her characters from Pride and Prejudice but (mercifully?) makes no attempt to copy Austen's style. After the death of her mother the middle Bennett daughter Mary launches herself into independence in a somewhat headstrong manner. Cue a thoroughly ridiculous, blockbusting plot involving romance, highwaymen, underground imprisonment and the reformation of Mr Darcy. Kind of entertaining as poolside reading, but Austen it is not.

    Ithaka (Adele Geras) ... a young adult romance set in Ancient Greece. I just couldn't get into it so gave up.

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K.Rowling) ... I decided it was time for a reread after seeing Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. You either like Harry or you don't. I do.

    Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi) ... reading this book made me long to go crazy with nail varnish, just because I can. The author's account of life as a woman in Iran after the Islamic revolutions left me hugely grateful for the freedoms we enjoy - little things like feeling the breeze in our hair and the sun on our skin. Not to mention being able to wear as much and as garish nail varnish as we like. In public. The structure of the book is based around literature the author read with a select group of women students after resigning her university post because of the constraints of the system. Well worth reading.

    Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Paul Torday) ... daft premise, equally daft book. A fisheries scientist is instructed by the British government to help a wealthy sheik to establish a salmon run in the Yemen. Lots about this book irritated me. On the positive side (?) I now know more about salmon and salmon fishing than I did.

    The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud) ... first of a fantasy trilogy aimed at older children. I thoroughly enjoyed this fast paced magical adventure. A young magician's apprentice summons a djinni to take revenge on a magician who insulted him, only to find the consequences of his actions spiral out of control. I thought the story had a slightly Nesbit-ish feel - more modern and for older readers, but with a touch of sand fairy in the anarchic djinni. A word of warning: the magicians, with the exception of the young hero, are largely amoral, interested only in success and power. I want to read the rest of the trilogy and see how it pans out.

    The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon ... historical fiction set during the Crimean war. I was quite enjoying this, but lost impetus when I got home and it is still sitting half read on my bedside table. The plot revolves around a decorous young Victorian woman, happy at home with her needle, her doctor fiance, and her cousin, a determinedly independent young woman who follows Florence Nightingale to the Crimea to nurse wounded soldiers. I like the main character better than the other two, but overall a cautious thumbs up so far.

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    Corner View: White

    This white lion cut into the face of the chalk downs is a well known local landmark and marks the site of the rural branch of London Zoo. I didn't have an opportunity to take a picture but found this one on Flickr (photo credit Today is a Good Day). On a clear day in winter we can see the lion from the upstairs windows at the back of our house. Too far for a photo though, and at this time of year the view is still blocked by trees. To you give you some perspective, the lion is 483 feet long - the largest British hill figure. You can read more about it here.

    For more corner views, visit Jane at Spain Daily.

    Monday, September 28, 2009

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 28th September

    Outside My Window ... a grey morning, but supposed to be warm again this afternoon. Leaves yellowing on the trees.

    I am thinking ... about Christmas. Yes, already. I like to shop and prepare in advance so that when we get to Advent I can enjoy doing all the fun stuff.

    From the learning rooms ... lots of homework. Angel's workload has definitely cranked up this year.

    I am thankful ... that Cherub is fully recovered and eating like a (miniature) horse.

    From the kitchen ... preparing a traditional end of Yom Kippur meal for Tevye tonight. Chollah in the bread machine, cold fried fish, smoked salmon, salad, and honey cake.

    I am wearing cord trousers, black and cream striped sweater, black vest, black socks. Very monochrome today.

    I am creating ... fluff. Knitting a lacy cowl with fluffy, mohair rich yarn. I just need to finish the bottom edging.

    I am going have a quiet afternoon in, reading to and playing with Cherub, looking after Star who is off school with a nasty headache, baking honey cake and hopefully spending a bit of time sitting with my feet up knitting.

    I am reading ... Ripping Things To Do: the Best Games and Ideas from Children's Books by Jane Brocket. Review to come later.

    I am hoping ... nobody else gets ill this week.

    I am hearing ... blissful silence!

    Around the house ... Playmobil taking over again, as Cherub wanted to get the castle out. It takes me an age to build, so once up, it stays up for a while.

    One of my favorite things ... smoked salmon bagels.

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... orthodondist's appointment for Angel to get her "train tracks" on Friday; brass band concert on Saturday.

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... conker hunting. No. I have no idea why Cherub and friend needed binoculars to collect conkers, but they were very sure that they did. 

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Saturday, September 26, 2009

    Pot Luck Dinner Menu

    This was the menu we ended up with last night:

    Starter: Bean, carrot, pea and mint, and aubergine dips, with flat breads (Morocco)

    Main: Gedünstetes schöps (mutton stew) with Schwemmknödel (semolina dumplings (Austria)

    Dessert: Kestane cicegi (chestnut meringues), Sekerpare (small cakes with lemon syrup), Kayisi tatlisi (apricots in syrup with cream and almonds) (Turkey)

    Wine: eclectic, but heavy on Australian Chardonnay.

    After each course those not in the know had to guess its origin. We got Morocco, but the closest guesses to Austria and Turkey were Hungary and Greece respectively. We were slightly handicapped by not being able to remember what countries we had put into the hat in the first place.

    Great fun, and we are going to do it again next month. This time it will be our turn for the main course. After we picked our destinations we got carried away and added an extra sixteen countries to the pot for the next meal. That could get challenging!

    Friday, September 25, 2009

    7 Quick Takes

    1. Big news for British Catholics this week - Pope Benedict XVI is to make a formal state visit to the UK in 2010. No details yet, as the news was leaked by a "government source" in advance of any official announcement from the Vatican.

    2. Another news story caught my interest yesterday. A treasure hunter with a metal detector has uncovered the largest known hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold, dating from around 700AD, in a field in Staffordshire. The importance of the find is said to rank with the Sutton Hoo burial or the Lindisfarne Gospels. The total number of items is expected to top 1,500, and will take the British Museum more than a year to value. Imagine the shock of the local museum curator who was presented with a box full of unimaginably rare and valuable treasure ... followed by another box ... and another box ... and another ... and another ... and that was before the archaelogists went in and dug up the rest!

    3. A "Bizarre ER" incident at Angel's school yesterday, when one of her friends swallowed a hairgrip. Except she didn't swallow it; she inhaled it. After a trip to Accident and Emergency for x-rays, it was found in her lung. The last Angel heard they were trying to decide how best to get it out. Moral: if you are a teenage girl, do not put hairgrips in your mouth, especially if there is any chance someone will make you laugh.

    4. Tonight is our regular internationally themed dinner party with our neighbours, with a twist. After working our way round a number of countries we couldn't decide on the next, so ended up putting country names into a hat and drawing lots for each course. None of us know what the others picked, so it is going to be a very random meal. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together. Or not. I spent the morning making Turkish desserts. I'll report back on the rest later.

    5. Cherub has developed a liking for boiled eggs so Tevye cooked one for her. Groping for a name for this how-done-is-your-egg indicator he went generic and asked if he should put the "dooberry" (as in "whatsit" or "thingummy") in with the egg. Cherub was indignant. "No! No! No!!!!! I don't like dooberries. I don't want dooberry with my egg!" Note to self: remember not to serve Cherub dooberries. Strawberries - yes, blackberries - yes, raspberries - yes ... dooberries - no.

    6. Speaking of Cherub - yes, she is very much better thank you. The antibiotics have done their job, and apart from a residual cough is virtually back to normal.

    7. If you are planning a holiday in the UK, or just fantasising about one, take a look at some of the properties available for rent here. Watermill anyone? Medieval hospital? Lighthouse? Castle?

    You can find more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary