Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rough Guide to Potty Training

(mainly for Melanie ... feel free to skip!)

For what it's worth, here is my guide to potty training small girls ...

(1) Look for physical and mental readiness. These have to come together. If one or the other is missing, forget it. However convinced you are that she is physically capable, if her head says she isn't you will go nowhere fast. How do you tell if she is ready? Her nappies should stay dry for some time, and moderately regular bowel habits help. Watch for indications that she is aware when she does something in her nappy. Age is a good clue: many girls are physically ready at two; most by two and a half. As for mental readiness, take your cues from her. Is she aware of what potties and toilets are for? Talk up what grown ups and big girls do. Does she want to imitate you (or in our case, big sisters)? Does she seem interested or reluctant?

(2) Decide to go for it. Talk it up. Let her pick big girl underwear, or choose some you know she would like. Buy a potty and a toddler seat for the bathroom (if you haven't already) and acclimatise her to it. Pick a time where you know you can stay home for at least a couple of days. Warn her in advance ... "on Monday you are going to start wearing big girl panties and use the potty". If this results in shrieks and horror, wait a while!

(3) Pick an incentive. There are times when bribery is a vital part of parenthood. Potty training is one of them. A small but immediate incentive ("every time you use the potty you will get ..." probably works better than a larger, longer-term one ("once you are potty trained you can have ..."), because toddlers are immediate little people. Cherub has been getting chocolate buttons. Once the potty habit is there it won't disappear just because the incentive stops.

(4) On "P-Day", first thing in the morning remove nappy, replace with panties, point in direction of potty ... and wait for disaster to strike. Most little ones need to have a few accidents before they can begin to work out the mechanics of control. They are used to just letting it all spill out without a thought, and they need to work out what is happening, how it happens, how it feels before it happens, how to stop it happening, and how to make it happen for themselves. Twice over.

(5) Keep the potty wherever your toddler is going to spend most of her time. Also keep cleaning cloths, paper kitchen towel, wipes, and spare panties to hand. Potty disasters can spread rapidly as a confused toddler blunders around - you need to get in there and clean up fast!

(6) When the inevitable "accident" happens, calmly and brightly say something like "Oh look! A wee! Quickly to the potty!". You may be too late, but she will soon get the idea. Calm is essential, as small girls can get quite distressed by accidents. Explain that it is all OK and she will soon learn to get it in the potty. Calm is hard, as you clean up the seventh accident of the day. Offer it up. Cherub quickly worked out how to stop in mid-stream; re-starting the flow was harder ... but she managed it once the first day and again on the second. We got through twelve pairs of panties in the first two days, a lot of mopping up, and a lot of washing. Then in the evening of the second day she sat on the potty and produced a wee on demand. Triumph! Chocolate buttons! The next day she was taking herself to the potty, and since then she has only had two slight accidents when she didn't quite get there in time, both in the evening when she was tired.

(7) Play nap time by ear. Cherub insisted she wanted to stay in panties at nap time, and has consistently woken dry. Some toddlers might feel more secure if they have a nappy on at nap time for a while.

(8) If you try potty training for a few days and she is not getting it, give up and try again in a couple of months. She is probably not ready and there is no point trying to push it. We did this three or four times with Star from the age of two onwards, and she finally trained in a couple of days at 33 months. In fact, you can often tell within the first day or two that it just isn't going to happen - either the toddler appears totally unaware of what is going on, completely refuses to go near the potty, or gets hugely stressed. We had one abortive attempt with Cherub in the autumn, when she appeared enthusiastic to start with, but rapidly decided the whole thing was a Very Bad Idea. This time round it was clear from Day 1 that she was willing, if not always able.

(9) Wees and poos are not the same. Poos are often more of a challenge, as they can come as rather a shock to a toddler meeting them up close for the first time. Again, play it by ear. Poo accidents are often more distressing - to both parent and toddler! Give lots of encouragement, and maybe a bigger and better incentive. Cherub is definitely having more trouble with poos. We have had a couple of bath accidents (oh! trauma!), and near-the-potty accidents. She doesn't want to admit that a poo is on its way, which makes things tricky. Watch for poo-faces!

(10) Going out without a nappy is a hurdle that has to be faced. Take plenty of spare clothes and things to clean up with in case of emergency. Then grit your teeth and go! Cherub has done brilliantly when we have been out and about over the last couple of days, but is determined to visit as many different facilities as possible - preferably more than once.

(11) Go for it! If you are potty training, don't do it half-heartedly. Switching back and forward between underwear and pull-ups only confuses toddlers and makes the whole process take longer. (This bit of advice comes from K-next-door, who is manager of the local playgroup and deals with lots of potty-training small people.)

(12) Don't panic!

Of course, this is based on my personal experience, and all toddlers are different. I have been lucky in that I haven't had a difficult trainee. I used much the same process for both Cherub and Star, but Angel did it her own way and entirely on her own timetable. At two and a half she simply announced that she was using the toilet now, thank you, and didn't need nappies any more. However, she wanted a nappy on for her nap and at night, and would only do a poo in her nappy. About three months later, she decided it was time for poos to go in the toilet; then a few months after that, she decided against the nappy at night. She only ever had one accident.

Friday, February 27, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday


1. The potty training is going well. We made it to Jo Jingles, the supermarket and out for lunch today without any mishaps, though she did decide she had to check out the facilities wherever we went, whether she needed them or not. She is also very proud of her "big girl" underwear, announcing to the two elderly gentlemen at the next table "I'm wearing pants!", much to their amusement.

2. Someone asked in the comments on my GCSE options post about the school day here. Angel's school day lasts from 9am to 3.45pm, and Star's is the same length but runs quarter of an hour earlier (the schools are adjacent and it spreads out the drop offs and pick ups to have staggered start and finish times). After taking out registration and breaks they both end up with five one hour lessons each day. Star has a simple 25 hour weekly timetable; Angel's school uses a two weekly rotation, with a 50 hour timetable spread out over ten school days.

3. I may as well explain the typical English school year too. Most schools work a three term year. The first term runs from early September to a few days before Christmas; the second term from early January until Easter; and the third from after Easter until late July. There are two week breaks at both Christmas and Easter, a six week summer break, and a one week half-term break in the middle of each term, giving a total of 39 school weeks, less a few odd days here and there.

4. Angel made her option choices. She started the week dithering over whether she wanted to study Health and Social Care, and by the end of the week had decided she liked the idea enough to push it up the list to second choice. Her final list in order of preference was (1) Graphic products, (2) Health and Social Care, (3) Physical education, and (4) Information technology, with Geography and Leisure and Tourism as reserves.

5. Some more background ... the English school system usually has two tiers, primary (age 4-11) and secondary (age 11-18). Our education authority is odd in that it has a three tier system of lower (age 4-9), middle (age 9-13) and upper (age 13-18) schools. This was tried by a few counties over the past decades, but I think ours may be the only one left still using this arrangement. Angel's unusually large year group - and therefore unusually large list of options - is a consequence of the three tier system. If the school took kids from age 11 instead of 13, each year group would have to be smaller to keep the school a manageable size.

6. Finally changing the subject (this isn't quite turning into Quick Takes: the School Edition) ... I have a confession. I am an inveterate book cheat. I find it very hard to read a book without flipping from the beginning to the last few pages to see what happens in the end. I used to think it was impatience, but I've decided I actually enjoy the journey more when I know where the book is heading. Having said that, I did manage not to look at the end of the last Harry Potter book in advance.

7. It is Lent. I have given up chocolate. And what do I see half price at the local supermarket? Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which I adore, and which are sadly expensive here (if they can be found at all). What to do? I ended up buying a load of them and giving them to Tevye to hide until Easter.

Read more quick takes at Jen's Conversion Diary. I can't add mine as Mister Linky is hiding ... but I can ask for prayers for Jen, who is booked to have her fourth baby induced on Monday.

Dancing Cherub

Cherub dancing for A-next-door ... recorded on his phone, so not great quality, but still cute.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guess ...

... what we have been doing this week.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I always like to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday, but it simply wasn't possible today. Instead I spent the morning cobbling together a last minute Lenten calendar, based roughly on Dawn's.

I printed out footsteps for each day from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and stuck them onto purple card, then added small pictures for a few notable days - Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Mother's Day (mid-Lent here) and some saints' feast days. I was stumped as to how to have Little Cherub cross of the days. Stickers would have been good, but I hadn't thought to buy any. Colouring wouldn't work - she would want to do it herself, but a Cherub scribble would cross off ten days in one go. Then I remembered I had some scraps of purple felt, so I cut 46 tiny squares so she can stick one on each day. Felt and glue stick is manageable and not too messy. I love Karen's ideas for Lent with young children, and next year I think I will do her Lamb of God calendar, sticking cottonballs onto a picture of a lamb. I think Cherub would enjoy making a Lenten caterpillar this year, but we'll leave that until it gets close to Easter.

Thanks to Suzanne and Margaret I put in an Amazon order on Saturday for a couple of books for Lent reading, which with excellent timing arrived this morning ... Small Surrenders: a Lenten Journey by Emilie Griffin, and My Life With the Saints by James Martin, SJ.

So in a small, last minute sort of a way, we are set.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

GCSE Options

Background for non-UK readers: From age 14 to 18 - the equivalent of high school in the US - school students in the UK study for a series of public examinations. The first two years are spent working for GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) or an equivalent qualification in a range of subjects. English, maths and science are compulsory for everyone, and individual schools will often add one or two more compulsory subjects. Then students add extra subjects of their choice, usually taking around 10 GCSEs in total.

Angel has to choose her GCSE courses for next year this week, and I thought it might be interesting for those of you who are home educating, or whose children are not at this stage yet, or who are not in the UK, to see what options she has. It is very different from the way things were when I was her age and had a very limited choice of O-Levels (the predecessor of GCSEs, taken by those of us over a certain age!). Her school is a large comprehensive - over 300 students in her year alone, of all abilities. I suspect the size means that they have a bigger choice of subjects and subject combinations than most.

Four subjects, typically resulting in 6 GCSEs, are compulsory ... English (separate language and literature GCSEs), maths, science (usually a double science option giving 2 GCSEs) and religious studies (general philosophy and ethics, supposed to be suitable for those of any religion or none). The most scientifically able can do separate physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs, and strugglers do a single science GCSE. There is also two hours a week of compusory PE. All in all, the compulsory subjects take up 30 weeks of their 50 hour / 2 week rotating timetable.

In addition to the compulsory subjects students have to choose four optional ones, each taught for five hours over a two week period. Most options result in a single GCSE, but there are also some subjects that give qualifications considered to be an equivalent level - applied GCSEs (work related and more practical than standard GCSEs), City and Guilds and BTEC (practical qualifications) and ASDAN (general skill development). There are four specialist options which are taught for 10 hours every two weeks. Students taking one of these only choose two other options.

There are very few formal restrictions - no subjects that overlap, and only one 10 hour option - and the timetable is adjusted to accommodate student choices as much as possible, but some courses have limited space (particularly the specialist ones) and some combinations may turn out to be impossible to timetable. To allow for the possibility of not getting all four of their choices everyone has to pick six options in order of preference and the school prioritise those who have put a subject first or second on their list. They recommend picking options from different subject groups to give a good variety of courses, and strongly recommend taking a modern foreign language, though this is not compulsory (much to Angel's relief!). The way courses are assessed vary. Some just have an examination at the end of the two years; most have a mix of examination and coursework or a project, in varying proportions.

This is the list of options:

Specialisms (count as two choices)

  • Care of Animals / Horticulture - BTEC Certificate in Land and Environment with emphasis on animal care and either BTEC Certificate in Animal Care or BTEC Certificate in Horticulture
  • Engineering - City and Guilds
  • Construction Skills - City and Guilds
  • Hair and Beauty - City and Guilds
Modern Foreign Languages
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
Design and Technology
  • Carpentry and Joinery - Institute of Carpenters certificate
  • Food Technology - GCSE
  • Graphic Products (graphic techniques and product design)- GCSE
  • Resistant Materials (woodwork and metalwork) - GCSE
  • Systems and Control (electronics) - GCSE
  • Textiles (needlework, fabric and fashion design) - GCSE
Business Studies
  • Business Studies - GCSE
  • Business and Communication Systems with CLAIT (computer literacy) - GCSE
  • ICT (information and communications technology, ie. computer studies) - GCSE
  • Child Development - GCSE
  • Geography - GCSE
  • Health and Social Care - Applied GCSE
  • History (Schools History Project) - GCSE
  • History (World) - GCSE
  • Leisure and Tourism - Applied GCSE
  • Certificate of Personal Effectiveness - ASDAN
Creative and Expressive Arts
  • Art and Design - GCSE
  • Drama - GCSE
  • Music - GCSE
Physical Education
  • PE - GCSE
There are also alternative courses in Food Studies (cookery), PE and drama that are not examined, or lead to optional qualifications such as sports coaching certificates.

Angel doesn't have any specific career plans as yet, just a few vague ideas - something sports oriented, physiotherapy, and web design (or something else along those lines) are possibilities. She definitely wants to take PE, graphic products and ICT. All have a strong practical element, which suits her as she is a doer not a thinker. For example, for graphic products she will spend much of the second year of the course producing a design folio and a model or prototype of her design. For her fourth option she is dithering between health and social care, leisure and tourism, and geography.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 23rd February

For Monday 23rd February

Outside My Window ... early dawn.

I am thinking ... that I wish I hadn't stayed up too late last night reading.

From the learning rooms ... parent-teacher consultations for Angel tomorrow.

I am thankful for ... days that are getting longer and warmer.

From the kitchen ... pancakes for Pancake Day.

I am wearing ... I'm typing in bed before getting up, so still pyjamas.

I am creating ... ToodleDo lists to get back on track with housework. Somehow I just can't get organised without a checklist.

I am going ... to try potty training Little Cherub. She knows the theory and she seems willing. If we can just get over the hump of actually doing something in that potty!

I am reading ... Nella Last's Peace and waiting for books for Lent to arrive from Amazon.

I am hoping ... nobody else gets the 24 hour stomach bug Tevye had on Friday and Star had on Saturday.

I am hearing ... Angel and Star getting up.

Around the house ... beds to change, kitchen to clean, accounts to update.

One of my favorite things ... a checked off checklist.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... get organised for Lent. Yikes! Only two days to go!

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... pancake racing

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own. [Though I can't see them as Mister Linky STILL doesn't like me.]

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pancake Day: Things to Do

Books to Read
Pancakes, Pancakes!
(Eric Carle)
Little Grey Rabbit's Pancake Day (Alison Uttley)
Mama Panya's Pancakes (Mary and Richard Chamberlin)

Food to Eat

Art and Craft
Colouring pages
Pancake bean bags, paper dolls and other crafts here

Rhymes to Learn
Great A, little a,
This is pancake day;
Toss the ball high,
Throw the ball low,
Those that come after
May sing heigh-ho!
(Mother Goose)

Give me a pancake and I'll come in.
Give me a pancake and then I'll go.

(from West Somerset - from this Pancake Day page)

Music to Listen To
February: Shrovetide Festival, from The Seasons by Tchaikovsky
The Shrovetide Fair, from Petrushka by Stravinsky

Other Activities
Online games here and here

Pancake Day

Star and Little Cherub are looking forward to Tuesday. In England the day before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday, or more popularly Pancake Day (which is why Angel is not anticipating it like her sister - she doesn't like pancakes). Pancakes were originally eaten on Shrove Tuesday to use up milk and eggs before Lent, in the days when there was a strict Lenten fast. The fasting from animal products has disappeared, but the pancakes haven't. The name "Shrove" Tuesday comes from "shriving" the old English word for confession. Traditionally Shrovetide was a time to go to confession in order to prepare for Lent.

There are a number of pancake related events around the UK - pancake races, pancake tosses, the ringing of pancake bells - which you can read about here. One of the best known takes place at Olney in Buckinghamshire:

According to tradition, in 1445 a woman of Olney heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to the church in her apron, still clutching her frying pan. The Olney pancake race is now world famous. Competitors have to be local housewives and they must wear an apron and a hat or scarf. Each contestant has a frying pan containing a hot, cooking pancake. She must toss it three times during the race that starts at the market square at 11.55 am. The first woman to complete the winding 375-metre course (the record is 63 seconds set in 1967) and arrive at the church, serve her pancake to the bell ringer, and be kissed by him, is the winner. She also receives a prayer book from the vicar.

Olney is only about 20 miles away from us, but I've never been to see the pancake race. I really should go one year.

There are a few pancake related picture books, but I have only been able to find one specifically mentioning pancake day: Little Grey Rabbit's Pancake Day by Alison Uttley. It is out of print, but I was able to buy a copy for a penny plus postage from an Amazon seller. It is really a little long for Cherub, but the pancake flipping and eating descriptions kept her hanging in there - though I think she will enjoy it more next year.

We often eat pancakes for breakfast, but on Pancake Day we will have an extra large pile of them for dinner. This recipe is pretty much the one I use, though I don't put butter into the pancake batter.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Higgler

Moving on from my grandfather's mother's family, to my grandfather's father ... my great-grandfather, Thomas Faulkner. The fifth of nine children of Charles Faulkner, a farm labourer, and his wife Sarah (nee Mead), he was born at Stewkley in 1864. On the 5th November 1890, aged 26, he married Lizzie Ellen Smith at the Primitive Methodist Chapel, listing his occupation as "higgler" - a small time trader.

Thomas began life in intense poverty. The 1870s and 80s were a time of agricultural depression, and farm labourers like his father Charlie lived hand to mouth. My Dad remembered his grandfather telling him that as a child they were literally starving and only skimmed milk kept them alive. Thomas was an ambitious and able young man with a strong and determined personality. He started as an egg boy, selling eggs door to door. By 1901 he was listed in the census as an egg merchant, and in 1911 was a general dealer. On my grandparents marriage certificate he describes himself as a farmer. In fact, he had built up a successful family business as an egg wholesaler, and by 1911 was living in the village's sixteenth century Manor House.

Thomas and his wife had eight children, and he was able to make provision for all of them. One son inherited the egg business, and he secured farm tenancies for the others. My grandfather and his younger brother Albert began by sharing a farm, until Albert was able to move on to one of his own. This was the first generation to move away from the traditional names that occur repeatedly in the family over previous generations - Richard, William, John, Thomas, Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth and the like. Thomas and Lizzie Ellen choose newly fashionable names for their children - Henry, Leonard, Rupert, Harold, Albert, Ethel, Alice and Clara. (Not a change for the better, in my opinion!)

Thomas's marriage is the first reference I can find to this branch of the Faulkner family as Methodists, and from then onwards they were strongly connected to the Chapel. All their children were baptised there and in my childhood they were all still pillars of the Methodist community. The baptism records indicate that Thomas's brothers Richard and Edmund were also Methodists by this time, although it seems unlikely their parents were. I can guess why, but that will have to wait for my next genealogy post.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cornflakes Day

Me, trying to distract a tired and emotional - but pancake loving - toddler: "Do you know what special day it is next week? ... It's Pancake Day!"

Cherub, distraught: "It's not, it's not, it's NOT! It's ... Cornflakes Day!!!!"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Play Time

These days Little Cherub spends much of her time engrossed in intense pretend play. I thought it would be interesting to jot down a few notes about how she currently plays, and then to see how it develops over time.

  • Favourite toys - Playmobil and other small figures, dolls' house, baby dolls, play food.
  • Imaginative play - lots of time talking to her little people and staging conversations between them. I overhear things like " You have been very naughty and you have to go to bed", and "You can sit at the computer now". Her people have a lot of pretend birthdays, complete with pretend birthday cake and candles. They talk to each other, but she doesn't yet make up names, so a Mummy addresses her children as "Girl" or "Boy" or "Baby". She also alters her voice according to who is talking. She likes setting up domestic scenes - people sitting at a table, children put to bed, families going for a ride in a car. She will get dressed up in outdoor gear to go to pretend shops to buy imaginary sweets. I have to open the imaginary wrapping for her, then help eat the invisible contents. Lots of pretend meals with play food. She will ask what we want, then "cook" it. This morning she spent half an hour in bed pretending to visit houses with a couple of soft toys.
  • Playing with dolls - lots of role play, doing all the things you would expect with babies ... feeding, dressing, bathing, taking them for walks, changing nappies.
  • Adores her Peppa Pig beanie baby (the one pictured sitting on the door ledge of the washer in the post below). Takes Peppa everywhere, and has lots of conversations with her.
  • Loves games. Mainly simple "collecting" games ... Lotto, Tummy Ache (collecting food cards to flll a meal board without getting any tummy ache cards), one where you collect parts of a bug by rolling a die and matching numbers, another collecting jungle animals using a spinner. She likes animal dominoes, but sometimes insists she has to have all the "double" dominoes, which kind of messes up the game! She is just starting to get the idea of board games and loves The Peter Rabbit Radish Game we bought back from the Lake District for her, even though it is really too complex. If she is in the mood she can just about manage to count spaces on the board, but mostly she wants us to do it for her.
  • Not in a puzzle phase at the moment. She went through a spell last year of loving jigsaws, but that has passed and she rarely takes them out.
  • Building toys - Duplo, sticklebricks, blocks - are also off her playing radar at the moment. Star and my brother often get the Lego out on Sundays and she sometimes asks for it at other times.
  • Also not particularly into drawing and colouring, after a spell when she got pencils and crayons out every day. Interesting to see how these things go through a period of intensity and then fade for a while.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 16th February

For Monday 9th February

Outside My Window ... still a few small patches of snow on the ground. A pale grey day, threatening rain but warmer than it has been.

I am thinking ... how hard I always find it to pin down my scattered brain and work out just what I am thinking.

From the learning rooms ... half term break.

I am thankful for ... returning energy.

From the kitchen ... pasta and meatballs or shepherd's pie. I need to check what meat I have in the freezer.

I am wearing ... ridiculous pink pyjamas with hearts on.

I am creating ... a summer cardigan in 4 ply (fingering weight?) cotton. One front and most of a sleeve done since last week. I decided against the crocheted cardigan and want to crochet a sweater instead. I bought the pattern but not the yarn yet. Why can't I finish one thing before starting another?

I am going ... to try to get into town today to buy that yarn.

I am reading ... Shrines of Our Lady in England by Anne Vail and Beatrix Potter at Home in the Lake District by Susan Denyer. I read Flora Thompson: the Story of the Lark Rise Writer by Gillian Lindsay over the weekend.

I am hoping ... the girls have a nice, relaxing half term.

I am hearing ... Little Cherub watching TV and eating her breakfast.

Around the house ... oddments from the living room to put away, pictures to hang, school uniforms to wash.

One of my favorite things ... libraries.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... finish a 99.9% done cross stitch project and get it framed; buy new school trousers for Star; take Star and a friend swimming; take the girls to the cinema.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... spotted in the kitchen

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own. [It appears Mr Linky just doesn't like me. I can't find him anywhere.]

Saturday, February 14, 2009

British Life and Culture ... and Calendars

I have been meaning to post this link for a while ...

Woodlands Junior School in Kent has developed an amazing Project Britain website over the past ten years, with a ton of information about British life and culture. The school and its pupils have done an tremendous job, and this would be a great resource for learning about Britain. It has everything from a run down of British etiquette to an explanation of "old money".

My favourite section of the site is the series of calendars. I particularly like the British Folklore, Facts and Legends calendar. Did you know that if a woman saw a robin flying overhead on Valentine's Day, she would marry a sailor? Neither did I.

Friday, February 13, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday


1. My sole effort for Valentine's Day tomorrow - buying a cute box of heart shaped jelly sweets for Angel to take to a sleepover tomorrow. And that was only because I happened to spot them in Ikea.

2. Star burped. Little Cherub immediately piped up "pardon you!". Sadly it seems my children start off well, but as they get older, their manners deteriorate.

3. My brother, who has many practical skills but is not an electrician, volunteered to cap off an old, unused light fitting in our living room while I had a cup of tea with K-next-door. Just as I was about to drink my tea, he knocked sheepishly to tell me there had been an "explosion" in the fuse box when he switched the electricity back on. He got a little over confident while putting the wires into a little plastic thingummy meant to keep them separate, and the live wires ended up too close together. So close that they touched, and ... kerboom! No lights. He was hugely impressed that I not only had the right fuse wire in my toolbox, but was able to fix the fuse. To be honest, so was I.

4. My daughters are very impressed with this Cadbury's advert. It is certainly eyecatching. And possibly hugely irritating, but I can't quite make up my mind. (Warning: Offensive comments on YouTube)

5. Why are books like buses? You wait ages for a good one, and then several come along at once.

6. Jo Jingles class leader, talking the children through the "eyes, and ears, and mouth, and nose" stage of Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes: "What are our eyes for?". Cherub, bouncing up and down triumphantly: "Glasses!"

7. Our snow is finally disappearing. Last night's snow showers turned to rain overnight and the temperature is supposed to rise on Sunday. Today it was bright and sunny and almost ... almost ... springlike. Or have I just reached the point where anything less than snow and ice seems to herald spring?

Read more quick takes at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

4 x 10 Reading Challenge: Update

My reading so far, which has already mutated a bit from the original list. Books I have finished are in blue, books in my current reading pile are green.


Nella Last's War: the Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49 (ed. Richard Broad) - this book had me mesmerised. It is a series of extracts from the diaries kept by a middle-aged north country housewife during WW2 for "Mass Observation", a social research organisation for which a wide cross-section of people kept diaries from the 1930s to the 1950s. Nella Last had a writer's gift which gave her Mass Observation diary vivid immediacy. Imagine reading a detailed blog written during the war, if such a thing had existed then. Riveting. The sequel, Nella Last's Peace, is on my reading list.

Flora Thompson: the Story of the Lark Rise Writer (Gillian Lindsay) - waiting to be collected from the library. I have been loving the TV series of Lark Rise to Candleford, and I'm intrigued to see just how autobiographical the Lark Rise books are.


A History of Hand Knitting (Richard Rutt) - nearly finished with this one, so I am counting it as read. The author, the former Anglican bishop of Leicester (somehow I have never imagined a knitting bishop!), treats his subject seriously, with lots of technical detail. A light and easy read it is not. It is informative and often interesting, but I skipped some sections rather than get bogged down.


The Shrines of Our Lady in England (Anne Vail) - our library system rarely holds recent Catholic publications so I was delighted to spot this on the shelf. About a quarter of the way through and loving it. Part history and part travel guide.

Geography and Travel

Beatrix Potter At Home in the Lake District (Susan Denyer) - waiting to be read. I was hoping to see Beatrix Potter's home when we visited the Lakes but it was still closed for the winter, so I will have to content myself with the book.


The Road to Wigan Pier (George Orwell) - a book of two parts. The first part is a series of descriptions of the conditions suffered by the poor and unemployed in northern England during the 1930s; the second is a long and rather tedious essay on the iniquities of the English middle classes and the necessity for the inevitable victory of socialism. Part one was an interesting piece of social history; looking back from the perspective of a world in which communism has been seen to have failed, part two was a curiosity, but I confess I gave up a chapter or two before the end.

Science and Nature

Electric Universe (David Bodanis) - a survey of the history of scientific discoveries in the field of electricity (ouch! bad pun!). I found the book a mixed bag. The historical aspect was intriguing, but the scientific explanations were frustratingly limited. Or maybe my understanding was frustratingly limited. Whichever, I felt I should have finished the book understanding more about how the various electrical discoveries worked than I did.

Big and a Half

Me to Cherub: How long are your legs?

Cherub: Big and a half.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lakeland Villages


Near Sawrey

Pooley Bridge

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Lakes


Eskthwaite Water


Ferry across Windermere to Sawrey and Hawkshead

Winter Break

Despite the snow, Tevye and I managed to get away together for a long weekend on our own. We were apprehensive about the journey - would we make it? how long would it take? - but it turned out to be an easy trip. While the south and midlands were snowbound, the north was enjoying perfect winter weather - crisp and bright, with some snow still on the ground, but all the roads clear.

We stayed at our all time favourite hotel, which was as good as ever and well worth the four and a half hour drive. We enjoyed delicious food, roaring log fires, time exploring the Lake District and blissful, uninterrupted sleep!

More pictures to come later.

Simple Woman's Daybook: 9th February

For Monday 9th February

Outside My Window ... last week's snow thawing rapidly in the rain.

I am thinking ... how nice it is to have recovered from the bronchitis I struggled with over the past couple of weeks.

From the learning rooms ... Angel and Star back at school after four Snow Days last week.

I am thankful for ... a lovely long weekend away with Tevye and lots of uninterrupted sleep.

From the kitchen ... chicken stir fry and Dorset apple cake.

I am wearing ... blue jeans, grey v-neck sweater, fluffy socks and a woolly scarf lovingly knitted by a dear friend. Keeping warm helps to stop me coughing.

I am creating ... the second of a pair of stripy socks and a knitted cotton cardigan. I'm also thinking of trying to crochet this cotton cardigan, but don't have enough yarn. Do I risk buying some more with a different dye lot and hoping it matches well enough?

I am going ... to try a new routine of grocery shopping on Mondays while Angel is dancing. I think I should just about be able to squeeze it in.

I am reading ... just starting Shrines of Our Lady in England by Anne Vail, and finishing off A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt.

I am hoping ... that we have seen the last of the snow. I enjoy snow, but it is time for life to get back to normal.

I am hearing ... silence, apart from the faint hum of the dishwasher.

Around the house ... living room, hall, stairs and landing all freshly painted. My brother finished the last bits off while we were away.

One of my favorite things ... sitting in front of a roaring log fire on a cold day.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a parents' evening to discuss Angel's GCSE options; a pub night with old friends from Angel's toddler days.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own. [Am I the only person who can't find the Mr Linky at The Simple Woman? I can't add my daybook entry or read others and it is bugging me!]

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Candlemas Eve (Revisited)

How good is this! The Candlemas poem by Robert Herrick I posted the other day, set to music ... Candlemas Eve, sung by English folk singer Kate Rusby. It is a track on her Christmas album, Sweet Bells, and is available from iTunes (in the UK, at least).

Although it is a bit late for this year, another lovely piece of music for Candlemas is the version of the Nunc Dimittis (the song of Simeon) by Geoffrey Burgon. It was originally written as music for the TV show Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. You can hear samples and download it from Amazon on both sides of the Atlantic. The version I have is sung by the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, which you can find here (UK) and here (US); an alternative is the original TV theme sung by English soprano Lesley Garrett (UK and US). There are also a number of different versions on iTunes.

Kreativ Blogger

People are being very nice to me lately. Hard on the heels of the Lemonade Award, I have been tagged as a Kreativ Blogger by Debbie of Stop Her She's Knitting. Thank you, Debbie! It is nice to have a bit more love to spread around.

The rules are ...
1. Copy the award to your site
2. Link to the person from whom you received the award
3. Nominate 7 other bloggers
4. Link to those on your blog
5. Leave a message on the blogs you nominated.

So here goes ...

1. Michele at A Family Centered Life ... a Kreativ award for a truly creative blogger. Just look at how pretty she makes her simple woman's daybook. And she can sew. Really, really sew. To a needlework incompetent like me, that is truly amazing.

2. Margaret at Minnesota Mom, who is creating a baby. It doesn't get more creative than that.

3. Debbie at Livin' La Vida Grande, who many years ago encouraged me to create an email list for Catholic home educators in the UK.

4. Mary at St Athanasius Academy ... creative knitter extraordinaire. (And also Debbie's sister-in-law - small world!)

5. Sarah at Another Bend in the Road ... a new addition to my blog reading list, for her creative music playlist, which happens to be very much to my taste. As is her blog.

6. Mrs T at Fine Old Famly, for making me laugh with her creative description of the day the ceiling fell.

7. Pamela at Chez Nous, because I love her creative addition of a castle of the week to her simple woman's daybook, and because she was nice enough to give me the lemonade award.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sartorial Elegance, Victorian Style

Thanks to readily accessible parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, I can trace some branches of my family back many generations ... but mostly these are the only details I have, and there is nothing to add to the bald facts.

Back in 2007, I made a lucky find on the internet - a photograph of my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Bates, taken c.1870.

Although the photo was a random find, I'm 99% certain it is the right Thomas Bates, father of my grandfather's maternal grandmother, Sarah Smith. He was baptised in 1806, so would have been in his early sixties when this picture was taken.

Thomas was one of ten children of a William Bates and his wife Mary, though four of his siblings died during childhood. Three died within days of each other in 1802 - two girls aged nine and three, and a five year old boy - presumably of some infectious disease. On February 10th 1834 he married Ann Dimmock. The 1851 census lists her as born in the adjacent village of Soulbury, but the 1861 census says she came from Kings Langley in Hertfordshire. Dimmock is a common family name in Stewkley, so I'm guessing she had relatives there. My great-great-grandmother Sarah was the oldest of their six children. On the 1861 census Thomas is listed as an agricultural labourer, as were his two eldest sons. His wife Ann and daughters Sarah and Elizabeth were all straw plaiters.

The smock Thomas Bates is wearing in the photo was standard wear for agricultural labourers in the village at that time. Smocks were only replaced by trousers when machinery became common on farms and the loose fabric became a danger.

Spring Thoughts

I put snow on my blog for January and we got snow. Twice.

I think it is time for a more spring like, February feel.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow Day

"It is the right kind of snow ... it's just that it is the wrong kind of quantity."
(Boris Johnson, mayor of London, on why virtually no public transport is running)

"The government is working hard to restore transport links"
(Gordon Brown, prime minister. Oh, goody! How reassuring. Not.)

Simple Woman's Daybook: 2nd February

For Monday 2nd February

Outside My Window ... snow. An inch or so on the ground, snow still falling, and more to come over the rest of the week.

I am thinking ... that this looks like being one of the coldest winters we have had in a long time.

From the learning rooms ... a Snow Day.

I am thankful for ... a warm, cosy house and fleece blankets.

From the kitchen ... beef casserole.

I am wearing ... navy sweat pants, blue hooded top, stripy hand-knitted socks and a scarf.

I am creating ... a navy blue cotton sweater for myself. All finished except the neckband - and I have run out of yarn. Excuse me while I scream. Aaaarghhh!!!!!!

I am going ... away for the weekend with Tevye, and only Tevye. A rare treat!

I am reading ... A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt. Very thorough, but not what you might call a lively read.

I am hoping ... the snow will not stop us making a long drive to Cumbria later in the week.

I am hearing ... Cherub asking Star for a biscuit. Complaints of "that one is very broken!".

Around the house ... modest disorder. I have been out of action for a week (that darned chest infection, which is still hanging in there) and Tevye has been doing sterling work keeping chaos at bay.

One of my favorite things ... crisp, new snow.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a cosy hotel with log fires and lots of comfort food.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own. [Am I the only person who can't find the Mr Linky at The Simple Woman? I can't add my daybook entry or read others and it is bugging me!]

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Candlemas Eve

by Robert Herrick

DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).

The holly hitherto did sway ;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter's eve appear.

Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew ;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.