Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April's Shower of Photos 11

Two more buildings in Church Square, both of them opposite the Victorian terrace in yesterday's post. First, the Golden Bell Pub, which has slightly mysterious origins. One reference says it was built on the site of a lodging house used by stone masons who built All Saints Church, but there doesn't seem to be any proof of this. The first certain reference to the Golden Bell as a pub comes from the late 18th century, but a somewhat unreliable Victorian register says it was first licensed in 1603. The front of the building dates from the 18th century, but other parts are older.

And on the other side of the entrance way to the right of the Golden Bell in the picture, The Post Office, another Victorian building dating from 1887.

Monday, April 27, 2009

April's Shower of Photos 10

I love this terrace of Victorian houses in Church Square. Built in 1855 they were originally six upmarket private homes - plenty of room for the servants! - but now are all offices. The entrance to the church in the previous photos is just to the left. And yes, that church is still in use - Church of England of course. You can see photos of the inside here.

Simple Woman's Daybook: 27th April

Outside My Window ... cold, wet, wintry weather. Such a come down after a week of beautiful warm, spring sun.

I am thinking ... what a difference the weather makes to my mood.

From the learning rooms ... Cherub is being hugely enthusiastic about playgroup - asks every morning if she is going ... big cheers if the answer is yes, and groans if it is no.

I am thankful for ... hot water and central heating, after three visits from a repair man - first to fix a noisy water pump and then to work out why the fixing left us with no heating and only tepid water.

From the kitchen ... chicken stir fry.

I am wearing ... black jeans, grey sweater, silver pendant necklace, hand knitted socks, crocs. Back to winter clothes after a week of linen trousers and t-shirts.

I am creating ... mundane sewing - taking in skirts, turning up trouser legs, and sewing ribbons onto ballet shoes.

I am going ... to curl up in the warm as much as possible.

I am reading ... Yiddish Civilisation: the Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation by Paul Kriwaczek and The Planets by Dava Sobel.

I am hoping ... the spring weather comes back quickly.

I am hearing ... the TV. I am half watching Zoo Days while typing.

Around the house ... wet washing. No chance of hanging it outside today.

One of my favorite things ... hot bacon sandwiches with mustard.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... play date for Cherub, meeting with parents of First Communion children, an English themed meal with neighbours (hmmm ... what to cook?).

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... the underside of a ray at the Sealife Centre - taken by Star, which tells you quite a bit about how Star's mind works! See its mouth?

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

Sunday, April 26, 2009

April's Shower of Photos 9

Back home again ... and here is the beautiful thirteenth century Church (dedicated to All Saints) in the town centre:

The ironwork on the west end door is also thirteenth century, made by the same master craftsmen as the ironwork at Westminster Abbey (I couldn't get quite the whole of the door in the shot as I had to poke the camera through the metal grille that screens off the porch):

The Church has a glorious sixty metre tall spire which can be seen from all the approaches to the town - when we see the spire, we know we are almost home:

The brickwork on the spire is convex, curving outwards slightly to make it appear straight from a distance (I don't claim to understand how this illusion works!). I took this picture looking upwards from the base of the spire, and it is just possible to see the curve:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Churchill's Astrologer

This is kind of old news, as it was reported in the press a year ago when the relevant files were made public, but I only just discovered it ... did you know that during World War II MI5 (the internal intelligence agency in the UK) employed an astrologer? Partly to pass on intelligence about certain clients who were under investigation, but also to try to predict Hitler's plans on the assumption that he was following astrological advice.

Weird, but if you are into Catholic literature it gets stranger, as there is a high chance you will have come across books written by MI5's official astrologer. So who was he?

Louis de Wohl.

I read and enjoyed a couple of his books a while ago - fictionalised biographies of Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo - and was searching for the title of his book on St. Helena, thinking it would be an interesting follow up to Evelyn Waugh's book about her ... and what did Google throw up? A whole series of articles about de Wohl's wartime career.

Oh. My. Goodness. Not what I was expecting at all!

Now, I'm not posting this to put anyone off reading his books, but purely out of interest in a rather extraordinary story. So far as I can discern, de Wohl "got religion" after the war, dropped out of astrology (if, in fact, he was ever genuinely into it in the first place) and into writing Catholic fiction. From what I found, he would be a fascinating subject for a full scale biography. I dug around a bit, and patched together this potted version ...

Louis de Wohl was born Ludwig von Wohl in 1903 in Berlin to a Hungarian father from a minor aristocratic family and an Austrian mother. He claimed his family were Catholic, but there is some suspicion that he was Jewish, or part-Jewish, and that his origins were the real reason he left Germany for Britain in 1935. He himself said he left because he could no longer stand Hitler and living in a country whose laws he could not respect. He had a brief career in banking before becoming a writer of popular novels and serials.

When the war broke out in 1939, he volunteered to serve in the British forces, but as a German national was declined. In 1940 he managed to coax MI5 into employing him as an astrologer, with the rank of Captain. His handler described him as "extraordinarily clever" and a "brilliant propagandist"In 1941 he was sent to America by the Special Operations Executive in an attempt to undermine the feeling that Hitler was invincible and to encourage pro-war sentiment. MI5 agents had very mixed feelings about de Wohl and some suspected he was a fake. An MI5 minute written in February 1942 says: "De Wohl is somewhat of a thorn in my side…a complete charlatan with a mysterious, if not murky past…struts about in the uniform of a British Army Captain and gives every reason for believing that he is in some secret employment…he is likely to be guided solely by his vanity…there is no case for interning him…if…left at large it is essential that we should keep a close tag on him…". Another described him as a "bumptious seeker after notoriety". Despite de Wohl's claims that Hitler was receiving astrological advice, it is now known that he was not.

Louis de Wohl's wartime experiences led him to rediscover his early faith. He became a committed Catholic and decided his writing career must change direction. In his own words:

Another seven years would pass before the late Cardinal of Milan, Ildefonso Schuster, would tell me: "Let your writings be good. For your writings you will one day be judged." But already then I knew that I had to undergo a radical change as a writer, and I knew that I had to make up for many years of time lost. I did not vow, like Franz Werfel, to write the life of some special saint if I would get out of the war alive. I just decided to serve God.
He began to write biographies of saints. His claimed his book on St. Thomas Aquinas was written at the direction of Pope Pius XII, who later told him to write about "the history and mission of the Church in the world". Is this true, I wonder? In the 1950s he lived for some time in the United States, married a German novelist, and moved to Switzerland where he died in 1961.

Fellow astrologer Felix Jay knew Louis de Wohl for twenty years and his recollections paint a picture of a charismatic man who combined self-aggrandisement and fantasy with real likeability. Jay strongly doubted that de Wohl was ever a real astrologer, although books he wrote on the subject are still quoted in astrological texts. He also thought his autobiographical snippets were suspect. This is his description of de Wohl in 1938, when they first met:
He occupied a large room in the hotel littered with books, papers in complete confusion, a large desk covered with all sorts of mementoes and framed and signed photographs and the inevitable leather cases of big cigars. Most objects of daily use were engraved with a baronial coat of arms. He was a man of medium height, but appeared to be much taller when sitting like an archduke in a high chair. More often than not he wore a flowing robe or a silken dressing gown. Everything around him oozed baroque or rococo opulence: he loved luxury of the peculiar Michael Arlen brand, and was surrounded by a Sydney Greenstreet aura of questionable taste, this serving not only to impress the visitor but most likely to generate in his own mind an illusion of grandeur ... He behaved initially like a duke giving audience to a petitioner. This attitude underwent a gradual change and another Louis began to emerge: smiling, humourous, sometimes puckish, sparkling. One felt happy in his company. His mind seemed to be receptive to any new fact or idea, and while giving the impression of dispensing his graces freely, he, in fact, drew from others all the time for information, ideas, facts, and useful items.
He was apparently genuinely affluent, with his writer's income supplemented by wealthy astrological clients (he charged 30 guineas for a horoscope, the equivalent of £800 today) and gambling. He had a talent for making a little knowledge go a long way, and for making full use of his contacts ... he didn't invent the myth that Hitler had an astrologer, but he certainly exploited it in his own interests. Interestingly, Jay thought that de Wohl's claim that his wartime role was as an astrologer was false - "I found it increasingly difficult to believe that the British High Command would consult an enemy-alien astrologer" - but the MI5 files show de Wohl was telling the truth. Jay clearly liked de Wohl as a man, but his verdict on him as an astrologer was damning:
Did Louis de Wohl believe in astrology? Did he regard it as an esoteric or scientific discipline? I must confess that after the end of the War, I began to doubt it: he could talk of his practice in the same superficial and often brilliant manner as of any other matter, be it women, card games, a new fashion or the shortage of cigars. I came to the conclusion that Louis, after his conversion to astrology, had seen in it quite early certain definite material advantages: in the first place it enlarged the already substantial impression he made upon his prospective rich and titled clientele whose company gave an added prop to his ego, and in the second place he saw endless opportunities for, 'selling' expensive horoscopes.
On the other hand, he seems in no doubt that Louis underwent a genuine religious conversion. When he first visited him after the war:
To my surprise, instead of an astrological conversation ... I was submitted to a religious homily, and looking around the room I saw crucifixes and religious prints and other objects. Louis had either been converted to, or had returned to, Roman Catholicism, and his monologues, which in the past had been spiced with the names of the worldly high and mighty, now contained references to bishops, abbots and saints.
Fascinating stuff!

Independent and Guardian articles describing de Wohl's wartime career
Brief autobiography at CatholicAuthors.com
National Archives
The Louis de Wohl I Knew by astrologer Felix Jay.

Friday, April 24, 2009

April's Shower of Photos 8

Doesn't this Georgian house in the village of Upwey, Dorset look Jane Austen-ish?

7 Quick Takes


1. I was amused to hear Cherub singing this conflated version of I'm a little teapot and I'm a little snowman:
I'm a little teapot short and fat,
Here's my bag and here's my hat.
When the snow is falling hear me shout,
Tip me up and pour me out.

2. Cherub is showing the same determined independence as her eldest sister - "I do it! I do it myself! I don't need any help!". The independent streak can be a mixed blessing. It took me 40 minutes to clean up the bathroom after one of those moments this week.

3. Along with the independence goes contrariness, and a determination to do everything her way. Take the handprint dragon picture we made yesterday. I suggested that the dragon's feet should be on the ground - she stuck on the legs with the feet pointing upwards; I suggested the tail should be at his back end - she stuck it on his head; that being the same head she had already deliberately stuck on backwards. At that point I lost patience. It was not one of our finer crafting efforts.

4. Bad parenting moment of the week: Angel pointed out yesterday that I had forgotten to get her the ballet shoes she needs for her exam on Monday. Oops.

5. What do you get when you mix an Irishman with three Poles? In our case, new soffits, fascias and guttering. It has been like the United Nations here this week, but after lots of hard work and mugs of tea, the house looks a lot better. To say it was a long overdue job is putting it mildly.

6. Why is Cherub eating a chocolate egg at 9.15 am? Because she already has a trail of chocolate down her t-shirt from a choc chip brioche she ate for breakfast. May as well get all the chocolate mess over before I clean her up.

7. Visited a friend yesterday who had disturbed one of these in her garden earlier in the week. Not sure who was more startled, the friend or the hibernating glis glis.

You can find more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Alarms and Excursions

Subtitled: Cherub's first trip to Accident and Emergency (Don't worry ... all is well!)

Tevye and Cherub were upstairs, K-next-door and I were downstairs ... and Cherub ran down the stairs to get to us.




Which, it transpired, was pouring from a cut on the back of her head where she had caught it on the radiator at the bottom of the stairs. Tevye and I rushed her down to see the doctor before the surgery closed, leaving K-next-door to collect Angel, Star and friend from various dance classes (thank goodness for our neighbours. Again.) Cherub was rueful but entirely with it ... "I don't want to go to the doctor!" ... and I know from experience that head wounds bleed profusely, so we weren't overly worried despite the spectacularly blood stained flannel I was holding to her head. The doctor looked, decided it needed stitching or glueing and sent us to A and E.

Cherub had a doze in the car, and by the time we arrived was remarkably bright eyed and bushy tailed, and no longer bleeding. The doctor decided (as we expected) that there was no damage beside the 2cm cut, and that it could be glued rather than stitched. Cherub was a trouper and withstood the nurse sticking the cut together without so much as a squeak ... helped by the teddy she was given as a distraction, which she was then allowed to take home with her. By the time we got home only her gory, blood-stained t-shirt and matted hair showed there was anything wrong. She slept well last night and is fine this morning - though the matted hair has to stay as we are not allowed to wash it for five days.

Cherub's verdict ...
"My head broke and I had to go to hospital and have it mended with glue."
"Next day, I won't run downstairs ... and I will hold on!"

The Story of the Creation

The Story of the Creation
by Jane Ray

This is a lovely book for introducing young children to the story of the creation. The text is an adapted from the King James Version of the Bible story, keeping the flow of the Biblical version but with some simplification and additions that make it easier to read aloud to preschoolers. Here is a sample:

Then God said, "Let there be birds on earth and to fly above the earth. And the earth was filled with the song of birds as they rose into the sky: peacocks and flamingoes, sunbirds and turtle doves, parrots, thrushes, owls, hummingbirds and nightjars. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day."
The illustrations are beautifully done, with lots of rich detail. Cherub loved the pages devoted to sea creatures, birds and other animals, and spent a long time spotting the various animals she knew.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On Writing History

I have often come across people wanting to know whether a particular history book is accurate, or wondering whether a book is "Catholic", with the implication that if it is not, then it must be faulty.

Reality is not so simple. Very few history books (if any!) are 100% factually correct - however much a historian checks references they are likely to miss something, and survey texts based on the writings of other historians are particularly tricky as errors can easily be perpetuated. Moving beyond the facts, history is subjective. It is the historian's attempt to interpret the past, weaving the facts into a credible story of how things might have been. Different stories of the same time and place are not mutually exclusive, and two very different interpretations can both give an accurate picture because they are looking through a different lens. Both are true, as far as they go.

I am reading Yiddish Civilisation by Paul Kriwaczek, who summarises this beautifully in an explanation of why he has chosen to write about the positive history of the Yiddish nation and to largely gloss over the more commonly told story of persecution and catastrophe ...

Being neither a learned Jew nor a professional historian, I do believe that there is another story to tell. Not an exclusive story, for no story has a monopoly on the truth and many different narratives can be picked out of the same materials. None contain all, but all contain some, of the almost overwhelming, confusing, apparently random profligacy of fact and conjecture, evidence and guesswork. Picking a narrative out of history is like choosing a path through the woods. To decide on any one route between the trees means abandoning all others, to tell one story is to leave all others untold.
I wish I had written that!

April's Shower of Photos 7

My last building from Dorchester - Napper's Mite. Originally almshouses built by Sir Robert Napper in 1616, it now houses shops and a cafe. Just look at that beautiful stone!

The name and date of the building are on the plaque under the bell tower ...

This is the view through the entrance archway ... a series of consecutive arches, leading through a courtyard and out the other side ...

This is the rear of the building ... I love the roof line with all those chimneys ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April 23rd: St. George's Day

For St. George's Day on Thursday I'm thinking we will :

  • Read Saint George and the Dragon by Geraldine McCaughrean (or just look at the pictures if the story is way over Cherub's head)
  • Make a handprint dragon
  • Make fairy cakes and use red and white icing to make a St. George's cross
Again, there are a many ideas for activities and crafts at Activity Village.

For more about Saint George, see this post that I wrote back in 2006. And here is a prayer to St. George.

April 22nd: Earth Day

I am trying to organise myself to do some simple calendar related activities with Cherub. Tomorrow is Earth Day so I'm planning to:

  • Look at a globe
  • Read The Story of Creation by Jane Ray (lovely illustrations!)
  • Plant some flowers
  • Colour some pictures
  • Play simple recycling board game (found this in Asda for 99 pence!)
You can find lots more ideas at Activity Village.

Window Tax

I should have explained my throw away comment in the post below.

A tax on windows (effectively a glass tax) was introduced at the end of the 17th century and lasted through to the 19th. The amount payable depended on the number of windows in a house. As a result, windows were sometimes blocked up in order to reduce the amount of tax payable.

Monday, April 20, 2009

April's Shower of Photos 6

Colliton House, Dorchester. The plaque on the wall (just to the left of the road sign) gives this information:

Formerly the town house of the Churchill family. Mainly 17th century with major 18th century alterations. The site is believed to be the location of the medieval hospital of St. John the Baptist, fragments of which may still remain in the building and its foundations. The building has been owned by the County Council since 1933.
I was intrigued by the blocked up windows, and wondered if they may have been filled in to avoid window tax. I couldn't find anything about them on Google, but I did discover that the house appears in Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge as High Place Hall.

Simple Woman's Daybook: 20th April

Outside My Window ... misty early morning with the promise of another warm spring day.

I am thinking ... about what I need to do to get back into a new term's routine.

From the learning rooms ... playgroup for Cherub this afternoon, then the older girls go back to school tomorrow.

I am thankful for ... a relaxing holiday and recharged batteries.

From the kitchen ... lamb steaks and kebabs left over from a bbq with Next Door yesterday.

I am wearing ... pink winter pyjamas, and thinking they are getting too warm and I need to get a lighter pair out.

I am creating ... more socks. One pair for my brother, and another for me with the soft yarn I bought to crochet a cardigan for Cherub. I tried the cardigan and gave up - too much hole and very dodgy tension. I did finish her knitted lilac one, though.

I am going ... to the library to swap holiday reading for a new book pile.

I am reading ... Yiddish Civilisation: the Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation by Paul Kriwaczek.

I am hoping ... a new dance class schedule doesn't make for too much running around in the evenings.

I am hearing ... Noddy on the TV.

Around the house ... piles of laundry in various stages. The downside of going away.

One of my favorite things ... Carte D'Or vanilla and chocolate brownie ice cream.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... plenty of outdoors time while the weather is good.

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.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

April's Shower of Photos 5

Lots of photos to add to my April Shower from our holiday. To kick off, here is the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester - more Victorian Gothic, built in 1884.

How gorgeous is this window?

Home Again

We had a lovely holiday in Weymouth - even the weather was on our side, most of the time. The girls current ages - 14, 10 and nearly 3 - seem to be a particularly good combination, with everyone getting along well and enjoying each other's company.

We did a lot of this ...

and this ...

And a bit of this ...

and this ...

Not to mention some swimming (all of us), a luxury spa session (adults), some clothes shopping (females over the age of three), and lots of ice cream and Easter egg eating.

And guess what? Angel and Star danced in the caravan park's talent show and won a free holiday for a week in October to go back and take part in the grand final. (This is not quite as wonderful an achievement as it sounds. They were ... ahem! ... the only entrants in their age group. But hey! They overcame the embarrassment of being the only ones and got up there on the stage and did their stuff, so I reckon they were winners.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Happy Easter

Wishing you all a happy and blessed Easter.

We are off to chill out (literally!) on a south coast beach for a while.

Now to finish packing ...

4 x 10 Reading Challenge: Update 3

Finished book titles are blue, with those completed since my last post in bold; books in my current reading pile are green. I cheated slightly, and split biography and autobiography into separate categories. I'm not sure yet whether to the abandon the children's historical fiction or serendipity categories from my original list - I will see where the reading muse takes me.


  • Nella Last's War: the Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49 (ed. Richard Broad)
  • Nella Last's Peace: the Post-War Diaries of Houseife, 49
  • A Vicarage Family: a Biography of Myself (Noel Streatfeild) - a partly fictionalised story of her own childhood as the second of four vicarage children. She was also the most difficult child, and the least happy. Stubborn at home and uncooperative at school, she felt unloved, particularly by her mother. Now I want to read an objective biography of the author to find out how much of the book is accurate, and how much is fiction. I found this for 99 pence in a charity shop, which is just as well as the book met a sad end when I dropped it in the bath.
  • Flora Thompson: the Story of the Lark Rise Writer (Gillian Lindsay)
  • A History of Hand Knitting (Richard Rutt)
  • Sensational Knitted Socks (Charlene Schurch) - the sock knitters Bible. Teaches you to knit socks any size, in any yarn, in dozens of different patterns. If you like knitting socks - or have aspirations to knit them - you need this book!
  • Teach Me To Do It Myself (Maja Pitamic) - reviewed here.
  • The Shrines of Our Lady in England (Anne Vail) - still reading as this is an easy book to pick up, read a snippet, and put down.
  • My Life With the Saints (James Martin, S.J.) - three chapters in so far.
  • A Pocket Guide to St. Paul (Scott Hahn) - arriving from Amazon any day, thanks to Alicia's review.
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer)
  • The Uncommon Reader (Alan Bennett)
Geography and Travel
  • A Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria (Kapka Kassabova) - I picked this up from the new books display in the library because I knew next to nothing about Bulgaria. The author grew up in the capital Sofia during the last years of the Communist regime, before emigrating to New Zealand. In the book she explores both the memories of her childhood and the "new" Bulgaria. The echoes of teenage angst and the author's feelings of rootlessness make for some negativity. I thought at the outset that this was going to bug me, but as I got into the book it was outweighed by her vivid writing and the way she brought her Bulgaria alive.
  • The Road to Wigan Pier (George Orwell)
Science and Nature
  • Electric Universe (David Bodanis)
  • A Year in the Country (Alison Uttley) - part of that Little Grey Rabbit / Alison Uttley rabbit trail.
Unfinished Business
Alison Uttley, the Life of a Country Child (Denis Judd) - print too small!
Beatrix Potter At Home in the Lake District (Susan Denyer) - started but didn't get far, so returned it to the library as I needed to free up space on my ticket.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

April's Shower of Photos 4

I took these photos of the roof of Truro Cathedral when we were in Cornwall last summer. The building looks old but isn't - mock Gothic, rather than the real thing, built in the late 19th century.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

April's Shower of Photos 3

I think I can just about get away with counting these as buildings ... public payphones are rapidly becoming an anachronism in the face of the ubiquitous mobile phone, and most of the traditional red British phone boxes have been replaced. A few have been kept to preserve character, including these two. The building you can just see behind is the house on which Mary Norton based The Borrowers, now a school.

Monday, April 06, 2009

April's Shower of Photos 2

These photos are of a row of almshouses, built by a charity in the nineteenth century to provide accommodation for "poor widows". I didn't manage to get quite the whole row into this shot, as I chopped off the first house.

I love the shape of this door and the leaded light windows.

And the stonework on the gable end of the first house.

Simple Woman's Daybook: 6th April

Outside My Window ... leaf buds beginning to open, daffodils, blossom. Spring!

I am thinking ... about how to get everything done that needs to be done before we go away on Thursday.

From the learning rooms ... metalwork. Angel made a door chain. She now has it on her bedroom door, not because she particularly wants to lock the door, but because the chain took so much effort to make she is determined to use it.

I am thankful for ... our new car. Life will be so much easier without the constant car-juggling.

From the kitchen ... eating up perishables in advance of our holiday and bread in advance of passover.

I am wearing ... blue patterned pyjama bottoms and white top.

I am creating ... crocheted roses. I'm planning a crocheted cardigan for Cherub and a pair of socks for my brother as holiday projects. Cherub's lilac cardigan is finished except for the buttons and my beige cardigan is on hold.

I am going ... clothes shopping in Hemel Hempstead with K-next-door and five girls. We are planning to hit Primark for summer clothes. We have to make an early start and be back by three as Angel has a rehearsal with the pianist for her Grade 6 ballet exam.

I am reading ... A Year in the Country by Alison Uttley. Still. I seem to have stalled.

I am hoping ... to fit some time for quiet Holy Week reflection in amongst everything else that is going on.

I am hearing ... Cherub watching Mister Maker (craft show for preschoolers)

Around the house ... making good progress with decluttering the kitchen. Lots of washing and cleaning to do before we go away.

One of my favorite things ... school holidays. Love the change of pace and having my big girls home for a while.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... clothes shopping today; a play date for Cherub tomorrow; seder meal on Wednesday; washing, cleaning, packing ... then off to Weymouth for an Easter holiday.

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.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

100 Species Challenge: Part 6

Back in August last year I started a 100 Species Challenge, aiming to identify one hundred separate species of local plants. I'm afraid I am a fair-weather naturalist and haven't added to my list since October, but in the spirit of Rule 7 I am picking up again where I left off:

7. Participants may take as long as they like to complete the challenge.
For the time being, at least, I am including my running list of plants, with new additions in bold.

Species identified:

1. Daisy
2. Creeping buttercup
3. White clover
4. Selfheal
5. Dandelion
6. Red clover
7. Autumn hawkbit
8. Weeping willow
9. Horse chestnut
10. Sycamore
11. Alder
12. Elder
13. Ragwort
14. Mugwort

15. Lesser Celandine
16. Germander Speedwell

Lesser Celandine

Scientific name: Ranunculus ficaria
Family: Ranunculaceae
Flowers: March to May

Lesser celandine is a member of the buttercup family and, confusingly, completely unrelated to the greater celandine. Common names for the flower include smallwort, figwort, brighteye, butter and cheese (love that one!), and pilewort. That last name gives a clue to its main medicinal use. Yes. Haemorrhoids.

Once in flower the plant becomes toxic, but if picked before the flowers appear the leaves can be eaten as spring greens. Here is a recipe for Lesser Celandine Strogonoff (yet again I am amazed at what it is possible to find on the internet!).

Lesser celandine was a favourite flower of the poet Wordsworth, who memorialised it in three poems ...
To The Small Celandine

Pansies, Lilies, Kingcups, Daisies,
Let them live upon their praises;
Long as there's a sun that sets
Primroses will have their glory;
Long as there are Violets,
They will have a place in story:
There's a flower that shall be mine,
'Tis the little Celandine.
Read the rest of this poem and other other two here.

My photograph was taken early in the day while the flower still had its petals folded. As it brightens they open like this.

Germander Speedwell

Scientific name: Veronica chamaedrys
Family: Scrophulariaceae
Flowers: March to July

There are many varieties of speedwell, but I am 99% certain that this is the commonly found germander speedwell. This pretty little pale blue flower has equally pretty common names: angels' eyes, bird's eye, God's eye, and eyebright.

The name of the speedwell genus, Veronica, is no coincidence. The markings on the inside of the flower are said to resemble the markings left on the cloth used by St. Veronica to wipe the face of Jesus on His way to His crucifixion.

Speedwell is mentioned in a number of poems. This verse is from Tennyson's Spring:
Bring orchis, bring the foxglove spire,
The little speedwell's darling blue,
Deep tulip's dashed with fiery dew,
Laburnums, dropping-wells of fire.
In herbal medicine speedwell is used to treat coughs and catarrh, and as a blood tonic.

Information: A Contemplation Upon Flowers (Bobby J.Ward)

Pondering Schooling

Yesterday was the first day of the school Easter break. At 9am Angel was sitting at the computer working on an English assignment - an essay looking at the character of Lady MacBeth, as shown by two specific scenes. The promptness, I have to admit, is not due to any enthusiasm for Shakespeare, but due to her Born Organised personality (to use Fly Lady's terminology - she inherits this trait from one of her parents. It isn't me.)

What surprised me was not the efficiency, but the quality of her work. Literature is not her forte. She has spells of reading for pleasure, but is more inclined towards Harry Potter than Shakespeare, to say the least. But she was tackling the topic logically and with some fluency, with the appropriate use of quotes and some real understanding of the context of the play. Why? Because she has an excellent teacher who has brought out the best in her. Last school year she had a teacher she disliked for the first half of the year, and a substitute for the rest. Her English work was run of the mill. In UK terms, she was assessed at Level 5b (potential C grade GCSE). This year every piece of work she has done has improved on the last, and she is now up to Level 7 (potential A grade GCSE) - which I guess translates in US terms to improving from Cs to As. Her maths experience has been similar to her English one - a couple of good teachers, improved confidence, and dramatically improved grades.

Would she have reached the same standard if she was still homeschooled? I very much doubt it. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to even try tackling Shakespeare with her, fearing it would turn into a battleground (it really, really isn't her thing!). Could I have got her essay writing technique up to the same standard? Probably not at this stage. At school, she works because it is expected of her and there is no mother-daughter relationship to cloud those expectations - she can't negotiate with a school teacher the way she would negotiate with me.

On the flip side, get a bad teacher - or even worse, no teacher - and school can be a disaster. Last year she had a substitute science teacher for half the year; this year she has had two terms of shortlived substitutes, rarely having the same teacher for more than a week at a time. There is a critical shortage of science teachers in the UK, and even Angel's highly regarded Upper School is struggling to fill teaching vacancies - what the situation must be like for some schools, I shudder to think. Guess what Angel's science grades are? Level 5a / C ... way below what she is capable of, and I'm pretty certain that if she was still homeschooled she would be doing quite a bit better.

As I gain experience of having children in school, I am increasingly aware that the way children respond to both school and homeschool is very individual. One child may thrive in school; another wilts at school and thrives at home. There is no doubt that academically, school is the right place for Angel. She learns better in a group than on her own, and given the right teacher she does very well - better than she would have done at home.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

April's Shower of Photos

Last year I took up Marianna of the S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen's idea of posting a photo everyday during April. I didn't keep it up for the whole month, but I enjoyed what I did. This year I'm on the late side, but I'm not going to let that stop me joining in her new April's Shower of Photos.

In 2008 I chose nature as the theme for my photos. This year I'm ringing the changes by taking photos of buildings - no particular reason, except that it is something different, and I'm hoping it will make me look at my surroundings more carefully. I made a start this afternoon when I went into town to pick up a library book. The building on the left looking out of this alleyway is one of the oldest in town - sixteenth century, I think. I was quite pleased with myself for working out that I needed to turn on the flash because I was looking from deep shadow out into bright sun.

Book Review: Teach Me To Do It Myself

Teach Me To Do It Myself: Montessori Activities For You and Your Child, by Maja Pitamic, published by Dorling Kindersley. (I think it has been republished under another title - I Can Do It: Play-and-Learn Activities to Help Your Child Discover the World the Montessori Way)

If you want Montessori for Dummies, this book is for you. If you want educational theory, lots of information about Maria Montessori and her philosophy, and the whole Montessori caboodle then it isn't. Teach Me Do It Myself has a limited remit, but what it does it does very well indeed.

The book has a simple format. It is a collection of activities to do with your child, divided into five sections: Life Skills, Developing the Senses, Language Development, Numeracy Skills, and Science Skills. I have read enough about Montessori to see that the activites are all based on the standard Montessori sequence, but the author uses layman's language rather than Montessori terms ("life skills" instead of practical life, "graduated building blocks" rather than pink tower). It completely removes the whole Montessori mystique and what is left is clear, simple and looks very do-able. At the beginning there is a brief (very brief!) introduction to Maria Montessori and her method, a double-page, bullet-pointed list of instructions as to how to use the book, and a set of frequently asked questions. After that you simply get on and do it.

Within each section the activities are presented in sequence of difficulty, and each activity ends with some extension ideas. Almost all the activities in the book can be put together using items you are likely to have at home without requiring a great deal of preparation time. A few worksheets are included at the back of the book so that you can make simple manipulatives, including a very basic set of red and blue number rods using thick card.

Each activity is set out in the same clear and simple format:

  • A brief introduction explaining what skill the activity is intended to teach or develop
  • A "tip box" with suggestions on how best to present the activity
  • A list of what is needed for the activity
  • Simple bullet pointed instructions on how to present the activity.
  • Other related activities to try
The activities are suitable for children from age two or three up to five. The author avoids giving age suggestions for individual activities so that children can progress at their own pace.

I have toyed with the idea of using Montessori at various times and did dabble a little when Angel was young, but I soon gave up because I couldn't justify buying lots of expensive Montessori items and doing it myself just seemed too overwhelming (I think I gave up making sandpaper letters somewhere around F!). This book makes the idea of dipping a toe into Montessori seem both attractive and manageable. After the Easter break I am going to try a few of the activities with Cherub and see how it goes.

Friday, April 03, 2009

7 Quick Takes


1. It has been a strange week, because I spent the first half of it mostly tied to a sofa by a sick, sleepy Cherub. My to-do list went out of the window. Mercifully, all that sleep did its job and she is just about back to her normal self. Angel had a mild dose and was fine in 24 hours. Now Star is complaining of tummy ache. Oh dear.

2. Extended breastfeeding in your late 40s has its ups and downs. I am so thankful for it when Cherub is ill, as I'm sure nursing through the sickness (and thereby getting some nutrition to stay down) means she bounces back much quicker. The downside is that three days of intense nursing rather than her usual once a day quite literally made me ill - exhausted and aching all over. As soon as Cherub went back to normal, so did I.

3. Last day of school for Angel and Star today, before the two week Easter break (or it would be if Star was well enough to go). I like the way the school year is organised in the UK, with half term sessions of six or seven weeks each followed by break of a week or more. Just as everyone is getting tired, along comes a break and a chance to recharge batteries.

4. I have become a shopaholic. For toddler clothes. This is the last time I will get the chance to dress a cute little girl, and I know from experience that it doesn't take long before small girls become very particular about what they will and won't wear. I'm taking advantage of whatever remains of the malleable period.

5. Jennifer asked in the post below about bamboo yarn ... I like it. So far I have used it for two pairs of socks and an almost finished Cherub cardigan. It has less give than wool but more than cotton, and has just enough stretch for socks (though needs a fairly tight top to stop them turning into slouch socks). It is soft, with a slightly silky feel, and very nice to knit with. The only downside I have found is that the balls of fine and slippy sock yarn fell apart half way through and tangled badly.

6. A tip for readers in the UK ... did you know that, as part of a government initiative to encourage people to be more active, many swimming pools are offering free swimming to under 16s and over 60s from 1st April. At our local leisure centre you have to fill in a registration form and provide proof of age, then ... bingo! Free swimming!

7. Cherubism of the week, after reading a book about Angelina Ballerina and her baby sister ... "We don't have a baby ... we must buy one! Next time we go!"

Read more quick takes at Jen's Conversion Diary.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


January's socks ...

And February's socks ...

I only got round to taking pictures of these two pairs today so I'm posting them now. Both were made with self striping 75% bamboo yarn. The pink yarn turned out to have larger chunks of colour, with the blue / purple pair more variegated. The first pair were knitted using a mock cable pattern, and the second with a diamond lace one.