Friday, September 22, 2006

Film education

Just received our tickets from the Film Education, we are going to see March of the Penguins and Cars. There is still time to book if any of you home educators out there are interested. As well as offering free tickets to a number of films at venues throughout the UK the organisation also produces some good free resources, available on its web site.

The life story of a penny

Inspired by Roald Dahl's Boy - Tales from Childhood Thea suggested we have a Prep session and spend our Prep time writing about the life story of a penny. Thea and I spent probably an hour on this activity. We first produced a concept map of possible ideas for our stories and then spent 30 minutes writing. Neither of our stories are yet finished but I expect we will revisit them soon. We both enjoyed the activity and I felt we got a lot out of it. There were none of the strict rules and harsh punishments that Dahl had to endure. I have been quite appalled at some of the practices that went on in schools when he was a boy. The canning seemed especially barbaric and like Dahl I was amazed that one headmaster who caned boys in a particularly cruel way should then later be promoted to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. The existence of fags and boazers (prefects) also seemed very bizarre and a great opportunity for bullies to pick on kids without their activities being questioned. Fags must have had a terrible time. Dahl tells the story of how he spent one winter being a "bog seat warmer" for one of the boazers. No explanations needed as to what this activity involved, I am sure. Lets hope public schools have improved somewhat since Dahl's day. I am especially glad caning has been banned whilst I always thought it was an unacceptable practice I didn't realise the injuries inflicted were quite so severe.

A bakers shop has been opened in the kitchen. The kids spent part of the morning modeling cakes, bread, pastries out of salt dough. The produce looked very realistic. So much so that the dog (Nell), when no one was looking, decided to help herself to some of it. Judging by the number of discarded cakes and pies I think she was somewhat confused by these tempting cakes which looked great but obviously tasted disgusting. She must have tried one, thought yuck, tried another, thought yuck again, and so on and so on. She obviously was unable to comprehend that all the food would taste the same.

All fifteen bags of compost (I counted them) have now been spread on the allotment. We are now ready to plant some seeds and onion sets.

Thea has achieved her silver in swimming and is now working towards her gold. Quite a tough challenge as it involves swimming 32 lengths. well beyond my capabilities. James and I enjoyed our athletics session. My running is improving but I must try and get out during the week for some extra training.

Watched the first in the BBC series of Ancient Rome - The Rise and Fall of an Empire. Not at all suitable for children, well that was my view. I found the violence of some of the scenes disturbing. I know Rome was a cruel and bloody place but I would have thought it was possible to tell the Ancient Rome story without such graphical displays of violence. Not sure whether I will watch next week's episode.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


September is proving a busy work month - another meeting today but only for a couple of hours. Its a good job every month isn't so demanding otherwise I would have to rethink the whole work thing. Children come first in my book and if work starts to impinge too much on our home education then it will have to go. At the moment I have to admit the money is useful, I think we would seriously struggle on only Nigel's salary and things like piano, swimming and athletics would be difficult to fund not to mention the book purchases. Just as well we haven't reached that point yet, The Book People magazine arrived today and I couldn't resist some of the titles, including:

Shakespeare Stories - 8 books for ages 8 to 2 years.
Antony and Cleopatra, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, The Tempest, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Hamlet.

Birdhouses - templates and instructions to create 20 attractive and entertaining homes and feeders for your local bird families. Designed to be made in a weekend. Thought this would be good for DT projects along with the Usborne book on Card Making.
Thea and James really enjoy making their own cards but the designs shown in my card book are too fiddly and complicated.
Whilst I was at my meeting Thea researched the Titanic on the web using Nanna's computer. Follow up work to yesterday's visit; her idea not mine. She found out the following:
  • The Titanic had 2,227 passengers
  • 705 survived
  • The ship was designed to hold 30 life boats but only 20 were on board
  • The Titanic is 12,500 feet down
  • Lillian Gertrud Asplund, the last American survivor of the Titanic tradgedy, died 6th May 2006 at the age of 99.
  • The Titanic boasted electric elevators, a swimming pool, a squash court, a Turkish bath and a gymnasium with a mechanical horse and mechanical camel.

During the afternoon Thea, James and I spent a fun couple of hours constructing a legobeach complete with pier, cliff lift, lighthouse, speed boats, submarine, sand castles, beach centre and surfers.

Jackpot...well not quite

My luck must be in I have just had my first win on the Premium Bonds - £50. Pity it wasn't £50,000 or £150,000 but I'm not complaining it will pay for the bike trailer. Work required my attendance today so Thea and James spent most of the day with Nanna. They took a trip to the local museum to see the Titantic exhibition, judging by their comments it was very good.

Thea and I are reading Roald Dahl's - Boy: Tales of Childhood, a great read. It is fascinating to see where some of the ideas came from for his stories and characters. Tonight we were shocked to read how he virtually lost his nose in a car accident. I have been closely examining the photos of him to see if you can see the stitch line!

If at first you don't succeed...

On Monday morning we took a trip into the village to select a postcard to send to Chesapeake in the US. We sat in the sun outside the library and decided what we were going to write on our card. We wrote about the moors being brown for ten months of the year and purple for two and how each year children made model boats to float on the Leven in celebration of Captain Cook. The card is now winding its way to the States.
We spent the afternoon on the allotment removing horse radish, couch grass and nettles. The horse radish was fiendish and took some digging and pulling; as vegetarians we don't have much need for the stuff. Back at home James and I dug out one of our compost bins. We now have about 10 bags of excellent compost ready to go to the allotment to use as a mulch. I am keen to try a no dig method of cultivation, seems to make a lot of sense to me. Whilst digging out the compost bin James and I heard a frog croaking - I thought they only did that in the spring.
After losing on eBay last night I adopted the bidding tactics of my previous night's opponent (well you live and learn) and success was ours. I am now the owner of one new bike trailer, delivery expected within the next seven days.

Dipping and bidding

Woke early on Saturday to finish the mega carpet cleaning job before having to return the machine by 10.30 a.m. Then it was off to a swim party at Bishop Auckland. I got slightly irritated in the changing rooms when a lippy young girl told me boys weren't allowed in the women's changing rooms. I asked her when she last saw a boy in a swim suit and politely suggested that next time she gave more thought to what she said before opening her mouth. "Oh and by the way" I added "long hair such as hers was a good breeding ground for head lice". A bit below the belt I know but it achieved the desired effect - a rather stunned silence. Thea has quite short hair, is a bit of a tom boy, likes outdoor pursuits and being in the countryside. Nothing wrong with that you would think but in today's over schooled, consumerist and materialistic society it seems to be a problem. Earlier in the week she told me that a girl living nearby had asked her when she was having a sex change so you can perhaps see why I was a little rattled by the comments at the swimming baths. I am proud of my daughter she is not taken in by mass marketing, advertising and peer pressure but I know she pays a price and these comments are hurtful.
On Sunday Thea went to see a friend's pony and enjoyed having a go at riding again. James went brambling with a friend and came home with enough blackberries to make a blackberry and apple crumble. I spent the afternoon on the allotment with my dad. We are making good progress. Hopefully next week we will be able to sow some of the seeds we have purchased. I am keen to reduce the number of car journeys to the allotment so have been looking for a bike trailer on eBay. On Sunday I thought I had secured one only to be outbid in the last 30 seconds - I can tell you the air was blue!!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Five in one

Well I am seriously behind with my blog writing so here is a concerted effort to get it up to date - five blogs in one.
Friday 15th September
Visited another home educating family in North Yorkshire. It was lovely to meet up as we don't get that many opportunities to meet up with other HE families. Spent the afternoon washing carpets, yes I have hired an industrial machine. In order to get my monies worth I now feel obliged to wash all the carpets in the house. Fortunately we don't have any downstairs. Quite a relief I can assure you. I don't know what's worse the stress of feeling you have to wash all the carpets or seeing what comes out of your carpets. Still I don't think we qualify for appearing on how clean is your house. I am always amazed at people who agree to have their houses filmed in such a horrendous state - they must be truly desperate for help.
Thursday 14th September
We have received our second postcard exchange today - two postcards from Ottawa showing the Rideau Canal and Parliament Buildings, in summer and in winter.
A search through our gardening books has revealed what we can plant and grow through the autumn and winter. A seed order has now been placed with Chiltern Seeds for the following:
Bunching Onion - 'Photon'
Corn Salad - Verte de Cambrai
Flowering Purple Choi - Purple Chuy Sum
Chinese Kale - Kailaan
Japanese Greens - Mizuna
Spinach - Giant Thick Leaved Prickly (I think I bought the spring/summer variety the other day).
Thea is keen to make some candy as described on the Science of Cooking site. I didn't realise that temperature was so important in sweet making, consequently we have had to purchase a sugar thermometer. We also bought some marshmallows and had fun growing and eating monster mallows. Attempted to wash the caravan carpets with our Vax. Too much like hard work, will hire an industrial machine tomorrow.

Managed to run a mile in 10 minutes and 49 seconds without collapsing. Really need to get some extra training in during the week, its just finding the time!

Wednesday 13th September
I had to spend most of the day at work so Thea and James visited Nanna. James enjoyed watching a programme on zoos and constructing crossbows out of Kinex. Thea was in writer mode for part of the day and wrote a short story about three friends being evacuated to the country. Spent the afternoon cleaning caravans, I think I will wash the carpets tomorrow if the weather remains good.

Tuesday 12th September
The reading mission is completed and Thea and James received their medals. Borrowed some more books from the library:
Also Creative Crafts - Masks, The Usborne Guide to Woodwork (James liked the boat designs), Usborne Internet-Linked Italian for Beginners and Spanish for Beginners. On the way home from the library we called in at the local garden centre and purchased some onion sets and spinach seeds. Spent the afternoon at the allotment turning the first sod. Grandpa came to give a hand. The neighbouring allotment holder told us rabbits were a bit of a problem so James and Thea dug a trap. Hope I can remember where it is otherwise I may become it first victim.
James got his 25m award at swimming, he was positively beaming and so was I.
The new caravan has arrived, it is a bit of a beast. We now have two caravans parked on the lawn, I am worried the neighbours may complain. We will have to sell our old van on eBay pretty quick.
Monday 11th September
We were all a bit tired after the manic weekend and spent Monday chilling out. It gave me time to try and sort out the insurance policy for the new caravan. Thea checked out a great cooking web site, loads of fun recipes and activities, and designed an Avatar family. James enjoyed watching a couple of his favourite videos. Also spent some time constructing model aeroplanes and boats out of balsa wood. The highlight of the day was a call from the allotments secretary offering us half an allotment. We met him on site and clinched the deal - so begins the good life minus pigs and hens!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Shopaholics and I spy puppets

Well it has been a truly manic weekend. Saturday was one mega shopping trip. Largest item purchased - a caravan! Couldn't resist it, six years old, full winter van (will cope with temperatures up to minus thirty) excellent condition. Also bought the full winter porch awning, sun canopy and snow chains. Only slight problem is our current car is not heavy enough to tow it so we are now in the market for another car. Guess that will be next weekend's project then. The shopping trip also included a trip the the Metro Centre. I have to admit I hate the place. It is just not my idea of a pleasurable outing. That said the pain was worth it and we got some great bargains. Thea, James and I all got some track suit bottoms for running in. I tell you there must be some pretty big kids out there these days, I managed to get a pair from the kids section, excellent no VAT to pay. Nigel and I also got some Karrimor KSBs reduced from £70 to £20, wow. Whilst we were close to Northumberland we took the opportunity to visit some good friends who we haven't seen in over a year. It was great to catch up with them again.

On Sunday Thea, James and I took Nanna to Redcar and Cleveland's first puppet festival. It was a brilliant day and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. We had tickets for two performances - "The Worm that Squirmed" and "Each Peach Pear Plum". Both performance were just great. As well as the performances there were puppet shows for one, craft sessions, storytelling and the Yorkshire Olympics - very funny!

Thea was so inspired by the puppet shows she produced her own little show when we returned to Nanna's house. The show - The Naughty Chicken - was hilarious and had a great story line. It was amazing seeing just how much she had learnt from watching the puppeteers at work. We are all hoping the festival is repeated next year.

The worm that squirmed

One of the many beautiful puppets from The Worm that Squirmed.

Three minute theatre for one. Thea mesmerized by Dan's Baby (Dan the World's First pregnant Man). It all looks a bit strange I know but honestly it was quite harmless.

James takes his first deep sea dive!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Caravans and chrysalis

Thea was well chuffed this morning when Peri posted a message saying how much she had enjoyed reading Thea's spider poem, it made her day. Thanks Peri.

We are debating over whether to buy another caravan. We have seen two on E-bay that take our fancy. This morning Thea, James and I went to look at one near Easingwold. Thea did a brilliant job of navigating and we found the site no problem. Tomorrow we are off to Chester-le-Street to view another potential purchase.

Last night Thea's piano teacher rang to say could Thea start lessons again this Friday. Arghhh... Thea and I both panicked. This summer has seen little in the way of key contact. In fact I can't quite recall when Thea's fingers last came into contact with ebony or ivory. We had planned to have some intensive practice sessions over the next couple of weeks to catch up or should I say cover up our lack of activity. Well things didn't go too badly, much of the lesson was spent on working through new Grade II material leaving little time to go over the summer pieces, phew. With no lesson next week we have a week's grace - time for some serious catching up.

Fresh supplies of Hama beads were acquired today. I had thought of buying some from Bead Merrily after looking at some of the great design on Hama and Perler Bead Patterns (the designs are great, the site is well worth exploring if your into Hama). However, when I added the cost of postage to our order it was cheaper to buy them from the local toy shop. Armed with new supplies plotting of the constellations is now underway again. Tonight Draco was mapped out in Hama.

Whilst in the toy shop I had a browse over some of the educational toys and decided to purchase Times Tables Soundtracks, as I haven't opened it yet I am unable to give my opinions. I hear the Government's latest education idee recue is to make all children learn their tables by the age of 8. Can't quite work out government thinking on education, one minute they're saying formal learning particularly for boys shouldn't start until 7 and the next they're talking about upping the pressure still further. What next - a test at 8 to see who has met the tables target - will they ever learn!!

I have decided to purchase Leappad Read Plus Writing for James to try and encourage him with his reading and writing. I have toyed with the idea for sometime but finally made my mind to go ahead after chatting to a friend who rated it highly. Hope it doesn't prove to be one of those impulsive buys - only time will tell.

Great excitement tonight, our Vapourer Moth has emerged from its chrysalis. We released it into the garden to find a wingless mate. Apparently female Vapourer moths cannot fly and when they emerge from their chrysalis stay close to it. Once mated they lay their eggs inside the empty chrysalis. Good job ours was a male then, transferring female and chrysalis from jar to garden would be a tricky operation. Hope our other Vapourer is a male!

Have finally finished reading Atonement although I have to admit I was a touch frustrated with the ending - did Cecilia and Robbie survive the war or not? Its all a bit vague for me.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Spinning and battling

Today has been a very mixed day. This morning Thea was in writing mode and produced two short pieces, one titled - How to Annoy your Teacher! (not aimed at me she says) and the other:

How to cure arachnophobia
Spider, spider in your hair,
Spider, spider in the air,
Spider, spider in the loo.

Small spider, medium spider, large spider,
big spider, massive spider as big as your head.

Spider, spider touch me please,
I might be a wolf spider
and bite you on the knee.

Spider, spider getting closer,
Spider, spider, spider, spider.

Bigger, and bigger, and bigger,
I'm the biggest spider you've ever seen.

I think this was inspired after we found a rather large wolf spider on Thea's bedroom ceiling the other night. I'm not usually phased by spiders but I didn't fancy catching this with my bare hands. He was pretty nifty. Eventually managed to capture him in a Pringle carton and released him outside.
The Hama beads are back out and Thea has recommenced work on her planet project. Previously she had made, completely from Hama, the Sun, Earth, Mars, Neptune, Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn, Pluto (of course Pluto will now need to be reclassified as a dwarf planet after being demoted last month) and a star. Today she worked on depicting some of the constellations - Ursa Major, Orion and Draco. Unfortunately we ran out of blue Hama beads for the sky so the project is temporarily on hold until we purchase some more. The Stellarium web site was great for helping map the constellations.
We are continuing to work on washing and carding our swaledale fleece ready for spinning. James was keen to have a go at both carding and spinning, although I felt the wheel was a bit on the big side for him. Never the less he wasn't deterred. Tonight I collected my drop spindle that a friend had ordered from Twisted Fibre Craft Studio. James has already asked if he can have a go tomorrow. This afternoon I had to go to a meeting so both kids spent part of the afternoon with Nanna, watching TV and knitting! Makes a change from them playing on Adventure Quest - their latest game obsession. Thea found out about it from her American E-Pal.
The evening was spent at Athletics for James and I, and swimming for Thea. Yes, I have actually joined the Women's Beginners Running Group and managed a respectable 2 miles without collapsing in a heap. Quite a relief especially given that my running partner was a lovely lady in her late 60s. She is in training for the Great North Run and just recovering from an emergency operation. I have no such excuse to offer and won't even bother trying to make one up. I am expecting walking to be a slight problem tomorrow! Guess the paracetamol bottle may be called upon at some point during the day.
Thea has announced that next week is to be Vegan week so we are spending the next few days compiling menus and visiting the local health food shop. I think she got the idea yesterday after enjoying some rather yummy Vegi-Deli sage and onion slices.

A Mobile Home!

Spotted this in the car park at Jedburgh. Must be the most impressive mobile home I've seen; it belonged to a couple from Holland. Can't imagine its fuel economy is very good. This was my last holiday pic as I discovered I had forgotten the download lead for the camera - very annoying. Nigel did take some pics on his film camera but has not got them published yet.

After two good days at Jedburgh we travelled west to Moffat. Rainfall here is much higher - no kidding! Spent a very wet day at the Buddhist Temple and Tibetan Centre. An interesting place although not what we expected. The Temple was very glittery with its golden ceiling and 1008 golden buddhas. The cafe and gardens were lovely and tranquil and Thea just loved the shop. On returning to the caravan the kids transformed the bunk area into a Temple complete with pray flags and held a meditation session. Thea has expressed an interest in wanting to learn how to meditate, its something I quite fancy having a go at, guess I had better keep a look out for some courses.

On our last day we were awake early and watched the swallows gathering along the fence line of the caravan park. Well I guess summer is over. Visited Threave Castle, which has the added excitement that you have to access it by boat. Completed the quiz and James purchased a pencil sharpener catapult. He later spent many hours firing bits of paper across the caravan and conducting experiments as to which size paper ball made the best ammunition.

I have nearly finished reading Atomement, a good read. Looking forward to seeing the film next year.

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Border Antics

Well we finally did manage to get away. Nigel's back recovered sufficiently to withstand the car journey. He says that sitting is the worse thing for his back. Our first few nights were spent at Jedburgh, a picturesque town with quite a lot to explore. Thea and James enjoyed looking round Jedburgh Abbey and having a go at building arches out of wooden blocks. We also spent a lovely afternoon at Harestones Country Park, looking at the minibeast exhibition, following the maths trail and walking up to Wellington's Monument. Although we were a touch disappointed when we reached the monument to discover you couldn't ascend to the top.

Thea explores a sculpture celebrating Hutton's unconformity.

Jedburgh Abbey - the spiral staircases were great.

James fits the last block to his arch - will it hold?

Thea builds an abbey of her own.

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