Sunday, 22 June 2008

Music and Dance!

Today we went to a local annual Multicultural Festival - The Mela.

We're very lucky that we live in a multicultural area and I think it's a wonderful experience for my children to see people of different cultures and religions on a daily basis and for them not to think it is unusual. When I was growing up in a small village the only people I saw of a diffferent nationality were 2 black children from the local children's home (who came to our school) and, once a year on my Mum's birthday, I would see the staff at the Chinese take away in our nearest town! Needless to say, it was quite a culture shock to move to where we live now. I remember being very conscious that I spent the first few weeks just staring at everyone who went past, as if I'd just landed on a different planet!

Dd1 was particularly fascinated by the different music at the Mela and insisted on standing right at the front by the stage, in front of everybody. I didn't feel too self-conscious until the Bangra Hip Hop band, when I started feeling rather old and frumpy stood there at the front with lots of young Asian - and 'wannabe Asians' in their replica ethnic gear - getting into the groove (or whatever the Hip Hop equivalent is - hey, what do I know??). Anyway, there I was, this white middle class mother, stood in my cords and M&S t-shirt with a headscarf tied badly around my unwashed hair to stop it blowing around and getting in my face, a balloon on a stick that the kids had got bored of holding, and my pockets bulging full of hankies 'cause I've got a cold. Hmm...I really blended in with all those teens!

When the above was happening Dd1 kept asking 'When is it going to stop?'. It wasn't that she wasn't enjoying the music. It was more that it didn't follow the usual recognisable pattern of European music, so she just couldn't work out at what stage the song was at. I must confess that I'm usually more of a 'verse-chorus-verse-chorus' sort of girl, but it was still fascinating to watch and to listen to. I'm not sure what the instrument is called.

The dog finishes off Dd1's ice cream!

Don't let my balloon float away!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Percentages at the Dinner Table

It's funny how much simpler some things are when they crop up in everyday life than how I remember them being taught at school.

Somehow a conversation about percentages cropped up as we were all sat at the table eating dinner tonight. I'm not sure how it started but it was something along the lines of ds1 saying he'd had a certain percentage of 100% 'because it's always out of 100% isn't it?'.

Me: 'Percentage just shows how many of something out of 100 there are. So if you had 100 donuts and ate 5 of them, you would have eaten 5% of the total number of donuts.'

Ds1:'But it doesn't have to be 100 of something, does it? If you had 25,000 donuts you could still work out the percentage couldn't you?'.

Me: 'Yes, percentages are good because you can apply them to any amount. So for example if something you bought was 50% off, how good would that be?'

Ds1: 'That's half-price!...So, is that like "buy one get one free"?'

Dh: ' Yes it's still 50% off, or half price'.

me: 'well unless you only wanted one of the items and not two!'

Ds1:'Then it's 100%.'

Me: 'So what if it's "buy 2 get 1 free"?'

Ds1:{groan}'That's too hard.'

Dh: 'No it's not, it's just division.'


Dh: 'But it's like when you had your tuck shop and you had to work out how much each pack of crisps cost when you bought a pack of 24.'

me: 'That's just division and that was ok.'

Ds1:'But that's different: I used a calculator'

Dh: 'I use a calculator alot at work.

Ds1: 'That's one of my MOST favouritist things in technology - the calculator!'


I think I've just undone all the good work of my recent frugalness (is that a word?). After years of camping with just a basic cool box (or, more often, a simple bucket of water) I have blown some cash and bought an electric cool box. I've always resisted - it seemed such a silly luxurious waste of money. Hey, what kind of fair weather camper needs an electric coolbox?! Well, apparently, it seems that we do :) We've always managed camping by having to buy new milk and other food every day, or putting up with runny butter and gone offish humous! But now, having spent 40 quid, it looks like this spells the start of middle age and the end of my minimalist camping days. Well, that's a lie...we've never had minimalist camping days, not since we've had children.

So, here we go again. Once more, we'll be the family that turns up at the campsite with everything but the kitchen sink - but this time WITH an electric coolbox! And once again we'll probably be embarrassed by our charming minimalist neighbours who'll turn up with a simple yurt, a stove and some rugs! Ah at least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that among all their minimalism, they'll have some very runny butter and some going-offish humous!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Bedtime Delaying Tactics

'What's big toe?' ds2 asked, waggling his foot under the duvet.'
'What do you mean "what's big toe?" '
'I mean, what's big toe.
'Big toe?'
'Yes! What's a big toe?
'What do you mean "what's a big toe?" '
'A big toe, what's it called?'
'Oh! Well. It's a big toe.'
'Yes, but what's it called?' He stuck his foot out of the duvet.
'It's called A BIG TOE'
'But doesn't it have another name?'
'Well. No. I don't think so.'
'It's not like a thumb on a hand. It's just called A BIG TOE. Like, you know, your little toe.'
'So what's a little toe called?'
'Little toe. Just little toe. At least I think it is'
Ds1 pipes up from the top bunk: 'Like a little finger.'
'Yes', I say, 'like a little finger.'
'But'- he continues'- there's also an index finger.'
'Er...yes. But toes don't have other names. They are just toes.'
'Oh. Right.' Ds2 pauses for a moment and sticks his foot back under the duvet. 'Mum?'
'What are we doing tomorrow..?'
Ds2 wanted me to take a photo of him as the Statue of Liberty. And yes, that is an ice cream in his hand.
(Taken at our camping weekend in May)

Look how strong I am!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

"Home education's time may have come"

Home education's time may have come
The Independent Thursday, 19 June 2008

'...Compulsory schooling was introduced in 1876 not primarily for the benefit of young people, but because with the curtailment of juvenile labour too many were making a nuisance of themselves on the streets. In an echo of the 19th century, the Brown government is legislating to extend the period of compulsion to age 18, mainly to deal with those not in education, employment or training.
You can have too much of a good thing. If the education that society insists upon means anything at all it will have enabled young people to discover what they like doing and what they are good at. By 16, if not earlier, they should be free to make up their own minds. We should not be criminalising those who do not wish to remain at school and find the government-imposed alternatives unacceptable.

Home education's time, therefore, may have come...'

Autonomous Education in Action


Dd1 opened her hand and showed me the millipede she had caught in the garden.
'He's going to be my pet. He's got very tiny legs. He's got more legs than a spider'.
'Yes, a spider has eight legs'.
'And he's got more than a sponge'
'A sponge has zero legs.' She laughs.'Because zero is none and a sponge doesn't have any legs at all. None. Zero.'
'Would you like to put him in a box? ' I say, passing her a tupperware tub.
'Ooh yes!'
'You'll have to put some soil in to -'
'-I know! I was just going to do that!'
She returns with some soil.'It's nice and moist,' she declares.
'That's right, 'cause he wont like getting too dry will he?'
She pauses: 'I wont take him on my scooter though.'

She puts the box on the side in the lounge and goes out to play.

Yesterday the boys attended a workshop with a costume designer to make block-printed scarves based on a collection of wild birds in the museum. They seemed to enjoy it, though, as always, it was difficult to draw any information about the session from them. I took dd1 to a small indoor play centre to spend a bit of one-to-one time with her (and catch up on a bit of reading when she was otherwise distracted!).

Today I decided I needed to get the front borders tidy and make some space to plant out the remaining plants in the greenhouse before we go camping. The front border is heaven for slugs and snails, so anything planted there has to be tall and unappetising to molluscs. I thought I'd better tie back some plants before the postman started complaining that he couldn't get up the path; one year the milkman started leaving the milk at the end of the garden path because he got fed up of getting his trousers wet from all the plants hanging over the path!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Strawberry Teas Forever and a Minor Rant About Celery.

After dropping dd1 off at preschool we ventured to the allotment to try and get some ground clear enough to transplant some popcorn and pumpkin plants that had been sitting in the greenhouse far longer than they should have. The popcorn plants had been grown from just plain old popping corn from a supermarket, so I wasn't expecting them to grow as well as they did. In previous years when I've bought sweetcorn or popcorn - i.e. the seed packet stuff - the germination rate has often been poor. With the supermarket popping corn the germination was almost 100%, really impressive! I guess we'll see if they actually set seed, but if the experiment works I'll be chuffed.

I had a feeling that after the recent alternating warm and wet weather the weeds would be growing fast and I wasn't wrong!

Ha ha! Bet you can't spot the Dwarf French Beans under here! There are also supposedly some mangetout and some runner beans. Methinks the weeds may have grown {g}

Ok, so with a bit of weeding I finally found the dwarf beans again.

They look rather stunned at seeing daylight.

The weather has benefitted the fruit as well and it seems that suddenly everything is starting to ripen. As you can see below, we had our first strawberry cropping of the season and what a big crop it was! The piled up tyres that we made into 'raised beds' for the strawberries were only experimental, but by the look of it we'll be doing lots more for next year. There has only been minor slug/snail damage and with some protection from netting the crop has so far been protected from birds.Best of all because the tyres are on a weed suppressing material the only weeds I have to worry about are the few between the plants and these are easy to pull up.

Looks like the redcurrants and blackcurrants will be next. We don't have any of the new commercial varieties which have fruit that all ripens at the same time, so we'll be picking off the occasional ripe berries over the next month or so I guess. We've only just finished off the redcurrant jam we made last year, so I'm hoping for a good crop again this year.

This is probably the best cropping of strawberries we've ever had at the allotment, and we're are only at the start of the season. Guess what we're going to be eating every day for the next month??! Perhaps if we plant up more tyres next year we'll be able to go into business selling strawberries to the neighbours.

Ds2 with a crate of strawberries.

There are a few raspberries in the tub next to it - I think ds1 ate most of the raspberries he picked!

We also picked a whole heap of mangetout - once we could find them among the weeds - and some broad beans. Broad beans really aren't my favourite. In fact they are lowest on my list of edible vegetables, about one or two up from celery which is really yuk and a totally pointless vegetable (only good for dieters and rabbits in my opinion). And while on the subject of celery, why do they put it in pretty much ALL vegetarian meals?? What's that about??! I have to waste time picking out all those little 'horsehoe' slices of celery...grumble...

Anyway, celery rant over, last year we made the mistake of picking the broad beans rather too late when they had gone huge and chewy and urrrggghhh. Dh ate them, but then he eats absolutely ANYTHING, so that's not much of a comment. This year I've started picking them young and we had the first cropping tonight,parboiled and then fried in butter. Ok, so no matter what I do to them they're still not high on my list! Plan B is to try a recipe I've found for 'Broad Bean Puree'. If the beans keep cropping I'm gonna get desperate for ways to disguise them! You might think it would just be easier to grow things that I like, but gardening just isn't that simple. At least I don't bother growing celery.

Mucking about at preschool

Monday, 16 June 2008

Postman Pat (should be given the sack)

As we were coming back from a trip to the library and the post office I let dd1 post a couple of letters in the post box near our house. She stood on tip-toe and hurried to do it as the Postal van pulled up.

Seeing the postman coming to collect the mail, we waited and watched as he unlocked the door and began to put the post into his sack. I thought it might be interesting for the kids to watch. He opened his sack, grabbed handfuls of letters, screwed and scrunched and stuffed them into the sack pushing them down firmly with his fist until the handful was squashed down into the sack as much as possible. We watched as our letters (2 DVDs) in the next handful were given the same forceful treatment. He waved his scanner at the barcode inside the postbox, slammed the door shut and got back into his van.

As we walked away up the road ds1 piped up 'The postman isn't very gentle with the post is he?'
'No, he's not', I replied, wondering just how badly our post was treated when there wasn't an audience watching!

I finally got around to posting ds1's Blue Peter Badge 'letter' at the Post Office this morning. I'm so glad I only paid for 2nd class post - looking at how the mail is treated I think I'd feel really ripped off if I'd paid for 1st class...

Friday, 13 June 2008

An Artist in the Family and our Successful Money Making Venture

Dd1 has suddenly taken to drawing. In fact she has taken to all sorts of craft and arty things, with a particular fascination for hama beads [If you want a taste of true multitasking, try ironing hama beads in a small crowded 1930s kitchen while trying to cook dinner, get ready to go to work, have 3 conversations with 3 children at the same time and deal with a puppy that wants to put his head in the oven]. Anyway, thought I'd showcase some of her work:

Butterfly and flower, made using a normal circular hama bead thingy.

She came up with the butterfly design on her own (not bad for a 4 yr old)

Lots of pictures of the dog. He even has toes!

Flowers and butterflies (seems to be a popular theme)

Today, my decluttering moved on a bit by teaming up with my sister to do a car boot sale. The car was full, and I mean absolutely and totally full! All the seats in the people carrier were down and we still had problems squeezing in the sacks and boxes - I could hardly see out my rearview mirror it was piled so high! It was a long day, around 6 hours, but we had a constant stream of customers right up to the end and with a bit of haggling we shifted a lot of stuff. We certainly came back with a lot less stuff than we went with and between us we made over £100 which was fantastic and well worth the effort - my share will pay for the fees for our camping holiday and half a tank of diesel to get us there!

The decluttering continues, but a bit like one of those plastic picture puzzles with shifting squares and only one space, I seem to be moving stuff from one room to another to another...I'm guessing that all the junk will end up in one room at the end (probably the loft or the garage!)
As you can see, that precious space I made on the shelves a few days ago has already been filled!

I don't think our family is ever going to be compatible with minimalist living!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Parachutes, Bubbles and Grand Ideas

Making parachutes

We spent most of today at our local home ed group. The boys made a couple of parachutes though ds1 turned his into a jellyfish instead (somehow he always has different ideas to everyone else). He seems to have developed an interest in jellyfish since he saw something on tv about a robotic jellyfish and other robotic creatures that had been created by some company.

The Jellyfish!

Lopsided piggy backs!

On the subject of parachutes I've been meaning to make one a bit like this:
I had the idea first (naah naah nanaa nah) as we salvaged an umbrella from a bin ages ago and and kept the material for use as a parachute. Umbrella material is the perfect shape and needs minimal work to make it into a pretty decent parachute, but yeah, it was one of those things we never actually got around to doing. Probably still got the material in one of the junk boxes that is teetering on top of our filing cabinet. We tend to salvage lots of things from bins, skips, swap shops and my kids even pick stuff up off the pavement if they think it looks interesting. No wonder my house is so full of stuff! But I like to think that's why my guys are so creative - all that mess and stuff enables their creativity to flow freely {g}

After the parachutes all 3 children played with making some giant bubbles out of coathanger bubble 'wands', not quite managing to make any bubbles but producing some impressive looking bubble 'tubes'. I took some photos which I'll upload later, just as soon as I can get to my laptop.

Making bubbles

As usual the children spent much of their time running around outside across the field, splashing in puddles (there had been a tremendous downpour just before we arrived) and digging around in the mud and grit. Sometimes I wonder why I pay to come to the group when all they want to do is play outside (hey, we could do that at home guys and it would be a lot cheaper!). I have to give them credit this time though as they did participate in a few of the structured things (art and geography). Of course ds1 was firmly rooted inside when there was trade for his tuck shop. He's recently started it up again and it seems to be popular. I'm acutely aware that parents wont want their kids buying junk food, so we try and have a few healthy options, or not-quite-so-unhealthy options available. Once he tried selling healthy cereal bars, but they weren't popular at all - it's almost always the Haribo and Mars Bars that sell!

Ds1 and his tuck shop

After the home ed group we trundled off to a park with some other families and the kids wore themselves out playing in the playground, which is a lovely place and so much better than our small local ones. The dogs were also worn out - Jack had been chasing his doggy playmates at the home ed group and then once again all around the park, so when I left to go to work this evening he was totally flat out like a rug and could hardly keep his doggy eyes open! Even the bits of popadom dropped from the dinner table hardly provoked a response :)

We spent some time in the park discussing ideas for home ed things to do and talked about the prospect of setting up something at a village hall, perhaps a science day as a one-off starter. And then there's still the matter of the full-size raft we'd planned to make and sail. We need to find somewhere good for a launch and, of course, some good building materials to make it out of. There's also the idea for doing something at the local scrapstore - a scrap day of some kind - an idea which has fallen by the wayside over the past couple of months. So many ideas! All we need is the energy and momentum to put them into action!

Ds1 doing his brotherly duties at the park - 'Higher! Higher!'


Yesterday I found an interesting article on the web while I was looking for something else. It's written about the US, though I guess much of what it says could be applied to the UK too. I'm not sure what I can say about it. It made me feel a little uneasy, perhaps because there's some truth in it, or perhaps because I'm in denial about how much I've got sucked into 'Kindergarchy'. Either way it's interesting as a social comment.

When I think of parenting in the 70s and 80s, the main purpose of a parent was to attend to the children's basic needs - i.e. feed and clothe them - to ensure that they were always fat enough and clean enough that the neighbours wouldn't think you were totally neglecting your kids! Parents weren't held responsible for their child's entire emotional, academic, spiritual and physical wellbeing and future happiness and acceptance in society - their job was to keep them alive! My parents generation would have considered consulting their children about where to go on holiday or which after-school activity class they would like to attend ridiculous. Holidays were for parents and kids tagged along. And after-school activities were limited to ballet (if you were rich) or Brownies/Guides/Scouts if you weren't!

I've put the link below but can't get it to go on one line, so it might need a bit of tweaking to get it to work

The article starts:

"In America we are currently living in a Kindergarchy, under rule by children. People who are raising, or have recently raised, or have even been around children a fair amount in recent years will, I think, immediately sense what I have in mind. Children have gone from background to foreground figures in domestic life, with more and more attention centered on them, their upbringing, their small accomplishments, their right relationship with parents and grandparents. For the past 30 years at least, we have been lavishing vast expense and anxiety on our children in ways that are unprecedented in American and in perhaps any other national life.Such has been the weight of all this concern about children that it has exercised a subtle but pervasive tyranny of its own. This is whatI call Kindergarchy: dreary, boring, sadly misguided Kindergarchy..."

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Jam update and the house with too much stuff

Well jam is looking ok. Did the first boil up today. Need to try and find a non-aluminium pan for tomorrow's boil up as the enamelled one I used today is going to be nowhere near big enough to boil it up to jam tomorrow. Rhubarb and aluminium don't go well together.

Spent the day clearing out dd1's bedroom. Yes I did say the whole day. And that was the least messy of all the bedrooms. Managed to clear a space on one of the shelves downstairs at the same time so I'm now debating what to do with such a precious area of space.

Am still procrastinating about tackling the boys' room. It's a scary prospect. They just have so much STUFF!

9 sacks and one box of stuff collected so far for this weekend's planned car boot sale. It doesn't seem to have made any impression on the amount of stuff in the house, but it's got to have come from somewhere, surely??

Anyway ds2 was happy that I was preoccupied with tidying and clearing today. His new gameboy advance game that he ordered off Amazon arrived this morning and he spent almost all day on it. I did tell him he'd get square eyes, but he plain ignored me lol!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Elderflower everything

Ds1 makes fairy cakes for his tuck shop

Today I was organised enough to take bags and scissors to local park as we walked the dog, so that I could pick elderflower with the kids. I was also organised enough to find and print off a recipe for elderflower cordial off the internet. I was even organised enough to check that we had citric acid in the cupboard and that the corner shop sold the lemons that we would need.

Unfortunately the tub on the shelf with 'citric acid' on the front that I naturally assumed WAS citric acid, turned out to be full of pepper seeds saved from several years ago. So, missing a vital ingredient, we now have several carrier bags full of stinky droopy elderflowers on the kitchen worktop, plus a trail of elderflower petals around the house. I'm just thankful that I remembered to take my hayfever tablets this morning - everything is covered in a fine dusting of yellow pollen!

Think I may have overdone it with the elderflower. There was so much in the park it felt almost criminal not to pick it. But the recipe only requires 20 sprigs for each batch, and if I make elderflower wine it's even smaller quantities. Not sure what I'm going to do with these carrier bags full! After I found I hadn't got the right ingredients for cordial I ended up putting together some ingredients for elderflower and rhubarb jam. These have to sit around in a bowl with some sugar for 24 hours, before boiling up and then sit around again and then boiling again (it seems) until it turns into jam. Hope it's going to be worth it after all that preparation. I'm used to just slapping some ingredients in a pan with a bit of apple and lots of sugar, boiling it till the stuff is erupting all over the cooker top like volcanic larva and then potting it up. I tend to lose interest if it becomes a more longterm project...

Rhubarb and Elderflower Jam (in progress)

The weather has been baking today and I know I shouldn't complain, but being a south facing garden it's unbearable to sit in it for long when the weather is so hot. When it's this hot only the lounge in our house is cool, everywhere else is very warm. Under the apple tree at the bottom of the garden is the only shade we have in the garden, but it's quite a trek to and fro especially when children always seem to need me or need me to do something as soon as I get to the bottom of the garden!!

It really feels like it might at last be summer.

Only one of my bean plants has come up so the wigwam line of 12 or more beanpoles at the bottom of the garden looks faintly ridiculous with nothing growing up it. I suspect slugs or one of the bean weavil species may be the culprits and if I'd been more organised I'd have planted some more beans in pots in the greenhouse. These beans are quite special so I like to grow some every year. They are called 'Cherokee Trail of Tears', and allegedly are the beans that the cherokees grew and took with them when they were driven off their lands. The pod is a purple/black colour which sadly turns green on cooking (not half as interesting looking) and the small beans when dried are also a deep purple. The plant also throws out some green bean pods (with white beans in) which I used to think were due to cross-pollination with another bean species. Apparently though this is perfectly normal. I still prefer the purple ones, but they're all very tasty! Sadly, it looks like it might just be runner beans this year.

I'm feeling the need to bring a bit more structure into our days over the next month or so. We've got some holiday (camping) planned which will give us a well-needed break, but in between I feel as if we need to get back on track a little with the home ed. We've dropped - mostly for financial reasons - pretty much all the groups, activities and workshops that the kids would normally go to. The cost of diesel and increasing price of food, plus extras like the car going wrong, me needing the chiropracter etc. have dug deep into our resources and there just isn't enough to go round. Fortunately ds1's piano lesson has been cancelled a few times so the extra money from that has come in handy!

It's been nice just to chill and have days to ourselves without rushing around, but not being out and about at groups and activities has left quite a gap in our days. Usually Spring and Summer heralds a whole lot of exciting outdoor stuff and we feel invigorated and energised after a long winter, but so far this year it just hasn't happened (for various reasons it's not been a great year for the family and I guess we're all feeling the fallout). I've tried to summon up the energy to compensate with trips to the park, bike rides, fishing, 'allomping' etc, but some days the bickering gets to all of us.

Roll on holiday time!!!!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

A bit of 'Allomping'

The kids wanted to go fishing again today, but the allotment was in need of a bit more work so we spent several hours there instead doing some 'allomping' (as dd1 says). We'd hardly been there when the allotment secretary came over and made some unwanted comments about weeds on my second plot (as if I can't see that they're there!). Dh started tackling the problem areas on plot 2, while I worked on clearing enough ground to plant up the leek seedlings and a few more kale plants. Sometimes I think we've taken on more than I can manage - 2 1/2 plots is quite a lot to keep up with, especially when my back isn't up to doing much. But I'm not ready to give up yet!
Leek seedlings
(they always look so pathetic when first planted out, but
surprisingly they grow fast once they've got over the shock
of transplanting and always give a good crop)
This year I'm growing Tuscan Black Kale which we tried growing for the first time last year after getting some in our veg box. It makes a really nice soup and has a more subtle flavour than other Kales. Thankfully it doesn't seem to be attractive to the pigeons, unlike the usual varieties of Kale (we have a bit of a pigeon problem at our plots), but, judging by last year it is susceptible to flea beetle so I guess I'll have to read up on organic methods for flea beetle removal.

Piggy back rides around the allotment

Just having a little rest (on a crisp packet full of water)

The currant bush cuttings that I took over a year ago have rooted well and - surprisingly - are showing their first fruit. Don't suppose I'll get much of a crop this year, but it looks hopeful for future years. I'm not sure yet if they are redcurrants or blackcurrants as I didn't label the cuttings!

Fruit on one of the currant bush cuttings

The Strawberries in our new 'tyre' planters are just starting to ripen. (the birds have already had a bite or two, so we've covered the tyres with some netting from the local scrapstore)

We also found a huge beetle running across our plot. Looking it up when we got home it turned out to be a Violet Ground Beetle. According to the book it 'feeds on slugs and other ground-living invertebrates'. The name violet is very appropriate - around it's thorax it has a beautiful purple sheen. It was very fast moving - this was the best photo I managed to take.

Here are some photos of our trip to the river yesterday. The kids had the option of playing in the water fountains (nice clean water), but opted for running around in the muddy flood water instead! I knew that we'd had alot of rain and that there'd been some flooding, but didn't realise quite how far up over the bank the river had gone.

I'm forever blowing bubbles

(with that wonderful invention - the non-spill bubble pot!)

Splashing in the flood water

Dd1 'posing' in her new outfit

Friday, 6 June 2008

Gone Fishing

How is it that boys wear through their clothes out so quickly??!! Ds1 and ds2 have pretty much destroyed every item of clothing they possess: I've noticed recently that the sleeves on every top are brown and stained and there are holes and tears everywhere! Not only that but they just don't stop growing. Ok, that's stating the obvious, but I swear ds1's ankles weren't showing out the bottom of his jeans last week!

So yesterday morning we took a quick visit to Matalan and I bought each of them an outfit. As we normally buy clothes secondhand from car boot sales or get them free from the local swapshop, I'm always shocked to find out how expensive kids' clothes are from shops. I suppose there's also the moral issues of sweatshop production to contend with, so secondhand shopping seems more agreeable all round. Dd1 insisted on some wholly inappropriate shorts with lots of sequins and sparkly beads on (inappropriate in the sense that it's pretty rare to get the sort of weather for shorts here,but also because I figure they'll never be able to go in a washing machine) but they did look cute, so I succumbed. What is it about girls? The boys would just wear anything, but dd1, well, fussy is an understatement!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, as we were browsing Matalan we spotted some fishing rods for £3 each. They looked ok, something a bit more than a toy, so once again I succumbed. 2 hours and a lot of cursing later - sitting at the table, trying to put the line on the rod with some dreadful instructions and lots of pestering from the kids - we were at a local nature reserve trying to tempt some very tiny fish to eat lumps of bread and ham off hooks. Most of the time was spent by me trying to untangle lines and stop the dog from eating the bait (he snuck up and ate most of the ham out of the bag when we weren't looking!) so I wasn't in the best mood by the time we went home. Ds1 gave up pretty soon and resorted to a fishing net, but was happy to catch some minnows and other creatures with it. Dd1 was very brave and put a tiny minnow onto a hook in the hope of catching a bigger fish. The line got a few nibbles, but not much else. None of the boys would put anything live on the hook, but she was happy to do so (lots of squeals from ds1 when she put the hook through the minnow's eye!). I guess we'll know who'll be putting maggots on the hook at some time in the future!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

One Small Sparrow and some Swallows and Amazons

Ds2 started the day with some more bicarb rocket experiments which weren't quite so successful as yesterday. I suspect that the bicarb has got a bit damp in the tub. We ran out of vinegar too, draining the last drop out of the pickled onion jar, so ideally we need to do a trip to Tescos if we want to do any more bicarb science.

The morning had it's own little bit of excitement. Ds1 was feeding the chickens and noticed a small bird (a young sparrow) trapped in some of the black netting over a raised vegetable bed in the garden. The sparrow was obviously very tangled and getting increasingly distressed, so we gently cut away the netting and freed it (while trying to prevent the dog from eating it!). Thankfully it seemed unharmed and flew away as quick as it could. We were lucky that ds1 had seen it so early as I'm not sure what condition it would have been by the end of the day.

At lunch time we headed off for a sailing day with some other home educators. We all had a fantastic time - at the sailing club there was a small playground, an enclosed sandpit for littlies, indoor pool and table football and lots of boats for everyone to try. The boys were initially reluctant but I persuaded them - almost before they could think about it - to go in a rowing boat with a couple of children who belonged to the sailing club, and pretty soon they were hooked! They disappeared across the water right to the other side and it was about half an hour or more before they returned. They spent most of the day chasing around more experienced sailors to take them out on the water, either in row boats or Toppers and they both got a chance to steer and sail. We learnt a little about the parts of a boat and got to go out in a larger dingy (not sure if that's the right word for it?). Even I got to go out in the latter and try some sailing! It was fun and quite thrilling to feel that I'd tried something totally new that I'd never tried before. Dd1 spent much of her time playing in the sand and in the playground, but wasn't that keen to come on a boat with me.

The weather was perfect all day - sunny, but not too hot - and there was just enough wind to sail without it being too gusty. We had such a wonderful day that it didn't take much persuasion for us to sign up and get ourselves on the waiting list to join the sailing club. I think dh was a bit shocked when we got home and told him we were on the waiting list for a sailing club, but the kids talked and talked so enthusiastically about their day over dinner that it became an irresistable proposition.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Learning knots and The Rocket Experiment

The morning was spent down at the allotment as the weather seemed to have finally become more amenable to gardening. The kids were under strict instructions to be helpful (i.e. don't groan or make any rolling eye motions when I ask you to help me do something) and we pottered off with the car boot full of plants that are well-overdue for planting out.

I'd promised the kids that I would finally get one of their raised beds on their allotment plot into action after months of delay. We've been in the process of building 3 - one for each of them - but with winter and then deteriorating mother-in-law's health and then my bad back, it just hasn't happened. So we uncovered one of the beds, did a bit of weeding, added some organic potting compost that had been too rubbish to use in seed trays and then set about planting.

I showed the boys how to tie a clove hitch which they quickly mastered and we then used it to bind bamboo poles together to make a wigwam for runner beans. ds2 was interested to know where the bamboo poles came from and if that was the reason that bamboo was grown. I'm sure bamboo has lots of other uses, but I couldn't think of any apart from feeding pandas, which didn't seem terribly relevant at that moment. [Mental reminder: think more about bamboo]. I then showed the boys how to use a reef knot to tie off the ends of the string and explained how it was a handy knot to know because it wasn't one that would easily slip and come undone. What I should have said is that this is the knot you guys always seem to inadvertently tie on your shoe laces and that I have to try and unpick when we're in a rush to go out and you can't get your shoes on again!

For those who are interested - and didn't get their knot education from the girl guides like I did - this webpage shows a clove hitch being tied
(We tie ours in a different way. The animation makes this method look weird, but I guess the end result is the same)

And this one shows a reef knot .
(Again, the animation makes it look a bit strange)

The runner bean plants grown in the greenhouse were well advanced, much more so than the ones I planted directly into the ground, so it looks like the kids will be picking beans on their plot before we do on ours. But as ds1 pointed out - 'well we don't like them anyway' (to which I replied with gritted teeth 'Tough!'). We had a few spare tomato plants so I let the kids plant these and also a few extra French Marigold plants. The strawberry plants that I'd potted up for them months ago to keep safe on their plot had been buried under dens, mud and excavations so were looking rather dead when I finally found them and rescued them. If I get a chance I'll transplant a few extras from our plot into their raised bed. (then the birds and the slugs can have a choice about which plot to go to steal their daily fruit quota). Planting up kept the kids reasonably entertained, until they got sidetracked by catching millipedes. We found an unusual grey flat one which they caught and put in the box with the others. Unfortunately by the time it got home it was even more flatter, and slightly less alive, due to some accidental squashing. It's a shame cos I was interested to find out if it was one of the ones that glowed at night. Did you know that some millipedes fluoresce at night if they are disturbed?

As you can see from the photos the raised bed looks pretty good - especially considering it was made from some huge old roofing joists that I hauled from a skip outside a nightclub renovation project. There are still a few gouges visible in the upholstery of the car where I tried to cram the roofing joists in with the kids still sat in there (and then tied the boot down with a skipping rope!)

Surprisingly the compost-filled tyres that we created at the end of last year (or was it the beginning of this year?) have a bumper crop of strawberries coming. It looks like the birds have already had a go at the few just ripening, so I need to remember to get some netting over them soon. Thank You Kwik Fit! [Yes, it's me, the mad mother who tried to stuff 16 of your old dirty tyres into a small people carrier and was then shameless enough to come back and get a second load!]

Not much to report from the allotment. Everything is a bit behind this year, except for the weeds of course, but the sweetcorn is doing fine (the second planting seems to have almost caught up with the first), the cabbage is nearly finished (hooray! say my kids), the broad beans are 'beaning' and my mange tout have disappeared under a forest of weeds (must remember to string them up soon or the slugs will have all the produce). Predictably the spinach is about to run to seed, but I have managed to get some baby leaves off it before it finally decided to go into reproductive overdrive. And the lettuce 'salad leaves' are being very productive and pretty (see picture on right). We tried some tonight, but boy were they bitter, so perhaps it's best for decorative use only!

The Siberian Welsh Onions are flowering and attracting some lovely huge bumblebees (that's the big fat fuzzy stripey thing in the front of the picture on top of the big fat fuzzy white thing).

Apparently the 'Welsh' bit of their title is nothing to do with Wales, but is just an old fashioned term for 'foreign'. They are perennial plants; the clusters of bulbs can be dug up at the end of the season and split, leaving some to eat and some to replant. Fortunately they don't seem to be vulnerable to the dreaded Onion White Rot that wiped out much of my usual onion crop in last year's wet summer. I might even consider converting my usual onion plot to growing this variety as once an area of soil has been contaminated with white rot it's there for at least 7 or more years and there's nothing you can do about it.

The afternoon was spent at home with a friend who had come round to play. Ds2 found an old film canister and we set about doing the rocket thing with bicarb and vinegar*. It took a few attempts before everything went right.

Ds2 decided he would do some experimenting and tried out some different combinations, first substituting water and then milk for the vinegar. Water worked well, but it took a while, unlike the vinegar which was an almost instant effect. Milk, he found, didn't work at all. We decided that some time we'd like to try bicarb and cola/lemonade and bicarb and lemon juice. The video below is the usual bicarb + vinegar combination.

[*If you haven't done this before, it's just a case of getting hold of a plastic film canister with a lid that fastens 'inside' the tube (not outside), half-filling it with vinegar, bunging in a large pinch of bicarb, quickly putting the lid on (firmly!), flipping the container over so it is sitting on it's lid and then running away really quickly! Alka Seltzer - or a sterilizing tablet works well if I remember correctly - can be substituted for the bicarb and it needs to be blue tacked to the inside of the lid before sealing and flipping the container over. You can just drop the tablet into the vinegar, but the reaction is usually too quick to manage to get the lid back on before the whole mixture overflows. If you use something like Alka Seltzer you'll probably need to dry out the container before trying it again as a) the blue-tack wont stick and b) any moisture will set off a premature reaction with the tablet. Watch out for your eyes - these rocket reactions are quick and you're likely to get brained if you don't move fast! ]

And now for the educational bit:

"When the vinegar and baking soda come in contact, a chemical reaction occurs. A gas called carbon dioxide is released. When this happens, bubbles form, and pressure builds, because the density of carbon dioxide is much less than the density of the baking soda or vinegar. Eventually this pressure cannot be contained within the container...This experiment demonstrates an acid-base reaction. Acids and bases are measured on something called the “pH” scale, where anything below a 7 is an acid, anything above a 7 is a base. When the acid and base mix, they create a reaction, which breaks bonds between the molecules of the acids and bases. In some cases, this reaction can produce heat (which is why many cartoons show acids as being able to burn through steel and other materials) or and it always releases some molecule, in this case carbon dioxide. "
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Here's another experiment with carbon dioxide which I think my kids might have fun playing with