Saturday, 30 August 2008

The show goes on...(smug mother moment)

Normally I would only post photos/videos that my kids agree to let me post, but this time I've had to sneak this one on. This is probably the only exception so far, and I'm only posting it because I think it is such a wonderful demonstration of what autonomous home ed can lead to. Sorry, boys. Smug Mother's perogative. [Ah doubt you'll blame me for everything anyway. That's what parents are for. When you're older you can go out and get a job to pay for the therapy to repair the damage my slack parenting has caused {g}]

This little scene was planned, and 'choreographed' by ds1 and ds2. They agreed on the 'costume', the 'script', and ds1 created the music. I knew absolutely nothing about it until they showed me the finished result on ds1's little 50 quid camera that he bought from his savings. It's a one-off. Unique. And fun.

If you were to ask my kids whether they are interested in dance or drama you would get a firm 'no'. No amount of persuasion or bribery would get either of them to sign up for a drama, dance or music-related workshop (believe me, I've tried!). Yet, here they are, demonstrating so many skills. I guess sometimes the best things are created just because they are fun to do.

Hey, who needs those overrated and expensive Stage schools...?{g}

Oh, and here is one of the out-takes...

Contemplating fish...

Dd1, sharing takeaway fish and chips with dh:

'Can I have some more fish, Daddy?'
'But there's loads on your plate, look.'
'But I only like the crust Daddy, not the insides.'


The kids won goldfish at the allotment open day/fair a few weeks ago. We put them in the hexagonal fish tank with ds2's big goldfish. Each day we would look in. Slowly, one by one we found each fish not doing what fish do. One by one they went to the great fishbowl in the sky.

The little all-gold one that survied belongs to ds2. Ds2 is happy: it replaces the one of his big fish that died earlier this year. However, like a new puppy, the little fish constantly pesters and torments the older grandaddy fish. Do you think goldfish understand 'time out'?


'Karate-chopping crayfish rule the world'

(caught at the sailing club this afternoon)

Friday, 29 August 2008

'Give Children books, not SATs'

Two posts in one day?

Saw this link on an email list and thought I'd refer to it here.
Michael Rosen: 'Give children books, not SATs'

'...."Testing does something to children, something to teachers, something to parents, something to the whole conversation about education," he says. His everyday speech, you notice, has the same lively stream of consciousness as his poetry.
But by far his biggest concern is what testing has done to his greatest love: books. Literacy standards at 14 fell this year, according to Key Stage 3 tests. Rosen is currently tub-thumping on behalf of the National Year of Reading, a campaign to celebrate the written word, and has written a poem for the cause – printed exclusively today . What he wants above all is to re-inject a sense of enthusiasm into the study of literature in schools. Love books, he says, and school will be a cinch; over-test children, sterilise the English language, and you only make it harder...'

Here's the poem. It's lost some of the formatting when I cut and pasted it, so I've tried to restore it a bit. Sorry Michael, probably made a pig's ear out of it...

'Words Are Us', by Michael Rosen

In the beginning was the word
And the word is ours:

The names of places
The names of flowers
The names of names

Words are ours

For early learners

How to boil an egg
Or mend a leg

Words are ours

Wall charts
Love hearts

Sports reports
Short retorts

Jam jar labels

Words are ours

Following the instructions
For furniture constructions

Ancient mythologies
Online anthologies

Who she wrote for
Who to vote for

Joke collections
Results of elections

Words are ours

The tale's got you gripped
Have you learned your script?

The method of an experiment
Ingredients for merriment

W8n 4ur txt
Re: whts nxt

Print media

Words are ours

Subtitles on TV
Details on your CV

Book of great speeches
Guide to the best beaches

Looking for chapters
on velociraptors

Words are ours

The mystery of history
The history of mystery

The views of news
The news of views

Words to explain
the words for pain

Doing geography

What to do in payphones
Goodbyes on gravestones

Words are ours.

The Jam Factory (plus giant popcorn, miniature cauliflowers and a minor rant about The Weed Police)

Ds1 picking runner beans from their raised bed. And yes, those are weeds he's standing in. I like to think of it as a wildlife meadow...

I feel like I ought to give an update on the allotment and as we were down there this morning it seems a good time to post some photos.

Recently I've been having an ongoing battle with a certain member of our allotment committee -aptly refered to in his absence as 'The Weed Police'* {g} - about the weeds on one of our plots. Ok, ok, so I can see the weeds. I look at them quite often. At least once a week. I don't really need someone to point them out to me.
As The Weed Police and the rest of the allotmentees know, the year has been frustrating for me because of a long term back problem. Since April I've been unable to dig, hoe or do any heavy duty work on the plot. I do what I can, when I can, but on days when I need painkillers just to put a sock on, I'm not really up for digging a plot full of horsetail and thistles! The situation hasn't gone unnoticed by The Weed Police: every single potential weed seed is seen as a crime against the essence of gardening. Empathy...sympathy...compassion - not words in his dictionary. So we are now at the point where he is threatening to take one of the plots away from us. Having seen the way he has bullied other allotmentees in previous years, it's not an empty threat. It took a large bar of chocolate and several glasses of wine to get over my last encounter with him. If someone stands between me and my gardening, I am not a woman to be messed with!

Rant over.

So...on to the allotment photos...
We've had some good corn cobs, about 18-20 so far I reckon. However some of the later ones still on the plants are poor, with small shrivelled corn. What's caused this? Not sure. Could be the cloudy cold weather leading to fewer bees and poorer pollination. [Ah...just remembered, they're wind-pollinated. So there goes that theory]

Not too bad, fairly normal cob.

Weird, shrivelled, dried out cob.

The popcorn we planted (straight from a Tescos packet of popping corn) is getting taller and taller. There are signs that it may finally be doing things (the big fluffy beardy things on top are promising), but no visible cobs yet. If it actually produces popcorn it would be fantastic. Hey, who needs expensive seed from seed companies?

Ds2 with the giant popcorn plants

The comfrey patch, grown from root cuttings this year. Looking pretty good eh? If only the rest of my crops were this invasive...

The tomatoes are pretty poor. We've had a few but it's been a slow year and now the blight is starting to get to them and the fruit is dropping off all blackened and soft. Not good. The plants at the allotment are looking really rather weak and I suspect the allotment plot is quite nutrient poor now. The ones at home, in the garden and the greenhouse are much stronger, greener plants. What we really need is a lorry full of horse poo. Not sure how I'm gonna manage carting that about in a wheelbarrow with a bad back. Maybe we should just acquire a horse and park it on our plot? (I'd like to see what the allotment commitee says about should keep them busy for a while lol.)

This is about as big as the tomato plants down the allotment are getting. Not a great result.

A caterpillar (and his thinner previous incarnation) on my cabbages. Darn it, those !$*!ers grow fast. Need I say more?

The leeks are coming on fine despite their usual neglect. Leeks are consistently reliable even when I do nothing with them. I do need to hoe some more earth up on their stems or we'll end up with very short leeks. (Another job to add to the list)

The leeks. Looking sort of leek-like. Not the most exciting plant, but a good winter staple.

Potatoes? Urg. Don't talk to me about potatoes. Dug a whole row up the other day (ignoring my back) and was getting around 2 potatoes per plant. 2 per plant!!! That's only one more than I planted! I feel cheated. Next year I'm just gonna throw a bag of tescos cheap spuds in a hole in the ground and I bet I do better!

Runner beans? Finally getting there and now have a minor glut of the things. It's amazing what you can put runner beans in when you put your mind to it. Runner bean soup, runner bean curry, runner bean spicey bean thing, runner bean sandwiches (only kidding)...It's like the courgettes all over again...

Runner beans, picked dd1-style (i.e. all sizes of beans, indiscriminately grabbed and wrenched by the fistful and dragged from the poor unsuspecting plant)

Talking of courgettes...we've got a few, though nothing resembling a glut (yet). The plants are showing signs of fungal infection as per usual this time of year, so I need to get down to the allotment again and spray with a milk dilution. Not to be advised for use in the greenhouse: after a while the greenhouse stinks of months-old milk (I write from experience).

Courgettes, looking like something out of a gardening book. It's a shame that the only way the kids will eat them is if they are mushed up in curry. Seems rather a waste...

Either I've discovered a fantastic new miniature breed or once again I have failed to grow cauliflowers. Still, if there's ever a market for cauliflowers the size of a ten pence piece, I'll have it cornered.

'One day we'll all be millionaires Rodney...'

Have also been making loads of jam as the freezer is now full to the brim of apples, blackberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and a few strange things in odd tubs that I forgot to label. I can't fit anything else in!! So far, I've made 13 (yes, 13!) jars of blackberry and apple jam. Plus another 4 large jars of raspberry, apple and banana jam today. The banana is a great addition to raspberry jam, as I found out by accident a few years ago. How does one find this out by accident? Well, let's just say I was a bit bored in the kitchen and wondered what banana would taste like in jam. As many home educators find with their children, the most amazing creativity can arise from total boredom... {g}

Personally I don't like jam, but it's fun to make and over the years I've discovered that you can pretty much bung any fruit into a jam and get a success. I've made some blackcurrant syrup over the past couple of days too, but it seems like a lot of effort for not a lot of product. It didn't help that the darned stuff was so high in pectin (fruit acid that helps jam to set) that it set in the jelly bag that I was using to sieve it with! Had to heat it up twice and still couldn't get much juice out of it. Maybe I'll have more luck with the blackberries I've got. Blackberries and raspberries are doing wonderfully at the moment. Must be all this rain and gloomy weather.

Talking of jam, the kitchen looks like a bomb site after today's creations, so I suppose I'd better go and do something useful...

[* Also known by some members as 'The Weed Gestapo', but perhaps that's going a bit far {giggle}]

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Angular momentum with sellotape and the speed of light with microwaved chocolate.Two months worth of science in one week.

So, what have we been up to?

Well, last week we went to an hour-long workshop titled 'The Science of Magic' at our library and run by staff from a local science 'hands-on' centre. Having two scientist parents in the family means that the kids have a pretty good grounding in science. Our experience of science workshops aimed at children is at worst they are badly presented or give inaccurate scientific knowledge, and at best they are oversimplified and patronising. Fortunately this presentation was neither.
Although the bicarb and vinegar (in this case, water) in a film capsule experiment was very familiar to us (see previous blogs), the other experiments/demonstrations were less familiar. One involved an optical illusion, another involved angular momentum and another magnetism. Even I learnt several things from it; I didn't know much about angular momentum and had forgotten that zinc and cobalt were attracted to magnets. I also learnt that of the three things: movement, magnetism and electricity, any 2 of these combined would make the third. How simple! Now why didn't they teach me physics like that at school?
Surprisingly, the kids seemed to take quite a bit in. Ds2 was repeating some of the information about 'blind spots' as we crossed the road the following day, and both boys tried to repeat the experiment with a roll of sellotape tied to a string and held up, while a mug with an egg was suspended on the other end of the string over a rod. Ok, difficult one to explain...I did try and do a google search on 'angular momentum' and 'sellotape', but, not surprisingly it just came up with some very weird links. I resisted the urge to click on the one about locusts...don't think that would have been useful. If anyone finds a link to a better description of this experiment let me know and I'll put in it.

Dd1 finds a cabbage white butterfly in the garden and carries it around all day in her pop-up bug box. It even went for a car ride!

So what else have we been up to? Well ds1 played cricket for the first time, at a birthday party. I looked up from my glass of wine to find him actively participating in a group sport (shock horror!) and then taking advice on bowling (!). Maybe sometimes I underestimate my kids. Anyway, he obviously doesn't have any sport genes from his parents as he managed to bowl reasonably successfully AND hit a ball with a cricket bat, neither of which are skills his parents posess.

Then of course more time at the sailing club. Will probably get there this week some time too. Not a huge amount of actual sailing has been taking place, but as usual dd1 has been freezing her wotsits off, swimming in the lake. Have just ordered her a wetsuit (pink of course) in the hope that this might allow her to stay longer in the water (i.e. prevent her lips from turning blue during the first 5 minutes). Just hoping she likes it enough to wear it. Fussy? That's an understatement.

Ds2 takes dd1 out for a sail in an Oppie. I ask them not to go too far out, just in case they need rescuing!


For the past two mornings ds1 has been late out of bed because he has been reading. Yes..READING! READING! READING!I hardly dared to get him out of bed this morning, but he had a workshop to go to and was being picked up quite early. Looks like he's worked his way through the first 5 chapters of a Goosebumps book.

The museum workshop ds1 went to this morning was 'Flintnapping'. So, two hours later he came home with a sharp - but apparently very functional - bit of flint. According to him it would be ideal for making arrows. Great. Might keep that in the kitchen drawer: it could come in handy if I mislay the potato peeler.

At the museum there was an exhibition on the 70s. It's a bit scary to see your familiar childhood items displayed in a museum. Am I really THAT old? I did love the hard plastic tupperware-style snack tray that had swivel dishes on a kind of 'tree'. Orange, too. Nice. Still it's better to have your childhhod labelled as 'retro' rather than 'antique' I guess.

The kids clean up a bowl of chocolate.

Using leftover chocolate from a Krampf experiment (see we covered some chocolate brownies that I'd made. The experiment involved melting chocolate in a microwave to see how a microwave works and to work out the speed of light. We calculated it to be around 4.4 billion thingies, so we were only a couple of billion thingies out. I think we probably didn't have a big enough try to put the chocolate in, so some of the hot spots were missing and this led to inaccuracies in the calculations. Hey, what's a few billion between friends?

Here are the instructions, cut and pasted direct from Krampf website.



Part 1:

To try this, you will need:

a microwave oven
waxed paper
several chocolate bars

a large plastic, glass, or paper plate. Do not use metal!
Start by looking at the inside of the oven. If it has a turntable to rotate the food (most do), remove it. We want the chocolate to stay in one place, not move around.
Cover the plate with waxed paper, and then place the chocolate bars (unwrapped) on the plate to form a solid layer. You want the layer of chocolate to be as flat and even as possible.
Place the plate of chocolate in the oven and set the timer for 30 seconds. Depending on your oven, you may have to cook it a bit longer, but I learned from experience (see this week’s video) that cooking too long gives you a LOT of smoke and a mess.
After 30 seconds of cooking, check the results. You should find that there are spots where the chocolate is melted, and maybe burned, and other places where it is not melted at all. Why?
Your microwave oven works by producing microwave radiation. No, its not radioactive! This is electromagnetic radiation, which also includes visible light, radio waves, ultraviolet light, radar, etc. Microwaves can cause water molecules to vibrate, producing heat to cook your food. OK, so why does your oven have hot spots, instead of cooking evenly?
Instead of just blasting microwaves around, your oven produces something called a standing wave. The easiest way to imagine a standing wave is to look at one. Get several feet of rope, and tie one end to a doorknob. Hold the other end move back to take up most of the slack. You don’t want the rope tight. Start shaking the rope up and down, and notice the way the rope wiggles. By adjusting how fast you shake the rope, you can find the point where it produces a stable pattern. Some parts of the rope will always be moving up and down, while other points will not move much at all. Its easier to see in the video than it is to describe, but you should recognize the pattern when you see it. That is a standing wave. The points where the wave is moving up and down a lot would be the part of the wave that produces a lot of heating in the oven, producing the burned spots. The part of the wave that does not move much would not produce much heat, giving you the cooler spots in the oven. That is why you need a turntable to move the food through the hot spots, to heat it evenly.

Part 2:

Follow the directions from last week’s experiment, to produce the melted spots. If you still have last week’s chocolate, you can use it. If, on the other hand, you are like me, you ate all the chocolate, and so now you have to start from scratch. Of course, that means more chocolate to eat, so its not a bad thing.
Once you have cooked the chocolate and have your melted spots, the next step is to look at the pattern. Different ovens may have different patterns, but mine produced three evenly spaced spots on one side, and two on the other side. There would have been three on the other side, but one of the spots was beyond the edge of the chocolate.
Measure the distance from the center of one melted spot to the center of the next one. You should get something close to 6 centimeters. Mine measured 6.2 centimeters. Then measure the distance from the center of the second spot to the center of the third. Again, I got 6.2 centimeters.
Now, think back to last week. We said that each hot spot represented the extreme point of a standing wave of microwave radiation. If you froze the wave, the first melted spot would be the top of one wave. The second melted spot would be the bottom of that wave, and the third spot would be the top of the next wave. The distance from wave top to wave top is the wavelength, so the wavelength for my microwave oven is 12.4 centimeters (6.2 + 6.2)
Once we know the wave length, then we multiply that by the frequency. Frequency tells us how many waves per second are passing a point. Looking on the back label, I found that my microwave oven has a frequency of 2450 megahertz. One megahertz is one million waves per second, so 2450 megahertz is 2,450,000,000 waves per second. We know that each of those waves is 12.4 centimeters long, so if we multiply frequency times wavelength, we will get the speed of the microwaves. That gives us a speed of 30,380,000,000 centimeters per second. The actual speed of light is 29,979,245,800 centimeters per second, surprisingly close considering that I was not very precise with my measurements.
Afterwards, I realized that I should have put the chocolate bars on an insulating bed of graham crackers, and then added a top insulating layer of marshmallows, to make light speed s’mores. Now that is a potentially winning science fair project!

Friday, 22 August 2008

The best bit about Home Education...

Dd1 (age 4), looking at the motionless conveyor belt as we load our weekly shop onto it:

'That's just like the wheels on a tank. The track goes round and round and round.' She motions a long oval shape where it goes round unseen inside and appears again.

Who'd have thought an inspirational moment would happen in Tescos?

The best bit about Home Education is that I'm there when the brain cog-turning moments happen.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Skunks, snakes and a lizardy thing

I seem to be way behind on my blogging, so here I am catching up with last weekend's activities. I'd forgotten what we'd been up to so it's just as well I take the camera everywhere with us. I'm sure the kids get fed up of me snapping away but it does act as a useful prompt for my ancient memory cells.

The kids were thrilled to have a visit from their Auntie at the weekend, who joined us at the sailing club on Saturday. We didn't do any sailing as there was a race going on and I didn't think my sailing skills were good enough to avoid 20 other boats travelling at speed! However we picked up dd1's new lifejacket that we'd ordered and she felt compelled to try it out in the swimming area.

On Sunday we all went to an event organised at a local allotment. There was live music, stalls, displays, children's activities, and animal handling (as you can see below)

This is a skunk in the arms of dd1! Apparently it's had it's scent gland removed, so no chance of a stinky surprise. It looked just like a baby all wrapped up.

Ds2 gets friendly with an owl. I couldn't believe he was actually brave enough to hold it. Dd1 couldn't resist having a little stroke of it too.

Meet the boa! Dd1 wouldn't let it go round her shoulders but she was ok about stroking it.

Auntie is being very brave (not bad, considering she's frightened of snakes!). She said it was actually not so bad, though she did get a bit worried when it looked like it was wrapping itself around her neck! [Just as well she didn't see the documentary on tv last night which showed a boa eating a deer - whole!]

And a lizardy thing....

Yes I probably should know what it's called, but I wasn't listening. Too busy trying to stop dd1 stuffing furry things in her pockets and taking them home with her.

The allotment site was huge, much bigger than the one we belong to. It was interesting wandering around, being nosey, and looking at what others were growing and how they were growing it. The place had a nice atmosphere. I'm half tempted to get on their waiting list and see if we can swap our plots for one there. They look like they might be slightly more tolerant of weeds there, unlike my present allotment where the 'weed police' run a strict policy of guilty until proven innocent {g}. Which reminds me...need to go to the allotment and do some weeding.

Ds1 tries out some new playground equipment at a local park (Friday) when we visited with one of the children's friends. At last, after years of putting up with sad, peeling, 1970s play equipment, one of our local playgrounds has had a bit of a refurb. Most of the old play equipment had been 'disabled' for years because it was considered too dangerous to have it moving (not surprisingly it had absolutely no play value because it didn't actually do anything any more!) We hadn't been to the playground for ages, but with the new equipment I think we'll be visiting a bit more often.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The big fat chrysallis, a broken cooker and The Vikings

Well, it seems a while since I've had a chance to post on the blog, so I guess we must have been busy.
We spent last weekend away on the south coast visiting relatives. It was rather windy for spending alot of time on the beach, but we did some kite flying and the kids managed to collect half the beach in some plastic bags (cos we need more shells, don't we?). On the Sunday we went to a village fair with vintage vehicles and stalls.

Can't resist a bargain! A huge tray of geraniums for £1. Haven't got a clue where I'm going to put them, but hey, still a bargain lol. Nice armoured personel carrier too.

The boys look interested at things with wheels - even better, a thing with wheels AND weapons.

Chocolate muffins!!

I catch ds1 reading!! It feels like the whole of my home ed journey has been waiting for this moment...
So, he's taken a liking to a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon book and over the weekend finished it off.Now I just have to resist the urge to log on to Amazon and buy every single Calvin and Hobbes book ever published.
We came back home on Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning I lashed myself into a frenzy of baking, trying out a new bread recipe and making some apple scone too. Went to light the oven only to find it wasn't working! Grrr... But...then I realised this was a fantastic opportunity, the opportunity to buy a nice new big shiny cooker! Having never had a new cooker (all have been secondhand), and having previously patched up/repaired/made do with the various quirky cookers over the years, I think perhaps it's time to invest in a new one.
So, I spent Wednesday afternoon and a couple of hours on Thursday dragging the kids around the main stores and looking at cookers. And yes, they were thrilled...Spent the rest of Thursday hunting on the internet for yet more cookers, while trying to deal with kids' interruptions every few minutes. Still, the thrill of the chase is all part of the shopping experience...
By the way, it turns out that the Hawkmoth caterpillar (see previous post) that we adopted hasn't died. Instead, it's turned into a huge brown chrysallis! If it wasn't so huge it might actually be quite pretty. I'm relieved that we didn't actually kill it off and that it may eventually hatch out into large moth. I just need to check every day to see how it's doing.
I started doing some stuff about the Vikings with the kids today, after ds1 had asked to do some more structured things. We'd had a discussion about what he might like to do and I suggested the Vikings might be interesting. I had lots of hands-on/interactive sheets for the kids and some books already so we were ready to start up, but it was all met with some resistance by ds2, and ds1 was so easily distracted it was difficult to get going (not helped by dd1's constant interruptions). Ds1 ended up lighting magnifying glass fires while I was trying to get him enthusiastic about colouring pictures of Vikings! Reminds me of previous attempts at any sort of structured or 'table' is why we ended up choosing a mostly autonomous path. I don't know how other families manage to do structured work with more than one child. Perhaps they spend their whole day chasing them around and then when they catch up with them they staple them to the table lol! I guess we'll see how it goes.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Hawkmoth caterpillar, ice cream making and the messy house

We've had a house full of people today, mostly children, and consequently the house shows all the signs of child exploration and discovery (gulp!). Still it's always nice when we have a bunch of kids and they all get on together and do lots of experiments. Today it seemed to be the turn for setting light to cardboard in the garden! We had a family visiting today who are contemplating home education. Thankfully I don't think we've put them off the idea as it's their second visit lol. I guess they'll see for themselves that having a tidy house is definitely incompatible with home education!

Do you think we have a reputation for being a slightly crazy family? Two days ago a neighbour knocked on the door and brought us a huge weird-looking caterpillar. She found it on her decking, put it in a jar, and then didn't know what to do with it. So she thought of us! We are obviously the home of all things odd and bizarre.

It's a lovely caterpillar, a type of hawkmoth, but unfortunately we couldn't identify exactly which type it was. We put in some apple leaves and some other tree leaves, but it didn't eat anything. Sadly a bit too late I discovered that it might need some soil for pupating in and I think now it has stopped moving altogether. Not sure if it's dying or if it is pupating. I've put it on some compost in its tank and I guess we'll see. If it starts to smell, then I'll know that it's not pupating!

Haven't got a picture of it, but it looks really similar to the poplar hawk moth on this webpage:

(if this link doesn't work, try 'poplar hawk moth caterpillar' in the search box of

Did I tell you that we made ice cream the other day? Not in an ice cream maker, but in a plastic bag using ice and salt (and in our case, some chocolate milkshake powder). We found the idea on . I think it's only members who have access to the instruction video for this particular experiment, so here are the instructions taken directly from the website:

<To try it, you will need:
- milk- sugar- vanilla extract- one quart plastic bags (the "zip to close" kind works best)- a one gallon plastic bag- ice- salt- a small dish
Start with the quart sized bag. Pour in one cup of milk, one tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Close the bag and shake it a bit to mix the ingredients. Open the bag and pour a little of the mixture into a small bowl. Reseal the bag.
Put the bowl of mixture into the freezer. We will let it sit undisturbed as it freezes. Put the sealed bag with the rest of the mixture into a larger plastic bag. Add enough ice to fill the larger bag about half full and then sprinkle about half a cup of salt onto the ice. Seal the large bag. Shake the bag for about 3 minutes. If you hands get cold, you can wrap the bag in a towel, or you can get a friend and play "cold potato" by tossing it back and forth. Of course, if you do that you will have to share the ice cream. Keep going until you can see that the ice cream mixture is frozen.
After it is well frozen, open the large bag and pour out the ice and saltwater. Open the small bag and use a spoon to taste your results. Yum! You now have some homemade ice cream. As you eat it, pay close attention to its texture.
By this time, the mixture in the bowl should be frozen. Try to eat this with the spoon. Not as easy is it? And the texture is much different.
What is the difference? The biggest difference is that the mixture in the freezer sat still as it froze. When the mixture is undisturbed, the ice crystals grow quite large, making the ice cream very hard and icy. By constantly disturbing the ice crystals, you wind up with lots of small crystals instead of a few larger ones. This makes the texture of the ice cream much smoother and more pleasant.
If you are a dedicated scientist, you could also test to see whether adding chocolate syrup to the mixture changes the way that it freezes. Of course, you should also test it with fresh strawberries, diced peaches, blueberry jam, .............>>

It worked quite well, though it took a while for the mixture to freeze and was really really cold while we were doing it. We had to keep passing the bag to each other because it got so cold! I'm not sure it had the same texture as ice cream, it was a bit weird really, and could have done with some sugar, but it kind of worked and we were all chuffed with the result. More experimenting needed I think. I don't think dh was that impressed, 'oh yeah, using ice and salt, I knew about that'. Sigh! Next time I'll get him to do the experiments with the kids!

ds1 has recently been asking to do some more structured things ('structuredish, but not TOO structured, kinda hands on'). I had to do a double-take when he said this. Perhaps we've kind of drifted a little recently and need to structure our days more. He's interested in doing some history stuff, but doesn't seem to know what. I'm not sure he wants to continue where we left off in 'Story of the World' (a history 'curriculum' with an accompanying book of associated activities), so I might just pick a couple of interesting chapters in it and expand those into more of a 'project'. It needs some thinking about. Autonomous education doesn't preclude structured activities, if this is what the child wishes to do and if it isn't something imposed from an external source. So at the moment I'm not sure where this new revelation will take us. Watch this space...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Bread bricks and Chelsea buns

Spent the morning baking and cooking. No evening work over Summer has left my bank account a tad empty, so it's time to raid the freezer, get out the cookbooks and turn the kitchen into a bombsite in the name of frugalness. Yesterday I tried out some new bread recipes in the breadmaker using a book from a carboot sale. Three attempts at a recipe for 'milk bread' and I managed to produced two bricks and a pile of breadcrumbs. Not a success. It seems that the recipes just have too much flour. Had another go today. Tried out the Chelsea bun recipe. Busked it a bit, leaving out some flour, and miraculously got something resembling the picture in the book. It was even edible!

Perhaps I need a bigger kitchen..?

Yep, I definitely need a bigger kitchen!

The afternoon was spent at a local 'play day' organised by the Council. Lots of child-friendly activities had been set up, but most were met with glum faces from my kids. What's that phrase... 'You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink'. Well I guess that summed it up lol. However, there were some things that were popular: dd1 liked the mobile' farm. Ds2 was keen to go on the mobile climbing wall, but despite queueing for some time we eventually gave up and moved on. All three of them had a try out on some temporary play equipment. This play equipment was different in that it was intended primarily for adult use and incorporated 'gym' style machines. A friend and I agreed that it would be a great idea to have these sorts of things available everywhere: I could have a workout while the kids were playing in the park, or even in the Tesco's car park.

Ds2 says 'hello' to a sheep

Dd1 pats a goat

We said 'goodbye' to our friend, Arlo, today

Arlo went home today. I think Jack will be pining for him, but at least he's happy to be allowed back on the sofa again this evening now that there's space.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Warn the neighbours!

Ok, so whose great idea was it to get the kids an electric guitar? Huh?

[clue:someone who isn't at home all day looking after the kids].

So, enter the new instrument into the house. Bit of mending, some new strings and good as new. I'm sure it's all very educational, but only when volume control is used appropriately. Dread to think what the neighbours will say...

But anyway, the kids think it's really cool. Ds2 is starting to learn to play 'Smoke on the water'. Oh joy. Next I guess it will be 'Stairway to Heaven'. Well, if they all become famous rock stars as a result I'll eat my words.

Spent the afternoon with the kids in the natural sandpit at a local nature reserve. The kids played well, with few squabbles, which makes a pleasant change. The boys disappeared into the woods with their friends, reappearing periodically for food and drink, and dd1 paddled in the tiny stream that runs through the middle of the sandpit. As always, she's never far from water. The weather held out surprisingly and we didn't return home till gone 4pm.

Arlo and Jack are now absolutely shattered, fighting for a place on the sofa. Tough! I got there first! Now I know why we only have one dog. Two dogs on a sofa doesn't leave any room at all for the adults in this family!

Animation on the big screen and blackberry picking

Last night we went to see a showing of ds1's animation at a local cinema. The screening is a showcase of the minifilms and other productions created during a week of workshops for local children and teenagers. During two days of workshops Ds1 had worked on an animation called 'Hot hot hot' with a group of children, in which the sun melts the earth and is then put back together by 'Magnet Man'. The kids had had great fun using some software to 'melt' pictures of world landmarks. The remaining animation had been made with plasticine figures, hand-drawn backdrops and stop-frame animation.

Not quite Blackberry and Apple Crumble...yet

Yesterday I picked a whole bundle of blackberries from the garden, in the jungle that used to be a neat line of raspberry canes and a tidy bramble bush. It seems very early to be picking blackberries. Seems earlier each year, or perhaps I've just been sucked into all the global warming gloom. The blackberry bush was lethal and I came out all prickled and itchy. I really must dig it up next year and move it to the allotment where it will have space to do what bramble bushes do best - sprawl all over the place! Apart from a few tiny windfalls (enough to fill a kid's bucket), the apples haven't caught up, so not really enough for blackberry and apple crumble yet. I'll put the blackberries in the freezer for a month or so and by then I'll have so many blooming apples I'll spend all waking hours peeling, chopping and cooking the things!

Picked the first two tomatoes yesterday too. I'm hoping this year's crop will be better than last year's when the tomatoes suffered so badly from blight in the wet weather that we hardly salvaged anything. Must remember to make up some tomato feed: at the allotment I've got some rotting seaweed in a sack that I haven't dared open up (I can smell it from 10 feet away!) which would make a good feed if I diluted it. It's been there almost a year and should have stewed nicely by now. A bit too nicely. Of course the coward's way out would be to go and buy some commercial tomato feed, but that wouldn't be very 'organic' or frugal. Maybe I'll just wait until I have a bad cold and can't smell anything!

Finally managed to get to my sewing machine and finish a cushion cover. Looks great on the sofa, though the dogs seem to have a fondness for it and it didn't take them long to cover it in dog hairs. Just another 7 cushion covers to go...

Friday, 1 August 2008

Doggy visitors, scrapstore visit, and that darn machine again!

Over the past few days we've had a large, but very friendly, lodger staying with us. His name is Arlo.

Arlo is a lurcher crossbreed and one of Jack's friends. He's the one dog we've found that truly puts Jack in his place (usually on his back in 'submissive' pose) and who tolerates his 'puppiness'. No matter what Jack does to annoy, Arlo can bite his ears (quite a large surface area to get hold of there) and literally squash him into submission. It all makes for a fairly good relationship.

Arlo does have the distinct advantage that he can easily outrun Jack. A few gentle strides for Arlo is equivalent to a 100-metre sprint for Jack. Poor chap, no wonder he's been so exhausted since his friend arrived!

Jack 'discovers' Arlo's bone. Nope, not giving that up.
Jack 'discovers' Arlo's food. "Mmm...tripe...yum.
Much better than that dried dog food I get fed."

"Ok, ok, I'll share it. Darn it! Got my ears in it now!"

We took a visit to the local scrapstore on Thursday and I bought 3 carrier bags of material with the intention of making some new cushion covers (cushion covers currently in use are pretty scuzzy, even by my not-very-high standards). Of course, I'm totally ignoring the boxes and boxes of material we already have in the loft and which I also bought under the guise of making cushion covers/curtains/clothes for the kids/bags to sell. As dh says, reassuringly, 'It all makes for very good loft insulation'.
S0, while the kids were quiet and otherwise occupied I thought I'd sneak into the conservatory and start making a cushion cover. Bad idea. Or perhaps a good idea. John Holt says in one of his books (I forget which one) that the best way to encourage kids to learn is by doing the things you love. Not doing these things with the intention of 'teaching' your children, but purely because you enjoy doing them. Holt predicts that if you do this children will see what you are doing and try to emulate it. my case they will spot that I'm no longer focusing on them, but that I've sneaked off to focus on something that I want to do. They will immediately want to interfere/destroy/ sabotage the activity or - if I'm fortunate - want to do it too!
So, I got as far as measuring and cutting some material and that was it. Then they were begging me to get the hand sewing machine out and I was cursing it, trying to thread the darn thing, untangle the bobbin and master it's stubborn, antiquated personality. The neat pile of material on top of the newly-tidied art cupboard, was pulled down, cupboards opened, and my finally-clear-after-3-weeks table was once more full of stuff. Home education and a tidy house just don't go together.
Ds2 decided he was going to make a sleeping bag for dd1's toy dog. As you can see, it all went fairly smoothly (thank you scrapstore for felt! I don't think I can cope with stubborn sewing machine AND trying to show a short-tempered child how to hem fraying material in one lifetime).

Just had to take a film of it doing what sewing machines are meant to do, cos usually it's angrily chewing up thread and rucking up material.

Dd1 helps