Thursday, 30 October 2008

False Leg Found Under Alton Towers Roller Coaster

Some things are just too strange not to acknowledge...

False leg found underneath ride

"The owner of a prosthetic leg found beneath an Alton Towers rollercoaster is being sought by the amusement park. The leg was just one of many bizarre items found near The Corkscrew, which is to be dismantled after carrying 43.5 million people since it opened in 1980. "

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Fungi, the short life of wellies and dancing in slippers

Well it looks like autumn has finally arrived. Not only have we have we had frosts and - urrghh - soggy snow, but a trip to our local woodland gave us the full Autumn experience...

I'd like to impress you by telling you that I could identify all of these fungi, but actually I can't. A few years ago we went on a guided 'Fungal Forage' and even the guy who was suppposedly the expert couldn't identify many of the things we found. So, I don't feel so bad about my ignorance.

Here's some of the bracket fungus we found on the - presumably dead - tree branches. There seemed to be loads of dead wood lying around and I was tempted to gather a huge bundle and take it home for a bonfire. Not practical of course : the children (well some) had already complained about having to walk so far to get to the woods (I've now resolved to take the car less and make them walk more) and I didn't think any of them would be chuffed to have to carry home bundles of wet branches and logs. Besides, damp wood never made a great bonfire.

And here's a puffball-type fungi. As you can see it was well camouflaged against the leaf litter. I discovered it when it 'puffed' out spores as my foot brushed against it. Couldn't get it to do it again (I guess it had run out of 'puff'), otherwise it might have been great to video it.

Ok, who am I trying to kid: it would have made a pretty boring video...but it would have been nice to try.

And here are some 'pink' fungi. I suppose with the distinctive colour I should be able to identify what they are, but I can't find our fungi book anywhere. I'm not even sure if we have a fungi book, but dh was looking for it the other day, so perhaps we're both imagining things.

I was planning to do some spore prints with the few fungi that we picked, but I have a suspicion that they'll probably sit, sweating, in their carrier bag until I realise what 'that bad smell in the house' is.

Remembering all those home ed things I'd planned to do if we ever took a walk in the woods (but usually never got around to) I encouraged dd1 to do some 'leaf things'. So we did leaf rubbings, leaf paint prints and sandwiched some leaves through the laminator too. The laminator did make a bit of a crunching noise as some of the thicker ones went through, but it seems to have survived the process. Is it just me who puts fat things through the laminator?
Now, feeling like we've ticked something off my mental list of 'things we ought to do', I can allow myself a brief, smug, home-educating mother moment.
Ok, it's over now.
Obviously the brief smug mother moment went to my head because I then felt I could take on the world. Well, not exactly take on the world, but take all 3 of my kids shoe shopping. At half term!!! Bad idea.
But, on the plus side, I'm so glad we don't have to actually buy proper shoes; you know, proper black boring school shoes. Certainly one of the benefits of not having kids in school. The funny thing is, for the first few years of home educating I still bought my kids boring black school-type shoes every autumn. Why? Must be years of subtle subconscious programming; I was driven by the same urge that takes over every September and makes me go out and buy new stationery and pencil cases and other rubbish that I don't need. And the daft thing was, my kids wouldn't even wear the shoes. Instead they lived in wellies and trainers.
So, shopping for wellies and trainers it was. Oh, and slippers. Personally can't see the point of slippers - wear another pair of socks if your feet are cold, or comfy shoes, but dh has a thing about the kids wearing slippers. Maybe I should let him take the kids shoe shopping next time.
Talking of wellies -well actually I was talking about slippers, but anyway- I was just wondering how ds1 manages to wear his wellies out so quickly. He gets through 2 or 3 pairs a year! Surely that's not normal? With this last pair, both of them have split down the back. Other pairs have worn holes in the bottom. I'm starting to think he must be sleep walking in the darn things.
Back to shoe shopping. Well, it wasn't too horrendous an experience, though the boredom quickly took over when ds1 refused to have any of the slippers or wellies on offer. Can't blame him really; he's nearly 10 and doesn't really want 'pirate' wellies or 'spiderman' on his slippers.
My bribery ploy (shopping survival strategy) was to promise them a look round Gamestation at some point. This kinda backfired as it reminded ds2 that his elder brother has a ds lite and he only has a gameboy advance. As if my technohead child needs reminding!. So we had sulky, grumpy, and occasionally violent outbursts for the remainder of the shopping experience, pacified only by a look at the mountain bikes in Halfords. Sibling rivalry. Got a lot to answer for.
[Hmm..hope ds2 isn't expecting a mountain bike for Christmas.]
Anyway, at least one child was happy with their purchase. Here's dd1 dancing in her fluffy pussycat lighting up slippers. At what point in my parenting life did I give up on the 'just buy them plain non-commercial shoes'?
I wonder if they do them in my size.

Ok, better finish this now. The dog, who was sitting on my lap and was performing the role of hot water bottle, has now moved and I'm getting cold. Also dd1 has just come in to tell me she's been downstairs for ages and I still haven't got her breakfast. There goes that smug mother moment....

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Two theme parks in one week!

Ok, so I'm going to do a ratings score: here goes (scored out of 10)...
(I haven't added up the totals, so if you're feeling bored you can do that for me)

Gullivers Land (Milton Keynes)

Queues: 9.5 - barely any queueing, either to go in or to go on any rides.
Variety: 9 - Lots to do, different rides and shows.
Age range suitability: 8- This place is suitable for toddlers to 10years, so great for my kids, but perhaps not for older ones.
Wow factor: 5 - Nothing that made me go wow, but still enjoyable.
Cleanliness: 9
Friendliness: 9
Parking: 9 Easy parking, no long walk to front entrance. Car park was a bit boggy in places.
Cost:7 - We had vouchers that got us in for £5 per person. Otherwise it's about £10 per person, which seems alot if you have a family of 5 to pay for!
Commercialism: 8 - not too commercial. Once in, all the rides and activities were free.

Overall a very pleasant experience. Gentle for the little ones and no ghastly queues!

Legoland (Windsor)

Queues: 4- As always it was busy. Always queues for pretty much everything, which can get a bit tiresome after a while.
Variety: 9 - Loads to do for all ages. Even better in summer when families can make use of the outdoor facilities more!
Age range suitability: 9 - great for all my kids. There are fewer things for toddlers to do, but they get in free anyway, so perhaps that compensates!
wow factor: 10 - Well they had their fireworks event on, so I have to give it a high score for wow factor! The place is so huge though, it can't help but be impressive.
Cleanliness: 7 - overall quite clean, but with the sheer numbers of people the toilets can struggle!
Friendliness: 9 - despite the rain the staff did their best to be cheerful. Maybe that's all part of their training, but still, it makes a difference.
Parking: 6 - we were lucky this time to get a space fairly near the entrance, but it's not always like that. The car park is so huge that if you can't remember where you parked you might have to wait for everyone to go home before you can see your car!
Cost: 5 - extortionate if you pay full prices (does anyone actually pay full price?). We do the usual Tesco Clubcard vouchers, but there's no way we'd set foot in the place at the normal price.
Commercialism: 5 - Very commercial, lots of places and things to make you part with your money, which makes me a grumpy mummy. But...I guess that's what most theme parks are like.

Overall: If we didn't have Tesco Clubcard Vouchers we wouldn't visit. Yes, it wins on 'Wow factor', but at a price. Personally I find the commercialism and the queues irritating. But the fireworks are absolutely FANTASTIC and the kids love it!

One of the strange devices available for children to ride and experiment with at Gullivers Land. On this one you have to wind the wheels with handles. On another type of machine you wiggle the handles to propel yourself. I had a go on one contraption and I have to admit it was rather fun...(but I did have a sore bum afterwards).

We got bored in the queues at Legoland, so ended up taking some very strange photos of each other to entertain ourselves...I'll post some more when I get a chance. This is dd1 in her new mac that she got for her birthday. She had a perfectly good functional mac, but, alas, it was navy blue. Just NOT girlie enough! This one, however, is perfectly girlie (even for dd1) and it gets her approval. Some people are just plain fussy...

Ds2 in 'Miniland'. For some reason the kids love this bit of Legoland. Lots and lots of miniature versions of landmarks around the world with moving parts (all made of lego of course). Must be a 'child' thing, cause I can't see the attraction personally. I just get the urge to step over the railings and start dismantling all that lego. Very tempting.

Riding in the 'balloons' at Legoland. One of the few rides that usually doesn't have huge queues. Of course the kids had a fight about who was going to pull on the rope to make the balloon go up and down.
As it had been raining all day anyway and we were dressed for the weather with our macs and waterproof leggings we figured we might as well make use of all the 'wet' rides. We had our 2nd ride on the Viking thing (we tried it last year) and were very thankful for our waterproofs as everything got drenched! For the first time ever we also went on the log flume ( ds1 and dd1 and me). We were all fine until the bit when we realised that our little vehicle was about to drop off a precipice into the water channel below. As we got off the ride we had a look at the photos that are taken automatically and the one of us showed me with my head stuck down into the bottom of the 'log'! The kids were sat up straight, but I was being a complete woos. However, in my defence, I was at the front and could see where we were going, so it was much much much scarier...

Star Wars fireworks at Legoland

Have just had to edit this because I forgot to mention something. A work colleague arrived at work tonight a little late and gave me the news that it was snowing outside! (In case you wondered why I hadn't noticed this myself it's because I don't sit near a window, and besides, it all looks black out there at 7.30pm). So, it's snowed. That's the wet, sleety sort of snow (probably the stuff that the rail companies hate), not that nice crisp 'Christmas card' sort of snow.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Word confusion

Conversation between dd1 and ds2:

ds2: that's not fair
dd1: why?
ds2: if you say you wont do something unless I do something then that's whitenail.
dd1: eh?
ds2: whitenail! Don't you know anything?!
dd1:what's whitenail?
ds2: you know! Whitenail

and so on...

I was confused too. It took me about 10 minutes before I realised what he meant was 'blackmail'!

And on the subject of child conversations, the kids and I were talking about all sorts of stuff on the way to my osteopath appointment. Ds2 said in a loud voice 'Ooo that's the Private Shop, I know what's in there' and then leant over to continue the conversation in a whisper with ds1. He saw that I was eavesdropping and buttoned up. When I questioned him he just grinned and wouldn't tell me anything. I'm interested to discover what he thinks is in the shop. If he actually does know what's inside that shop then I want to know HOW he found out!! There are some things that 7 year old boys really shouldn't know!

And on a completely different subject, this is an interesting article I saw posted on a home ed email group. It's by Steve Biddulph. If you don't know who he is then just google it and you should find plenty of references!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

On Sunday the weather was fine so around lunchtime we headed off to a local garden centre where there is a playground and animals to look at. As usual we took a bag of carrots for the goats. Here's a photo of ds2 looking cool...

and dd1 with her favourite toy dog. We keep losing the darned thing and I'm started to get quite paranoid about taking it anywhere. Most of the following photos are taken by ds1 on his camera.

And a not very flattering photo of me and jack. I knew there was a good reason why I'm usually the person behind the camera, not the subject! I'm not quite sure what Jack is doing, but I'm obviously trying to stop him.'s a llama (or is it an alpaca?) with a very nice hairdo. Must have gone to the same hairdresser as my boys (yes, the memory is still raw).

This week at the sailing club we were making lanterns for the forthcoming bonfire night party. This is the grand version (made by a friend, not me). It has a willow frame covered with tissue paper (coated with diluted pva glue) and a candle suspended by wire in the middle. I was a bit concerned that the tissue paper might catch light, but apparently it doesn't (ok, I'm still a bit paranoid about it). It wasn't dark enough to show the full effect, but I think with a bit of refinement it will look fantastic.

I've got plans to try one at home using chicken wire. I thought we could mold it into a shape (leaving a hole to place a night light in a jar inside) and then do the whole tissue-paper-with-pva-glue thing.

Here are some of the other lanterns we made. The 'punching holes in a tin can' ones were pretty tricky to make, partly because they rolled around so much and also because they tended to flatten out when hit with a hammer and nail. The solution, we found, was to fill them with sand from the sandpit and sit them in a pile of sand to stop them rolling. I marvelled at my ingenuity but then I was given an even better tip of filling them with water and freezing them overnight - apparently this works a treat. It was still difficult for the kids to manage, so most of them opted to make lanterns by decorating glass jars.
And no, I don't know why dd1 has blue stickers on her nose...

The painted glass jars...(still a bit sticky!)

We had a little birthday party at the sailing club for dd1 who will be 5 tomorrow. Even the bigguns were keen to join in pass the parcel! I managed to impress myself by actually making the birthday cake: it wasn't burnt and it even rose (a bit). I had a bit of an icing failure though; the icing was meant to be stiff enough to stand in peaks, but instead it sort of slopped and ran down the sides into a puddle. Still, by the time dd1 had covered it with artificial additive-laden, sugar-overdose sprinkles, then it didn't seem to matter. As I had loads of icing left I even slapped it on the home-made chocolate cookies. Remind me not to do that again...

The kids have been doing some science with dh at his work, while I go to my weekly writing class. Last week they took a CD player apart. Thankfully most of the bits stayed at his work (we already have too many boxes of bits of dismantled machinery).

This week they had a magnetic device thingy that made objects 'float'. Can't remember the name of it, but judging by the whiteboard on the wall dh had been trying to explain exactly how it worked. I'll be asking questions later children...

Anyway, here's a video of it working:

We haven't been doing our regular experiments, so I need to get back in to the habit. I think it's also time to pick up on some history, maybe a museum visit, or perhaps going back to covering some of 'The Story of the World' book. We seem to have busy days just doing 'stuff' and sometimes it's hard to fit in anything more formal. Once dd1's birthday is sorted we'll have a chance to settle down to other things.

I had the 'usual questions' today at my writing class when a few people found out that I was home educating. I'm always happy to answer the questions because I know they were exactly the sort of questions I used to ask years ago. However, it's always quite difficult to explain to parents who are in 'the system' and who still have very 'schooled' brains without sounding defensive. I don't mean that in a derogatory way because having spent years in the school system most home edders I've known needed to deschool and rethink the whole concept of education, even more than their children. I know that when I first started out the idea of autonomous education - children learning without teaching! Shock horror! - would have just been too much for my brain to even contemplate. Now it seems so obvious, so self-evident, that I wonder how I couldn't see it earlier! I have a completely different mindset now. And if my kids blame me when they're older (as most kids blame their parents) I'll just say it was all the fault of that John Holt bloke.

To finish off the posting I thought I'd pop in a photo of dd1 enjoying her latest 'thing', colouring in. It's a fascinating time for me because neither of the boys showed any interest in any of the colouring books we had. In fact we got given so many I just got rid of all of them because it didn't seem worth taking up space. Now I've got to go out and buy some more. She draws lots too. Mostly dogs and hearts (with the boys it was always castles, knights and machinery). I did wonder if there is anything I could have done to lessen the gender difference and then I gave up thinking about it 'cause my brain ached.

Oh, and as a p.s. Ds1 seems to be doing fine on his ds lite. I'm not quite ready to ration it yet as I figure the novelty will wear off in a few weeks and he'll get into a more civilised routine of using the ****** thing. It seems that he got a good deal though. The deal included the ds lite and one game up to the value of £29.99. Gamestation have a general policy that if you don't like a game you can return it within 10 days. Ds1 returned the game the day after we bought the package (it wasn't quite what he expected) and they then said under their returns policy that he could choose any games (plural) up to £29.99. Because they had a sale on he got 2 games that he wanted and was also given a £5 credit voucher for the remaining money!

Monday, 13 October 2008

OMG The haircut! And our house has been invaded (by a ds lite)

The kids haven't had a haircut in about two years and although I've hacked at it at regular intervals there is only so much my novice attempts can do. So today I decided that enough was enough and incorporated a bike ride with a trip to our local cheapy hairdressers that I've never tried before. 'Support local business' I thought, in my generous state of mind. Besides, the kids will only want a trim and if the haircuts are good then I'll book myself in for another day.


Bad idea. Now I know why I normally procrastinate about these sorts of things.

ds1's hair is always a mess. Probably even more of a mess when I cut it, but my haircuts are free and relatively painless. However, today, once ds1 had his hair cut (he was the first in the hot seat) I started having doubts whether this bloke with the scissors was really a genuine hairdresser. I mean, I could have stuck a bowl on his head, cut round it with a pair of blunt scissors, and the end result would have been similar. It was lopsided, sticky out (ok I blame genetics for that) and, well, rubbish.

Then it was ds2.' s turn. Thinking that he'd probably just want a trim, surely the hairdresser couldn't do too much wrong. 'Can I have it cut short?' he says, turning to the madman with the scissors. OMG! Off went the long blond beautiful tresses with a snipping and hacking of obviously very blunt scissors. No clipping up bits of hair with hair grips, or layering, just a straight round job just below the ears. Argghh! I nearly cried! I managed to swallow my tears long enough to ask if the guy could layer it just a bit 'so it lies better'. He did, in a fashion. Pretty similar to something I've done. No, actually, it was worse than what I've done with my 5 quid superdrug hair scissors. 'Lovely' I said to ds2, whose bottom lip was starting to look as if it might be trembling even more than mine.

Well by the time dd1 sat on the seat I was too stunned to say anything. Thankfully he just gave her a trim. Not too much trauma there, but certainly not worth 8 quid.

So now I know why I hate going to the hairdressers and why I often leave it months, or years, before we trust another one. Why do I do it?! Around here it costs - gulp - £40+ for a woman's haircut, a semi-decent one. Or for £18 I could have a rubbish one. Kids' cuts are anything from £8-12 for a basic job in a blue-rinse salon or a barber's scalping, probably around £20+ for something half decent (I've never paid that much yet, so my kids have never had a very good haircut). So the choice is be really skint, suffer a lousy haircut, or do it yourself. I think I'll train as a hairdresser. Get a book out the library and start doing some DIY. Surely I can't do any worse than the guy today?


BEFORE...AND (sob) AFTER ( and yes, it really is as lopsided as the photo shows) now going to go and have a meltdown somewhere, probably aided by a large glass of wine.

But, on a brighter note (I think), ds1 finally parted with his hard-earned cash and bought a Nintendo ds lite today. He was well-chuffed and slightly smug as poor ds2 hasn't saved up enough yet to get one too.

So there I am in Gamestation, emptying ds1's giant Winnie-the-Pooh money box onto the counter and holding up a queue of around 7 people while the shop assistant and I count up all the ten pence pieces and coppers to get to £109.99. The things us parents do for our kids, eh? That's why I keep this blog. One day, when he's bringing his laundry home for the 10th week running, I'll remind him of all those sacrifices I had to make when he was younger.

Am I pleased to have one of these ds lites in the house? Well, the jury is out on that one. Having visited people's houses where their kids are glued to the things, I have mixed feelings. Will keep you posted.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

wow! How many weeks has it been since I blogged? Seems like ages. Well, here's a brief overview of what we've been up to...

Ds2 has been busy making working models. The one below is from the book, 'How Things Work: Cars, bikes, Trains and other Land Machines', by Ian Graham. We had to make it up a bit as we went along, but it kinda worked.

Continuing the theme of model making, here is a video of a 'wind generator' we made from a kit during a short break at Pontins.

We'd visited an Eon information centre in Great Yarmouth and had a long chat with the guys inside. They had some kits and information so we came back to our chalet with lots to do!

One of the staff was an ex-teacher, so our conversation about home education was interesting. He was very 'old school' so the conversation revolved around how dreadful school is now and how much better it was in the 'good old days'. I was surprised to find out that he had taught a class of 40+ students with no problems at all; large class size seems to be one of the frequent excuses for poor academic results nowadays, so I wonder how valid it is. At least the conversation wasn't confrontational, though when he started testing ds1 on percentages I figured it was time to change the subject!

And model-making of a different sort...

Also at Pontins, ds2 had a go at climbing. He's been climbing quite often at a local climbing wall, but has never climbed using a harness before. Dh had a go too. It's a long way up!

We all had a go at crazy golf. I have a limited concentration span for this sort of thing, and dd1 was quite 'flexible' about the rules (lol) so it was all a bit random!

And yes, it was my ankles that she managed to hit with the ball!
So what else have we been doing?
Well the music lessons have been continuing at a local Montessori school. I'm not sure how much the kids get from it: ds2 seems more enthusiasitc that ds1, but we'll see. Having cut out pretty much all the regular group activities, this is something I want to continue, at least for this term.
We've been spending a fair amount of time down at the sailing club, doing various activities and also some conservation/clearance work, spotting wildlife etc.

Above you can see ds2 lopping some bushes at the sailing club. Below is a willow kayak that I made using a scaled-down version of the willow kayak on (!/ )

I used a black binliner instead of tarpaulin.

We have ambitions (or perhaps they are just my ambitions) to make a larger version, or even a full-sized coracle using a framework of willow. There's plenty of willow to cut at the sailing club grounds. The children did some willow weaving and made some bows and arrows. I have plans to cut willow poles for my allotment beans for next year, though I'll be careful to let the poles dry out over winter before using them just in case they start growing.

And we've been continuing our indoor activities too...

Making a bird beak from paper

Next we plan to make some lanterns for bonfire night.

As for more fomal activities, well we're not quite in 'winter mode' yet. However, I have been encouraging the children to practice their handwriting a little and it looks like ds1 may have finally written a letter back to his penfriend in Australia. Writing just one or two sentences a day, it takes a while, lol! With this autumnal weather I have to resist the urge to start getting workbooks off the shelves as I know it will only send us all into a foul and stressful mood. There's something about the start of the new school year that is internally programmed into me ; I want to rush out, buy up loads of textbooks and stationery and start playing 'teacher'. Hopefully the feeling will pass! I have to keep reassuring myself that all the things I'm doing with the children are educational and that they are learning. Lots.

p.s. we're still waiting for the big fat brown chrysallis to hatch out into a moth (remember, the neighbour arrived at our door with a big caterpillar for us). It's been chrysallized for a month or so now; maybe it'll hatch out in Spring? It's sat on some compost in a fish tank on the windowsill in our lounge, right by the tv. I wonder if this is something that normal families do. I've been home educating so long now I think I've lots all perspective of what normal families do, lol!