Saturday, 31 January 2009

The short and fruitless life of a crispy cockchafer

I spent most of Friday trying to tidy our bedroom. Do you ever find yourself nagging the kids to tidy their rooms and then quickly shut the door on your own bedroom so you can't remind yourself how bad your own room is?

Well, our bedroom is the transitional place for stuff coming down from the loft and stuff awaiting to go into the loft. But the trouble is that most of the stuff that has come down from the loft has stayed in the bedroom, and ditto for most of the stuff that's supposed to be going up into the loft. It's like a doctor's waiting room where the queue never gets any shorter and people still keep piling in through the door.

Our bedroom is supposed to be a child-free space, or at least a child-clutter-free space. Somehow the house gremlin keeps leaving lego and bits of toys that need mending, and screws and screwdrivers, odd socks, flannels, woolly hats, lolly wrappers, bags of seashells, shopping receipts, take-away menus and other assorted junk in there; when piled up on top of the sleeping bags, not-quite-fitting kids' clothes, dirty clothes, clean washing that never got put away, suitcases and carrier bags of wool, several Sunday newspapers from the previous month, six pairs of size 9 shoes (blame dh for that one), a large mirror, two 10"photoframes, 4 full-size guitars (dh), a large box of photographic slides, some glass paints, and a carrier bag of music cassettes from the 1980s, it makes it quite difficult to get to the bed every evening.

So on Friday I had a clearout and a rearrange of furniture. Furniture moving is my 'thing' at this time of year (look back at past blogs and I'm sure they'll be an entry for around this time of year involving furniture rearranging). It's cheaper and easier than decorating, and less likely to end in world war 3. And there's something about swearing and cursing at furniture that wont fit in the space you want it to fit into that is very good for the soul.

And I got the vacuum cleaner out! Now for those of you who exit the house every morning in a uncreased white linen suit with smiling happy CLEAN children and their neatly wrapped nutritionally-balanced lunches, drop the kids off with their prearranged equally elegant playmates and pop off to the gym via the nail bar, then you'd better stop reading now. Please.

Because after I'd vacuumed up most of the under-bed fluff (and that was even before I'd got to the bed, this was just the stuff lying around on the floor) and after I'd found the missing bit of toy that I was meant to superglue back onto it's source but had lost about 3 months ago (alas I recognised this missing part 0.2 of a second after it had gone up the vacuum cleaner and it is smaller than my fingernail and the colour of under-bed fluff) then I stuck the vacuum under the chest of drawers and sucked up a May bug.

Do you know what a May bug is? It's one of these...(also known as a Cockchafer)

They are kinda chunky and crunchy, especially if you step on one, and they have a nasty habit of letting their pheromones go to their head. early Summer they set about swarming trying to find a mate. They fly around like some clumsy missile, bashing their head on windows until they find an opening, then tangle themselves in someone's net curtains, before falling down dead and crispy behind an item of furniture.
If they're lucky they might have had a bit of a May bug kiss and a cuddle en route, but I'm pretty sure most of them are too stupid to even work out that little bit of their life purpose, and are far too easily distracted by marvels of the modern human world (like net curtains).

So, that's the short life of a May bug; they do have a maggoty bit in their life cycle, but we wont go into that. Dh calls them June bugs, which is probably more approriate because I've never seen them in May, usually in June. Either way, May or June, thats at least a shameful 7 months that this poor crunchy creature has been curled up among the fluff on my bedroom floor.

And the moral of the story is..?
I'll leave you to figure that one out (answers on a postcard to...)

Anyway, clearing the bedroom has had it's benefits. In between the 3 year-old bottles of gone-off perfume, and bizarre hair products that I've never used (the products are bizarre, not my hair you understand), I found an opened pack of lollies that I'd banned the kids from having because I figured the chewy ones would pull their fillings out. Chewy things do that. We have experience.

So I'm now, as I type this, chewing my way through Matlow's Drumsticks (original raspberry and milk flavour). I don't care about my fillings - they're the real MacCoy super-strength mercury type and will stand up to any chewy sweet you throw at them (plus all the other things that I tell the kids they shouldn't eat/drink). At the same time I'm watching a Red Kite out the back window. I guess this is proof that I can muti-task.

"Rather yummy these drumsticks are" (said in a Yoda-like voice).

Just wishing that I'd banned the swizzels too. Though they're not half as good since they took all the artificial whotsits out of them.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Oi! Hadrian! We got some bricks for that wall of yours!

My non-resolution is still continuing successfully (see my blog entry for 13 January 2009). Perhaps so successfully I should take it out of the non-resolution classification and re-categorise it as a 'pending resolution', or even as a - shock horror - a 'resolution'.

Though if I call it a resolution (in a very quiet voice) would that be tempting fate to strike and turn it into a short-term-non-happening-doomed-to-fail-in-public-disasterous resolution? At least while it's a non-resolution, I can't possibly not succeed to make it a success because it isn't actually something I have determined to be a challenge that I need to succeed at.
Maybe I think about these things too much.
Anyway, I suppose what I'm trying to say (yeah, hang in there it's coming) is that my non-resolution of going somewhere new once a week/fortnight took us to a Roman Villa on Wednesday.
I'd played down all expectations (in fact I distinctly remember telling the kids that we were going with some friends to see a pile of old bricks in a field and not to get too excited about it). But...our low expectations were far exceeded and the site was greeted with oohs and ahs from the children (shame I didn't get that bit on film).

The Roman Villa

All 10 of them (+ one baby) spent the afternoon running (not the baby obviously) around the ruins pretending to attack each other, form fighting alliances and generally do 'war type' stuff in and out of the trenches and courtyards. They even took a brief look at the under-cover Roman mosaic AND the map of the Roman Villa layout. Shhh...don't tell them that was the educational bit.

A Roman mosaic (you have to squint a bit to see it)

In between the 'war stuff' ds1 told them the trick about hunting in mole hills for ancient relics; this treasure-hunting kept them happily occupied for quite some time. It's addictive stuff, so I couldn't resist joining them too.

[If you haven't tried digging around in molehills I can thoroughly recommend it. Moles are pretty good at digging up good stuff from underground and over the years I've found some fab fossils in their piles of earth].

One of the children found a Roman tile in a molehill - yes a real Roman tile - and others found bits and pieces of pottery that looked rather like the modern chunks of brick and flowerpot that I find in my garden, but of course these were much more Roman {g}.

A real Roman tile

We had to disuade some keen collectors from taking anything larger than pebble-sized molehill junk. Some sensible members of the company (adults mostly) firmly discouraged the more enthusiastic junior archaeologists from dismantling the Roman Wall and carrying it home in a bucket**. Thinking about it, Ye Olde Roman Barbecue might have been an interesting addition to my back garden...

I think English Heritage would rather those bits stayed here...

Lighting up the Storm Kettle on our excursion proved an interesting experience; the damp newspaper and sticks ensured that the Roman Villa and most of the surrounding fields disappeared in a cloud of thick grey smoke. So, despite our quiet entrance, we made our presence known to everyone within a 2 mile radius. Hello! Here we are! Come and investigate what we're doing! We're lighting a bonfire on your monument!

Conscious of our predicament I tried to tame the metal beast, but to no avail. Once a storm kettle gets going, it smokes like a Victorian chimney. Thankfully the water boiled quickly. I could return to looking like a normal tourist - at least a normal tourist in the presence of 10 'truanting' children running wild across a national monument.

[*As they say in Brainiac: 'If you set out to fail and you are successful, what have you done?'

[**Disclaimer: (just in case anyone from English Heritage finds their to this website) No ancient monuments were harmed in the making of this blog, though a few moles may have to do some renovations to their molehills]

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud! (until you have to scoop it out of your washing machine)

If you thought it was only hippos and pigs who have a natural affinity for mud, think again.
And no, don't ask about the state of my car...

But, hey, they're having fun! All that fresh air and exercise and space for creativity and exploration. Just think about all those poor school children in their neat uniforms sat down, being slowly and painfully tormented by the literacy hour [Yay, time to have a smug home educating mother moment] .
But I don't suppose their mothers have to have to scrape the grit out of their washing machine drum before they go to bed. And yes I scraped quite a lot out last night.

Ok, back to smugness (while I'm on a roll ...). Got our storm kettle working AND managed to boil a pan of milk on the top to make hot chocolate. Ok, so this was in the back garden and I could have just used the microwave, and the milk was full of ash because I blew in the hole in the bottom and loads of ash came out (ho hum), but this was FIRE! Crackly smokey sort of stuff that gets in your eyes and makes you smell like a Guy on bonfire night. And you can't poke stuff in a microwave (well, not with the same crackly smokey dangerous satisfaction and it's certainly not advisable to poke it with a metal fork unless you want to create your very own miniature firework display).

I don't think having a storm kettle will help our attempts at minimalist travelling. Whereas we used to just go out with a flask of hot choc and some cups (and a sack of other unrelated stuff which I wont list but would have fed/clothed/entertained a football team), today we went out with the storm kettle, a bag of dry kindling (it had been raining), a tabloid newspaper (to burn, not read), a tin of soup, a tub of hot choc, a tub of dried milk powder, a couple of cup-a-soup packs, plus a pan, tin opener, matches, cups, bottles of water, cloths to wipe everything over afterwards AND a camera and spare batteries to photograph the kettle in action. All I needed was a tent and a sleeping bag we would have been set for the weekend!

Do you reckon Ray Mears keeps all his gear under his shirt. Perhaps that's why he looks like he's built like a brick outhouse? Wonder if he's got a storm kettle stuffed up there..?


Just been reading this with regard to the latest government consultation...
Have included an excerpt, (possibly not the best bit, but read the whole thing for yourself)

28 January 2009 The coming war against Home Schoolers

"And as long as it was just a matter of a few retired hippies and eccentrics keeping their young at home, which it was until very recently, home schooling didn't matter. But what is happening now is that many parents are taking their children out of state schools because a) they are being horribly bullied in anarchic classrooms and playgrounds and b) they have begun to notice that many of the schools aren't teaching them anything much anyway. - despite years of propaganda, stunts, gimmicks, 'specialist status', absurdly glowing OFSTED reports and allegedly improved (but fiddled) exam results.
If all the plumbers in your area were no good at fixing leaks, and kept flooding your kitchen, you'd teach yourself plumbing and do it yourself. The results couldn't be worse. Why not take the same view with schools? Why not just keep them at home and do a better job yourself? Of course this is impossible for couples who both trudge out to work every day. But one way or another there is now a significant minority of households where this isn't the case, where homeschooling looks like a serious option and may take off. I suspect the left-wing establishment want to nip it, hard, in the bud. Though of course I'm not prejudiced, and will wait with interest for the report."

Ok, more stuff to blog about but it's getting late and I'm too tired to continue with this displacement activity (perhaps I should try sleep instead?)

Friday, 23 January 2009

And 'The Booker Prize' goes to...Jack the dog!

The storm kettle has arrived!!

Jack seems to think we've bought him a new dog toy.

(And no, I don't normally keep camping equipment on the lounge floor)

Are you wondering why my blogging has suddenly become more frequent? Displacement activity of course...still haven't done my homework from last term's writing course (er, yeah, the one that was meant to be in several weeks before Christmas).

I can do the week-to-week writing stuff, cos that's fun, but can't seem to summon up enough mental energy to complete anything longer. Besides, with my short attention span, it's far more fun to start something and ditch it for something new the following week, than to persevere and stick to it. Ho hum..sounds scarily like my attitude to home educating.

We did something in a class the other week that was fun. We took a piece of writing that each of us had been working on, printed it out, cut it up into its separate words and then rearranged it to make interesting sentences. Here are some of the ones I came up with:

'Who am I? I rise with unfamiliar legs, waffle-dusting the fluff with each of my functional toes.'

'Coordinated clouds weave wooden skylarks in A minor'

'I notice that a metal head can strangle the line of aesthetic'

I quite like the idea of waffle-dusting with my toes, particularly if they are functional. I'm not sure how difficult waffle-dusting would be if you didn't have functional toes.

The original piece was a descriptive essay about 3 different beds. Most of the sentences were far improved in the muddled around product. Ok, so it was a bit dodgy in places where I had to try and make a sentence out of the leftover words (3 'and' s and 4 'bed' s and 1 'duvet'- not a great combination for exciting writing). But it's a fun technique to give 'added value' to writing - a bit like turning boring old potatoes into a pack of fab cheese and onion flavour crisps. And yeah, I write alot of potatoes...

So I now feel inspired to do something similar with the children (no, I don't mean cutting them up with scissors and rearranging their parts, though there are days when that might be tempting). I thought I might take some poems or song lyrics, preferably ones that they know fairly well, and get them to chop them up and rearrange them into something else. Of course I haven't told the kids that I'm going to do that.

Hmm...I'm not quite sure how to approach it with the kids. I have to totally not emphasise the possible educational slant (a guaranteed put-off). Though if I just leave some printed poems with a pair of scissors on the table, in the hope that a child might get the urge to cut it up and rearrange it, I'm not sure they would tune into my subtle approach. And of course the dog might just go and eat it. Or maybe (thinking really abstractly) the dog might tear up the piece of paper - scissors are kinda tricky without opposable thumbs - scatter it on the floor in a really artistic manner and make his own marvellous contribution to world of literature.

I need to get out more...

Some ambitions are rather tricky to fulfil...

Tonight we were watching 'Victorian Farm' (episode 3) on BBC iplayer as we missed recording it the other day. This episode's theme was home-made remedies, lambing and making fences (to keep the pigs in).
We were watching one of the men, bashing away at hot metal to make gate hinges for their fence.
ds2 said 'I want to be a Blacksmith when I grow up'.
To which, dd replied 'I want to be a Chihuahua'.

I'm so glad my children have high aspirations...

Thursday, 22 January 2009

So what's so exciting about tractors?

I'm currently reading the sequel to 'Scenes from a Smallholding' which is - rather unoriginally - called 'More Scenes from a Smallholding'.

The author, Chas Griffiths, is involved with the Henry Doubleday Association (now known as Garden Organic). [I think i've mentioned the association before...if not, check it out at ].

He has a humorous way of describing life on a smallholding, charming and really fascinating. However, reading the books have kind of put me off the idea of ever having anything as ambitious as a wacking great piece of land.
Or perhaps that's just because Griffiths devotes a disproportionate amount of page space to the ins and outs of tractors. Tractors? zzzzzZZZZZZ....
If being a smallholder means that tractors become a daily obsession, then I guess I'll keep that as a little part-time daydream and in the meantime I'll stick to my allotment...

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Dens, fires, bird tables, hills and views

What is it about dens that kids love so much? There are expensive courses you can send your kids on to build dens. There are also training courses for Teachers and preschool workers to enable them to enable children to make dens. What is it all about? Just stick a bunch of kids in the woods and 'bobs your uncle' they will most likely go and make a den. Or maybe that's just my kids...

But you have to admit, this is a pretty good den, made by my kids and their friends this week. It was very nearly sabotaged by Jack the dog and his best mate, a large lurcher-type who decided to that running over the roof might be an interesting thing to do. Dogs have a strange concept of 'interesting'.

So what else have we been doing this past week? Well, true to my non-resolution, on Monday we went out for a trip to somewhere we hadn't been for ages. And it was very muddy and uphill and cold. BUT...there was a good view at the top.

So, there I was, having gone all the way up this hill in the cold - have I already mentioned the UPHILL and COLD bit? - pointing out the fabulous view...and what do my kids say?

'I'm hungry, where are the biscuits?'

Perhaps I would have done the same at their age and perhaps my parents would have given me the same withering look that I gave my kids.

What do you mean 'where are the biscuits??!! Look at the view!!!'

I must be getting old. Turning into an 'old gimmer' as one of my friends would say.

The view at the top of the muddy hill. (The view that the kids didn't notice)

dd sat in front of the other view that the kids didn't notice

At the top of the hill the kids explored the woods for a while...

Ds2 chilling out on a branch (not looking at a view)

and we had a sliding down the hill race (though as you can see I was very skilful not to have my attempts filmed!)

The following day - i.e. after we walked at toddler pace back down the muddy hill and put everyone through the washing machine and got some sleep - the kids did some woodwork and made a bird table. It's just a plank with some edging and some cup hooks screwed in the side, but it'll be fab when we get it up in the apple tree in our garden. Ds2 and dd have volunteered to come up with a pulley system to get the bird table up in the tree and down again to restock it. Here's the progress so far:

Nailing in the edging (after the kids had sawed it into pieces). And no, we didn't even have to get the first aid kit out.

Putting in the cup hooks (the chain will be fastened to these, so the table can be hoisted up into the tree)

Painting the table with bird-safe preservative

And today, in between den-building, we had a go with a Kelly Kettle (we had a go last week, but um the fire kept going out)

These storm kettles (also known as Kelly kettles or Aussie Kettles or Irish Kettles or Volcano Kettles) work as follows:

'Made from aluminium it is essentially a double-walled chimney with the water contained in the chimney wall. Once the campkettle is filled with water, simply start a very small fire in the base, set the kettle on the base and drop additional fuel (twigs, leaves, grass, paper, etc.) down the chimney. The large internal surface area of the chimney heats the water very quickly.' (as you can tell I nicked this explanation from someone else, cos I couldn't explain it myself)

And it really works! We tried it today, lit a little fire in the bottom with some birch bark and a few twigs, and the water boiled in hardly any time at all. Not quite the 4 minutes that was advertised, but that's probably because getting damp twigs to light takes a certain amount of experience and quite a few matches and a bit of puffing...

This kettle belongs to a friend. I've now ordered one for our family cause I thought it would be fab for when I'm out with the kids in the woods or at the allotment. And its a good excuse to play with fire.

Don't tut tut me, it's playing with matches that you're not meant to do; playing with fire is fine. And playing with your food is ok too in some circumstances, but not when dining with royalty (apparently though I'm yet to test it). [I have met a duchess, but I didn't have dinner with her. And I once met Jimmy Saville, but I don't suppose I'd play with my food either if he invited me round for cucumber sandwiches. And he's a bit like royalty]

Where were we? Oh yes, playing with fire. Well, we've been having a bit of a fire week. Not only did we have a go with the kelly kettle today, but we also managed to light a really good fire too. A proper one with proper branches and all red and glowy (and rather alot of smoke too). All those years in the girl guides have obviously stood me in good stead. Move over Ray Mears...

A proper camp fire

Our next plan for a day out is to visit a local Roman Villa. It's in a field somewhere up a lane and it doesn't cost anything to go and visit it. through that again...a Roman villa in a field and it's free.

Hmm...if I put on my pessimistic head this probably means that it wont be the most spectacular thing my children and I have ever looked at. Being free doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be a pile of rubbish (it might be a pile of roman tiles), but from experience these things are never quite as exciting as Time Team might make them out to be. 'Ah yes, here we have a small Roman buckle and we can learn a lot from this' [cut to fancy tv graphics creating whole Roman from a single roman buckle, including details about what he had for breakfast and whether he likes his eggs sunny side up and what size feet he has... you get my drift].

But, hey, perhaps I should put on my optimistic head instead. Yes, do a worzel gummage and screw on that optimistic head.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Ever tried sticking your head in a threshing machine?

Ok, an overtly educational day.
Today we ventured out to a museum that we hadn't ever been to; I don't even think we've been to the town before, so it was all a bit of a novelty. One of my (non) New Year's resolutions (cos my only resolution was not to make any resolutions) is to take the kids somewhere new or somewhere we haven't been for ages at least once a fortnight. So, big tick there then...(do I get a gold star?)

And surprisingly it was actually a cracking little museum; full of a whole mish-mash of stuff and very child-friendly.

It's not everyday one gets to stick one's head in a threshing machine (and lives long enough to have a milkshake in the cafe afterwards)

Brass Rubbing of King Alfred (apparently he had rather tricky feet)

The finished results.
(Er, I think that's meant to be an ancient sheep on the left - possibly called Dolly)

Ds2 builds a brick wall at the museum then starts to tell me about different sorts of bricks.
I love it when my kids know more about something than I do (unless it makes me feel silly).
Later as we walked round the town we took some photos and identified different types of local brickwork in the town centre, using our new-found knowledge of...bricks.
Herringbone bond brickwork (ok, so I knew that one before the museum)

Diamond bond brick design.
And yeah, there are lots of other designs with 'bond' at the end, though I can't remember the other ones. If you want to know more then trusty Wikipedia is a wealth of information on the subject...

And a statue of King Alfred, looking quite chipper
considering his axe was vandalised over Christmas.
Ds1 had his camera too and was taking photos. 'I took a photo looking right up his skirt' he says. Ho hum..

p.s. the birds continued...

Thought I'd post a video of ds2 making 'bird' sounds on our electronic kit last week.

The kit is basically a load of electronic components on a base board. The idea is to link up wires between springs that come from the components. Each of the 'projects' in the accompanying book gives a list of the numbers of the terminals to connect, some background on the project (and suggestions for adapting it) and a circuit diagram. I've just googled it and found a modern equivalent of our 500 in 1 electonic kit (ours is quite old) on Amazon

£159.95 - yikes! I think I got ours for about 4 quid secondhand!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

The birds (food, plucked and electronic) and 'Big Girl's Blouse' Kale

Ok. So the birds don't like our bird 'cake'. Or perhaps they don't realise that those weird yoghurt pots hanging upside down from the apple tree on bits of 100% cotton wool (my best knitting stock) are actually meant to be lunch. Either way, the bird cake remains untouched.

Which is more than can be said for the birds...or the bird to be precise. It seems that something has had a chunk out of one of our chickens. We came down the garden the other morning to find a pile of black feathers outside the run (yes OUTSIDE). We did a quick count of the chucks in the run - none were missing - and they looked ok (a bit scrawny and hen-pecked as always, but nothing new). Today, however, one of them is definitely limping with a damaged claw and appears to have a chunk of feathers missing from her back (not sure why we didn't notice this before - maybe more feathers have fallen out since we first looked).
Here is the pile of feathers.
And yes, those are my feet.
[Sadly this foot affliction is a well-known side-effect of having more than 2 children:'nice mummy' enters a transitional phase which without adequate sleep and chocolate and a nice holiday in the Caribbean can result in her becoming 'mummy the monster'. The disease affects mothers in a number of ways; most noticeably in the voicebox (loud screeches and interminably long rants) and in prolonged cases - where there is extensive exposure to offspring - the physical development of the feet is affected. There is no known cure.]

The chicken thing is a mystery though. Whatever it was appears to have grabbed the chicken through the bars of the run fencing, been unsuccessful (i.e not eaten it), and left a pile of feathers on the path. But what chicken would be stupid enough to go near the bars when something like a fox was around (and without making much noise). It's more damage than your average rat could do (even if it was ridiculously hungry), so the whole thing is rather puzzling. My only thought (and I've just thunked it while I'm typing this entry) is that it could possibly be a ferret. The next-door neighbour's kids had pet ferrets which escaped months ago and for a while we used to see them running through the chicken run, causing chaos and mahem (big flurry of anxious chickens doing the daft things that chickens do when they're anxious). But I thought ferrets would only usually take eggs or young chucks?
Will have to google that one.
It still leaves us in the dilema of what to do about the injured chicken. She seems to be managing ok, but experience has shown that the other chickens are likely to gang up on her (chickens have 'bully the weakest' /'pecking order' - politics) and cause further harm. I think I'll see how chuck is doing tomorrow and maybe clear out the greenhouse as a temporary shelter.

So, while checking out the chicken situation, I had a quick recky of the garden. My Italian Kale was looking very sad (but has since perked up as it defrosted today).
Sad Kale (look, you can see it shivering)
These mediterranean types are big girl's blouses compared with the rugged British greens. Mind you, the latter often taste like cattle food, so that's probably why I'm growing the former. And I watched Jamie cooking with the Italian stuff in a programme tonight so it must be awwwright mustn't it? Bless his cotton socks; he can come and cook for me any day...
The plastic over one of the raised beds where I planted the garlic (erected to stop the chickens digging them up) has had the added bonus of keeping the parsley frost free and still productive. I still have no idea what I'm going to use the parsley for (does one garnish baked beans on toast in one's house?), but it seems to be indestructible and non-invasive; both good qualities in my neglected veg patch.
Not very exciting picture of parsley
(are you bored yet?)
I've been sorting my seeds out for the next season and had theis year's delivery of heritage seeds from the HDRA (now known publicly as Garden Organic) seed collection. As always, I have far too many seeds, and lots of seeds for things that we probably wont eat even if we successfully grew it, but I've stuffed them into the box, in order of month of planting. It's all very organised with little cardboard separators between the months. Peppers and chillis and tomatos first (Jan-Feb). Then 20,000 packets of seeds for Mar-Apr. Then absolutely nothing until September (one seed pack in that section).
I read somewhere that this date thing was a really good way of organising your planting.
On Friday ds2 mentioned something about electronics and whereas I would usually have made excuses - or pointed him in the direction of dh - I patiently went in the loft and got out an electronics set that I'd got secondhand years ago (probably when he was a toddler!). Ds1 had never wanted to use it (hence why it was collecting dust in the loft), but ds2 spent over an hour making circuits to create 'bird sounds' (we seem to be having a bird theme going here) and then fiddling around making alterations. I was clueless, but both the boys seemed to know alot more than me! When ds2 started telling me what a transistor did, I started glazing over (as I would if dh did the same), but I have to admit I was impressed.
And no, I can't remember what a transistor does. If it could clear up dog poo, sort out the odd-sock drawer or even cook Italian Kale then I might show more interest. I don't need to know what a transistor does to be grateful that an electronic gadget is working. And I don't suppose a florist needs to know the ins and outs of photosynthesis to do their job...
Well either the volcanic mountain of craft materials has finally erupted, or the home-educating Gremlins have been doing some tidying up...
I really shouldn't feed them after 5pm
So...I finish on a photo of dd1 riding her bike (shortly after this was taken she got distracted by looking at the postman coming the other way, tipped to one side and fell off). Funny how I always take photos just before my children damage themselves in some way. Some might say it's inattentive parenting. I prefer to call it sequencial fate. Camera + child = nice photo + minor accident.

Essential clothing for a bike ride in below-freezing weather:

woolly hat, jumper, coat and - oh yes - shorts!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Early Dog Gets the Bird Cake, and Feng Shui 'Ice Blocks' Shortlisted for Turner Prize

Well, as you can see from the photos we're still heading towards an ice age...

Top of this week's activities has been 'chiselling out large chucks of ice from a frozen lake and building it into ice towers/sculptures'.

I reckon the final results are good enough to go in the Tate Modern (I'm a mother, so of course I'm biased). Not surprisingly the artists had to suffer for their work - cold hands, wet feet and runny noses - and their parents had to suffer too (as personal assistants, carrying around the sodden gloves from their mini geniuses). Ah well...all in the name of art.

'Ok guys, I might need a hand with this one...'

There's something decidedly Feng Shui about this one...
though I think the bit of frozen pond weed hanging out of the bottom wedge on the right might be blocking the energy flow {g}

Ah, that's better. Just pile it in a heap.

Turner prize, here we come...

One of my new year's resolutions (the resolutions which I keep telling everyone that I haven't made, but are such an ingrained habit that I suppose I subconsciously have) is that I would try and do a few small things with the kids every day.

Ok, let's get this clear. I'm a home educator, and home educators are meant to do stuff with their kids; isn't that what it's all about? Well, yes, and - er - no. As the lesser-organised home educators among us will know, the reality is that days sometimes drift by, stuff kind of gets done (but we're not sure by whom and how - the home educating fairy perhaps?) and things seem to get learnt (by a mysterious osmotic process that often baffles me) and then we look around and find that the children are a year older and we sit back and say 'how did that happen?'.

So. The idea that something 'planned' (well planned-ish) will happen each and every day is a bit of a novelty for our family. Not that we haven't tried before... And that's what I intend doing. Again. No doubt human nature will intervene and we'll slip back into our chaotic - but mostly productive - selves. Isn't that what new year's resolutions are all about? Making wildly unrealistic promises to yourself, feeling good cos you've managed to fulfil them (briefly), and then several weeks later drifting back into whatever you were doing before you had ambitious hopes for change. Until the following year, when you go through the process all over again... where was I ? Oh yes, doing one or two things with the kids every day. So, starting with good intentions...

Ds1 made a victoria sponge cake. Despite making a pig's ear of following the recipe (I was on the phone at the time, so he basically just chucked the whole lot of ingredients in the bowl and stirred it round - {g} - must be genetic!) it was a much better cake than most of the ones I've made.

And we made fat 'cakes' for the birds with veg lard and bird seed. We've had the bird seed in the cupboard for about 5 years. I'd given up feeding the birds as they never ate the food we put out, but since next door got 2 rotweillers and scared off all the cats in the neighbourhood, the birds have returned.

To bulk up the bird fat cakes I added some of dh's mixed raisins and nuts into the mix [shhh don't tell him or he'll start feeling even lower in the pecking order than he is already]. Anyway ds2 heated up the stuff and poured it into some yoghurt pots and we tied them to the apple tree (and my washing line) with string.

It's been too frrrrreeezing cold to go and examine if the birds have tried to eat any of it yet. It got the dog's 'seal of approval' though:Jack managed to get up on the table while the yoghurt pots were cooling and had a quick munch of the top layer! Could make the next few days' doggie walks interesting...

Yum! Bird fat 'cakes'

(Before the dog queued up for his tasting session)

And ds2 helped me cook pancakes for breakfast this morning. Not something I'd planned (so does it count towards my resolution?).

At that time of the morning I usually growl at anyone who comes near me in the kitchen, so it was a huge sign of my restraint and responsible parenting to put him in charge of a frying pan.

[We all know that cooking with kids is really great for them isn't it? Or so the parenting books say. Mind you, what these books don't tell you is that sharing a mixing bowl with a child has been known to cause long term damage to an adult's mental well-being]

ds2 pancake cooking (just before he burnt his finger on the pan)

Monday, 5 January 2009

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me...three frosted hens, two anxious owners and a black tardis in the chicken run.

It snowed today!!Yes REAL snow!!

Not a huge amount, admittedly, but it was proper real flakey stuff. And yes! it actually arrived at the appropriate time of year, i.e. not Easter, which is usually when snow makes an appearance round here. So I suppose if we actually have a proper winter now with proper frosts and winter weather, then we can all be totally complacent about global warming again? Or maybe we're headed for the next ice age? Personally, after experiencing the cold weather today, I think I'd rather take my chances with the global warming...

Anyway, this morning the kids did their best to make snowballs in the garden and get each other cold and wet. Mostly they just got cold, but the conservatory did get wet when a mis-timed snowball went straight through the open door and onto the floor. Jack wasn't too happy when he tried to eat the remains of the icy muddy slop; of course anything that falls on the floor is fair game for him and must be worth eating.

At around 10.30am we headed off to visit some nearby friends whose children were once home edded (now in school). Together with another family we hiked off to the woods and up to the natural sandpit at a local nature reserve.

Actually hike is a bit of a misleading word to apply to a long walk with 10 children aged 5-11years up a long muddy hill in the freezing cold. It was more of a zig-zag, stopping-starting, waiting-running ahead, noisy, stomping, stropping, sulking, stick-fighting, dog-chasing, molehill-squashing, leaf-examining, drain-poking, glove-losing, sleeve-tugging, ice-smashing, coat-unzipping, squabbling, trouser-rolling, piggy-backing, sort of epic journey. But we made it! And all children got home with eyes intact despite all that stick-waving ('you'll have someone's eye with that!').

Dd1 in action on a rope swing

Real snow!!! (well, sort of)

However, Jack the dog (and probably the kids too) are now absolutely shattered. And I must admit that I'm a tad tired too. Ok, perhaps the word I'm looking for is unfit.

As of last night, the chickens have an extra 'coop' in their run. In fact it looks more extra-terrestrial - a large domed black compost bin. Why? Well, yesterday morning 3 of the 4 chickens had a considerable patch of frost on their backs and I suspected that the Queen of the Chickens (i.e. the stroppy one) may have kicked them out of the coop. And I was right - yesterday evening I found 3 of the hens roosting on top of the coop. We had to improvise an immediate coop (it was about minus 4 I reckon last night and I didn't want my champion layers frozen solid) and put the empty compost bin in. It looked a little like the tardis (well if you squinted a bit and looked the wrong way through binoculars - it was dark you understand). We took out the little compost bin door and left it open so that any chickens that got kicked out of the 5-star hentel, could pile in to the 2-star Beak&Beak and keep each other cosy.

1st class and 3rd class accommodation in chicken town.

I don't think any of the hens slept in the compost bin tardis last night, but at least when we checked them this morning they weren't covered with frost.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Searching for sea shells...

As you can see, I've been tinkering with the blog layout and colours. What do you think?

Not having the time or inclination to learn html, I'm a bit limited by the templates that blogspot offers, but I quite like this layout. I was worried that it might look a little too sophisticated,but I figure the content will compensate and bring it right back down to common {g}.

Anyway, a new format for a new year.

The main photo is of ds1, head down, searching for sea shells on a beach in Cornwall. I like it. Not sure why, but to me it symbolises what childhood is all about. It's also a bit symbolic of my aspirations towards autonomous home education. You can give a child a handful of nice washed shells that you've found, or you can let them go spend the day on a beach, sandy and barefoot, searching for their own shells. Which would you prefer if you were a child?

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Rudolph 0: Dog 1. But the chicken lives to fight another day.

Poor Jack. Outwitted by the chicken again...

Maybe if you ask her nicely, Jack, she'll let you get to the back door.

Oh, and yes, that is a standard lamp at the bottom of the steps. Doesn't everyone have one of those in the garden?

Considering how hen-pecked and scrawny our bunch of chickens are looking (and we do feed them, honest) I'm amazed that all four chickens have continued to lay throughout Autumn and Winter; we've just come back after 2 days away to find 10 eggs in the coop from 4 chuckies! And no, we don't use any extra lights. I know the farmer said that they were a hardy cross, but they've outperformed anything we've had before. Just hope I can find the scrappy piece of paper that I put his address on. I obviously put it somewhere safe. Yes, that safe.

I've been thinking about getting a couple of ducks, but I need to read up a bit first. As long as we can keep the foxes out I figure they can't be too hard to look after. But what would they do to the garden? Would I have a veg patch left by the time they had paddled all over it?

Oh and here's a very sad announcement.

Jack ate Rudolph on Christmas Day.

And here's what was left after an hour of chewing, tearing and destuffing...

Just a couple of nibbled antlers

That's the last time I bother buying that dog a dog toy.

And here are the kids admiring our fantastic light show on the front of the house...(aren't you impressed?)

Ok, ok. So it's not our house. But it could have been...

...and as they always say: it's the thought that matters.