Saturday, 21 February 2009

Been tagged - but don't worry, I'm sure they'll let me off for good behaviour

Ok, I've been 'tagged' by Sam of 'Feel the Rhythm Inside' blog fame to tell you 8 random things about myself. I'm not sure how you define 'random', but here goes...

1. I'm currently painting the kitchen green (it used to be bright orange). In this house I've only decorated when I've been pregnant: hence we've only decorated about 3 rooms in this house in the past 11 years. And before you ask, no I'm not...3 children is MORE than enough!

2. At the moment I'm reading these books: 'The 3a.m. Epiphany:uncommon writing exercises that transform your fiction' by Brian Kiteley and 'Conan Doyle' by Michael Coren, and I've just finished 'The Uncommon Reader' by Alan Bennett.

3. My least favourite vegetable is probably celery, but it does have an interesting horseshoe shape when you slice it. Might consider eating it if someone bred a chocolate-flavoured version...

4. I'm vegetarian and have been since I was 15 when my dad - seeing me tucking into a vegeburger - called me a freak. Being a stubborn teenager I decided to fulfil his self-fulfilling prophecy. Besides, taking dietary advice from someone who had eaten pigs' trotters, and shared tripe with the dog, might be considered foolish. Unlike most vegetarians - and carnivores - that I've met, I'm not squeamish about meat or where it comes from. I grew up in the countryside: if we couldn't grow it or shoot it, we didn't eat it!

5. The garden plants I most dislike are roses (bare, spikey, boring things, just can't see the point in growing them), rhodedendrons (considered a pest in their wild habitat and about as subtle as an old lady's scarlet knickers) and hydrangeas (like huge pom poms and just plain irritating). However, hydrangeas are interesting in that the flower colour changes according to the pH of the soil it is growing in. It took 3 years of hacking and chopping and digging for the hydrangea beside our greenhouse to die; from this I deduce that they are pretty hardy plants.

6. When I was 6 and someone asked me what I wanted to be when I was a grown up I said I wanted to be an author. They looked at me like I was weird because normal little girls wanted to be a nurse or hairdresser. I wasn't a normal little girl {g}

7. I first used the internet in 1991. It was part of my job to use it to search out scientific articles and patents for the company I worked for. In those days you had to use particular language to do the searches. I don't suppose Google was around then and definitely NO facebook.

8. I have eight toes. Nah, only kidding, though when I was a child I did meet a man who had a finger missing. Or did he have an extra finger? I dunno, it was a long time ago, but I remember he thought it was highly amusing to get me to count his fingers. Adults are such attention seekers...

According to tagging rules I'm meant to tag another 8 people. Will have to think about that one as most of the people whose blogs I follow have already been tagged with this one.

So, were those things random enough?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

'How secondary schools stop kids being creative...'

This little article makes interesting - though not surprising - reading. I expect a reasonably intelligent person would find similar creativity-crushing influences in a primary school if they knew what they were looking for.

About 4 years ago I read an article by an author/researcher who believed that the restriction on weapon/hero/adventure play in nurseries and schools was stifling boys' creativity. When I discussed it with someone at the time, they thought it was a total overexaggeration. I'm not so sure; I remember the time when my nearly-5 year old ds1 decided to stop drawing aeroplanes after one of the private nursery staff told him he mustn't draw guns on it. Considering he'd barely lifted a writing implement until a few months previous, it was such a frustratingly annoying thing and my heart went out to my little boy.

Anyway, back to the article in the blog title...I've snipped a bit of the original, to give the gist of it:

'How secondary schools stop kids, especially boys, being creative - by a top children's author' The Times Online 9 Feb

"To be creative, you have to be wrong most of the time. Unfortunately, being wrong doesn’t go down very well at school. In fact, I think creativity is being educated out of kids when they get into Secondary School, and it’s a big problem....

...I often get the impression that teachers are drawn to the ideas from their girl pupils, whereas the imaginative world of the boys seems mysterious – sometimes even dangerous. I can sympathise with teachers who are afraid to be seen to be encouraging violent thoughts. But most boys’ imaginations run most quickly to two extremes: the violent and the absurd. I happen to think that’s exciting, but teachers seem to want to foster creativity within certain ‘safe’ parameters. Creativity is not safe.

I would love to see, in the context of an English lesson, the classroom transformed into an environment which rewards wacky, crazy-stupid and yes, even sometimes violent ideas. Until it is, boys’ creativity will continue to be ‘educated’ out of them at the upper end of Primary Schools and the lower end of Secondary Schools. And they will continue to give up on reading..."

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Those who find they're touched by madness, chit down next to me...*

Ok, seriously overdue for some blogging.

I'd planned to do a sort of garden/allotment-themed blog entry a few weeks ago, but didn't get around to it, so this is a sort of catch-up entry.

In an attempt to speed up the onset of Spring, I couldn't wait to sow some seeds. So, about a month ago I did my usual early sowings of pepper/chilli/tomato seeds in the propagator. I'd acquired a huge heated propagator from a car boot sale for £5, so that's now occupying a large chunk of the space in the conservatory. Yeah, the space in between the leaning tower of craft materials and junk and the dogbed day, no doubt, it will all come tumbling down.

Each year I carefully plant these things and several weeks later I have some dehydrated limp, gangly seedlings that are desperate for some light and tlc. (Mostly light, as they can usually survive without being serenaded or having their toenails clipped). My solution has been to do a sort of DIY reflector, made of tin foil and cardboard.

Does it work? Well, sometimes. The - very fetching - DIY job on the kitchen windowsill seems to work fine (behind that cardboard are two seed trays of leek seedlings, honest).

The one amongst the leaning tower of craft materials isn't working so well. Perhaps this is because being hidden amidst the leaning tower of craft materials there isn't actually alot of light to reflect.

Anyway, I noticed yesterday that my nice little pots of tomato seedlings were looking half dead. Same thing every year. I get enthusiastic, then get distracted. Never mind, I'll just plant some more.

Tomato plants (ok, use your imagination) ->

Today I braved the allotment with the kids. There's something comforting about looking at the allotment plots at this time of year. Of course it's lovely when all the crops are growing, but if the crops are growing then so are the weeds which means WORK: neverending weeding and hoeing and digging. At least this time of year it's too wet to dig and the most I can do is cut down some brambles, do a bit of pruning, shift compost around a bit, and generally have a tidy up (with the reassurance that the weeds aren't growing while my back is turned).

One plot is looking ok. The other one, well, let's just say that I've just ordered a huge roll of heavy duty weed suppressant...that's my equivalent of two fingers up at the allotment Weed Police.

The Weed Police Suspect
(honest Officer, it wasn't me) ->

I set the kids to work.
Funny how they always like the destructive jobs...

(Couch) potatoes, chitting.
Chitting is what your 1kg bag of Tescos King Edwards does, even if you put it in a light-proof bag in the darkest cupboard, under the stairs. However, if you want to grow potatoes you have to carefully coset your darling little seed potatoes in egg boxes in a warm, light place to do exactly the same thing. Makes sense huh?->

*Apologies for the title. I was desperately trying to find some sort of pun around chitting, but once I realised that The Drifters song lyrics didn't contain the line 'chitting up on the roof' - or even 'sitting up on the roof' - I had to resort to James's 'Sit Down'. In case you're curious, or even if you're not, lyrics are below:
If you want to sing along, try this Youtube vid with the words
Alternatively their rather strange vid at
(the vid's fine, but don't let the kid read the comments underneath, unless they want to learn some new rather-unpleasant vocabulary!)
I'll sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can't keep
Inside of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour
Hope that God exists
I hope I pray
Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Now I'm relieved to hear
That you've been to some far out places
It's hard to carry on
When you feel all alone
Now I've swung back down again
It's worse than it was before
If I hadn't seen such riches
I could live with being poor
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those who find they're touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me
Love, in fear, in hate, in tears
Down Down
Oh sit down...etc

Monday, 9 February 2009

Word Games

Have you ever tried to sum yourself up in 6 words?

On the Arvon Foundation Blog there is a page which asks for people to enter their 6-word attempts.

It starts:

*** A new book has been released that celebrates the six word story. Readers of online magazine, SMITH were asked to write their biography using but six words of the English language. The result is a charming and “fabulously appealing” book which includes some top writers. Dave Eggers wrote, “Fifteen years since last professional haircut”.Joyce Carol Oates: “Revenge is living well, without you.” ...***

My attempts so far to sum myself up/tell a story in 6 words are:

'Thought about it, didn't do it'

'Life too short for 24-hour daydreaming' (does that count as 6 or 7 words?)

'Could have been contender, but didn't enter' (ok, so that's 7 words)

'Hoarded stuff, couldn't find what needed'

'Procrastination prevented the cat getting killed'

'The early bird stole my worm'

'Ate too much chocolate then exploded'

'Earnt, saved, spent it all'

'Frugality can make fun life dull'

Maybe you'd like to have a try? It's a very good displacement activity {g}


This morning, realising that we would be stuck in the house again for most of the day (the snow has cleared but we have a large crack in the windscreen so I'm nervous about driving the car), I had to think up an activity to stop the kids from killing each other.

Amidst groans, I photocopied and enlarged pages of print from fiction and non-fiction books. Then I told the kids to set about the various paragraphs with scissors and see what funny sentences they could come up with. The groans faded as they mucked about chopping and changing words. After about half an hour ds2 came up with the following:

'her gold knickers expand when she's bad-tempered'
'You will need to avoid the danger of thunder knickers'

ds1 came up with:
'enormous, surprising, interesting, nasty, messy, salty, sodden, draggled bit of powerful petrol egg equipped with rocket piano with overboard hook and a bulldozer'

I even managed to casually mention the idea of 'adjectives' (which we could have done with more of - next time I'll photocopy something very descriptive) and 'adverbs'. Subtle eh?

Shhh...don't tell them they did something *Educational*

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Hoarder? Or just frugal? The survival instinct kicks in...

There's been a terrible smell in the house for the past few days. I think I've tracked it down to the fridge, but despite throwing everything out that looked like it had a life of its own (there were quite a few contenders), the smell still lingers.

I even wiped it out with our really stinky cheap washing up liquid. Didn't make any difference, except that the fridge now smells of yuk AND a lavender/toilet cleaner-sort of smell. Bicarb solution might be the next step. But in the meantime I'm just hoping the smell will somehow go away...[yeah, head in sand as usual]

Well the snow finally stopped on Saturday and once a bit of ice had melted we were able to get the car out safely. Like others that I know, the survival instinct immediately set in and I drove out to get SUPPLIES.

It's only been a few days since we've been able to get out the house, but the shopping centre was like pre-christmas madness! People were buying up anything and everything! I'm not sure if this is something specifically British, but we seem to be so scared of going without. We are a nation of hoarders:we hoard and hoard, and then barricade ourselves in, just on the offchance of starvation, or drought, or flood, or Tesco closing for a day, or any sort of shortage.

Maybe it's a leftover effect of World War II, where shortages were commonplace and our grandparents learnt to live with rationing for many years? I've had the 'make do and mend' mentality driven into me from a young age and in times of stress - or shortage - it kicks into overdrive. How can I throw anything out when it may, at some time in the future, be so very useful??!

Of course this hoarding is useful when it comes to home educating. We have every resource we could possibly need - except that we have so many things it's quite difficult to find what we need when we need it. Or maybe home educating is just an excuse to hoard even more stuff? No! I'm frugal! I recycle! I'm good for the environment! (at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

Friday, 6 February 2009

The Milkweed Project

We've decided to join the Milkweed Project:

'The Milkweed Project is a collaborative art project that will culminate in a giant art installation that will create, for visitors, the feeling of being inside a Milkweed Pod (as I imagine it to be). Knit and crochet works by different artists will be hung, draped, connected, etc. to create a gallery full of thousands of soft, white stitches for visitors to walk through.
The artwork will be made of knit, spun and crochet pieces created by fiber artists and crafters from all over the world.'

For more information see

The only problem is that they are looking for pieces of work at least 3 ft long!

I figured that together, me and the kids might be able to put something together. The randomness of 4 different sources of creative input (only one of which can sew/crochet/knit) will just add the the artistic effect!

If you fancy having a go too, join up at the above webpage. The plan is to cap the participant numbers at 500.

Oh, and apparently a milkweed is a thistle...or something similar.

I spent yesterday looking in charity shops for white/off-white jumpers to unravel as we are going to need quite a bit of white wool. No luck so far.

Small acts of kindness...

Well we're now on about our third day of icy snowy weather. Yes! Proper Snow!

Yesterday I rushed out in to the back garden so that I could be the first to tread in the pure white fluffy snow. Very childish, but I don't care. I snuck down and took some photos of the garden, and our pond which is frozen solid. I hope all the frogs will be ok.

Of course by the time Jack had snuffled around in the lovely white snow and left some little yellow puddles, it just wasn't the same.

There was a lovely little finch singing in the apple tree, despite such a freezing morning. Unfortunately you can't hear it very well because Jack wanted to join in too:

The whole of England has ground to a standstill because of the snow (what a surprise...). The radio announced yesterday that most of the local councils have already used up a year's worth of gritting salt, and are fast running out. Public transport is struggling to have any services at all, lots of roads are closed and some villages cut off. I'm sure the rest of the world must find our incompetence at dealing with a few inches of snow highly amusing.

Many of my friends, even if they can get to work, have decided not to. I think with the credit crunch the attitude is 'Oh stuff it! They'll make us redundant in a couple of months anyway!'
Even the more workaholic among them have been enjoying a few extra days off work (as one said 'It's been great - a bit like the Christmas holidays, but without all the stress').

Most of the local schools have been shut, so my bunch have been playing in the snow with the neighbourhood kids.

They made giant snowballs in the local park. And with the neighbours' kids my bunch made a big snowman on our street. We had problems finding things that would stick in well enough to be his eyes and buttons (the eyes ended up being those little skewer things that you stick corn cobs onto!). And yes, that is a tomato and two potatoes balanced on his tummy!

This morning we found him crushed into a heap. But I'm glad I've got some photos.

And here's proof that it has actually been snowing. It would have been nice if the snowman could have been more animated (some tap-dancing perhaps?), but I guess that's the disadvantage of having no legs.

Yesterday all the neighbourhood kids set to task clearing the snow from our next door neighbour's path with shovels and brooms. Our neighbour is virtually blind.

It was lovely to watch the kids as they worked together. One of them said 'If she comes out with money we mustn't take it. We're doing this because we're nice and we're her neighbours.'

Later she dropped a card through our door for the kids. It said: 'Thank you for clearing the snow and thank you whoever gave me a snow angel - I am told it was lovely'.

On a letter from her today she said 'I hope the children understood what I had written on their cards, I am very grateful, it restores my faith in the youth of the country.'

Small acts of kindness can make such a difference, can't they?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

How much is that fishy in the window. The one with the waggly fins....

Today, as it was still really cold outside, we went and looked at fish in a fish shop. The fish shop (not the one that sells chips) is probably the warmest place within 3 miles of our house, so itseemed like a good choice. The following photos aren't great cos I was avoiding using a flash (didn't want to be told off for scaring the fish).
And here is a fish

And here's another one, which you can't see very well, but it's the greenish brown blob with horns. And yes it does have little horns on its head. It looks rather alien-like.

And here's another fuzzy picture of a fish. I think he's smiling. Or perhaps blowing me fishy kisses?

And here's another interesting creature:

And today I made bread in the microwave. Yes I said MICROWAVE.

Ok, so I know that in the 'handbook for Earth mothers' microwaves are something akin to feeding your kids pot noodles in public. As for making bread in the microwave??!! Well that's scuppered my chances of ever getting promoted to even part-way Earth mother (and no doubt it would get me banished from the WI for the next 20 years)

Well don't knock it till you try it. And no I haven't actually tried it yet. I mean, I made it, but I haven't tasted it yet. Dh will try it for breakfast before he goes to work and if he survives then the rest of us might try it. Will let you know what it's like. If it's any good, I'll post the recipe. Only for non Earth mothers you understand...

Microwave bread before the microwave:

Microwave bread after the microwave: