Friday, 29 February 2008

Hand balm

Hermione hasn't felt too well today. Coughs and sneezes. We were to go to a science workshop organised by a local home educating mum but we had to cancel.

So, we decided to put our confinement to good use and make an organic and cruelty free hand balm. Hermione was familiar with the concept of organics and the problems of chemicals in our personal care products but she hadn't realised that many products are tested on animals. She knows now.

We took some coconut oil, cacao butter and essential oils. We melted roughly equal amounts of cacao butter and coconut oil in a bowl over hot water. Added a couple of drops of lavender, geranium and roman chamomile oils, stirred well and decanted it into a glass jar.

Within an hour or so the potion had re solidified. Not so hard as the cacao butter in it's original room temperature form, but firmer than the coconut oil. It smells divine!

I'm going to hunt out my aromatherapy books and check some other oils for potential irritant problems. All being well I quite fancy making a minty foot balm and possibly a chesty cough rub.

Hermione is now desperate to tell everyone that personal care products are often tested on animals and is wondering why on earth shops sell stuff like that. Ah, the age of innocence.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Action packed

We were up and out early today.

By mid morning we were in the park. Both Hermione and Miles are growing in confidence all of the time. As a child I didn't have the confidence to climb and really experience the joys of play parks. My dad was extremely cautionary and I think I absorbed his well intentioned fears.

Often mindful of my own childhood experiences in this respect I try not to caution Miles and Hermione too much about the physical dangers of play equipment. This almost all changed when at three Hermione fell over the top of a high slide, eight feet down onto a concrete surface. I remember that fall like it was yesterday. She seemed to be in free fall for what felt to me like a good four minutes. Thankfully she managed to muster some really basic instincts and flipped onto her front and landed on all fours. It could have been so different. I felt truly very blessed that day believe me!

Standing in play parks, watching them play, I try to remind myself of the words of a poem I love, The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

We admired the bandstand and the bird in the blossom tree.

Next it was on to the beach. Building sandcastle and eating chips on an almost deserted beach is so grounding. Wonderful.

Next stop was the Monkwearmouth Station Museum where much fun was had dressing up and writing train tickets.

Back home we baked a gluten free date loaf which went down ever so well. I think it may have restored some faith in my baking abilities after my biscuit based effort at the weekend.

Two worn out rosy cheeked children now tucked up in bed. I don't think I'll be far behind them.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Make way for Ducklings

Last week we read Make way for Ducklings by Robert Mcloskey. It's a FIAR text which tells the tale of two ducks looking for a place to build a nest, incubating their eggs and looking after their ducklings.

The story is basic but has scope for much discussion. The illustrations are beautiful detailed pencil sketches.

Here are some of the things we did/discussed after reading the story.

The story is based in America. We found America on our world map.

The story is old and this is reflected in some of the illustrations. We looked through and found some things which Hermione felt were old fashioned. She noted the cars, clothes and the policeman's baton.

There were eight ducklings in the story. We worked out how many peanuts each would get if visitors at the park threw in twenty four peanuts, four peanuts and so on.

All eight had names which rhyme. We made a list of eight words which rhyme. That's not as easy as it seems.

The ducks were going to moult soon. We talked about moulting and how many furry and feathered creatures do. Hermione is well accustomed to cat fur, living with three cats. Our hens haven't had their first moult yet. I think Hermione's quite looking forward to this now. Can't say I am as egg production will drop.

When the ducks first arrived at the city park they spoke to a very big bird which didn't have the decency to reply. It was a wooden swan on the back of a pleasure boat. Things aren't always as they seem. It's all too easy to jump to false conclusions.

The duck sat on her nest and incubated her eggs. We talked about incubation and this lead on to the whys and wherefores of how some eggs will hatch chicks and others won't. I decided I wasn't up for the nitty gritty right now and decided to enlist Nana's help to draw two pictures. The first picture showed a lone hen, hen leaving nest with egg in, egg in pan. The second picture showed a hen and a cockerel together, hen incubating eggs and a chick hatching out of the egg.

I know, I know, I didn't rise to the challenge. It didn't feel right. Hermione now knows that in order for an egg to produce a chick two things must happen - the hen must have special friendship with a cockerel and then she must incubate the eggs. That will do for now.

We watched a cool youtube clip of a chick hatching.

We watched this cockerel and noted how he differs from our hens. Obviously there is the noise difference but his wattle and comb are also much bigger.

While we were talking of birds it felt like the time to read a book I picked up from the free table at our local home ed meeting, The Starling by Joyce Pope. A wonderful book crammed with factual information in an easy to read story format.

Finally, talk of birds would not have been complete without a visit to our local Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. I love this place. It's a place where I can feel really peaceful and really connected to the earth and a special part of me. My Dad worked here as a volunteer for a few years before he died. He died one December, shortly before he was about to play their Santa Claus again. He never got to see his grandchildren. Bringing them here helps to ease the pain and dissapointment that I feel about that.

We fed the birds, watched the waterfall, had fun in the play area and picnicked despite the almost gale force winds. Exhilarating. Just what I needed.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Microscope memories

Today we got out Hermione's microscope. We also got out the microscope which I had as a child. At the risk of sounding very old I will say, 'they don't make things like they used to.' I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing though.

This is the one I had as a child. A rather robust but basic piece of equipment which sadly has a lens missing so can't be used now. Still in remarkable condition for it's age (must be coming up to about thirty years old).

This is a slide I found in the box which I had prepared at some point. I must look at this in future years if I start to get pernickity about the children's spellings.

The kit that came with mine was still pretty much complete. I recall removing specimens from the jars as a child but thankfully I'd returned them once I had examined them. There are all kinds of things in there - dead bees, ant eggs, larvae, wings - all sorts. There are also dyes and preserving chemicals in small glass phials which have labels saying, 'DANGER do not drink'. Can you imagine this sort of thing in a basic microscope kit for children now? I can't.

This is Hermione's microscope. It does the job but is of much more flimsy construction even thought it wasn't particularly cheap. I doubt somehow it will be around for her children should she have any in thirty years time.

With the benefit of new equipment and old samples we examined red onion skin, cat fur, human hair, flower pollen and a locusts wing. I yet to figure out how to make up a slide with non flat specimens when the bottom of the microscope must be tilted to catch the light. I know, I should be ashamed of myself but I'm not. Education is an all inclusive process here, not only for children. I'm learning all the time and by and large having lots of fun in the process.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Happy Birthday Hermione!

Hermione turned seven today. It's amazing how the days can seem so long when you're up to eyes with the day to day grind, but really, the years just fly on by so quickly. I can honestly say she has given me more joy than I could ever imagine. More pain and worry that I could probably ever have imagined too. I guess that's the deal with kids - they take you to your limits - in all directions.

A dozen friends called round this afternoon to help her celebrate. Ordinarily I would say that given the choice I wouldn't change a thing about her birth, but while we have been preparing this week I thought how nice it would be if she had a summer birthday - that way we could invite lots more friends to join us and celebrate in the garden with more space. Sometimes I have worried about the social implications of my decision to home ed. I've feared my children could be 'billy no mates'. Those concerns certainly felt unfounded today.

Hermione chose a bug theme. She dressed as queen bee. There were numerous ladybirds, a spider, a green bug who looked a lot like a grass hopper and others.

There was a bug tucker trial. They munched their way through a few eyeballs (lychees and goji berries), monkey toes (pickled gherkins), frog spawn (quinoa and blue green algae), wilderbeast brains (tofu) and other delicacies. I say munched their way through, perhaps it would be more fair to say nibbled hesitantly.

Everyone split into teams to make bug models from junk. That was good fun. The adults showed as much, if not more enthusiasm than the children. Miles was delighted to return home from his jaunt out to find big bug creations lying about.

Out in the garden we threw bean bags at the CocoLoco Bugs and water bombs at a snail cut out on the fence.

The pinata was particularly robust and needed a couple of whacks from parents to actually break open. Shocking to think that after extolling the virtues of Non Violent Communication at last weeks home ed meeting I then encouraged the children today to pick up a stick and bash a pinata *blush*. Does non verbal communication count ? *grin*

I think everyone had a good time and hopefully was not put off by the fact that (a) the toilets may not flush (the waterboard had told me they were carrying out maintenance today and that I would have no water), (b) that adult drinks were restricted to fruit juice and wine - which turned out to be so dry that it could strip paint (refer back to lack of water issue), (c) despite the fact that I had scoured the Internet for great bug music and found some cool stuff I hit repeat on the Ugly Bug Ball tune and didn't notice for about an hour and a half, (d) children had to remain seated at the table while we mounted a clean up operation after I shattered a glass and (e) the birthday cake and cake which I had prepared for parents turned out to be very dry due to my tinkering with the recipe *blush*. One parent who shall remain nameless, (you know who you are Julia), complimented me on the crunchy biscuit base. Eh??? What biscuit base???

When everyone had left I realised that we hadn't played some games I had planned. Nor had we dragged out the bubble machine and parachute. Perhaps comes summer when the weather is brighter we can invite lots more friends round to get together and I can have another shot at the cake and wine. Second time lucky huh?

A friend gave me a scrap book for Christmas. I've never tried scrapbooking before and wasn't sure what to do with it. I think I'll make a birthday scrap book with lots of photos and details of her day. Then I'll put it away with the book where I write down some of her first experiences, the funny things she has said etc, ready to give her some time well in the future when the time seems right.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Some things that made me smile today

The flower garden which has sprung up on our dresser.

Bio degradable toilet roll holder starter plant pots.

A CocoLoco Bug. Nana thought it impossible to paint a coconut. Never challenge a two year old.

The time and support of special friends - who probably wouldn't wish to make a photo debut on my blog.

The thought that seven years ago tonight my waters started to leak in an Italian restaraunt. I left my knickerbocker glory and headed home to call my mum and let her know I was in labour. Oh, what a night *grin*

Thursday, 21 February 2008


I bought this courgette at the village greengrocer. It had a slightly different texture and flavour to the standard variety. It was delicious with a little olive oil and some rosemary. This year I would like to grow round ones.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Fabric play

The unplugged project for last week was fabric. Better late than never!

Someone once told me that aduki bean pie is delicious. They lied. What to do with two young children, lots of out of date dried beans and fabric on a chilly afternoon? Make beanbags!!

We are fortunate enough to have lots of fabric scraps right now, collected through Freecycle and friends. There have been many aspiring design projects and much freestyle dressing up play.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Africa - intro and desert

Sitting having Sunday lunch with a home educating friend, she happened to mention that she had come across her African cook book. Not sure how things lead on from there but we struck a deal whereby I would do four sessions with the children about Africa and at the end she would cook us an African meal.

I've finally got round to blogging our first couple of sessions having put off and put off waiting for Blogger to sort itself out - which incidentally still hasn't happened.
First session - Introduction
In our first session we located Africa on our big map of the world. I explained that it is a continent made up of 53 countries. Surprisingly Hermione already knew it was a continent – I had thought this would be the first time she had come across this concept. It amazes me how much my kids just soak up in the way of knowledge from day to day life – learning all the time as John Holt might say.

Africa makes up one fifth of our land mass. This prompted a bit of fraction play which Miles was also very enthusiastic about.

Because Africa is so big and covers such a huge area it has different climates. We made our own map of Africa and roughly identified a couple of areas of desert and rainforest.

Next came talk of the equator. We found it on our world map and drew it on our own map.

Second session - Deserts

We talked about some of the large desert areas in Africa and identified them on the map.

We asked ‘what is a desert’? Discussions about areas with very low rainfall and sparse vegetation followed. We measured ten inches on the tape measure and thought of how odd it would be if it only ever rained every couple of years.

We talked about oases and looked at some pictures. I realised as we were doing this that most notable oases are not actually in Africa. Never mind, I still felt justified in including them.

We carried out an experiment about aquifers, with limited success. We built up layers of rock, sand, clay and gravel in the largest glass container I had (a not so large vase). We then poured water carefully over the top and noticed how it collected in some areas – noticeably just above the clay layers.

Once we had seen how water can become trapped in layers of the earth we mixed a very small amount of water with red food colouring and poured it on the top. It took a little while but in the end it permeated down and coloured the water trapped below – showing how aquifers are prone to pollution.

The aquifers weren’t clear in such a small container but I think this experiment could be really good in something like an old fish tank.

What grows in the dessert? There are some plants and many have a couple of noticeable characteristics - broad shallow root systems so that they can access as much water as quickly as possible when it does rain, and/or, succulent leaves.

We looked at the succulents in the glass house on our next visit to the Botanic Gardens.

I decided this was a good point to mention plant classification again so I made a couple of sets of cards and we sorted them into evergreens and succulents – not particularly challenging I know but my main priority was just to reinforce the idea of most things in nature belonging to some sort of family classification.

Goodness, is the grout in my hall really that dirty?

We read a traditional African folk tale called Two Ways to Count to Ten which I found here.

That’s all I have time for. It's taken so long to write this post with all the current Blogger issues and it still isn't right - spacing and general formatting are up the creek. Still to come are rainforests, social issues and our African evening.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Kitchen table challenge

At breakfast time this morning I struggled to make space on the table for my cereal bowl. I had to remove one hole puncher, a newspaper, a pair of dirty gardening gloves, six pots of poster paint, a couple of books and a coat hanger just to be able to put down my bowl *blush*.

This weeks personal challenge is to keep my kitchen table clear.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Castle Eden Dene

Yesterday Nana and Hermione visited Castle Eden Dene for a guided tour with a number of other home educating families. They had a good time. The guide had been a jolly chap who had made the visit interesting and fun.

They saw a badger set, squirrel’s dray and lots of other wildlife. He told them about the sticky substance inside bluebells leaves which was once used as a kind of glue, and how a certain plant with sticky balls (name escapes me – if anyone knows what I’m talking about please shout up) provided the inspiration for someone to go on and invent Velcro.

Hermione brought some spruce cones home. They are really long! The guide told her to let them dry and then examine the seeds. She had hoped they would have dried by today but I think it’s going to take a bit longer than that.

While they were at the dene Miles and I busied ourselves in the garden. We have an area under some trees where the grass won’t grow. Combination of shade from the trees and hens rooting about there too I think. Since we can’t have a pond and attract pond life I thought we would try to increase biodiversity by planting wild flowers there. The packet said they like shade. We planted corn flowers, corn poppies, corn chamomiles and corn marigolds. Miles was very enthusiastic so we rummaged around the garage and found some grass seed to fill in some bald patches in the lawn too. I’m only hoping the seeds survive the hens. They were very interested.

Talking of those pesky hens, despite having the height of the fence surrounding the vegetable patch doubled in size, Henrietta can still get up. I couldn’t bare to heighten it further, I’m not particularly happy with it as it is already, so I’ve decided to use the willow left from the dome which is now only any good for ‘dead’ weaving, having been cut for months, to make some sort of twirling design along the top of the fence. Perhaps they won’t jump up if the top of the fence is uneven? I hope not.

I finished reading the second book in the Anastasia series this week. I’m not sure what to say really. When I’m reading it I don’t feel particularly impressed but at the same time I’m compelled to read more. Strange huh? After two books the jury is still out. I hope to have made my mind up as to whether or not I like them when I have read the next one in the series. I’ve dropped hints for Mothers Day and only hope they’ve not fallen on deaf ears.

There are a couple of things in particular that have made me stop and think. The first book talks at length about growing your own food. That’s good, I agree that it is good to grow what you can. However, it goes a step further than that and talks about interacting with your plants so that they get to know you and therefore grow produce which best suits your nutritional needs. She suggests walking bare foot on your patch, holding seeds in your mouth before planting and pouring water in which you have washed your feet onto your patch as ways in which to convey yourself to your plant so as they get to know you and your needs. I find all this very strange. You certainly won’t find me sucking any gardening seeds – they are covered in antifungal agents! Made me think all the same though about how we limit our conscious interactions.

The second book talks about the dolmens. These were new to me. I’d like to learn more about them and find out where the closest ones are. A field trip coming on there perhaps?

The second book also talks about creating a ‘Motherland’ for your child.

In anticipation of your child’s appearance in this world, parents ought to create a Space for him. An environment of kindness and love. And to give him a piece of the Motherland, which, like a mother’s womb, both preserves the body and caresses the soul. It imparts the wisdom of creation and assists in obtaining the truth.

And what can a woman give her child who is born amidst stone walls? What kind of world has she made ready for him? Or has she given any thought at all to the world in which her child is to live? In that case the world will do with him as it likes. It will strive to subject this little human being unto itself, making him a mere cog, or a slave. And the mother will simply become an observer, as she has not made ready for her child any Space of Love.

What Space of Love have I created for my children? There’s one for me to ponder.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Frogs and laces

Hermione can tie her shoe laces! Another step on the winding road to independance. Guess I should get round to cleaning them now that she's looking for every opportunity to show off her newly acquired skill. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that extensive Googling has shown what every has told me to be correct – hens do eat frogs. My plans for a small pond behind the shed will have to be scrapped.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

This and that

Don’t the days pass quickly when the sun shines? I think they do. In terms of light they may be longer but they seem to pass by so much quicker. The weather has been glorious so far this week. We have spent hour on end in the garden and it’s been great.

Our handy man called round yesterday to heighten the fence around the vegetable patch and the job is almost finished. Soon there will be no excuse not to get to work there. I feel a little sad that the garden now has that ‘allotment feel’ with yards of fencing and chicken wire but I’m hoping to be able to disguise it with nasturtiums, sweet peas and other beautiful climbing flowers come summer. As it’s in the vegetable patch I think I will check out companion planting and try to make my fence look attractive with something which will also be beneficial to the vegetables in terms of attracting or repelling pests.

Tomorrow being Valentines Day we decided to enter into the spirit. We took a sheet of baking paper and lots of wax crayon shavings.

Ironed them till they melted and then cut hearts from the paper when it had resolidified. My photograph doesn’t do them justice. They look really pretty with the sun shining through them in the window.

We also baked Squash and Molasses Bread. It’s own of my own recipes which we enjoy but may not be to all tastes. It’s a far cry from light and airy wheat bread. Much more stodgy and earthy. We peeled, seeded and mashed a whole baked butternut squash then mixed it with 300g of rye flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, two tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoonful of black molasses. Kneaded for a couple of minutes then put it in the oven at 180 for about twenty-five minutes, or till done.

I have been thinking a lot about blogging our big project on Africa, which we finished recently. It was great – culminating in an authentic African meal cooked by my friend Soo. I keep putting off in the hope that Blogger will sort out the technical problems which are affecting me and no doubt many others right now. Trouble is if I put off much longer I’ll forget things. I sometimes wonder if blogging is the best way to record stuff anyway. I’m not really up to speed when it comes to technology and I don’t know how easy to would be to loose all this information.

Miles has mastered the climbing frame and Hermione has learned how to click her fingers. Their new found skills have kept them both quite entertained. Hermione is still desperately trying to master her bike without stabilisers and has lots and lots of bruises to show for her efforts.

We’ve not done a great deal other than mess outdoors. I think we are reaching a bit of a turning point in how we plan our days and what we will do in terms of anything remotely structured. Miles is becoming less consistent in having a nap now so there is no longer a set time that I know I have to give Hermione undivided attention. Also, we are coming to the end of the Five In a Row texts we have. Hermione really enjoys this story based approach to learning and I think that is the way forward, but I just haven’t figured out how exactly yet. Part of me is tempted to just go ahead and buy another set of texts and manual from Five In A Row but on the other hand I may prefer to choose our own texts and do it all myself. Generally speaking I only ever use the Five In A Row manual to get the ball rolling and then decided to use my own ideas instead! Perhaps I ought to look into the option of different literature based learning resources. It would certainly be right to say we’re at a crossroads and so long as the weather is as glorious as it’s been today I suspect it will stay that way. We get so much inhospitable weather you certainly have to make the most of it when it’s good!

Somthing else which has been bounding round my head as I've been out there, picking up what's left of the leaves on the lawn and cutting away old growth to make room for new, is the information contained in this blog post. Proctor and Gamble are donating sanitary towels to young girls in some parts of Africa. I won't go into the deatils as the blog post I've linked explains it all so well. Genuine concern or exploitation? I know what I think. Well, I dared to suggest to the local home ed group an evening to make reusable shopping bags - I wonder how reuasable sanitary towels would go down *grin*. Best not try that one I think, although it may be time to start thinking about making some for myself. Most of mine are about six years old now. Hmmm, off to check out what fabirc and bits and bobs we have lying arond...

Monday, 11 February 2008

Unplugged project - collage

This week's Unplugged Project was 'magazines' but I didn't read the instructions properly and thought it was collage.

Both Hermione and Miles spent a fair while in creative mode. The results, I have to say, were quite disproportionate to the time spent!

They both made a few masterpieces but these are the ones they have chosen for me to post up here - a sequined creation from Miles and pictures of celebs (one without make up) and fashion from Hermione.

Still waiting for Blogger to sort out spellchecker, images and formatting. Sorry folks, my blog is starting to look like my cupboards, disorderly and full of mistakes!