Wednesday, 30 April 2008


I had high hopes for Downshifting Week. I thought it would inspire me to achieve all manner of things. As it is I don't feel I have achieved lots, but I have certainly enjoyed more time away from the computer and have started, (but by and large not completed) a few new projects. Here is some of what I got up to.

One evening I got together with friends to make some cloth sanitary pads. I have used cloth pads for seven years now but had never made my own till now. The pads we made are basically made up of four parts. First an oblong shape of half a dozen layers of brushed cotton sewn together. Secondly two outer brushed cotton 'covers' and lastly a layer of nappy wrap type fabric.

We sewed the padded inner to one of the outer cotton covers, placed that over the other cover with nappy wrap on top and sewed round the whole thing. Add a couple of press studs to the 'wings' and there you have it *most pleased with self smile*.

I paid £5.50 for the nappy wrap material, 60p for the press studs and the brushed cotton was an old sheet which was no longer really fit for it's purpose as a sheet. I'm hoping to get ten pads from that and I see no reason why they won't last for years just as my store bought ones have. What a bargain! Invest a few pounds and a little bit of time and save yourself and the planet a fortune!

Sticking with the 'moontime' theme I started to think about other ways in which I could use what I have readily available to me thereby reducing my all round expenditure. I'm not too sure about this. I can vouch for the fact that house plants thrive on this kind of fertiliser - but as for using it on edible stuff, well, the jury's still out on that one....

I have added another dish to my rather limited 'make it from scratch repertoire'. Dumplings. Real (veggie) suet ones at that! Craig likes them, which is surprising as he's not generally a big fan of my cooking. I only hope he continues to like them as I'm so pleased that I've ordered a case of veggie suet in the wholefoods order.

The patchwork wardrobe curtain/door is still a work in progress - hampered very often by my keen assistant. I do like it though and I'm really looking forward to seeing it up. I've made some flags to match to hang around his room too. When the door first broke I immediately thought about buying a new one but I'm much happier with our decision to keep it and make a patchwork curtain with scraps of fabric from friends. Craig made the wardrobe by hand when I was pregnant with Hermione. He beavered away for hours on end out in the garage, trying to escape my raging pregnancy hormones (of the argumentative not passionate variety) no doubt. It would be a shame to throw it away as it holds many memories.

Not much more to report on the downshifting front. As I said it encouraged me to think lots - but those thoughts haven't all transpired into actions yet *grin*.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008


We watched the film one day last week when it was raining and today we started our own 'Worzel' creation.

Still needs some attention but he's standing tall now.

All in all it's been a very industrious day in the garden today. Planted out the summer squash and runner bean plants. Sewed our second batch of runner beans and radishes. Sewed some nasturtiums, pak choi, marigolds, mooli and spring onions. The plants are doing well. The potatoes in sacks are starting to show. I'm very excited about it all. I think it's right what they say, gardening is the new sex!

Monday, 28 April 2008

Badgers, owl puke and art group

I am delighted to report that the owl puke is gone. The dozens of teeny weeny smelly bones held very little appeal after a while. I got sick of moving them around trying to find a place where Miles wouldn't get them, and also where I couldn't see them or smell them. Craig and Hermione sorted them all in the tray and started a reconstruction but I could tell they weren't enjoying it, so (with their permission) I threw them away. I'm really pleased we did it. It has been a good learning experience as I doubt very much that any of us will forget our close encounter with an owl pellet in a hurry.

We've not been far this last week or so. We waited in one whole day for a delivery man who didn't turn up. We then waited in the whole of another day for a delivery man who did eventually turn up - unfortunately with a broken wardrobe. Today we have stayed in all afternoon waiting for the delivery driver to come and collect the broken wardrobe yet it's still in our hall. Deep breaths...counting to ten.....I feel irate telephone calls coming on in the morning....

This morning we did venture out to a new home ed art group which has set up just a couple of miles away from us. It was really good as both Miles and Hermione enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. There really is a great trend around here in the home ed community. Lots of things are going from strength to strength. Take this art group for example, it's held in a hall right in the centre of the city, prime development land, yet the owners of the hall have agreed to rent it to the local Steiner group for their purposes and home ed group meetings for less than £600 a year. What a great resource! City centre hall for home ed use - at minimal rent! I'm hoping we will see lots of good stuff going on there. There has already been talk of a paper aeroplane club, lapbooking session and a book club for parents who wish to meet one evening every few weeks to discuss a choice of parenting book and renew their 'vital enquiry into parenting'. All sounds good to me.

This evening we went to a presentation by the St Johns Ambulance. Hermione was presented with a few certificates and a medal by the mayor. Here she is with part of her group and also presenting the mayor with flowers.

Did anyone do anything for the Downshifting Week? I did some things but I'll have to save that for another night. I'm hoping to plant my spring onion seeds before the light fades.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Rabbit returns

I'm pleased to report Pringles has reappeared, looking rather subdued and tired. We are now wondering whether something came into the garden one night which alarmed him so he cleared off for a while - or perhaps it's just that spring is in the air! Hermione is convinced he's been off having 'bunny love.' I think she may be right. Either way we are just delighted to have him back.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Lost rabbit

It's been a tough day here today. Pringles, our free ranging, fun loving bunny, has disappeared without a trace. He's been gone for over twenty four hours now. We don't know if he has managed to somehow get out of the garden and lost his way home, or he's been carried off by a fox which has some how made it's way in. Hermione has been in tears off and on throughout the day. I do hope he's alright.

This afternoon we drove to Newcastle. Hermione and Nana went to a workshop about plants at the Centre for Life. Hermione had enjoyed it but was in a big rush to get home to see if Pringles had reappeared while we were away - which he hadn't.

While Hermione and Nana were at the Centre for Life I took Miles to the Discovery Museum where he had great fun with lots of hands on stuff.

I like science at this stage. I can answer their questions at this level. When it goes beyond this stage I start to get confused!

Thursday, 24 April 2008


We met with a couple of friends this afternoon to eat cake and get crafty with wool and willow. Hermione decorated a willow design with wool. I blended various coloured wool fibres to make a beautiful earthy shade. I love crafting with natural things. Believe me, blending those woolly fibres was more therapeutic than play doh!

I have decided I would like this book and some felting wool.

I'm sure that if I spent more time doing the garden and crafts it would pay dividends for family life as a whole, as I would me much more happy and relaxed. Just need to break through the guilt barrier now.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


Here are a few things that have made me smile this week.

Tiny signs of life when I was starting to give up hope.

Pink roses and lemons. Lemons with the ends bitten off. Cheers Miles!

Play areas which offer something a little out of the ordinary.

The thought of possibly being made redundant from my chores.

A verse sent to me by a good friend.

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth. Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore,
push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do,
our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we've been waiting for.

Old water jug and wash bowl which I found in a charity shop. It matches my freshly painted bedroom perfectly.

The thought that tomorrow we may finish the stuff we started ages ago about kangaroos. The thought that if we don't finish it tomorrow then then there's always the day after.....

So much to smile about this week and it's only Tuesday *grin*. Find something to smile about every day and hold that thought. Thoughts can become reality.

Sunday, 20 April 2008


This week is International Downshifting Week. I aim to do three things from the suggestions made on the official website - three things I wouldn't ordinarily do. I'll report on my progress at the end of the week.

Anyone else taking part?

Friday, 18 April 2008

Junior Life Saver

Today Hermione attended a Junior Life Saver Day organised by the Badger Sett she attends.

She had to be there by 9am complete with packed lunch. I'm so glad I don't have to contend with school runs. I guess you get used to it but for us that transition from pyjamas to clothes can often take much of the morning.

From 9am till 3pm they practiced first aid techniques. She was very keen to place us all in the recovery position when she came home this evening *grin*. She did it remarkably well too. They had also learned what to do in the case of minor burns and a few bandage techniques to help in dealing with cuts and sprains.

They had watched a health and safety video which dealt with various situations. The video showed a boy trying to come downstairs on his roller blades - resulting in a nasty fall and broken leg. It also featured a girl drinking copious amounts of alcohol, so much so that she was poisoned. Oh, then there was also the middle aged couple who had an argument and after having been hit with a handbag the man fell and cut his hand on some glass which was lying on the floor.

At 3pm they headed off as a group to a local cafe where you can paint clay models and collect them another day glazed and fired. Hermione hasn't told us what she painted, she wants to surprise us. After that it was baked potatoes all round and home for just before 6pm.

It has been a very different but also very enjoyable day for us all. Hermione has never been away from her immediate family for such a long period. I think we were both a little apprehensive about this yesterday, (not in a huge way, she just menioned that it would be the first time she had spent a day without her family), but it has worked out fine. It's been lovely to be able to spend one to one time with Miles without regularly checking that Hermione is also happy and content in whatever she's doing. Hermione also seems to be feeling very upbeat about her burst of independence.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Horizons, swimming lessons, drawings etc

Last night was Hermione's first one to one swimming lesson. It was fantastic, the pool was very quiet and the instructor got in the pool with her. The instructor respected the fact that she didn't feel ready to dip her head right under the water (unlike her last experience with a swimming instructor) and everything went swimmingly if you'll pardon the pun. I hope that within a few weeks she will have grown in confidence and be happy to go into a group lesson as at £13.50 for half an hour the one to one tuition isn't an indefinite option.

Hermione finished the Horizon Math book she has been working on the past few months today. We are making big headway with basic maths and literacy right now, and as she's so keen to do so much workbook based stuff (which totally surprises me as she's never been into them before) I feel I'm managing to take it a bit easier than I usually do. By the time she's reached saturation point for the day with her workbooks she's keen to play - and not so keen to do the project and literature based stuff we have always done in the past. I'm sure we'll level off and achieve some sort of balance again soon though.

Lots of drawing today. Hermione drew a rather chintzy looking girl.

Miles drew patterns all over the clock faces I had started preparing to make a time telling game for Hermione. That'll teach me to leave anything I value lying around in close proximity to a box of felt tips!

We dodged the showers and planted out the leeks. Not much more than blades of grass right now. I've put them down the bottom of the patch out of the way as it will be so long before we are picking them. I had help.

We were watched by hens and rabbit, all behaving in a really frantic manner. They hate it when anyone is in the veg patch. The fact they have a big garden to peck about in suddenly becomes irrelevant at the prospect of possibly missing out on a juicy worm we may unearth. Bit of hen psychology there. I *suspect* that is what they are thinking.

With there being less evening preparation to do on the education front right now I've decided to arrange another sewing evening with some home ed friends. Last time we made reusable shopping bags. This time the plan is to make cloth sanitary towels. I need to spend a bit of time googling for patterns and tips. Only hope the evening doesn't lead to any further embarrassment in Tescos. On the last occasion when folks came round Hermione and I called in Tescos that morning to buy some wine and snacks. The guy on the checkout asked her why she wasn't at school. Usually she's very good and explains enthusiastically that she's home educated. However, on this occasion she announced, 'I'm not doing lessons today. I'm helping mummy to buy wine for the sewing mothers'. His face was a picture! I guess he's heard the dentist/chicken pox/occasional day reasons before but never that one!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Clocks, cloud in a cupboard and more...

It's less than two months ago when Hermione developed a keen desire to be able to tell the time. I think this coincided with receiving a very pretty watch as a gift. Well, I'm pleased to say she can now reliably tell the time on the analogue clock. She has a good grasp of digital and twenty four hour clock too but I think there is sometimes something lost in the translation from one to another. I'm thinking of trying to make up some sort of game to help with this. Possibly just some cards showing analogue and digital for her to match up the two. May be a lotto type thing with the board being analogue and the cards digital. I wonder if there's a free printable of anything like this online?

This morning she asked, 'why do man mallards look different to females'? Good question. We found and printed pictures of mallards, peacocks and lions - all of which are much more ornate in the male of the species. Hermione labelled them. I explained that the male was more attractive in order to attract a mate/girlfriend. Once again wimped out of the nitty gritty though.

The rest of the morning was spent painting and gardening.

We are raising a lot more of the veg plants from seed this year. It's a steep learning curve and labour intensive. I think we may have lost some of the perpetual spinach because I didn't pot them on quick enough. The courgettes have suffered from quickly becoming a little pot bound too but hopefully will recover. I do feel a bit discouraged but we'll live and learn. We now have plain lettuce, red cabbage, spinach, peas, broad beans, broccoli, radishes, fennel, chard and rocket planted out. The leeks are coming on fine and should go out within the next day or two. The rest will continue to litter the windowsills till the frosts stop.

This afternoon we visited a friend for a science session. It's a great reciprocating agreement, we take turns to prepare a session and present it to the older children or alternatively entertain the younger children.

While I looked after the younger children the older children carried out a experiment to demonstrate how clouds form. Boiling water was placed in a sizable glass jar and a tray with ice cubes in was placed on top. The vapour rose from the boiling water and condensed upon hitting the cold surface above, forming a cloud. This wasn't easy to see at first and was best viewed with the help of a torch in a dark cupboard - cloud in a cupboard!

Then followed a couple of illustrations of the experiment and the water cycle.

With the afternoons science activity cleared away there was just enough time to trade some clothes, homeopathic remedies and vegetable plants under our local skills/time/goods exchange, before heading off home with two tired children.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Unplugged Project - food

The theme for this weeks Unplugged Project was food.

This was excuse enough to whip out the superfoods and try out more raw chocolate concoctions.

We melted a couple of chunks of raw cacao butter and cacao liquor. We whizzed up a handful of goji berried and coconut in the blender and added it to the melted chocolate. We then stirred in a few spoonfuls of mesquite powder, lucuma and crystal manna. We left it to set and then ate it. Delicious *grin*.

It's wonderful to be able to give the children free reign to eat lots of chocolate knowing it is so good for them. Good for children to make too as there's no cooking involved.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Map making, sheep farming etc

I'm back. My computer has spent the last few days in pieces on the kitchen table while Craig has tried to iron out the problems I've been having with it. Fingers crossed it will behave itself now.

On Thursday we went on a guided tour of a local nature reserve with a bunch of home ed folks. It was fun. It's always pleasant to get out and about in beautiful surrounds but it's nice when there is someone there to point out things you otherwise may miss - such as badger paw prints, poisonous plants, edible plants and follies from years gone by.

It was rather slippery and muddy under foot which made it tricky (but fun) for smaller members of the group.

Thankfully I had a ring sling with me and Miles could still be squeezed in - the terrain certainly wasn't buggy friendly!

The dene was carpeted with wild garlic. I even spotted some buds. I love garlic flowers in salads.

The children drew various distinguishing features in the dene as we walked down, the idea being that they would then make a map from them to help them find their way back out. Not sure how well that worked out. When we reached the end of the hike we just turned round and headed back the way we came *grin*.

On Friday the children made and decorated a vegan chocolate cake with very little help from me. We took it with us to visit some friends we have made in the village. We made these friends through Freecycle. Nana jokes that they are the best thing we've had from Freecycle and I think I agree - we've had some good things through Freecycle but to be able make friends with lovely local people is wonderful, particularly as we have no way into the local community via chats at the school gate.

Yesterday we went swimming. I hate swimming with the children. Well, I don't exactly hate it but I do find hanging about for ages in waist high water is pretty much guaranteed to make me really chilly and naffed off. I love swimming but I guess that wouldn't be the best thing to do, leaving two non swimmers bobbing about alone! After a negative experience with swimming lesson three years ago Hermione has finally reached the stage where she is confident enough to try again. I think we will start with one to one lessons to try to give her a bit of a boost. Must try to organise something about that this week.

This afternoon Craig and Hermione headed off on a trip with Badgers (Jr St John's Ambulance) to a working hill farm. They saw the new born lambs and sheep dogs, hiked through mud and over hills, enjoyed refreshments in the farm house and generally had a good time. Unfortunately no pictures though as Craig just isn't as snap happy as me.

I'm pleased they had a great time at the farm but I had half hoped they would be home earlier as I was hoping they would sort out the remains of the owl puke which is lurking in the kitchen. I've bought black card for their reconstruction - just need them to get on with it now. Ho hum, looks like it will be next weekend now. I'm not doing it. This is certainly one for Craig!

We have been having great success with our new Horizon spelling and grammar books. Hermione thinks that 'spelling quizes' (I thought that sounded better than 'spelling tests') are lots of fun. We have covered what they suggest to be two weeks worth of activities in a week. Her handwriting has improved markedly over the course of the week as has her reading. I think we are about to hit a eureka moment with her reading. We are finally reaching a stage where she is able and confident enough to be reading things she actually *wants* to read. I'm so pleased that we are making progress in this respect, and that I did manage to hold back when at times I felt like crumbling under societal pressure and wading in to try to 'push' her along. Pleased I managed to keep my nerve and encourage from ahead rather than push from behind on this one.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Look what I got for free!

One of the home ed groups we go to is really fabulous. It's not just full of great people but also a 'free table' with lots of great stuff on. It operates a bit like Freecycle. You take along anything vaguely remoted to children and if someone wants it they take it home. If your things are unclaimed at the end of the session you take them back home and possibly try again another time.

I've had lots of great things off the free table. I keep meaning to blog about a wonderful very early eighties Topsy and Tim book I picked up there. You know how Topsy and Tim deal with current social issues, (I think the latest one is 'Topsy and Tim have Head Lice'), well this one deals with meeting Asian people. It has made us laugh in parts and I guess would be considered to be not politically correct now, but in my opinion it still is a worthwhile read in 2008.

Along with mountains of books, cd roms, clothes and games, last time I was there I acquired this book rack. I have just managed to get Craig to put it up tonight and I'm delighted with it. Our play room suddenly feels like a library *grin*.

It will be great for Miles as books on shelves aren't very accessible to him. Will also be good to leave a few easy reads there for Hermione just in case she spots one and decides to do a bit of independent reading - well, one can hope!

Recycling crayon scraps

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Rising heat, bubbles and juice

What a wonderful day we have had today. No television, no tears, no tantrums. We all made it out of our pyjamas. We all had our hair brushed. We all had lots of fun. Success *grin*. Here are the highlights.

This morning we asked, 'why do hot air balloons fly?' We watched this youtube clip for clues.

We noted that when the blow torch was in action the balloon inflated and headed upwards.

I switched the oven on it's very coolest setting and after a short while we felt inside. The top part of the oven was very warm whereas the bottom was just say warm. What we suspected about hot air rising was true. The hot air in our oven rises to the top too. Note that this doesn't work with the oven on fan setting as I found out when I was thinking about this last night.

So, hot air rises but what about hot water? We took two small and identical glass jars. We filled one with hot tap water and one with cold water. We added some food colouring to the hot jar and placed a card on top of the cold jar. When we had a suction with the card we tipped the cold jar up and placed it on top of the hot jar. I slowly pulled out the card and we watched what happened. The hot coloured water and the cold clear water mixed. Was this because the hot water was trying to rise to the top or was it because the two jars of water would just mix together no matter what?

We repeated the experiment with the hot coloured water on top.

Here are the jars balancing precariously with the card still between.

After carefully removing the card the colours remained separate. When the hot water was on top and the cold below they did not mix. Hot water as well as hot air rises.

Lots of time spent practising tipping the jar over with a card on. Once she had mastered this she carried out the experiments herself.

This afternoon was spent mainly in the garden. We replanted some runner beans and tried our best to get our ELC bubble machine to work. We finally gave in with the bubble machine and used bent pipe cleaners instead. Sometimes the old methods are the best - or at least the most reliable!

After that it was juice all round. Pineapple, aloe vera and strawberry. Delicious.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Unplugged Project - books

The theme for this weeks Unplugged Project was books. We decided to make some mini books.

We watched a youtube clip to give us some practical hints.

I prepared one in advance, a simple picture book about bikes, just to get us started.

Hermione prepared lots, mainly about our pets, none of which I have managed to capture well with the camera.

Miles joined in too making lots of little sparkly books.

I've come across instructions for making mini books before but they've always been a bit trickier than this. This method is really quick and simple. Hermione mastered it quite quickly although they can be a bit rough around the edges if the folds aren't exact. Good fun. I suspect we will incorporate some mini book making into some of our projects from now on.

Edited to add - my runner beans are dead *sob*. Killed by frost.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Picking over the bones in all weathers

We went to the Wildfowl Park today. We romped in snow,

ate our picnic in sunshine,

admired the daffodils

and practiced heelying.

This all happened in the space of a couple of hours. No wonder the British spend so much time talking about the weather, it's so changeable.

When we came home Craig and Hermione set to dissecting the owl pellet. I had thought it would be some sort of plastic imitation but it was actually the real thing. Real thing with real smell, believe me!

Here is the pellet, set against a felt tip for scale.

They soaked it in water for a few minutes to soften it up and make it easier to extrapolate the bones. It was once it became wet that it smelled really bad. There were lots of bones and the bigger ones were reasonably easy to remove with the tweezers.

The masses of smaller bones were not as easy to pick out and as time passed the heap of puke became smellier. Hermione gave in and Craig took over. After quarter of an hour or so he was called upon to go into the garden and help build a snowman. I then spent a further ten minutes trying to get the rest of the tiny bones out before giving up and taking the smelly remains up to the compost heap.

The bones are now soaking in a soapy solution to get the rest of the puke off them. Once they are clean we are hoping to sort them and reconstruct on card the skeleton of whatever animal was eaten last.

This evening we chatted about the lambs we saw as we drove past fields today. We read First Sight by Philip Larkin.

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

I have vague recollections of hearing this one as a child too.