Sunday, April 30, 2006

Coming out of the fog

Last week was spent in a physical and mental fog - all too common this pregnancy, I'm afraid - after yet another virus struck. Or maybe the same one struck again. Whichever, I was laid low by sore throat, lethargy and general malaise, nicely complemented by a viral rash that made it look as though I had a particularly puce form of measles on my face and neck. I am pleased to report I am now emerging from the other end of the fog and normal blogging service is resumed. (Computer permitting. More on that later!)

On Thursday I went for an appointment at the asthma clinic, where the doctor tweaked my medication in the hope that a different steroid dose would make me less prone to throat infections. He also - blessed, blessed man! - decided my cough was being aggravated by gastric reflux and gave me a prescription to fix it. Wonderful, magic pills! No more heartburn. No more coughing until I part company with breakfast (or lunch ... or dinner ...). I can eat anything I like. I can go to bed without needing five pillows. Bliss! The tail end of the virus is manifesting itself in what sounds like a classic smoker's cough, but in comparison to the cough I had before it is positively comfortable.

Then on Friday Tevye dispatched me to my mother's where I spent the weekend resting and being thoroughly spoiled. I read, scrapbooked and started knitting a baby blanket, inspired by a beautiful blanket picture posted on the wonderful Babylove blog. I ate. A lot, with plenty of comfort food - bacon rolls, beef casserole, cream cake, bread and butter pudding. I feel so much better I am hopeful that the next seven weeks will be the best of this entire pregnancy. And I'm sure all the rest and comfort food will have done Little Cherub good!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Which Narnian are you?

Thanks to Alice at Cottage Blessings, I couldn't resist trying out this Narnia personality quiz.

You are most like Peter Pevensie, once High King of Narnia. As Peter, you are brave, loyal yet intelligent, and are greatly respected for upholding what you think is right.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Saint George's Day

Cry "God for Harry, England and St George!" (William Shakespeare, Henry V)

The feast of St.George, patron saint of England, usually falls on April 23rd. Yesterday St.George got bumped out by Divine Mercy Sunday, so for this year the English Church is celebrating the Solemnity of St.George on the 24th instead. Here is some St.George miscellanea in his honour ...

St.George and the Dragon, by Paolo Uccello

Books about St.George

Picture books
Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges
Saint George and the Dragon by Geraldine McCaughrean

Life of St.George
Saint George: Knight of Lydda by Anthony Cooney (see samples and reviews here)

Flag of St.George - the national flag of England. Already proliferating in preparation for the World Cup in June. (What do you mean, what World Cup? THE World Cup! Soccer.)
St.George Hymn (sung to the tune of Ode to Joy)

Leader now on earth no longer,
soldier of th'eternal king,
victor in the fight for heaven,
we thy loving praises sing.
Great Saint George, our patron, help us,
in the conflict be thou nigh;
help us in that daily battle,
where each one must win or die.

Praise him who in deadly battle
never shrank from foeman's sword,
proof against all earthly weapon,
gave his life for Christ the Lord.

Who, when earthly war was over,

fought, but not for earth's renown;
fought, and won a nobler glory,
won the martyr's purple crown.

Help us when temptation presses,

we have still our crown to win,
help us when our soul is weary
fighting with the powers of sin.

Clothe us in thy shining armour,
place thy good sword in our hand;
teach us how to wield it, fighting
onward towards the heavenly land.

Onward, till, our striving over,
on life's battle field we fall,
resting then, but ever ready,
waiting for the angel's call

(Joseph W.Reeks)
Learn more about St.George
Article on St.George

Churches dedicated to St.George

Saint George's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Southwark (left) and Saint George's Chapel, Windsor Castle (right)

The George Cross
Instituted by King George VI during the Second World War. The highest award for civilian bravery in the United Kingdom.

And finally ...
A Novena in honour of Saint George

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Are you a hobbit?

I have a dear friend and kindred spirit who has come up with a name for our very similar approach to homeschooling, faith and life in general - the Hobbits' Way. I thought I'd take a crack at defining a few characteristics of hobbits ...

* A hobbit is a small person who lives happily in his own small world, with no ambition to move outside it. (OK, I admit describing ourselves as "small people" may be stretching a point!)

* A hobbit loves children and can tend to be an indulgent parent.

* A hobbit's bark is worse than his bite. Think of Farmer Maggot.

* A hobbit is sociable but not a socialite. He enjoys time with friends and family, and if it is enhanced by good food and drink all the better. A hobbit is not, however, a party animal.

* A hobbit is not a natural ascetic. He enjoys his own home comforts to the full, though not to excess. (Hmmm!!! Second breakfast and elevenses may be considered a little excessive by some, though not by a hobbit.)

* A hobbit is naturally inclined to contentment.

* A hobbit has a strong sense of right and wrong.

* A hobbit likes stories, but only those with happy endings.

* A hobbits home is comfortable, but with a tendency towards clutter.

* A hobbit likes routine, but not one that is too demanding. Hobbits like to know what will come next. Despite this hobbits have occasional, unpredictable moments of madness - like Bilbo setting off with the dwarves, or Merry and Pippin setting off Gandalf's fireworks.

* A hobbit likes to curl up in front of a warm fire or under a blanket with a good book and a plate of buttered toast.

* When pushed reluctantly or unexpectedly out of his comfort zone, a hobbit shows unexpected reserves of courage and determination.

The archtypal hobbit? G.K.Chesterton. Equally happy with friends, a glass of good ale and lively conversation in the pub, or at home with his wife and a good roast dinner. Rotund and humorous. Firmly grounded on a solid and joyous rock of Faith.

Any other hobbits out there?

Tooth fairy financial crisis looms

A hitherto unknown effect of the arrival of spring is that it causes any tooth with even the tiniest wobble to fall out. Angel and Star have lost four between them in less than two weeks. The tooth fairy is grinding and gnashing her own teeth in pain (ouch!). Her purse is empty. Her supply of pound coins has dwindled away. One more tooth and she will be filing for bankruptcy.

Science sites

I was delighted to find this science and maths blog written by Catholic homeschoolers, thanks to a recommendation on the Family Centred Learning email group:
Unity of Truth
As I am on a science kick this blog has jumped straight to the top end of my list of favourites. I'm going to learn loads here!

And following a link from Unity of Truth, this online science magazine for kids looks wonderful:
Science News for Kids

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Would-be scientists

Both girls have decided that their favourite subject is science - preferably science involving chemicals (potions, as Star calls them) and flames. I think a few explosions would go down well too, but I'm not prepared to go there! So next year I'm planning to focus more heavily on science, with lots of hands on stuff. After discussion with the would-be scientists, this is the plan I have ended up with ...

Angel wants to do chemistry, so I have invested in the largest chemistry set I could find. It claims to include 700 different experiments, which should keep her going for some time. I also bought a science textbook, So You Really Want to Learn Science 2, to use as a reference. It is divided into biology, chemistry and physics sections and should last us at least two years.

Star has been admiring the chemistry set hopefully, but as I'm not prepared to let a just turned eight year old loose with assorted toxic, flammable and corrosive chemicals in a set meant for twelve year olds hopeful is as far as it goes. As an alternative way of meeting the desire for potions, she is getting a Slime Technology set, which translates into educational terms as polymer science. She is also going to learn about electricity and electronics with this Brainbox electronics set. For a child whose learning style is "inventor" (more about that later) this should be right up her alley. It also includes some worksheets for those days when I feel she should be writing something down!

To round out the chemistry study I'm thinking of adding in the Chemistry text from Real Science 4 Kids for both girls to use. Along side this we are also going to do some science history. I'm going to read Inventing the Future by John and Mary Gribbin to them both, and add in experiments from this Spotlight on Science Famous Experiments kit.

I think that lot should keep us going nicely!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Happy Birthday Your Majesty!

Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her eightieth birthday today. Eighty years of living in the public eye in a way that would be simply unimaginable to most of us. Born to be a princess, not a queen, she found herself the heir to the throne when her uncle King Edward VIII abdicated - by all accounts her mother never forgave him and Wallis Simpson for forcing her family unexpectedly into the limelight. In over fifty years as queen she has consistently put duty and country before her own personal interests. Let down by the antics of her children, she herself has rarely put a foot wrong.

If you would like to see how Queen Elizabeth is spending her birthday, read about her life, and find out 80 facts about the queen, visit the British Monarchy's official website.

Happy Birthday Your Majesty.
Long live the Queen!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Computer misery

My laptop has been reduced to a state of complete and utter powerlessness. The contact pin in the power adaptor socket has snapped off inside the plug. Half an inch of missing metal and my computer is dead. As it is only seven months old we contacted Hewlett Packard, expecting them to fix it under the warranty. After an hour of trying to get past recorded message menus and being cut off before reaching a human being, they informed us that they consider it damage rather than a fault and therefore we would be charged to have it fixed. The cost? The same amount we originally paid for the computer! So now we are arguing with HP in the very faint hope they will change their mind, and trying to find a reasonable repair quote elsewhere. Meanwhile we are reduced to using an ancient and extremely unreliable laptop. If I disappear off the face of the world wide web for weeks, you know why.

Think I am going to have to have words with St.Isidore of Seville, who is apparently the patron saint of computer users.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Happy Easter

A little late, but ...


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Lent in retrospect

Some years I have a "good" Lent, in that I make plans for the season that I more or less stick to; some years I don't. This was one of the latter. I started moderately well, but fell apart due to a combination of pregnancy and Tevye's medical adventures.

Our successes:
* Angel and Star gave up drinks other than water and sweets and chocolate respectively. I gave up adding salt to my food.
* I managed to get through most of my book of Daily Lenten Meditations from Pope John Paul II.

Our greater and lesser failures:
* Schoolwork fell apart, and our morning prayer routine fell apart with it.
* Our carefully made salt dough Lenten crowns never got lit.
* Our Easter Vigil study never made it past the Liturgy of the Word.
* We didn't get to weekday Mass (I try to get us to at least one extra Mass each week during Lent).
* My attempt to give up complaining was a failure. Not quite an abysmal failure, but close.
* Star and I missed Palm Sunday Mass - I woke up with a raging sore throat and felt so wobbly in the shower that I didn't feel up to staggering further than the sofa. Angel had to go to Mass on her own. What a contrast to last year when I went to a wonderful new rite Latin Mass at the London Oratory with visiting American friends.

What did we learn this year? That sometimes it is enough just to live Lent, even if we don't "do" Lent well. During Lent this year we have relearned the lesson that God is in charge, and that we can trust God to take care of us in ways we would not have imagined. That alone qualifies this one as a "good Lent". Lent is not just about what we do for God, but about recognising what God does for us.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Three-quarters pregnant

I am now officially three-quarters pregnant :). Thirty weeks down, ten to go - though as both Angel and Star were a few days early I'm hoping for a little less!

More on the tooth fairy

Yes, the tooth fairy is truly the victim of unjust extortion. Yesterday we visited an old school friend of mine and the subject came up (Star was showing off her gap). She remembered the Mars Bar Index - the idea that you can measure relative inflation in chocolate bars, thereby eliminating monetary fluctuations. In our childhood, one Mars Bar cost sixpence, valuing the tooth fairy's payment at one Mars Bar exactly. Nowadays, the tooth fairy provides enough to buy around two and a half to three Mars Bars. QED. The tooth fairy is being unjustly treated.

The tooth fairy is now stepping off her soapbox ...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Stupidity in pregnancy

Oh, how I empathise with my massively pregnant friend in the Bonny Glen, who had the urge to paint toenails she can no longer see. When eight months pregnant with Angel, I had a similarly stupid idea and decided to give my hair a red tint (having never, ever previously had any desire for a colour other than my natural brunette). I bought a do-it-yourself hair dye. Thanks to a combination of inexperience, incompetence and immobility, the bathroom looked as though it had been the scene of several gruesome murders. The hair was pretty gruesome too!

Tooth fairy inflation

Star lost a baby tooth yesterday, which triggered a conversation about the tooth fairy's payment rate. Both Tevye and I remember getting sixpence - six old, pre-decimal pennies, worth two and a half of the "new" pence we have had since decimalisation of our coinage in 1971. Angel and Star get one pound for each tooth, which seems to be the going rate these days. On this basis, Tevye and I would have had to lose two entire mouthfuls of baby teeth to match a single one of our daughters' teeth.

The tooth fairy is now sulking.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Dante Club

Thanks to Kelly's recommendation on the 4 Real Learning forum I am reading The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. A cleverly constructed murder mystery, it weaves together Longfellow and the literati of 1860s Boston with Dante's Divine Comedy. I am enjoying the book in its own right, but I am finding a special pleasure in it because it reminds me strongly of an old family friend who died back in 1991.

"Auntie Moo", as I called her (Moo was short for Muriel) was an old college tutor of my mother's. In those days she taught religious studies, but her real love was the middle ages. Not long before she died - at the age of 96 - she was brushing up her medieval Italian in order to re-read Dante in the orginal. She also had a penchant for murder mysteries, and would, I'm sure, have gobbled up The Dante Club. When she discovered that I was interested in things medieval, a steady supply of books on the subject came my way. When I later went to university to study medieval history, she read (and criticised!) every essay I wrote. Sadly, she died before I graduated. She herself had been a student at Oxford University during the First World War, and was proud to be the oldest surviving student of her old college. Although she always remained a member of the Church of England I think she must have flirted with Catholicism in her younger days. I know she spent some time in Italy, where I believe she stayed in a convent, and when I joined the Catholic Church she passed on to me an old Tridentine Missal, a Latin Vulgate, a Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible and a Ronald Knox translation.

So Auntie Moo, I'm reading The Dante Club for the both of us, and appreciating it all the more for the pleasure I know you would have taken in it. And if I make it into my mid-nineties, I hope I will still be capable of studying medieval Italian!

Angel's gift for Little Cherub

Angel has been enjoying herself over the last week or two with a freeware audio editing program: Audacity. She started out using it to edit music to the right length for the dances she is working on. Then inspired by watching our neighbour use it to make a sound track for a puppet show, she decided to make a gift for Little Cherub. Yesterday afternoon she and J-next-door closeted themselves in her bedroom recording an audio CD of baby books. So far they have done Owl Babies and Guess How Much I Love You. They didn't manage to get to the end of The Very Hungry Caterpillar as everytime the butterfly "popped" out of its chrysalis, J got the giggles! Between each book she has added her own keyboard version of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. The idea is that the CD can be played to help Cherub sleep :).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Going up in the world ...

Star has been longing to try a climbing wall and jumped at an offer to go climbing with A-next-door today. She didn't quite make it to the top, but made a brave effort.

Coming down was not so dignified. She managed to land on the instructor's head!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ballet exam

Dance classes in the UK are usually quite structured, with children working through a series of exams. This morning Star took her Primary ballet exam, along with an equally scatterbrained friend (they usually go into the exam in twos or threes). At the end of the exam they are expected to curtsey and formally thank the examiner and the pianist - in this instance Mrs.Rand and Mr.Moloney. The two little darlings had been entertaining themselves during rehearsals with a bit of creative variation: "Thank you, Mrs.Random ... thank you, Mr.Pepperoni". They assured us they remembered to do it correctly during the exam! The next exam is modern dance on Friday morning. This time they have to remember not to enliven a cat dance with a mock cat fight! At least they managed to look as though butter wouldn't melt ...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Book Review: Sadako and the Paper Cranes

I'm afraid our normal school time routine has gone by the wayside over the last three weeks, and even reading has been hit and miss as I keep losing my voice. My plan was that we should study Japan for geography. We didn't get far beyond sampling sushi and Angel writing a notebook page about origami, karate and karaoke, but we did manage to read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. Based on a true story, this short book tells of a young Japanese girl living in Hiroshima in the 1950s who succumbs to the "atom bomb disease", leukaemia. She keeps up her spirits by trying to fold a thousand paper cranes, believing that if she does so she will recover.

The story is a sad one, but told in fairly simple terms that make it suitable as a read aloud for younger children (say seven and up?) as well as an easy read for older ones. It makes a good introduction to an unpleasant aspect of twentieth century history without being too graphic, and gives a lot of incidental detail about life in a Japanese city. Our copy also included instructions for folding paper cranes, which led to a short foray into origami.

Note:The book includes a number of references to Japanese religon, presumably Shinto.