Saturday, September 30, 2006

Days of celebration

One of the things I love about Catholicism is the way the the liturgical year infuses the rhythm of everyday life. Faith at Dumb Ox Academy has written an inspiring post detailing the ways in which her family celebrates both Catholic and Jewish festivals. This has been on my mind lately as this school year I have decided I want to add some new family traditions. So far I have failed utterly. I hoped to do something special for the Feast of the Archangels yesterday (September 29th), but it didn't happen. I did get as far as reading the section on Michaelmas in A Book of Feasts and Seasons by Joanna Bogle, and tried to find Michaelmas daisies at the supermarket, but they had none. Roast goose was way beyond my budget and I forgot to get blackberries for a blackberry pie or crumble. (Why blackberries? Tradition has it that blackberries cannot be picked after the feast of St Michael as on that day the devil spits on them.)

Still, all is not lost! Monday is the Feast of Guardian Angels, another that I hope to celebrate for the first time. I spotted angel cake in our local convenience store and I have some angel Christmas tree ornaments that would make nice table decorations. For me the key to successfully marking the liturgical year is keeping things simple - a cake and digging out a few ornaments I can manage. Monday is also Yom Kippur, and in the evening we will celebrate the end of Tevye's twenty five hour fast with a special meal. Without that I would have time to make my own angel cake, but I'm being realistic and opting for ready made this year.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Love that Mad Banana!

Little Cherub has a new toy with which she is very taken. What I want to know is this: what kind of mind comes up with the idea that a large soft banana would make a great baby toy? A banana of all things? But darn it, they were right! Just add in crinkly-crackly multi-coloured peel, mirrored feet, teethers for hands, plastic rings on its legs, and you have baby bliss. Little Cherub loves her Mad Banana, as it has become known.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Homeschooling hiccups

Today didn't run quite as smoothly as yesterday.

Hiccup 1: I went to the library to collect Angel's World War I book, ordered on interlibrary loan. It had been returned to its own library as unclaimed. (We were away, remember.) Then the computer wouldn't let me re-reserve it as it claimed I already had it reserved. (Well yes, I did, you silly machine, but I still haven't got the book!)

Hiccup 2: Star had a meltdown when instructed to pay attention to the story of St.Augustine. I had a meltdown over Star's inattention to the story of St.Augustine. Little Cherub nearly had a meltdown, but mercifully went back to sleep.

Hiccup 3: Star tackled her Slime Laboratory science kit for the first time. Angel played with Little Cherub while I supervised Star. We made it as far as "take lid off poly-vinyl alcohol bottle and remove inner stopper". At that point I was briefly distracted. I turned round to find Star dripping, slimily (if that isn't a word, then it should be), with poly-vinyl alcohol ... hair, nose, clothes, eyelashes, the lot. The kitchen ceiling was also dripping. The kitchen floor was dripped upon. Apparently she squeezed the bottle hard while removing the stopper. Mercifully the goo was non-toxic and non-irritant. It was, however, sticky. Very sticky. Fortunately Tevye was working at home so we were able to tackle the disaster jointly - one person to clean up Star, one person to clean up the kitchen. We decided it might be better to leave the slime making attempt for another day. If I am ever brave enough!

Monday, September 25, 2006

First day back

After dipping a toe in the water before our holiday, today was our first serious attempt at a full day of our new schedule. The acid test of whether that schedule is realistic. The verdict? Yes. I think so. Today was a bit of a scramble, but it should get easier once we are fully immersed in the new routine. For those of you who enjoy day-in-a-homeschooling-life accounts, this is how our day went ...

We started late, at 9.30, thanks to a late night yesterday after visiting Tevye's sister and her family. We said morning prayers and read a story from the Golden Bible - we are plugging on through the Old Testament, and started back in with Joshua. We mused on why some Old Testament names are still popular (Joshua) and others are not (Rahab, Zipporah). We recited the 5 times table from our noticeboard (our version of fridgeschooling), but I forgot sign language, which we are starting to learn for Little Cherub's benefit (baby sign sounds a great idea to me). Star did a page in her English book, conveniently forgetting she was supposed to write it in her notebook and writing in the text instead. In ink. I sent her off to read on her own for twenty minutes while I read to Angel from Mother Teresa and Homeless Bird, with interruptions to deal with the gas engineer who came to service the boiler and heating system. (Mercifully our ancient boiler was given a clean bill of health, for the time being at least.) Little Cherub napped. Star finished her reading and asked if she could do some music practice. I agreed and she took her baritone upstairs. Angel opted to play her trumpet before tackling English. Star then decided she was lonely and brought her instrument downstairs. Both girls played different pieces in the same room. Simultaneously. By this time Little Cherub was, unsurprisingly, no longer asleep. After the musical interlude Angel did the next section of her English book - comprehension questions on a passage on childhood obesity taken from a government website. Not that easy to follow for Angel, whose reading comprehension is erratic, and I was pleased she did it independently and without fuss. Meanwhile I read to Star from St.Patrick's Summer. Little Cherub nursed and batted at toys. By this time it was 11.15.

We took a short snack break, then started back in with maths for Star and history for Angel, who was not impressed with the introductory section of Usborne's World War I: True Stories. I told her I thought the stories would be better. "Humph. Why can't we read them then?" I meant to start reading Witness to History: World War I with her, but forgot to pick it up at the library. Little Cherub fell asleep again, and Angel moved on to the computer to work on a page about school lunch boxes for her current affairs notebook (government recommendations on what parents should and should not put in children's lunch boxes have been in the news here this week) and to finish a maths exercise. Meanwhile I read to Star from Story of the World. She complained she was tired so we went upstairs and lay on my bed to read books on India. Her concentration was shot, though looking at a world map revived interest for a while. She then drew a Celtic-style pattern while I read to her from Premlata and the Festival of Lights by Rumer Godden. Phew! Everything planned for the morning completed and it was only 1.15. By the time we got as far as lunch it was 1.40. Oops!

Back to work again soon after two. Angel did her independent reading while Star got into a sulk over Latin - it was simple enough, and we both knew she had no real problem with it, but she went into full procrastination mode over her very short exercise. Half way through she wanted to draw a pig and was most aggrieved that I insisted she finished the Latin first. I decided to turn a blind eye to her urge to write in overlarge capitals. (I have learned to pick my battles. In this case pigs - yes, dodgy but legible writing - no.). Little Cherub grizzled in sympathy, and then fell asleep again. Finally we looked at a painting in Artistic Pursuits and Star made a collage of an outdoor scene. Angel and I listened to a simple conversation in French (along the lines of "Hello, what is your name?", "My name is M.Duclerc", "What is his name?" "His name is Nicolas" ... and so on ad nauseam). We translated it, read it aloud in French, and listened again. We skipped her chemistry experiments as I had forgotten, yet again, to buy fuel for the spirit burner in her chemistry set.

Despite our slow start, we finished in time to have something to eat before taking Star to her ballet class. More maternal incompetence there - we had run out of nets for Star's hair, and I had to rush back to sew elastic onto Angel's new ballet shoes (one of my pet hates is sewing ballet shoe elastics and ribbons, and I have a bad habit of leaving it to the last minute). Monday's schedule is a full one, and I'm pleased we managed to get through it on our first full day back without feeling too frazzled, despite a late start. If I can get a good morning routine going (including bed making!) and start our days promptly, then I'm hopeful this will be a good year - busy and productive, but not frantic and stressful.

Good intentions

This morning I found this (note particularly the second line) ...

And this afternoon, Star's bedroom looked like this ...

I think we need to pay more than a little attention to morning routines. At least she has good intentions!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blog of the Week

After holidaying in Weymouth, which will be hosting the sailing events for the 2012 Olympics, my blog of the week just has to be the S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen. Visit this family who have followed the Siren's call to live and homeschool on a boat, and vicariously enjoy life with a nautical flavour. I confess I have never, ever been on a sailing boat - rowing boats, canoes, punts, narrow boats, ferries, assorted motor boats and cruisers yes, but sails no - and I'm fascinated by this glimpse into a whole new world.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Love that baby!

No, not Little Cherub - well yes, I do, of course ... madly... but she isn't the topic of this post. We just couldn't resist this baby orang utan at Monkey World. Isn't she a cutie?

She was just tall enough to peer out of the enclosure with her mum

Then she found a blanket

Hmm! What to do with it?

Now you see me ...

... now you don't!

Problem solving

Today's exercise in problem solving: how do you fit three eleven year olds, one eight year old, one baby, a trumpet, a baritone horn, a saxaphone, a guitar, a cello and a pushchair into a small seven-seater car. Yes, it can be done. Just. And I thought sharing lifts was meant to make things easier!

We're home

... after a lovely break. Two weeks of enjoying sea air, beautiful countryside, fun trips, family time, daily swimming (in a warm pool with sauna and steam room for the adults) and lots of ice cream.

Now we are hitting the ground running. Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) started yesterday evening, Angel and Star had music school and dance classes today, and we will be getting back to schoolwork on Monday.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Gone away!

Back in two weeks ...

Weymouth Harbour

Monkey World

Chesil Beach and the Fleet

Lulworth Cove

Lulworth Castle

Friday, September 08, 2006

Holiday reading

A glimpse into my suitcase …

The Seashell on the Mountaintop
by Alan Cutler
"A story of science, sainthood and the humble genius who discovered a new history of the earth". I ordered this from the library after following a link from the Unity of Truth blog. I'm looking forward to finding out more about Blessed Nicholas Steno, seventeenth century Catholic bishop and geologist.

by Tim Smit
The story of the Eden Project, pioneering “biomes” - giant conservatories replicating entire ecological environments - built in a disused Cornish china clay pit. An achievement that has become one of England’s biggest tourist attractions.

The Sunday Philosophy Club
by Alexander McCall Smith
I enjoyed the first couple of books in his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, but found that by the third it was all getting rather predictable. This one ia the first of another series about a lady philosopher and sleuth set in Edinburgh, so should be a slightly more novel novel (ouch!).

The Other Side of the Dale
by Gervase Phinn
“The James Herriot of schools”. A gentle biographical account of the author’s time as a school inspector in the Yorkshire Dales I've been meaning to read for a while.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon
This was lent to me a while ago and has been sitting on the shelf unread. A murder mystery told in the first person by the hero, a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Victory by Susan Cooper
Spotted on the shelf in the library while waiting for Angel and Star to choose books. Children’s historical fiction about Admiral Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar, one of the iconic moments of British history, by the author of The Dark is Rising sequence (which I have never read, but have heard good things about). The plot is based round a time-shift, a device that can be hard to pull off. I wonder how well she has managed it?

Natural Structure
by Edward and Nancy Walsh
"A Montessori Approach to Classical Education at Home." I was intrigued by Montessori education when Angel was small, but never pursued it further than making a quarter of set of sandpaper letters. I'm always so impressed by the sheer neatness of Montessori learning environments. As someone who is not naturally tidy, I tend to look at them enviously. Maybe this book will inspire me.

I'm hoping for plenty of quiet reading-and-nursing time over the next two weeks. Not that I will get through all the books ... but I can try!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A perfect moment

Summer has been having a final fling this last few days and yesterday was a perfect late summer day. We were able to do some of our schoolwork outside in the garden (a good location for Star to fly around on an imaginary flying carpet wearing a bicycle helmet while I read Story of the World to her ... but I digress). After lunch I took the laptop out to the swing seat and read blogs while Little Cherub sat cooing at Star's bright pink and purple petunias (Star has managed to keep two tubs of flowers alive through the entire summer. As someone who can kill any plant in short order through lack of water this impresses me hugely ...oops! another digression!). After a while I realised what a perfect day it was, switched of the laptop and just sat and enjoyed the moment. Blue sky, green trees with just a hint of autumn yellow, silence broken only by the slight hum of cars, the cooing of a wood pigeon and at one point rather rudely by a very loud propellor plane (where did that come from?). Little Cherub sat awake and happy on my lap, and I drank it all in and thanked God for my many blessings.

Disclaimer: I'd like to say that while I was enjoying my little bit of peaceful perfection outside Angel and Star were enjoying their free time with a good book, productive craft work or some other suitably CM-ish activity. They weren't. They were watching a twaddly DVD.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

First day

Our first school day went very well considering neither Angel nor Star were asleep when Tevye and I went to bed at 11pm last night - they went to bed at a respectable time, but both had one of those nights where they couldn't get to sleep (Star because she was excited about our upcoming holiday, Angel because she was hyped up after her first dance classes of the term). For once I had planned just the right amount of work, though tired children were not part of the plan!

We started the day with Mass and a trip to the library for books, drinks and biscuits. We were home soon after eleven and started work. We looked at our "fridge board" and read through the Bible verse and catechism questions on the fruits of the Spirit. Angel copied the verse and the first catechism question while I read the story of St.Nicholas to Star from Beggars, Beasts and Easter Fire. Star, in overtired mode, had the concentration of a gnat, but we made it to the end with at least something percolating into her brain. She then started writing about St.Nicholas while Angel played an online geography game and then looked at her Maths 2XL CD-Rom with me. She was rather taken with the teacher's Australian accent and pronounced it much better than the maths she had done before. How long will this positive mood last, I wonder?

After lunch and a break Star went upstairs to read while Angel set up a French notebook and looked through her new French book with me. With Star still reading we skimmed through the first Unit of Angel's Artistic Pursuits book. She then drew a picture of a girl using a photgraph on a book cover as a visual reference (see! we learnt a technical term!) while Star set up her Latin notebook and finished her page on St.Nicholas. All boxes ticked. (I do love my check lists!) Nothing too onerous, but it felt as though we had achieved something and switched into school mode. Little Cherub nursed, slept in her sling, spat milk over her sling, batted happily at her baby gym, and flipped herself from front to back. We finished in plenty of time to have a snack before taking Angel to her dance school to help with the "baby ballet" class.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tomorrow ...

... we start our school year. We will be throwing ourself into learning mode for all of four days, before heading off on Saturday for two weeks holiday in sunny Dorset. (Sunny? There's nothing like optimism. I would settle for any weather that involved more dry than wet!) As the local schools start back tomorrow I decided I would start at the same time and use these four days as a light, introductory week ... and a trial run at fitting school days round Little Cherub. Then when we get home we will be ready to throw ourselves into work full tilt. I'm feeling pleased with myself as I have managed to get our school books and materials nicely organised, and have set up a "fridge board" - my version of fridge schooling, as our fridge isn't in a good place - and "memory boards". Watch this space for photos and an explanation!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Saint Cuthbert

Tomorrow (September 4th) is the feast of one of the great saints of northern England, St. Cuthbert. Why not take a little time out of your day to meet this Anglo-Saxon saint?

Some Facts

Born 634
664 Prior of Melrose Abbey (Benedictine)
685 Bishop of Lindisfarne
Died 687
Patronage: sailors, shepherds, England

Saint Cuthbert from Our Island Saints by Amy Steedman
Catholic Encyclopedia entry
Saints O'the Day: March 20th (in the English liturgical calendar Cuthbert's feast is celebrated on September 4th, the date his incorrupt body was moved to Durham Cathedral when Lindisfarne was attacked by Vikings).
Bede's Life and Miracles of St Cuthbert

How do we know about Cuthbert?
Most of what we know comes from the biography written by Saint Bede the Venerable. Bede also lived in Northumbria (the northernmost kingdom of Anglo-Saxon England), just fifty years after Cuthbert himself.

Virtual Tour
Visit the shrine of St Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Walk St Cuthbert's Way from Melrose to Lindisfarne (if you have the energy for 62½ miles!).

Nature Study
Find out about St Cuthbert's Beads.

Bronze statue of Cuthbert of Farne on Lindisfarne.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Blackberry time

I love autumn. It is my favourite season - a preference I attribute (probably entirely illogically) to having an autumn birthday. One autumn treat for our whole family is blackberry picking. I'm not sure which we enjoy most ... the fruit gathering or eating the results. It may technically still be summer, but yesterday we ventured out on our first blackberrying expedition of the year. A country lane close to the farm where I grew up is a treasure trove, and this year looks like being a good one. After a short trip we came home with enough fruit to make two good sized blackberry crumbles.

Tevye, city boy that he is, has the mindset that food comes pre-packaged from supermarkets. Eating something picked from a hedge goes very much against the grain. We have managed to convert him. The combination of country walk and juicy dessert are just too tempting.

Little Cherub was intrigued - all those love fluttering leaves to watch - until she got just too comfy in her wrap and fell asleep. I love that wrap! Star helped Tevye, acting as quality control for their joint effort. Angel managed a good contribution to the pickings, but only after I suggested she put three blackberries in her box for each one she ate!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Love that American accent

Our neighbour's brother, his American wife and two year old daughter M are here on a short visit from California. Angel, Star and J-and-A-next-door are absolutely melting over M's American-toddler accent. "Oh Mum, she's just sooooo cute! Did you hear her say ..."

I can't tell you what she says as I can't type in American ;)