Friday, October 31, 2008

One Shelf at a Time - Shelf 8

Lots more narrative history for children here. Most of my H.E.Marshall collection: Our Island Story, Our Empire Story, Scotland's Story, History of France, History of Germany and English Literature for Boys and Girls. Then there are Mary McGregor's histories of Rome and France, Van Loon's Lives and Story of Mankind, a collection of biographical sketches called These Were Europeans, and several volumes by R.J.Unstead, who wrote a number of popular books on British history in the mid-20th century. Three favourites from this shelf ...

People in History by R.J.Unstead. Along with Looking at History this was a popular text book in junior schools (ages 7 to 11) in the 1960s and 70s. It was even included in the PNEU curriculum. It is a collection of four short volumes of biographies of famous Britons, all of them lively and readable.

English Literature for Boys and Girls by H.E.Marshall, is a history of English literature and the men who wrote it, from the earliest days and ending with Tennyson. (Yes, men ... no Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell!). I'm not aware of any other comparable book that covers this huge subject in such detail for children, and H.E.Marshall is always readable.

The Story of France by Eleanor Doorly. This one was a lucky find a few years ago. Another very readable and well written book, and much shorter than the narrative histories by H.E.Marshall and Mary McGregor. It isn't short on content though. The author manages to link together both the history and geography of France, giving a sense of how the two overlap.

One of Those Days

It has been one of those toddler days. Little Cherub has been in assertive almost two and a half year old mood ...

She came downstairs this morning at the same time as Star, and complained that she wanted Star to stay upstairs. I pointed out that it was Star's house as well as hers and Star was perfectly within her rights to come downstairs if she wanted to. Cherub's indignant response: "Is not Star's house. Is Cherub's house!"

I threw some leftover popcorn in the bin. Cherub had a meltdown when I wouldn't let her fish it out of the bin to eat. After a while it went quiet ... until I heard the click of the bin lid from the kitchen and got there just in time to see her with a mouthful of popcorn.

We went out for a pizza lunch with Grandma and Star. Cherub noticed balloons on the way in. Part way through the meal she managed to bite her own finger as well as her pizza and announced sorrowfully "balloon will make me better". Sorrow turned rapidly to indignation until a helpful waiter supplied her with a balloon. A blue balloon.

We went into a clothes store where Star tried on a dress. The changing room had a curtain instead of a door - a curtain slightly smaller than the doorway (why???), so I had to stand holding it closed. That meant letting go of Cherub and leaving Grandma in charge. Cherub is considerably faster than Grandma who is 81 and has limited mobility. Cherub ran laps around a display rack, went walk-about behind the tills, and discovered a stand full of beads and bracelets. Fortunately I managed to get to her before she created havoc with them. Just.

It didn't get any better after we got home. Overall, today outdid Wednesday. That was the day that started with Cherub insisting she wanted to wear a swimsuit to go to the dentist's ...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Toymaker

I know what I shall be doing today - making toys with The Toymaker.

I wonder how many girls will decide to join me, and what, if anything, will survive the attentions of my littlest helper.

HT: Dorothy, who has been making beautiful things

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Historical Ponderings

I have been pondering the attraction of history ... more specifically, the attraction certain aspects of history hold for individuals. Why does one person obsess on Egyptology, or become fascinated by the American Civil War, or spend their weekends living as an Anglo-Saxon, or read everything they can about the French Revolution? Why that time and place and not another? I took a sample of two: myself and Tevye.

I love history. There are few aspects of history - any time or place - that I wouldn't find at least somewhat interesting, but there are two that particularly catch my imagination: the middle ages (specifically the twelfth and thirteenth centuries), and the early twentieth century (Edwardian England and the First World War). I spent ten years as a student and teacher of medieval history. Why? Initially my interest was piqued by an inspirational history teacher when I was a teenager. She taught an A-level course on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but began with a lively survey of medieval England to give us some background. I remember enjoying visits to medieval castles and cathedrals. I read historical fiction set in the period, and gradually the interest crystalised. When I had the opportunity to go to university in my late twenties I chose a history course that allowed me to concentrate almost entirely on the middle ages. The British university system goes for depth rather than breadth, and most students study a single subject for their entire three years at university - I took this to an extreme. As I learned more, I focused on the twelth and thirteenth centuries, the "high middle ages". I love the way this period combines both familiarity and difference to someone looking back from our modern perspective. The roots of parliament, universities and our legal system are all found in the high middle ages, and was a sense of religious, intellectual and social confidence. In the fourteenth century everything went bad. Wars, famines, pestilence (the Black Death and further outbreaks of plague wiped out a third or more of the population of Europe), economic collapse ... it had the lot. I'm a natural optimist, so the optimistic, expansive centuries before interest me more.

The interest in the Edwardians and the First World War is a more recent one, though again the initial trigger came in my teens when I watched a TV dramatisation of Vera Brittain's autobiography, Testament of Youth. I read the book, and have re-read it a couple of times since. Although it is more distant, in some ways the First World War is more "real" to me than the Second, because it is more connected to my family history. My parents were lucky enough to be just the wrong age for World War II - they were only seventeen when the war finished, so not old enough to fight. My paternal grandfather fought in the trenches of World War I and was gassed; I also have a great-great-uncle's war issue New Testament, dated 1916. Perhaps surprisingly for an optimist the pathos of the war grips me, all the more so since becoming a mother ... all those young men lost. In every village and town there is a war memorial as a visible reminder, with lists of names - far more from the First War than the Second, often with several sharing the same surname. There is the sense of an innocence lost and the ending of era ... which is where I go back to the Edwardians, fascinated by that last flowering of another self-confident society, before it collapsed in the mud and blood if the trenches.

Tevye is a different matter. History really is not his thing. Yet even he found an aspect of history that caught his imagination: Martin Luther King and the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. In his case a couple of things gelled together: snippets he picked up on a coast-to-coast trip across the States in his early twenties, and his personal experience of apartheid when visiting relatives in South Africa. "Whites only" beaches and waiting rooms horrified him, and he was also touched by his father's anger and frustration after witnessing a Rosa Parkes type incident on a bus in Cape Town.

I'd be very interested to learn what times and places touch you, and why. If you want to share, please leave a comment, or better still a blog post!

If I Was ...

If I was a month, I would be... October

If I was a day of the week I would be... Monday

If I was a number I would be... 5

If I was a planet I would be... Earth

If I was a direction I would be... North

If I was furniture I would be... bookshelves

If I was a liquid I would be... red wine

If I was a sin I would be... undisciplined

If I was a mineral I would be... diamond

If I was a metal I would be .. silver

If I was a tree I would be... oak

If I was a fruit I would be .. apple

If I was a flower I would be... daffodil

If I was the weather I would be .. wind

If I was a musical instrument I would be... oboe

If I was one of the elements I would be... earth

If I was a color I would be... yellow

If I was an animal I would be... squirrel

If I was a sound I would be... laughter

If I was a song lyric I would be... "don't worry ... be happy"

If I was a song I would be... Puff the Magic Dragon

If I was a music genre I would be... classical

If I was a perfume I would be... White Linen

If I was a feeling I would be... joy

If I was a book I would be… The Hobbit

If I was food I would be… fresh, crusty bread

If I was a place I would be ... Narnia

If I was a taste I would be... salt

If I was a scent I would be… coffee

If I was a word I would be… flexible

If I was a verb I would be… singing

If I was an object I would be… a candle

If I was a clothing item I would be… Crocs

If I was a body part I would be… hands

If I was an expression I would be… cheerful

If I was a cartoon character I would be… Dory (Finding Nemo)

If I was a movie I would be… The Lord of the Rings

If I was a shape I would be… a hexagon

If I was a season I would be… autumn

If I was a quote I would be"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." (G.K.Chesterton)

HT: Diary of a Stay At Home Mom

Monday, October 27, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 27th October

For Monday 27th October

Outside My Window ... wet ground, blue sky, a nip in the air.

I am thinking ... how nice it is to have my big girls home from school for their half-term break.

From the learning rooms ... half-term holiday!

I am thankful for ... an extra hour's sleep at the weekend when the clocks went back, and that Cherub also slept that extra hour after we kept her up late. (Shame she didn't sleep the extra hour this morning!)

From the kitchen ... pancakes for breakfast; shepherd's pie and sauteed cabbage for dinner; more apples to cook.

I am wearing ... cosy pink pyjamas. A child talked me into them. I look like an over-sized, over-sweet pink lollipop.

I am creating ... Christmas lists. Am I the only person who loves shopping for Christmas and likes to start early?

I am going ... to have a lazy, chilled-out day.

I am reading ... English Catholic Heroes edited by John Jolliffe.

I am hoping ... the girls have a good week and recharge their batteries.

I am hearing ... an advert for Playmobil. We love Playmobil!

Around the house ... early morning inertia. A sleeping teenager and two other children watching TV. (Note: Little Cherub does not spend all her time watching TV, I just tend to take advantage of TV time to write my daybook!)

One of my favorite things ... crisp, clear autumn days.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a drive to Northampton to buy Angel new pointe shoes, followed by a mother and daughter lunch; dental checks for the girls; Guide camp for Star; a couple of sleepovers; a trip to Borders for Starbuck's hot chocolate and a browse - I browse the books, Star and her friend browse Paperchase (they are on a stationery kick).

Here is picture thought I am sharing ...

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Book Finds

A couple of nice out of print books I picked up on Thursday ...

Beatrix Potter's Countryside Book ... a nice little nature study guide. There are suggested activities for each season, accompanied by Beatrix Potter's illustrations - some from her books, others from her own nature studies.

The Radium Woman by Eleanor Doorly ... a biography of Marie Curie for children. I have seen this (and her other two scientific biographies, The Insect Man and The Microbe Man) before, but not at an affordable price. I have a history of France by the same author which is a gem - more on that in my next bookshelf post.

When I went to pay, it turned out that Oxfam were having a "five for five pounds" sale on children's books, so for an extra pound I added Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare" (which I have a sneaky feeling I may already have!), Monkey Puzzle for Little Cherub, and a children's cookbook.

Welsh Menu

For a couple of years we have shared more-or-less regular meals with two sets of neighbours. Each meal has an international theme, we rotate houses, and we each bring one course. It is great fun, and pushes us all out of our cookery comfort zones by making us try out new recipes Last night we hosted a Welsh dinner (we have just started working round the British Isles), and it was our turn to be responsible for the main course.

This was the menu:

Starter: Salmon fish cakes and green salad

Main course: Oen Cymreig melog (honeyed Welsh lamb), stwns (mashed potato and swede mixture) and roasted leeks

Dessert: Honey cake with meringue topping, strawberries and raspberries

The lamb was the nicest I have ever cooked, with delicious honey and cider gravy. I posted the recipe on my neglected cookery blog.

Our themed meals are adults only (no juggling picky appetites, toddler bedtimes, and busy teenagers!), but we also add in a couple of whole family evenings - an American BBQ for the Fourth of July and a Christmas buffet in December. Next up on the British Isles tour is a Scottish meal for Burns Night in January.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kitchens, Toddlers, Britain and America

An addendum to my post about my little kitchen helper ... I realised yesterday when cooking a recipe that used cup measurements how much harder cups are for a toddler than British-style measuring using weight. I use a digital scale that can be used with any tub or bowl. When Little Cherub is baking I put a square-based plastic tub on the scale and she scoops ingredients into that. Using wobbly cups is a whole different ball game for little hands!

Mind you, I did make the mistake of showing her how to "zero" the scale before she starts spooning. Now I have to persuade her it is not a good idea to zero the scale at random intervals while measuring ...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

One Shelf at a Time - Shelf 7

All history on this shelf, some for children, some for adults. The adult books are five volume edited / abridged set of Butler's Lives of the Saints, with additions of more recent saints, and three volumes of Simon Schama's History of Britain. For children there are four volumes of A History of Mankind: a Picturesque Tale of Progress by Olive Beaupre Miller, the first two volumes of The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, Hillyer's Child's History of the World, Stories from French History by E.Price, A History of Europe by H.E.Marshall and a few other oddments. Then there are these three:

A Child's Day Through the Ages by Dorothy Margaret Stuart. This was first published in 1941 and was reprinted several times - the copy I have is a 1962 reprint. There are fourteen chapters, each describing a day in a child's life, beginning with a lake-dweller in 3500BC and ending with a girl in Edwardian Britain.

Kings and Things by H.E.Marshall. This is a lighter, easier retelling of British history intended for younger children than Our Island Story. In this book the author has a severe case of Capital Letter Syndrome, but combined with the breezy style it makes for a thoroughly unique take on history. For example, on William the Conqueror:

When William heard that Harold had been made King of England he got into such an Awful Rage that even the Most Important People were afraid to go near him. Then he went away and sulked by himself. After a bit he got over his sulking. Then he called all his Most Important People together and said: "Come on, we'll go to England and do some Conquering." But the Important People weren't very keen to go. "It's all very well for you," they said; "you'll be made a King, but we'll just get killed."
My copy is an old and tatty one, but Kings and Things is now back in print thanks to Galore Park.

The World's Story by Elizabeth O'Neill is my favourite narrative history of the world for children. It is more detailed than Hillyer's Child's History of the World and more lively than Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World. It has also long been out of print. A nice touch is that the illustrations are all of historical items and places. The author was a university lecturer in history during the earlier twentieth century, and I believe was Anglo-Catholic. The bias of the book seems to be more towards the Catholic side.

Kitchen Helper

Since I wrote about cooking with Cherub she has become even more enthusiastic about baking and helping me in the kitchen. I don't need to ask if she wants to cook ... she's there, dragging her little chair behind her. Unfortunately the chair doesn't get her high enough to reach properly and I have to carry in a dining chair for her - I really need to find something more convenient. If I tell her she can't help with what I'm doing, she will not be put off ... "I watch!"

She is now getting quite a list of accomplishments in the kitchen:

  • Spooning dry ingredients into a bowl. To start with she could only keep very small quantities on the spoon - most would fall off on the way out of the flour or sugar bag - but now she can spoon as much as we need.
  • Beating eggs. I have a little whisk meant for hot chocolate that she uses. I break the eggs into a cup or bowl, she finds the whisk and beats them (sometimes, though not always, to the point where I don't need to finish off the task),
  • Pouring, both liquid and dry ingredients.
  • Setting out paper cake cases in trays - no need for instructions. Give her the trays and the cases and she's away.
  • Getting out and putting away ingredients.
  • Washing fruit and vegetables.
  • Chopping. Eek. She started with mushrooms, using the knife from her cutlery set. She has moved on, of her own volition, to apples. Smushing might be a better description than chopping, but she is working on it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World (Dragonfly Books) How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World
by Marjorie Priceman
rating: 5 of 5 stars

Little Cherub loves baking, books about baking, and - apparently - books with leopards in. This ticks all her boxes. It is also a wonderfully clever take on teaching where different items of food come from. Both fun and educational.

View all my GoodReads reviews.

Patrick Paints a Picture

Patrick Paints a Picture Patrick Paints a Picture
by Saviour Pirotta
rating: 4 of 5 stars

A simple but effective book for young children just mastering their colours. Patrick wants to paint a cornfield, and as various animals appear he needs more and more colours. Gives the little one the chance to identify the colours, and teaches basic colour mixing. Very popular with my Little Cherub.

View all my GoodReads reviews.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 20th October

For Monday 20th October

Outside My Window ... grey skies and a fine drizzle.

I am thinking ... how hard I find it to get moving in the morning. I am so not a morning person.

From the learning rooms ... cutting and sticking for Little Cherub, which she has taken to with enthusiasm - though the "cutting" is more mangling and shredding.

I am thankful for ... Little Cherub's quick recovery from the sickness bug she had at the end of last week.

From the kitchen ... apples, windfalls from a friend's tree, that are going to make Dorset apple cake, applesauce cake, apple crumble and stewed apples. Dinner is baked potatoes and chilli.

I am wearing ... black jeans, black and white striped t-shirt, beige crocs.

I am creating ... more booklists.

I am going ... to clear out clutter for the older girls to take when they go to a car boot sale on Sunday with my brother. If I can bring myself to look at the clutter mountain in the garage.

I am (still) reading ... Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan. I'm about half way through.

I am hoping ... nobody else gets sick!

I am hearing ... Big Cook, Little Cook on TV, getting Cherub in the mood for baking (and keeping her and her porridge in one place).

Around the house ... unmade beds and morning chaos.

One of my favorite things ... old-fashioned puddings - treacle sponge and custard, bread and butter pudding, rice pudding, spotted dick, jam roly-poly. All those old school dinner favourites!

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... dinner with two sets of neighbours on Friday. We do international themes and each bring a course. This time it is a Welsh meal and our turn to cook the main course, which will probably be lamb. Dance school prizegiving on Sunday.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... the 13th century village church where Angel and I played in a brass band concert on Saturday.

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Handwash Only

... was the instruction on this water bottle. We had two of them.

We now have one. And Tevye now understands why it was not a good idea to put the other in the dishwasher.

Shrinky-dink water bottles, anyone?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hold the Chocolate ...

Just a couple of weeks ago I made plans to rein in my eating and lose some weight. With hindsight it was not the best of timing to start just before my birthday. Birthdays mean chocolate. Diet? What diet?

I do, however, have a couple of recommended methods of damage limitation for slightly (ahem) overweight people who need to dispose of diet busting amounts of chocolate . The first - and least appealing - is to let your children help you eat it. Your children love you for it, but you do have to resist the temptation to develop a martyr complex as you watch all your yummy brown stuff disappear.

The second may have no scientific basis, but it is a great theory. If you attack the chocolate with gusto, eat large quantities in one go and finish it up quickly you put on less weight than if you eke it out over a longer period.

Excuse me, but a bar of Green and Black's is calling ...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cluck ... Cluck ...

You Are a Chicken

You are a naturally curious and inquisitive being. You are often poking your nose where it doesn't belong!

Collecting nuggets of knowledge is important to you. You enjoy knowing everything you can.

You are very independent and strong willed. You don't like to be bossed around, and you do as you please.

You are quite determined and able to take on challenges. You will “peck away” at a problem until it's gone

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One Shelf at a Time - Shelf 6

The left hand side of the next shelf has a rather random selection of workbooks, textbooks and oddments that don't belong anywhere else - Key Stage 3 science and maths, thinking skills, and Dinah Zike's Big Book of Books are there among other miscellaneous stuff. The rest of the shelf, like the three below it, hold my collection of children's history books. The narrative history books in particularly are now quite shamelessly my collection. I am under no illusions that my unhistorically minded children will ever read them (unless Little Cherub turns out quite different to her sisters), but I love old books that tell history as a story and have managed to find a number of gems over the years.

The history section of this shelf contains about a dozen DK Eyewitness books, DK's 20th Century Day by Day (large!), and some historical literature - Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland, a collection of Robin Hood stories, Gilgamesh the King and The Canterbury Tales, both retold by Geraldine MacCaughrean. There are also two five volume series covering British history at different levels:

Oxford Junior History by Roy Burrell (vols. 1 to 3) and Peter and Mary Speed (vols. 4 & 5) is out of print but quite easy to find used. Meant for ages 7 to 11, the volumes increase in difficulty, with the last having significantly longer text and smaller print than the first. There are plenty of pictures, but the text is lively enough to stand alone. The books have less of a narrative story than H.E.Marshall's Our Island Story, but they make a good introduction to British history.

The Young Oxford History of Britain and Ireland is more suitable for older children (age 10 and up), and is in my opinion the best up-to-date introduction to British history available for children. In fact, it would make a pretty good and readable introduction for adults. It is still in print, as both a single volume, or broken up into five smaller books - this is the version I have, bought as a cheap package from The Book People. Each of the five sections is written by an expert in the period, meeting Charlotte Mason's criteria that children should read books written by authors who love their subject and can bring it alive. Children's history books tend to lag behind modern scholarship, but this one doesn't - or at least, it didn't when it was first published ten or so years ago.

My third book choice for this shelf is something a little different:

Mathematics Encyclopedia by Leslie Foster. I love books like this which make maths interesting. It begins with sections on the history of counting and number systems and goes on to cover topics ranging from the sieve of Eratosthenes and the Moebius strip to base systems ("How does an octopus count?") and golden rectangles. I think this book would be a wonderful resource to use for putting together Waldorf style "main lessons". Unfortunately it is out of print.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 13th October

For Monday 13th October

Outside My Window ... a dull grey morning after a perfect, sunny autumn weekend.

I am thinking ... that October is my favourite month.

From the learning rooms (school) ... new opportunities at school for Angel. An adventure and activity trip next summer - rock climbing, sea cliff traversing, hiking, kayaking and more - and a coaching academy through which she can earn coaching qualifications in a variety of sports. She wants to learn to coach gymnastics and trampoline, but has to wait until next March when she is fourteen.

I am thankful for ... friends, new and old, online and "real life"

From the kitchen ... pink fairy cakes waiting for pink icing (frosting), sponge cakes baking in the oven, chicken stir fry for dinner.

I am wearing ... blue jeans, green, beige and cream striped sweater, Crocs, mother-of-pearl disc pendant necklace.

I am creating ... plans for a new kitchen. It looks as though we may be able to replace our kitchen next year, and I can't wait to have a cooker and fridge big enough for our needs. I had to cook thirty biscuits in four batches because the one tray that will fit in the oven only holds eight, and anything put on the lower shelf takes forever. Aarghh!!!! I hate that oven. Shame I can't find an online kitchen planner that works on a Mac. As it is I'm having to plan on paper, the old-fashioned way.

I am going ... to take Little Cherub to the toddler group at the local Anglican Church. I used to take Angel and Star when they were little. They start the session by letting the children ring the church bells, which they love. I hope Cherub doesn't find herself soaring up to the belfry on the end of a rope!

I am reading ... Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan, thanks to a Daybook recommendation at Chez Nous.

I am hoping ... for some more sunny autumn days.

I am hearing ... Mr Tumble on TV. Little Cherub has houmous and pitta dips, and I am shamelessly using the TV to keep her from wandering around with them, smearing houmous wherever she goes.

Around the house ... clutter. It is bugging me. I feel a decluttering phase coming on.

One of my favorite things ... baking with Little Cherub.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a routine dental visit, a playdate with a new friend for Little Cherub followed by that toddler group, rhyme time at the library, another brass band concert.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... an autumn photo from a couple of years ago

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


The FreeRice website has expanded. Now you can test yourself on chemistry, geography, artists, languages and maths as well as the original vocabulary section. And you earn grains of rice for the hungry at the same time. Have fun!

And be warned. It is addictive.

HT: Karen Edmisten

Wedding Bells

Star whiled away the afternoon planning her wedding. Yes, she is ten. No, she does not know who she plans to marry. But thanks to Google she has chosen a dress, bridesmaid's dresses, the cake, the flowers, the venue for the reception ... even what the yet-to-be-met groom is to wear.

Snippets of conversation overheard from my quiet(ish) spot in my bedroom ...

Star: Should I honeymoon in the Bahamas or Majorca?

Tevye: Who do you think is going to pay for all this?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

One Shelf at a Time - Shelf 5

Next shelf down ... this is a deeper shelf so has the larger homeschooling books - Real Learning, Literature Alive, Educating the Whole-Hearted Child, Natural Structure - and a couple of catalogues. Some nature books are on this shelf, including books from the Reader's Digest Living Countryside series, Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, and The Natural History of the Garden by Michael Chinery, which is my favourite resource for identifying bugs and weeds. Next to them are a couple of geography books, my collection of National Geographics and some back issues of Catholic Life magazine. The three books I have picked out to share are:

Wildlife on Your Doorstep (Living Countryside series) - I have picked up a few of this series from charity shops and second-hand book shops. They are all packed with information about the flora and fauna of different habitats. This one is particularly useful as it looks at the wildlife that can be found in towns and cities ... everything from London planes and cherry trees to urban foxes and feral cats. Section headings include "Down in the dump: compost heap life" and "Wildlife among the tombstones" ... which will either make you long to buy the book, or decide that anybody who does is cracked!

The Country Flowers of a Victorian Lady by Fanny Robinson - the same genre as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady but less well known. The watercolour illustrations are stunning - prettier than Edith Holden's - and are matched by verses in a beautiful calligraphic hand. There is an accompanying commentary by Gill Saunders of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The English Landscape, intro by Bill Bryson - this book is a substantial collection of essays on the landscape of England (yes, I know that is obvious from the title, but how else can I put it?). It include contributions from a diverse selecton of guest authors, ranging from Michael Morpurgo to the Duchess of Devonshire. The essays travel through the whole country, beginning in the Scilly Isles of the far South-West and ending in the Cheviot Hills of the North-East. The book is illustrated with a satisfying number of photos and maps. As a map lover I particularly appreciate the latter!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

100 Species Challenge: Part 5

Species identified:

1. Daisy
2. Creeping buttercup
3. White clover
4. Selfheal
5. Dandelion
6. Red clover
7. Autumn hawkbit
8. Weeping willow
9. Horse chestnut
10. Sycamore
11. Alder
12. Elder
13. Ragwort
14. Mugwort

A couple of similar named and rather unprepossessing flowers photographed at the country park ...


Scientific name: Senecio jacobaea
Family: Asteraceae
Flowers: June to November

To begin with I wasn't certain about my identification of ragwort. It is a toxic weed that causes fatal poisoning in horses and I vaguely imagined it was controlled to the point of being rare. A bit more research, though, suggests it is more common than I thought. Toxicity is not its only bad point - it is an unpleasant smelling plant and has acquired names like Stinking Nanny and Mare's Fart. However, it has a redeeming feature - ragwort is very attractive to insects, including bees, wasps (harmless varieties), hoverflies and butterflies. No less than thirty species feed solely on ragwort, so eliminating the plant from the countryside would have a detrimental effect on biodiversity. Conservation organisations argue that the number of horse deaths supposed to be due to ragwort are greatly overestimated, and that sensible controls are all that is needed - removing ragwort from fields where horses graze, and ensuring fodder is clear of ragwort, while leaving it in moderate amounts elsewhere. Ragwort is also naturally controlled by other insects, particularly the cinnabar moth and the flea beetle. This article from Buglife includes a huge amount of information about ragwort and its related fauna.


Scientific name: Artemesia vulgaris
Family: Asteraceae
Flowers: June to September

This was a new plant to me - I'm sure I have seen it before, but I had never identified it. Mugwort has a bitter flavour and was at one time used as a seasoning - for example, a sprig of mugwort was a traditional addition to the Christmas goose in Germany. In Korea and Japan mugwort is used to give a greenish tinge to rice cakes. Before the introduction of hops it was used to flavour beer - as it is supposed to be hallucinogenic, this may have led to the beer having a double effect! Mugwort is also supposed to have magical properties - those hallucinations again? In the middle ages it was known as the Girdle of St. John, as it was believed that St. John the Baptist wore it in the wilderness. Related superstitions include the idea that if gathered on St. John's Eve it has a protective effect against misfortune, and if worn as a crown on the same day it prevents possession by the devil. Like ragwort, mugwort can have some very nasty effects. It is a major allergen, triggering both hayfever and allergic asthma. Ugh!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 6th October

For Monday 6th October

Outside My Window ... sun shining through clouds and an early morning frost

I am thinking ... I should go to bed earlier. I'm sitting here yawning.

From the learning rooms (school) ... Angel has been working on surface areas of solids using MyMaths. If (when?) they make this available to individuals it would be a great tool for homeschoolers. Currently it is only available to schools. Star has Book Day on Friday and gets to dress up as a literary character. She wants to be Bugs Bunny, and has made herself a carrot. No, Bugs Bunny is not a literary character. Do I tell her that? They also get to skip normal lessons for the day and spend it in small groups writing picture books.

I am thankful for ... a thirteen year old daughter who is sensible, responsible and a pleasure to have around

From the kitchen ... banana bread and shipwreck stew, one of my favourite quick and easy crockpot standbys.

I am wearing ... black jeans, black and cream striped sweater, Crocs, mother-of-pearl disc pendant necklace.

I am creating ... a couple of big knitting projects - a puppet theatre and a small blanket made of cable patterned strips. Both stalled a few months ago, and I think the time has come to get back to them.

I am going ... to try to lose weight. I need to lose about 30lbs.

I am reading ... Leonie Martin: a Difficult Life, by Marie Baudoin-Croix

I am hoping ... to get moving and go to the gym at least twice this week

I am hearing ... Little Cherub muttering to herself as she eats a pear

Around the house ... dead lightbulbs. Why do they all go phut at the same time? Three in as many days.

One of my favorite things ... crisp autumn days

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a nice quiet week, with very little on the calendar.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... my adoptive grandmother, taken early 1900s. I love old photos.

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Planet Star

Whispered into my ear by Star during Mass today:

"Mum ... what are you giving up for Lent?"

I think maybe Planet Star is on a different time frame to the rest of us.

Under the Influence

The influence of much older sisters on a toddler can be very entertaining to watch. Yesterday I found Little Cherub doing "ballet" to pop music while complaining plaintively "I not want do arabesque!"

Friday, October 03, 2008

One Shelf at a Time - Shelf 4

Moving on to the dining room, where there are three more Billy bookcases, all six shelves tall - one either side of the window, and a third joining the left hand bookcase cornerwise, adjacent to the dresser. I am starting with the top shelf of this one.

This shelf has smaller homeschooling books, including the series of Charlotte Mason's own writings, a few history books including Robert Lacey's three volume Great Tales from English History, and a few random books that don't belong anywhere else. Double stacked in front are a handful of books I have listed on Book Mooch that are waiting for a home. The three books I have picked out to share with you are:

I Buy a School by Marion Berry. This autobiography is one of the least well known of the various Charlotte Mason related books I have. The author trained at CM's House of Education at Ambleside in the late 1920s, spent a little time as a governess, then taught for over forty years in PNEU schools - thirty years of those as headmistress. The book is an easy read, and I like it for the insight it gives into the way a CM style education worked out in practice.

Autumn by Susan Branch is suitably seasonal. I had never come across Susan Branch's books until I picked this one up in the discount section of Borders. I get the impression they are popular in the US, but have never really made it across the Atlantic. This book is a mix of crafts and recipes for autumn. So far I haven't actually tried any of them, but the book itself is a feast for the eyes. All the pages are beautifully illustrated, giving it the look of a personal, and very artistic, diary. Worth owning just to look at.

Collins Tracing Your Family History by Anthony Adolph. A reference manual for both would-be and experienced genealogists. I dabble in genealogy periodically, and while I have a fairly good grasp of the basic record sources, this book gives lots of ideas for moving beyond the hunt for births, marriages and deaths.

Time to Bite the Bullet

... and admit that it is time I lost some weight.

I'm currently about 10lbs heavier than I was before Little Cherub, which was already 20lbs heavier than the top end of my healthy weight range. I console myself that I weighed much the same before Little Cherub as I did pre-Angel, but that doesn't alter the fact that I was overweight even then. I did go to Weight Watchers several years ago and lost that 20lbs, so I know it is possible.

For the first time, I have realised that the extra weight is probably not helping my health. I have struggled all year with asthma (now under control), coughs and colds, and a general feeling of being under par - aches and pains that I blamed on my age combined with a nursing toddler. You would think it would have occurred to me that carrying round an extra 30lbs of weight just might exacerbate breathing problems and aches and pains, but there are times when I am rather slow on the uptake.

So what to do about it? I know. Eat less. Eat more healthily. Despite the evidence of the scales, I actually don't put weight on easily. It takes sustained and substantial eating. Which ... um ... is my default mode. Conversely, if I put my mind to it I can manage a slow but steady weight loss without having to cut back too drastically. I don't have time or inclination to go back to Weight Watchers at the moment, so I'm just going to try to stick to a few simple rules:

  • Three square meals a day
  • Put a little less on my plate for each meal
  • No eating up children's leftovers
  • Limit snacks between meals to one piece of fruit and one "treat" (cake, biscuits, crisps, chocolate) daily
  • No snacks in the evening, except for an occasional glass of wine
  • Aim to get my five fruit and veg every day
This should cut down my calorie intake enough to turn slow weight gain into slow weight loss. I hope. I'm going to try it for a month and see what happens.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ourdoor Hour

This Handbook of Nature Study blog by Harmony Art Mom looks a wonderful resource. She posts regular Outdoor Hour Challenges based on Anna Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study. Now, I didn't get on with the book and sold my copy - I found it too dense and had trouble adapting it for the UK - but based on a quick skim through it looks as though the blog has plenty of ideas that can be used without the book and wherever you are in the world.

HT: Some nice person's blog. (Note to self: when clicking on blogger's links, try to remember where you found the link.)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Toddler Grammar

I love it! Little Cherub is at the stage where she mostly gets the words right, but the order is often rather tangled up. A couple of examples from today ...

Discussing high chairs and who was and was not using one when we went out for lunch today:
Cherub: "My just" (= "just me")

K-next-door, teasing: "You're a monkey!"
Cherub, determinedly: "No I not am!"