Saturday, January 31, 2009

English Puddings

Jam roly-poly and custard, spotted dick ... my last couple of posts and the comments seem to have acquired a puddingy theme. For the benefit of puzzled Americans and nostalgic Brits, here is a run down of some classic English puddings. If you are on a diet, look away now.

Jam Roly-Poly

A self-raising flour and *suet mix dough, rolled out flat into a rectangle, spread with jam, rolled up and baked. Winter comfort food.

Spotted Dick

A steamed pudding with currants (the "spots"). Google gave me two main variants of the basic pudding recipe - either a sponge pudding made of flour, butter and eggs, or a suet pudding with flour, suet and milk.

Bread-and-Butter Pudding

Slices of buttered bread, layered in a dish with sugar and dried fruit. A milk and egg batter is poured over the top and soaks the bread. When baked it sets into a yummy, sweet, soft, fruity pudding. My favourite! Best served with cream.

Treacle Sponge

Another steamed pudding made of flour, eggs, butter and sugar. The "treacle" part is golden syrup (light corn syrup?) put into the bottom of the bowl before the pudding mixture is added. When the pudding is turned out of the bowl for serving, the hot gooey syrup mixture runs down the sides and soaks into the sponge. Another variation is jam sponge, with the syrup replaced by strawberry or raspberry jam.


Properly speaking, custard is a dessert or sauce made from milk, egg yolks and sugar. In practice, what most people think of as custard is a cornflour thickened yellow sauce made from "custard powder" and milk, or bought ready made in tins or cartons. According to Wikipedia 45% of custard sold in the UK is accounted for by the Bird's brand. Comfort food puddings like sponges and roly-poly should always be served with custard. It is, however, important that the custard has no lumps. Lumpy custard served as part of school meals has traumatised generations of English children.

*Suet ... is one of those things that is hard to translate as I don't think there is any American equivalent. Imagine little pieces of fat the size of grains of rice, rolled in flour. Originally made of beef fat, you can now get vegetable fat versions too. It was often used in English cooking as a filler for those on a tight budget - plenty of calories for little money. Suet pastry can be both sweet and savoury, and it is also used to make dumplings.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

English-American Translations

For Professional Mommy (and any other mystified Americans) ...

Hedgerows - small trees and bushes forming a boundary around fields, with associated plants and wildlife. Many are very old

Radio 4 - BBC radio's main news and talk channel. Certain aspects of Radio 4 - Big Ben chiming the hours, the weather forecast for shipping, The Archers (a long running serial) - are British institutions.

Marmite - a savoury yeast extract spread. Love it or hate it.

Jam roly-poly and custard - a suet pudding with jam (looks like a jelly roll?) with custard sauce. Hot and filling comfort food.

Pork pies - meat pies made with chopped pork.

Clotted cream - a very thick cream with a "clotted" yellow crust, characteristic of western England.

Tea urns - a large hot water boiler for making tea. Like a massively oversized electric kettle.

Leaves on the line - one of the classic (and regular) excuses for delayed and cancelled trains in the autumn. "The wrong kind of snow" is a winter excuse.

Blue Peter - a children's TV show that has been running for over 40 years.

Village fetes - like a fair? Typically to raise money for something local. Usually has stalls selling used items, displays, competitions and eclectic entertainment. And a tea stall.

Morris dancing - country dancing by men dressed in white with bells on their legs. Very ... um ... jingly!

Bonfire Night - November 5th. Also known as Guy Fawkes night, it recalls the failure of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Bonfires are lit, effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned, and people let off fireworks. Nowadays it is mostly organised firework displays.

Marks and Spencer - the most English of store chains, selling mostly clothing and food. Hard to find anyone who doesn't possess at least some M & S underwear. Known colloquially as "Marks and Sparks".

If anyone would like more translations, please leave a note in the comments and I will add them to this list.


Sarah at Another Bend in the Road has been thinking about Englishness. She asks "what things do you imagine or think of if you were asked to think of things that were very 'English'?"

Here, in no particular order, is my list of things I think of as quintessentially English (which inevitably overlaps a bit with Sarah's and suggestions from her commenters) ...

Hedgerows, country lanes, oak trees, blackberries, nettles, cottage gardens, sheep, Big Ben, Radio 4, Winston Churchill, the Queen, Michael Palin, Beefeaters, unarmed policemen, irony, eccentricity, self-deprecating humour, Marmite, jam roly-poly and custard, roast beef and horseradish sauce, pork pies, fish and chips, Mars Bars, clotted cream, tea urns, electric kettles, weather forecasts, drizzle, leaves on the line, wrong kind of snow, queues, Minis, Dads Army, Doctor Who, Monty Python, Blue Peter, village fetes, the Book of Common Prayer, morris dancing, maypoles, Enid Blyton, E. Nesbit, Beatrix Potter, Narnia, Wind in the Willows, Harry Potter, football, cricket, Rugby, Bank Holidays, Bonfire Night, Marks and Spencer, the National Trust.

Anyone else want to play?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sweet and Fizzy

That's me! I've been given the Lemonade Award by Chez Nous and it is my turn to pass it on.

These are the rules:

1. Put the logo on your blog or post.

2. Nominate at least 10 blogs which show great Attitude and/or Gratitude!

3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.

4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.

5. Share the love and link to this post and to the person from whom you received your award.

And here are ten blogs that add a bit of fizz to my day ...

Theresa at LaPaz Home Learning ... whose creativity makes me wish I was still homeschooling, and who almost makes me want to live in Alaska.

Jennifer at As Cozy as Spring ... whose yarn makes me long to knit, and whose flowers make me wish I had green fingers instead of black thumbs.

Jennifer of the S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen ... who makes me want to live on a boat. (Hmm! Seems I am living vicariously through blogging friends!)

Willa at In a Spacious Place ... because she makes me think.

Lissa from The Bonny Glen ... for being warm, witty, and having a gorgeous chunk of new baby.

Dorothy at You Did What? ... she has already had the award from Chez Nous, but no reason why she can't have it again. Her blog is real, and witty, and she takes great photos. She is also one of my oldest real life homeschooling friends (and no, I don't mean age!). Along with the next blogger, who I first met on the same day ...

Missus Wookie ... scrapbooker and Sonlight-using unschooler extraordinaire.

Melanie at The Wine Dark Sea ... because Little Cherub loves to watch videos of Bella. And because I love to read of her life with her two (soon to be three) little ones.

Karen Edmisten ... because she has Ramona, who deserves a Lemonade Award of her very own.

And last, but not least, my kindred spirit Shari at St. Anthony's Hobbit Homeschool ... for being able to get 12 year old boys to write in the style of G. K. Chesterton.

If I tagged you and you want to play along, great. If you don't have time - or feel too put on the spot trying to pick out blogs - just take this as an expression of appreciation for brightening my mornings.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Little Miss Night Owl

Angel, knowing I was ill and Tevye was tired, offered to sleep in Little Cherub's room last night and deal with her if (when!) she woke up. We gratefully accepted.

Angel's approach is rather more go-with-the-flow than ours (which is more along the lines of nurse, then return toddler to bed regardless of protests). Apparently Cherub woke at 1 a.m. and chatted away happily for an hour and a half before falling asleep again. Then she woke up for the day at 5.45.

And yes, I did truly appreciate the uninterrupted night's sleep. I did hear chunterings from Cherub's room, but was far too tired to worry about them. Isn't Angel a sweetie? I do hope she is not suffering too much after her long night. Cherub is making up for hers with a nice long nap this afternoon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 26th January

For Monday 26th January

Outside My Window ... dry and mild with a few patches of blue sky.

I am thinking ... that maybe I should take a leaf out of Michele's book and get a light box. The dull days and dark nights this winter have got to me more than usual.

From the learning rooms ... a Shakespeare workshop on Midsummer Night's Dream with a professional actor for Star.

I am thankful for ... my nice, fresh and clean looking living room.

From the kitchen ... crockpot beef and mushrooms.

I am wearing ... navy sweat pants, blue hooded top, warm hiking socks.

I am creating ... thick, woolly self-patterning socks. I have a sock obsession.

I am going ... back to IKEA to buy new lamps for the living room.

I am reading ... Nella Last's War (diary) and Catholics in England 1558-1829: a Social History

I am hoping ... a course of antibiotics will deal with the chest infection I'm struggling with.

I am hearing ... Cherub talking to her toys, and my brother sanding woodwork upstairs.

Around the house ... toy explosion. Mostly Playmobil and Duplo.

One of my favorite things ... summer holidays.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... rest and recuperation.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing ... our summer holiday destination

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Bakehouse Smiths

(Dear reader, if genealogy is not your thing, please do skip these posts. There are times when I use my blog as a catch all for information I want to keep. This is one of them.)

Before moving on to another genealogy post I need to fill in some background information. Virtually every relative of my father's from 1800 onwards was born in the village of Stewkley, in North Buckinghamshire. Both his parents were from Stewkley families, and there are a number of surnames that crop up on both sides of the family tree and in different generations - Faulkner, Mead, Chappell and Keen in particular. All were stalwarts of the Primitive Methodist community, and they tended to intermarry. Not surprisingly, relationships get complicated.

Looking back at Daniel and Sarah Smith jogged my memory and I remembered another Daniel Smith from my childhood. This second Daniel was another grandson of the old couple, and my grandfather's first cousin. Searching the 1911 census I found this:

  • Thomas Smith, age 35, baker
  • Elizabeth Smith, age 35
  • Louie Smith, age 13
  • May Smith, age 10
  • Daniel Smith, age 8
  • Annie Smith, age 6
  • William Smith, age 3
  • Nellie Smith, age 2 months
The father, Thomas Smith, was the younger brother of my great-grandmother Lizzie Ellen. My grandfather was close to his Smith cousins, and I remember three of them quite clearly - Aunt May, Uncle Dan, Uncle Bill and Aunt Nell. The name Aunt Louie rings bells, but I don't remember her, or Nell or Annie. We must have been particularly close to this branch of the Smith family because our families were doubly related. Uncle Dan married a Kathleen (Kath) Chappell, and Aunt Nell married Kath's brother, Edward (Ned) Chappell. Kath and Ned were my grandmother's first cousins. Those intermarriages!

I don't know at what stage Thomas Smith became the village baker - maybe the bakery grew out of Sarah Smith's grocery? - but it it was a trade inherited by his son and son-in-law. When I was a young child at school in Stewkley, I used to spend Friday afternoons at the "bakehouse", as it was known. School finished an hour early on Fridays, and I used to walk down to the bakehouse and spend some time there until my mother collected me. Aunt May's husband, Uncle Fred - I remember it being Uncle Fred, rather than Uncle Dan - would be mixing the dough and putting it to rise, presumably for an early morning baking. He would give me my own small piece to shape and take home. I treated that dough like playdough, and had a wonderful time with it ... but it meant my poor mother was always presented with an unattractive grey blob of dough, which she was then expected to cook. The bakehouse must have been a relic of the past even then. There were two rooms: the bakery, with a huge round electric mixer, wooden work surfaces and an old-fashioned brick oven; and the shop, with a red tiled floor and wooden shelves for the bread. After Uncle Dan and Uncle Fred died, the bakery closed. It was the end of an era. This picture of Uncle Dan delivering bread, c.1930, also comes from Stewkley in Camera. Like the photo of his grandparents, it was given to the editors by his wife.

I also remember Aunt May and Uncle Bill with particular affection. When I was a small child Aunt May used to look after me sometimes to give my mother a break. For some reason I was particularly attracted to her carpet, and used to like to crawl underneath it. When I was not much older than Little Cherub I was bridesmaid to her daughter, another Kathleen. Uncle Bill worked first for my grandfather on his farm, and later for my Dad. He married the local schoolmistress, but sadly they never had any children. After he died we inherited his dog Judy, a Border collie with a beautiful temperament. Every so often she used to take herself off to visit his widow, a mile or so up the road. Strangely, I had never clicked that Uncle Bill and Aunt May were brother and sister until I found them on the census.

Daniel and Sarah Smith

Jumping back a little from my last genealogy post to Daniel and Sarah Smith, the grandparents with whom my grandfather Rupert was living in 1911 ...

Daniel Smith was baptised at Stewkley on 17th November 1833, and he married Sarah Bates there on 24th October 1861. Piecing together the census and baptism records, it looks as though Daniel was the eldest of seven children of James and Sophia Smith. His father was a farm labourer, and in 1861, aged 61, he was listed as "infirm". In the same year Daniel's twenty year old brother John was also an agricultural labourer, and Daniel himself a drillman - another farm worker, but one who operated a seed drill. All the women in the family, from 59 year old Sophia down to 11 year old Sarah were straw plaiters, an occupation which deserves a post of its own.

In 1881 Daniel was an agricultural labourer. His household included six children - five sons ranging in age from two to seventeen, and a 16 year old daughter, Elizabeth, who was working as a general servant. Another daughter, Minnie, was born a couple of years later. It was Elizabeth ("Lizzie Ellen") who married Thomas Faulkner and became my great-grandmother. When my grandfather was born in 1897 it was Sarah Smith who registered the birth, and there is a note on the birth certificate saying she was present at the time. In 1901 Daniel's occupation is given as "labourer (own account)", as opposed to his 22 year old son Albert who was a "farm labourer (worker)". Sarah, now 62, was a grocer on her own account. Only the two youngest children, 22 year old Albert and 18 year old Minnie were still living at home.

I don't have any photos of my own of relatives further back than my grandparents, but I made a lucky find in a book of old photos from Stewkley, Stewkley in Camera - a picture of my great-great-grandparents Daniel and Sarah Smith. (There appears to be an error in the caption - it gives her maiden name as Elizabeth Bates, when it should be Sarah Bates.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

7 Quick Takes

--- 1 ---

We all have coughs and colds again - nothing major, just the winter snuffles, but irritating all the same. Cherub is pretty much over hers, but Angel is home sick today. Star is the only one without a cold, but still can't bend the thumb she hit with a hammer on Sunday. Don't ask.

--- 2 ---

If you were wondering what paint colour we settled on for the living room, the answer is Apricot White, which looks like a slightly peachy cream. Our first attempt was with Southern Stone, which instead of the warm, pale stone colour it looked on the tin, turned out to have a decidedly grey tinge.

--- 3 ---

I bought a couple of deep coloured cushions from IKEA with a square pattern in red, pink, rust and gold. With deep red curtains and some accessories to pick up the colours in the cushions, I'm hoping for a warm and cosy effect. For summer I'm thinking I can switch the curtains with 0ur old lightweight cream ones, find cushion covers in springlike colours and play with accessories to create a nice light and airy effect.

--- 4 ---

In our efforts to avoid the paint, Cherub and I have spent quite a bit of this week hanging out at my mother's. On Tuesday we got there while Grandma was out. I got Cherub a drink and she headed into the living room while I made myself a coffee. Seconds later, she shot out in a panic ... "there's a horrible animal in there! A horrible animal!" You would think after two and a half years she would have got used to the idea that Grandma has a cat.

--- 5 ---

Cherub definitely takes after Tevye. On another occasion she walked into Grandma's living room, looked round and announced "It's nice and tidy in here!". Unfortunately, her appreciation of tidiness doesn't extend to tidying up her toys.

--- 6 ---

I was given an amaryllis plant for Christmas. Ready planted, water once a week. Should be easy, shouldn't it? Nope. Too much of a challenge for my black thumbs. Two mistakes so far. (1) I didn't realise it was already planted. By the time we opened the box the poor thing was doing its best to grow in the dark but was pale and stunted. (2) I can't work out how or where I am supposed to water it. And anyway, what day of the week should I water it on? It is still showing faint signs of life, so I guess I should try.

--- 7 ---

The days are getting lighter. Not much yet, but enough to feel that spring may not be too far away. Can't. Wait.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Case of the Missing Grandfather

I promised some posts about my 1911 census trawl - if random bits of geneology do not interest you, please feel free to skip them.

I'm starting with my grandfather, Rupert Faulkner. Born in Stewkley in Buckinghamshire in 1898, he appeared on the 1901 census as a three year old. I know his name and age, his parents' names and those of his long list of brothers and sisters (he was one of eight children), so he should have been easy to find. I searched under his name and place of birth - not there. Another search turned up his father, Thomas Faulkner, so I viewed the household transcript. This is what I found:

  • Thomas Faulkner, age 46, general dealer
  • Ellen Faulkner, age 46, housekeeper
  • Henry Faulkner, son, age 19, (no occupation listed)
  • Ethel Faulkner, daughter, age 18, dressmaker
  • Alice Faulkner, daughter, age 16, help in home
  • Leonard Faulkner, son, age 15, assist father
  • Harold Faulkner, son, age 11, at school
  • Albert Faulkner, son, age 9, at school
  • Clara Faulkner, daughter, age 7, at school
No Rupert. Just a gap between the 11 and 15 year old brothers.

Fortunately, Rupert was not a common name even then, so I did another search for all Rupert Faulkners. There were only two in the entire census - one 12 year old living in Staffordshire and a 13 year old living in Winslow district, Buckinghamshire. The latter had to be the right Rupert, so I checked the transcript:
  • Daniel Smith, age 77, farm labourer
  • Sara Smith, age 74, work at home
  • Rupert Faulkner, grandson, age 13, school
So that was something I never knew. Of course, it could just be that he was spending the night there on the date of the census, but it seems more likely that Grandpa spent part of his childhood living with his grandparents. I'm sure a pair of extra hands and thirteen year old legs would have come in very useful for an elderly couple, and like most large families in those days his own home would have been full to bursting. Sending the boy to live with his mother's parents for a while would have been a good arrangement all round.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

1911 Census

Every now and then I dabble in genealogy. My mother at one time did a lot of research into both her own family and my father's. I am trying to fill in gaps, and also to find out more about Tevye's family.

In the UK censuses are held every ten years and the returns are made public after 100 years. The last census to be made available (for 1901) was the first to be accessible online, which is a boon to genealogists. Now ... ta da! ... the 1911 census has been released early and can be found here. Some counties are still being transcribed and a few pieces of sensitive information will not be available until the official release date of 2011, but there is plenty there for any one interested in British genealogy to get their teeth into.

I bought some credits, dug around for a while, and have made a few interesting discoveries. More to come later, I hope, when the the returns for North Yorkshire are available. I'm planning to share what I have found in some genealogical posts over the next week or two.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 19th January

For Monday 19th January

Outside My Window ... a mild winter evening.

I am thinking ... that I shall be glad when the living room painting is finished and domestic order restored. Our living room is open plan, so chaos here makes the whole house feel a mess.

From the learning rooms ... an information meeting last week about the summer camp Star hopes to go on this summer with her school. It is real, old fashioned camping - ridge tents, basic facilities, tent inspections, spud bashing ... and no mobile phones!

I am thankful for ... realising I hated the paint colour we chose before the second coat. Back to the samples. Fortunately the first coat will work well as an undercoat.

From the kitchen ... very little. I'm having to keep Little Cherub out of the house while my brother paints. The living room is so central that the only way to keep her out of it, and out of the paint, is to stay out all day.

I am wearing ... blue jeans, cream v-necked sweater, warm socks.

I am creating ... still the pink, stripy socks. I'm half way up the foot of the second sock, so they are nearly done.

I am going ... to stick with the Weight Watchers online. I lost two pounds last week and I am getting back into point counting routine surprisingly well.

I am reading ... Nella Last's War (diary) and Electric Universe by David Bodanis

I am hoping ... we get the paint choice right at the second attempt.

I am hearing ... Angel talking to Cherub who was yelling instead of sleeping.

Around the house ... dust (my brother has been sanding paintwork today), and piles of stuff that belong in the living room.

One of my favorite things ... hand-knitted socks. Comfy, unique, and fun to knit. I am a convert!

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... grocery shopping, toddler group and hanging out at my Mum's tomorrow; a trip out - maybe the farm or the zoo? - on Thursday; a "bring-a-course" Burn's Night meal with neighbours at the weekend.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing ...

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

Thursday, January 15, 2009

School Memories

Little Cherub's playgroup is in the grounds of a nearby lower school. Walking past classrooms full of children beginning their school day made me think back to my own early school days. I'm going to share some rather random memories of the village school I attended from ages 5 to 8. Compared to today's schools it was positively ante-diluvian...

** First two years in Mrs. H's class. Mrs. H was an old-fashioned teacher even in the 1960s. We sat in rows at proper little school desks and behaved very well - I think she must have been the sort of teacher that exercised effortless control. I don't remember any misbehaviour, but neither do I remember her being a disciplinarian. We had a spelling test every Friday, always with ten rhyming words (ten, men, when, then ...). Sums were worked in little exercise books and when we had finished we had to take them up to the teacher's desk to be marked. There were afternoon handcrafts (I still have a simple cross-stitch mat I made) and nature walks.

** A young, up-to-date teacher from Liverpool in the next class up. The classroom was larger and we got to move around more.

** Separate playgrounds for boys and girls. In winter the boys made lethal ice slides in theirs. As we had to walk through the boys playground to get to the school entrance (children could only use the back entrance, not the front), the girls slid on them on the way in and out.

** An outside toilet block. Ugh. Unheated and bitterly cold in the winter.

** Walking down to the village hall for lunch as there were no kitchen facilities at the school. Lunches were of the lumpy mashed potato, lumpy custard and eat everything on your plate or else variety. I remember that smushing vegetables and potato together made it more palatable, particularly if there was gravy. After a couple of years the school got a kitchen and meals were eaten in the hall. I think the "eat it or else" rule disappeared at this time.

** Annual May Day celebrations during which there was a display of may pole dancing in the village square. Every child in the school had to take part.

** A TV bought specially so that the whole school could watch the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales.

What are your earliest school memories?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

That Bookworm Mug

Where did I get the Bookworm mug pictured in my Daybook? It was a Christmas gift from Tevye, to finally expunge his guilt over my previous Bookworm mug, which he ... um ... smashed. He had looked everywhere for a replacement without success and ended up having the new one made. He found an online company where you choose from their selection of mugs and they print your chosen text onto it. Making my new Bookworm mug unique :).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

4 x 10 Book Challenge - Reading List

After trawling through my bookshelves and the library catalogue, I have put together my 4 x 10 Challenge reading list. I gave myself one rule ... everything on the list had to be available from the library or already on my shelves. I'm not planning to be dogmatic about sticking to the list - if something better comes along, I'll adjust as I go. The categories are rather eclectic, including "serendipity" for books that didn't fit anywhere else. (Yes, I know that's a cheat!)


William Wilberforce (William Hague)
The Last Man Who Knew Everything (Andrew Robinson)
Hildegard of Bingen: the Woman of Her Age (Fiona Maddocks)
Nella Last's War: the Second World War Diaries of Housewife 49 (ed. Richard Broad)

Children's Historical Fiction

Stars of Fortune (Cynthia Harnett)
The Marsh King (C. Walter Hodges)
Puck of Pook's Hill (Rudyard Kipling)
Knight Crusader (Ronald Welch)


A History of Hand Knitting (Richard Rutt)
Two-At-A-Time Socks (Melissa Morgan Oakes)
The Complete Guide to Scrapbooking (Sarah Beaman)
Out-of-Bounds: Scrapbooking Without Boundaries (Jodi Amidei and Torrey Scott)


All Must Have Prizes (Melanie Phillips)
Teach Me To Do It Myself (Maja Pitamic)
How To Foster Creativity in Young Children (Mary Mayesky)
How Children Learn: From Montessori to Vygotsky (Linda Pound)


The Saints' Guide to Happiness: Everyday Wisdom From the Lives of the Saints (Robert Ellsberg)
There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (Anthony Flew)
The Fathers of the Church (Mike Aquilina)
Three Cardinals: Newman, Wiseman, Manning (E.E.Reynolds)


Napoleon of Notting Hill (G.K.Chesterton)
The Friday Night Knitting Club (Kate Jacobs)
The Spear (Louis de Wohl)
Mansfield Park (Jane Austen)

Geography and Travel

A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveller (Jason Roberts)
Shadow of the Silk Road (Colin Thubron)
The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek (Barry Cunliffe)
Beatrix Potter At Home in the Lake District (Susan Denyer)


Paris: Biography of a City (Colin Jones)
Yiddish Civilisation: the Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation (Paul Kriwaczek)
The Road to Wigan Pier (George Orwell)
How We Built Britain (David Dimbleby)

Science and Nature

Electric Universe, David Bodanis
The Chemical Choir: a History of Alchemy, P. G. Maxwell-Stuart
The Planets (Dava Sobel)
The Secret Life of Trees (Colin Tudge)


Saints in the Landscape (Graham Jones)
Tales from Chaucer (Eleanor Farjeon)
The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less (India Knight)
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen (Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 12th January

For Monday 12th January

Outside My Window ... half light showing a wet, rainy morning. Temperatures rose yesterday and last week's snow and ice has melted.

I am thinking ... what colour to paint the living room (and hall, stairs and landing as our living room is open plan). Too many shades of creamy-beige neutrals to choose from.

From the learning rooms ... Angel did an online careers questionnaire at school last week. It suggested dancer, gym coach, PE teacher, physiotherapist and a few other health-related careers. All of which she has already considered and dismissed for some reason or other.

I am thankful for ... the opportunity to do some much needed work on our house this year.

From the kitchen ... banana shakes for breakfast; shipwreck stew for dinner; lemon cake to bake.

I am wearing ... blue jeans, blue hooded tops, blue hand knitted socks, beaten metal disc necklace.

I am creating ... pink, stripy socks.

I am going ... to try again with the Weight Watchers online points tracker. Last week it crashed on me and I gave up in disgust. Only five days free trial left!

I am reading ... 40 books for the 4 x 10 Book Challenge. Still haven't finished compiling my reading list, though.

I am hoping ... it stops raining as I want to walk to Homebase and buy some paint testers.

I am hearing ... Little Cherub talking to her toys.

Around the house ... cleaning to do. I have cooking, shopping and laundry pretty much cracked, but cleaning is my bugbear.

One of my favorite things ... watching Little Cherub with Angel and Star - her "big girls".

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... term time routine for the girls - school, dance and gym all in full swing; parents' meeting about a school summer trip Star is hoping to go on; tapas with Tevye on Friday evening.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing ... my new mug

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

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Off She Goes ...

... to playgroup, or as she insists on calling it "playschool". I'm not entirely sure what the American equivalent is, but guessing that Mother's Day Out is the closest. Playgroups take children from the age of two and a half up to four. Sessions last 2 1/2 hours, and children can go for up to five sessions a week, according to age - at Cherub's playgroup, under 3s are limited to two sessions a week, though Cherub is only going for one morning. For over 3s, playgroup places are government funded.

Playgroups are part of the state "early learning" educational system, so are supervised by inspectors and have to follow whatever the National Curriculum dictates. The idea of a "National Curriculum" for two year olds makes me want to scream ... but I have to admit that although I was very dubious initially, the new Early Years Stage that has just been introduced seems to have got a lot right. Essentially it is very similar to what I would expect to do at home for preschool. Learning is all supposed to be play based, with the children having free choice of what they want to do. The playgroup leaders have to observe the children, and spot opportunities to use the children's chosen activities to develop various aspects of learning. They are trying to replicate the sort of thing that happens naturally at home when parents are tuned into their children - so, for example, a child might choose to play a game which could then be used to encourage sharing and taking turns, to teach counting, or colours, or matching, and so on. As I understand it the helpers can suggest and encourage children to try activities, but not direct (no "you must play a game now"). This new "curriculum" is great for the children, but very hard work for the adults working with them, who not only have to tune into the individual needs of many children without having a parent's intimate knowledge of them, but have to document everything in minute detail.

Little Cherub loved her first session yesterday - all those lovely toys! She is very timid with people she doesn't know, but because K-next-door was there she was quite happy for me to leave. She won't have anything to do with any of the other adults yet, and if it wasn't for K working there I doubt we would have considered playgroup until she was older. She spent quite some time pottering in the home corner, played with dinosaurs in the sand and with the dolls' house, made a pasta necklace (of which she is very proud), fetched her own snack and cleared away afterwards, played a board game with K and some other children, and trotted out at the end very pleased with herself and asking to go again.

And as for me, I had two hours alone at home in which to start picking up the threads of my long ignored book. Happiness all round!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cold Snap

The last few days have been very cold, with temperatures of zero and below (centigrade, that is, so high twenties / low thirties farenheit) and Sunday night's inch of snow has stayed around.

For the entertainment of those of you used to colder climes, here are a couple of multiple-choice questions ...

What should one do when the driveway and road are turning into an ice rink?

(a) Get a shovel and clear them
(b) Use that bag of salt kept in the garage for just such circumstances
(c) Put snow chains on the tyres
(d) Park two streets away where there is a clear piece of road

What is the best thing to use to defrost car windows?

(a) De-icer spray
(b) An ice scraper
(c) A jug of water
(d) An empty CD case

The answer to both questions is (d). We are sadly unprepared for real winter weather. The bag of salt ran out a few years ago and never got replaced. We don't possess a shovel (we used to! where did it go?). We stopped bothering with de-icer spray or ice scrapers when we realised a jug of water does the job quickly and easily, but slipping and sliding all the way to the distantly parked car clutching a jug didn't seem all that practical. It's a good job we don't live in Alaska.

Last year Little Cherub was very wary of snow, but has moved on ... when she woke up and found snow on Monday she couldn't wait to get out there. "It's 'nowing! I want to make 'now balls! I want to go outside NOW!!!!". Her normal timidity asserted itself over snowmen, though. She watched The Snowman before Christmas, and was worried that any snowman could potentially come to life and pay her a visit ... "I not want to make 'nowman. I don't want 'nowman to come in my house!"

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

4 x 10 Book Challenge

I have been inspired by Meredith at Sweetness and Light (who got the idea from Painted Rainbows and Chamomile Tea) to take up this challenge - read forty books, four in each of ten different subject areas. The aim is supposed to be to read them in a year, but I'm looking for a fun way of structuring a reading list and not to put myself under pressure, so I'm not going to give myself a target. They will get read when they get read.

I'm working on my list of books, and will post it later.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook: 5th January

For Monday 5th January

Outside My Window ... a light dusting of snow.

I am thinking ... I must check the central heating timer. The heating stayed on later than it should last night and didn't switch itself on until after Tevye got up this morning.

From the learning rooms ... Angel is back to school today. Star goes back tomorrow.

I am thankful for ... the way God always provides what we need when we need it, often in unexpected ways.

From the kitchen ... left-over smoked salmon for lunch, chicken stir fry for dinner.

I am wearing ... blue winter pyjamas.

I am creating ... fingerless mittens.

I am going ... to take Little Cherub to playgroup for an induction session. She will be going for one morning a week this term. K-next-door is the manager, so she has visited a few times and it should be home from home for her. She has been insisting that K must "talk me about playgroup" for months, but in typical Little Cherub style is now getting cold feet. She tends to be very wary of anything new.

I am reading ... still reading On Brick Lane by Rachel Lichtenstein. Jewish East End history fascinates me, as Tevye was one of the last generation to grow up there.

I am hoping ... to get myself into gear counting Weight Watchers points this week. I decided to use the two week free trial for their online programme. I know WW works well for me and helps me get into the habit of making better food choices.

I am hearing ... Tweenies on TV. Little Cherub is engrossed in watching them make percussion instruments.

Around the house ... everything back to normal after the Christmas and New Year holiday. I took the tree and decorations down last night.

One of my favorite things ... spending time with family and friends over the holidays.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... nothing special, just back to the normal term time routine.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing ... New Year's Day bowling

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

Saturday, January 03, 2009

7 Quick Takes Saturday

I know it should be 7 Quick Takes Friday, but I seem to have been a day behind all week!

For more quick takes, visit Jen at Conversion Diary.

-- 1 --

Elizabeth at Frabjous Days shared her Christmas menu and was intrigued by variations. Here is ours:
Turkey with chestnut and cranberry stuffing
Veggie burger / veggie fingers for the non-meat eaters (neither wanted anything more exotic)
Bread sauce
Cranberry sauce
Roast potatoes
Roast parsnips
Creamed swede
Brussels sprouts

Christmas pudding with custard, brandy butter and cream
Apple pie with custard and cream (for the non-Christmas pudding eaters)
-- 2 --

Recommended gifts if you want to encourage physical activity ... swingball and Eye Toy Sports, though the latter is perhaps a little much for stiff, middle-aged mothers. Horse racing over jumps nearly finished me.

-- 3 --

On New Year's Eve I took the two older girls to see Inkheart, the film of the book by Cornelia Funke - none of us had read it, but I thought we would enjoy it as we liked The Thief Lord, based on another of her books. I was right. We did enjoy it. The film has whetted my appetite to tackle her Inkheart / Inkspell / Inkdeath trilogy. If anyone has read them, I'd be interested to hear comments.

-- 4 --

One of our family traditions is to go bowling on New Year's Day with our neighbours and people from their Church. Little Cherub was delighted to get "special 'oos" for the first time as her feet are now big enough for bowling shoes. Just. It needed the velcro fastening at its limit to keep them on her narrow little feet.

-- 5 --

Thanks to some Christmas money Angel was able to buy herself a much anticipated new mobile phone. After registering the phone and transferring her number we now know why her pay-as-you-go credit always seemed to last a long time and why she seemed to get a lot of random free texts. She is still on a "five free texts a day" package we all thought had expired long ago. So far as we can see, she could send five texts a day forever and never pay a thing, providing she keeps her existing number. Calls are ludicrously expensive, but given that she rarely makes any and relies almost entirely on texts, she is very happy!

-- 6 --

I thought the novelty of pulling decorations off the Christmas tree would wear thin after a few days. I was wrong. Little Cherub is still busily scattering them ... and rearranging the nativity set. The only figure left upright this morning is an angel. An angel she found on the tree, that is. The angel that belongs to the set disappeared before Christmas.

-- 7 --

Happiness is ... Star finding a large cuddly penguin she has been coveting for weeks in the sale for £2. She is a spheniscophile. (I thought I made that word up, but when I googled it I found others got there before me.)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year Resolutions 2009

I found it hard to narrow down my resolutions down to five this year, but after some thought I ended up with these:


  • Go to adoration and benediction as often as possible on Saturday morning. As it is only for half an hour and fits in neatly after the First Communion class I teach, it should be quite easy to do.
  • To respond to needs and requests promptly, rather than saying "just a minute" (and then taking five ... or ten ... or more)
  • Lose 20lbs
  • Finish the half-written book on Catholic history for children that has been left on hold since Little Cherub was born
  • Finish three large cross-stitch projects that have been 95% done for years (two of them since before Angel was born!)