Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Feels unremarkable

We haven't done much remarkable lately. The five-year-old is learning to read, fairly organically. The seven-year-old is reading voraciously, a mixture of Enid Blyton and non-fiction and things she finds lying around. The one-year-old can stand on tiptoe and almost jump.

Weirdly, I haven't read to the older two for AGES. I'd like to, but I am not sure how to invite them to join me; they are always so BUSY. We've done a bit of cooking together, housework, adding up and measuring. I've been teaching the eldest the tricks of spelling and mental arithmetic, mainly when I'm too busy to go and help her "properly" but it all seems to help.

Biology continues to fascinate. I guess just having a body is interesting in itself. Certainly the one-year-old likes getting her clothes out of the way and having a good explore.

They've been interested to see how potplants revive when watered after a prolonged period of neglect. And how mould grows in damp places. Educational housework. Heh.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Photos instead of a post

Painting on big boards with acrylics, to make a playhouse / room divider. This is the door.
We made a 12-hour train-and-ferry journey and had to bring the water bottles and tea stirrers all the way home because as soon as the tea stirrers were spotted, the five-year-old wanted to make this. With enough stickytape, she can make ANYTHING.
Reading goggles. Right.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

My Pals Are Here

We went out today, on a train, only an hour late. It has been difficult to go out for ages now, so I was pleased we managed it. No-one had any kind of major meltdown, though because it was to a new place no-one was very sociable either. It won't be new next time, so that's ok.

And then we came home and Linnea started in on My Pals Are Here 1B (workbook part 2). She seems to be enjoying it.

On the way home from our trip out we saw a proper classic toadstool, with a hemispherical red top covered in little white spots. Sadly, my phone is dead and I forgot the old camera, so I took a very bad picture with my ancient phone and it's not good enough to upload. But it was lovely to see anyway.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


Last night was the end of a very hot day - 29C or so, the first of October! And it was a cloudless night, so at bedtime, instead of sending everyone to bed, we brought them out for a walk around the block and into the (dark, unlit) playground. I actually think we'd have seen more stars from our back garden but it wouldn't have been as exciting.

We saw patterns, some of which we could name and some we couldn't; the children saw their own patterns, and then Linnea lay on the ground and just looked, until she couldn't any more, and gave up. There's something overwhelming about a sky full of stars, how far away they are and how many there are and how clearly we seem to be able to see them - when actually what we see isn't anything like what's really there, the freezing expanses and the burning masses and the warm summer wind settling on our bare skin while we're down on the dewy grass. The juxtaposition is too much.

So today we bought a diary and she's writing one-word entries only about the happy things in each day.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


(For The Friday Club)

I've been actively decluttering since before the first baby was born to this house.

You can't tell.

But actually, you can, if you used to know what it looked like before. Two adults filled three bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen and a garden shed, and still kept a lot of stuff up in the attic. Now we are two adults and three children, and we have two bedrooms for family use, and a spare room for guests which has a place (only one, but a place) for them to unpack their stuff, if there isn't much stuff, and more room to move in the downstairs rooms than we used to.

It's partially because children NEED more space to move. Their time at home isn't spent sitting still in their house doing things, it's spent moving around their house doing things. They need space to run and dance and spread stuff out on the floor to glue, and enough room to open the front of the dollhouse, and they also need the same sleeping and wardrobe space the adults need, more or less.

So we have gradually decluttered, while never feeling in the least minimalist. We found FLYlady very helpful, if also very enraging, and FreeCycle (now Freegle) has also helped a lot -- we even decluttered the garden shed that way, and someone came to disassemble it. Someone with a phobia of spiders, unfortunately; I helped chase the big ones away. Now the playhouse lives on the foundations the shed used to rest on, and we have a small garden storage cupboard for all the other stuff - and we're about to get an even smaller one, and get rid of even more things. We don't garden enough to need proper grownup gardening kit.

We even got rid of books. Hundreds of books. Metres and metres of books. We went through a phase of leaving a box of books out on the footpath most weekends, a few years ago. Now we've filled the space back up with picture books, encyclopaedias, activity books, cookbooks, poetry books... children's books.

IKEA helps a lot. I might make a separate home-educating-the-IKEA-way post at some point. It's a bit silly how much IKEA stuff we have specifically for dealing with home ed kit.

We got an LCD type TV after reading about several children who were crushed by falling televisions, usually at Christmas; our old TV was a bought-in-his-youth one and weighed slightly more than he does, or as much as I did at the height of my most ginormous pregnancies. That freed up space in the room, and covering it with a big painting made it look visually freer, too.

Clothes with years of wear in them yet are harder. A lot of our clothes aren't quite good enough for a charity shop to sell, but much too good to get rid of. And don't fit. This is particularly true of the kids' clothes, but we have a sort of system of filing them in the attic in boxes labelled by age, and if I ever decide I've finished having babies, I'll give them away (and have another, I assume; that's how it usually works, isn't it?). We do haul them out as the younger two grow into them.

Another big clutter is artwork. The children's artwork is almost impossible to part with. Mine I can just sell or give away, but theirs... it's more difficult. The grandparent on one side has a total of 11 grandchildren, and a limited capacity to treasure art forever and ever and ever, and on the other side they like to take maybe two or three pieces every so often. That's not enough. We are still left with cases and boxes and envelopes of art, ranging from the magnificent to the developmentally interesting. I have a soft spot for keeping originals, too. How do I teach my heart to part with children's art?

And on that note I must depart. In a cart. Don't start...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Not much to blog about

We've had a good time lately. We did lots with fractions - L has been adding fractions in her head for a while without being clear on how she did it, and we did it on paper so she could see what was going on. We finally made it back to the library and got some new books, and somewhere there's a diagram of clementine segment skins under a microscope. Pocketmoney maths is big but complicated.

And we had haircuts, to cover up the look of the most recent self-cutting attempts. I don't much mind them cutting their own hair, any more; my biggest objection was when one of them cut the other's hair, but since I cut my own hair, and theirs, I don't care much if they do it too.

But it's nice that I didn't have to, this time. And they all enjoyed the unaccustomed use of a hairdryer.

Monday, September 19, 2011


We did an oil-and-water experiment today. The children wanted to do something a bit structured, so we got the balance, found a couple of identical cups and weighed them, and poured equal volumes of oil and water into each one. Then we weighed them. Then we poured them together and mixed them up. And put a lid on and turned it over. And dyed it with food colouring. And got very excited about drawing pictures about it. And...

It was all such a success that we did the thing I read on Patch of Puddles about bowls of hot, body temperature, and cold water. They are still doing that, as far as I know; I have fled the splash zone myself.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hunter gathered

The conkers were from the park and the figs are from the end of our road. We are assuming it's a fig tree; we haven't asked the homeowner whose tree it is, but online searches and asking friends seems to show it most likely is. We're not going to try eating them, though.

Stuff grows. This is constantly amazing to us.

Tomato plants

Emer is loving this - we eat blackberries and nasturtium petals straight away in the garden, but we bring orange tomatoes into the house and leave them on the kitchen windowsill to riped, and then we eat them with actual real live meals. Well, not live meals. But anyway. Yesterday we served some up in salad for her grandparents.

I call them "Emer's tomatoes" because she helped plant and water them and took a general interest in growing things, this year. We're all very impressed with how much better tomato plants did in their current location than in the previous ones we tried. We'll probably plant them there again next year, possible in the cold frame which we can just remove, unless I can figure out some way of building a greenhouse onto the end of the little playhouse.

Friday, September 09, 2011


I woke up grumpy today. Then I got grumpier, because there was water in the balance, under a teatowel, which spilt on the laptop. Then I got even grumpier because of all the poo I had to clean up.

Everything is a learning opportunity, however, and at lunchtime I had to write up the following sentences to explain what I'd just saidshouted:

I will probably be a lot nicer after I have eaten Linnea.

I will probably be a lot nicer after I have eaten, Linnea.

Turns out Linnea already knew the difference and could read them properly inflected, but she appreciated the joke, and it cheered us all up.

Briefly, because my headache didn't go away and I still had flat-pack to assemble. But.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Back to school

I almost got up and started in on housework this morning, but I heard the children playing a complicated game downstairs and forced myself to stay in bed until 10am. I drank my coffee and listened to the radio, though I can't now say what was on it, and re-read a Georgette Heyer very slowly. Then I got up and did housework and child-cleaning and got them out to storytime at the library and so on.

It turns out that the game they were playing this morning, and again after dinner this evening, was Homeschool, and they want me to correct their homework in the morning.

Rightio so.


The courgette isn't very big but if you click on the second picture you'll see that the plant all but dwarfs the apple tree... Emer is very proud and already looking forward to chopping them up!

From Who teaches whom?

Sunday, September 04, 2011

New term! September! New year! In an alternate universe, Linnea is in something like Year Three, I think, and Emer is starting Year One. Actually, they are nothing of the kind, but it sometimes helps to remember what we'd be doing if they were, sometimes. Linnea recently read her first Young Adult novel - a friend had just finished Anna Carey's The Real Rebecca and was going to lend it to me, but Linnea got there first. She really, really enjoyed it, and although it took her longer to read than most of her books - that is, more than one sitting - she persevered over little bursts of reading over several days, and finished it all. She hasn't told me what it's about or what about it she enjoyed, but she kept going back for more and wants us to buy it. Emer is getting more and more like a pre-reader, though I may have the technical terms wrong. She is reading some words and can recognise all the letters and write some things, but isn't reading sentences or anything yet. I've offered to do regular reading practice with her but she's not interested. Astrid can walk, and says all SORTS of things which we know are real words, and today Rob saw her spearing pasta with a fork and feeding herself with it. So that's nice. I wonder what we'll do this year?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ramona Forever!

Linnea and I are having a wonderful time. I mean, she's ill, and on antibiotics which mean we have to seriously schedule her eating opportunities, but she found a Ramona book (Beverly Cleary) and liked it, so I've been ordering the rest from Abebooks and when they arrive we pounce on them, argue over who gets to read it first, talk about them - it's a wonderful, wonderful experience.

She also sat with me today to watch a signed story and we both loved it.

And she has been learning, of her own accord and with great determination, to do the laundry. Sorting loads is still tricky - we had to do a colour-run remover session yesterday. But even so.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Same ole same ole

Not a lot happens, in home education. We live our lives. We got a new toy - Fraction Cubes - and Linnea is learning to add fractions with more accuracy than she had before. We have been drawing plans of the upstairs of our house, so that we are ready for the Great Bedroom Shift, when we rearrange so that what was planned as a two-adult bedroom arrangement is turned into a two-adults-and-three-children arrangement, rather than a series of bodge jobs, as it has been.

Managing change creatively is one of my biggest challenges. Linnea resists change, hard, and is upset and alarmed by it, pretty often. Emer is learning this from her, though it's not as serious, it's just mimicry. So things like getting them to help draw up the plans on A2 paper with oil pastels can make a huge difference. As can doing the change gradually and where they can see every stage of it.

We started today, by getting rid of things to make space. It went ok.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New resources!

I just discovered Khan Academy. Given that the seven-year-old spent today wandering around saying stuff like "I want to do number bonds!" and has been craving what I think of as tedious repetition in maths, this is brilliant. One grows tired of setting these things oneself and for some reason long sheets with dozens of exercises on a page don't appeal to her, she wants dozens of exercises but no more than three to a page, if you see what I mean.

Emer found it dull, though. Emer, in fact, has been wondering whether she might like to start school. We Shall See. Now that Linnea is getting actual sleep almost every night, instead of having prolonged anxiety attacks, or attacks of anxiety, rather, we have far more options available to us.

Emer's big thing of the day was reading to me. She read me almost all of a Big Bear, Little Bear book - she has it almost word-perfect, which makes me think she's genuinely reading some of the words as memory-joggers. I hassled and harassed her big sister into performing "reading" for me, and it's lovely to see it happening naturally for Emer, now that I've learned to leave well alone.

And Astrid can take one step, and says "Up" and "Ush" (push) and all our names and everything.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


A quick check in conversation shows that both my children understand quite a bit about fractions. I must try to find some slices-of-pie toys for them to play with.

I'm not sure when it becomes important to bring manipulating fractions from conversation to working on paper. I remember learning how to do it at school but not what I already knew.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Tell me again why I think this is a good idea?

Days like today are so tiring. Things didn't go the way I wanted, and I repeatedly wished I could just hand at least one child over to someone else for six hours a day, to someone who was at least being PAID to be at odds with her. If I could get rid of all of them for a while, at least I could stare at the wall and drink tea.

But of course that's not the real right answer.

It's tough right now. I have two school-age children with very different social and academic needs and preferences, and balancing them is extremely challenging. They go through emotionally difficult patches at different times, to different intensity levels, and part of my job is to keep one child's traumas from having a serious impact on the other children, without neglecting the needs of the upset child, either. Meeting the enthusiasms of two people at once, while meeting the needs of an almost-toddler, is tricky, too. I'm not sure whether dealing with upset or interest is harder, actually. One of each is hardest, I think.

I'm beginning to think that I need to be more scheduled, because something in me says that a schedule makes everything easier. But will it? If I'm getting 5-6 hours sleep in 3-4 chunks on a good night, will scheduling my day really make that much difference?

I have a week of solo parenting coming up now. I might try to use the time to figure out where I'm going wrong.

I mustn't forget to bring the cardboard mobius strip in from the garden, either. It's huge, and it will rot in the rain.

Friday, July 01, 2011

TWO! Two reading children!

Aha! My eldest reads like crazy, though we are now beginning to keep up with her intake ok, but the middle child didn't much want to until lately. It turns out that in spite of not wanting to she can read the names of almost all the characters in the "Floppy books" (Oxford Reading Tree) and a few things like "a," "the," "and," etc.

I have bought a bunch of Key Stage materials so that I have some idea of what other people will expect them to know. Looks like they know pretty much most of it and I can see about filling in the gaps if that looks appropriate. We Shall See.

There's nothing in there about their areas of special interest, though, because I got the stuff in WHS. Human Anatomy, Sewing, Growing Food, and Cooking aren't part of the under-sevens tested standards, it seems - literacy and numeracy are the big ones.

Ah well. I've never been very big anyway.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ooh, evidence!

Because of our careless, happy go lucky, parentally disinterested take on education - um, or possibly child-led, it all depends - we don't often have clear evidence of what the children know or don't know.

But we happened to see the back of a book Linnea was reading to Emer the other day, "Until I Met Dudley," and it said Key Stage Two, so although it's a Baby Book by their lights, I can confidently say she's reading at the right Key Stage. And then later she made interconnected words with Bananagrams letters, and it turns out she does know the alphabet by heart, though she only ever sings it "wrong", presumably because that's funnier.

I have no idea what stage she's at mathematically but I expect I'll find a way to figure it out soon enough.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where are we at, educationally?

It's hard to say. Today we harvested potatoes, and began making a costume for a Roman soldier, and I introduced Linnea to the concept of a radius and a compass (though, as with most of my maths-doing life, I didn't have a compass and I used string and two pencils instead).

Linnea is a confident reader and has that thing of mispronouncing a huge range of words because she's only ever read them at breakneck speed and never heard them spoken. She still prefers to read only NICE things though, not SCARY things.

I don't know where she's at mathematically; I vaguely intend to see if she'll do some workbook stuff sometime soon. She's perfectly capable of basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but I've only tested it in context, not when it's fairly abstract. She likes fractions, as written-down-numbers; they're quite cool. Concentric circles are also cool. And weighing out a 30g portion of Rice Crispies was educational.

Emer is beginning to read a very little, but only a very little. She's confident at counting and all sorts of number manipulation up to ten, but a lot less confident up to twenty. I haven't a notion which shapes she can name.

Astrid today said "Down!" when she wanted to get down. And she's almost walking. She stands there, not holding on to anything, and tries really hard to lift one foot without unbalancing - then she decides that's IMPOSSIBLE and stops trying.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Behaviour management

Incidentally, it's twenty past eleven at night and the seven-year-old is running up and down her bedroom in the dark. She's been going for about fifteen minutes so far and isn't slowing down.

A photo for this week: Emer and Astrid

Behaviour management

It's so hard to figure out how to make people want to cooperate so that we can achieve the things they want to achieve. But I'm getting better at it.

Getting L out of bed and out of the house with no time to spare - no time to get absorbed in something - is key. Bringing her water and food and helping her get dressed helps a lot. It's impossible to get to her before she starts reading, so gradually interrupting that until she's out the door works well.

Then she takes off at a run.

She revealed to me on Saturday that she likes being early for her swimming lesson. She zoomed there on her scooter, swam, played while her sister was in the next lesson, then we spent 45 minutes in the playground, so she was almost able to sit still at lunchtime...

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Growing Potatoes

We had fun growing potatoes this year. We haven't finished yet - there's another bagful to harvest - but so far Emer and I have set seeds potatoes out in the sun to harden up the eyes, planted them, earthed them up, kept them watered, gently harvested the first batch with fingertips in the soil, pulled up the whole thing a week later for the last few, and examined the plant afterwards. Emer was very taken with the shriveled ex-potato surrounded by roots covered in tiny weeny baby potatoes.

I've already put us on the list to do it again next year. It should remind me to buy more potato seeds too, because growing them in bags is brilliant for me - we can just harvest a bagful when we want to, and we'll always know where they are and how many are left. And empty bags fold down for storage, of course.

Emer was impressed by sieving flour. I wonder what she'll think of sieving compost, come the autumn?

Operation "be a decent parent" is go

I started the day in a foul temper and screaming. Well, not started, but one mockery-and-taunting from a disobedient child was enough to get me there, when usually I can act like a grownup.

However, I wrote out a recipe for French Toast and Linnea did almost all the lunchmaking - I handled the hot frying pan, and Emer cut up the bread, but Linnea found the ingredients and utensils, mixed the lunch, etc.

The list of ingredients she got was as follows:

Bread - 2 pieces per person
Eggs - 1 per person
Milk - 2 tablespoons per egg
Oil - enough to fry in

She argued a bit about whether Astrid counts as a person, then figured it out and measured everything up. She didn't even make that much mess, by comparison with some grownups I've cleaned up after. It was a roaring success and we'll do it again.

Dealing with her querying what is healthy and what is not is harder. She also asked me "What foods make you fat?" to which I could only answer "Nothing makes me fat, I don't have the kind of body that gets very fat."

I also searched the online library catalogue with her and we've requested seven books which I expect will be waiting for us next time we go.

And we all did a bit of yoga, after our respective fashions, and that was ok.

Hairbrushing hasn't happened yet though. I kind of dread that one.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A month?!

No-one would have believed it a decade ago but I have hardly touched a computer for weeks. I haven't opened the laptop for well over a week. The battery was so flat I thought it might be broken.

But I had to Freegle some stuff yesterday so I needed the laptop today to arrange collections.

And what are we doing?

Well, we have a new kitchen. The baby is ten months old. The garden is springy and the big girls are doing amazing things.

My eldest is reading voraciously. She's a rereader for comfort, as I always have been, and ploughs through four hundred pages in an afternoon if the text is familiar. The middle child is painting up a storm and several rainbows, lots of houses, etc, and cutting all sorts of brilliant shapes out of paper. The baby today took the globe part of our small-globe-on-a-stand and put it carefully on top of an empty margarine tub, then picked the lot up and showed it to me.

And I am seriously considering making either terrifyingly pretentious or very cool art. I can't tell which it is yet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not a bloggy week

I haven't even opened the laptop much.

My eldest child is reading voraciously - comic strips still, and little Usborne or Ladybird fact books. My middle child is keen on gardening, and things are coming along nicely there. I sprained my ankle failing to fall onto my youngest child, though I did have to drop her to achieve even that. We visited grandparents and adult cousins, and were visited ourselves in turn.

I've been really tired, probably because of low-level pain, and I feel a need to get some sort of plan together to prevent myself from slacking off with the child involvement after Easter. I've ordered a bigger swingset and a bunch of books, mainly for the children but including "Raising your spirited child" for myself. Just to see. Also another 35 litre box for Lego storage. And Rob has ordered me my very own Lego set - a house I've failed to build to my satisfaction using what we already have.

I want to start Five in a Row again, at least offer it to the four-year-old. And I'd like to make sure we do some art every day - though they draw every day, we don't always do Proper Art, messy stuff, and we all miss it. And I'd like to read to them in a more structured way, now that I have at least one child who will ALLOW me to read to her and one who can't stop me. And there are sundry little things I want to do - we're growing our own food a weeny bit, and we might bake again, but they do at least cook with us a lot, but I'd like to make them a sun-oven and bake bread in it, and use the water-butt to make a garden sprinkler, and show them how to build a tap (faucet for Americans). It's not appropriate to show them how to build a fire at the moment, there's nowhere reasonable to put one. Perhaps we can make candles, though.

I also need to order more maths workbooks. I'm not sure what though.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

In pictures: Spring this past week

Fruit bushes growing where we planted dead sticks

Flowers where we planted bulbs

Lego coming down from the attic like a plague of locusts, covering everything

Old dinosaur-excavation toys with bonus demonic goggles

Yogo is like yoga but for children, apparently: This is a still of "lightning."

Jam sandwiches, sewing, and Harriet Tubman


The older two decided that all three girls should wear matching dresses and tights - to match one another's, not with regard to the composition of the outfit - and we went to storytime at the library

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Today was horrible and miserable and we did nothing we planned. I cried my eyes out in Hyde Park. But. They gathered magnolia petals and watched mandarin ducks, great crested grebes, coots, moorhens, and (mating) squirrels. One squirrel fell out of the tree, even.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


They enjoyed filling it in, and both put their religion as Girls' Brigade, which is a new one on me. Astrid's address a year ago was listed as INSIDE PERSON 1 and I felt a pang for the babies who don't appear at all.

We had an interesting discussion on why you need to know who is in a place and what they do, and I suppressed various rants.

The other things we did today were... they went to see Little Red Robin Hood and we planted various things, watered things in pots, and moved stuff around for best sunshine.

They're writing books and creating forms for us to fill in for the Emerland and Linnealand censuses.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Time like now when I'm alone
I think of passing time
The everlasting afternoon
From when I was a child

The endless summers drifting past
The days rolled out like dough
The time to play and sleep and be
That every child should know

And time like now when I'm alone
I look back through our day
And I can see that sometimes we
Can use our time that way

This morning there was building
And tickling on the floor
And opening the parcels
The post brought to the door

This morning there was dancing
And someone sang a song
And breakfast and a comic book
And hanging laundry wrong

This morning there was washing clothes
And washing dishes clean
And making messes, wearing dresses
Drawings of in-between

This morning there was sunshine
And wiggling toes in grass
This morning reached this afternoon
And took sun-hours to pass.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Suddenly wondering

Do other people's home educating methods seem far more attractive than yours? Do other people's children seem far better-behaved and better-educated than yours? Do other parents seem more patient than you, other homes cosier and less squalid?

Or is it just us?

Hasty gardening

I need to take a bunch of photos of our plants, but I'm not getting around to it.

Various flowers have turned up from the bulbs we planted last year. The apple tree and fruit bushes are doing ok, in spite of the raspberry bush having been uprooted; the others are ok and the raspberry might well survive. You never know.

The pots on the table in the bay window are all looking full of life and enthusiasm.

The potatoes from http://www.potatoesforschools.org.uk/ are chitted but we don't have quite enough compost to plant them yet because we used it for other things. I'll buy more compost soon and plant them. The milkman delivers compost, for some reason.

We have yet to chop up the tree we removed to make space for the apple tree, and we have yet to build the cold frame.

But I went out and found a major disaster zone today, so Emer and I spent a while tidying sticks while Linnea was clearing the bricks away from the base of the tree ("to stop it blowing over!") and we are now no further backwards than we were on Friday, four days ago. We had a full and frank discussion about watering, too, and why pouring 10-litre buckets onto tiny areas isn't the wisest course.

I love the verb "to chit."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Friday Club: Passing on my values to my children

I haven't blogged much this past week, but the Friday Club prompt is ‘Ethics and activism’ which is very me, really.

We're not what I usually consider religious, but I do hold strong views and strict morals, in my own way, and I have put a certain amount of effort into figuring out how to influence my children to behave in ways I consider morally right and to avoid behaving in ways I consider morally reprehensible.

One of the things we've done to help us with this is start attending Quaker Meeting most weeks, locally. A religion that lets atheists in helps, as far as I'm concerned, and it's a hotbed of ethical and political activism - it's one of the few places where I'm not on the outside extreme edge.

What do I do? I try to be mindful of the fact that we share the planet with billions of other people and cause as little damage to it and them as possible.

Ethical consumerism. We buy our groceries primarily from the http://www.truefood.coop/, which helps us make sure we're getting local, organic, or Fair Trade goods, in general. They also do post-consumer recycled toilet paper and printer paper, and various other non-food things.

When Linnea hit an age to be useful in a sweat-shop I went along the high-street and asked for the shops' policies on ethical sourcing. No-one does it, basically, but H&M and John Lewis both have written policies about their supply chain, saying nothing about slave labour but promising that they don't source from anyone using children under 12 or 14. So we buy a lot of clothes second-hand or from http://www.bishopstontrading.co.uk/, because having my children wear things which might have been made by children their own age bothers me enormously.

We don't drive. We walk, or get the bus, or cycle - we have a tricycle which, when it's in good repair and my SPD is ok, can carry two children and an adult in the passenger box, or two children and a baby in a carseat, or three children.

We donate to charity and give money to buskers and beggars - the latter mainly so that the children see us giving something to someone, since charity donations are mainly done via online banking, which isn't visible to a four-year-old, but I do have a history of feeding homeless people even when I'm not doing it for show, so I don't feel too hypocritical about it.

We vaccinate, to keep people who can't be vaccinated safe, and when we're ill we warn people before seeing them, so that they can decide whether or not to be exposed to our germs. We fine-comb for headlice and tell people if we get those, too. We teach our children how soap breaks down germs and why they must wash with soap if they want to kill germs, though water is fine for just making things look clean. We don't use antibacterial this and bleach that.

The children tagged along when I was a Helper for the Breastfeeding Network, almost every week for two years, and when we volunteered at the food co-op, and when we shoveled snow off the paths and did shopping for neighbours the last two winters.

We take a general interest in what goes on around us, and the children have seen us write letters, volunteer for hours in various contexts, or just follow the news vocally. They are exposed to our ideas on slavery, sexism, xenophobia, selfishness, oppression, rats, cats and elephants, all the time. I have a lot of opinions to go around.

And it seems to sort of work. At least, it worked for my mother, though I don't think she predicted I'd be quite as rabid as I turned out. And my daughter stopped being vegetarian when presented with sausage rolls... but I still think some of it sinks in.

Time will tell. At least, I tell myself, I tried.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Friday Club: A favourite childhood memory

The Friday Club

I did this last week, sort of, so I thought I'd do it again.

My favourite childhood memory is a bit tricky to pin down. There are the ones I, as an adult, approve most strongly of - my mother teaching me hopscotch using chalk on the kitchen quarry tiles, and a shoe-polish tin full of dirt; watching my mother dig a drain outside the house to reduce the damp in the downstairs bedroom; times she made us feel special and cared-for when we were ill or she chose something just for us because she knew us well. But those somehow don't quite cut it.

What actually does, what lives like a memory and is called to mind involuntarily and makes me happy and excited and peaceful, is a quality of weather.

I don't have a very good vocabulary for weather, so this could be difficult.

There's a particular kind of morning - pretty early, definitely no later than 9:30 am - when it's not hot, and not wet, and I can hear birds (pigeons or seagulls work best). The air is kind of crisp and damp-smelling. There are clouds, but not ominous ones. It may or may not be misty. And I'm outdoors, whether urban or rural.

Those mornings are exactly like the ones from - if it's pigeons - holidays at my Nana's house, when we'd get up and eat cereals we never had at home, and then go out into the garden. And if it's seagulls, they're like mornings on Inis Mór, in my mother's house, when I'd get up (often before anyone else) and cook a huge pot of porridge and again eat and out, adventures and excitement and getting things done - so sometimes we'd get up to do work, not play, but it was satisfying and useful and enjoyable just the same, hauling seaweed or water or something, children working with adults.

So that kind of weather, those sorts of mornings, fill me with energy and a sense of safety and anticipation.

The light was never right for the years I lived in London, though. It's pretty often right where we live now.

Here are the other entries in this carnival:

My Friend Next Door from QWERTY Mum.

My Mum was the best storyteller from Baby Budgeting.

A Favourite Childhood Memory from Patch of Puddles.

Domino Trails from Mummy From The Heart.

Freedom from Live Otherwise.

A Favourite Childhood Memory from The Gingerbread House.

Birthday Memories from The Diary of a Frugal Family.

Please Turn Over from Bibsey.

Not Tonight Josephine from Cheeky Wipes.

Freedom from Little Legends.

A Favourite Childhood Memory from Who Teaches Whom.

Holidays from Seasider In The City.

Making Paper Boats from Red Ted Art.

Remembering a Fishpond from Mymumdom.

Canada from South of the River Mum.

Goodbyes from Notes From Home.

Tens and tomatoes

I got out of bed a few times today. I went to the GP, then came home and got back into bed. I got up and helped the children start soap-carving until we all lost interest (I will buy less ecologically sound soap next time, which will be easier) and got back into bed. And I got up and helped Emer plant tomatoes, and then did place value with both of them (one at a time, since I was establishing that Linnea understood how to use place value to make addition easier, and just explaining to Emer that it exists at all).

Not bad, really. I had much better plans, yesterday, but apparently I'm still too ill to carry them out.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Chittin' time

We got our free seed potatoes in the post a while back and today was the designated Chitting Day. So we did. It was something of an anticlimax - opening a packet and putting seven seed potatoes in eggboxes isn't very exciting - so we also filled some pots with compost and planted basil and chives (we don't know which is which because the seed packets were opened and investigated last week, all over the stairs) and marigolds, which have lovely seeds which we really enjoyed.

Then I almost collapsed and had to get back into bed, because I am still ill, but it was good to do something for a change.

Linnea was too ill to join in properly - she couldn't focus enough to plant even one thing, just fidget and spill things and kick people - but when we do the next lot of things, which is tomatoes and radishes, I expect she'll be able to help.

Antibiotics really do work. I do love having access to healthcare.

Last year's window plants: here and here.

Monday, February 28, 2011


I realised the other day, when a friend came over and we all started drawing, that we approach drawing very differently. Neither Linnea nor Emer have the slightest serious interest in drawing what they see; they will sit down with me to sketch something but draw something totally different, or draw a version of what's there but not the actual thing - a bowl of bananas instead of a bowl of apples, for example, or (as this morning) a portrait of me standing up when I was actually lying down, coughing vilely, throughout the whole "sitting."

I did gently suggest once or twice that they try to draw what was in front of them but they met my suggestion with derision and scorn and other flattering things like that.

Their drawings do still develop and progress, in spite of this. Presumably they know something I don't know. I'm going to do that butting-out thing again.


I can't help but feel we ought to know what these are but Emer is four and she was delighted that they came up and she could remember planting them. It's time to plant all sorts of things now. As soon as we're all over our bug, I'll break out the compost, flowerpots etc. We have plenty of seeds.

Edit: I thought they were crocuses but then doubted myself terribly. Now I think they might be again. Hm.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Five things I want my children to know (about me?)

1 I love you. I'm lousy at showing it sometimes, and I screw up, and I am not always as kind as I ought to be, and sometimes you think I want you to be unhappy, but that is because I sometimes fail at mothering, and I do, really, love you so much that sometimes I might explode or spontaneously turn into a flying unicorn from the sheer awesomeness of you.

2 My failures are not your fault. When you are older, like about forty, I will tell you more about the things in my life that led to some of my failures, but for now, let me make clear that although a hell of a lot of them are not my fault (truly, not my fault), they are even more not your fault.

3 I am sorry for failing you. I try not to.

4 I sometimes feel like I have lived several lives in one. I want to make sure to sit you down at some point and tell you all about at least six of them - the rural living, the inner-city living, waiting on tables and publishing and IT and cottage industry. I want to take you to where I met archaeology and fresh fish and make absolutely certain you never, ever find out I climbed the cliffs I climbed, because that was incredibly stupid. Maybe I can tell you about some of my friends and partners too. I am so deeply moved that you are all three witnesses to my discovery of painting that I can't possibly explain it because I'll get tearstains all over the internet.

5 I want you to know that I have been incredibly stupid and reckless in my life and some of my stupidities have led to wonderful, life-enhancing, glorious things, and some haven't. (And in case that seems ambiguous, let me add that I have never, ever become pregnant by accident, so don't worry that you weren't wanted, even if you're reading this because you think nobody will ever understand you and everyone hates you. I am thrilled to have you in my life, and I congratulate myself on my brilliance for making you pretty regularly). So sometimes it's worth doing silly things, especially if they're funny or involve really lovely people or good food, but it's always good to make sure you have somewhere to live and enough to eat first. And making small mistakes can help to avoid big ones.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Puncturing dreams and dissing illusions

This evening I spoiled everything for Linnea - erased the last hope from her life, dooming her to eternal despair.

I finally got her to believe that even grownups without children can't do whatever they want all the time.

She was slightly mollified when I explained that we do things we don't want mainly so that we can do things we do want, like work in boring jobs so that we can have nice houses, or spend ages cleaning the kitchen and cooking so we can eat fabulous food, or (pertinently) go to bed before we want to so that we can do what we want the following day.

But only slightly.

Emer was in bed and lying down as soon as I agreed to pretend she was asleep while I brushed her teeth. Hum.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chapter Book

Linnea is writing one - no text, just pictures. It's difficult not to interfere with what she thinks chapters are for. When she adds the text, later, I'm sure it will all be clearer.

Meanwhile, this is me not interfering.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Eye scream by Linnea

Note twist in optic nerve.


I've been feeling like a total failure. I've been ill for ages, with one thing or another, and I have a day or two of reasonable wellness and then crash again. My school-age children don't seem to have noticed, and in fact if I think about what they are doing it's obvious they are learning a good deal, but I feel that I should be doing more with them and for them.

I can't work out how to get started again, where to find motivation and energy. Perhaps I need to start taking a multivitamin.

Friday, February 04, 2011

It's working

Linnea spent ages reading to Emer today. Then Emer played a game on my phone and read the words she knew to me. And one of their games today involved multiplication.

They also played a complicated game about the life cycle of birds (species unspecified) and did a lot of drawing.

But let's not mention the running. And running. And running. Not outdoors, oh no, they wouldn't want to do that. Up and down the upstairs landing. For hours. Well, over an hour. They must have run a mile, in 10-foot sections.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Vocabulary and idiolect

The other day we were on a bus with a friend, and Linnea mentioned another bus journey on which she had felt a bit sick. "I was bus-sick," she said. "Yes," I said, "but you didn't get sick, did you?"

"No," she said, "I was bus-ill."

And today Emer fell slightly when going upstairs and said "Oops, I had a little tumble."

Neither "ill" nor "tumble" were in my childhood vocabulary at all. I consciously adopted "ill" when I was nine, but didn't use it much - it wasn't a word in common use in my circles, and sounded faintly wannabe-posh, in the same way that children in 1950s Cork didn't say "mud," they said "mire" but that would sound trying-too-hard for most children I know now.

"Aren't I" instead of "amn't I," too. Unvoiced R sounds. It is interesting, having children whose language is so different from my own, in spite of being the same one.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Talking about death with my *other* daughter

"We're not the kind of people who are going to die ever, are we," she said confidently.

My insides clenched up, because the first child I had to discuss all this with found it impossible to either accept or ignore, and cried for hours at a time for ages. Sobbed, or wept quietly, in wretched, devastating anguish. It was horrible.

However. "Yes," I said, "We're going to die, someday, a long time away. Everything dies."


"I don't know, but everything does."

"But then where will all the people be?"

"There'll be new people, because people always have babies, don't they?"

"But they won't have any parents!"

I think she's envisioning some sort of mass extinction event.

So I started with my grandmother, and when my mother was a baby, and then on to when I was a young grownup, and my grandmother died, and how when our baby is grown up their Nana will die too. Luckily, the baby sister being a grownup seems unbelievably distant to this four-year-old. So she said "We are all going to die?"

Her lips wobbled and her chin puckered and she looked not very happy.

"Yes. But not for a long time."

"Even me? But it's not for yages and yages, right?"

"That's right, not for ages."

So that was all right then. She perked up, dismissed it from her mind, and carried on.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Progress and development

It has all been very informal and unstructured around here lately. Linnea has been practising reading; occasionally I hear her working hard on punctuation, reading things aloud with different inflections to work out what the punctuation marks mean. She also reads to Emer, especially late at night after they've gone to bed and turned off the light. Emer has been writing, and painting. She likes to copy my ways of painting, I think to learn how to "do it right." She does still improve on my ideas and techniques, though, so she's not following me blindly, so that's ok.

They are both casually number-aware. It turns out that Linnea figured out and memorised, at some stage, which colour Cuisenaire rods are which number. I haven't worked that out, what with them not being my toy, so it's a bit confusing when she asks me for a specific one and I don't hand it to her immediately. And Emer's not as clear on number-bonds up to ten as Linnea was at her age, but is a lot clearer on occasionally doing what she's told, so I'll take what I can get here.

Other languages have fallen slightly by the wayside lately but I'm sure they'll be picked up again. I might try to find a conversation group of some sort, though given how they are about attending groups, perhaps not.

And art is big, as usual. We all have tiny little Cotman/Winsor & Newton watercolour sketching sets, and last night we spent ages sorting out huge stacks of artworks. Oil pastels, Pitt markers, watercolours, poster paints, oil paints, crayons, biro, pencil, acrylics. We throw away more than we keep and we keep tens per week.

Oh and Emer has starting making up rhyming couplets.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Five in a row again

Today we read Papa Piccolo. Well, first we walked to town in the rain, because a laundry disaster meant I had to buy disposable nappies. So we ate out, and popped into the only art gallery I knew of, The Lemongrove Gallery, so that the children could see what an art gallery is or does, and some paintings other than mine or prints. That succeeded pretty well. I am hopeful that I can sort out some careful visits to "proper" art galleries later. It helps when they know a bit about what to expect.

One painting happened to be of a couple of gondolas, titled "Venice, Italy," which was handy. When we got home we read Papa Piccolo while we drank our hot chocolate (full disclosure: there was a huge tantrum in the middle of the going home part, and a literal and figurative cooling-down period) and I discussed families and what adults lose and gain when they have children, and then the children read it again later with someone else. You see, our visitor this evening was a good friend of the family who has actually been to Venice, in person, and she was able to tell them all sorts of interesting, engaging things about it. So they had her read the Dolphin in the Grand Canal book (thanks, Tinderbox!), and then Papa Piccolo again, and I fully expect that tomorrow all sorts of things will happen. I anticipate some questions on glass-blowing, for a start.

It was nice to be back in the educational swing of things.

Meanwhile, have a gawp at this map:

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Peering and painting

I've started painting. I had a bit of an emotional crash, and realised that I need to make sure I attend to my own mental health so that I can be properly available to the children, and so I bought an easel.

So the children and I have been using water-based oils on canvas, watercolours on proper watercolour paper, etc. Oil pastels on heavy watercolour paper was popular too.

Also, they've been interested in the little microscope, and I keep finding it out places, where they're been looking at nectarine leaves or citrus peel or a friend's split hairs or something.

And they're reading to each other a lot.

Oh, and counting and using numbers.

And preparing food; Emer is getting very good at chopping bell peppers for bolognese.

Somehow it's all working, even though no-one has had much interest in Five in a Row for a little while. It will be interesting to see when that rekindles.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Operation Maternal Kindness is Go

The new storage works beautifully. They are much more willing to tidy up than they were, and they appreciate that leaving things lying around gets them broken or hurts me, and they seem fairly on board with my right not to be hurt by their toys. In return, I have a Things To Glue box, and some of the broken toys are going in there to be repaired, if I feel they are fixable.

We haven't had huge blazing rows much, and we have had several instances of pleasant times together.

I am planning on offering real Five In A Row stuff again starting on Monday; I haven't decided what to start with, really, but I think it would be nice for them to have something to do. Their new maths workbooks have arrived and they like working through them, too, sometimes.

This is the year Linnea will be a reading learner. Gosh.

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