Monday, December 31, 2007

Knitting Projects

I have a whole raft of knitting projects lined up for next year ... mainly for Little Cherub, who is at a great age to knit for. Little jumpers (sweaters) and cardigans for her don't take long to knit, and they use little enough wool that I can actually afford to knit using the yarn recommended by the pattern rather than a budget version.

I am already half way through knitting this little fur-trimmed jumper using Sirdar Snuggly and Funky Fur ...


I picked up some bright pink Sirdar Snowflake yarn in a sale bin a couple of weeks ago, and after trying and failing to adapt another pattern that used yarn with a completely different tension, have now ordered this pattern to make a little cardigan, and some sky blue Snuggly Bubbly wool to knit another using the original pattern.

I found a wonderful book at the library that has many, many patterns I would like to knit: The Big Book of Kids' Knits by Zoe Mellor. I like this so much I am tempted to buy it rather than keep renewing the loan. Thanks to a Christmas gift from my mother cotton yarn to knit this little jumper for summer is on the way ...


I am determined to tackle this long term project from the same book ... a knitted puppet theatre.


A puppet theatre that can hang from a door frame and be rolled up when not in use is far more practical for our limited space than a free standing one, and this looks so bright and appealing. Sizing isn't crucial, so any budget double knitting yarn should work. Even the puppets are knitted. I'm sure Star would love using this, and Little Cherub would get years of fun from it.

Unlike scrapbooking, knitting is something I can easily pick up and put down even with a toddler around, so I'm hoping I can get all these projects made next year. Another appealing aspect of taking up knitting again is that I am a good enough knitter to be able to knit while I read, which means I can keep up with both the Formation and Fun sections of my New Year's Resolutions simultaneously.

New Year Resolutions 2008

I'm spending some of my Christmas season downtime pondering changes I need to make and getting organised for next year ... starting with my New Year resolutions. Every year I make new ones; every year I fail to keep them, but that is no reason not to keep trying. I did better with my 2006 resolutions for which I focused on five specific areas than I did with my 2007 short-and-sweet version, so I'm reverting to the 2006 format.

Faith
A daily 30 minute quiet time for spiritual reading and prayer.

Family
Keep on the Motivated Mom wagon for the entire year.

Fitness
Walk to Rivendell with Frodo. I think 458 miles in a year should be possible. If I aim at 10 miles a week that allows for the inevitable slippage. HT: Heather at Doodle Acres

Formation
Read at least one history book each month. It has been a while since I have done any serious historical reading and I would like to catch up a bit with what is going on in the historical world, plus read up on some topics I'm interested in.

Fun
Knit. After doing virtually no knitting for years I have enjoyed the occasional knitting project over the last couple. I think I'll make 2008 the year of the knitting needle and take it up again properly.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Happy Christmas

Thirteen things that made this a happy Christmas ...

  1. Singing carols in the High Street on Christmas Eve
  2. Happy girls sitting on our bed opening stockings
  3. Little Cherub's happy squeak of recognition when she opened a package and found Iggle Piggle
  4. Mass on Christmas morning (despite Cherub's best efforts at disruption)
  5. Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, the cooking of which all went to plan
  6. Socialising with family, friends and neighbours
  7. Chocolate
  8. The Doctor Who Christmas special
  9. My new iPod Touch
  10. A leftovers breakfast for Boxing Day (smoked salmon sandwiches for Tevye and I, houmous and yellow pepper for Angel, grumbles from Star because there was no leftover apple pie. Oh, and I finished up the Christmas pudding with brandy butter and cream. Yes, I do have good digestion!)
  11. Visiting Grandma for Boxing Day tea and enjoying the comparison with last Christmas when she was in hospital recovering from hip replacement surgery and we were trying to pack up her house ready to move
  12. Reliving my childhood by playing my brother's favourite childhood game, Coppit. I found a set in a charity shop and couldn't resist buying it for him.
  13. Watching a BBC adaptation of Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes - a real treat, despite a little plot tweaking to add a romance for Garnie.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas

O come, all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant.
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and adore Him,
Born the King of angels.
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!

I hope you all have a very happy and blessed Christmas season.

Christmas Eve

New and old traditions today.

Old ...
A trip to our local metropolis (MK) to see the Christmas display and treat ourselves to drinks, cakes and biscuits in the John Lewis restaurant - on the first floor with an open gallery overlooking the square below, it is a great place for people watching and admiring the display below. We find going on Christmas Eve when everything is winding down for Christmas a much nicer experience than fighting the crowds earlier in December. This year's display was themed on The Wind in the Willows and was well done, I thought. Angel took Little Cherub for a ride on the carousel which she loved, waving and giving us beaming smiles each time she passed us. Unfortunately I forgot to take the camera. (Cherub, I'm glad to say, is making a rapid recovery from an upper respiratory tract infection that laid her low at the weekend thanks to a course of antibiotics.)

Newish ...
Joining two thousand or so others to sing carols in our local High Street (my guess of number, which could be wildly out!). Organised to raise money for charity and led by the Salvation Army band, it proves that the political correctness that makes Christmas an unmentionable word has not yet reached our part of the country. Carols sung with varying enthusiasm, Father Christmas in his sleigh on the back of a truck throwing sweets, and ending with Auld Lang Syne (a little early for New Year?) and God Save the Queen. All very traditional. We used to go to the Vigil Mass of Christmas which overlaps with the carol singing. Last year we managed to squeeze in both by running - more or less literally - from one to the other. This year we decided to do the carols tonight and go to Mass on Christmas morning.

New ...
For the first time ever we put up our Christmas tree on New Year's Eve. Angel and Star had both grumbled a little about not having it up earlier, but when it came to it thoroughly enjoyed putting it up today. It definitely added to the almost-Christmassy feeling. Maybe we will stick to this and make it a new family tradition. I usually leave the tree until a week or so before Christmas, but this year was particularly inefficient - not a bad thing, as it turned out.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Book Meme

It is a while since I have done a meme and as a bookworm I ought not to miss this one.
HT: Alicia

One book that changed your life:
Schools Out: Educating Your Child at Home by Jean Bendell. The first book I ever read on home education, that convinced me this was something I wanted to try.

One book that you’ve read more than once: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien.

One book you’d want on a desert island: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. A book I would love to re-read, but I suspect I would need to be on a desert island to get round to it.

One book that made you laugh: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.

One book that made you cry: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Twomey by Susan Wojciechowski

One book that you wish had been written: A modern round-the-world living geography book for children. I'm thinking a cross between Michael Palin style travelogue and Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels.

One book that you wish had never been written: The Antiquary by Walter Scott. I had to read this for an English exam at school and have never been able to read any Walter Scott since.

One book you’re currently reading: Home Education by Charlotte Mason.

One book you're planning on reading: Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Confessions of a serial present buyer

Here is the run down on my Christmas preparations ...

Baking? Not done.

House decorated? Not yet.

Cards posted? Almost. I just have to stick stamps on and take them out to the post box. (And yes. I know I have missed the last posting date for Christmas. Still. I can hope!).

But here I sit with all presents bought and (almost) all wrapped.

I confess. I like buying Christmas presents. And I like wrapping them. Almost anything I buy for the girls during December (or even November!) is likely to get put away and wrapped. Even the jogging pants Angel needs for school got wrapped. Cold legs in December? Tough!

I don't think I am an extravagant gift buyer - certainly the amount I spend on each child is a great deal less than the average parental spend (£137 in 2005, according to Google). The same article points out that this is much higher than the £86 spent by over-50s when their children were young. Well, Tevye is over-50, our children are still young, and we don't make it up to £86 either.

I couldn't find an average number for presents, but I bet I beat it. I think I must be the queen of stocking fillers. The girls get one main gift, but all sorts of bits and bobs I wouldn't normally buy find their way into Christmas stockings and under the tree.

I truly hate the outbreak of Christmas materialism every year. So why am I a serial present buyer?

Is there a cure?

Do I need one?

Maybe. Maybe not. But I do need to get those cards posted ...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Busy toddler

What happens when you leave a toddler briefly unattended in the kitchen while you put shopping in the freezer? You come back to find her sampling a stock cube.

What happens when you turn your back on the same toddler to clear up the boxes of stock cubes scattered over the floor? You find her busily pouring herself a bowl of cornflakes, most of which land on the floor instead of in the bowl.

At least she was too interested in watching me clear up the cornflakes to get into anything else!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Back on the wagon

I fell off the Motivated Mom wagon.

I got back on FlyLady.

I fell off FlyLady.

I wallowed in a failed housewife mess for several months. I got pregnant and was ... too ... tired ...

Now I am no longer tired and I am motivated. I have downloaded my Motivated Mom planner for 2008 and I am so very thoroughly motivated I have even started early (I adapted the pages for next December). I downloaded the whole kit-and-caboodle. Daily planner pages with chores, space for a menu plan and even a plan for reading the entire Bible in a year. At only £4 ($8) for a full year of daily plans I don't have any difficulty justifying the expenditure.

I do think I am better suited to Motivated Moms than any other house control system I have seen. I simply don't see what needs to be done ... or if I do see it, I then forget about it. I like FlyLady for decluttering, but I do better with a simple checklist for basic household tasks. I like being able to check one or two items off if I have a few minutes to spare. I can also pick out more toddler friendly tasks as necessary. I just have to remember to look at what I have done and not get demoralised by things I don't get to, or if I have a few bad days.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

We're cloning nine-year-olds

Star and her "twin" (best friend F) as photographed and edited by herself.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gentle Learning: Rhythmic Days

Still meandering slowly through my ideas for gentle preschool years ... I posted a while ago about yearly rhythm, and here - after a long hiatus - is the follow up installment on rhythmic days.

What do I mean by rhythmic days? Not days lived according to a timetable, but days that follow a regular and comfortable pattern. To me rhythm means something more than routine - it gives each day a natural flow, it allows for variation according to season and opportunity, and it encompasses the inevitable crisis days without falling apart as our routines have a tendency to do. Learning opportunities can be worked into a daily rhythm in such a way that learning happens naturally and gently.

Having said that, for me the way to routine and rhythm is often a timetable. I am not the most self-disciplined of people and my days can easily run away from me if I don't have a plan, and preferably a plan on paper. Setting out a timetable for the way an ideal day would run is a valuable exercise for me. I can see what it is realistic to include in our day (or week) without running into a time crunch. Once I have an "ideal" day on paper, I test it and tweak it in practice until it mutates into a routine or rhythm, and the original timetable disappears. The timetable is a tool and a means to an end.

The educational philosophy that lends itself particularly to rhythmic days is Waldorf, so this is where I have been looking for inspiration in this area. Charlotte Mason schedules are typically more formal and start at age six, and Montessori (as I understand it) allows for a specific period of "work" within which the child has free choice of activities. This schedule from Practical Waldorf at Home: Kindergarten with Your Three to Six Year Old by Donna Simmons includes much of what I would like to include in an early years routine - housework, outdoor time, "Circle Time" (which for us would include morning prayers), creative play, stories, art and craft, and reading aloud.

  • 8.00 Household chores
  • 8.30 Morning walk
  • 10.00 Snack time followed by Circle Time and finish with a story
  • 10.45 Creative play or project based on the story
  • 12.00 Lunch preparation and lunch
  • 1.00 Rest time
  • 2.00 Outdoor or indoor play
  • 3.30 Craft activity or painting
  • 4.30 Read aloud followed by supper preparation

The specifics would be different to fit into the natural rhythm of our family, but this gives an outline I could use as a starting off point. I know from experience that our daily rhythm constantly mutates as the child grows and changes, and it is also seasonal - we tend to spend more time out and about in the summer and more time indoors in winter. Days that include outside activities, play dates or errands obviously look different to those spent entirely at home.



Lessons learned by a brass band novice

When playing Christmas carols in the high street in near freezing temperatures remember the following ...

  • Wear at least one more layer of clothes than you think will be necessary. Or better still, two.
  • Do not wear fingerless gloves. If you do, put another pair of proper gloves over the top.
  • Two pairs of socks is not enough.
  • Three hours is a very long time.
  • Try not to think about mulled wine, warm mince pies, log fires and restorative tots of brandy. It only makes you feel colder.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Baby Love

Angel has adored babies since she was tiny. She spent many hours playing with her dolls, and once she was big enough was rarely seen at homeschool events without someone's baby or toddler in her arms. Little Cherub seems to be a chip off the same block. She also loves her doll and is fascinated with other babies and toddlers. Today she had her first opportunity to cuddle a real baby - little K, who is just three weeks old. Doesn't Cherub look a natural?


She was absolutely enthralled by K, and very concerned to look after her. After seeing K drink her milk from a bottle, Cherub produced her "Baby"'s bottle and tried to put it in K's mouth. Later she offered her a biscuit (cookie), and a ball to play with. Very thoughtful, if a little premature! Her delight when she was allowed to sit with K on her lap was palpable.

We were amused by the relative sizes. Cherub is still a tiny twenty pounder, whereas K weighed in at nine pounds and has already added another. Her hands are nearly as big as Cherub's! Incidentally, Cherub's hair is not as red as it appears in this photo - some trick of the camera flash that brings out every red highlight?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Saint Lucy's Day Miracle

Many people in the Catholic homeschooling world know - online, if not in person - Jenn Miller, who contributed many of the liturgical year articles at Catholic Culture and continues to share boundless ideas on how to celebrate the Christian year with children through her blog and elsewhere.

Back in March Jenn shared in this post her hopes and prayers for a long awaited second child and her struggle to accept the possibility that the answer to her prayers was "no". Today on the feast of St. Lucy she gave birth to her second son, Nicholas Peter, born safely by c-section at 36 and a half weeks.

As someone who has known the joy of a miracle baby myself, I can't tell you how thrilled I am to know someone else is experiencing that same special joy. Congratulations, Jenn! There are a lot of people who will be smiling their way through Christmas, thinking of you and that precious little boy.

I know it is a bit late for this year, but if you want ideas for celebrating St. Lucy's Day, check out Jenn's post last year at O Night Divine.


Christmas Meme

I've seen this meme a few times but never got round to doing it. I was finally spurred into action by reading it today at You Did What?

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Paper. Occasionally recycled gift bags ;).

2. Real tree or artificial?
Artificial. Tevye has an uneasy relationship with Christmas trees which would not be improved by needles underfoot.


3. When do you put up the tree?
Usually a week or so before Christmas. I like the idea of doing it on Christmas Eve, but have never managed to hang out that long.
4. When do you take the tree down?
Epiphany or the day after if I don't get round to it on January 6th. I'm a firm believer in celebrating the full Twelve Days of Christmas.

5. Do you like eggnog?
I've never tried it. I'm not even sure exactly what it is. Do you drink it?

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
I can't remember a single one! I think almost all our toys were either birthday or Christmas presents, so I'm sure some of my favourites must have arrived at Christmas - I just have no idea which ones. I only remember the general excitement of unwrapping.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Two. A soft, squishy plastic toddler one bought from the Early Learning Centre when Angel was little. It surfaced from the maelstrom of stuff that has swamped our garage just in time to use with Little Cherub. The other is a Playmobil nativity set. One day I hope to graduate to a proper grown up one!

8. Hardest person to buy for?
Michael, who doesn't do "stuff". Which means the stuff mountain we have accumulated over the years is entirely my responsibility.

9. Easiest person to buy for?
Angel.

10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
I don't remember receiving anything I positively disliked.

11. Mail or email Christmas Cards?
Mail. Usually late.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
The Box of Delights. Though as it was originally a TV series I'm not sure it counts?


13. When do you start shopping for Christmas ?
Usually September or October. I don't have a great deal of shopping to do, and I like to spread it out not end up with a last minute rush.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
No.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Christmas pudding with custard, cream and brandy butter. All at once.

16. Clear lights or colored on the trees?
Clear until last year, when I splurged and bought a bigger, better set of coloured lights.

17. Favorite Christmas song?
Hark the Herald Angels. Sung in a full Church with the organ at full throttle.


18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
Stay home.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?
Rudolf. Donner and Blitzen. Prancer and Dancer. That's it. How many should there be?

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
Tacky and rather squashed tinsel star.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
Christmas morning. Stockings (small) first thing, then the rest after breakfast.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Shopping mania, especially in large shopping malls. An annoyance I can now avoid thanks to online shopping.


23. What I love most about Christmas?
Everything. Apart from shopping mania.

24. Most difficult thing about Christmas?
Shopping mania.

25. Favourite Christmas Tradition?
Midnight Mass (which I rarely get to these days).


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Star's Portrait Gallery

Our family, as seen and drawn by Star.

Tevye cooking ...


Me ironing ...


Angel using the computer (this one didn't scan so well) ...


She didn't draw herself or Little Cherub.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas

I dug out a few of our simpler Christmas books for Little Cherub and she has fixated on The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett. A good choice, as I love Jan Brett's illustrations.

When we read we have to spend some time dwelling on "five gold rings" - she is very impressed by these, as she had not discovered rings before and has to inspect my ringed fingers and her ringless ones carefully every time we reach this page. Another attraction are the squirrels on the first page - here she points to the back garden and the front window to indicate that here are places where she sees squirrels, then signs "all gone" to indicate there are none there just now.

Today, she had a lightbulb moment and made a new connection. Now, whenever we get to "eight maids a-milking" she insists on taking a break from reading for a little milk snack. Honestly Cherub, this is taking breastfeeding on demand a step too far ...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

iLove iTunes

I love iTunes!

I love being able to browse through music, listen to samples, and download just those individual items I especially want.

I love being able to feed my eclectic and rather random musical tastes from my own desktop.

I think I have discovered how to link to individual tracks on iTunes so that I can share what I am currently listening to, so here goes ... in Advent and Christmas mood ...

Veni, Veni Emmanuel by The King's Singers (Latin version of O come, O come Emmanuel)
The King's Singers - Christmas - Veni, Veni Emmanuel
Gaudete by Steeleye Span (medieval English carol)
Steeleye Span - The Best of Steeleye Span - Gaudete


If you click on the iTunes buttons they should open iTunes (if you have it on your computer) and link to the track in the iTunes store. It seems to be working OK for me, though a bit slowly. I'd love feedback on whether or not it works for you, so I know whether it is worth posting links in future.

If it does work and you want to play, here is the link maker.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A moment of weakness

Inspired by these posts from Theresa at La Paz Home Learning and Rebecca at A Gypsy Caravan, I had rapped myself firmly over the knuckles for being a heedless Christmas shopper and determined to be more thoughtful and creative in future (too late for this year). I even bookmarked things to consider next year for Little Cherub as an alternative to chain-store bought, made-in-China, plastic "stuff".

So what happens? I buy a beanie Iggle Piggle to slip into Little Cherub's stocking. Iggle Piggle is the "star" of In The Night Garden, the BBC's latest offering for toddlers, which makes the Magic Roundabout look like pacy, incisive drama. The wonder is that any episode can be drawn out for an entire thirty minutes (Iggle Piggle falls asleep in Upsy Daisy's bed ... Upsy Daisy is upset ... Iggle Piggle wakes up ... everyone hugs and is happy ... Upsy Daisy goes to sleep ... recap plot for those who may have missed it). The BBC, however, apparently knows its market. Little Cherub is entranced every evening for a very convenient half hour between dinner and bath time.

So much for my good Christmas shopping intentions. Though I suppose I did say next year.

And yes, Iggle Piggle is made in China. At least he isn't plastic.

How weak am I?

In my own defence I do try to stick to toys that are creative or have good play value, and I loathe anything electronic with noises or flashing lights. Also I'm not anti-plastic as such - we love Playmobil. I just want to change the balance a bit and look for more beautiful and unusual toys, and more creative gifts for the older girls.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Little Cherub's Book Choice: Two Tiny Mice

I picked up this book - Two Tiny Mice: a Natural World Adventure, by Alan Baker - in the library a couple of months ago, attracted by the beautiful illustrations and the idea of a book that introduces English wild animals to small children. It sat in the book basket untouched for a few weeks before Little Cherub decided it met her current book choice criteria. Those criteria largely involve animals - preferably animals she can identify (frogs! ducks! squirrels!) - and things to count (two mice!), so it was a fairly safe bet that she would eventually fix on this book as a favourite.

This is one of those library books I would like to own. The illustrations are stunning, with animals ranging from moles to otters set in detailed natural surroundings. The main text is just simple verse ("Two tiny harvest mice, scampering in the wheat. Wandering through the countryside, who will they meet?"), but this is a book you buy for the pictures, not the words. The revised 2006 edition includes a section of brief nature notes on each of the featured animals at the end, which would be useful to use with school aged children.

There is also a companion book, Two Tiny Mice Explore, which I'm hoping to be able to get from the library. I tried to reserve it, but their website is down. Bah! Humbug!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Figuring it out

You remember Angel? The child who drove me to distraction over maths while homeschooled? Not so much because she couldn't do it, more that she wouldn't because she had convinced herself she couldn't.

Last week she announced "I'm working as hard as I can in maths, because I want to get moved up to the top set". Why? Because her friends are in the top set. Who says peer pressure is always a negative thing!

This week she showed me the project she had been working on in class. Hard to describe, but it was an investigation into the properties of numbers in a grid - working out general rules to find the difference between products of opposite corners in a number square taken from any part of variously sized number grids. (It truly is impossible to explain without seeing it. So why am I trying?) . She had done pages of immaculately neat - and correct - work, and had stuck only at the final hurdle of working out an overall general rule involving square size and grid size. Given that it was an algebraic formula involving two variables and squares I'm not surprised she stuck. I'm just amazed that she made it that far, happily. What a difference a few months makes!

She also informed me that having to work on maths for an hour at a time was OK ... "when you spend time practicing it, maths is a lot easier". Well yes, dear. I could have told you that. And have. Frequently. But for Angel, it has taken working alongside others to realise that yes, she can do maths, and yes, practice does help.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fetching Headgear

Like little Bella at the Wine Dark Sea, Little Cherub has developed a taste for hats. Here is today's carefully arranged headgear ... a fetching pink sunhat. So appropriate for December.

Advent Ups and Downs

The ups and downs of Advent with a toddler ...

Up ...

And down ...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent Box

I managed to follow through on my idea of Faith Boxes for Little Cherub and put together an Advent Box. Here are the contents ...


And here is Little Cherub exploring them (and wearing a rather too large hairband belonging to a sister) ...


She seems very pleased with her box and has taken the contents out then repacked them several times today. The soft toddler's nativity set and the little Christmas board books were bought when Angel was around the same age. They had been buried and forgotten in the garage since Star outgrew them, and were unearthed at just the right time to use with Little Cherub.

The pictures are a product of my new toy - a laminator. I have coveted one for a while, but had no idea what to buy or whether it would be worth the cost. Finally I found one at Argos that was so cheap (£12 including £6 worth of free pouches) I decided just to take the plunge and hope it worked. It does exactly what it says on the box. It laminates. Which is exactly what I wanted. (Why I imagined that there might be laminators which don't actually laminate I'm not sure!) I included in Little Cherub's box pictures of St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, Our Lady (for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), the journey to Bethlehem, and a set of cards for the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. She seems particularly impressed with both the picture of St. Nicholas and the wooden Santa (which I think looks a particularly St. Nicholas-ish Santa).

Finally I added in a little Hannukah board book and a chunky wooden dreidl, so that I can begin to introduce her to the Jewish festival as well as to Christmas.

New Look for Advent

Thank you for all the prayers and sympathy on the loss of our baby. The last week or so hasn't been easy. Physically it has left me very tired and it looks as though it will take a while to fully recover from the miscarriage. Ever the optimist, I always assume I will bounce back from things quickly, and it comes as a bit of a shock when I don't.

Still, onwards and upwards ... it is Advent, and I am beginning to get some energy back!

I love the Advent season, which for me is always a time for looking forward, a new beginning. This year it could not be better timed. One thing I have managed to do over the past few days is put together an Advent box for Little Cherub. I still need to dig out the Jesse tree symbols and decorations for our Advent tree and I want to get a slightly larger tree as the little one I used last year drowned under the number of things I hung on it.

I have also updated my blog for Advent - I think I have finally mastered tweaking headers and backgrounds in Blogger without it being a painfully frustrating exercise. The picture in the header is part of the Jesse Tree window of Chartres Cathedral in France, to give a nice medieval Advent touch.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Our little light went out

I had another ultrasound today. Our baby had not grown at all since last week and had no heartbeat. I did suspect that all was not well, so it didn't come as a shock, but how sad it is to see that little hope extinguished.

Goodbye, little one. I know you are safe and happy in the arms of God, but I am not going to get to hold you this side of heaven and my heart aches.

I am going to take a break from blogging until Advent, to give myself time to heal and to focus on the beautiful daughters God did allow me to meet. And how thankful I am for that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Advent and Christmas Books

A broad title for what is in reality a tightly focused post. I want to make a few book suggestions, not for Advent and Christmas books in general, but for those rarer books that can be read daily throughout Advent, and in one case, Christmastide. Please bear in mind that my age suggestions are based on my experience with my own children. Your mileage may vary!

The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean.
The perfect accompaniment to making and using a Jesse Tree. This book cleverly uses the device of a grumpy old carpenter being pestered by a small boy for stories while he carves a Jesse Tree as a vehicle to retell Bible stories from the Creation through to the Nativity. Without fetching the book to count, I am not sure of the exact number of stories - I have a feeling it is slightly more than twenty-four, but the book can easily be finished during the Christmas season. The symbols shown in the book are not identical with those I have seen elsewhere associated with specific Bible readings, but they are close enough to be able to fudge the differences. McCaughrean is a good story teller, and I love the way she has set this book up as stories within a story. Ideal for ages 6 to 10.

The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
I saw this recommended by Mary of St. Athanasius Academy and ordered a copy from the library. So far I am only half way through, but I already know I am going to have to buy my own copy. A boy acquires an unusual, "magic" Advent calendar. As he opens each window, a little more of a story is revealed. A girl named Elisabet travels from Norway to Bethlehem in the company of an angel and various others they meet on the way. An added quirk is that their journey is not only geographical ... as they travel they also move backwards through time, in order to reach Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth. Elisabet's story is intertwined with the mystery of how the story has come to be in the calendar. This book would probably work for age 7 or 8 up ... to any age. Although written as a children's book, it has also been published in adult editions.

Jotham's Journey, Bartholomew's Passage and Tabitha's Travels by Arnold Ytreeide
I feel almost mean listing these, as if you do not already have copies you are not likely to be able to get them. All three books are now out of print and used copies sell for ridiculous prices. I also feel smug, in that I managed to get all three before Amazon UK sold out. These books are a trilogy in that characters overlap between books, but they can be read independently and in any order. Each tells the story of a child living in the Holy Land at the time of the Nativity. They are packed with adventure, and most of the daily readings end on a cliffhanger. They are not for the faint hearted, as the plots include slavery, abduction, bandits, bloodshed, murder ... these really are gripping adventure stories! After each daily reading, there is a short meditation. These are written from a Protestant perspective, but could be either adapted or omitted by Catholics. Best for age 8 and up.

The Twenty Four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L'Engle
Not quite in the same category as the others as this one doesn't have daily readings. It does however tell the story of a family over the twenty four days, as they wait for the birth of a new baby and their daughter prepares to perform in a Christmas pageant. A simple chapter book suitable for younger children.

The Thirteen Days of Christmas by Jenny Overton
One of my favourite children's books and unique in my experience as it covers the thirteen days from Christmas Day to Epiphany. It is set in a fictional late medieval English town where Annaple Kitson's family, fed up with being the victims of her atrocious cooking, encourage her suitor to think up a romantic gesture that will persuade her to marry him. He decides on a series of gifts ... on the first day of Christmas a partridge in a pear tree ... on the second day two turtle doves. And a partridge in a pear tree. And so on. The book combines humour with lots of Christmas traditions - some real, some fictional. Probably more of a girl book (not that I have experience of reading to boys), for age 9 and up. And if you want a funny, light-hearted read for Christmas, buy it for yourself!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A little family history

My brother is sorting out old photos and papers left by my Dad and bringing them over to me in my self-appointed role of family archivist. He brought the first batch today, which included a soldier's issue New Testament from the First World War - kind of timely after my musings about the Great War last week. The cover is stamped "Active Services" Testament, 1916, and inside the cover it is engraved as follows:

Lord Roberts's Message to the Troops
25th August 1914
"I ask you to put your trust in God. He will watch over you and strengthen you. You will find in this little Book guidance when you are in health, comfort when you are in sickness, and strength when you are in adversity."
Roberts 1914
On the flyleaf is written
235566 Pte.Thos.Mead A.S.C. Remounts
Presented by the Friends of Avonmouth Soldiers Institute
Christmas 1916
Fight the Good Fight.
Inside the back cover is a "Decision Form" signed to say that he accepts Christ as his personal Saviour, and the following inscription:
I cannot see beyond the moment
Tomorrow's strength comes not today
But Blessed Lord I trust Thy keeping
For just the next step on my way.
- suggested by my dear wife, Jan 20th 1917
Thomas Mead was the husband of my father's Great Aunt Rose. "Aunt Rose" brought up my grandmother, whose mother (Aunt Rose's elder sister) died when she was little more than a baby, leaving four daughters and a husband who, from what I have been able to piece together, promptly went off to London to join his brothers there and left the four girls behind. I am not sure when Thomas died, but I am fairly certain he survived the war. Aunt Rose lived into her nineties and I remember visiting her for tea - oddly it was the only place where I would drink tea, which I never liked as a child. Maybe I found Aunt Rose too venerable to refuse? She was very much the family matriarch, and there was some consternation that I was not named Rose in her honour. I can't imagine myself as a Rose, but I did redress the balance slightly by using it as Little Cherub's middle name. The family were staunch Methodists, so the signed statement of faith comes as no surprise.

The Lord Roberts of the inscription was the Grand Old Man of the British Army, a hero of the Anglo-Afghan War of the 1880s and former Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army who died late in 1914. He was a personal hero of Rudyard Kipling, who wrote no less than three poems about him, including this memorial - Kipling was shown visiting "Bobs" in last week's TV movie, My Boy Jack. The historian in me just loves making these connections!

After a bit more Googling I worked out that Thomas Mead must have been serving in the Army Service Corps Remounts Service, which trained and supplied horses and mules to the rest of the Army. According to this summary at its peak in December 1917 the Remounts were training 93,847 horses and 36,613 mules, obtained by compulsory purchase. This gives another nice literary connection: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, a rare piece of historical fiction for children set during the First World War that tells the story of a horse requisitioned for army service.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jo Jingles

Notwithstanding what I said about avoiding overstimulation, since the big girls started school I have been taking Little Cherub to various groups and activities. Most of them are more informal, drop-in activities - our Church toddler group, monthly rhyme time at the library, a play session at the community centre, occasionally a pay-as-you-go swimming class. She loves to go places, I enjoy taking her, and having somewhere specific to go makes me more likely to make the effort - late autumn walks are not always appealing and often I need a purpose!

I did, however, sign up for one formal activity with her this term: Jo Jingles music and movement classes. I am very glad that I did, as it is truly the highlight of Little Cherub's week. I used to take Angel to these classes when she was a preschooler and she enjoyed them. I tried them again briefly with Star, and she was determinedly disinterested, but Cherub adores them.

The class I take her to is for one year olds, and is pitched just right for that age. It lasts 45 minutes, but she is totally focused for the entire time and really isn't ready to finish when it ends. While the class is structured - well structured, with a mix of action songs, time playing percussion instruments, simple circle dances, and movement with props - there is also some flexibility. If the little ones want to move around and do their own thing that is OK, so long as they are not disturbing the rest of the group. Cherub often wants to move away from me just to stand a little in front of the teacher watching, totally absorbed in the experience.

Do I think formal classes or activities are necessary for a toddler? Absolutely not! But they can be good if the activity is right for that child, which this very obviously is for Cherub, and if it fits into the week comfortably, without being the cause of too much rushing around and logistical strain.

I'm soooo sleepy ....

... I'm yawning as I type.

Sleeping when Little Cherub naps is a must, which means less blogging time. Still no nausea or sickness though, which is a luxury.

And the good news is that at an early ultrasound scan yesterday the sonographer saw what she was happy was a viable early pregnancy, with the tiniest of heartbeats at the very limits of what the scan could pick up. She thinks I may be a week out on dates, so I am having another scan next week to check everything is going as it should and to get a more accurate dating.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

When not to do your homework ...

Checking Star's homework folder tonight, I found her maths 80% done.

Me: Oh! You've almost finished! When did you manage to do that?

Star: During art lesson ...

Oh. Right. So there we have one of the differences between school and homeschool. When you are homeschooled, your teacher notices if you do your maths when you are supposed to be doing art.

If you are curious about what they do in school, maths homework for Star is always these Delbert's SATs Practice Sheets. In English schools children have to sit SATs (standard assessment tests) in English, maths and science at age 11. As these are used to rate the performance of the school, most schools put a lot of emphasis on them - this means far too much working to the test, in my opinion, particularly when the test is still eighteen months away. However, the Delberts suit Star, as she is strong enough at maths to benefit from the mental exercise of constantly switching between topics. She started the term in one of the middle maths groups, where she was given just one Delbert sheet a week. After a few weeks she was moved up to the top group (out of six for her year) where she was given two Delberts at a time, and since half term this has changed to two twice a week. I can see that her versatility and speed of working has improved already, so for her they are working well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gentle Learning: Avoiding Overstimulation

I was asked to expand on this one, and as I am not tackling my list in order, here goes ...

I added this to my list with only the vaguest ideas of what I meant by overstimulation. On one level it is the obvious things - too much stuff and too much screen time. Even though I think I am fairly selective with toys the number can easily snowball - already I can see this happening with Little Cherub, as it did with her sisters. I'm not sure whether I need to be more selective, or simply to be careful to rotate toys so that the number available at any one time is limited. Probably both. I do rotate things already to some extent, but find that extra stuff easily drifts out and doesn't get put away again. I have always limited screen time for little ones, but even so it is easy for more TV / DVD time to creep in. And Little Cherub is already intrigued by the computer. Arguably any screen time is overstimulating for a toddler or pre-schooler. I'm not sure I would go this far - or maybe I just don't want to? - but I do see a need to keep it within narrow limits.

On the wider level, I easily fall into the trap of too much. Trying to do too much, rushing around too much, and cramming in one thing after another. Avoiding overstimulation means slowing down, taking time to smell the roses and kick the leaves. Time just to be, without constantly moving to the next thing. I also want to achieve a quieter, calmer atmosphere. Our family is loud - vociferous and argumentative, with a tendency for everyone to talk at once. Loudly. I'm sure quiet and calm needs to start with me, and I'm not good at it.

I see avoiding overstimulation not just as a negative thing, but as something that opens up a positive way. It should allow the creation of what I think Charlotte Mason means by atmosphere when she talks of education as "an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" ... a calm space within which learning is as natural as breathing.

Only in England ...

Overheard in hospital waiting room ...

Receptionist (taking patient's details): Religion?

Patient: Not really ... just C of E [Church of England].

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Boy Jack

In the same Remembrance Day vein, I watched ITV's drama My Boy Jack yesterday evening. Originally a stage play, it told the story of Rudyard Kipling and his son Jack, who joined the army when he was seventeen and died at Loos on the day after his eighteenth birthday. Ironically, Jack had been turned down by both the navy and the army because of his poor eyesight, but Kipling had used his influence to win him a commission despite his disability. Jack was played by Harry Potter actor Daniel Ratcliffe, who did a good enough job that I completely forgot his HP role, despite a pair of glasses being an integral part of the plot. All-in-all well acted, believable, and a salutary reminder of the human cost of the War.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembering the fallen

Remembrance Day again, and this time I joined Angel playing with the brass band for a village Remembrance Day service. Again, I found the whole thing unutterably poignant, particularly as the list of young men who died in the First World War was read out. So many repeated surnames. All those families who lost not just one son, but two, or even three. So unbelievably sad.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thank you

Thank you for all the good wishes and prayers for my pregnancy. I'm glad to report that I'm fully recovered from the sickness and feeling amazingly good. For the first time ever at this stage I actually feel able to function pretty normally. I'm getting wonderful care from my family doctor and community midwife, who are determined to try to avoid a repeat of the various alarms and excursions we had with Little Cherub. My midwife - the same one who picked up that Cherub was in trouble at the end of my last pregnancy - visited today and was thrilled to see her cute as a button and so obviously fit and healthy.

There is a long way to go, but everyone is pulling together to give this baby the best possible chance. Beyond that, it is in God's hands and I am content with that. For now I am relaxing, enjoying being pregnant (imagine that! enjoying the first trimester!) and counting my blessings.

I'm a wanderer ...

It's the hobbit in me ...

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
HT: Michele

What Your Soul Really Looks Like

You are a wanderer. You constantly long for a new adventure, challenge, or eve a completely different life.

You are a grounded person, but you also leave room for imagination and dreams. You feet may be on the ground, but you're head is in the clouds.

You see yourself with pretty objective eyes. How you view yourself is almost exactly how other people view you.

Your near future is a lot like the present, and as far as you're concerned, that's a very good thing.

For you, love is all about caring and comfort. You couldn't fall in love with someone you didn't trust.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

School reports

While we were away in October we missed Angel and Star's scheduled parent-teacher evening and the opportunity to get feedback from their class teachers about how they are doing at school. This week we spoke to both teachers on the phone. Guess what? Despite having never been to school before, both girls have settled in beautifully and got glowing reports. I got the impression that the teachers were a little surprised at how easily they had adapted to school, though they were too polite to say so - I am no longer offended by the assumption that home educated children must somehow miss out on proper socialisation, just amused!

Angel's teacher was delighted with her - apparently she is well behaved, polite, working well, popular, throwing herself into everything with enthusiasm and a delight to have in a class. And you would never guess she was new to school.

We expected a good report of Angel, but Star was more of an unknown quantity given her natural out-of-the-box tendencies. Again her teacher was very happy - she is "bright, breezy and buoyant", behaving well, sensible(!), sociable and generally an asset to the class. Interestingly, her teacher was anticipating problems with her as she was very hyper at her taster day back in July, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the hyper classroom monster he was expecting didn't materialise.

So ... so far, so good. We may still be in the honeymoon period, but at least it is encouraging that the girls have both got off to a good start. And I admit to feeling a little smug that at least two teachers now know that homeschooling does not mean deprived, unsocialised children who would struggle to cope in a classroom. Ha!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NEW New Look for November

Tevye brutally politely pointed out that my autumnal leaf background was rather overwhelming.

He was right.

This background may be boring, but at least it won't give readers a headache.

New Look for November

I decided my blog needed a new autumn-and-All-Saints look for November.

That gives me a month to come up with something better for Advent and Christmas ...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Little Cherub's Book Choice: Usborne Look and Say

Our library has had a spending spree on board books over the last year and Little Cherub is reaping the benefit. One good discovery has been these Look and Say books from Usborne. They are perfect for older babies or younger toddlers who like books with pictures of familiar items for them to name and point out. The pictures are posed with Fimo models, and the main items highlighted with a gloss finish. The series has a range of titles. We started with Garden, and are now on Bedtime. I have a couple more on order from the library as Cherub has enjoyed these so much.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Belated holiday photos

After some initial nervousness Little Cherub decided a sandy beach was fun after all.


Experimenting with digging ...


Monkeying around at Monkey World, where there is also plenty for young humans to climb on.


Which can get exhausting ...

A little light reading

... is what you get when you visit my blog.


HT: Alicia at Studeo.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

News and a little drama

Good news: Little Cherub is well on the way to recovery following her stomach flu.

Bad news: I now have the stomach flu.

Really, really good - but in the circumstances, slightly complicating - news: I am six weeks pregnant. Yes, that's right. At 47, with a round-the-clock nursing toddler. (Me to doctor: "What are the chances of that?" Doctor (grinning): "Very low!")

Add together early pregnancy, stomach flu and a recovering-from-stomach-flu toddler on an all day nursing binge, and what do you get? A midnight trip to A & E (Accident and Emergency) to be rehydrated with i/v fluids and given anti-nausea medication to make sure I can keep down fluids. Everyone needs a little drama in life now and again, but I prefer it when our dramas don't involve a trip to A & E .

Thankfully, I am feeling a lot better now. Limp, exhausted and still a little nauseous, but human again. Tevye - who is himself walking wounded with a much milder version of the bug - has taken over everything and sent me to bed for the weekend. Please pray for a quick recovery from the flu, for a healthy pregnancy, and that we will get to meet this little baby at the end of June. Thank you!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Gentle Learning: Yearly Rhythm Part 2

Here is my attempt at pulling together a family calendar of feasts, festivals and seasons, starting with the beginning of the liturgical year in December. I have put the movable feasts into the months in which they most often fall.

  • Purple = Liturgical year
  • Blue = Jewish year
  • Green = secular or family events
December
Advent
St. Nicholas (6th)
St. Lucy (13th)
Hannukah
Christmas

January
New Year / Mary, Mother of God (1st)
Epiphany (6th)
Baptism of the Lord

February
Candlemas (2nd)
Valentine's Day (14th)
Purim - story of Esther
Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day)
Ash Wednesday

Lent

March
Lent
Angel's birthday (15th)
St. Joseph (19th)
Mothering Sunday / Laetare Sunday
Lady Day / Annunciation (25th)
Tevye's birthday (29th)

April
Holy Week
Passover
Easter
St George's Day (23rd) - patron of England

May
Mary / May crowning
May Day (1st)
Ascension / Rogation Days - traditional time for blessing crops
Pentecost
Visitation (31st)

June
Little Cherub's birthday (8th)
Trinity Sunday
Corpus Christi
Sacred Heart
St. Alban (20th) - first British martyr
Birth of John the Baptist (24th)
/ Midsummer
Ss. Peter and Paul (29th) - Holy Day of Obligation in England and Wales

July
St. Benedict (11th) - patron of Europe
Ss. Joachim and Anne (26th) - Star's patron saint

August
Transfiguration (6th)
Star's birthday (13th)
Assumption (15th)
St. Helen (18th) - Angel's patron saint

September
Birthday of Blessed Virgin Mary (8th)
Triumph of the Cross (14th)
Rosh Hashanah - Jewish New Year
Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement
Our Lady of Walsingham (24th)
Michaelmas / Archangels (29th)

October
Harvest / Sukkot
Guardian Angels (2nd)
St. Francis (4th)
Our Lady of the Rosary (7th) - Little Cherub's patron saint
My birthday (15th)
Halloween /
All Hallow's Eve (31st)

November
All Saints (1st)
All Souls (2nd)
Bonfire Night (5th)
St. Martin (11th)
St. Catherine (25th) - my patron saint
Christ the King

A Flower Fairy Alphabet

I dithered after reading Elizabeth's recommendation, and finally succumbed thanks to Kristen's comments at Small Treasures (and I'm sure I read another enthusiastic review as well, but can I remember where? No!). Little Cherub and I are now happily listening to Cicely Mary Barker's flower fairy poems set to music in A Flower Fairy Alphabet.

"Fairy" music for children could easily be cute and cloying. This isn't. It is genuinely sweet and tuneful, with a gentle, folky feel. It would work particularly well as music to play while a little one is settling to sleep, or as calming background music for a quiet playtime.

My one gripe is not with the music, but with the pricing here in the UK. It is cheaper to buy the CD from Amazon in the US and ship it over than to buy from Amazon UK, and downloading from Amazon is half the cost of downloading from iTunes (UK version), but is barred to non-US residents. I gritted my teeth and opted for an iTunes download, while resenting whatever pricing policy causes such a big disparity.

I think the Flower Fairy Alphabet book will also be finding its way into Little Cherub's Christmas stocking.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sad Little Cherub

Poor Little Cherub is sick - vomiting, feverish and listless. Please pray she can keep fluids down and the bug disappears as quickly as it came. One minute she was playing happily in the bath and giggling, the next she was violently sick.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Gentle Learning: Yearly Rhythm

"The rhythm of the liturgical seasons reflects the rhythm of life - with its celebrations of anniversaries and its seasons of quiet growth and maturing." (Catholic Culture)

One of the most enjoyable ways of teaching religion in a Catholic family is to focus on the liturgical year. This provides many natural learning opportunities, allows the building of family memories and traditions, and helps to develop a sense of the sacred within daily life. The liturgical year is at the heart of what I am thinking of as yearly rhythm, though I would also include:

  • A focus on the seasons, with seasonal crafts, books, foods and decorations.
  • Traditional and secular celebrations such as Mothering Sunday and Bonfire Night
  • Jewish festivals (important for us as a Catholic-Jewish family)
The liturgical year is built on a framework of liturgical seasons - Advent reflective and a preparation for the celebration of Christmas, Lent a time of repentance and self-denial before the long, joyful season of Easter (not just one day, but fifty). Ordinary Time in between is punctuated with its own feasts and seasons - saints' days, Feasts of the Lord and of His Mother, reminders of the Church, the Trinity, the Eucharist, the angels, the Communion of Saints. The list goes on and on, and this richness can become a problem for celebrations at home - it is possible to become bogged down in a long list of saints and seasons one would like to celebrate and end up either overloaded or giving up. This is not rhythm!

For the year to have rhythm it takes a realistic approach, not an overambitious one. I have fallen into the trap of swinging between overambition and neglect too many times, and I hope I have now learned my lesson. With beautiful timing - just as I was thinking about this - Meredith of Sweetness and Light wrote about keeping the company of the saints. She gives a list of resources for celebrating the saints, reminds us to start small (that's right ... small, not overambitious!) and lists a series of baby steps to keeping the company of the saints:
  1. Identify Saints to be celebrated for each week and find a reading about them.
  2. Locate a holy card or image, statue of Saint and a candle (or several candles)
  3. Designate a prayer table or area in your home for setting up your display
  4. Plan one activity to start: Mass, cake, tea, craft, special meal or truly, any combination of these, for the Saints, the skies the limit, but remember to start small.
  5. Plan to say a prayer or begin a Novena to the Saint (or Mary) to be celebrated.
These baby steps could be used with any number of children of any age, from toddlers up. In the past I have tended to be quite successful at developing family traditions for the "big" seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent and, with slightly less success, Easter - maybe I have shot my bolt by the end of Lent?), but have fallen apart in between. Meredith's simple framework will be a great starting point for filling in the gaps.

More on the practical working out of a yearly rhythm to come later.

PS. Credit to Meredith for finding the quote at the beginning of this post.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Mother's Job

I always enjoy reading Melanie Bettinelli's blog, The Wine-Dark Sea. I find it particularly easy to picture her little daughter Isabella as she is just a couple of weeks older than my Little Cherub, but it is the combination of snippets about Isabella with truly thoughtful posts that mean I am always glad to see The Wine-Dark Sea highlighted on Bloglines.

In a recent post Melanie gets to the heart of a mother's true job ... not just to nurture our children, but to teach them the hope that is in us:

The world is a harsh place. It's a fallen world, a world of sin and thus of suffering. But my primary job as a mother is to teach my children the good news that sin and death have been conquered and human suffering has been redeemed. Although this world is a vale of tears, there is another world that awaits us: heaven. And we can participate in this other world here and now through our love and self-sacrifice and through God's grace in the sacraments, and most especially in the holy sacrifice of the mass which is heaven on earth.

I cannot fully protect Isabella from the harsh realities of living in a world marred by sin. Already I have learned that I cannot shelter her completely from bodily pain, from hunger and tiredness and from fear. But I can teach her love. I can hug her, kiss her, rock her, comfort her when she falls or when she gets a shot. I can teach her about Jesus and help her find hope in the dark times and help her to walk in God's paths so that one day we may both find our true home in the place where there is no pain, no suffering, no sin, only love and peace.
You can read the whole post here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gentle Learning: Enjoying Nature

I am not tackling the list from my gentle learning post in order, just going with whatever is uppermost in my mind ... which now happens to be nature, as I have just read the learning out-of-doors section of Charlotte Mason's Home Education.

Charlotte advocates spending as much time out of doors enjoying nature as is practically possible, so that children come to truly know its different aspects. I think in the past I have registered the list of things she recommends should be accomplished and skipped over the fact that these should be only mentioned lightly and occasionally, as a minor part of the time spent outdoors. The heart of her method is experiencing nature so that it becomes a part of the child.

Thinking back to my own childhood I can see just what she means. I grew up experiencing nature. My father was a farmer, so I naturally spent a large amount of time out of doors. There is so much that I knew without ever consciously learning. I knew how wheat grew from watching the first shoots to the ripe crop; I knew the feel of the ears and the taste of the individual grains. I knew a daisy from making daisy chains. I could still describe one from memory in detail - the look and feel of the petals and the stem, the way the stem could be pierced with a fingernail to thread a chain, the flower's evening sleeping habits. I knew hawthorn hedges and blackberry bushes, acorns and conkers, how to suck the nectar out of a dead nettle, and which nettles are dead and which sting. And as an adult I love nature. I am happy to recognise old friends and to make new discoveries. I enjoy keeping a nature notebook and learning more about nature.

Realistically, I can't give my own children the same experience. Spending hours outside just isn't going to happen. I'm too much of a fair weather person, a real limitation given our unpredictable and often damp climate. I also only have the use of the car a couple of days a week. The open spaces within walking distance are few and getting to other places by public transport is time consuming. Our garden is small and limited to grass and a hedge; I have black thumbs, and the few things I do manage to grow, Tevye - who is sometimes overly tidy-minded - digs up.

So how can Little Cherub and I enjoy nature together? How can I help her to experience it, rather than turn it into a lesson, given our limitations? This list of ideas is a beginning, that I hope to expand as time goes on.

  • Regular (weekly?) trips to our local country park, which combines ancient woodland, newer plantations, heathland, pasture, a lake and a pond with nature study area. Aim to stay for two or three hours, not just take a quick stroll round the lake!
  • Visit countryside and parks just to play outdoors - not always be tempted to gravitate to the playground and swing on the swings, or at least to make that only part of a trip out.
  • Start gardening projects and follow them through.
  • Turn my failed rockery into a wildflower garden. (Out of the mouths of babes: "Mummy, why are there a load of rocks dumped at the top of the drive?" "That's my rock garden." "No it's not, it's just an untidy heap of rocks.")
  • Replace my ancient unused bird feeder, and fill it.
  • Encourage Little Cherub to grow things (indoors and out).
  • Keep a seasonal nature table, Waldorf style
  • Modelling - make my own enjoyment of nature obvious; take out my own nature notebook again and work on it regularly.
  • Read picture books with nature themes, both fiction and non-fiction. (Does experiencing nature vicariously through books count? Yes, I think it does so long as it is an extension of real experience, not a replacement for it.)
  • Be aware of opportunities for outside time. For example, allow extra time when walking places so we can stop and smell the roses. Literally.
  • Cultivate "masterly inactivity". Gently pass on occasional nuggets of interesting information, but avoid falling into the mindset of cramming in "education". Smell the roses. Don't analyse them!