Friday, December 30, 2005

The non-mathematician does ok!

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!

Have always been insecure about maths so I let myself put this up!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas 2005

We've had a lovely few days here. On Christmas Eve we went over to my mum and partner's house for traditional Christmas get together. Five grandchildren in attendance and lots of exciting presents opened and yummy food eaten. Back at home for the evening Dani and I had an hour hunt for a present we had hidden rather too well! Pearl cuddled up at bedtime with her new Bagpuss hot water bottle, complete with singing mouse. Leo was eventually in bed after watching all three Dr Who episodes on his new DVD.

Christmas Day started at the civilised hour of 8.15am with the kids staggering downstairs with big pillow cases of presents to to open on our bed. Leo was thrilled with his new dalek, which he named Satellite. Pearl quickly assembled the Sylvanian Families play park that came with instructions in Japanese only! We all got lots of lovely things. My presents included home made chocolate truffles that the kids made in secret on Christmas Eve.

The tree first thing in the morning.

The guinea pigs got little tents – very cute but full of wee by tea-time!


Yet more Sylvanian stuff

Christmas day afternoon brought two local cousins to admire new pressies and play for an hour or so. I failed in my mission to get relatives to eat up some of the excessive food we had made – huge trifle and mince tart.

Dr Who in the evening was lovely. Kids adjusted well to the change of Doctor and we are all looking forward to the new series. Leo dissolved at bedtime, alternately yawning and sobbing because the day was over.

On Boxing day my dad and his wife came for lunch. We made soup with home-made bread and Delia's individual sticky toffee puddings. We all played with a new game of Leo's called Animal families and then moved on to playing cards – Black Jacks and To Hell and Back.

Today brought snow – the first real flurries the kids have seen in years. Sadly it didn't lay and was gone in an hour. As a child in Brighton I usually got at least one good snow fall per winter – enough to play in and enough to shut the school. Leo hasn't seen any real snow in his life, and Pearl can only remember one heavy fall when we were up in Leicestershire visiting family when she was five or so. Dani has seen snow before but she still got excited!

We're looking forward to some quiet days at home now.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The calm before the storm

Dani went to work today – she's much better. She has made her usual speedy recovery from illness. On Tuesday morning she was ill enough to faint on the kitchen floor (the noise from downstairs was like nothing I had ever heard before!) and by today she is working, shopping in her lunch hour and coming home to cracker making and guinea pig mucking out! Must make sure she doesn't overdo things…

Pearl, Leo and I had a much needed quiet day at home today. The kids spent the day in pjs but they did lots of things. One of our Christmas plans this year was to try out a recipe for biscuits with a 'stained glass' window made from a boiled sweet. Much to my amazement they worked!

Also to my amazement we managed to get through the whole day with no raised voices, tearful outbursts or stroppy door slamming! I think my decision not to set foot in a shop today really helped. The kids and I calmed down and worked together on the biscuit making with lots of cooperation. They also spent a silent hour in their own bedrooms playing, which seemed to do us all good. Pearl tidied her doll's house for Christmas and Leo worked on 3-d representations (in duplo and stickle bricks) of a fabulous machine of his own invention called the 'Fossilizer 2000'. Pearlie also painted her first creation made with her new mitre saw – it is a golden archway to welcome people to Sylvania. I had a lovely time changing sheets in my own room and watching supermarket sweep, which I remember fondly from unemployed days in a bed-sit.

It is worth blogging that Leo is suddenly able to tell the time extremely well. He casually mentioned to me that it was twenty to one today and he was right. It is interesting that he has not learned all the 'simple' points on the clock first, but rather he has been slowly figuring out the whole thing at once.

Tomorrow we're off to the Brighton grandmothers' house for our usual Christmas Eve get together and then a pretty quiet Christmas Day at home. Merry Christmas/Solstice/Hanukkah or whatever this time of year means to you.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Family festivities, flu and fireworks

We spent last weekend in Leighton Buzzard, having a Christmas family gathering with my parents, my sister and her partner and children. The house was great, and it was a blessing to have a dining table that could seat us all, and a long corridor in which children could happily rampage. We were right next to the canal, and woke on Sunday morning to find the whole thing frozen over – much excitement and fun throwing stones onto the ice.

As is traditional on these occasions, the children wasted little time sleeping or eating (apart from copious amounts of chocolate) and consequently found that their tempers were quite short. Despite having to cope with rather more tearful outbursts than any of us would have liked, we did manage to swap some lovely presents, cook and eat several delicious meals, and explore the towpath near the house.

Along with the presents, we managed to exchange germs, so I have since been suffering my sister's dreadful fluey cold. Managed to drag myself out of bed, heavily dosed up on painkillers, to the fantastic Burning the Clocks event this evening. P. and L. coped wonderfully with all the waiting involved, and we were rewarded by a wonderful fireworks display at the end of the spectacular parade.

Other things we have been doing lately:
  • Making comics – Leo and his cousin invented some new superheroes over the weekend, and he spent a lot of the journey home making copious comics.
  • Using tools – Pearl got a wonderful set of tools from my parents, including a mitre saw. Now we just need to find some wood…
  • Decorating our Christmas tree
  • Watching David Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth – excellent as always
  • Reading a lot – Leo has been re-reading Ricky Ricotta books, and Pearl has been re-absorbing some of the Horrible Histories. When the British Empire was mentioned in conversation the other day, she said "Queen Victoria was the first, last and only British Empress of India. She died in 1901." Allie read Winter House while we were away.
  • Knitting – I'm still working on the wrist warmers, and also started on this cardigan
  • Origami – I made a stellated rhombic dodecahedron while we were away, but forgot to take a picture before I gave it to my sister, so I can't prove it!

Friday, December 09, 2005

More birthdays

Hot on the heels of cousin B's 6th birthday last week, we have been celebrating my 37th and A's mum's 70th this week. Tomorrow is a bit of a mad day for the kids, as they have trampolining in the morning, followed by a friend's 6th birthday party in the afternoon, then straight on to a family party for their grandmother in the evening.

In other news this week:
  • Allie and Leo have been ill, with a rotten cold. P. has remained healthy (as always) and kept to her full schedule of two HE groups, Woodcraft Folk, capoeira, and a visit to the library.
  • We've been making Christmas cards – no glitter, some of you may be relieved to hear.
  • Leo is beside himself with excitement at the prospect of the Doctor Who Christmas special – he even spent this week's pocket money on his own copy of the Christmas Radio Times
  • Pearl has been developing her interest in coins – this evening she discovered that a coin collector is called a numismatist.
  • Our Monday HE group moved to a great new venue, with much more space.
  • We've been playing Monopoly and cards quite a lot – Leo can suddenly do almost all the necessary arithmetic and reading with no problems, and is developing a mean tactical acumen.
  • The grandmothers' allotment has been saved from destruction – hooray!
  • I have been doing some modular origami, from this book and this magazine.
Books we are reading: Jennifer Murdley's Toad, Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs the Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn, Varjak Paw, Money.

    Sunday, December 04, 2005

    Social whirl weekend


    Very pleasant visit from HE friends P, M and J, for lunch and a good long afternoon play for the kids. J and L. completely trashed a room, then helped to pick everything up again. They made some lovely Fimo creations, and built some splendid devices out of octons. P. played wild games with the boys for part of the time and slipped away to send emails to her cousin when this all got out of hand.

    We all enjoyed watching Strictly Come Dancing in the evening, when Allie got home from work.


    A. had to work again, so I set off with the kids for their cousin B's birthday party at a large soft play centre on the other side of town. The kids dealt with the somewhat frantic atmosphere well, and nobody was seriously injured (!)

    Spent the evening internet shopping, watching Scooby Doo, and playing cards.

    Saturday, December 03, 2005

    Stuck in the mud

    Another week seems to have flown by. This one included:
    • Swimming with cousins for P, while Leo and I got up slowly on Sunday.
    • A productive afternoon for me and both kids making Christmas cards (potato printing) and tree decorations (salt dough).
    • HE group on Monday, with games people had brought in and some giant board games hired from my work.
    • Making withy lanterns at Woodcraft Folk in preparation for Burning the Clocks.
    • Pearl and I making an ill-fated and extremely muddy journey by train and bike to…
    • A wonderful day looking at life in Victorian times at Michelham Priory. We saw a blacksmith at work, explored the (working) water mill, investigated household artefacts in the kitchen, and made Victorian Christmas decorations. We missed the beginning, due to getting lost and caked with clay in the woods, but the guide kindly showed us the artefacts everyone else had looked at in the morning, and other HE families gallantly stepped in to transport us and our bikes home.
    • Game playing, reading and lunching for A. and L. at the grandmothers' house, followed by picking up cousin S. from school, then watching her dance show at the community centre.
    • Capoeira for the kids, while I started a new knitting project. (Thanks, Peri).
    • Kids club and grandmothers visit for P. and a cosy day in for me and Leo. He made a display of eggs (chicken, dalek, dragon and tadpole) and then another of power rangers paraphernalia.
    • Another HE group today, where the kids made Christmas cakes and cooked them at home in little sweetcorn cans. This was also a welcome chance to meet up with our friends O. and J. and they came back to our house for a cup of tea and a play after the group.

    Sunday, November 27, 2005

    Not a catch up…

    … as it's been too long since we blogged, but here are some of the things we've been doing.


    • Is enjoying her new group – they've started filming their short films, and she's roughed out a design for her page on the group's website.
    • Has discovered kakuro puzzles, following a tip from my dad – she's spent the last couple of days working on one he sent her
    • Was pleased to find a non Tintin book by Herge and a Tintin dvd she'd not seen before, at the library
    • Liked the discussion of migration at Woodcraft Folk, and was pleased with her I Begin and World Friend badges.
    • Spoke to a television reporter at a demo we went on at the Town Hall, protesting against plans to build a park and ride car park over allotments and homes in the north of Brighton. We were only on the news for a second or two, though.


    • Was thrilled to be given his trampolining badge 3 at the class this morning
    • Happily joined in beautiful singing in rounds at our HE group on Monday
    • Has been enjoying reading various Captain Underpants books for himself – his reading is growing in fluency by leaps and bounds
    • Held his own in a group of 6-9 year olds at Woodcraft Folk, when he and I had to step in to help out at short notice
    • Has made loads of lovely comics featuring his own superhero, Super Squidgy, and various dragons


    Has been writing a report on our last year, so that we're prepared in case the LEA come calling. P. and L. have decided they don't want a visit again, so we want to be able to respond with a weighty tome when/if they write asking to come round. Six pages so far…


    Has almost finished (at long last) knitting a waistcoat for Leo, featuring illusion daleks on the front and dragon on the back. It's lovely, but I'm looking forward to knitting something with less fluffy wool!

    All of us

    • Enjoyed working together on a jigsaw of the British Isles. Infuriatingly, it had 3 pieces missing, but I made replacements by enlarging the picture on the box and sticking the appropriate bits onto card – here it is in all its glory.
    • Had a lovely relaxing day today, as nobody had to go to work for a change. We played cards, read the paper, and generally lounged about.

    Saturday, November 19, 2005

    Speed blogging

    • HE Groups: One for P (painting, film making), one for me and both kids (general free for all).
    • Classes: Capoeira for kids, Woodcraft Folk leader's training for me
    • Family: Popped round to cousins' house to look at stars, and spotted Mars on the way home; P. went to grandmothers' house for the afternoon.
    • Guinea pigs: New system seems to be working OK – having cut fleeces in half means they get clean in washing machine.
    • Christmas: Most presents bought, cards slowly being made, advent calendar finished, general mood of excitement building.
    • Reading: L. read alone for an hour and a half. P. has started Roman Mysteries again from the beginning.
    • Writing: L. is keeping a daily diary.
    • Bits and bobs: card games, jigsaws, excellent conversation about characters in children's programmes, home made vegetable soup, fascinating research about railway line that used to run near our house.

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    Potential venue

    This post is mainly for members of our weekly HE group to check out some photos of a potential venue. I have left the venue nameless but you MM people know where it is!

    So, here are photos.

    Main room showing low table and kitchen at one end

    The quiet room

    Kitchen area

    Sports hall/gym

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    Fruity Fun

    Went to our weekly HE group today. We've started a new system where we take it in turns to bring activities, rather than all bringing something every week. It was our turn today, and Allie struggled over there with two enormous bags of fruit and equipment for making fruit salads and smoothies. A few other families were also on the rota, so there was also houmous making, spice grinding, discovering exotic fruits, investigating a variety of eggs, and an impressive experiment where an egg was pushed through the neck of a milk bottle by air pressure, after burning a piece of paper inside the bottle created a vacuum. It was hard work, but all the kids joined in with something or other, and it was a successful start to the new plan, I think.

    While P. was at Woodcraft Folk this evening, talking about refugees and migration, we made a new home for our guinea pigs, following the plans given on It takes up less of our kitchen, and we think they'll be happy there.

    Last week included:
    • A Christmas card making session on Sunday morning, followed by some energetic playing with cousins.
    • Trampolining for both kids on Saturday, followed by a very enjoyable family cinema trip to see Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
    • A lovely visit to Allie's dad on Friday. P. wrote a coded message for him to decipher, the kids did experiments with a long cardboard tube, they all played blow football, the cat was duly worshipped, and a lovely lunch consumed.
    • P's second week at her Thursday group. No more film making, but some good games and a couple of new people to meet. She came home and downloaded the Pink Panther music from a website, for use in their film.
    • Meanwhile, Leo and I made this, inspired by The Big Bang on Discovery Kids. It's a musical instrument – it makes a note when you bang it on the floor – and it actually works.
    • The arrival of our Christmas craft supplies box from Baker Ross. We treated ourselves to plenty of black card, gold and silver pens, wooden snowmen, etc, and a few bits for making presents for grandparents too. P. has been making a very lovely advent calendar out of matchboxes.
    • Jigsaws and mosaics, courtesy of the library service.
    • A zoo in our living room
    • A reorganisation of Leo's room, to create a cosy corner in which he can watch videos. He has been using the room more, and inviting P. in for company as well. Tonight, they even played one of the hundreds of board games that gather dust in there!

    Saturday, November 12, 2005

    Too late to blog, but...

    You're To Kill a Mockingbird!

    by Harper Lee

    Perceived as a revolutionary and groundbreaking person, you have
    changed the minds of many people. While questioning the authority around you, you've
    also taken a significant amount of flack. But you've had the admirable guts to
    persevere. There's a weird guy in the neighborhood using dubious means to protect you,
    but you're pretty sure it's worth it in the end. In the end, it remains unclear to you
    whether finches and mockingbirds get along in real life.

    Take the Book Quiz
    at the Blue Pyramid.

    and Allie is...

    You're Prufrock and Other Observations!

    by T.S. Eliot

    Though you are very short and often overshadowed, your voice is poetic
    and lyrical. Dark and brooding, you see the world as a hopeless effort of people trying
    to impress other people. Though you make reference to almost everything, you've really
    heard enough about Michelangelo. You measure out your life with coffee spoons.

    Take the Book Quiz
    at the Blue Pyramid.

    Terry Connelly

    You might remember I was at a family funeral recently. Thanks to my brother, Jon, this obituary appeared in The Guardian on Thursday.,16381,1637341,00.html

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    "Where are we going today?"


    I’m beginning to understand what people mean when they say they are worried about the social side of HE – too many social opportunities and not enough time spent at home with each other!

    On Thursday, P. went for a tryout session at a new HE group for kids over 6. There is a paid worker there, and one parent stays to help out each week. They are working on a long term theme of ‘media’ and last week began a new project to make a short film. P. knew most of the other kids already, and seemed to settle in fine. She is keen to stay involved, and I think she’ll really enjoy her time there.

    On Friday, I took the kids to another HE group at lunchtime, and then P. went to an after school birthday party and cinema trip with a gang of her old school friends.

    On Saturday, both kids did trampolining, which has now become pretty much an entirely HE class, after we prompted a bit of an influx from our regular Monday group. They then went straight over to their friend J’s house, where they had a lovely time and bravely stroked the family dog.

    Later, we all went round to the house of our local cousins to see fireworks from their upstairs window with a spectacular view across town. P. and L. stayed there for a sleepover, and we went home. We were fully expecting a call to say that Leo didn’t want to stay, but for the first time ever, he did! This was our first night without a child in the house for eight and a half years – which was nice but a bit strange…

    All the kids insisted on following the sleepover with a swimming trip to the local pool, so they and Dani trudged through the rain to get there on Sunday afternoon, accompanied by our other local cousin and his dad. P. bumped into some people she knows from her school days at the pool, and had a splendid time jumping in and diving to the bottom.

    And Monday was our weekly HE group, followed by Woodcraft Folk in the evening. Dani had to go to a Woodcraft parents’ meeting, so Leo played at his cousin B’s house.

    Whew! It’s no wonder we’re all a bit tired. We’ve decided to pull our horns in a bit, but we are pretty much committed to 5 weekly groups, so it’s not going to be easy.

    A day at home

    Tuesday we decided to make no social arrangements and try to relax and do things at home. This worked wonderfully as the morning began with the delivery of some small pulley blocks from Dani's dad. Pearl fell on these with joy and set about devising a pulley in the stairwell. She tried several designs and the final one was used to carry her book and drink upstairs at bedtime. Unfortunately it was not strong enough for her hot water bottle, but no doubt she's planning modifications.

    Leo was interested for a while too and using a pulley to move some wooden building bricks led to building a nest of bricks on the stairs.

    Leo watched quite a lot of 'Discovery Kids' programmes during the morning. At one point I wandered in to the kitchen and he looked a bit comatose.
    Allie - "What's this about, Leo?"
    Leo - "Jus dis" (face fixed on tv)
    Allie - "What is this? What is it about?"
    Leo - "Jus dis"
    Allie - "Leo, if you really don't know what it's about then maybe you should do something else instead of sitting there staring at it. I mean, you seem to have no idea what it's about." (Autonomous home edder status rapidly slipping here)
    Leo - "I told you what it was about. JUSTICE! Trial by jury and things like that!"

    After lunch we went to the library. Pearl was on a roll so she brought her inventions notebook, as well as her current Roman mystery. Leo settled down with a Dav Pilkey book and read it with great dedication. (I think he is being influenced by Pearlie's reading of the Roman mystery books as he seems intent on finishing it tonight!)

    Pearl went to the science and technology shelves and found a book to explain how electricity is generated from solar power. This was necessary because she had moved on to a design for a pulley system to get people up the steep hill on which we live. She took this all in, incorporated it her in plan and drew her design in her notebook.

    We borrowed some books and toys from the library and went home. We were pleased to have a surprise visit from the Brighton grandmothers, on their way home from the fracture clinic. My mum doesn't have to have surgery but she has to keep her arm in a sling for the next five weeks. The doctor got her to do things with her arm that hurt a lot, but I think she was relieved to hear that metal pinning won't be necessary. The kids gave her very gentle kisses and cuddles.


    P. is rattling through the Roman Mysteries. She is on the 9th book now, and may then have to wait for her cousin S. to finish reading the 10th and lend it to her. She reads at every possible moment – on the bus, walking down the street, during HE groups, etc. I don’t think she has ever been grabbed like this by a book/series of books before.

    L. got a free book with an RSPCA magazine in the local newsagents. He has been reading odd pages here and there, which is pretty hard going for him, but he seems to be following it OK. We have been helping out by reading it to him in bed, too. He's also enjoying reading Dav Pilkey again, and often asks for Dr Seuss favourites at bedtime too.

    Random highlights

    • The RSPCA magazine had a competition to design a new Sylvanian Family. Both P. and L. decided to enter, and produced these lovely pictures:

    • P. made a creditable sound with a didgeridoo one of the dads brought along to the Monday group.
    • Somebody else brought along a giant stick insect that lives free in their house – both kids stroked it.
    • P's Christmas list, which includes "wood, tools and stuff" and "a good strong ball of string".

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    Another exhausting week

    Life is relentlessly eventful round here. I'll attempt another swift catch up…

    Thursday 27th October

    Allie's mum is incapacitated by her injured shoulder (now thoroughly x-rayed and discovered to be broken), so both kids were home. Lots of Hallowe'en preparations.

    Friday 28th October

    Lovely visit to Fishbourne Roman Palace for their Roman Army week activities. Allie went with our two, and their cousin B. and his mum. They had to complete a range of tasks – eat Roman food, practice drill with swords, shields and helmets, throw stones and spears, make clay medals, watch the apothecary make potions, have a 'tattoo' on their hands - to earn their day's pay, a replica denarius. All three kids had a great time. A. picked up some half price books, including the next of the Roman Mysteries for P., and the kids spent their pocket money on coins, cuddly boars, etc.

    Saturday 29th October

    Off to Lancing for Nic's party, dressed as witches, a vampire and a dragon.

    Failed to meet the Where the Days go gang at the station, but found them on the train, and shared an enjoyable meal of chips in a caff at the other end. Party was quite a surreal experience – a bit like being in a room full of people you've seen on the telly. Nice to meet everyone, finally.

    Sunday 30th October

    A family gathering at the ailing grandmother's house. Allie had to go to work, but popped in on her way, and the rest of us went over there later.

    Monday 31st October

    A mad day, involving HE group in the morning, followed immediately by a meeting of the grown ups in the group at a pub with attached play area, followed immediately by a Woodcraft Folk Halloween party, followed immediately by trick or treating with cousins.

    HE group theme of 'favourite things' was a great success – Leo took his dragons, Fafnir and Tiamat, and a dragons book, P. took some Sylvanians, her coin collection, and her current Roman Mystery – she's going through them at a rate of knots.

    Tuesday 1st November

    Quiet and productive day at home, followed by manic after school arrangements with cousins.

    Wednesday 2nd November

    More pottering at home – tracing, comics, secret detective work, maths worksheets from Enchanted Learning - followed by capoeira classes with cousins.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2005

    Downs and ups

    I will attempt a single sentence for each day as we have got so far behind!

    Thursday 20th
    I went to work and D and the kids went to the sixth birthday party of an HE friend, held in the local park.

    Friday 21st
    I took the kids to the library in the rain and then to the park in the sunshine!

    Saturday 22nd
    Began at four am with Leo vomiting in his bed and continuing to do so at hourly intervals for the rest of the day.

    Sunday 23rd
    Leo fully recovered so Dani went with both kids to an event in town organised by Brighton Black History called Gateway to History – tried on saris, salwar kameez, did rangoli pictures, took part in story telling and ate yummy food.

    Monday 24th
    HE group in pouring rain with toys and games/quizzes/logic puzzles – based loosely on humans theme.

    Tuesday 25th
    Pearl had former school friend for lunch and play and Leo had cousin B for same – very happy play all round.

    Wednesday 26th
    Morning was a quiet time at home – more below. In the afternoon Dani took P and L to meet up with some HE group friends for a show by the marvellous Stomp! P declared it 'brilliant' and L was happy to see his good friend J. P went straight on to capoeira where they had a stand in teacher as the regular one was away.

    A wonderful HE morning

    This past week has been tiring and pretty stressful. As well as being busy and having Leo so sick for a whole day (one of those times when the washing machine runs non-stop for 12 hours!) we have had some challenging debate going on at our HE group and my mum phoned from her holiday flat in Crete to tell us she had fallen and dislocated her shoulder. She is now home and resting – but it was worrying for us all and confirmed my fear that I do not have a valid passport – you never know when you may need one.

    So this morning we decided to snatch a few hours just being at home. Dani went to work and the kids and I got up slowly. After breakfast I decided to make another geometric paper window decoration. We have had a book about these for some time and I made a shape yesterday while the kids were playing upstairs with friends.

    The sight of me sitting down and making something at the table inspired Leo to switch off the telly. This is something of a small miracle as it is 'scooby week' on Boomerang. He had earlier been fascinated by a picture of the Blue Peter tortoise in a book of Pearl's, so he decided to make one. He drew a tortoise on some card, cut it out, attached a length of shirring elastic, and tethered it to the radiator in the hallway. After that he pottered and made another beautiful comic.

    Leo's tortoise

    Leo's comic cover and one of the pages

    Pearl decided to make a pulley type device (actually something like a fan belt in the end). She has had a fascination with pulleys, and similar things, since she was four or five. Today she decided to draw her design in her 'inventions notebook' – she had it complete in her head before she started. I love watching her describe these inventions – she uses her hands to sketch it all out in the air and it is clear she can see it before her. Anyway, she used little wooden plant sticks, lolly sticks, and a cotton reel. The whole thing worked just as she had envisaged it, though it has collapsed this evening. We talked a lot about engineers, what they do and how they train. She told me that when she grows up she may be an engineer and do archaeology as a hobby. When she had finished her invention she did another design in her book, ready to be made another day.

    Pearl's invention

    As we chatted Pearl suddenly declared:
    " I like being home ed."
    Leo responded,
    "I LOVE being home ed."

    This was just the boost I needed after a tough week.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2005

    Penultimate perils, groups and experiments

    Life is getting a bit frantic again here but we seem to be inviting it!

    Went to our weekly HE group. The session was rather spoiled by a huge pile of dog poo on the grass area where the kids run around. It ended up on three kids feet and through the entrance hall. Everything got a bit much so we sloped off early and, as we had a couple of hours all together, we went off to the park. We found two other HE families in the park, who told us all about another weekly HE group for over sixes, that runs locally. The sessions are run by a paid worker (with a rota of parent help) and the kids do topics that last a few weeks at a time. We think we can work it in to our weekly schedule for P, so she's going for a trial session in a couple of weeks.

    I know it must be hard to imagine for people in areas with fewer HE families, but here we know of six weekly groups within reach, as well as a fortnightly one. We have a commitment to our existing weekly one, and I think we can commit to another for P – especially one where we drop her off! We have to guard against getting too busy.

    P went to Woodcraft in the evening and Leo made this cool Hama bead robot

    The kids and I went to town to collect 'The penultimate peril' – book 12 in the Series of Unfortunate Events books. Dani and I have been reading it aloud to both, and struggling to catch up on the chapters we miss!

    We had an arty afternoon. Pearl declared a desire to make a collage of a sheep – which she did.

    Then she wrote a Haiku about book 12.

    Penultimate book
    Violet, Klaus and Sunny
    Are volunteers now.

    Leo also made a collage, and then drew a lot more comic book stuff.

    This picture shows the explosion of the planet, among other things. The superhero is called Super Squidgey.

    I felt full of cold this morning, so we did a bit of book 12 reading in our pjs. Then the kids disappeared upstairs to make a secret den in Leo's room, while I did a Tesco shop online.

    Pearl informed us that she has recently been watching a lot of great 'How its made' programmes on Discovery Science. She likes to watch TV from our bed, on her own.

    Pearl also wrote a letter to her Leicestershire cousins this afternoon – we have no idea what was in it, but the envelope was hexagonal.

    Science in the bath

    This evening I was very tired when I got in from work but Leo declared he wanted a bath. So I sat in the bathroom with a cup of tea and observed L enjoying a wonderful bath. He lectured me on many things:

    "Now, there is some oxygen contained in the water. But if our lungs filled with water we would drown."

    "If I mix some of this crazy soap and water, the chemicals might combine to form an explosive. I'll just add a specimen to my test tube and see what effect it has."

    "Action man won't go under the water until all the bubbles are out."

    There was a lot more along these lines. I particularly enjoyed his attempts at creating an explosive out of crazy soap. He loves to use the right vocabulary and it amazes me how well he does this and how much he has observed about the scientific method.

    Both kids have been doing some experiments recently with balloons that contain a bit of water. They call these chromatography balloons, as they think the colour of the balloon is changed by the water. This activity was Leo's idea originally but Pearl soon got involved. Both kids had theories about what would happen to the water in the balloon. Leo thought it would come out with the force of the air going in as you blew it up. Pearl thought the water would evaporate inside the balloon extremely quickly. Actually we now have several balloons around that have water inside. They are fun to play with and the kids have observed a lot about them: they roll strangely as the water moves inside the balloon, they feel cold on your hand, they fall very fast compared to a balloon containing air. I think balloons are one of the top HE resources we have ever bought – they get used for everything and they are cheap!

    Sunday, October 16, 2005

    This week, we have mostly been…

    • Playing capoeira – we had our usual classes on Wednesday, and a special class with Mestre Laercio on Saturday. P. was fantastic, and played twice in the roda. She was quite cross she didn't get to play with the mestre himself – maybe next time!
    • Socialising – after the capoeira workshop we ended up in the nearest park and bumped into several other capoeristas, including a HE family we have recently made friends with, and had a nice relaxed play for an hour or so. On Thursday we had a visit from another HE friend – lots of Transformers chat and general rampaging. And last night we had a sleepover visit from cousin S, then met up again with her and her brother in the park this afternoon.
    • Cooking – I made bread rolls on Thursday, and we finally got round to doing some bean sprouts this week. They sprouted astonishingly fast, and the kids declared them to be "just as good as the ones made by professional bean sprouters".
    • Pottering about in the house – including lots of drawing, some maths in a workbook (P), playing Monopoly, trying out some games in a cuisenaire rods book A. printed off the internet, watching TV, reading blogs, making Hallowe'en costumes, creating playmobil scenes, etc.
    • Trying to kill fruit flies – we found out that our compost bin has caused a serious infestation in our next door neighbours' house. Aargh! Luckily, neighbours are very understanding, but we are now trying everything we can think of to get rid of the little beasties.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    Cooking, playing, reading and stuff

    Pearl decided that baking was necessary and started making cheese straws before her parents were even dressed. She did this very slowly and very thoroughly and was still busy creating when I left for work. She did the whole thing herself, except getting the hot tray out of the oven. (Note to self: get decent oven gloves.) The end results were so delicious they were nearly all gone when I got home, but I managed to get one.

    Dani took over to make 'tigger's spicy biscuits' – about a hundred of them and very yummy.

    In the afternoon D and the kids went to play in the park with cousins S and D. They then went to cousins' house for tea and pay-per-view Lemony Snicket film. I believe a fab time was had by all and am sulking that everyone else in the family has now seen this film twice and I haven't seen it at all!

    Home ed group theme this week was animals and natural cycles/ changing seasons. It went very well, everyone had fun and we spent quite a lot of time outside enjoying the balmy day. Can't remember all that happened but some highlights:
    Completing an animals quiz with P, who displayed an impressive knowledge of animal behaviour in the winter.
    P, L and I had a good look at tarantula moults (sheds?) brought in by a family who keep two such beasties as pets. These amazing creatures shed everything – even their teeth. Wonderful opportunity for us all to see something so unusual up close and I learned a lot.
    One group member led some yoga for the kids out on the grass in the sunshine. P joined in and really enjoyed this. She is a very bendy bunny!
    I had to leave half way through and Dani took over as parent on duty.

    In the evening Pearl went to Woodcraft where they are continuing the food theme. She told everyone in the circle that she doesn't go to school, something she's been wanting to say but hasn't had a chance to.

    My mum and partner left for two weeks hols today, so our usual routine is suspended. Pearl was streaming with cold first thing and she had a busy morning playing with playmobil toys in the hallway. Leo played with his 'dinosaur egg in the ice' playmobil toy and this led him into an experiment involving freezing a toy in a glass of water in the freezer. He has been hacking away happily at this tonight and I just found him in the bathroom where he told me the best idea was to 'add some warm water to defrost it.'

    I went through our box of workbook/puzzlebook things, hoping to weed out some rubbish. Sadly the kids wanted to keep almost everything – even half done stuff that's been there for years! Mind you, P did a sheet of 'secret code maths' that has been there for months – actually just some simple addition but interesting to her for its code link. She decided it would not be suitable as a code for her and cousin S because 'it just came off the internet so anyone could print that out and break the code!' True enough and I think devising ciphers is the bit she likes best.
    Leo and I sat down to something from an addition and subtraction book that was lurking in the box. He has been wanting to do a particular page for a while - just because it involves a sweetshop scenario! It was hard for him but with a selection of things to help – coins, number line, fingers, and me – he worked it all out. We discussed his tendency to write numbers backwards. In fact I realised that he often writes two digit numbers entirely in mirror writing – numbers in wrong order and digits backwards. I am never sure about pointing out such things to the kids. If we ever point out a spelling mistake to P (not something we do because she's a kid – we do the same to each other!) she always declares that she knows it is wrong and often volunteers the correct spelling. But she generally doesn't like to either make mistakes or to have them noticed. Leo finds the whole thing rather amusing and is not at all bothered. He may or may not correct himself but today he was happy to cross out his reversals and have another go.
    It is interesting to me that Leo often writes his numbers backwards. He used to do the same with text too – often writing speech bubbles with text that started at the person's mouth and went in the direction of the bubble. He never does that now and has only two letters that persists in coming out reversed – s and g. I imagine that his numbers will sort themselves out just as his letters have. His fist pen grip persists but his control is amazing so I guess he doesn't see any need to change. He does hold paint brushes in a more orthodox three point hold, so he certainly can.
    Pearl has loved playing with her playmobil today. She has been making big 'scenes' involving drama and intrigue – fire, theft, broken bicycles…

    We went to collect cousin S from her school this afternoon and then met up with her brother D, cousin B and his mum. It is very strange to be in a school playground. I felt a bit conspicuous with L who had acquired a colander from a 'please take' pile in the street and was using it as a nest for 'invisible baby viseraks'. He was also dressed in his 'superhamster' t-shirt and quite a lot of mud from the park we'd visited on the way. Pearl and Leo are very fond of this little park at the moment - it offers a lot of excavation interest. I have promised to find out some more information about when the park used to be a bit of railway line to help them in their time teaming!

    What are we reading?
    Leo finished his Ricky Ricotta book on the day we borrowed it from the library. He has mainly been dipping in and out of a comic since. I am re-reading him the Series of Unfortunate Events book 11 so we remember where we are when book 12 is published this month. Pearl is enjoying the roman mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence, which her cousin S is also reading. Pearl is on book 2 'Secrets of Vesuvius' – Dani is reading bits to her at bedtime but she's reading on herself as she is gripped. I am going to try to read the Ian Rankin I borrowed from the library on Friday but I've just spotted that Dani is reading it as I type! Better go and steal it back.

    Apparently, I'm a...


    You are one of life’s enjoyers, determined to get the most you can out of your brief spell on Earth. Probably what first attracted you to atheism was the prospect of liberation from the Ten Commandments, few of which are compatible with a life of pleasure. You play hard and work quite hard, have a strong sense of loyalty and a relaxed but consistent approach to your philosophy.

    You can’t see the point of abstract principles and probably wouldn’t lay down your life for a concept though you might for a friend. Something of a champagne humanist, you admire George Bernard Shaw for his cheerful agnosticism and pursuit of sensual rewards and your Hollywood hero is Marlon Brando, who was beautiful, irascible and aimed for goodness in his own tortured way.

    Sometimes you might be tempted to allow your own pleasures to take precedence over your ethics. But everyone is striving for that elusive balance between the good and the happy life. You’d probably open another bottle and say there’s no contest.

    What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.

    That's not what I would have said, but what do I know?

    Saturday, October 08, 2005

    Pause for breath

    We've both been working a lot, and the kids have been busy with their stuff too.

    Leo has rediscovered drawing, after a bit of a pause, inspired by his mammoth comic making session at Monday's group. He has been making comics, with lots of POWs and BATONGs, goodies and villains, dragons and daleks, all spelt in his own inimitable style.

    He and Allie made a nest. She followed his instructions carefully, and together they made a nest from an old tissue box, with loo roll tube baby triceratopses. When it was finished he said "Now, we need to find something to act as vegetation, because it said on Tale of a Tooth that when vegetation rots, it produces heat". Once the babies were suitably insulated with string, he cut up paper to be the broken eggshells, as found in fossil dinosaur nests.

    In the library, he found a Ricky Ricotta book, found a comfy seat, and sat silently reading – 58 pages – until it was time to go home for lunch.

    Pearl had a grandmothers visit, during which she took photographs at the allotment and picked lots of lovely flowers.

    When she got home, she was seized by a desire to try out the tiny candle she had made from Babybel wax. Visiting grandmother (who used to be a science teacher) was quite interested in this, and hung around to help. We therefore did a very scientific experiment, involving making another candle with a thicker wick and weighing the two balls of wax left over to see which was heavier. We also talked about the colours of flames, and threw some salt on the gas cooker to see the lovely sodium flame colour.

    While this was going on, Leo was doing his own experiment with water and scrunched up paper. At one point bubbles appeared in his cup of water. Visiting grandmother said this was like the bubbles in a fizzy drink and asked him what he thought those bubbles were. He said, without missing a beat, "carbon dioxide", and carried on with what he was doing.

    P. has also been thinking a lot about codes. At the bus stop today she was explaining to Allie how Morse code was really invented by someone else, and had just been appropriated by Morse. She then demonstrated her own version, in which a dot is a hop and a dash is a jump – thus combining PE, history and maths in one fell swoop.

    This evening she asked for a Dictaphone, and the two of them spent a happy hour or so taping themselves and giggling. We then had a lovely, peaceful evening, with Allie on the computer, Pearl and Leo sat at the table doing French knitting and drawing, and me knitting on the sofa.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2005



    Pottered about at home in the morning, then Allie went to work, and the rest of us went swimming with some local cousins. Leo went down the slide without me catching him, and was pleased to find he could touch the bottom of the pool with his feet.


    Allie had to go to a funeral, so I took the day off work and went to the HE group with the kids. This was lovely – we were looking at the moon and stars, and everyone had brought interesting books and resources. We dropped stones into flour to make craters, used a scale model of the earth and moon to see just how far away it is (further than you think!), read moon-related stories and myths, wrote moon poems. Some people made lovely star and moon mobiles out of straws and paperclips, while Leo and his friend J. spent ages making comics which had nothing to do with the moon, and P. lay on the grass outside reading her book, The Thieves of Ostia.

    The eclipse in the morning set the day up very nicely – we all enjoyed projecting the image of the sun onto P's bedroom wall, and noticed the strangely dim quality of the sunlight outside as the moon cast its shadow.

    In the evening, P. and I went to Woodcraft Folk, where we unpacked shopping bags to find out where the food came from, then marked the countries on a map, and had a discussion about fair trade, global warming, Nestle boycott, etc – some very clued up kids at Woodcraft! Some were a bit more unruly and inconsiderate than I would have liked, at the end of a long day, but I think it went quite well overall.


    Leo went to A's mum. Not sure what he did there, but it wore him out! He was thrilled to be given a big canine tooth that the grandmothers dug up on their allotment.

    Pearl and Allie watched The Madness of King George, which we got free with the Guardian on Saturday. I think P. was quite shocked at the way he was treated. Extremely educational, I'm sure. As Allie said, you don't get to watch great films like that until you're doing A levels if you go to school.

    Sunday, October 02, 2005

    Burning the candle at both ends

    An exhausting few days, including a mammoth trip to the Science Museum for Allie and the kids on Friday. They saw a 3D film at the IMAX cinema about landing on the moon; enjoyed a lecture about rockets, complete with exploding hydrogen-filled balloons; and explored the museum's collection of early radio equipment in the company of a fascinating curator.

    They all enjoyed the day, but were struggling with exhaustion, because they had to get up at 6.30 in order to be there on time for the film showing. We also blew loads of money on train tickets to travel at such an unearthly hour.

    Other recent highlights have been:
    • Another good capoeira class for both P. and L. on Wednesday.
    • P. made lavender ice cream and read a funny French picture book with her grandmother on Thursday, while Leo accompanied me to work to do an emergency lunch cover. He amused himself beautifully on a spare computer and was no trouble at all.
    • P's trampolining class started again today, and two of our home ed friends came along to give it a try, which was lovely.
    • We looked at the stars this evening with a local cousin who has a telescope. We were trying to find Mars, but it turned out the house was in the way. It was interesting, anyway.
    • Some good conversations about how toys marketed at little girls tend to be quite hideous – heads with long hair attached to strange pod-like bodies, or with no body at all, just hands. A. and L. had a chat about how labelling toys for boys or girls is silly.
    • L. and P. both worked on codes this afternoon. This is a frequent activity for P, but the first time L has really followed it through. He made up a very complicated code with multiple symbols for each letter, and he and I sent each other coded messages.
    • Leo demanded a map of the world, out of the blue one evening, so he could see where the slaves who invented capoeira had come from, where Brazil was, and why the 15th century explorers had thought they could reach China by sailing west from Europe.

    Must sleep now, another busy day tomorrow…

    Wednesday, September 28, 2005

    Walking, talking, life and stuff

    It's too late tonight to do a proper blog – here's some random things!

    On Sunday morning we went on a walk organised by Woodcraft Folk. It had rained during the previous night but the sun came out and it was beautiful. There was a choice between 3, 6 or 9 mile walks. Leo insisted that he wanted to do the nine miler and we flatly refused. We did the three mile walk and as we slogged up the steep downland hill on the way back he declared:
    "I feel like I've done the nine mile walk…"
    Sunday afternoon we went down to the Labour Party Conference to take part in a demonstration about the plight of Omar Deghayes, with Brighton cousins S and D. Pearl had a good shout and declared that George Blair should be listening. She gets Bush and Blair confused sometimes, but then, who can blame her? Topics of conversation included state surveillance and torture – educational but sad

    On Monday our HE group met up – back in the hall again for the winter. Pearl spent nearly all the time outside and showed little interest in the activities on offer. Leo got irate when people didn't want to play 'stuck in the mud' endlessly – mainly because he had exhausted himself running about. Looks like we all need to adjust to the changing season and the move back indoors.

    Today was Leo's day to go to the grandmothers' house. He had a great time 'discovering' a bone in the garden – which I believe they had planted there for him! He also read a book to his grandmothers and was very pleased with himself as it was 'really fat'!

    Meanwhile Pearl and I had a nice quiet afternoon. We had to pop in to the funeral directors as I had to drop off some music for a family funeral next week. They had little mini coffins on display, which Pearl thought were musical boxes. When we got home we cuddled up on the sofa with a maths workbook thing. I don't know why but Pearl really likes to do this with me – just the two of us. There were just a few things to complete in the Letts age 8/9 book she has – so she finished the book. I popped it in the filing cabinet and Pearl said she'd "show it to that Sharon Osborne woman" the LEA bod who does look a bit her I suppose. But if we keep referring to her as Sharon Osborne I'll be in great danger of saying it to her face.

    Kids were alternately scrapping and cuddling/giggling this evening but it looked like ending in tears, so I suggested we try a game from a number pack I brought home from work. One of the perks of my job is freebie stuff that would otherwise be thrown away from the teaching resources collection. This pack has several sets of number cards up to 100 and suggested games. We had to pick games that Leo could handle and Pearl was great at helping him and being nice. Leo finds numbers quite mysterious but is always so pleased to work something out that it is quite enjoyable to watch him.

    Dani was out tonight so both kids snuggled in Leo's bed for a chapter of Olga da Polga. It is a bit bizarre bur since acquiring guinea pigs of our own both kids seem to like it.

    Anyway, must go and check ebay to see how we're doing on an auction. Pearl lost a bag of precious Sylvanians on the bus on Friday and we're trying to replace some at low(ish) cost – some hope!

    Saturday, September 24, 2005

    Roman poster, jelly babies and digging


    I took Pearl over to the grandmothers' house, where she did baking (scones) and delivered a present she had made for a friend. The friend in question is a friend of my mum, a person Pearl has met once, but with whom she was evidently taken. This friend collects dragons and Pearl had made her a dragon from Fimo and a lovely hand made card. One of the things that HE has encouraged in Pearl is an 'any age' approach to potential friends. We occasionally worry that she doesn't have a big group of eight year old girls to befriend and meanwhile she is happily spending hours making a present and card for someone she just happens to like, who is in her sixties.

    Dani and Leo spent a lot of time on 'dragon studies' in the park - looking for nest sites, eggs and footprints in the bushes and sand pit. When they came home they made dragon eggs from Fimo and also produced a plaster cast of 'genuine' dragon tracks. At bedtime I read him Ace Dragon Ltd.


    Pearl, Leo and I went to the 'drop-in' home ed group. This group is big (well over twenty kids, and many adults) but we all managed to find people to chat to and play with. Someone instigated an activity making constructions with jelly babies and spaghetti. Pearlie was so taken with this that she announced her intention to try for the world record 'highest construction of pasta and jelly babies'. We looked on the Guinness World Records website but I think all the regulations (respected independent witnesses, media coverage, etc.) will probably make this record attempt impossible. But we might make a more informal attempt!

    In the evening we worked on completing our Romans poster – a mixture of things we did and information and pictures from books and web. We still haven't attempted to make the crane – not sure if we will now as Pearlie's enthusiasm peaked on our 'Roman day'. But we may come back to it over the winter.


    I had to work today – lots of new students arriving on the campus. Pearl and Leo were already excavating in the garden when I left. They were dressed somewhat bizarrely in fleece hats, with scarves tied around their faces – something to do with repelling insects. Later in the day they went to a small local park to continue excavating a site they found on Wednesday on their way to capoeira, when there was no time to do a proper job. I believe they had a fine time and came away with some bits of pot and metal. P managed to cut herself on a big lump of metal but I think she had a tetanus booster at four??

    This evening P declared that she wanted to write a report of today's excavation, but was somewhat at a loss about how to begin. Dani helped her formulate a plan; what is the report for? How might you structure the report? Are you going to make notes first? I think this was helpful. P sometimes abandons written projects when she is frustrated by her own lack of experience. She has taken it to bed tonight anyway.

    What's being read round here?

    Just a quick note on our current reading. Dani is reading 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit' to P at bedtime. I think P is probably reading a lot of 'Guinness Book of Records 2005' and 'Horrible Science' magazines to herself. Leo is reading 'Rita and the Romans' to himself at bedtime, after finishing 'Magnificent Mummies' while waiting for P to finish her capoeira class. I have been reading 'Natural Learning and the Natural Curriculum' – a collection of writing by Roland Meighan. Dani has just finished 'In the Company of Cheerful Ladies' and has run out of Ladies Detective Agency books for now!