Monday, January 31, 2005

Bird watching, spring cleaning, and a lighthouse

A mixed couple of days. Saturday was our first day with no work commitments for ages. We decided to do spring cleaning, but once we’d got trampolining out of the way, and Pearlie and I had watched our garden for birds for an hour, as part of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, there wasn’t an awful lot of the day left.

P. and L. took their customary approach to cleaning, which was to create as much mess as possible just outside (and sometimes inside) the area actually being cleaned. This had its customary effect on Allie, and everyone was a bit tense by the end of the day. But we did get four big boxes of cuddly toys out of our bedroom, so something was achieved.

While spring cleaning, we discovered an old cylindrical cardboard box that wasn’t being used, and this inspired us to make a lighthouse to take along to the HE group on Monday – we are looking at houses this week.

We dug out the circuit making kit we have never used since we bought it two years ago, made a circuit with a flashing light bulb, and put it all together to make a passable looking lighthouse that really works! Allie painted it white last night and the kids added windows and doors this evening.

We made a lighthouse! Posted by Hello

Today Allie went to work, dropping P. off at a school friend’s house on the way. They took her to Wakehurst Place, where she reports that they got muddy and cold, but seem to have had a lovely time.

Leo and I stayed in all day. He was delighted by the Happy Gang website about homes on the BBC, and spent a long time playing the games on there and designing houses. He also built a ‘mansion’ out of cushions, watched Big Al again, drew and constructed dinosaurs, listened to me read bits of Horrible Science 2, and talked about lots of things.

I have managed to get pictures off our camera, but the computer is behaving erratically, so I’m not sure I can repeat the achievement...

Friday, January 28, 2005

Friday - library, maths and a friend to play

Dani went to work via the hospital today. She has been waiting for a physiotherapy appointment for a few months, after a nasty incident in the summer when her arm got hurt. It was all the fault of a trip-wire (actually skipping rope tied between two chairs) that Leo had constructed in the kitchen. When Dani suggested it was dangerous I assured her that it was ok because we were all aware of it. Five minutes later she got up to clear the table and was very efficiently tripped. The physio said that she had torn some of her tricep where it joins the shoulder blade and though it was healed it had scar tissue and was (to use his technical term) ‘knackered’. Anyway, he gave her exercises to do and she is going back in a couple of weeks.

Kids and I went off to the library and chose loads of stuff. They were very happy there and I even got ten minutes to choose stuff for myself while P looked at books and Leo drew in his sketch book.

Pearl chose:
Horrible history books on the ‘Blitzed Brits’ and kings and queens
Another kings and queens book by Tony Robinson
A fun maths activity book with recipes and craft activities
A book on ‘how to live forever’(!?)
A video of ‘Matilda’ – the feature film
A new Captain Underpants book.

For Leo:
A book in the ‘Little Horrors’ series called ‘The Swamp Man’ – by Shoo Rayner
A Walking with Dinosaurs book
Spooky Spinechillers
Wizzil – a book by William Steig (who apparently wrote Shrek but which we really chose because it is illustrated by Quentin Blake)
A new Captain Underpants book
An appalling video in the ‘Goosebumps’ series featuring two American kids being haunted in the Tower of London – he gave up after about ten minutes of viewing.

We came home for lunch and then decided to do a bit of maths on paper. I downloaded some of a really long workbook thing from a scheme which I read another muddlepuddler is using

Pearl was keen to have something ‘hard – like for people in year 6’. I actually gave her a year four book as it looked fairly demanding. She picked out all the bits that related to Roman numerals and did those. I must admit that I think that the books have an excessive number of questions. But we’ll use it like we use everything – pick out the bits that appeal.

Leo wanted a ‘maths book’ too. I usually find the maths books aimed at four year olds a bit pointless. I think there is a rush to put things down on paper that are best observed as part of life. But he wanted something so I found him a little book on enchanted learning that had ‘spooky’ things to count. He amazed me and Pearl by doing the whole thing. I did the first couple of pages with him and then got distracted discussing stuff with Pearl. He read the rest and filled in all the answers. He writes a lot of his numbers backwards but they were all right.

A local HE friend (a fab little girl aged five) came round to play after an unexpected phone call from her mum and that used up the rest of the day happily. Kids played explorers all over the house. When they got tired the little ones flopped with books and videos and Pearl played Set on the computer. She couldn’t find the last set – which drove her a bit mad as I was no help. But Dani arrived home from work and saved the day!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A batty afternoon

We had a quiet and creative afternoon at home, mostly bat-themed. L. did a lovely bat picture on the computer, almost entirely unaided. P. found the pen holders, nibs and ink and they both settled down to draw comics on some blank templates A. had printed out from Enchanted Learning. After that they went off secretly and P. made a huge number of bats on clothes pegs out of paper and fun foam, and pegged them onto their bedroom curtains.

Eventually, we got ourselves into reasonable clothes and set off for capoeira. I keep forgetting to blog about this – we go every Wednesday to a kids’ capoeira class for people aged 4 to 8. Capoeira is a fantastic Brazilian art form – part dance, part game, part martial art. It’s very acrobatic too, and there’s music and singing. Quite hard to describe, if you’ve never seen it.
Pearl and Leo both enjoy the class, which is taught in a very open and energetic way, often with a chance to play capoeira with one of the teachers or other kids in a roda (circle of everyone singing, clapping and playing instruments) at the end. All the parents stay, and often join in the last bit, and it’s generally very relaxed. Some of the other four year olds do find it a bit demanding after a day at school – I’m always relieved that P. and L. don’t arrive at the class exhausted, hungry and frazzled.

Actually, they were a bit hungry today, and were getting on each other’s nerves, so they partnered other people for (I think) the first time ever. This went very well, and was a bit of a breakthrough for Leo, who has been a bit shy at this group.

Leo watched Big Al again after we got home, and P. started a new story on the computer. After tea, I did a bit of cleaning and they went a bit mad, organising a Sylvanian birthday party on top of a door frame. This entailed climbing up on an enormous pile of floor cushions, and predictably ended in a grazed knee when P. fell off said pile of cushions.

All settled happily in bed, after some more Zoombinis, snacks and drawing. Off to get some sleep myself.

Tuesday – death and shopping. Wednesday – a day of two halves.

On Tuesday Pearlie and I walked Leo over to my mum and partner’s house. I guess all will have realised we have no car! We had just struggled into our waterproof trousers and swaddled ourselves up against the horizontal sleet when it stopped – and the sun shone all the way. On the way we talked about death and beliefs about the afterlife. Leo wondered how the Ancient Egyptians could put people inside so much wrapping and heavy coffins and expect them to get out! We talked about the Shabtis that were buried with them and how they could help.

We then talked about death in general. Dani and I are both atheists raised by atheists so our explanations tend to be pretty simple in this area. I said that I felt death was a natural part of life and that at the end of a long life death was a bit like going to sleep after a very busy day. Leo expressed the wish that he never die but Pearl pointed out that if you went on living you would probably be killed eventually by exhaust fumes or the end of the world…

After dropping off Leo P and I went to get haircuts. I’ve been going to the same place for about fifteen years and now P comes too. It’s a fairly traditional barbershop with a big jar of lollies for kids – so Pearlie quite likes going. After being tidied up a bit we went off to the toyshop so P could spend some tooth and pocket money she has been saving. She chose a new family of Sylvanian mice and counted out her £12.99 on the counter, right down to the last penny.
When we got home P was keen to introduce her new mice to the rest of the community and so she played Sylvanians for a while. Then we played Zoombinis together. I think its one of the best presents we’ve ever bought Pearlie. She has never shown much interest in computer games before but this really suits her. What’s good is that on the harder levels it is genuinely challenging for me and Dani too so we can work collaboratively and learn together.

The rest of the day was fairly quiet and happy all round. I surpassed myself by actually getting out a duster for a bit. Leo was very pleased with the smell of polish which he claimed was ‘not at all familiar’. That says it all really!

Wednesday morning

D went off to work before the kids were awake today. When they got up L wanted to watch Ballad of Big Al again. P and I explored some of the stuff available on Enchanted Learning and printed out a French book of animals. I printed out a nice bat template and made one but the kids had drifted off. When they got hungry they emerged demanding cheese pastry. I encouraged cheese scones which are pretty reliable no matter how you make them. Leo and I worked together to make the scones, then he cut them out with a bat shaped cutter and P decorated them with poppy seeds. D walked in just as they came out of the oven and we gobbled them all up. Then I had to set off for work.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Light fantastic

The theme was light at our home ed group yesterday. Everyone had brought lots of lovely stuff and the kids made 'stained glass windows' and 3d glasses, read books, shone rainbows on the ceiling, and performed the Gruffalo as a shadow puppet show. I made a pinhole camera out of a Pringles box, mainly for my own amusement - P. is only interested in one that takes real pictures. I think we may try to make this one.

It was one of our half and half days, so I went straight from work to the group, and Allie went off to her work from there. P. and L. were both very tired, and finding it hard to join in with the activities, though I think they both perked up a bit after lunch.

P. went to Woodcraft Folk after we got home, and Leo and I just flopped about at home. Leo is thrilled with 'The Ballad of Big Al' and watched it through at least twice yesterday.

By the time P. and L. finally went to bed (after last minute Zoombinis and dinosaur scene making), we were too tired to do anything much. Maybe we need to renegotiate this bedtime thing again...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Thrushes and other things

Yesterday, P. went to trampolining and after that I couldn’t interest either child in anything ‘educational’ for the rest of the afternoon. In fact, she did trampolining on our bed for most of the time, while Leo just mooched about.

Just when I was starting to worry, both of them went for fantastically educational activities all day today.

Leo searched for and printed out a rattlesnake page from Enchanted Learning, and did a lovely picture on the computer. P. did Sylvanians most of the morning.

At lunchtime, out of the blue, Leo remarked, “The numbers that use just one symbol only go up to nine.” We had a brief conversation about how when there’s a 1 at the beginning of the number it stands for ten, so eleven is 10 + 1, twelve is 10 + 2, etc. L participated sagely in this discussion until he lost interest, so I stopped talking.

After lunch we went to the Pavilion Gardens for a RSPB birdwatching event, with our 7 and 3 year old cousins (and their parents). I had no idea what this would be like, but it was great. We all made bird feeders out of apples and sunflower seeds, then the girls set off determinedly to find birds, while the boys applied equal enthusiasm to chasing pigeons.

On the way in, we spotted a blackbird with white flecks round its face and neck. P. mentioned this to one of the people from the RSPB, who told us that only today he had learned from a man of around 60 that there was an albino blackbird living in the gardens about 50 years ago, and there had been blackbirds with some white bits there ever since.

We saw the song thrush chicks that have just hatched out in the gardens (unusually early – it was on the telly), and followed them around for ages. We spotted blue tits, starlings, and green finches in the trees. P. was wonderfully chatty with the RSPB people. Even Leo was pleased to have seen birds he hadn’t seen before, and they were both thrilled when I bought them RSPB membership which resulted in enormous amounts of free stuff – magazines, stickers, even a book!

We went and played at the cousins’ house, then came home. When A. got in from work she produced a video of ‘The Ballad of Big Al’, which she had bought in town. We all watched that after tea, then decamped downstairs where P. and A. conquered level 3 of Zoombinis, P. did most of today’s Set puzzle, and L rearranged his dinosaurs and chatted away about their habitats and habits.

P. is reading Vicious Vikings in bed, and is desperate to make Viking soap out of conkers.

Off to the home ed group tomorrow, snow permitting…

Friday, January 21, 2005

LEA report and a cold Friday

First a bit of news about the LEA. We had a visit last November (after de-regging P in September) and received the ‘report’ on Wednesday. It is a pretty minimal thing, just a page of A4 listing some of the things we showed the inspector. It’s all very nice but still manages to get my back up somehow! It feels like we are being given a school report – and we are being ‘approved’. P really wanted the visit but D and I had our doubts. It was certainly a strange experience. The inspector assumes that she will be back next year, but we’ll see…

Today has been cold and grey here. The time of year is getting us all down a bit. Somehow it’s hard to believe that we will just go out in t-shirts in a few months, laze on the beach, or wander in the park. Leo is starting a new cold – streaming nose and a bit hot.

We went off to the library today and had a good time. I think we are settled on our branch library home which should last us until the new main library opens. Today we borrowed lots of books including two more in the Captain Underpants series. I read one of them to the kids this afternoon as we all snuggled in bed, escaping the weather. Actually I had to share the reading with P as I kept nodding off!

L read a whole page in a book today. It was very short and simple, with lots of repetition, but he really got the idea and just managed to keep going. He has figured out that when ‘sounding out’ fails (as it so often does in English!) he needs to think about the word, what would make sense, and look for other clues. All good stuff.

Well, as they are finally in bed I think D and I might actually try to exchange two words uninterrupted…

Thursday, January 20, 2005

An unexpected day

Allie's mum has caught a horrible sickness bug from our three year old nephew, so P. couldn't go over there today. Instead we had a rare morning all together at home and P. went out exploring with another of her many grandmas (A's mum's partner) after lunch.

P. and L. did lots of good playing together in the morning, and Allie and Leo printed out some good stuff about desert animals and family trees from Enchanted Learning - we have finally coughed up to join, so we can get the books and stuff. P. started knitting a new Sylvanian Families baby blanket and phoned my parents to consult them about family trees, and we all watched the BBC schools programmes on BBC2.

After lunch, everybody left in quick succession - A. to work, P. to her adventure, and Leo and I to a blood donor session. L. was keen to see the bags of blood, and followed all the proceedings with interest. He also kept up a fairly constant stream of information about the latest goings on at the Marmite/Tofu/Butter etc household. I was mortified to find I hadn't given blood since 2001, but I've done it now, so I hope to be able to keep up the habit.

We picked up a few things at the market and some sparkly dressing up tops in a charity shop, then met P. back at the house.

She had been to Ditchling, where she had found a rabbit skull (the grandma she was with is a biologist, so we are fairly sure about the identification), found the village museum (unfortunately shut until March), talked about the construction of the buildings in the village - some were made entirely of oak, walked around in country lanes and chatted about the Seven Professors of the Far North.

This evening, P. put some salt water in the water-powered clock she was given at Christmas, and it really worked! I don't know why.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


today we did; Make a wheezy lung experiment (from Horrible Science magazine issue 1)

Who did it?
Dani, Pearl and Leo
What we did
Pearl went to the shop to buy some balloons (and Maom stripes!)
We got a 500ml sports cap bottle and a balloon. We cut the bottle in half and sealed the sharp edge with some elephant tape.
Then we cut the neck off a yellow balloon and Dani stretched it over the cut end of the bottle while Pearl held the bottle.
Then we took the top off the bottle and Leo stretched a purple balloon over the white bit (the nozzle).
We put the purple balloon, still attached to the white bit, into the neck of the bottle, and sealed it with blu tac, to be air tight.
What happened
We pulled down the yellow balloon, but nothing seemed to happen. Dani sealed the join between the yellow balloon and the bottle with more elephant tape.
After that the experiment worked. When we pulled down the yellow bit, the purple balloon puffed up.
The yellow bit was like the diaphragm and the purple balloon was like the lung filling with air.To make it wheeze, we stretched the cut off neck of a balloon over the blue bit of the bottle lid. When we pulled the diaphragm down it made a very quiet squeaking sound.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Damn thing ate my post - try again!

My mammoth update on the last two days was just eaten by Blogger. Here is another (much shorter) try!

Monday was our HE group - percussion making session. It was good, as usual, in spite of my ongoing cold. P then went on to Woodcraft folk where she gets to see an old schoolfriend.

The evening was our first try of a new evening/bedtime routine. This went ok - late bedtime for kids but no tears and lots of trying to stick to the agreement by all parties. Much better than the years of fighting we did with P at four years old.

Today Leo went over to mum and partner's house. This involves a walk up the 114 steps of the 'cat's creep' which Leo had a good go at counting today - he made it 112.

P and I watched 'Maths Challenge' - shapes this week. P found it all quite straightforward and enjoyable. Then we watched the first part of 'Roots' together - as part of her current interest in family trees. It is obviously upsetting but I remember being gripped by it in the 1970s when I was P's age. She sat silent and completely absorbed for the whole time and we talked about it afterwards.

P went to tea at a friend's house and Leo came home. One of our local cousins came to play with him for an hour. We are very lucky to have three cousins in neighbouring streets. As they are aged 7, 5 and 3 they are very close to Pearl and Leo.

Anyway, off to bed with this rotten cold.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Show time

Just a quick one, as I'm meant to be ironing.

P. did her dancing show, to an audience of two uncles, one aunt, three cousins, Leo and me. A. was at work again today, despite still being ill.

The show went down quite well. We had prepared a running order the night before, cutting the number of Pet Shop Boys tracks down from P's original plan of 18, to a more manageable 7. In the end, she only did 5, as the 3 and 4 year old contingent of the audience didn't quite have the required attention span. Everyone else stayed to the end and clapped nicely, and there was popcorn at the interval. I think she was pleased.

It was very energetic and gymnastic dancing, liberally sprinkled with handstands. She has been working very hard on it, and is hearing all the different rhythms in the music and responding to them in her dance. We also saw a briefer (is that a word?) and more dramatic performance from one of the cousins.

Leo had also printed tickets for an opleshow, to which only children were invited. It was never entirely clear to me what this was, but I think they had a nice time, anyway.

We did get our comeuppance this evening for presuming to dispense wisdom about four year olds on other people's blogs, when L threw a big paddy about being put to bed earlier than P. She, in return, started demanding to be read to for long stretches of the evening. Allie was quite desperate to get to bed herself, but couldn't relax with various people shouting and stropping off.

They did both eventually settle down in bed, but we're clearly going to have to rethink and renegotiate the whole evening routine.

Having knitting traumas - the wool I've bought is quite a lot thinner than the one the pattern is written for, and the back of P's cardigan is ending up very narrow. She is pretty narrow herself, so it may be alright, but I am a bit worried. If I make the front bits slightly wider, will I still be able to put it all together to look reasonable, does anyone know?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Germs and grumps

Allie is ill with a rotten cold and chesty cough, and has gone to bed early in an attempt to shake it off.

She took the kids to a new branch library yesterday, and they got lots of great books, including a science book with some interesting looking experiments, book 5 of the Spiderwick Chronicles series, a Mona the Vampire book, Mr Fossil's dinosaur lesson, Mouse Soup by Arnold Lobel, and some others I have forgotten. They got a good Eyewitness video about prehistoric life, too.

Leo read loads of Mouse Soup last night, with Allie chipping in where he couldn't manage the next word. All that late night poring over books seems to be improving his sight vocabulary. His reading is coming on very fast, but he doesn't always let on.

P. went to trampolining this morning - first class of a group she used to go to, but with a different teacher. It meant we all had to get up this morning, and some of us (including P.) were a bit grumpy about that.

But the class was good, and she seems to like the new teacher. Allie and Leo came up to meet us and then Allie dragged herself off to work (trampolining is on the university campus where A. works) and the rest of us came home for an afternoon of bickering (kids) and shouting (me).

I am cross with myself for not having a happy time with them today, when we had all got on much better on Thursday, but I guess there are always ups and downs.

We did also manage to fit in some dancing (at one stage P and L were both dancing, on their duvets spread out on the floor, to different Pet Shop Boys CDs on different floors of the house), a bit of art (both computer and pen), printing tickets and numbering seats for tomorrow's dancing show, a look at some multiplication charts Allie printed out last night, receiving and replying to a secret letter from a cousin in the next street, and an online Tesco shop. So I guess it was quite a productive afternoon despite being a bit bad tempered.

I finished my cushion cover this morning (to great acclaim!) and am just about to start on P's cardigan. I need to buy some more needles so I can work on L's at the same time. So far these cardigans have cost 20 quid each - I hope they actually wear them!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Sketching and skating

Yesterday was Pearlie's day at Allie's mum's house - she and Allie go over there mid-morning for a French lesson, then Allie goes on to work.

So Leo and I had the day together. We decided to go out sketching. Leo wanted to draw trees and people leaping, so we went to the Level, a nearby park with a skatepark in it. We spent about an hour drawing the skaters and bike riders, and some interesting structures elsewhere in the park, as well as having a quick play on the swings and seesaw before stopping for lunch.

I enjoyed it enormously. I am not an artist, and have never thought I was any good at drawing. My sketches of the skaters are quite rudimentary, though I did manage a nice enough picture of a bridge, which obligingly stood still long enough for me to draw it.

Leo, who is an artist, was clearly inspired by the activity to add wheels and an appropriate air of movement to his usual clawed superhero style pictures. He drew the bridge too, and some pillars that stand next to it - that kind of thing is not something he normally draws at all. He enjoyed it too, and we stayed there drawing well into our normal lunch time - I had to drag him away in the end because I was too hungry.

I was impressed, as usual, by the dedication and skill of the skaters and bike riders. They spend long hours practising to improve their techniques and learn new tricks, with no external incentive at all. From what I can see from the outside, it is a remarkably supportive culture - they aren't forever laughing at each other's mistakes and teasing. They seem hardly to speak at all when they are all working on their own things, in a shared space. And they are not self-conscious about using their whole bodies - skateboarding in particular seems to demand some very graceful and balletic gestures and the use of the arms and upper body to control the movement of the board.

All in all, I think they are a fine example of autonomous learning in action.

I spent a ridiculous amount of money on wool in the Co-op after lunch, and Leo chose a lovely shiny, velvety top in a charity shop, to be part of his supper-doggy costume.

After P. came home, they disappeared off into their own world for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Sometimes that bit of time is filled with rows and bickering, but yesterday they just seemed to work it out, and spent several hours on their own downstairs, dancing, writing a story on the computer, playing Top Trumps and doing other secret things. They surfaced for their tea and then went away again.

I had to do a fair bit of negotiating to get them to stop playing when Leo's approximate bedtime came round, but he did eventually go up without any crossness on either side.

P. is planning a dancing show for her cousins on Sunday - we printed out flyers and I delivered them on the way to work this morning.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Imaginary friends and a bit of science

This is something I've been meaning to blog about since we started but it keeps slipping my mind. I want to have a record of Leo's amazing family of imaginary friends who started to emerge a few months ago and now are mentioned daily. L is currently 4 years and 9 months.

Marmite was the first to appear. He is a boy (L is the only male in our house) who was orginally about ten but now seems to vary wildly between five and fifteen. He has two sisters, Tofu and Butter. Butter's birth was a major event a couple of months ago but she now seems to be a child. They have two dads - Houmous and Peanut Butter. (Yes, we are vegetarians!) I think PB was orignally a mum but we have talked about the concept of transgender in our house so I guess that's probably what has happened there. One of the dads has a fabulous career composed of two part-time jobs - one as a plumber and the other working in a baker's shop.

Their primary role at the moment is to give Leo many wonderful parcels every day. L mimes the opening and then launches into a detailed description of the contents. They are usually wonderful costumes of superheroes L has invented himself - 'Ivy Man' or 'Superdoggy'. I think they have helped him deal with the end of Christmas and the sad end of real parcels to open.

I have a great fondness for these imaginary companions of Leo's. I still remember my own.

L is a very imaginative chap all round. He often describes fantastic pre-historic or monstrous animals. He also has a detailed catalogue of superheroes and baddies in his head - including powers, weapons and clothing.

Yesterday we all played with a kit about blood that P got for Christmas. It had a greatly simplified heart with just a single chamber but with valves. We talked a lot about hearts in the end. My dad had bypass surgery about 11 years ago and we talked about how smoking blocks your arteries. I had a heart 'murmur' as a baby and we discussed that too. P. drew some posters including a fab one of a heart (containing a bicycle pump!) showing arteries blocked with stuff labelled 'smoking glue'.

L. joined in in his own way - including many references to vampires. Never sure how much he is taking in of these 'experiment mornings' but after last week he has taken to declaring 'my bladder is full!' when he needs a wee. So it looks like that meant something.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Life post-school

Tuesday is L's day for going to my mum and partner's house for a few hours. P and I took him over and then hurried back as we had set the video for 'Maths Challenge'. Today was supposedly a year 6 programme and was about equations. P had no trouble with the concept or the 'test' questions which get fired at you at speed. P recently stated that she chose to switch to HE as she thought she would learn more. She relishes the opportunity to grab a quick snack of maths like this. Because the programme is meant to be going over things that have been taught in lessons it just gives a very quick explanation. It got me thinking about how P has adjusted to HE since September.

I am relieved that P is not spending years bored and slogging through endless sums to repeatedly 'prove' what she can do. I can remember how offended she was at school when in year 1 she was sent home with picture books when she was reading fluently. Bit by bit she just got used to being the one who always had her hand up and rarely got asked. We talked it through, she understood that other people didn't learn in the same way as her, she was patient and helpful when she could be. But it was so much of her life spent waiting, waiting, waiting...

Now we HE Pearlie just has so much more time to get on with all the things she loves. This afternoon she has done sewing, created a cardboard box ambulance, played Zoombinis, dressed up, and finished some computer art illustrations for a collection of stories she has written on the computer. In between all that she found time for endless snacking, squabbling with Leo, and watching some TV. She ended the day by reading me some of her bedtime book, The Seven Professors of the Far North, as I said I was too tired to read to her.

Life is not perfect, we still have rows, rainy days and get tired sometimes. But when P was at school we were tired by things we hated - getting up for school, dealing with mysterious playground upsets, biting our tongues about 'discipline', and so much more. Now we just get tired by life. Well, maybe all of us except Pearlie!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Blood, spit and tears

Monday is our HE group day. We were doing mythical creatures today. Lots of fun stuff got done, even if the kids were cooped up for the whole time (four hours) by foul weather. Kids did lots of art and craft, listened to the fab Spike Milligan story of Sir Nobonk, and enjoyed seeing their friends. We are a group of twelve children and their assorted grown-ups and I think the kids get a great deal out of going.

Sadly today came to an abrupt end for us when Leo fell flat on his face - something he has a tendency to do - and got a mouth full of blood. He is already one front tooth down after a fall last March. As he is only four and a half he may have a couple of years until the next one comes through. Today he managed to severely loosen the other front tooth and the one beside it. Luckily the dentist could see us straight away (thanks to the fellow HEor who took us in her car) and he did an x-ray and had a good look. All we can do is wait and hope that the teeth don't drop out and that he doesn't get an abcess.

Other than loose teeth he has a fat lip and nagging mothers. I really hope he can hang on to these two teeth for a while at least. I know it is no big deal in the scheme of things but somehow it seems sad to see his little milk teeth disappear in bloody accidents rather than in the more gentle natural way. On the plus side he is very good at visits to the dentist now as he has had three appointments for tooth accidents as well as routine checkups.

P is watching a BBC children's history about the 1980s! Dani and I are chipping in every few minutes, "that's not true Pearlie!" and "that didn't happen like that!" Must be driving her mad. It is a good experience, reminding me that all the programmes about other decades and centuries are probably just as slanted and limited - it's just that we don't necessarily know.

New series of ER starting - kettle on, feet up!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

More museums

Extremely slow morning, waved Allie off to work still in our pyjamas/superhero costumes, then popped to the shop with pocket money to buy sweeties just before lunchtime (top parenting, Dani!).

Called for cousins in a neighbouring street and set off for Brighton Museum after lunch. In the interest of family harmony, my luggage for this trip included a fleece and coat for L, who walked the whole way to town in just a T-shirt, cardigan for P, spare gloves and scarves for everyone, and two tupperwares of food to compensate for L's half eaten lunch having gone in the bin...

P and L also brought bags, containing batman, a cuddly frog, an Incredibles camera, a small plastic snowman, some cotton wool, a calendar pad, a pen, and probably a few other similarly useful items. Needless to say, I ended up carrying these too. And P's trousers, which she insisted on taking off as soon as we arrived at the museum. (She did have her England Woman costume on underneath - red and white swimming costume worn over red tights, with another pair of knickers on top). All I can say is, good job I'm not premenstrual this week!

Anyway, we all enjoyed the museum. L and I were delighted to find a display of ancient Egyptian mummies (human, cat and snake), mummy cases, shabtis, canopic jars, etc. It must have always been there, but we had never noticed it before. Saw a good exhibition of aerial photographs of the downs, and another of train-related art. Visited our favourite bits of the permanent displays. Then all back here for tea and a good play.

P. spent most of the evening doing French knitting, which she has just discovered.

Saturday together

We had a whole day together yesterday. As we knew that the next one would not come round for three weeks we decided to use it to do the sort of outing that's hard with just one mum available. We set off for a great swimming pool in Burgess Hill - a journey involving train and bus.

P and L both love swimming. P is a pretty independent swimmer these days, spending most of her time under the water, but she still needs a body to cling to sometimes. L wears armbands but is pretty fearless. This pool has all the fun stuff like rapids, waterspouts of many kinds and flumes. We took the kids down the flumes on our laps. I don't know why but I seem to go much faster than other people! L and I kept exceeding ten MPH and falling on to our backs.

It was a very successful trip, though L and I had a bit of a strop at each other when he refused to come into the vacant changing room because it was too 'yucky' - it had crisps and assorted other rubbish on the floor. We were both hungry which tends to make us pretty unreasonable.

My brother came to sit for the kids in the evening. This had been tricky to arrange with L who is quite upset when we go out in the evenings at the moment. He fixed me with a tearful yet steely eye yesterday and said:
"It feels horrible when you go out. Do you know what it is like? Has it ever happened to YOU?"
Sadly I do remember that nasty feeling when my mum went out but I still feel that Dani and I need the occasional couple of hours alone together.

Anyway, it was all happily resolved by my brother bringing his video of Spiderman2 which he watched with the kids and then they went up to bed together. Not really a fair exchange for sitting for his two who are always tucked up in bed when we arrive but at least he didn't have L upset all evening. P was wonderfully helpful with the whole thing. She usually goes up to bed an hour or two after L but was happy to go up with him last night. As she didn't wake until 10 this morning I guess she reading pretty late!

We went to see Vera Drake. Very powerful and dark. We are off to our HE group tomorrow - doing mythical creatures. Should be fun!

Thanks for all your welcoming comments. It's nice to be here.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bits of this and that

L, P and I were together all day to day as Friday is a 9 to 5 work day for Dani. The kids started the day in a cuddly heap on the sofa watching a scooby video in their underwear. I took advantage of this moment of peace and harmony to do a bit of cleaning. God knows when the cooker top had last been done - I spotted quite a bit of festive fare spread around.

After a while we all got dressed and the kids started on some stuff. P. decided to create some plaster of paris casts of fossils. We made some of these last year using the beautiful ammonites we collected during a holiday in Lyme Regis. We are planning to go back at Easter and expand our collection a bit. P. enjoyed the plaster mixing and made some very careful impressions.
L. couldn't decide exactly what to do but eventually drew a dinosaur picture done with felt pen on cardboard. He loves to draw and produces several pictures most days.

The kids then played with their Sylvanian families creatures. We have a whole world of these little creatures living all over the floors of the house. I have to admit I quite like them, especially the quirky way our kids play with them. P has a family of rabbits she named Malted, Milk, Salted and Silk. L plays very exciting kidnap and battle games with his creatures. They often play joint games involving death and disaster. I once got in a lot of trouble for disturbing a sylvanian graveyard that sprang up beside the TV.

After lunch we trudged down the steep hill to play at a local park. It is a bit of a bleak park but has some great climbing equipment. I stood it for as long as possible and the kids really seemed to appreciate the chance to let off some steam.

When we got home Leo needed to run about in his pants doing battle armed only with a sword and his trusty slinky. P and I sat down with her crossnumbers book to do a bit of clue solving. This is a great book, from Tarquin publications, that is varied and satisfying.

I fell asleep on the sofa while the kids watched a bit more scooby, Mona the Vampire and Blue Peter. I blame IKEA for this as we have spent too many late nights this week struggling with IVAR shelving...

P. had a break from Zoombinis tonight - she's been playing it non-stop every evening since Christmas. She decided to dance instead. L. managed to stay awake for ages reading his dracula book and sleepily mumbled "I know how scream is spelled... S.C.R.E.A.M. It's here and here..." Don't think that's on the list of reception year words!
Swimming tomorrow, better sleep.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Hooray for Hove

I took the kids to a lovely exhibition at Hove Museum yesterday.  It was about the work of Carol McNicoll - wonderful, witty pottery.  I'd never seen her stuff before, but apparently she is a leading light in British ceramics since the 1970s.  They had a great video of her talking about individual pieces and what was behind them.  Often this was a cutting comment on politics and capitalism.
I could have stayed there much longer, but Leo was in a big hurry to get the museum over with and move on to the main business of the day at the museum shop!  We have recently introduced pocket money in an attempt to curb his rampant acquisitiveness, but I am not very hopeful about this, judging by my experience yesterday.  He left his pocket money at home and then pestered me non-stop to buy him something.  So I ended up buying things for both of them (on grounds of fairness) even though P had dutifully brought a pound of her own money. 
It's not the money that bothers me so much (although we are a bit skint at the moment, after Christmas), but the fact that his preoccupation with being bought something can overshadow the whole experience of being wherever we are - museum, high street, park, etc.  In fact, once he had been bought a very small something, I think he did listen to my frustrated rant and look at the exhibits with a bit more interest.  Maybe we should just visit the museum shop first...
Mind you, I don't know if I am a very good judge of what people are taking in from these kind of things.  P, L and I went to another exhibition on Wednesday afternoon, at the Brighton University gallery in Grand Parade.  It was an exhibition of collections, with accompanying text about the objects, and what collecting them has meant to the collector.  Fascinating.  I enjoyed it immensely, but felt again that the kids hadn't taken much notice of it.
But yesterday, Leo revived one of his old interests and put together a frog and snake collection in a display case, just like the ones in the gallery.  So you never know.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Bodily functions!

Allie here for a change! We've had a nice couple of days getting back into the swing of post-Christmas life.

Yesterday we went to investigate a branch library we have never visited before. Our main public library is out of action for a few months while they prepare to open a brand new one. The branch library we tried was fine, if a bit small. P was happy to settle down next to the 'fun facts' shelf for a while. She is a fan of the 'horrible history', 'murderous maths' etc. etc. books and chose to borrow a book called 'Vicious Veg!"

L found a book of true ghost stories and I had the fun of reading him two then and there. In fact, I spent large parts of yesterday reading aloud (2 or 3 hours?) and when I finally had to stop to cook tea P took over! I jokingly said to L that he would have to get on with learning to read as I couldn't really keep pace with so many demands. He then decided to read in bed until 9.30pm when he was barely awake. He is enjoying the 'Red Nose Readers' - produced in the 1980s - written by Allan Ahlberg. I usually find all 'readers' pretty boring but these are witty and cater to his desire to read independently at night like P.

Today was one of our half and half days. I was with the kids in the am and then Dani does pm. We both work part-time and our schedule is 'to the minute' sometimes... Anyway, before Christmas we had developed a pattern of doing weekly science experiments on a Wednesday. P is very keen on routine and insisted today that we get back to the pattern - autonomous but pretty regular - that's our girl at the mo. So today we tackled the 'bursting bladder' experiment. I don't think the person who wrote the book had ever actually tried this as it didn't go at all to plan. But much fun was had by all making 'wee' - cold tea -measuring, pouring, and finally 'weeing' the lot into the loo through the funnel. Can't remember what the book is called but it is yielding some fun stuff. The kids loved the 'sick stomach' we made last month.

Anyway, hope someone somewhere is reading this. We are trying to get on a blogring but I don't think anyone can hear us crying at the door...

Sunday, January 02, 2005

A good day today...

... despite a night of little sleep for everyone. We had early rising cousins for a sleepover, and all four children were awake by 5.45am! Bit of a shock to us, as our mornings have been getting later and later since P came out of school.

When we finally got up, and after lengthy discussion, Allie and Leo went to town to buy new books, while Pearl and I set off for Preston Park for some scooting. It was a beautiful bright blue winters day. Pearlie had a good whizz about. Even when she's tired, she needs to wear her body out a bit.

Allie and Leo met us in the park with a new Geronimo Stilton book for P (Four Mice Deep in the Jungle), a new Spiderwick Chronicles book for L (the Ironwood Tree), and a DVD of Roots for all of us.

Walked all the way home, complete with pooey shoe on Leo's foot.

We've been talking a bit about ideas for the coming year. Pearlie wants to do a project on her family tree. Leo wants to do something about Baryonyx (dinosaur discovered in 1993(?) in Surrey).

Reading new books prompted an interesting conversation about barcodes, checkout tills, stock control in bookshops...

Feeling very lucky tonight, watching the earthquake survivors on the news, surrounded by possessions, in my warm house, with my loved ones all here safe.