Friday, March 25, 2005

See you later, alligators

Been pretty busy the last couple of days, getting ready for our holiday.


I went in to work, which was probably a mistake, as I came home feeling quite ill. Allie went to work, feeling ill before she started. In the morning, she and the kids had made Stuart gingerbread, using the recipe given in Slimy Stuarts. It was quite good, if a bit strange.

In the afternoon we slobbed at home, then went to capoeira, which was great as usual, but very hard work for both kids. Leo wrote names on all his thank you notes and we posted them on the way home.


First day of our break – no work at all! Pearl went to the grandmothers' house with her cousin S. It became a lovely day, and they played outside and had a good time.

Allie went to town seeking out bargains for our trip. Leo and I let the day develop organically, and a lot of learning seemed to happen along the way. We went to the shops to spend his pocket money in the pound shop – he chose an inflatable bag and a playing cards and dominoes set.

When we got home we played dominoes and rummy. Later when P. got home, the two of them formed a team and beat me at rummy. I showed Leo clock patience, but I think it was a bit boring for him. He made a picture for his cousin G, and addressed the envelope. Later, he concentrated hard to write and illustrate a book on the computer.


We had an Easter egg hunt at cousin B's house, with all the local cousins. We knew it was the wrong day, but we're going to Lyme Regis tomorrow, so this was our only chance. It was fairly riotous and good fun. We are always grateful that our kids are part of this ready made gang of five cousins, all living in neighbouring streets.

This afternoon included more card games, setting the video for a week's worth of Power Rangers, Danger Mouse and Earth Story, and some packing.

I'm sure lots of other things have happened, but that's all I can bring to mind at the moment!

We're off to lovely Lyme Regis for a week's fossil hunting in the morning, accompanied by a positive plethora of grandparents – my parents and Allie's mum. Should be wonderful – we'll tell you all about it when we get back.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Busy kids and equal rights...

Tuesday 22nd March

A day of serious ups and downs. Dani was off work sick with a throaty thing and she, Pearl and I had a nice quiet day with lots achieved. In the morning Leo did some lovely drawing and writing and then went over to the grandmothers' house and had a lovely time, including making a new cardboard box Zord. Pearl worked out a new cipher composed of hieroglyphs and characters she has found in the Aramaic alphabet. After this she wrote a lovely poem.

Once there was an uncle,
He was a fire man,
He always got to fires,
As quickly as he can.

Once he was out at night
In June at 7 o’clock,
Suddenly he stumbled
And got a great big shock.

He landed in a yellow bush,
He looked back and he found,
That he had tripped upon a helmet,
That was lying on the ground.

He went over to a bus-stop,
The next stop was a station,
He got off there and bought a tiger,
Then travelled all over the nation.

And then when he had finished,
He brought the tiger home,
He fed the tiger on mushrooms,
That he had brought back from Rome.

By pearl

Pearl and I also sat in the garden and did some maths from her Key stage 3 revision book. Sometimes we got stuck and it was nice to be able to call on Dani to help us out. Pearl amazes me with her ability to work things out in her head. She can hold long sequences in her mind - even when doing something for the first time. I must say I am amazed by how much Maths I have forgotten in the last twenty years!

So the day had lots of good bits but also a pretty major bad one. The government, in its wisdom, is finally about to recognise that Dani and I are a couple. Somehow this has escaped them over the last thirteen and a half years! But I must say it has served us rather well since we had the children. Suddenly, at a stroke, we are to lose all the tax credits we have been entitled to as 'single parents' – which will cut our family income by over 20%. Yeek! Well, there's nothing we can do about it so we'll just have to get by. It's great equality, isn't it!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Snot and Superheroes

Well, we are all exhausted after an action packed week. I'm too tired to do a blow by blow account, but the highlights were:

  • The snot workshop at the Science Museum on Wednesday. We got up early, popped into the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs and Mary Anning's ichthyosaurs, made it to the Science Museum in time to meet Nic, but had to say goodbye again because the place was too packed with school children for any of us to hear ourselves think. By the time the snot workshop came round we were all a bit worn out, but it was very well done. Leo went up on stage and we all made wonderfully slimy green snot to take home.

    Demonstrating the path of a smell through the nose Posted by Hello

    Inside a kaleidoscope Posted by Hello

    Magic ball Posted by Hello

    Moving "black red lentils" Posted by Hello

  • Leo's birthday on Saturday. He was thrilled with his presents, and used all the Hama beads Pearlie gave him during the morning.

    A moment of peace Posted by Hello

    Pearl's unbirthday present Posted by Hello

  • A visit from my sister and her family. They have two children, aged 8 and 6, and Leo superglued himself to his cousin G. for pretty much the whole weekend. At one point, they even shared a jacket!

    Violet and Klaus? Posted by Hello
    We went to our local park and it was really spring. P. climbed to the top of the climbing poles for the first time this year, the grown ups sat on the grass and had cups of tea, and all was right with the world. We managed (for once) to set up sleeping arrangements that allowed all the children to get a reasonable night's sleep, and they all enjoyed...

  • Leo's birthday party on Sunday. This was a success – everyone dressed up beautifully,

    Danger Mouse Posted by Hello

    The Flap Man Posted by Hello
    we played games with a Captain Underpants theme, there was enough food for tea, grownups chatted, and nobody burst into tears. Pretty good, huh?

    The big moment Posted by Hello

He got a good crop of presents, covering all his current interests – Power Rangers, Captain Underpants, Dinosaurs, Lemony Snicket, and cute cuddly bunnies, plus loads of lovely drawings from friends and cousins.

A cuddle for Cutie Posted by Hello

Today, we gave the HE group a miss, as P. was a bit ill and L. was quite ragged after such an exciting weekend. We popped to town in the afternoon and L. bought yet more Power Rangers tat with vouchers he was given for his birthday. P. learned some new songs at Woodcraft Folk, and everyone collapsed into bed. Leo did a dinosaur dot-to-dot in bed, and P. listened to some of Stig of the Dump.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ups and downs and great moments


Monday we went off to our HE group. Theme this week was the Victorians. On the way we passed the Victorian workhouse which is now a hospital. We talked a bit about this and what it meant to be in a workhouse. Pearl has really enjoyed a video based around the eventful life of a fictional Victorian woman. She has also been reading both the Vile Victorians and the Villainous Victorians. So I guess we could call that one a mini-project! Leo has been picking up snippets here and there and was thrilled to learn that our own house is Victorian.

Lots of good stuff got done at HE group but Leo was very up and down due to a nasty hooting cough he is battling. Pearl and Leo enjoyed making kites – as an example of a Victorian pastime.

Pearl went to woodcraft in the evening where she made a mask of Medusa and played some games. Leo flopped about coughing.


This morning P and L were both a bit fragile and prone to flying off the handle. But suddenly we had one of those amazing HE moments! I was trying to wash up, sort out laundry, pack a bag for the day etc. etc. Leo wandered over to the fridge, which has kids fridge poetry on it, and started arranging words. He demonstrated yet more sight reading of various words I had no idea he could read – queen and ghost were two of the most striking. I found these particularly impressive as they had no context or pictures to help him. Pearl wandered up and helpfully re-read (out loud) some of the words he had misread – without pointing out any of his mistakes. He corrected himself with no loss of face. Sometimes she is so great at helping him learn – far better than us. Pearl then grabbed a bit of paper and started writing down the various poems - before they could be disturbed by Leo. This inspired him to get a piece of paper and copy down the words he had arranged. He assembled these into a comic for one of his grandmothers.

After dropping off Leo at the grandmothers' house P and I went to town to but stuff we need for L's party on Sunday. We also had a look for some colouring/sticker/activity books for the kids to do in the evenings and Pearl finally decided on a maths book for 11-14 year olds. It is written as a key stage 3 SATS revision book (!) but she was very pleased and sat quietly working out answers while I tried to find something for Leo. I couldn't bring myself to buy any of the mind-numbing workbooks or activity books for 4-5 year olds but we got him a phonics reading book for 99p – about what it was worth, so I can't believe the price on this web site! He read it to me as soon as he got home.

Pearl went round to play with an old school friend tonight and had a good time. She came home with a lovely Hama bead pattern she had made.

Kids and D are off to London tomorrow for HE events at the science museum. They have tickets for the Snot Workshop!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Nice day, not too manic

P. woke up first, and the rest of us surfaced a couple of hours later. She and I went to trampolining, stopping at the building site to take a couple of photos, and at B&Q for wooden sticks so that we can make zoetropes at the HE group on Monday.

Trampolining was good – P worked very hard on her somersaults and her routine for badge 8. She seems to have really clicked with the new teacher, and the group is very small so she’s getting a lot of one to one time. When Allie and Leo turned up at the end, L. announced he’d like to do trampolining "in the next series" (ie after Easter). We'll have to see if he sticks with that, but at least it would give him a reason for travelling up there on days like today when Allie goes straight on to work after the class finishes.

Before coming up to meet us, Leo addressed envelopes to send some of his pictures to his Leicestershire cousins. He worked hard to make the writing clear and legible, and the results were so impressive that Allie photocopied them before putting them in the post.

We got chip shop chips for lunch, and picked up two copies of Horrible Science issue 5 on our way home (some of us have trouble sharing!).

After lunch I did a kid swap with some of our nearby cousins – P. took her potter's wheel to their house and produced lots of little square twirly paint pictures with her cousin S, while cousin D. came round to our house for a play. This was OK, but the difficulty sharing theme persisted rather. After a snack it was better and they both listened avidly to a Rita the Rescuer book, watched Power Rangers and Atomic Betty, and did a bit of drawing and cutting.

Everyone went back to their own houses for tea, and Allie came home for a quiet evening. We watched a video about a Victorian girl who kept a diary, and a documentary about alligators (as well as the ubiquitous Power Rangers), Leo read a lot of Hoppy Birthday Jo-Jo to Allie, did some lovely drawing and played on the Dav Pilkey website. Pearl watched a Tin Tin video and went to bed early for a long story time with both mummies (one after the other) reading her current bedtime story, Rebel on a Rock.

Another week gone, gone where?

Well, don’t know what happened to this week but it seems to be Friday again. Here are the edited highlights.

In the morning Dani went to work and the kids and I made muffins. We used an adapted recipe from this book that we got at our HE group book sale. Pearl and Leo worked very well together – weighing, measuring, mixing and eating chocolate chips. The end results were very pleasing, especially when warm.

A lovely moment was when P disappeared off to her room and came back dressed in an ancient Greek costume she had made from one of the cloth kangas that we own. She had followed the instructions in the Groovy Greeks book she has been reading. We took some photos which may appear some time. Later in the day she produced a scaled down version for her beloved cuddly rabbit, Beatrice.

In the afternoon Dani took the kids to capoeira. Both kids joined in this week. Pearl played with a little girl that she is becoming very friendly with. Leo spoke in the circle for the first time and seemed very happy to be there.

Pearl’s new bed arrived at 8am. We bought it with two bookshelves underneath instead of desk and chest of drawers. Making it was a saga to say the least. Thanks are due to one of the grandmothers who arrived like a knight in shining armour to assist Dani when I had to go to work. Pearl went over to the grandmothers’ house to do French and other fun stuff.

Leo spent most of the day happily drawing, watching tv and arranging favourite possessions around him. Arrangement of objects is very important to him at the moment. The house is often covered in elaborate ‘shrines’ including books, drawings, costumes, pens and dinosaurs. He gets enraged if they are touched so it is a relief that he now has his own room and we encourage him to construct them there. He also read a book to me before I left for work. Later in the day he wrote a letter to a cousin and sent an email to a friend. He and Dani also ordered a book from Amazon. This was probably a mistake as now he knows that new books can be made to come by using the computer. The bank balance will suffer!

Pearl was thrilled with her new bed. She generously allowed Leo in and they played a nice baby rabbits game together. After tea Dani and Leo constructed a Zord (hideous Power Rangers thing) out of cardboard boxes and Pearl lay in her new bed reading.

Dani went off to work and the kids watched schools tv. Once again they are enjoying the Look and Read story. Pearl watched three Primary geography programmes and Leo drifted off to look at books and draw.

I sorted out all the library books and we went back to the quiet little branch library, instead of the beautiful new one! The kids prefer it at the moment as the new library is so busy. The branch library is well used by adults but P and L are usually the only children there. Pearl curled up on a chair with the Barmy British Empire for about half an hour. Leo looked for some more books in a series he has been enjoying and I read to him for a while. When I was looking at the videos he wandered off and came back to me saying, ‘I’ve looked under D and I can’t find any Captain Underpants books’. I was perplexed for a second before I remembered the author is Dav Pilkey. When I explained he had to look under the surname he went back to check P.

After the library we went to town and managed a successful trainers buying expedition in Clarks. This was truly amazing as P’s narrow feet usually defeat them. They usually claim her feet are an E fitting but this is just because these are the narrowest shoes they keep in stock – actually they have been D and even C when measured in independent shops. Leo has fat little feet – a G fitting. But with some insoles for P, and a lucky style of shoe, we came away shod.

Tonight P requested to go to bed early and be read to for half an hour by each of us. Leo spent ages copying pictures from Super Diaper Baby, including the villainous Deputy Doo Doo.

So the week is over but as it is another working weekend for me we won’t notice. Our last whole day off together was the 26th February and the next won’t fall until the 19th March. That will be Leo’s birthday and somehow we are sorting out all that needs to be done before then, including preparing for family house guests and planning a party for 18 children. Blogging may take a back seat for a while!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Two busy days


Monday is our HE group day. We had a very successful book sale where each family brought along books they no longer needed and we sold them to each other for a flat rate of 10p per book. All the money we raised we decided to give to Comic Relief. Everyone really seemed to enjoy the sale – staffing their stalls and being customers. The flat rate kept all the transactions simple for our younger members and everyone went home with lots of exciting ‘new’ books.

We also did numerous other things – drawing, reading, chatting and quite a lot of time outside for a change. Pearl had a good time practising her football skills and Leo played various imaginative games involving lasers. The kids are all great and it is lovely to see their friendships develop week by week. I think Leo may have got into some argument at one point but he calmed down after flopping around on me for a bit while I read from one of his books. At the end of the session we decided on next week’s theme – the Victorians. Lots of scope in that one.

On our way home we spotted a two-drawer filing cabinet outside someone’s house. (In this area this is the first way of disposing of unwanted items – it works amazingly well!) I talked Dani out of bringing it home but later (when she and P were at Woodcraft) I felt bad and Leo and I went to get it . Of course attempting to transport a filing cabinet with nothing but a flimsy trolley and spindly four year old for assistance was somewhat foolish. After five minutes of heaving it about, bashing up my legs, trapping fingers and wrenching back muscles I realised it was impossible. I called my brother who lives along the road and he came, with his car, to my rescue. The filing cabinet is now in the kitchen where it is going to be the heart of a new organised way of storing the kids’ work.

In the evening Leo and Dani played with the onset and rime blocks – lots of reading and vocabulary extension. Pearl and I worked on a sheet that had Greek words that form the roots of English words. Pearl is very interested in these links and she came up with some brilliant words – fire hydrant, microchip, archaeology, astronomy. She is collecting a folder of stuff on ancient Greece at the moment.


Today was Leo’s day to go to my mum and partner’s house. Judging by the bits of garden wall he came home with I’d say he had been digging. He was certainly tired this evening but in a lovely jolly mood. He lay on the sofa between me and D demanding that we both tickle him.

P and I had a productive time in his absence. We watched some maths on schools TV which lead to a conversation about decimals.

Then we watched the final ‘Roots’ tribute programme on the DVD. There was nothing much to it so we decided to look online for some more information about Alex Haley and how he traced his family tree. This landed us in the middle of angry debate about how far the work was fact and how much fiction. It seems to be a minefield of a debate and the sort of thing where you can be easily misled online. P seemed quite unconcerned about whether or not the story was true. She knows a good story and appreciates a fab bit of TV so I think we have got a lot out of it – no matter what. One of the things I like most about the story is the sense it gives of how real, individual people lie at the heart of massive events like the slave trade. Sometimes I think the glib jolly history books that are often produced for children (though I really like a lot e.g. horrible histories) are so keen not to upset them that they take all the drama out. I know that it is through the stories of individuals that I have often been drawn into a period of history – be it through biography or fiction.

Pearl also decided to do some maths from a fairly crummy Letts study book. This was good as I made a fair few careless errors which we shared and laughed over!

P scooted frantically up and down the road as she waited for one of her old school friends to arrive. She initiated her friend in the mysteries of Zoombinis and Sky TV!

All tired tonight. I have battled a mighty pile of ironing and kids have had a telly fest. Dani and I have also eaten far to much warm banana cake – YUM.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Working weekend

A. was working both days of the weekend, so it was just me and the kids both afternoons. Long negotiations about where we would go and who we would see resulted in a plan that left nobody completely happy. Ho hum.

Anyway, yesterday we went to an open roda, organised by the capoeira group that runs the class the kids go to on Wednesdays. It was for adults and children together, the first time they had organised one like that. P. had a great time, played capoeira with a man she had never met, and sat in the circle until I dragged her away. Watching the adults play was amazing. They were all brilliant, but you could really see differences of style in the way they played. Everyone was lovely with the kids, too. Watching a very little girl of four playing with the tallest man in the room was a sight to behold!

There were several other HE kids there, so I had a chance to catch up briefly with some people I don’t get to see very often (Brighton’s HE population being so big that we don’t all see each other all the time). Leo didn’t enjoy it much – the music was too loud and the atmosphere too scary for him to join in. I’d really like to go again, but we might have to wait until it falls on a Saturday when Allie’s not at work.

The kids greeted us this morning with beautiful bookmarks and cards they had made for mothers day. All P’s idea – very sweet.

We skipped Rainbow Families, in an attempt to avoid overloading Leo (and all of us) with too many social occasions, and instead met up with some local cousins in the afternoon. We played in the park until everyone got too cold, then the little ones went to the cousins’ house for a play, while P. and her cousin S. came to our house for a while.

They played Triominoes and then made potions fragranced with herbs from the garden and coloured with dye from tissue paper. I made holes in corks in preparation for puppet making at Woodcraft Folk tomorrow.

There’s been lots of very useful playing and observing things in the house this weekend too. P. was rolling a little ball around this morning. It has a striped pattern on it. She pointed out that there was a stripe round the middle, like the equator, and demonstrated with the ball how the earth spins on its axis. Later she said ‘you can make lots of different patterns with that ball – a zigzag, or a DNA pattern’. She was talking about the way the stripes looked as it was rolling along. Wonderful.

L. and P. did some beautiful sharing and turn taking on the computer, and were very supportive of each other’s efforts playing games on the Dav Pilkey website. Leo did his usual prolific drawing, and writing, and quite a lot of reading. We all watched a documentary about ice mummies on one of the history channels this evening. Oh and there was some sewing done, and colouring.

We looked out some books to take to a book sale we are having at the HE group tomorrow, in aid of Comic Relief, and had some conversation about the projects they fund.

Allie has come home from work a bit ill, and is snuggled in bed watching The Lost Prince on telly. Hope she’ll be better for tomorrow. Off to revive her with a cup of tea.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Pottering about

Well, the house is starting to look a little less like a warehouse full of boxes and more like a house again. If we have this much disruption just changing some rooms around I cannot imagine what the hell it would be like if we ever had to move. This was not a good week for the recycling service to fail to collect our box. After a day out in the rain the huge cardboard boxes were largely reduced to pulp when we finally found out that the recyclers can’t collect until Monday because of staff sickness. But they are usually very reliable so we can’t complain.

This morning Dani went off to work and the kids and I got up slowly watching schools progs. Kids want the book of the story we have enjoyed on Look and Read this week.

Pearl, Leo and I got the bus to the new library. It is very beautiful and I am sure we will grow to love it. Of course, I cannot help but look at it all from the staff point of view and spotted a couple of things which must already be annoying to work with. I also had a brief tearful moment remembering a long winter afternoon studying in the old reference library. It was not the kind of place that suits modern needs but I loved the big sloping work desks, heavy chairs and general air of timelessness.

After a brief stay in the children’s section (too many toddlers for P and L’s tastes!) we wandered around looking at things. The children were enthralled in the new ‘rare books’ section which had beautiful books on display. I think I noticed an anxious look as we entered but the kids listened to my explanation of the damage done by lots of fingers and touched nothing. Pearl looked at a book of cloth samples from the voyages of Captain Cook and Leo was very impressed by a silver bound book. He explained at bedtime that one of his most recently drawn comic is a rare book as he placed it reverently beside his bed.

The new library has a shop at the entrance – oh bum. Leo decided he wanted to spend his pocket money there but we could find almost nothing he could afford. He was happy to be diverted to the charity shop across the road. The kids got some toys and I found three books – one about teeth, one about digestion, and one about germs - for 50p each. They caught my eye because I like the illustrator and the content is actually quite informative.
We came home for lunch accompanied by Eyewitness videos from the library – one on islands and one on the Arctic and Antarctic. Then Leo started painting the desk tidy he and Dani made yesterday and Pearl worked on a secret craft project. Leo spent some time on the computer tonight at the Dav Pilkey site and also wrote some words which he printed and incorporated into a picture. Pearl did some maths problems while watching Inspector Gadget!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A better day

Yesterday was a bad day, with lots of arguing and shouting in it, topped off by P. breaking the sofa just before bedtime, and then a three hour wrestling match with an Ikea bed.

There was some good stuff mixed in, like making borax crystals, going to capoeira, feeding the triops (though I’m not convinced these have hatched).

Today was much better. After the traditional schools TV programmes in the morning, A and P went off their French lesson with A’s mum in the morning, then Allie went on to work. P. went to the brand new library with her grandmothers. They all reported it was lovely. Another visit is planned for tomorrow.

Leo and I stayed home for Power Rangers and an early lunch, then went on a quick shopping trip to Sainsbury’s. This was very educational, with lots of reading the signs above the aisles, counting packets of sugar, etc.

We walked home in the snow and made sugar crystals, following a recipe from the Krampf email list a couple of months ago. We also worked together on a cardboard box and papier mache desk tidy that was in the Scooby Doo magazine we bought on the way home.

When P. came home I did the sugar crystals thing with her too, then the kids settled down for an evening of telly watching, mercifully without bickering.

We copied June and made borax snowflakes. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Books and boxes

I was out for most of today, so this is mostly second hand. Leo went over to A’s mum and partner’s house, where he played happily, ate fried potatoes and had a lovely time.

Allie and Pearl went to town and got seduced by some great books at Borders. They bought a Tintin book, Evolve or Die, and The Anti-colouring Book for P; some flashcards, an ancient Egypt sticker book, and Beware of the Storybook Wolves for L.

Later they watched the last episode of Roots. I think Allie will probably have more to say about this, but it seems to have been a very valuable experience for P (and A). She’s keen to watch the ‘making of’ bit at the end of the DVD, which promises to be very interesting.

I finished work early and went to collect another of P’s friends from school. They played cards and did drawings up in P’s room most of the afternoon, while we flopped about on the sofa and played with Leo’s new books.

Our stuff came from Ikea, so we now have a decent mattress to sleep on and a house full of boxes. Not sure I can tackle constructing the bed frame tonight, as Allie has gone out for the evening.

The kids had a telly-fest in the evening and bickered over duvets, before finally making friends and settling down in bed.