Friday, June 30, 2006

Ants, Baking, and Campsites

We're back in the swing of things at home now, though our usual groups are severely depleted by HESFES this week. We've been thinking we'll probably bite the bullet and go next year, especially now that it's been moved to June, which suits us better for getting time off work. In preparation for a shift towards camping, we have decided to buy a tent and booked a week in a campsite on the Isle of Wight in August. P. is already beside herself with excitement.

In other news this week:
  • We went to London, just the two of us, to see a play at the Drill Hall. The kids went to their cousins' house for a sleepover. It was a fine performance and a good adaptation of a wonderful novel.
  • Allie's mum came to Woodcraft Folk to talk to the kids about what the Folk was like when she was in it as a girl, in the 1940s.
  • Pearlie got a new swimming costume and now wants to swim at every possible opportunity. Allie took her on Tuesday and is planning to take them both again this Friday.
  • We've spent a lot of time in the park – doing the after school thing with cousins on Tuesday and briefly meeting up with some home edders on Wednesday before capoeira.
  • P. baked lavender cakes at the grandmothers' house today and I baked bread.
  • Leo has put up all the posters from Doctor Who adventures on his bedroom wall and I helped him make a cardboard K9 and Cassandra.
  • Allie and Pearl had a look at some geometry sent in the post by my dad, and P's chess game ended in defeat. But they have immediately started a new one, so she can't be too demoralised.
  • We have been looking after cousin B's elderly hamster for the week while they are on holiday. Somewhat nervewracking after our recent loss, but he is very sweet. We have also spent a long time trying to entice ants into small pots to populate Leo's new ant farm.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Walking, working and weeping

We are still here! Here's a sentence per day catch up…

Saturday 10th: Waved off the local manifestation of the World Naked Bike ride in the morning, then set off with heavy rucksacks and two confused guinea pigs for a week's holiday in Balcombe, where we found our luxurious holiday house complete with secluded grassy garden.

Sunday 11th: Walked to the local lake and discovered the wonderful tea shop in Balcombe.

Monday 12th: Lovely visit from Allie's dad and his wife for lunch and another short walk (to the lake again), with lots of informative discussion about hedges, birds, trees, etc, and a hysterical game of consequences in the evening.

Tuesday 13th: Played in the park, lunched at the tea shop, then found the reservoir and paddled in it.

Wednesday 14th: Kids blew their holiday money on toys and the latest Doctor Who Adventures in Haywards Heath, then we wandered around Borde Hill Gardens.

Thursday 15th: Much more ambitious walk to the wonderful Ouse Valley Viaduct via horrid country racetracks and slightly unofficial footpaths, then back to Balcombe via the beautiful reservoir.

Friday 16th: Walked to Wakehurst Place via fantastic stream in slightly spooky wood, and back again (at the insistence of the kids).

Saturday 17th: Home again, on overcrowded train, to find plumber here still installing new boiler and floorboards up in hallway – escaped to park until he had finished.

Sunday 18th: Morning park with cousins, creating lovely sand worlds, waved to London to Brighton cyclists, then had a talk about how to organise our time when we're not out at groups, resulting in a new system of a weekly box of resources and ideas for each child, to be used for filling unplanned time at home if necessary. Had a mini Zocalo with our next door neighbours in the evening.

Monday 19th: Met up with MMs friends at the seafront for lots of wild splashing in paddling pool, followed by kite making at Woodcraft for P. and L.

Tuesday 20th: Squeezebox, followed by a mammoth park session with other HE families, picked up cousins from school and nursery then back to the park.

Wednesday 21st: Reading books at home in the morning, quick park trip before capoiera in the afternoon.

Thursday 22nd: P. went to Kids Club while the rest of us searched the house for Leo's Doctor Who sticker album (eventually located in aunt's bag where he'd put it the day before!), then after a lunchtime Kids Club parents meeting, the kids and I went to Brighton Museum and did some local history research.

Friday 23rd: Allie and kids had a lovely time swimming, then collected a friend of P's from school for a play and tea here.

RIP Handkerchief
We are all very sad because Hanky died on Thursday afternoon. Soon after we got home from the museum I noticed that he was making strange noises, and I picked him up to see what was wrong. He struggled a bit, then suddenly went limp in my hands and I realised he was gone. Pearl and Leo are both upset, and have been dealing with it in their own very different ways. We had a funeral in the garden and they both wrote little notes to put in with the coffin. Bunny seems healthy, but a bit confused sometimes. We hope he won't be too lonely.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Sploshing and stropping an' rockin' and stuff

Pearlie went off to Kids' Club – where the energy theme continues, I believe. She and a friend barbecued bananas in their solar powered cooker. They didn't cook as much as they had hoped. After Kids' Club she went to the grandmothers' house (and garden) for the afternoon. She informed me with great excitement that she had had mating damsel flies on her arm.

I had a fun morning at the dentist getting an old filling drilled out and replaced and paying silly money for it. Dentistry seems to have become some kind of bizarre wheeler-dealing occupation these days. I have a dentist who is apparently an NHS dentist but who doesn't want to do any of the work I need on the NHS because he won't make enough money. I'd change dentist but finding an NHS dentist who is taking new patients is like finding the proverbial snowflake in June.

Dani spent the morning tackling the long list of jobs that crop up just before you go away on holiday. Leo worked on a beautiful set of 'Dragon Cards', inspired by his Animal Families cards.

Crocodile Dragon

Bumble Bee Dragon

Octopus Dragon

Monster Dragon - a two part card

A spooky Goblin Dragon

The index

In the afternoon Dani and Leo went to the park with the paddling pool – but he said it wasn't much fun without Pearlie.

I heard the kids get up together at some ungodly hour today. Dani went off to work. The kids and I went to one of the branch libraries, where the kids spent a lovely 45 mins reading. Pearlie found a library copy of the 'Gorgeous Georgians', which she has been reading, and finished it off so that she wouldn't have to carry it on holiday. Leo found a pile of stuff (including the next two Edge Chronicles books) and a Geronimo Stilton.

There were four boys in the library (aged between maybe seven and eleven) who were using one of the computers. The bigger ones wouldn't let the little one have a go and so he rolled about on seats, got bored and eventually started climbing about on the picture books boxes. It seemed sad to me that it didn't occur to him to alleviate his boredom by opening a book.

Leo and Pearl took some leaflets (as they usually do) and read them at the bus stop. Leo is a bit obsessed with one called 'How to beat the bogus caller', which he is trying hard to interpret. He said today:
"They just assume that you have a door chain – whatever that is!"

We went straight down to the park with the paddling pool and had chips from the cafĂ© for lunch – a little treat because we've run out of food at home! The kids had a great time – jumping in and splashing around. The water is a bit suspect at the paddling pool. Today I saw a toddler plucked from the water with a poo dangling between her cheeks, and another little boy standing peeing straight in to the pool. I told the kids to try to keep their mouths shut!

We went off to the shops to get a few last minute bits and for Pearlie to get more photos for her passport – the passport office having rejected the first lot. This was where the day got tedious as Leo got stuck in an acquisitive frame of mind. That, and hayfever making his eyes itch badly, meant that he became less and less reasonable and built up to a major strop. This went on for so long that I decided we couldn't risk the bus home, so we all plodded miserably up the hill in the heat. He apologised later but never really re-gained his calm today.

Pearlie re-played all the chess moves in her current match (which is being played by email) as some confusion has arisen over what's where! I hope it is all sorted now.

I keep meaning to mention that P has written to Blue Peter, telling them how she knows all the flags of the world - and that BP is her favourite programme. I hope she gets some sort of acknowledgement of her letter. Does anyone know how likely this is?

This evening we went to the Squeezebox rocks event. This is a brilliant gig where the kids' bands from Squeezebox get to play. Pearlie was pretty impressed, though terrified by the sight of the stage and the thought that she might play on it next year. Leo demanded a carry so that he could see and promptly fell asleep! This was no mean feat as the music was dominated by pretty loud Clash, Jam, etc. numbers belted out by kids - with LOTS of drums. I was so impressed by the whole thing and think that the guy who runs Squeezebox has really identified something that kids want and enables them to do it, without being at all patronising.

One last quick mention is that the seagulls nesting on the roof opposite appear to have three babies this year. The chicks are fluffy little things with bandy legs that stagger about on the roof in spite of the fact that there is clearly no way they can fly yet. Pearl and Leo love watching them. It's great - like our own Springwatch programme but, sadly, no Bill Oddie yet!

Both kids were ragged by the time we got home and are now zonked in bed. Tomorrow we are off on our hols for a week. See you when we get back.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bright Sunshiny Days

Summer seems to be finally here, and we've been packing in several outings a day to make the most of it while it lasts.

On Saturday we had a lovely family day at our beach hut in Hove. Pearlie and I cycled there and back and resolved (again) to do more bike rides. We spotted various nice Brighton moments on the way home – a lone samba drummer by the West Pier, a capoeira roda on Hove Lawns, and some people beating out a great rhythm on a wheelie bin, a water bottle and the legs of an office chair by the Palace Pier.

Leo was happy as Larry on the beach, running back and forth fetching water and seaweed and bringing them back for one of us to guard. Pearlie sat up on the promenade by the beach hut doing Sudoku puzzles, playing Othello and chatting. Later on she splashed about happily in the paddling pool at Hove Lagoon.

We arrived home in plenty of time to be scared out of our wits by Doctor Who.

The kids and I got up early-ish and joined the throng at the BBC Springwatch event at Stanmer Park on Sunday. It was good, with a nice variety of stalls and activities. We watched an interesting DVD filmed underwater in the sea around the Sussex coast, chatted with a knowledgeable woman about symbiotic relationships between hermit crabs and anemones, and saw some lovely bats. We also picked up some free seeds, some useful information about a community composting project and a bag to take up some space in the toilet cistern.

The bus out of the park was stuck in traffic so we eventually gave up and walked down to the main road to catch our ride to town, where we popped in at The Big Knit In. This was much more mellow. The kids had brought their knitting but spent most of the time playing hide and seek. We finally dragged our weary bones home and watched Doctor Who again!

Pearlie went to an energy workshop at Kids Club on Monday and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was run by her capoeira teacher, who is very skilled at motivating kids and keeping a group focused and involved, while also being very funny. Allie and Leo dropped her off then went to MMs, where he plunged into his usual Doctor Who/Power Rangers game with a couple of the other kids, barely pausing for breath until it was time to leave. Other people made delicious cheese straws and did experiments with pepper.

Pearlie came to meet me from work and we turned up for the very end of MMs, relieving Allie to do some last minute holiday shopping before work. The rest of us popped in at the park for an hour with some MMs friends. It turned out to be an 'insect day', so lots of the local school children were in the park. P. found some friends from her school days and organised obstacle courses with them, Leo and seven year old friend J.

I dragged them away from the park so we could have a brief rest before Leo's first session at Woodcraft Folk. This was great – we had arranged for some people to come and do a short circus skills workshop with the kids, and by all accounts everyone participated and had a lovely time. P. and L. came away happily chatting about devil sticks and spinning plates. Once again, I was thankful that we live in Brighton, where there are so many talented and enthusiastic people willing to share their passions with our kids.

Tuesday was also busy as usual, with Squeezebox in the morning for both kids, followed by a day at the grandmothers' for Leo and a trip to the market followed by some geometry at home for Pearl and Allie. They all met up later for a play in the park with the local cousins and friends from the neighbourhood.

Allie and the kids had a morning at home today (Wednesday), bathing guinea pigs, doing puzzles, and making things out of cardboard. After lunch, Pearlie could stand it no longer and we fitted in a swift visit to the park before capoeira.

We're off on holiday for a week on Saturday. Will try to do a quick catch up before then.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Thank blank it's Friday

Dani was at work all day today and I croaked through a good day with the kids.

We decided to go to Hove library, which has recently re-opened after extensive work to make it accessible. It is a beautiful building – full of light and calm. Sadly, the recent re-opening, combined with half-term, meant that the children's library was way too noisy for Pearl and Leo's taste. They grabbed some Horrible History books, a Tintin and some Geronimo Stilton books and then came and read silently in the adult non-fiction, where I was browsing. We did venture back in to the children's section and found a Horrible History DVD (very disappointing – American influenced and cartoon) and a vintage Dr Who video. I borrowed a recipe book of gorgeous cakes – full of slightly obscene colour shots of dripping icing etc! We must make some of the wonderful cakes before we take it back – and not just ogle the photos.

On the way home I made the mistake of popping in to Waitrose – just to buy root ginger for my throat. Of course we were tempted by fruit, bagels and chocolate chip brioche – whoops! Leo wanted to buy blackberries, which led to an interesting conversation about food miles. I just cannot bring myself to pay two pounds for a tiny box of fruit we can pick by the pound for free in a couple of months, quite apart from the fact that it had come from Spain! But we did buy some English strawberries, which were surprisingly tasty.

In the afternoon a man came from a local flooring firm, to measure our back basement for some new flooring. We are intending to make this bit of basement, which has always been a bit grotty – a place to put up airers and dump junk – into a sitting room. The fact that we currently have only one shared room which is a kitchen/dining room/living room means that our bedroom (front basement) is always being used as an overflow living space. I am tired of getting to bed time to find our bed stripped by kids, and clothes, toys and books everywhere. So, with a nicer back basement area we can close the curtains and make our bedroom more private space.

As I was starting to flag a bit we all crashed on the sofa and watched the Dr Who video we had borrowed from the library. It was 'The Evil Planet' – a Tom Baker adventure with Sarah Jane in it too. Pearl asked me if I remembered watching it when I was a child and I said I didn't but then had a sudden flash of memory of a particular scene. It's amazing what's locked up in your brain after thirty years! The kids were gripped all through the four parts of the story and didn't seem to notice the ridiculous special effects (space ships that are clearly models on a bit of string, and obvious cardboard scenery) or the tiny cast. It made me realise just how many people they have acting in the modern Dr Who programmes.

After Dr Who we had a quiet moment doing Sudoku (me), a bit of a maths book about triangles (Pearlie) and drawing/cutting out (Leo). After tea the kids went out into the garden and played happily for hours with the rainwater lying in the upturned lid of the old sand pit. They made a variety of paper boats, and used them to float little plastic farm animals. They worked together to achieve their aim of getting all the toys afloat – and even cleared up after themselves.

Leo lost a tooth today – the first one to go naturally, rather than getting knocked out. It looks like the combination of natural tooth loss and accidents means that he will have a gap of all four front teeth at once. The poor child will certainly struggle with corn on the cob this summer!

Here are a few photos of recent goings on.

This is a drawing Leo did of an online survey. It shows a screen with questions and a hand on some kind of touch pad. I thought it was great.

Some bubble making with the Where the Days Go gang.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A mixed bag

I have spent the last two days with virtually no voice and feeling lousy. I had a horrible throat thing about three weeks ago and it has recurred with a vengeance. Don't know why I'm blogging as I've done little but cough, and swear in whispers, but I'm bored to death. So here's my attempt at a round up of the last two days – albeit as a spectator!

The kids and I spent the morning at home. After a bit of tv the kids wrote themselves packing lists for our holiday – and even started packing We're not leaving until June 10th, so it was all a bit over enthusiastic, but they were being lovely together and the list making was fun. Leo listed each individual issue of his Dr Who Adventures magazine!
Pearlie helped me put away the Tesco delivery, and Leo pottered and cut up cardboard. He is nearly always to be found holding scissors at the moment – and the house is covered in creations. Most bizarre among his recent work was an empty toy tub (once held plastic dinosaurs) with a circle of card inserted into the base and a cut out picture of Gary Rhodes' head – labelled neatly in pencil 'Gary Rhodes'. Very odd!
In the afternoon I watched crap American tv films instead of going to work, and Dani took the children to capoeira. The Mestre was visiting from Germany, so it was a bit of a special occasion. Unfortunately the school hall where the classes are held was locked up (as it is half term here) but they had the classes in the local park. It was lucky that the weather held for them – though they all got rather cold. Both kids played in the roda, with the Mestre, so they were very chuffed.

We all got up slowly and pottered in the morning. Dani and the children got the bus over to Where the Days Go, and had a lovely visit with A and F. Not entirely sure what happened but a 'fabulous bubble machine' was mentioned and dramatic falls off both a swing and trampoline, for various people. Yummy lunch was consumed and Dani and A had some chat about feminism. Leo came home with creations of his own – and a cyberman made by F and very generously given to him. Sadly he also came home with an empty drawer that he had found at the bus stop. I thought no-one could rival Pearlie's ability to pick up crap in the street, but Leo is certainly having a good go!

I lay in bed nearly all day and even sank as far as watching Juliet Bravo on some dodgy channel. How can it be that a programme I remember watching with enthusiasm is actually total drivel? Maybe because I was ten and had yet to meet Jane Tennyson or Sam Ryan!

I read the EO newsletter and tried to follow some of the heavy debate on the UKHE list. D and I are in the process of getting together some local experiences of the LEA for a meeting we've agreed to have with the head of the EOTAS department – just as ourselves, not representing anyone else. The arguments on the list just make me wonder if it is worth sticking your head above the parapet at all. Dani and I were wondering why it is that whatever minority groups we've ever found ourselves in (quite a few over the years!) there is always so much in-fighting and so little trust? Answers on a postcard please – or the comments box.

A boring row about tv programmes started once the kids had got their coats off tonight, and I gave voice to my increasing doubts about Sky TV. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a big telly fan – love a good programme and have always been something of an addict. I used to watch the test card as a child (remember that rather creepy child with the black board and clown toy) waiting for something to move! But recently I've started to wonder if the rather ridiculous amount of money we've been paying for two tvs with sky channels is something of a waste of cash. The kids spend time fighting about where they will watch programmes they've seen many times before, and worrying about missing said programmes when we are out. Dani and I sit up at night watching re-runs of BBC programmes we've seen before. When we first got Sky I had no idea that most of the channels have a very limited number of programmes that they show over, and over, and over again.

So, I suggested to everyone that we consider cancelling our Sky package and getting just freesat – the free digital channels through our sky dish. We could use some of the saved cash to up the kids' pocket money to a generous fiver a week, which would enable them to buy DVDs of the programmes they particularly like. Dani was happy to do this - she's not that much of a telly fan. More amazingly the children were both happy to agree to the deal! Pearlie felt that a fiver was too much pocket money and has agreed on four pounds fifty - if she can save two fifty a week in a credit union account! Leo was thrilled at the thought of more money for Dr Who stuff.

The phone call to Sky to cancel the package was predictably tedious. I had to use the broken record technique to get past the amazing offers being dangled in front of me. I imagine the young lad I was talking to has to meet targets, so I hope I didn't dent his bonus too much. I was told to ring a second number to set up freesat. It turned out that there is no setting up to do – the equipment we have will just pick up only the free channels, once we stop paying for the others. Needless to say that the guy in the cancellations department did not tell me that - he gave me the impression that we'd have to buy new viewing cards…

So, we shall see how the kids cope (Leo mainly) when some of the channels they like just disappear. But I feel better about it already. I have always stood up for tv and believe that it is often great entertainment and highly educational – but I was finding it harder and harder to believe that endless re-runs of Scooby Doo and Totally Spies were worth the money we were paying, or the arguments.

Well, Dani is back at work tomorrow and I will need to use my voice a bit more – so I'm off to gargle with warm salt water. I am convinced that it is real summer that I need now – as in sunshine – as in warmth!

Normal cheery HE blog will be resumed asap!