Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Its taken awhile but the spirit of excitement over the holiday has finally arrived in a smorgasbord of Christmas music, gingerbread and pumpkin. The girls made Gingerbread houses today. I used a recipe from Apples for Jam which makes a lovely lightly spiced cookie with a superb texture and easy baking. Though I intended there to be three houses when I doubled the recipe but it turned out to only be two and a handful of biscuits from the off cuts.

Its so nice to forget about the fact that you just hoovered and that the kids are eating about a ton of sugar as they nibble the decorations and just let them get on with the process. The lack of house turned out fine though as Esther and Jess loved making one together and Kitty and I did the other together.

Now if you will excuse me I have several layers of icing to scrub off the laminate floors...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do as the Romans do

We've had a birthday in these parts which has been unusually pressured. Birthdays for adults (Matt in this case) are usually lovely, relaxing and peaceful affairs in our home. This year our children's plans for M.'s 36th (!!!) got bigger and bigger. And its all the Roman's fault.

It goes like this:

History studies for homeschool are done with all the girls together. We started with ancient Britain and have now reached the Romans in Britain. The chronological process has put a great deal of things into place for the children and produced an enormous surge of enthusiasm in their history lessons. It is all spectacularly thrilling.

However the girls unanimously attacked me with the idea of planning a Roman feast.Due to a surfeit of obligations and plans we put the feast further and further back till the only option was to combine it with M.'s birthday or leave it to January.

Kitty researched and planned the menu, Esther researched and planned our costumes and Jessica wrote a PowerPoint reviewing the history of the period. As planning moved forward it became more and more obvious that their vision outstripped my enthusiasm.

This is how it all turned out... Matt came in from working in the shed to be dressed by the household servant (me) in his tunic and toga. The dinner was being served in the triclinium where diners could recline on cushions around the "roasted swan" centerpiece of our meal (cake).

We had goat stew, pieceman bread, olives, bread, almonds, fruit, vegetables and (everyones favorite delicacy) stuffed door mice. It was delicious and admittedly easier than a roast dinner however... the cake. Oh the flipping monstrous cake. Not to mention the tunics!

It was spectacular Matt loved it, the girls were over the moon, and I am so glad to move on from the Romans. Long live the Saxons!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

The girls have been busily making decorations for Thanksgiving and I am so blessed to have my family around me today but I'm missing those 5000 miles away.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gifting creativly

So as a follow up to my last post there is this: We make a set of these sketch books every year for Christmas and they are a perennial favorite! The gold stencilled version is what all our girls will receive and the titled version is what our young nephews will get this year as we are all going to be together for New Year.

These really could not be easier. I buy cheap A4 hard back sketch books this time of year. Last year I got nice ones for £1.99 each. This year I've had to fork out £2.50 each. The titled version is lettered by hand in pencil and then painted over (also by hand) but you could very easily use letter stencils to put words on your books. The stencilled version is new this year as I felt I'd worn out the titled ones for our girls over the last few Christmases. If anything the stencil is easier. You just need a piece of lace paper. A paper doily would work nicely but I've used some scrapbook paper that was not cheap at £1.80 for the sheet but it was so sturdy I've done three books and it could stand up to a lot more use still. Good quality acrylic paint works a treat but don’t be tempted to try the kid’s paints (poster or otherwise) on them as it flakes off over time and you will find yourself one day covered in chipped paint and the book looking rather less spectacular. I placed a letter cut out of the child’s initial under my lacy card and used a sponge to stipple gold paint all over the front of the book then the card and initial removed and voila! The spine was painted gold and when dry about an hour later I wrote in in black Sharpie each child’s name so that when being pulled off a shelf it would be immediately recognizable whose sketch book is whose. I haven’t painted the back as I think it’s easier for younger children to recognize front from back with a plain back cover- but I could imagine how much more glamorous a whole gold painted book could look!

Creativity spaces

One of the most astonishing privileges of being an adult is to observe the creativity of children with the insight of maturity. I recently had the giddy pleasure of watching several pre-school aged girls gathering grasses, leaves, ferns, etc to create dolls. Their mothers shrugged in bewilderment about where the idea had come from. As I watched them I noticed one child was particularly resourceful; she was not the oldest or the most clearly spoken but had rallied troops to her cause with her determination. In an attempt to engage and discover her inspiration I tried to help with the gathering process. She had a very specific selecting process which I could not discern but was very clear to her mind and most my efforts were examined carefully to be accepted or rejected with a finality that would make Sir Alan Sugar proud. It soon became apparent as my time with this group of children lengthened that this particular toddler was delightfully, startlingly creative. Having a conversation with her challenged my brain keeping up with her leaps in topic and relevance, and clearly many of the games played were of her invention.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that there are two motivations for creative behaviours: that of exploration and invention and to acquire comfort, pleasure and relaxation which revitalises daily life for the creative individual. I have often wondered if adult intervention in children’s activities tends to stifle creativity as we will (as humans) repeat the things we’re most exposed to and many adults have set patterns of behaviour and thinking long established. As an example of this in our home we have no television and get all our access to TV programming via internet players and DVD rentals; in our experience a TV show/ film/ etc. exposure tends to limit our children’s variety of creative play. We have bought toys which tie in with children’s shows (Bob the Builder comes to mind) which were endlessly and creatively employed until the TV show itself was seen and suddenly the context of the toys became clear and they were only played with in specific frameworks and Bob no longer played the role of CafĂ© owner, Cowboy, or Zoo Keeper… he was Bob, the builder. The observation of this human behaviour of imitation of the things we are exposed to is so ancient it is mentioned in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 15:33 where the disciples of Jesus were advised to avoid evil company as it would corrupt your own behaviour and again in Phillipians 4:8 where they are advised to dwell on only good things.

Part of our home life is the encouragement of creative thinking. At the younger children’s age it can be as simple as storytelling. More often we encourage the children to think about motivations of the characters in stories they read, or to think of an alternative way of working out a maths problem. I would argue however that the most important aspect of encouraging the children’s creativity is in actively fostering an attitude of observance and insight in the everyday. We try to explore our surroundings (home, wilderness, human interactions) with our eyes wide- viewing details with curiosity and thoughtfulness. I hope that by creating the space for creativity my children to look at the world perceptively and enable them to find an endless well of peace and reflectivity.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Locks of Love

We have been busy bunnies around here partly due to National School's Movies week and the three (3!!! Tres!!!) movies we went to see last week FOR FREE!! But I am totally kid movied out: if I never have to hear another terrible samba inspired song sung by an animated British accented villain it will be too soon!
On the other hand we have been thinking deeply about one of Matt's cousins who is unfortunately facing death at a very young age. The whole extended family has been worrying, praying and wishing for two years now that every new treatment will be the last. Sadly though his deterioration has been rapid and it all seems very near and very heavy..With this in mind J. has been growing her hair long for some time in order to have it cut short to donate the lengths to a charity which provides wigs to children. We thought about Locks of Love which is a US charity that performs an important service for poorer children but unfortunately they deal almost exclusively with children with Alopecia. So we found in the UK The Little Princess Trust which provides wigs for children with any hair loss problems. The dilemma is that wigs are available on the NHS so that there are no disadvantaged children in the UK without access to wigs however the quality, comfort, uses and styles of NHS wigs are not the highest. The Little Princess Trust provides wigs that are very versatile, comfortable, can be swam in and look real. This week as we made the appointment for J.'s haircut K. decided to take the plunge and was eager to join in. The results are 10 inches of beautiful blond waves and brown silky straight hair lopped off at the ears. I am very very delighted of the decision they both took in the face of terror of the unknown (J's first haircut ever and K.'s first time with short hair since she was 4) with the hope of helping a child who may be facing a bigger sort of terror.

Many thanks to the lovely women at Joannes in Verwood for making it a wonderful experience all round. E. was certain they would be a exquisite source of chatter, knowledge and local gossip and they did not fail!

The girls are thrilled. Now K. is the perfect image of me and it is hard to get J.'s name correct because Matt and I just see E. every single time we look at her.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


We have a family tradition that this time of year Matt and I have a CONVERSATION that goes like this:

And then as December goes by it goes like this:

However this year I'm feeling rather disenchanted by boosting GDP and acquiring more Stuff. So this year the CONVERSATION has gone more like this:

I anticipate this sort of December:

Well... it could be fun.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Selling my soul

This could be the most terrifying thing I've ever done: it does feel like I've just put my soul up for the whole world to gaze on and judge. So **gulp** go visit my Esty shop, I'm not sure if I care if anything sells, I just hope nobody goes "Oh would you look at that rubbish!"
Here goes. . . SOUL FOR SALE! ! !

On another subject: I am finally getting a few projects finished at last. And my beautiful lamp which once was rather boring and plain is now a smorgasbord of buttony goodness! !

I had seen this on a lamp where they had used just the metal frame of the shade and had the light through strung/wired (?) buttons. However the light in our lamp is something like 6 gazillion candle power and will fry your eyeballs if it hits you right on so I decided to sew the buttons to the shade. With the light off it looks like I like: kinda grungy and handmade-ish but in the evening it turns into the star of our living room. Buttons which previously looked normal turn into the most stunning visual feast.I didn’t use any special bits, I purposely used buttons I was going to donate to a charity shop because they were so very ordinary.
yum yum yum yum!
For any who might be interested we are planning a trip WEST!! It is going to happen in 2012 it is just a matter of when the tickets aren't going to be totally out of proportion due to the Olympics being a couple of hours away from our house. Okay must stop before I hyperventilate with excitement.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pottery love

Last night was my first evening in an 8 week ceramics and pottery class which M. gave me for my birthday. I've never really had a drive to do ceramics. I keep myself neck deep in projects that need finished without the necessity of three days cooking in extreme temperatures (thank you very much). Needless to say as people moved into the ceramics room and were chatting like old friends and began to raid cupboards and pull out almost finished pieces I began to have a creeping sense of how wrong this class could be for me. And I wished for a sinking hole in the earth to swallow me and save me the embarrassment of admitting my ignorance. HOWEVER…

Oh my giddy wonderful racing heart!! I LOVE it!

I was encouraged to start with moulding but. . . err. . . being a bit hard headed and not having been at all interested in doing moulded clay I said with total ignorance of the processes, limitations, and qualities of clay "No I want to either throw or do sculptural stuff." So I was sat down with a piece of paper and pencil which is no hardship as sketching is my favourite diversion.

What came out was a regurgitation of something that I have been sketching on the borders of notebooks and corners of sticky pads for at least 16 years. This (above) is the earliest sketch I have of it which is from 2002 but it has been bouncing around my head for much longer. Then I sat with clay and just did what I had in my head. And it was so peaceful and soul centring, like a meditation on form and touch. I sense that I could have closed my eyes and felt what the clay wanted me to do with it. I learned a few things about the process and how to make sure my piece doesn't crack in the kiln or take four years to dry for that matter.

I cannot wait till next week. I have a coral reef in my head and hands which is burning to escape and become tangible!

As a BIG aside I am about to go onto ETSY and see if my makes are as nice to anyone other than me. . . eeeek! This embroidered broach (modelled by my obliging but terribly embarrassed 12 year old) is one of the few things I have to sell. It is slightly larger than life size and a Peacock butterfly which is very common in our area of England. It will be on sale in a day or two. Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Too many needles.

I'm afraid I've managed to cast on too many projects. I have a half finished *ahem* summer jumper for E, just started shawl for K and a half finished jumper for M. I don't know which to work on so I'm not. I am polishing up the perfected art of procrastination.

In all honesty I feel a bit inclined to do K's and leave the others. After all E's is for summer wear and I already made one for M... to be fair it came out a bit... errr... BIG and technically he isn't allowed to wear it out of the house (though he will try drat the man!).

I think I might just have a coffee and put on the second Pride and Prejudice disk while I make up my mind.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Autumn returns

I love this time of year as the whole world starts turning to paper and gold. We have pulled up the last of our potatoes (Desiree- by the way- they are the most delicious lates we've ever had!) and the chickens have been allowed on the bed to clear up the hoard of slugs we discovered sheltering under the plants...

We have returned to our homeschooling routine. This will be our first full term of everyone at home learning. We only withdrew from school last April and the summer term could only be described at best as experimental. I tried lots of different methods of recording activities and many many different time-tabling ideas all of which were wrong for one child or another. So this term I have made a simple timetable which covers all the curriculum and our own interests in textiles, cookery and home economics. And we have been working on it about two weeks now. The girls have all been enjoying it immensely and it has the added benefit of incorporating enough flexibility that when school-of-life opportunities arise we can take them and enjoy them without any pressure to make up subjects.

Tonight is cookery for E, and M and I found the most glorious field of parasol mushrooms ever- there were at least a dozen full grown and glorious. We only passed back by them when it was dark so we went scouring the field with a mobile phone flashlight examining parasols for slug damage by pale blue glow. We probably looked quite suspicious but we got a lovely enormous specimen! So E will cook Wild Mushroom Stroganoff with me tonight and it will be worth the evening scrabble in the field.

And as the vegetable garden dwindles my mind turns to Christmas gifts and winter warmth. You may hate me for mentioning it in September if you must but I have many many ideas and only so many hands and days!