Marooned in the Modern World

In conjunction with my book "Swiss Family Suburban" this blog is from my diary; the diary of a wife and mum in a world where neither is valued highly. Beth Bill.

2nd October 2010

Em entered a class in the Biddulph Music Festival, and won! She won the Volvo Trophy (not sure why it's called that, I guess it's to do with sponsorship). The trophy is huge. She played the Chopin flute Variations, which is very impressive. She did work really hard, so I'm glad she did well. I think, from the photo, it's evident that she takes all this very seriously!?

Jonti keeps busy with his trips to Macclesfield and now he also joins Alderley Edge's orchestra. It's quite nice to have a run out and a coffee to coincide with rehearsals. It's just a matter of stemming the panic that sets in when things get so busy. This academic year has hardly begun and the calendar is beginning to look like a spider fell in an ink pot and crawled all over the page. I guess it's just a matter of times and seasons - and this is a busy one. I suppose that in a few years from now we'll have the luxury of space either side of events - so : Take a deep breath and get on with it! On this trip it happily coincided with 'The Northern Women's Convention' which was pretty much en route. David played chauffeur and Em and I, with a friend, caught up with some friends from the Wirral during the day.

10th September 2010

We are warming up to the start of term gradually. For the children's music theory lesson we needed to get a little filing in order - so we took it to McDonalds! It was quite funny really as there were a couple of businessmen behind us talking 'shop' over a coffee and a laptop, and everything seemed so very important. In contrast we had papers spread across the table, a hole punch and Big Macs as well as the officious coffee. I think things will be a bit stricter next week. Mind you, we have taken music theory into McDonalds before and done some serious thinking work, so perhaps the next trip isn't really so far away - so long as we get the work done.

9th September 2010

Yikes, term time has crashed in upon us and I haven't even scratched the surface of what I'd hoped to achieve. Nevertheless, it's good to get back into routine. I've not got myself anything like as organised as usual, and I think that's because I've suffered unusually with pre-term nerves because Jonti and Em will be starting their A' level equivalents this time, which does feel quite daunting. However, now that term is upon us and we're getting on with it things don't seem quite so ominous. We've a heavy timetable to work through and lots to get done, but the thought is always more effort than the action. It's just a matter of tightening things up into a more workman like manner and being organised.

I've started back to choir for this year and we've a massive performance of Mendelssohn's "Elijah" in a few weeks. I spoke to our conductor, about Em joining us - now she is of school leavers age and aiming to go to University to study music, and he suggested that she jump right in and sing in this next concert with us. It's a mammoth undertaking, with only 5 rehearsals left, and having never sung it before. Ah, well - 'no guts, no glory'!

28th June 2010

It's that familiar end of year/summer concert madness time of year again. Pretty nearly every night of this next two weeks is taken up with some concert or other. There's a good variety of themes - Folk music, Percussion & Samba, Concert Wind Band, Choral etc.. In addition to all of this there is a day trip to the Birmingham Music Festival, Exams and trying to get the twins General Level school work tied up and finished. Not to mention the ubiquitous filing. It all becomes very expensive, too. The children's music concert tickets are very reasonably priced, but it all adds up. It's all for a good cause though - the local City Music service. It'll soon be the summer hols, phew.

31st May 2010

I'm exhausted! We spent the whole of today in a field counting grass stems (specifically Purple Moor and Yorkshire Fog). You'd be surprised how tiring that really is. The children needed to complete a science project and then write a lab report, and we chose a plant diversity project. Using a 10cm x 10cm quadrat we had to count the number of plant stems (not leaves) in 100 squares three times along a chosen transect. It's unbelievably difficult to count grass stems when that particular plant isn't in flower. I suspect our calculations are a bit awry, but we did give it our best shot. Not surprisingly we discovered that grasses were the most prolific plant, buttercups occurred in open ground where there was most sun and vetch was only to be found in shady hedgerows with taller shrubs to climb up. I could have told you that beforehand!

In the past we have completed 'in the lab' type experiments; we dissected a dead bee we found and also a dead butterfly we found - I can't bring myself to begin with a live 'subject', and it did help in that the bee was quite dry inside, which made dissection more approachable and everything was more visible that way. I thought that, this time, it would be a good idea to get out into 'the field' (quite literally as it happened). I think the dog looks just how we all feel!

28th May 2010

After our discussion of ball games (see 23/05) the boys have suddenly developed a craze for playing with a tennis ball again, and Em isn't too unhappy about tagging along. It's quite pleasant to see two 16 year olds and a 14 year old playing catch - although it is quite a bit rougher now they are older! The main break time occupation is a form of cricket, but using an old conifer branch as a bat, which makes the direction of the shot quite unpredictable. Matt is addicted enough to be happy simply bouncing the ball or throwing it against a wall (though not inside a sock!). However, it does mean that I'm having to curb too many prolonged outside breaks. I guess it's because we've finally got a bit of sunshine!

I was hoping to spend this afternoon working through some exercises on Figured Bass for the children's music theory lesson but the twins are SO close to finishing the dreaded Geography course (that seems to consuming their days) that I thought it best not to interrupt their cognitive flow - they need to get it finished before half term. Figured Bass is quite an involved topic (or I think it is) so I'd rather leave it until I can have their full attention. Instead, I spent the afternoon marking tests (my fault for leaving it for so long). It wasn't unpleasant though, as I took all the paperwork into the garden and spent a pleasant couple of hours under the gazebo, with the dog dozing on the lawn and the hens clucking down the garden - a sure sign of another egg!

Regarding eggs: Yaayy, Verity is no longer brooding on the nest all day! The tough treatment of locking her out of the nest seems to have done the trick. We just need her to start laying again. Charity does seem in better spirits now that the warm weather is here. Her comb isn't quite as shrunken and she is pootling about more and taking dust baths (when the others will let her). She mustn't be able to cope with the cold as well as the others, this first winter must have been a shock to her. However, she isn't laying yet...

17th May 2010

Gathering eggs is still something of a battle as Verity just won't shift! However, in order to show her who's boss, we lock her out of the hen house as soon as we know that all the other hens have laid their eggs - I don't want them dropping all over the garden. Once she has been ousted she is quite content scratching around with the others. Hopefully she will soon get it out of her system if we continue in this manner (I hope.)

I know this sounds silly, being the middle of May, but is it too cold to plant any veg out yet? I think last night was the first night we didn't have the heating on! We could have a fire in, but we haven't had time to sit and appreciate it recently - and the rest of the house would still be freezing. Isn't it sad, how those things that seem to be the important little details in family life seem to drop to the bottom of the list and get forgotten. Now that the children are older we don't seem to have toast on the fire anymore, or Em and I don't get any embroidery done, or we haven't played a game of scrabble in ages. Who'd think that you need to fight to preserve such times? Perhaps some of this is inevitable, as the children grow older they do more by themselves, or they have more responsibility and less time. Years ago I would have had the children working the veg patch with me. When we first started home schooling we lived on WW II rations for a week and tried a 'Dig for Victory' veg patch. Absolutely every meal required something peeling, I felt like I was never out of the sink. Although the children did their bit in the garden they preferred to just randomly dig, rather than tend the produce. Now they are busy elsewhere, so I have to decide whether or not to plant veg for my own pleasure, rather than as character building for my kids. Mind you, Em did ask that I at least put some beans in, she couldn't cope without anything growing. Perhaps just having to nip out and pick some beans for tea is sufficient - if they grow! I haven't seen a single bean shoot yet, and just a couple of tiny pea plants. Is it down to the cold weather, perhaps? Hopefully everything will shoot now the sun if peeping out a bit.

Had a lovely lunch with my home ed curriculum provider co-ordinator. She is such a lovely lady who drives all over the nation just to help and encourage. It is lovely to speak to someone who is a little older and wiser. Happily, she likes textiles and sewing as well! Sometimes it's good to hear someone reaffirm the old home truths, even if nothing new is being said. Having a nice lunch out finishes the picture!

29th April 2010

It's 5am and I've been awake for hours! David went to 'sign off' a print from the printing press at 11.30 and didn't get home until 1.30am. His coming home disturbed my sleep, and now there's no point in trying - I'm wide awake. I think this is one of those bleak moments in family life. I'm overwhelmed by the responsibility of overseeing the development of three children and although home schooling exacerbates this it's a responsibility that we should all shoulder - the buck stops with us, not the teacher. I keep wondering if I've got it wrong and I'm inadvertently hampering the children's progress. What if they don't get into the University of their choice? What if we can't afford to send them? What if?...

In reality I think it's because, by nature, I'm not a born leader and yet I find myself at the front of the queue at times these days. Quite a few people come to me and ask me for advice about home education, the LEA send people to me to help them get going and the LEA have asked us to attend showcase events to discuss and promote academics in home education. And yet, here I am - just me, frowned on by those who disapprove of home education, or disappointed when those I encourage in their beginnings quit because of an imagined easier option. Individual cases are understandable on their own merit but 'en masse' it's disappointing to still be left alone in the field, after working so hard to help folks along - to no avail.

There are a very few families hereabouts who home educate, but often it's an excuse to not bother much. Perhaps I'm too exacting on the academic front. That's the whole point of home education though - quality. I do know of a family who home educate because of special needs, and they do a wonderful job. However, that only stands for a small percentage. I remember, after some debacle with my children, pointing out to them that I wouldn't be expecting so much from them if they weren't capable, instead I'd be stretching them in other ways. Either way I'd be stretching them! Unfortunately we are surrounded by an acceptance (even approval) of mediocrity - and I'm sick of it!

HA! And on top of all of this, now that the children are much older, I'm wondering if I should should step into the working world a little. I already teach privately a couple of evenings and I'm looking into teaching in schools, either classroom or peripatetic. In reality the children will have finished their compulsory education soon. Even now they just get on with it, and when they start their A level equivalent at home all I'll do is oversee the admin and give them some music lessons. So, like the closing chapter of Swiss Family Robinson, I'm wondering whether to stay 'on the island' in a make do and mend mentality, or should I venture back into civilisation (by degrees) and dip into the working world? After spending so many years building the home it's hard to shift focus, and yet I'm not sure that I'm needed in the capacity that I once was.

Perhaps it'll all make sense in the morning. Oh, it is the morning! Still waiting to make sense of it all...

23rd April 2010

Now here's the best type of home schooling: While Jonti and Em were at their computer course I gave Matt a piano lesson in Asda Cafe! Imagine that - a piano lesson with no piano, how creative! We really did...

Matt is skipping ahead to the next grade and so we just needed to recap the next batch of scales and remind him to play for 3 octaves now. He's already heard some of the pieces before so we had a hum through a choice of pieces and looked at the background blurb to help him decide which piece to look at first. He's opted to go for a twentieth century French piece. He's quite interested in Debussy at the moment, as I have been looking at La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair). It's even better as the composer was taught be Faure, and Em has been playing a lot of Faure flute music - so Matt's quite keen. It's not often the lads get that flash of inspiration so you have to seize the moment. So, he has his practise laid out for the week and we had a nice half hour with a coffee and a hot choc. Great! (I wish it was always that simple).

22nd April 2010

Who would think of all the repercussions arising from this volcanic cloud over England? My friend, Mae, has been stranded in France (lucky thing) - and she has had our Grade 8 exam results sitting on her doormat! I have been advised, by some, to break in and get them! (But, 'Thank you Lord for teaching me patience!) Nevertheless, our suspense is over and we have passed! I got a plain and respectable pass - and am pleased, Em got a merit - and is disappointed! I do understand (she had a blonde moment in the aural questions and it cost her those few extra marks) - but it is a very good mark. Jonti passed his piano in his usual style - by the skin of his teeth. Sheesh, what can you do with these children - it's one emotional overload after another! Now that Mae is back Matt is going to start having Clarinet lessons with her, instead of me, and so today is quite an exciting day for him. Up until now he has only ever had music lessons with me at home, but I think he warrants a little more expertise now. I'll still teach all the children their piano and theory. I think it will do him good to see somebody else now. He was moved up to 2nd clarinet in wind band and 1st clarinet in clarinet choir, so a bit a of musical maturity from another teacher will be good. The first concert I played as 1st flute was momentous - I fell off the edge of the stage. "Ta daaah!" Yikes, I really did, how embarrassing. Amazingly nobody seems to have noticed, despite me ending up in the middle of the Timpani. We were playing Haydn's Surprise Symphony; it really was a surprise!

This cloud has also meant that I've been stranded and alone at choir rehearsals for a couple of weeks. Because my usual friends weren't there (Mae included) I had nothing better to do than to browse over the second hand books that are sold there to raise funds for the choir. This is always a dangerous thing to do because I am a compulsive reader. For me, reading isn't a gentle recreation - I get so sucked into the world of the book that everything else (literally everything) gets left. I also stay awake until the small hours reading, even when I am exhausted, because I can't put the book down - not a healthy approach I know. When the twins were babies I read The Lord of the Rings. David would leave for work in the morning (he had to get a job then, during a 'starving artist' phase) and I would be reading whilst dangling the tassle of a book mark in front of the babies to occupy them. I'd be in pretty much the same position when he returned home - he did ask if I had fed them at all during the day (of course I had!). Well, they do say that children should grow up with books and reading! Matt and Jonti have picked put this love of reading, though Em is more of a 'doer' than a reader - humph!

After a holiday it's always a relief to get back to the routine of term time. This is last term of compulsory education for the twins, so they have an awful lot of work to get done by the summer. However, in many ways not much will change as Jonti and Em are going to continue to home educate for their A levels. They can have a quality curriculum in the comfort of their own home (without the usual distractions) and - thanks to the local music service - can be part of several bands and choirs which far outstrip any school orchestra. The children already work under their own steam, so this will just continue. The only thing that will change is that Jonti and Em will no longer be inspected by the LEA. I'm just not sure what to do with my time now that they don't need me quite so much...

Just as we were wondering whether to commit Charity to the pot (I don't think we ever could really) her comb has shown the tiniest signs of growing back. I'm thinking that she just doesn't cope well with the cold. The comb is where a hen sweats, hence battery hens having such large combs (the environment of a battery farm is really hot) and so Charity may just be feeling the cold. She has a small black dot on the tip of her comb, which may be frost bite, and so might start to revive as the weather warms up. We spoke to a knowledgeable neighbour and he says that sometimes you just get a hen like that - a bit of a dud. We'll see how she goes, but hopefully she will pick up soon.

10th April 2010

After so many exams it's good to be off timetable for a couple of weeks. The trouble is that, after so many weeks of slogging at my flute practice everything else at home has gone to pot. I'd intended to spend this holiday 'playing house' - reducing the sewing/mending pile (one of my favourite jobs - I find it really satisfying doing little bits of sewing and saving clothing for that little bit longer), of course the ironing pile needs tackling and generally tidying and clearing out. However I've got taken over by events:

Although Jonti and Em are working through the holidays (they have so much work to get finished by the summer) their friends are allowed to join us so long as they let them get on with some work - a kind of relaxed homework club. Matt can have the fortnight off and so he is free to socialise. The result is that I've had 6 children here most days. I've really enjoyed having all the kids here, but I've kept moving off-task (my own fault) - nipping kids off for a coffee trip and a break etc.. I've also enjoyed helping Jonti's girlfriend with her school's textiles project, but this means that the ironing still isn't done. And, of course I haven't played my flute or piano for ages! I'm not very good at balancing things, it's all one thing and then another. I guess it's ok to spend a couple of weeks entirely on family, I'll just have to pull everything in later. I do envy those who manage to keep the house spotless, though. I did ask someone once where they kept their ironing pile. They answered that they never had one, they ironed everything as soon as it was washed and dried - now why didn't I think of that!

17th March 2010

Jonti had his Grade 5 piano exam today. This constitutes as the practical aspect of his homeschooling music GCSE equivalent. In reality it is far above GCSE as most GCSE pupil's I've seen at present only have about Grade 2 or 3 and Btech music (worth 4 GCSE's) doesn't even require that you play an instrument! Jonti isn't really that keen on piano, percussion is his real love and what he really does well in, but he knows that he needs piano to really 'get on'. Nevertheless, we've had some grim moments over these past few months - ah, the joys of home education!

As ever he is sailing pretty close to the wind for this exam (my mum tells him that I was just like that - thanks mum!) but this was exacerbated by the sun streaming through the window in the exam room, so that he couldn't see his music, and sticking keys on the exam piano. I had to make a formal complaint afterwards. The ABRSM were very helpful in their attitude, but it didn't do much to help Jonti on the day.

1st February 2010

We had our annual LEA inspection today. It's always a highlight! It acts as a sort of validation for our year's efforts - so very different from the sense of OFSTED. It's strange to think that this was the last official visit for the twins as they will have completed their compulsory education this summer. I did ask if I needed to lock them away next year, when they come to look at just Matt's work.

In reality we all sit chatting, drinking coffee and eating biscuits - so I guess the twins can join in really. I suppose it would be a different scenario if we hadn't done any work. I guess we'd see the sterner face of the LEA. I know there is a lot of fuss from some who disagree with an inspection - I disagree! We are pleased with the work that we've done and welcome an external witness. The LEA are so encouraging. Our inspector took away an article that was written about us and our hens - our girls (the hens) are famous!

4th January 2010

I do like the New Year. I like to have all the Christmas decorations away by January 1st as I like a clean and tidy start to the New Year. I know it's just another day really, but there is (for me) a healthy sense of re-focussing of effort. Time to roll up ones sleeves and get on with life.

It's good to get back to schoolwork too. (I suppose the children might disagree there, but too much holiday becomes 'ennui' as Jane Austen would put it). The first week back is always a bit spasmodic though. It's the twins birthday (after having David's and Matt's just before Christmas too) and we tend to to a bit of filing and planning to guide ourselves into student mode. We also need to prepare for our annual LEA inspection. A bit of 'paper shuffling' is quite therapeutic, I find.

8th November 2009

Our choir joined in a British Legion Memorial Service for Armistice. Anything related to the WW I & II brings me to tears, but I managed to keep singing. This was quite a feat as we sang In Paradisum from Faure's Requiem - very moving. A relative of Sir Reginald Mitchell spoke at the event, and that was very interesting. There were some laughs, too. A local Am Dram group acted some sketches from Dad's Army, which was funny - but I even found that a bit teary. The thought of a group of old men doing 'their bit' brings a lump to my throat just as much as packing your kids off to go and live with somebody else.

When we first started home schooling we spent a week living on WW II rations. I don't think I was ever away from the sink that week, everything needed peeling! We spoke to our elderly relatives about what they ate and it seems that they always had a pudding. Ordinarily we don't have a dessert and the food that week was really stodgy - we were stuffed! I guess that just because things were on the ration list doesn't mean they were always available, so perhaps there wasn't as much as we had that week.

We did try and "Dig for Victory" but our efforts didn't do very well. It's fortunate we didn't really have to survive on our own produce. It kept the children busy nevertheless!

15th October 2009

The Noddy duvet is back out again. This time it is Matt who is unwell. Like Em was, he's not too poorly but just a bit 'wiped out' - quite nice and cosy really. This is where home schooling is good, as he wouldn't be well enough to go to school but can sit and do a bit. It's at times like this that a bit of English Literature comes in handy. To sit and read, and answer the odd question isn't too much trouble but you are still getting something useful done. When everybody else was out at rehearsal he didn't want to watch a film in the genre of "The Railway Children" so we watched "Rush Hour" instead. Boys, eh!

Choir rehearsal was gruelling this week. I wonder why Oliver keeps turning up! Everything he'd told us last week was promptly ignored and loads of people sing with their music copies right in front of their noses, so they just can't be watching the conductor. It's awful when he signals a stop and people just keep singing. He would say things like, "That first line was good", it was terrifying. I think the point is that he is teaching us to really sing, rather than just lah at the appropriate pitch. Each piece has it's own different character and we need to project this, Faure's Requiem has a really pure and bare tone, as do certain parts of the Verdi Requiem - very scary to sing, you feel so exposed. Parry's I was glad is a much fuller tone, overall, but it's easy to get carried away and make it sound like a 'foaming quart' ditty.

The rehearsal was only short as it was the Ceramic City Choir AGM. It was very interesting and informative - until any further business, groan......

8th October 2009

The role of mum has transformed into the role of nurse in our household, although not in too extreme a measure. Over the last few days Em hasn't been well, not really ill, but just not quite well. Yesterday she was far too woosy to go to rehearsals. It's quite nice when the children are just a little bit ill (which isn't often) as it's an excuse to be cosy; and so last night we sat on the sofa, with a blanket, and watched The Railway Children (the original TV adaptation with Jennifer Agutter, Dinah Sheridan & Bernard Cribbins) - wonderful! No matter how many times I watch or read I ALWAYS cry when Bobby meets her dad at the station and shouts "My daddy!"

This morning David's eye is very painful again. He couldn't open his eyes to begin with and now it's very painful where he scratched it last week, so I was back to handing him his drinks - and the telephone to call the hospital. Back to the hospital again this afternoon. Because we are off to the hospital this afternoon the children have hatched an evil plan to take their schoolwork to Grandma's. I'm not too sure how much schoolwork will get done...

Extra curricular activities for Matt now include Dog walking for a neighbour. Actually, this counts as 'work experience' as he is thinking about being a dog handler in the police force. After several years of home education we're pretty good at labelling anything as educational!

6th October 2009

Crazy concert season is already upon us. Later will be all the different band's Christmas Concerts and performances for the various Christmas lights switch on - wrap up well! However, now is the time for the 'Rootz' Barn Dances. Em and Matt are official members but Jonti often joins in with some drumming. Last night was the Harvest Barn Dance for Milton Parish Church. It looks like the kids will be eating pie and peas for the next few weeks (though probably without the mushy peas). The band leaders are truly amazing - I don't know how they find the energy to play with such vigour and call the dances. For the other dances they will be bringing the dance callers from their other group (their 'professional' one).

Still, home-schooling has it's perks. After a busy, late night the children can have a bit of a lie-in, so they won't be too worn out by the busy schedule. Also, school dinners have gone up in the world: Today we are having a Carvery with David's dad before he flies out to Australia tomorrow.

I've finished proof reading Swiss Family Suburban, so now it's time to start trudging through agents and publishers. I suppose the approach should be a dispassionate posting of papers, methodically and repeatedly - though it's hard to keep it like that when you've spent months pouring yourself into a work (especially when it's something as personal as your own family life). Ah well, here goes ...

2nd October 2009

Finally, I've almost completed filing for the end of the last academic year. I feel bad for leaving it so long - not like me at all! You wouldn't think that this box was the culmination of a hard working school year for three kids. I suppose it is only the actual test papers, not the work books (they fill two much larger boxes). All the books are filed away and stored (for posterity) and the tests are sent to the certificate body, in Swindon. Inside this little box are all the usual academic subject tests, such as Math, English etc. and also over two years worth of Spanish results and the culmination of several years work in Music Grade 5 theory as a General Level equivalent. It'd be a little more satisfying if it were a bigger box. Even so, it cost over £8 to send!

In our home (like many, I imagine) we have the institution of a 'blanky'. This has been more of a big deal as the children have grown older. If the evenings are a bit chilly as we sit and read or watch a film the blanky is called for. If you are a little tired and are just lounging, the blanky is required, in fact David and I sat with it over our legs as we watched an episode of Morse last night. Matt has become known as the 'blanky meister' as he seems to have taken the majority ownership, and he does do an excellent 'tuck in'. However, if you are really ill, only the Noddy duvet will suffice. Ever since the children were small, if you were ill and lying on the settee the Noddy duvet would be called in. This practice has continued well into the children's teens. The children aren't often ill, so it's quite an occasion to get the Noddy duvet out of the wardrobe. In recent years it has even been loaned out to friends, adults and children alike.

If the Noddy duvet doesn't get much use, the blanket is in constant demand. Recently it has even found it's way on to the trampoline - the children wanted to be cosy but also wanted to go on the trampoline and chose to combine the two. Needless to say the results were devastating and two holes surprisingly appeared! A family discussion about what to do was necessary - do we patch it up or buy a new one? A new one was out of the question and so, if you look closely at the picture, a little mending is evident. We now think that this is a REAL blanky - the holes have really made it belong!

18th September 2009

Em spent the day working Biology Lab reports, though - in true home schooling fashion- we couldn't leave it at just watching DVD's and scribbling. Our friend joined us, who is studying for a Biochemistry degree, and bought her lab coat and goggles. In the end our bear, Amadeus, became the lab teacher and was main overseer of the experiments. What a hoot! It was quite surreal to see everyone taking turns in wearing the lab coat and goggles as we sat and watched the dissection of a bull frog, a star fish and a worm. It is really surprising to see just how colourful it is inside a frog - it looked like a fruit salad. We had previously done some dissection ourselves. We found a dead bee and let it dry out for a while and then had a look at various bits under the microscope. The compound eye is truly amazing, as were the wings and the pollen sacs were simply bulging with pollen. It always amazes me when people assume that home education is limiting whereas the opposite is true. Because we aren't bound by so much red tape and health and safety overdrive the kids can quite happily wield a scalpel. I'm not too good at killing a specimen (because I'm a coward - and yet I want to keep rabbits to rear my own meat!?) but it's amazing what you find lying around the place. We also collected a good number of moths and butterflies, and also a pretty cool spider exoskeleton.

It was a little out of character for Amadeus to be donning a lab coat. Generally he is more of a musical bear - he was my concert going bear. When the children were small they brought him to my choir concerts. For his 'evening dress' we made him a special padded large bow tie which is bright pink with black spots - which (now I'm back at choir) I'm sure he will model for us over the next few months. Though I don't suppose the British Legion's War Memorial Service would be appropriate - he'll have to wait until the Verdi Requiem later on in November. Perhaps we'll even paint his nose for the occasion, he is getting quite worn.

It's exam entry time again. We've only just about got the results for the last batch and then it's time to enter again. The start of this new academic year has had me ranting a bit: A pupil of mine, who has just started his A' level music, tells me that he is the only student who has any grades in music. As a result he is sitting around idle in class while the others try and learn a bit of basic music theory. How is this possible? For A level I had to memorise pages of musical quotations and couldn't pass my final exam without submitting my Grade 8 piano and Grade 8 theory certificates. If these students don't know anything (what were they doing at GCSE I wonder?) they'll never even get to Grade 5 in two years, so how they'll cope with harmonic analysis I don't know - though I'm told that they just copy notes from a book into their score (rather than analyse and deduce for themselves) and then take the score into the exam. Even so, it's not possible that they will understand what they are doing. It's not really fair on the students - let alone the teachers. Also, it's not fair on those students who are more able to embark on musical studies as they are sitting around wasting time..... Aaargh!

By the way, I'm not too keen on the ABRSM's new logo. I much preferred the old crest with "Dieu et mon droit" on a banner underneath. The new certificate seems a bit deflating, too. I appreciate that it is more modern in it's design (and it's non PC to mention God now) but I do think that a bit of 'flourish' seems in order when you've worked hard for an exam.

Perhaps all of these rants just prove that I'm getting old, nevertheless the points still stand.

14th September 2009

After the choir residential Matt is exhausted - he stayed up into the small hours chatting with the 'big boys' (which is what it's all about really). He fell asleep on Em's lap last night and is really tired today. Nevertheless, it's 'up and at it' with a full day's bookwork. There's lots to get done and the timetable will really fall apart as Christmas draws nearer - crazy concert season! So, best get as much as possible done now. Jonti and Em finish their GCSE equivalent (ICCE)this academic year and Matt is registering to start his course this week (a year early) - so it's time to get stuck in again.

We've discovered a 'new' loaf - David was creative director for this one: It's a Walrus and Monkey nut loaf - high in fibre!

7th September 2009

Yipee, the winter veg plants arrived today. Em helped me plant them out before I started teaching. We planted 20 cabbage, 20 Chinese cabbage (which can be used as salad leaves or fried with a stir fry), 10 broccoli and 10 cauliflower. I'm hoping that the colder weather will reduce the chance of slugs etc. ruining the crop - we can but try!

Of course this means that the hens are confined to their enclosure again. The chives are only just recovering and there's no way they're getting at the brassicas. Another Saturday shredding fingers on chicken wire is on the cards for David before the hens can have the run of the garden. I'm so glad that they've got a decent amount of space as Charity really is at the bottom of the pecking order at the moment. I recently found blood on the water feeder and all but two of her tail feathers are missing. She isn't laying either - I don't suppose she feels like - with all that bullying. When they're outside they leave her alone for the most part, it's just when they are in the shed in a morning before being let out, or while they are settling down to roost in an evening. There's not really anything I can do about it. I suppose that you just have to let them sort it out. Nevertheless, it's quite upsetting.

Term officially starts today but the children are spending this week filing and finishing off essays etc.. Em and Matt are off to a choir residential weekend on Friday too, so we'll start of with the heavy bookwork next week. Unfortunately, although term has started, most of my pupils didn't turn up for their music lesson either. I don't mind having an extra cup of tea here and there, but it's tricky waiting around wondering if they are coming, or not. As there are no choir or brass band rehearsals tonight David and the children went to visit Grandad instead. A nice quiet evening for me, but not very productive. I lost the plot a bit, really; heading off to get a job in a school instead of sitting at home waiting around. However, that would have been a real disaster - home would fall apart and so would the kids education. The whole point of home schooling was because it seemed all wrong to be teaching other people's children and not my own. I really think that it's important to keep the home fires burning - the whole point of Swiss Family Suburban! The overwhelming pressure to 'succeed' in executive and monetary terms is, at times, overwhelming. You think you're on track and out jumps another curve ball. Oops - my 'wobble' is over now though, and my compass is pointing north again!

3rd September 2009

I've started reading The Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley; it's really weird. The main story line is very strange (a chimney sweep becoming a water baby by means of quite a trauma) and I'm finding it a little spooky, especially when you consider it's a children's book. What makes its even more strange is the pontificating narrative which the author intersperses in between the plot, to theorise or give a moral lecture. For example:

"His mother was a Dutchwoman, and therefore he was born at Curacao (of course you have learned your geography, and therefore know why); and his father was a Pole, and therefore he was brought up at Petropaulowski (of course you have learnt your modern politics, and therefore know why): but for all that he was as thorough an Englishman as ever coveted his neighbour's goods. And his name, as I said, was Professor Pttmllnsprts, which is a very ancient and noble and Polish name."
(The Water Babies, p. 86)


"The subanhypaposupernal anastomoses of piretomic diacellurite in the encephalo digital region of the distinguished individual of whose symptomatic phaenomena we had the melancholy honour (subsequently to a preliminary diganostic inspection) of making an inspectorial diagnosis, presenting the interexclusively quadrilateral and antinomian diathesis known as Bumpsterhausen's blue follicles,"
(The Water Babies, p.94)
The Water Babies, Egmont Books Ltd (2001)

- quite hilarious, but surreal!

I read the above while Em had her flute lesson. The rest of the day, however, was spent doing more mundane things; filing in an attempt to get organised for the start of the new academic year next week. I spent the day marking tests and filing results (which should have been done over the holidays). The main satisfaction was spent in adding up 216 Spanish test results to divide and find an average - twice! (Twins, eh!) It feels good to be getting back to it and getting life back under control. I've enjoyed the summer, but I think we are all ready to get our teeth into something more substantial (though I doubt the children would necessarily admit it).

As the academic year begins the main growing season ends. We harvested the last of the green beans and then gave the remaining foliage over to the hens - oh, what happy chucks they were! They have a short window of absolute free reign before the Brassicas arrive (hope they turn up soon) and then we'll have to net off sections, otherwise the crop will be very short lived.

4th August 2009

Yesterday I visited a friend to take some 'recycled' clothing that Matt had grown out of. They were lovely clothes, most of which he had hardly worn and I hate waste, and it does seem so wasteful not to pass on nice clothing. Unwittingly I enjoyed two mugs of coffee (which must have not been de-caff) and now, eight hours later, I still can't sleep. I'm beginning to realise how much caffeine can interrupt your sleep pattern - though it didn't used to.

Alternatively, it could be because I spent the evening re-working the 1st draft of Swiss Family Suburban, (does that make it the 2nd draft now?) so perhaps my mind was still whirring from that - although sitting on the sofa, under a blanket, listening to the rain is ample compensation.

Last night David and Matt burned the infected potato foliage. David thought he would make a scientific demonstration of how petrol and petrol fumes react to the naked flame. Using a stick with the end wrapped in burning paper he could safely ignite the fumes. Instantly there was a loud "WUMPH" and the flames shot out of the holes in the sides of the container about six feet across. I bet you don't get to do that in the science lab at school!

After a late night/early morning I'm uber tired now. David will be reading Sourcery and I usually do the ironing as we listen, but I think I'll let the ironing pile mount up a bit and sit and knit carrots instead. (We are knitting some carrots as a surprise display for our local, friendly veg stall).

31st July 2009

For breakfast had home-baked bread with honey from a friend's beehive. Mmmm! It sounds like the sort of breakfast Mother would make for Joe, Beth and Frannie in The Magic Faraway Tree, except mine was accompanied by a mug of coffee, not a glass of milk. The bread recipe is finally sorted, as the one in the recipe book didn't work at all. This one works for me:

1 cup (to the brim) water (in this instance a cup being a 350ml measuring beaker)
3 cups flour
a blob of margerine
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp dried yeast

As the children are older now they are having to do some schoolwork during the holidays, especially Jonti and Em. They finish their GCSE equivalent this next academic year and it doesn't seem wise to take seven weeks off (seven!!) and then have a crazy rush to get finished, particularly as Jonti needs to finish in time for a City Youth Brass competition in Belgium. Jonti and Em are going to 'Contagious', so they will get a break. Nevertheless, I do miss the holiday art projects we did when they were younger (though Em is maintaining the tradition by having a holiday scrapbook project - all about chickens).

Whilst the children were working I finally completed the first draft of my book Swiss Family Suburban. It's a sure sign that I'm moving into the older generation as I prefer to print off and proof read via a hard copy. To blow away the cobwebs of a morning behind the computer I made some lemon curd from an ace recipe book, Luxurious Jams, by Sonia Allison, where you make jams etc. in the microwave. It turned out a gorgeous bright yellow as Felicity and Verity are giving us 'double yolkers' at the moment. With the leftover lemon I made a lemon cake: Best not to think about how much sugar has gone into our diet this afternoon! At least it's just sugar, not additives and preservatives too.