Friday, December 26, 2008

Mary Christmas

Last year, when Posy first made sense of the Christmas story, she thought it was about Joe Fish, Mary Christmas and the Baby Cheeses. Christmas kind of came as a pleasant surprise. This year she is so much more on top of Christmas. She informed The Boy that if he wasn't nice he would get coal in his stocking. She has been having a serial theological debate about whether you can have boy angels (she leans towards the negative there), and has been counting the sleeps since November.

So Posy's Christmas? Started at eleven minutes past five, with visions of shiny chocolate Santas and Barbie accessories and shrieks of glee, dancing around with her stocking. When she finally arrived at the Christmas tree she was more interested in evidence of Father Christmas than in her presents. He had eaten most of his Christmas cake, but left some crumbs ('I don't think he likes sultanas...'). He drank all of his beer (he must have been very thirsty with all that present wrapping), and those messy reindeer had spat the ends of the carrots down the chimney again.

Presents were a joy, lunch with friends was a joy, Christmas crackers with silly hats were a great and abiding joy. The darling big sisters helped to make a her a Nativity scene for her very own, and she played with Joe Fish and Baby Cheeses and the animals (including the Christmas Bilby) for the longest time.

Hoping your Christmas was as happy and sparkly as Posy's, and that it didn't end in quite so many tears...

Mary Christmas to all...

By the way, it is now Christmas Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve, etc etc. It is rather amazing how long a certain two little girls can keep that up.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Ha! We did it. We did Christmas craft. I love the glue gun. I am rather loving the festive bobbles. It's hard to see in the photo, but they are flecked with gold tinsel, and rather fetching. I am wondering what else I can glue bobbles onto. Curtains? A festive dashboard trim for the car... I am the craft queen.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Third Sunday in Advent

One really excellent way to avoid the crass commercialism of the pre-Christmas crush is to go away to the beach for a week, to a really tiny beachside town with only one shop, whose only concession to Christmas is a small cardboard stand of Christmas chocolates, and a solitary Santa hat.

Of course, being Tasmania, it rained every day, and we scurried down to the beach between showers and built sandcastles which were then demolished by giant gale force tidal waves, because on this island, every beachside holiday is an adventure.

I celebrated our third Advent Sunday by smiling in a fixed and demented fashion through hours of enforced card games, jigsaw puzzles, stories and sibling altercations while the rain poured down outside. I hardly had any hysterical mummy-trapped-in-the-house-with-five-other-family-members tantrums at all. Really.

When the rain stopped Rosy and Posy found a bucket of Christmas decorations tucked away in a cupboard, and made a small tree in the back yard very happy indeed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Second Sunday in Advent

I really love this nativity set. It has been a part of my Christmas since I was about, oh, seven years old. It is still wrapped in the original retro orange-patterned tissues and packed into the same box that it was packed into at my grandmother’s house in 1978. We have only lost one sheep and a shepherd in thirty years. Oh, and the angel’s wings have been glued up several times.

I love that the children quietly rearrange the set sometimes, to reflect their own inner versions of the Christmas story, just as I did as a child. Yesterday Posy dragged a chair over to the mantelpiece and chatted to herself for a while. When asked, she told me that the King was giving Baby Jesus a present, while Joseph went out to see to the camel.

‘I think they eat carrots, like reindeer.’

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Making Friends...

Yesterday I met dear Jenny whose blog I have been reading for some months now - ever since I clicked on her blog from a link and discovered photos of the Domestic Goddess's sewing box...she was at one of Jenny's Doll Making Workshops at the time, the one I was meant to be at, but was home sick and suffering on the couch instead. Actually, it was a blessing in disguise, because the Domestic Goddess (the clue is in her name) inherited the crafty gene from her paternal grandmother, whereas I....didn't.

Jenny was at our town's newest craft market - so many wonderful things. I bought a number of Christmas presents, mostly for myself, but got carried away and ended up lugging 4kgs of luscious local apples all over town. My arms nearly dropped off, but I like to think they will be doing me good twice. Once by developing enormous muscles while I was carrying them (I just checked - they aren't immediately visible, but I know they're on their way...) and twice, when I eat them. Oh, and locally grown apples are propbably good for you on a karmic level as well.

I bought some very darling things from Jenny, which shall remain darkly secret until after Christmas, but also these very sweet Christmas trees, which shall be this week's Christmas craft. I did have an ambitious decorative project in mind, but have decided to go with sane and simple instead. I think I am finally learning sense where craft and myself are concerned. Despite having many good crafty ideas I do not have a crafty atom in my body, and pretending otherwise just makes me and all my nearest and dearest very, very grumpy. Still, with the Domestic Goddess, and her two wee crafty sisters, I feel I have to make some sort of effort, whatever my natural inclinations, so we shall be wielding the glue gun and the embroidery scissors, depending on ability, to end up with something hopefully approximating these adorable creations of Jenny's.

How wonderful to be able to provide Christmas presents for my babies that are all sewn up with love and care by the Lady with the Crinkly Eyes. And how nice must it be to be Jenny – creating little soft dolly children, sent out into the world with love to be new best comforting friends to children all over the world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

First Sunday in Advent

Imagine if you will...

Scene: Lounge room, lit softly with lamp, lovingly constructed Advent wreath on coffee table. Family gathered round, lamp light shining in their eyes…

Me: For goodness sake, stop slapping your sister.
The Boy: It was only a joke.
Me: Let me tell you something about women – none of them think being slapped is even faintly amusing. That is totally a boy thing.
The Man: Mmhmm, apparently the only person around here you can slap is me.
(boys stage mock fight on carpet)
Me: (repeating like a mantra) Peace and joy, peace and joy. OK, now we are going to light the Advent wreath.
Posy: I want to light it, I want to light it, I want to light it.
Me: When you are eight, like Rosy, then you may light it. You can hold the snuffer, and snuff the candle at bedtime.
(Rosy lights candle, and, mesmerised by the flame, holds onto the match just a little too long)
Me, The Man, The Boy, The Domestic Goddess: ROSY, BLOW OUT THE MATCH!
(Rosy screams, drops match on carpet, luckily very old carpet which has seen worse)
Posy: Can I snuff it now?
Me: No, later. First I am going to say the Advent poem.
(The Boy rolls eyes)
Me: For the seed of love…
Posy: Can I snuff it now?
Me: No. For the beauty…
Posy: Can I snuff it now?
Me: No. For the strength of truth…
Posy: Can I snuff it now?
Me: No. Let us give thanks…
The Boy: Oh, we are.
Posy: NOW, NOW, NOW!
Me: (determinedly cheerful, see profile note, above) Posy, we are going to sing Away in the Manger, just for you.
The Boy: I’ll be off now. I am so thankful, by the way.
(Posy curls up in my lap, eyes closed, angelic face plastered on)
Posy: I am the baby Jesus. You sing.
(We sing)
Posy: (eyes snapping open) I am now the angel. All the girls are angels, but I am the best angel. Can I snuff the candle now?
Me: When you are wearing your pyjamas, and when we have read the story.
(Extraordinarily lightning fast change into pyjamas)
Me: On a dark night, long ago, and in a far country, some shepherds were keeping watch over their sheep…
Posy: Can I snuff it now?
Me: Then the sky was filled with angels…
Posy: Can I snuff it now?
Me: There, lying in a manger…
Posy: Can I snuff it now?
Me: Kings, in their countries far to the East of Bethlehem…
Posy: Can I snuff it NOW?
Me: And that is the story of…
(Posy snuffs candle. Scene fades to black as Mummy collapses on couch, clutching forehead, demanding stiff drink)

Peace and joy. So exhausting.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas in the air...

Christmas cards this week. Hopefully they will be winging their way into a letterbox near you quite soon, bearing good tidings of great joy and shiny happiness.

Brought to you by:

The Domestic Goddess - templates, bow tying and wielding the glue gun.
Rosy - cutting out, and wielding the glue stick.
Posy - sticking on gold stars and cheerful rendering of 'Gloooooooria in Extember’s day, oh' (yes, that is the chorus to 'Angels We Have Heard on High', and Extember is the name of all the months from September to December. Apparently).

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Guide

This book is the reason that I have not gone entirely insane as a homeschooling parent. I am a person with endless creative ideas. Unfortunately, I get bored really, really quickly and never finish anything. When I was younger I had millions of bright ideas, tried tham all, and never finished any of them. Now I am older and wiser I have millions of bright ideas, restrain myself to try a tiny percentage of them, and still never finish any of them. But at least my life is calmer this way.

You can imagine the chaos that was once my homeschooling life. I read everything I could lay my hands on. I read John Holt, we tried unschooling. I read Charlotte Mason, we read Living Books continuously (nothing different there), but it all fell apart when it came to the rest of her method. I read Montessori, and completely rearranged the house into little self-directed work stations. The children pulled everything out at once and built towers and cubby houses out of all the educational materials. I read at another dozen educational writers every year, and tried all their suggestions, and when all else failed, desperately emailed my dear sister-in-law and teacher extraordinaire, Aly. I really should have paid more attention to her sensible suggestions at the time, but I was busy not finishing other things…

Enter The Well-Trained Mind and the half-dozen parent friendly texts that go with it. Here was a basic framework for a literature-based curriculum, that I could use all my favourite books with. Books that when I am feeling brain-dead I can just read out loud and have the children write down narrations, or answer questions, but when I am feeling creative, we can all branch out into illustrations, research projects and craft extravaganzas. How easy is this? A book that looks like a doorstop is a bit intimidating at first, but it just bursts with every kind of information on how to craft a curriculum for every age, and is so inspiring it makes you think you could be SuperHomeschoolingMum. With a cape.
The theory behind the curriculum is that developing children learn in different ways throughout their school years, but that you can cover the same kind of material over the different stages, in more detail each time, and with more expertise. The three stages are:

The Grammar Stage
Grades 1-4: This is the age where children can effortlessly memorise anything, and frequently do, including the names and powers of 5000 different pokemon characters. Harnessing these powers for good by introducing them to all the cool stories of history, plus spelling rules, names of planets and all the small bones of the foot seems a snap in comparison. These are the years where the patterns for the rest of the years of education are laid down, but fairly uncritically, and with broad brush strokes. The tools of learning are introduced…reading, writing, arithmetic. Children follow a four year journey through history, learning the stories and myths of history, from Ancient Times through to the present. Greek myths, Aztec stories, Columbus sailing across the ocean blue, the many wives of Henry the Eighth, Mozart the child prodigy, Captain Cook, Simpson and his donkey, Anne Frank hidden away behind a secret cupboard…

The Logic Stage
Grades 5-8: Here children practice the skills they learnt in the Grammar stage, learning how to compose a piece of prose, how to summarize, and write reports. At this stage, children ask ‘Why?’ (well, let’s face it, children ask ‘why?’ from the age of three on, and routinely drive us all crazy. At three, though, they want a quick and concrete answer. At ten, they really want to know, and can appreciate abstract reasoning). At this stage, they journey through history again, this time exploring subjects in more detail, and finding out why things happened as they did. They study the ‘why’ of science and learn how to apply the scientific method to their experiments, and they study the basics of logic.

The Rhetoric Stage
Grades 8-12: We have teenagers. They have opinions. Using the tools of learning that they have honed throughout their childhoods, and building on the knowledge base that they have accrued, these young people can now write with flair and persuasion, and start to develop their own arguments in relation to the material they study. They begin to specialize in their chosen fields. They take another stroll through history, this time delving in to original sources, and tackling more difficult texts – but with confidence, because they have seen all this material before.

What I love about this theory of education? It is coherent; there is a plan. Everything, you may have noted, hinges on history. Students study science, art, literature according to the historical period they are studying. They learn about astronomy with the ancient Greeks, Gallileo, and the Victorian gentleman scientists. Students can follow their own interests (science, art, cooking, whatever) and get a sense of how these disciplines developed throughout history. The other thing I love about it? This curriculum was developed by an immensely articulate and enthusiastic homeschooler, who also teaches writing and literature, and who was also homeschooled herself in the 1970’s by her mother, who co-authors the book. Nothing like a bit of success to inspire confidence!

Now, if anyone is still awake, an excellent article by Susan Wise Bauer herself, on homeschooling the highschool student. And, barring any really interesting late night television, soon, another review, this time on the Well-Trained Mind history texts, Story of the World.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Noble Deeds

Earlier this week I bought a packet of lollies and announced that I would be handing them out for the performance of noble deeds. Luckily my children resemble rather poorly trained performing seals in many ways, and will do anything for lollies. My original reason for attempting this barefaced bribery was Posy's perceived need to have me standing absolutely right next to her every. single. time she went to the toilet. This is one child who feels the need to have an audience for everything she does in life. And if I did not hurry along and utter appropriate noises of admiration and encouragement she would stand and scream and scream until I complied. Obviously, something had to be done. And, as so often when faced with a child's behavioural dilemma I turned to bribery, thinly disguised as a random virtue.

I declared that when one is four, going to the toilet all by one's self is absolutely a noble virtue, and that when one is eight, cleaning up one's room all by one's self, also very noble. The twelve year old proved her virtue by finishing off a pesky piece of writing she was getting sick of, turning a Greek myth into a play. Further virtue will be demonstrated via the editing and final copy process. And me? My noble deed this week was cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floor. Extraordinary.

I find that though the 'spoonful of sugar' principle seems rather disturbingly Pavlovian to add to the modern, enlightened parenting toolkit, it just works. Sometimes, when there is medicine to be got down, we need something just a bit more enticing, and a bit more concrete than moral satisfaction to help us along to our goals (especially when they are my goals, and nothing that the children would find intrinsically rewarding). And, thanks to my mother, I have found a far more satisfying way to label bribery - extrinsic motivation - in other words, lollies.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Grandma's Christmas Cake

This has been Christmas Cake week. My recipe is inherited from my darling Granny, and really does take about a week from beginning to end. I have been baking this cake for around twelve years now, ever since we have been having Christmas at home as a family, and not sponging off relatives – it marks the official beginning of the Christmas season for us. First there is the trip to the wholefood store for dried fruit, then a night for the fruit to soak. Next, a morning of measuring, sifting and mixing. Everyone gets to stir the mixture and make a Christmas wish. Then baking for a whole afternoon. After that the cake sits on the kitchen table for three days under a tea towel, becoming more fragrant each day as we add more brandy, then finally it is lovingly wrapped and put to bed until Christmas Eve.

Grandma’s Christmas Cake

1lb currants
1lb sultanas
8oz chopped raisins
4oz glace cherries
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
4oz chopped peel
4 tblsp sherry

Place fruit, lemon juice and rind in a bowl. Pour over sherry and stand overnight. Stir once or twice.

Add peel next day.

10oz butter
10oz dark brown sugar
6-8 eggs
120z plain flour
½ tsp salt
2tsp mixed spice

Cream butter and sugar. Sift dry ings, add eggs one at a time and stir in fruit.
Line 24cmx24cmx7cm tin with greaseproof paper. Pour in mixture, then cover cake with more greaseproof paper.

Bake at 140 C 3 ½ hours, then remove paper and bake another ½ hour.
When cold, drizzle brandy over the top – just cover – repeat same for 2 more days, then remove from tin, wrap in greaseproof paper, then foil. Store in a dark place until Christmas Eve…when it is imperative to leave out a slice for Santa.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Spring Joy

A garden full of roses. A bouquet of spring joy on the mantlepiece.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Leatherwood Books

Several years ago I started a darling little on-line bookshop, and filled it with my favourite children’s books. My reasons for doing this were: I like to read. I like to write. I like to connect people with lovely books which will make them happy (one of my best moments was when a dear woman cried when I managed to track down a favourite book from her childhood. She couldn’t remember the title or the author, so had never been able to find it again). And I really love opening packages of books from the publisher and inhaling that new books smell. Unfortunately, as it turns out, running a bookshop involves rather a lot of paperwork, and book keeping. And Being Organised. Who would have thought that writing dozens of Notes to Self on sticky notes and filing them on random flat surfaces doesn’t count as Being Organised?

Luckily for me, and my customers, my dear sister-in-law Aly has taken over the practicalities of running the business. Aly is immensely organised. Even her pencils pay attention to her, and stay in their little pencil holders, so she always has one to hand when she wants one. I think she may have special powers. Anyway, she is doing remarkable things with her new little business. It may even qualify as a business soon, and possibly make a profit. The Man used to refer to it as ‘Jo’s expensive hobby.’ And wonder why I didn’t just buy shoes instead, like a normal person. Ha. Well, hon, now I can. I still write the occasional book review, and now I have a blog, I can promote all my favourite books in my most favourite bookshop shamelessly, to the oh, one person who has currently read said blog so far.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Rosy has been pestering me for weeks to buy her a set of particularly expensive drawing pencils, but today she came to me and said, "I have thought of a way to save you money, Mummy. I am going to ask Santa for the pencils, so you won't have to buy them for me." I thanked her for her thrifty thoughtfulness, and contemplated all the things I could put on my list to Santa. The Man will be so impressed at how much money I will be saving.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

About Us

I’m always really interested in the reasons that people choose to homeschool. There are many well reasoned philosophical standpoints, and deeply cherished religious beliefs. There are the parents whose children are having a terrible time at school for whatever reason. I’m often a little embarrassed to admit that for us…it just seemed like a good idea at the time. Around the time The Boy was born we met two families who homeschooled, and it seemed like fun. By the time The Boy was four we were far away, living in a mudbrick house in a forest on the side of a mountain. The school seemed a long journey away for a wee boy, and anyway, he didn’t like groups, and was still running about hitting his peers with sticks, which we thought might not be a stellar start to a school career.

Several years later, we decided that we weren’t so keen on leeches or snakes, and The Man wasn’t so keen spending six months of the year chopping wood. So we moved to a fixer-upper in the city where there are no leeches or snakes. And The Man gets to spend twelve months a year renovating, which is so much more fun, isn’t it hon, huh? The really exciting part is that we live half a block away from one of the city’s best primary schools. But we were having fun, so we just kept doing what we were doing. Eventually, all The Boy’s best friends went to school, and he got totally sick of the constant company of his little sisters, so at the age of thirteen and a half, he went to school too, in the second year of high school. And he’s still there, and it still works for him, and frankly, he’s a little noisy, so I’m rather grateful, really (though he’s also cute, funny, and very good company).

The girls are all still home. Sometimes they get to go to a tutor a couple of times a week, but currently they are all home, all the time. Sometimes we have fun, and sometimes there is lots of screaming, although that seems to mostly emanate from the four year old. It has taken me a long time, and I have made so many mistakes, but I think that I am finally getting the homeschooling thing. Yes, I am a slow learner. Ten years, and I now think I am on the right track.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Perfect Afternoon

The rhythm of yesterday went tantrum, tantrum, tantrum, tantrum, perfect bliss. Five minute’s drive away is a river with a small perfect wetland. Willows strewing catkins all over paths. Grasses, ferns, blackberries, hawthorns in lacy bloom. Actual shiny yellow buttercups to hold under your sister’s chin to find out if she likes butter. Granted all these plants are noxious weeds, and as such, are being ruthlessly eradicated by the council and replaced with native plantings, but we are determinedly enjoying it all until it goes. And right now it looks just like a corner of a Beatrix Potter story.

We met some dear friends there. The older girls sketched flowers and each other (not because they had to, but because they think they are reincarnations of the Edwardian lady with the country diary), and the younger ones threw rocks in the river, ‘explored’ with the aid of large sticks and rolled in the new mown grass. This, for me, is what homeschooling is really about. It is about being able to seize the moment, the perfect hour of the most exquisite Spring day, and to lie in the grass and gaze at the blue sky.

And Jane and I got to sit on a reasonably comfortable log and chat, and I believe there was a period of about, oh, seven and a half minutes somewhere there when no-one wanted a drink or the car keys, or for us to look at a leaf or a ladybird or to find a pencil sharpener or anything. And because we are totally the carpe diem girls, we did nothing at all, and it was…perfect.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

By any other name...

I am seriously considering having a little red flag surgically implanted in my forehead that will pop up when my four year old is yelling, ‘Mama, mama, mama, MAMA, MAMA, MAMA, MAMA,’ three hundred and forty one times in succession. The little red flag will indicate wordlessly:
Yes, Mama is listening.
Yes, Mama will even answer you when you leave as much as a nanosecond between the word Mama, and the word Mama.
Yes, Mama’s brain is going to leak out of Mama’s ears in a minute, and
Yes, Mama is indeed going to change her name.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?*

I have decided to start this blog for a number of reasons, one being that having homeschooled my four children for ten years, new homeschooling parents often amusingly ask me for advice.

When I stop laughing I tell them that I am an expert only in the sense that, having done this for so long I have had the opportunity to make such a staggeringly vast number of mistakes that I can confidently tell people what not to do.

I am like Anne of Green Gables who said “There must be a limit to the number of mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought”. But Anne grew up to be wise and gracious, while I stupidly continue to make the very same mistakes. Take today, when there was a teeny, tiny tantrum from the Domestic Goddess, because I sent her off with the maths text book and some instructions about which bits to read and which questions to answer. Fifteen minutes later she was back fuming about the stupid text book which contradicted itself and didn’t make sense, and she hates maths, and won’t do any more ever again….etc etc and I realized I had sent a 12 year old perfectionist off to tackle a completely new topic all on her own without even a brief explanation and introduction on my part. Duh. Where is my brain? So this afternoon I will be boning up on obtuse angles and reflexive angles instead of mindlessly re-reading Agatha Christie novels (yup, I am so far gone with the mummy-brain thing, that I mostly can’t remember whodunnit). Tomorrow she and I will work together until our brains are bristling with knowledge and she ‘gets’ it, and then I will send her away with questions to answer. So you can see I am a little slow on the uptake. But I will graciously let you learn from my mistakes.

Oh, and neither do I have any real administrative or organizational talents. Don’t come here looking for remarkable new ways to organize family or house or schooling routines. This morning at 8 o’clock the girls were schlepping around in their pyjamas watching mindless children’s television and eating cornflakes, I was reading the paper, also in my pyjamas, drinking tea and eating chocolate for breakfast because I couldn’t think of anything else I fancied, and The Boy was stomping around and kicking things because he couldn’t find his ipod ear phones. I mentioned that it is, actually, humanly possible to endure a twenty minute bus ride without the company of an ipod, and could he please hurry up and not miss the bus, because I didn’t particularly want to drive him to school in my pyjamas. Yes, my life is that exciting, and organized, and I have obviously perfected an effective morning routine. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. But feel free to come by and point and laugh. I will be performing a community service in that I will be establishing a minimum benchmark and everyone else will feel that, in comparison, they are doing a great job.

I will be writing about what works for us, about our favourite things, especially books. Also about the hard things and the problems I haven’t solved yet. It may be a help to someone, it may not. It will at least be a trail of breadcrumbs leading back into the forest, leaving a faint trace which says, ‘Yes, someone passed this way.’

Oh, and the other reason I am blogging? My mother wants to see some photos of her grandchildren, and sooner rather than later, please. Now, if I can only work out how to do that…

*Yes, I stole the title from TS Eliot's LoveSong of J Alfred Prufrock. I don't generally dare to disturb the universe, and I'm not expecting to do so here. Maybe a dog will bark. But sending words out into the void. Scary.