J was on laptop duty at church on Sunday. This meant that he needed to collect the laptop from church last week, which he couldn’t do because I was preaching at a different church. Bob emailed the person on duty that week to see if we could arrange collecting it from her, then promptly went away to a place and time without internet. Usually he can at least check his messages occasionally but for some reason it didn’t work at all this time, so her messages back went unread. Since she was due to be away from Friday morning she wanted to be sure we would have the laptop from her by Thursday evening, which actually was fine for us as we could pick it up straight after the lower presentation. Unfortunately while Bob was emailing her to say this is what we would do, she was sending her husband round to another church member’s house to pass the laptop on to yet another church member to look after until we could collect it from them. This left us playing hunt the laptop until Friday evening, when it was unexpectedly dropped off at our house before we could make the last foray out to collect it. Then J had a worrying few hours while he tried to remember the password and Bob tried to email anyone who might know it and be around. Even then things did not go smoothly, as the preacher was standing in at short notice and so had not got everything together until late on Saturday. In the end J decided he had better not come with us to Kentwell but should rather stay and finish setting everything up on the laptop, since he was worried about it going badly on his first solo run. He waited and waited for the final info to come through, then gave up and went to bed, which left him having to get up in time to finish it the next morning and still get to church early (we later discovered that the steward sending it to him had sent it as soon as he got it on Saturday evening, but it had bounced so J didn’t receive it until it was resent early on Sunday) – it was all a bit of a panic! Everything went fine during the service, though, so things are feeling less stressful for next week when he does it all over again – for one thing we already have the laptop and for another the preacher has already given J most of the information he needs, more than a week ahead of time!

After church we all came home for lunch and while we ate had a bit of a family discussion, laying out a few expectations, ironing out the odd issue which has arisen and generally trying to make sure that life will run smoothly even when the children and teenagers outnumber the adults as overwhelmingly as they do now 😉 Since we finally have a month where we can expect to be at home more than we are away Bob and H walked down to the local pool to look into a monthly pass for H to go swimming whenever he likes and to pick up a timetable so he can plan when that might be. There was a club session on, which confirmed what I had suspected from earlier investigations, that although club level is where H should be it’s not possible for the relatively short time he’ll be here. He did have a chat with the coach though, and was able to watch some of the session.

Monday was a bank holiday, but Bob had work to do from last week’s Kentwell and holiday orchestra days so the children and I went out to a World War II day at Audley End. We let the boys sleep in as long as they wanted first (they’d all had a busy week, after all) so it wasn’t an early start, but at least that gave the rain a chance to be mostly over and done with by the time we got there. Both H and J were especially interested in talking with the German army re-enactors and we got an interesting viewpoint and some recommendations of which films to watch and which not to watch! Hollywood blockbusters are, not surprisingly, to be avoided if you want anything remotely resembling an accurate portrayal 😉 We saw, but decided it was too wet and muddy to do, an obstacle course such as recruits might have been required to undertake, watched a training exercise (Audley End was used to train Polish agents) and looked at the kitchens where we saw the kind of food being prepared that might have been eaten when rationing was in full force and listened to some great 40s music on the wireless. There was a great presentation, Handbags to Hand Grenades, about a woman who was chosen, almost by accident, to be trained for the special operations executive: military drill, firearms, silent killing, self defence, parachuting, and mock interrogations. Then, leaving her three small children safely in a convent school she was dropped behind enemy lines to help prepare for D-day, because if she wouldn’t do it then who would? It was very moving and quite incredible to see such a normal stay at home mum transformed into an agent who did her duty, knowing that she had an expected average life span of six weeks once in place and believing that however hard it might be for her to leave her children it was important to do what she could to keep them safe and her country free.
Another training exercise – this time an amphibian attack – and we found ourselves rather closer to the action than we had anticipated, since the spot we stood in was right by the guns and explosions! Fortunately (although much to the training officer’s disgust!) they didn’t manage to blow up the bridge, so we were all able to leave at the end of the day 🙂 We discovered as part of the talk about the exercise that there was a book about Audley End’s use as a training centre (Station 43) during the war available form the gift shop, so we made our way there afterwards, via a tent where we saw utility clothing and make do and mend and another where we could see the rations laid out and appreciate just how little food it meant was available – and even that only when it could actually be found in the shops. We also went to an interactive session about spying and the law; people were pulled out of the audience and accused of crimes, then we all had to decide whether they had actually committed an offence or the arresting officer was being overly hasty. Each time we guessed correctly the pointer moved towards Victory and each time we were wrong it moved towards Invasion. Fortunately Victory prevailed, despite J being imprisoned for smoking a cigar in a subversive manner!
Home again, to find that Bob had been wrestling with fitting the replacement manhole cover for the drain in the drive at the front of the house. The hole is a little larger than a standard size cover, so last time we replaced it we left the built-up cement and fitted a little high, with a slope of cement leading up to it. This worked okay but left it standing a little proud of the drive, so this time as well as going up one level of cover (to a slightly stronger one) Bob decided to chip away that layer and start again. Unfortunately making the cement stick to the sides of the bricks so that the hole would be small enough to mount the cover proved a tricky task, especially in drizzle, so we ended up putting containers into the hole to catch sliding wet cement before it could clog the drain, covering it and leaving it in hopes it would dry before it fell off. Since it has rained steadily all day today as well we’ve not checked it yet…
In the evening H decided to start using his swimming pass 🙂

Today has mostly been a planning day, filling in dates in the calendar, making lists of what people most want to learn, lists of resources to help them get there, lists of places we want to visit… Goodness knows how I’ll fit all of it into the next few months!
It’s also been a day of catching up on Chemistry ready for tomorrow’s WedEd and Geography ready for Thursday’s Restless Earth workshop, and of getting stuck into Memrise in hopes of learning more new words than anyone else by the end of September.
This evening H swam again, while the rest of us, more boringly, watched An Extra Slice.

History and music

When we knew that H was coming we booked a slot for him at holiday orchestra. When he arrived and announced that he really hated music we unbooked it, although we told him he’d still need to do brass band on Thursday evenings 😉 It seemed unfair to make him spend a whole week of long days either doing something he disliked or watching others do it, so instead Bob took a few days off work and applied to do the Kentwell High Summer Recreation with H. This meant I needed to get his clothes made quickly (we had been expecting to take him along with us to Michaelmas so I knew I’d need to make them at some point anyway) so a fair bit of my time when we were at Polly’s was taken up by sewing and Saturday 22nd was my last chance to finish things off.

On Sunday I was preaching ( a drama in itself, as I managed to look up the address for the wrong church so instead of being early, as a preacher should, we arrived in a huge rush a few minutes after the service should have started, having had to dash in haste from the wrong church to the right one. By then the stewards were standing outside, anxiously scanning the road while they tried to decide what to do 🙁 ) Once we got underway the service went fine. L, A, J and K all did readings or parts of readings for me (H was let off for now!) and we had K’s favourite hymn, in honour of his return. Unfortunately the organist didn’t know the tune, so she chose another in the same meter, which was… not quite so suitable. I really struggled to keep a straight face in the pulpit as I watched K’s face!

Returning home, Bob and H loaded up the car, grabbed a quick lunch and set off to be visitors at Kentwell for the afternoon, so H could get an idea of what he would be doing during the week. The rest of us had a quiet afternoon getting ready for a busy week ahead…

This time J was doing recorders (he lives in hope that they’ll bring back advanced recorders!), then a Prime Brass workshop, Upper band, lower orchestra and upper orchestra. In the end he decided to switch from trombone to baritone for lower orchestra, because playing the trombone for so many hours each day was causing him pain. K did training strings (as a helper – A was happy about that 🙂 ), 10+ choir, upper strings and both orchestras. L had a full day of strings, including lower orchestra, but didn’t feel brave enough to risk adding in upper orchestra, partly because it would have given her such a very long day. A did training strings, folk for fun and then 7+ choir. This meant that although they all started at 9:30 A finished at 1:20, L at 3:00 and the boys at 5:30, so I camped out for most of the week; it was hardly worth trying to get home. A had a couple of play dates with her friend Z, and L went home with Z’s sister A too, since they finished at the same time and I could then collect both girls at once. On Monday I had a lovely time walking, chatting and drinking tea with T41 – a rare treat these days. I also did lots of parent helpering and inbetweentimes I read An Officer and a Spy and enjoyed it very much. I knew next to nothing about l’affaire Dreyfus and now feel a little more educated 😉
The lower presentation was on Thursday and the upper on Friday, so A got a day off (which she spent with Z) and Bob was able to come to both, with a little juggling of work hours. L was very excited to be asked to present flowers and wine to the course director, while J was even more excited to win a prize for his playing and attitude 😀

While we were holiday orchestra-ing Bob and H were mostly huddling in the military pavilion away from the rain. During brief brighter spells H had the chance to do archery, which he very much enjoyed, as well as running errands and generally being useful to the gatekeepers.I’m not sure how much he learned about Tudor life (Bob may be able to elucidate further) but he enjoyed himself enough that when Bob’s holiday ran out and he had to come back to work H was keen to stay on. Tadcu had offered to be his guardian if that was the case, but in the event the Beans kindly agreed to be guardians for him as well, since his tent was next to theirs and he knew them better. Since M was on the gate, he also agreed to keep an eye on H during the day, while Bob’s friends at the butts said he could go there without Bob too. We’re lucky to have so many helpful friends 🙂 Bob stayed until Thursday morning, then went straight into work from Kentwell leaving H in all their capable hands. We collected him again on Saturday, when we went along for a huge celebratory party and ceilidh – much fun and dancing and the most amazing cake!

That was the week that was…

On Saturday L sang in the choir for a wedding, which kept her busy for most of the day. I was busy too, preparing for book-selling, storytelling and mask-making at a local shopping centre on Sunday and Monday. A and I tried out different ways of making masks and worked out which stories would lend themselves well to a variety of age groups as well as providing suitable ideas for masks. For everyone else it was a fairly normal pottering kind of day.

L came with me on Sunday and we sold £80 of Usborne books as well as helping about 60 children to make masks,we think – possibly more. We used The Sun and the Wind and Hide and Seek Kittens as our main sources of inspiration, with Animal Stories and Egyptian Times as alternatives for those who wanted more ideas. Bob will need to blog about what the rest of them did, as I wasn’t here!

Monday was another day of Usborne. The girls came with me and Bob dropped us all off so that we wouldn’t have to worry about parking. This time we were sharing the space with a large stall selling olives, baklava, fudge and Turkish delight, which meant that not everybody got as far as us (we were hidden behind their stall and it was rather a distraction!) but we still made lots of masks, told lots of stories and sold, sadly, rather fewer books – the commission from which the girls spent on olives and baklava 😉 The two men running the stall were lovely and told the girls that everything was half-price for them so they got good value for their money! Apparently the olives were the nicest they’d ever tasted so they made a card and a rosette to say so and when they presented them the men gave them a large handful of chocolate pebbles each as well, along with some caramelised almonds and cashews for me. So it was a good day, really, if not very profitable. Meanwhile J and H had a lie-in and then got on with some work from their list – I hope. In practice I suspect J spent much of the time programming or playing on the computer, while H spent lots of it watching vidoes of people trampolining; we got back to a rather worried J saying that H was determined to learn how to do a back flip on the trampoline like L does. L pointed out that she does gym moves on the trampoline that she has already learned at gym and needs to practise, but H was not deterred so we gave him some sensible warnings about broken necks and being taught properly first and promised to arrange a lesson soon.

As it happened, we found out at very short notice that there was a holiday trampolining session nearby the very next day, so we were able to make good that promise very quickly 🙂 No backflips yet, though, as H needs to learn the basics of tuck jumps, straddle jumps, seat drops and front drops first – as do the girls since trampolining for gym is not the same as trampolining proper.
That morning we had had a frustrating trip to swimming lessons, where we arrived to find that the pool was closed due to a child being sick in it, then a very long drive home thanks to an accident on the A14 closing one lane. I could have done without all of that, as I somehow managed to injure my foot over the weekend and was struggling to weight-bear at all, leave along to drive for so long. The boys had another lie-in and then caught up on Chemistry ready for WedEd. Some Maths may have happened too…

WedEd was small and select this week. SB was away with cadets and we were only two families to start with, so just six children rather than our usual 10+. H and J started by stripping batteries into their component parts ready for a future session while the other children played in the garden, then H,J and C played the Bean Game while BB, L and A experimented with passing a current through copper sulphate solution to see what happened and explain why. I had brought both Maths games and some Shakespeare stuff to do, but so many other impromptu things were happening that we never got round to those activities. The chemistry groups swapped, people experimented with creating currents (not electrical this time!) in the pool, we had pasta, strawberries, cake… SB came back, more games were played, there was much party planning and costume discussing and before we knew it it was time to come home and eat tea!

Thursday was one of those days which didn’t work out as planned. Bob had a train to catch to get to one airport so he could fly to Dinard to collect K, then the two of them were to fly back from Dinard to a different airport, then catch another train to a station near enough for us to collect them. Meanwhile the girls had swimming lessons in the morning and in the afternoon there was a teen meet in a park near the pool which ended in good time for us to get to band, which should in turn end in good time for us to drive to the station and collect Bob and K. My plan was for the boys to take some work to do while the girls swam, then to have a packed lunch either at the park or before going there, eat enough to keep us going for tea before band, then do the station pick-up and come home for a proper tea. I’m not sure whether I’m a mouse or a man, but it certainly went awry!
J wanted to see old friends again at the park, but also wanted to do diabolo and wasn’t sure the weather would be good enough. He prefers to have something to concentrate on in large groups, so he doesn’t get overwhelmed by too many people. H was keen at first, despite the relatively early start it would necessitate, but then we realised that this was because he thought that they would be playing on the Wii at Gina’s while the girls swam, when in fact Gina would also be at swimming and her J away. Once he realised we were planning an early start and some work he decided he didn’t want to go at all, so the boys had another lie-in while I took the girls then we came back and watched a film in the afternoon instead. It’s a shame to have missed what sounds like a busy park meet, but H and J will see most of the same teens once Multisport starts again, so I guess it will work out okay. We also got the spare room as ready as we could for K’s return, so that he would have somewhere to sleep and a place to put his things, at least, and then made and ate a hasty tea before leaving for band.
J has started H off on the basics of baritone-playing, but at band he got his own individual lesson from a band member, a rather lovely and very patient older gentleman. The junior band is starting to sound really good now and A is part of that too, although she misses her individual lessons as she really enjoyed those. J on tuba makes a big difference to the overall sound (I can see why they wanted him to play it!) and L is getting used to having trombone solos 🙂
Bob and K, meanwhile, were delayed in France and then delayed again in England, so at the time we thought we might be collecting them from the station they were only just getting to the (very long and slow) queue for passport control. This meant we had time to pop to the supermarket for food and then drive down to collect them from the airport (argh! to airports where you can’t stop anywhere even remotely nearby without paying a minimum charge!) but it also meant a much later night all round than planned. It’s very good to have K back though 😀

Today we all made it up in time to get the girls to swimming and I booked an archery class for the boys at the same time. That ended just in time for them all to do aquazorbing, where we were joined by the Beans too – lots of fun!
Home again for lunch (veeeery slow traffic though, so a late lunch) and K is now catching up all his emails while J practises diabolo and H, L and A try out the various Mario games which have just arrived for the Wii.

Lather, rinse, repeat

Friday played out much the same way as Thursday: swimming for the girls while the boys stayed with Gina’s J and played MarioKart (or something similar – I’m no expert! I’m told we need to get it though…)
In the afternoon we tried again for a teens swimming meet and managed to get together with the Beans with enough time to get to the pool (no thanks to the standing traffic on the A14) for a floats session. A had had enough of swimming in the morning so opted to stay out and watch, which meant I did too – there’s a handy balcony and a cafe so we were happy enough 😉
We had a bit of drama on the way home, as J decided he wanted to walk – he and L had been arguing on and off for long enough that I stopped the car and asked them to get out and sort it out; he opted to walk his bad temper off while she got back in the car again. I took the others home and left them there with Bob and a suggestion of helpful activities they could do (music practice for the girls and English for H) while I nipped back to see if the rain had cooled J off enough. I caught up with him just before the part of road I’d been worrying about given weather and traffic conditions, where there’s no pavement and only a narrow verge, and we went to the garden centre for a chat and some cat food. The assistant in the pet shop area threw me a little when she looked up and said “I’m not left-handed, but I think yesterday was Left-handers’ day, wasn’t it?” and it took me long enough to realise she was referring to my tee shirt that it was by then too late to correct her error: Amazing Lefty Women are not necessarily left-handed!
I asked for advice and ideas on facebook the other day about making Shakespeare accessible for H and a friend suggested (and lent us) a couple of modern adaptations. She also suggested an order in which to watch them, so last night we sat down intending to start with the John Cleese version of The Taming of the Shrew, which had a U rating according to my research, so the girls were keen to join us. Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that Bob had put the wrong version on, and he seemed unable to sort it out, so we abandoned that and watched An Extra Slice instead, then once the girls were in bed restarted with the BBC version of The Taming of the Shrew which was all Bob could find to play. It was excellent, but not as easy an introduction as I think the other would have been, so we’ll try again with that soon. We’ll move on to 10 Things I Hate About You after that, I think, then read the original to see where it all started.

Fencing, Friends and Flinging small children

This Wednesday was not in a WedEd week, but we had a fencing session booked for all the children (and were sad that K isn’t back yet as he’d have loved it too). They recapped what had been covered last time (a chance for those not there then to pick it up for the first time), then practised footwork and (foam, fortunately) sabre (including a full-on battle between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings!) before moving on to foil and learning how to referee and then taking it in turns to fight or preside. They formed two lines, each facing an opponent, and fought one point, then moved on to the next opponent along, keeping a tally of their score so far. L, H and J were among the highest scorers – J and H mostly because of extra reach and L because her small size and dexterity meant she could nip in and score a point under her opponent’s guard.
It was lovely to see Jax’s Small there too, and even better to go to the park afterwards with Jax, Small, SOA and Tigerboy and have a chance to chat properly for the first time in ages. Gina joined us there, with all three of hers, which made J and L as happy as expected but also had the surprise effect of giving H one of his best days yet in England, as he and S hit it off incredibly well and he spent much of the afternoon flinging S off the start point of the zip slide, to much hilarity. Soon other small children wanted to join in and H had a good workout swinging them all. We mums tried not to hold our breath too much as we watched small children hurtling down the zip wire, swinging wildly at the end and zooming back breathless and laughing! He was very good at judging how much speed each child could really cope with, no matter what they said, but there was still the occasional heart-in-mouth moment – and the occasional round of applause as he noticed a toddler crossing the path of the zip wire and skidded to a halt still holding the child he had been about to launch…
It wasn’t quite paddling weather, but some of the smaller contingent still did 🙂 L and E also wandered across to see what was on offer in the council-run activities roadshow and came back with smoothie that they had blended themselves using bicycle power 😀 Sadly the climbing wall had too long a queue so will have to be something we save for another time.

R and R

So far it’s been a plodding along kind of week.

We had to come back from Wales when we did because I was running an Usborne event on Saturday morning. Knowing the boys would rather sleep we gave them the girls the option of coming or not and they both chose not, so Bob came with me and we left everyone else dozing. It was busy enough that we put Sort-out Saturday off to Sunday and relaxed when we got home with some gentle family type things (trip to the park and so on). Bob is working through grammar with H most evenings, while I coax J through a little German so he won’t be completely new to it when he goes in November. We also have an English as a second language IGCSE textbook and workbook for H so will slot that in soon, ideally alongside a first language
equivalent for J.

On Sunday we all went to church, making the most of gorgeous weather to walk there. J is now on the laptop rota so needs to come along from time to time to keep in the loop, as it were, and H was persuaded that Catholics are allowed to attend services in Methodist churches, even if it does mean getting up earlier than he might like 😉 We’ll also offer him the option of going to Mass with some Catholic friends of ours, but that will mean an even earlier start!
In the afternoon everybody picked a Helpful Job to do and did it – excellent stuff! We’ve started to watch Great British Bake Off – a good replacement for Celebrity Masterchef so that fitted in nicely too.

By Monday I was feeling that we really did need to get a bit of work started, so looked up some extra information about Blaenavon and gave each child the task of writing up our visit in more or less detail, according to ability. We found a Time Team episode about finding the lost viaduct which carried trams from Blaenavon to Newport and all watched that and J researched more into the theory behind blast furnaces. J and H also worked through the BBC Bitesize pages on the Industrial Revolution, which both of them knew a little about, but mostly not going as late as the ironworks so it filled a gap nicely. Meanwhile the girls and I went food shopping, since that hadn’t been a priority for Bob while we were away 😉

Today we did a bit more History and I suggested Maths, English and Science to the boys, but I’m not convinced any actually happened :/ The Beans popped in to collect some Tudor bits for their Spanish daughter and then after lunch we went to a church centre cafe where J and H are hopefully to be doing some work experience and volunteering. We need to find them plain tee shirts and black trousers and they’ll get a few days of training then they’ll go on the rota to cover alternate Saturdays. It’s unpaid, but they’ll get lots of experience (alternating between kitchen and waiting) and a free lunch, so it’s not such a bad deal 🙂 While we were there we also went to the library, where H (who has told us how much he hates reading) decided that maybe comic books might be worth a look and ended up borrowing two – and then spent most of the afternoon reading them! This reminded me to order the set of 14 Marcia Williams Shakespeare comic strip stories, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Hopefully they’ll give an easy introduction before we move on to studying the original texts. We’re also planning to watch some adaptations of different plays, to compare styles and see what works, then maybe build up to actually going and watching a play at the theatre. It’s a while since we went to The Globe and I’ve a hankering to be a groundling again 😉
This evening we very decadently ate dinner in front of the first episode of Twelve Days to Save England, so that H could have an introduction to 1588 ready for his trip back in time in a couple of weeks. He’s looking forward to being on the gate, where they have weapons!

Wales – and dolphins

After our busy weekend it wasn’t easy to get everybody unpacked, repacked, up and out on Monday morning, but we needed to if we were to make it over to Wales to visit Polly 😀 A rather later than hoped for start meant that we didn’t manage to meet her at The Big Pit or the ironworks (which we had thought would be a good start to our History project of working forward from the Victorians) so instead we met for a romp and a dog walk at Margam Country Park which was just what we needed after a long drive through annoyingly heavy traffic 😀

We had a lovely few days in Carmarthenshire, the highlight of which for H was probably a tie between spending time with Polly’s dogs and riding her horse! L also enjoyed riding and A had a go but decided she really doesn’t like the movement. On Tuesday Polly took us to see one of “her” castles at Llansteffan, which we approached and left via a lovely walk along the beach – it’s far too long since I did that! There must have been lots of jellyfish in the last high tide, since we found tens of them stranded and half-buried in the sand, some really large – up to a foot across! Gwen had to be helped up the steps, since her back legs aren’t what they were (she’s a grand old lady now) but she made it in the end and frolicked along with Gorch as much as she could 🙂 The castle is lovely and H, L and A all enjoyed rolling down the hill while we were there, then we found a slightly different route back to the beach for our return walk. Wednesday started with very bad weather but it cleared up enough for us to go to the red kite feeding station which is very cool. Sadly I had managed to forget the big camera when we left on Monday (remembered the batteries, forgot the camera – sigh!) but H had his and took lots of pictures, so hopefully he’ll have a few good shots.

Thursday brought glorious weather! H was persuaded to get up early to fit in a ride first and then we drove to the coast to meet up with Tadcu and Mamgu for a dolphin-watching boat trip. There was a lot of swell, which meant we didn’t see any seals, but we did see at least four dolphins, to great excitement 😀 Once we’d all recovered from varying degrees of seasickness we picknicked and then played in the sea. H was very taken with the skimmer boards we saw some children using on the sand and decided to go and hunt one out for himself. He’s confident he’ll be able to get it home 😉

We headed home on Friday, opting, after a leisurely beginning, to visit the Ironworks at Blaenavon since that way Polly could bring the dogs too and it gave us a good start on our journey. We had a picnic when we got there (which led to a discussion with H about picnics vs eating out and how different things might be for families of different sizes) and then spent a couple of hours learning about the development of the industrial revolution. We watched a fascinating interpretation of the blast furnace in action, found out about pig iron, visited workers’ houses furnished to show different years in the history of the site and climbed up to the top of the balance tower, where we admired the iron horses as well as the stunning view. Then, reluctantly, we bade Polly and the dogs farewell and drove home again.

Adding an H

J has wanted to do another exchange for a while now and decided that German was probably a more sensible option than Spanish, since he already has excellent French and a fair bit of Italian so Romance is fairly well covered. En Famille came up trumps. A little compromise was needed to determine the exchange length (H wanted a little longer and J a little shorter than we’ve ended up planning) and it will make J’s exam year… interesting… but we are very happy to welcome H into our family.

H arrived with his parents on 24th July and they all stayed here until 27th, when his parents headed home via a day in Cambridge. Just as they arrived the weather turned so we weren’t sure we’d manage punting but there was enough of a dry spell on Saturday afternoon to squeeze in a leisurely jaunt on the river and a picnic tea, then Bob and H’s parents went to see the Merry Wives of Windsor while all the children opted for going home to watch Celebrity Masterchef. On Sunday the girls and I went to church while Bob stayed at home with those who were rather later risers – it seems H shares J’s views on what constitutes a good time to get up! The intention had been to go to a big sports day at the local park, but torrential rain meant they baled soon after arriving and well before we could join them. We played indoor games and watched the rain instead.

On Monday, while H’s parents enjoyed their day in Cambridge en route to their flight home, the rest of us (eventually) went over to the Beans, where SB has also just started hosting an En Famille visitor. The children took swimmers in hopes of good weather, but it wasn’t great so we enjoyed pleasant company instead. In fact we spent Monday, Wednesday and Friday with the Beans, thanks to WedEd and then a HE teen meet and swim which didn’t quite happen as planned, for various reasons. In between we had a quiet Tuesday and Thursday, with the beginnings of some work (H was rather put out to find that we’re not in full holiday mode as he expected, since we spread our HE fairly evenly through the year and take holidays at random times as they happen; we started him off gently 😉 ) and a trip into town to return some books and sign the girls up for the library Summer reading challenge. I had hoped that H might like to take a couple of books out, but apparently he hates reading. We’ll see if we can change that while he’s here 😉

WedEd this week included Art (cubist cats, led by SB), Chemistry (working out Avagadro’s constant by burning stuff – always a winner!), Maths, cooking (monster marshmallows and cinder toffee) and, for the more hardy souls, swimming – with a side order of silliness, flirting and/or splashing for the too-cool-to-swim teens 😉 Toasting marshmallows round the fire was a good way to warm up again, apparently 🙂

At the weekend we went to a house-warming party for the Babs and co. which meant a Saturday afternoon and evening filled with games, chat and fun, then a stayover (I hesitate to call it a sleepover 😉 ) and another day of more of the same. Boris the dog being there too gave a good opportunity for a bit of extra fresh air and exercise, which was a Good Thing 😉

Starting the Lasts and Last-for-nows

Mon 26th January brought a break from routine in the form of two Christopher Lloyd talks back-to-back: What on Earth Happened? History and Science. He started by telling us about the development of the What on Earth series, which came out of his own experience of home educating and wanting to join up topics. As a presenter he was really good and very engaging and the children particularly liked his coats of many pockets with visual and physical clues to the next topic. We bought a Shakespeare sticker book for Afish as her choice of birthday present and then went down the road to the excellent toyshop run by a local home educating family and spent rather too much money on a birthday present for Kfish and some for the presents cupboard. Home in time for a French lesson, then the usual Monday evening English, football, Guides.

Tues 27th began with normal and another saxophone lesson, then Lfish, Afish and I went to the local hospital where Afish had an appointment to check that the odd results from the ECG she had as part of the metabolism study a few months ago were nothing serious. She was pronounced to be a perfectly healthy example of the “tall skinny variety” 🙂

On Wed 28th Kfish had his first piano lesson with a new teacher we are hoping will get him started with some music to take to France and practise, ready for moving on when he comes back. It went well and it looks as though he and this teacher will work well together, but it will be a question of finding a regular slot in two very busy timetables so we’ll have to wait and see how well it works in the long run. The afternoon and evening had the usual choir, Italian, choir sandwich.

Thurs 29th found us driving to one of my least favourite places for navigation so that we could go ice skating. Fortunately getting lost only delayed us by a few minutes and the skating session started late anyway so we were fine. It was the first time we’ve had any contact with a teaching for skating and it made an immediate difference, most noticeably for Afish. The teacher made them practise falling over and getting up, which dealt with one of her greatest fears and the thing which has been most holding her back, so that was an excellent start! Hopefully this will become a regular session and we’ll be able to attend fortnightly when multisport isn’t on. We were back safely in time for trombone, gym, judo and band – although we then found we should have been there at 6:30 rather than 7 but an email gone astray meant we hadn’t known. Timings are going to be really tight! Lfish was a bit thrown at first by being presented with music in treble clef when she’s been learning in bass, too, but has decided it will be worth the mental gymnastics to be (eventually) able to play trombone in both orchestras and brass bands.

Fri 30th was Kfish’s birthday – a teenager but fortunately no Kevin transformation! He was not overly impressed to have a cello lesson, moved from Monday, but Gill only gave him nice scales as a concession to the occasion 😉 The afternoon was the usual library, violin, choir, music, choir combination, but with added cake.

Sat 31st had the usual music school and gym, but in the evening we celebrated Kfish’s birthday with a visit to a pizza restaurant – thank goodness for Clubcard vouchers!

On the Sunday I took Kfish to eucharist but the rest of the day is largely a blur thanks to a nasty migraine. At Bob’s suggestion I cleared the following day to allow for extra recovery time, so we cancelled XYZ and moved cello, which turned out to have been a good move because I was distinctly wobbly and groggy in the morning. Jfish and I drove to the next village to collect the euphonium and bass trombone he is renting from county music, which gave me a chance to gauge pain vs grogginess vs driving and after a rest and some lunch we decided that it was probably safe to drive gently to rollerskating, which gave L and Kfish a chance to see some more distant friends to say goodbye. We were back in time for football, English and Guides, but I was pretty much wiped out despite just sitting quietly nursing a cuppa while they skated.

Tues 3rd was a rush of music in the morning: the postponed cello lessons and then L’s last sax lesson with Stephanie. She showed him her collection of different saxophones and he tried lots of different sizes, particularly enjoying the larger ones. She also gave him copies of the music he’s done from her books and a saxophone and clarinet magazine to which she regularly contributes, so he’ll have some interesting things to show his teacher back in France. The most important thing about Tuesday, though, was the SNOW! Kfish had an eye test booked, which was handily near to one of the few hills in the area, so we called to collect his friend B and his mum on the way then spent some time sledging down hills and were able to leave the other children with B and his mum while Kfish and I went for his eye test (which was all fine, no glasses needed).

This has been a week of lasts, or last-for-nows and Wed 4th was the last(-for-now) WedEd. It was HH’s turn to have a migraine so we started with Art – or perhaps more properly literature, as we learned about Apollinaire and his Calligrammes then had a go at making our own word pictures. SB and Jfish did some maths with theBabs, then joined us and did their Calligrammes in French for an added challenge 🙂 Em led an ensemble of recorders and flutes, giving L, Afish and BB a chance to play in the remaining snow, then for Science they made atoms from wire and beads (a hot glue gun opportunity not to be missed!) and by the time I left with the choir and Italian contingent L was busy with what he likes to call the Minecraft party.

Thursday 5th should have started early with Kate History, but it was cancelled so we did History at home instead, trying to get up to the Norman Conquest before L goes home (I’m not sure we’re quite going to make it, but if we do then it will bridge the gap between the early stuff we’ve done at home and what we’ve been doing with Kate). Multisport was indoors, thanks to heavy rain, then the afternoon and evening was a hither and thither dash of trombone/euphonium lessons, gym, band and judo.

Bob worked from home on Friday 6th, which meant that after a morning of good solid normals, L and Afish able to stay at home with him while we did violin and choir/music/choir run. We experimented with fudgy aduki bean brownies (no gluten, dairy or eggs!) – but sadly Bob forgot about them in the five minutes between our leaving and their needing to come out of the oven, so they were a little burnt. Still tasty though, and worth another try, I think.

Last music school on Saturday (with added biscuits as a goodbye gift) while Jfish went to visit an old schoolfriend for the day using the guided bus and the train. He came back rather late and tired, having apparently got lost between L’s house and the station – oops!


Centerparcs – On the 19th January we set off, not quite as bright and early as it might have been, for Elveden to go on what has become an annual holiday to Centerparcs. The benefit of going in January is that it costs less than ¼ of what it would cost in school holiday times and is much quieter and correspondingly more pleasant too. Our chalet was only a few doors from the Beans and Em, so very convenient for planning trips to the pool together – and a surprise birthday celebration for Kfish too 😉

There was much wetness, swimming, splashing, whooshing down flumes, defying gravity with the Cyclone and for the slightly fainter-hearted the rapids presented enough of a challenge in themselves – Jfish took a few days to succumb and then was hooked!

My sister was able to join us for the second half of our stay, much to her nieces’ and nephews’ joy; she’s much more fun than Bob and I are! She arrived pretty much as Jfish and Bob were leaving to get to Italian and do our turn on the choir supervision rota. Auntie P’s Christmas present to all of us was a treat at the Pancake House on the last day, which made things even more exciting, as that’s something they’ve often wanted to do. To be honest, it may well be something we never bother to do again, as the pancakes looked impressive but actually tasted slightly soapy (definitely American style puffy pancakes rather than what they had been expecting) and were far too sweet for anybody to finish their serving. Mine apparently got lost through a hole in the space time continuum and had to be rescued from the Palaeolithic by a brave cook, so it took a few minutes extra to arrive!

The day after we got back should have been Music School, but everybody was far too tired, and some rather full of cold, so we decided a lie-in was more appropriate. L still made it to gym and the choristers were all up to various services and choir practices on Sunday, so by the following week we were more or less back to normal again.