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 πŸ˜‰
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.


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 ΒΌ 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 πŸ˜‰

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.

Back to Normality

Tuesday was a fairly messy, tired, grumpy day, trying to get back to normal after a busy weekend and late nights all round. We seem to have got into a pattern of doing lots of fortnightly activities, which all tend to fall on the same weeks in the month, so it was our only day at home this week, which didn’t really help! Kfish and Afish had a cello lesson moved from Monday (we’d not have bothered but that Kfish has an exam coming up soon) so I took them out to that leaving the others to do normals at home, then we had a clear afternoon until Brownies for Afish. There were tents to dry (heavy fog when taken down leaves them nearly as wet as rain!), sleeping bags to air, shifts to wash and dry and an approved food delivery to put away too, so plenty to keep me busy! I left the bulk of the putting away to Bob, as it was mostly boxes to return to the workshop loft. He’s been busy with work, though, so the house is still littered…

Wednesday was WedEd, which meant a saxophone lesson for L πŸ˜€ Em gave him an hour and plenty to be working on, so he’s not short of things to practise πŸ˜‰ HH did Science sessions based on the nervous system and sense organs, which all concerned seem to have enjoyed a great deal – especially the magic marble which looked like one but felt like two πŸ™‚ We also looked at Degas and did some preparatory discussion and sketches ready for sculpture next time – chicken wire and modroc, so let’s hope the weather stays kind! TheBabs also did a fab session on surds, which I found really helpful, never mind the children πŸ˜‰ Sadly, I ran out of time to fit in a Jfish and SB French session this time, and Em’s ensemble didn’t happen either (partly my fault; I didn’t realise she was waiting to scoop up recorderists when I whisked them off to do art) – we’ll prioritise that next time to make sure it happens!
Italian and choir for J, K and Lfish, while Afish and L went home and did… I know not what with Bob…

Today we started with more out-of-order History – one of Kate’s fab sessions, which was finishing last term’s theme of the medieval church by talking about the building of cathedrals and ended with small groups planning and building their own cathedrals. I had hoped this might fill Afish’s desperate need to do junk modelling, but apparently not, so I’ll try to fit that in next week, when we actually have some time at home!
We rushed from History to Multisport and then from Multisport to trombone and now I’m sitting outside Afish’s gym blogging as procrastination from service preparation for Sunday, while all the other children are at home doing at least a bare minimum of Maths, English and Music practice. Or quite possibly lying on their beds reading – can’t blame them if they are; it’s where I’d like to be :frog:

Wednesday: Hundertwasser, 3D drawing, homeostasis and saxophone

It was a WedEd Wednesday this week (hooray πŸ™‚ ) so we headed over to the Beans’ with good intentions for an early start. We should have left early to get fuel on the way but L, who has been looking forward to his saxophone lesson all week, forgot that a lesson needs a saxophone so had to go back and get it. And then had to go back and get the music. We still had enough time to get fuel though, and to pick up some pasta to share for lunch, so we stopped at the supermarket and filled up then I pulled into the drop-off/10 minute wait space and sent Jfish in for pasta. A few minutes later he rang to say he couldn’t find any of the large bags I’d suggested and didn’t know what to get. I abandoned the car and ran in to show him (he was right; they had no big bags so instead I grabbed a medium sized bag and some cheese while he hunted for the bottle of water he wanted) then ran back out to the car to wait while he paid. Some time later he still hadn’t appeared, so I asked Kfish to pop in and see if he was at a till and to hurry him up if need be. As Kfish went in he passed within a couple of metres of Jfish – we could see them both from the car. Apparently, though, they couldn’t see one another, since Kfish disappeared into the bowels of the shop and Jfish came out to the car. I explained what had happened (the others were laughing too hard by now) and Jfish immediately volunteered to run back in and fetch Kfish, then did so before I could stop him. We waited, torn between frustration and laughter, for a few more more minutes, watching our nice early start tick away, and then Kfish appeared, shrugging his shoulders to say he’d seen no sign of J.It was like a scene from a farce! Once we’d explained he was about to dive back in, but we called him back and instead he hovered in the doorway ready to jump up and down and call if he spotted J. By the time J finally sauntered back out to report his failure to find K the children still in the car were killing themselves laughing πŸ˜†

Anyhoo, we eventually made it, only to find that poor HH had a migraine, so rather than starting with Science I scooped up all those who wished to do Art and we talked about Hundertwasser. We looked at some examples of his work and pulled out a few key ideas (such as using bright colours, links with nature, use of spirals, love of water, individuality and personality, avoiding straight lines) and we talked about his theory of skins (your own skin, your clothes, your home, your immediate environment, the wider environment) and the buildings he designed. The basic idea for art was to take lollipop trees as a basis and start with a bright background then make black patterned shapes to stick onto it. Another option was to design a village or street in the style of Hundertwasser – Lfish and the other older girls opted to do this together, with great teamwork πŸ™‚

Since the art was in sections for those doing backgrounds and then shapes, TheBabs took people as they were ready and introduced them to the idea of making up solids from 3D diagrams, then doing their own isometric drawings and 3D drawings. Even Afish was able to work out plan/side/front view cards and relate them to the solid objects and the boys in particular did some really good work with the drawings.

The lovely Em also managed to fit in a long-awaited saxophone lesson for L. This way there’s a definite slot once a fortnight, but we’ll need to think about how to get a lesson into the in-between weeks.

By now HH was feeling a little more human so we had an earlyish lunch and then moved on to Science, which was done outside since we were dissecting kidneys and the smell might have been overpowering in the kitchen! We had looked in advance at a powerpoint about homeostasis, so when HH asked what the topic was going to be Lfish was able to answer πŸ˜‰ There was a kidney each, but not enough blades, so the actual dissection happened in pairs which worked well because some first cuts showed things better than others but each pair ended up with something where they could see each of the things we were looking for from the sheet HH had provided. Afish gave up first (she’d not been very keen in the first place tbh and felt the last time we dissected kidneys was enough to keep her going for a while!) and went to play, but the others carried on valiantly and managed to identify the key features and talk about their functions. I think L felt a bit uncertain as to what was going on at times, but the occasional quick check kept him on track with what we were doing and each week it should get easier for him to follow.

Jfish, SB and I managed a little French oral practice and a quick bit of future tense revision then it was time for me to take K and Lfish to choir. J had a trial Italian lesson and test set up so also needed to come, but Afish and L were not looking forward to lots of waiting around so were very happy when TheBabs came to the rescue with the offer of a lift home so they could stay longer and join in with the various games about to start.

Italian went well and J has now embarked on a year of lessons with the aim of achieving GCSE at the end. The other children in the (small) class have been learning with the La Dante institute for a while already, hence the test to see whether he would be able to fit in with them and keep the pace of the lessons, and half of them have an Italian parent so it should move fairly fast, I think πŸ™‚

A good day all round, really, with thanks to HH and galoka for hosting and Science, TheBabs for Maths and lifts, Em for saxophone and T41 for the reminder to look again at La Dante πŸ˜€


Saturday found us divided. Lfish, Kfish and Jfish all had holiday orchestra rehearsals for the Upper Presentation but Afish and L had already finished. This worked out well for sleepovers; Jbiff and SB came home with us after the Lower Presentation (two cars, since Bob had come from work) and back in on Saturday for rehearsals, leaving Afish and L with Bob for the day. The new trampoline net having arrived at the end of the week, their first task was to replace the broken one (darned when we got it, further darned over the months, weakened by three large French lads playing trampoline football over the summer and then finished off by poor L going through it on his first full day here!) with the brand spanking new one. All five children are very happy to have the trampoline back in action – and I’m very relieved to have a good strong net back on it πŸ˜€
Meanwhile I took the other children to their various rehearsals, parent-helpered for a bit and was then whisked off for hot chocolate and a chelsea bun with a friend. I’ve been thoroughly spoilt this holiday orchestra, in fact, going out for a cuppa with a friend on three out of the five days πŸ™‚
Once rehearsals were over there was a gap of a couple of hours, which we filled very happily visiting choir friends and admiring their new garden buildings (shed, bike shed and Cube). Bob and children joined us, then we all made our way back for the finale of holiday orchestra, which was excellent πŸ™‚ Chips on the way home and then the desserts episode of Bake Off made a nice ending to a busy but convivial day.

Sunday was most definitely a day of rest. L’s parents had asked if they could ring in the morning, so we waited in for their call, apart from Bob who had a meeting at church and Afish who was keen to go and see her Sunday School friends. In the afternoon Bob and the children went to collect a basket for me (from local FB selling page) which I hope will be suitable for Kentwell and played in the field for a bit. We also attacked the small row of trees which had self-seeded down the side of our drive, with lots of digging, scenes reminiscent of The Gigantic Turnip and finally a hacksaw. Lunch was sushi and dinner, inspired by GBBO, was a high tea which included Baked Alaska πŸ™‚

Brownies and Big Bang!

I need to post about Kentwell but it’s in draft form on the laptop and we’re getting behind so I’m going to catch up on what’s been happening since then and add a long Kentwell post in when I get the chance.

We got back from Kentwell on 7th July, late, so having to rouse everyone in time to go and look after S on Monday was not much fun. However, Bob was at work (yay!) so it had to be done. We all came home and did nothing much in the afternoon!

Tuesday was another very gentle day, with lots of sleep and just as much washing, plus some music practice to get them all back in the swing of things, then Brownies for 6 and L, including 6’s induction πŸ˜€ The session was at the local country park, so they had to wear smart uniform for the induction and then take a change of clothes ready for den building and getting soaked when the dens were tested for waterproofness. Brown Owl was very impressed with 6, who was word perfect for her promise and recited the Brownie law flawlessly and clearly πŸ˜€ She is now a fully-fledged Brownie, with the badge to prove it πŸ™‚

On Wednesday we set off early to Duxford for the Big Bang Fair, which was excellent. We started with a talk about String Theory, interpreted through the medium of rock guitar by Dr Mark Lewney then went on to the Science Sleuths show, where the children solved a crime by using clues and forensic methods to work out who had broken into the Science Made Simple office. We had hoped to squeeze in a talk by Johnny Ball too, but the sleuthing finished too late and a higher priority for us was the Steve Allman Best of Science show – the highlight of the day and so good that we’re now trying to work out how we could possibly get enough people together to make his special Christmas show manageable (Β£650 for three shows).

In between shows we looked around the stalls, made balloon-powered racing cars, found out how particles can be removed from exhaust fumes, met a milk snake, a stick insect and a giant African snail, found out about special effects in films and much more – and had fun with Em and her children πŸ™‚

We had to leave Duxford fairly promptly to get back and collect instruments ready for an extra rehearsal before the Music School Family concert. K and L were both singing solos in Adiemus but had missed lots of classes thanks to Kentwell, so this was a chance to polish what they were singing. J, despite having missed the whole term, was playing trombone in the orchestra too – all good sightreading practice πŸ˜‰ The concert followed and was really very good. I think this will be the last music school think for K and L (assuming we find something for them to move on to) which is sad, really; they’ve got so much out of it over the years and it’s been lovely to see it grow around them. Hopefully A will still go, though, so it’s not really goodbye yet.

Party in the FIeld

I spent some chunks of Friday holed away with a laptop and an order of service, hammering a sermon into shape ready for preaching on Sunday, but as far as I could tell all the children were busy having a lovely time and Bob was getting some chatting and cake-eating done πŸ™‚
L and especially 6 enjoyed spending time with M and doing horsey things, while K noodled on a piano which wasn’t as sad as ours and played with J quite happily. It was lovely to have some quite settling in time, with small numbers of friends to ourselves before things expanded as other families arrived – not that it isn’t lovely to be part of a big group too, but somehow I think the transition is easier when you’re there at the beginning, and for A especially (and me too, if I’m honest) a big group all at once can be a bit overwhelming; easier to adjust in incremental stages πŸ˜‰
J’s band stuff apparently went well, if rather damply (lots of videos and photos on the National Methodist Youth Brass Band facebook page) and we had occasional texts from him to reassure us that he was still alive – and awake despite late nights!
Unfortunately we had to leave just as the party really started to get going, managing to stay until all but one family had arrived, but then needing to get home in time for last minute service arrangements meant our departure could not be delayed any longer, so we missed seeing Jax and co πŸ™ Just as well we had gone then, though, as it turned out, since my emails about arrangements had gone astray and the church steward was starting to worry and work out alternatives in case I was unable to make it.
We left J up in Uppermill, where he was also to be involved in leading worship, so our Sunday turned out to be a day of relying on other people to shuttle the children from one place to another for us! We dropped all four younger ones with choir friends, who took L and 6 to Eucharist, collected them and took A to choir, collected her and fed all four, handed the girls over to us (A complete with bowl of ice-cream to finish in the car) so we could get A to gym and topped off their kindness by taking K and his cello to NCO rehearsal so all we needed to do was collect them later. Meanwhile other friends were collecting J from band, taking him back to the party and keeping him overnight ready to be returned to us on Monday. All Bob and I had to do was make our way to church for the service, which felt very odd sans enfants!

December – nearly Christmas…

I think we were just about to leave for Okehampton when I stopped πŸ˜‰

So, a fairly easy drive across rather too much country to get there and we arrived and unloaded just about in daylight, which made things easier. The boys enjoyed using the cage to carry bags from the car and then it was just a question of lugging everything upstairs and we were done. The usual socialising, dishwasher loading and unloading, kitchen helping and so forth kept me busy while the children for the most part threw themselves into the melee and just resurfaced for meals and occasional reassurance. A was a bit clingy at times and not quite certain of so many people, but still spent a fair bit of time pottering. We managed a bit of music practice most days and read Story of the World as bedtime stories, if only so that we had caught up in time for the Historyetc morning, which involved purple dyed linen squares, fimo charm making, glass bead stringing and a plague of frogs to help us remember Phoenicians, Egyptians and the Exodus. We had a trip out to take part in a nativity at Pennywell which was absolutely freezing (when we were asked to keep the barn door shut so as not to let the heat out I was hard put to it not to ask “What heat?”) but a lovely experience nevertheless. J, K and L enjoyed meeting the animals beforehand, especially J who liked cuddling the ducks, but A was so cold that she just wanted to huddle up under my coat. The Santa visit was a little disappointing, as both boys got the same gift, which didn’t really suit either of them, but L was happy enough with hers (and even happier to swap it for a secret diary) and A is still carrying her teddy around with her πŸ™‚ Warming up with tea/mulled wine and mince pies afterwards was very pleasant, but we somehow managed to miss the fact that almost everybody else was going to a glass/marble museum on the way back πŸ™ Still, getting back early meant that we were able to make a start on tea prep and fortunately the children didn’t notice that they had missed out, or if they noticed, didn’t make a fuss. L very much enjoyed taking part in a play with some of the older girls, despite missing some of the rehearsals because of her mean mother making her go to bed πŸ˜‰ and the boys enjoyed table tennis and pool (?) as well as the inevitable DS-ing. Oh, and there were a couple of walks as well, which I missed because of being busy in the kitchen for one and with a grumpy Anna for the other, but J did both and K and L the longer, colder one (once L had been coaxed into putting on more clothes!). There was snow on Christmas Day, which was excellent timing, and a lovely Christmas dinner, lots of carols and presents… just how Christmas should be πŸ˜‰

On the way back from Okehampton we decided that it was a shame to have gone so far and be so near to Stonehenge without going to see it, so we detoured from our planned route to go that way, stopping for Daktarin for L’s sore mouth on the way (thanks Jan!). It was the first time any of us had been there and it was quite magical in the snow, but incredibly cold! The car park was closed because of ice, so we had to park further down the road and walk back, slipping and sliding and hoping it would be worth it. It was. We borrowed audio tour sets, but mine wasn’t working (too cold for the batteries, the chap said, and I certainly had to work on warming up my camera batteries to get that working) so the children had to give me edited highlights from theirs. We didn’t hang about, but took lots of pictures and listened to the tour as we were walking there and back rather than in the right places, then lingered in the gift shop, sorely tempted by the snowglobes as that was how we had seen it ourselves. We resisted, but bought a little model to make up ourselves πŸ™‚ Unfortunately the cafe wasn’t open so no nice warming drinks, but we were happy anyway.

Got back late but not stupidly late and the children were all able to surface in time for the last music school of the year. They’ve really enjoyed SMS and we’re definitely signed up for another term, but the more I hear about our nearest town music school the more I wonder if it might be better overall for us – rather more expensive but would include instrument tuition as well, plus it’s for children and adults = more expense again, but I’d love to learn an instrument alongside the children, and it would be good for Bob to pick up guitar again, I think, if that’s an option. We need to find out if their sessions include choir/singing, though, as that’s what the children get most out of at SMS and I wouldn’t want to take that away from them. Girls had ballet, then we all thought about unpacking…

On Sunday 5th December L’s godmother came to visit, bringing gifts πŸ™‚ The children always love it when Michelle comes, because she has so much time for them, but we managed a bit of a grown-up chat too (we were at school together so go back a long way) and a generally very pleasant afternoon, which we followed up by spending most of Monday with Michelle again, but at Emma’s house (J’s godmother and another old schoolfriend) – a very nice way to pass a few hours, even if meeting Emma’s gorgeous puppy did give the children ideas… πŸ˜‰ Monday evening was judo, although iirc L was feeling too tired so gave it a miss. On Tuesday we went over to Gina’s so that J could have a last piano lesson before his exam, but at least didn’t have to go at stupid o’clock for strings group as that had finished for the term, then on to Djembe, with a horribly screechy car which Chris was able to reassure me was almost certainly not as bad as it sounded (and the garage managed to fix it very quickly the next day as it was in fact caused by a loose bolt – phew!). We swapped K, who was getting into the drumming, for SB, who was finding it hard on her delicate nerve endings (nasty toothy accident at the end of Okehampton), when we left early to go to violin, so SB and J did non-verbal reasoning tests while L and A did violin πŸ™‚ Rainbows Christmas party for L but no gym for the boys thanks to term ending in November!

Wednesday was a Latinetc day, rather a hectic one as we had puddlechicks without Merry and HH had to go out for part of it too. Lots of Skoldo French happened, and some GP French and I think both kinds of Latin, lots of fimo modelling – making the beginnings of a periodic table in fimo and then using remnants to make letter discs and interesting other little projects πŸ™‚ Baked potatoes for lunch seemed to work, but it was logistically interesting for first go with fewer adults than usual to organise serving up, as Zoe had to dash off to look after dog things, so it was just Gina and me with all the children at that point! K had ‘cello and then his Cubs Christmas party but J was feeling a bit tired and under the weather so missed his Scouts one (plus the Scouts calendar suggested it was next week, so we thought it was a normal meeting until too late πŸ™ ).

Thursday 9th December was Tots, as ever, then CHEF sports for the boys and then J’s piano exam, which he was very nervous about, particularly scales… Dashed back to teach, made easier by exams moving forward since there was a gap before our time πŸ™‚ and then enjoyed a nice gentle Friday – much-needed!

The girls had their last ballet lessons of term on Saturday, and Sunday was more dancing, with folk dancing for all the children in the afternoon. We left Bob at home to do jobs πŸ˜‰ A nice quiet couple of days at home, doing gentle HE, music practices and lots of Christmas cooking and crafts, making chocolates and so on, and then we were off to London on Wed 15th (sadly missing a Christmas crafts Historyetc) to see Father Christmas at the Harrod’s Grotto. This is something I’ve been trying to book for literally years, but each time I only think of it too late for the ridiculously early time the tickets go up and miss all the slots. This year I finally managed it, and booked extra so others could join us πŸ˜‰ We went in on the train and arrived with plenty of time to look round the toy dept. first, admiring all the displays and enjoying a magic show, then met up with Gina, Dave, J, E and S to go and join the queue… Considering it was free (apart from a Β£5 booking fee, which gets loaded onto a loyalty card for use elsewhere in the shop) it wasn’t bad, although the queue was quite long enough and the Santa we saw (I think they have several working at once, behind carefully guarded doors so you only ever see your own one) was jovial but slightly vague. The children were delighted with their outsize chocolate coins and pleased enough to get a book (until they realised they all had exactly the same book as each other!) and to pose for a photo (which we declined to buy; it was nice but not *that* nice!) and we were not rushed at all, so they all had a good chat. Afterwards the children were given certificates making them honorary fairies or pirates, signed by Mrs Christmas and Tinkerbell – they could have been signed by Peter Pan, but we didn’t wait to see him; the toy dept. beckoned again. We had packed lunch with us, but the Biffs didn’t, so we set off for a museum where they could buy lunch and we could eat ours. The V&A came up first, so they stopped there, but after a quick scoot round we went on to the Science Museum, since we had more time to spare than they did and there are better places to sit and eat your own food there. We then spent several hours in the Launchpad, including a talk about rockets, which found K and J dressed up in nose cone (K) and fiery helmet (J) sitting on wheeled chairs to demonstrate Newton’s second law of motion, and then L trying to push a heavy body (large man on wheeled chair) and then travelling at great speed halfway across the room when he took his turn to push her πŸ˜† Once we were in danger of being thrown out (or locked in) we went back to Harrods to find a nice way of spending our Β£5, and of course ended up spending rather more πŸ˜† The children begged for one of the magic tricks we had seen demonstrated (J has been practising and is now quite proficient at making lights appear from nowhere, pass through people’s heads and so on πŸ˜€ ) and we got a Christmas pudding for FIL, thus resurrecting an old family tradition.

Thursday was to have been a very difficult day, with Tots in the morning and then an afternoon of rushing around between violin stuff for L and tuition stuff for me, but fortunately my tutee cancelled (unfortunately for her it was because of a nasty accident at school, but it made my life easier at least) so at least we only had to be in one place at a time rather than two. It looked as though we were going to have some snow at last, but it stopped at about 1/2cm, not really enough to be any use to anybody! L played a duet with her teacher (Jingle Bells – nothing fancy!) and was one of the first to play because it was done in age order. She should have been first (since A was not playing) but there was somebody who had to leave early and so went before her – I think she was relieved! After the violin pieces Kate, their SMS singing teacher and A’s beloved Baby Music teacher, did some singing and games with the children while the adults got first go at the party food and a much needed cup of tea πŸ˜‰ and then I left them to it, as Bob had arrived by now, and dashed off to teach my A-Level retake student – who gave me a lovely box of chocolates for Christmas πŸ™‚

Quiet Friday, doing not much, but with friends round πŸ™‚ and then Saturday was Crisp Packet Fireworks, which was fab (we bought both the books!) and an extra child coming home with us, as S came for his long-promised sleepover. We returned him on Sunday, after the christingle service at our old church, and then were unexpectedly invited to lunch with A’s godparents (it’s been a godparenty kind of month!) which was lovely. On Monday we had been invited to a children’s social, but as it turned out Bob’s car wouldn’t start so he had to take mine and that left us with a quiet day at home, putting up the tree and decorations and then livened up at the end with “ice” skating in the annual town get-together. I missed it to be at home for a tutee who didn’t turn up (grr) but the children and Bob had a good time, at least. On Tuesday Bob still had no car so we performed some complicated vehicular manoeuvres to enable us to go and play/collect a bike and Bob to work (plan had been for him to work form home, but poorly work laptop knocked that one on the head – one of those weeks!) and then Wed and Thurs we stayed at home, which was rather nice actually. On Friday Bob’s parents, sister and nephews came across from Colchester for lunch and we had a very convivial few hours, then went to a family communion (kind of children’s midnight mass, at 7pm) came back and read lots of Jotham’s Journey, found socks to put up for those who couldn’t find their stockings (actually socks are far easier, especially when it’s one of a pair πŸ˜‰ ) and left out three mince pies, some alcohol and a few carrots, as per Harrod’s Father Christmas’ instructions.

SATS and secret agents

This has been a catching up kind of week so far. J tried an English SATs paper, to see how it went – reading first of all. He didn’t do as well as I’d hoped (level 4A, so fine for age) but we realised when we went through it together that it was largely because it was the first time he had done anything like that and there were several questions that he had answered but not quite in the right way. It was clear that he had understood exactly what he was reading, but he didn’t get the marks because the mark scheme requires you to answer in just the right way. A little exam technique practice wouldn’t go amiss, I think πŸ˜‰ He has had a similar problem with the short writing paper – he produced a rather lovely piece of descriptive writing but didn’t stick to the brief, so much of it doesn’t count πŸ™ (and we *still* need to work on consistently using capital letters!) – and the first Science paper – with a couple of marks lost because he was (correctly) answering a far harder question than they were asking! Having gone over those, I’m hoping he’ll tackle the remaining papers next week and try to put into practice the things we’ve talked about when it comes to answering questions πŸ˜†

L, watching J do papers, wanted to try too, so we had a look at a Maths Level 2 paper from 2004. Despite occasional tears and tantrums *sigh* she got through it and scored highly enough to be worth looking at Level 3 when I can summon up the courage πŸ˜† We might try some English papers too, I think, and maybe get K to do some too, although I’m not sure whether to jump him up, drop him down or attempt to find something aimed specifically at his age. Perhaps we’ll start with the Level 3 stuff to build up his confidence and then move up from there…

We also spent a couple of happy hours doing a Sculpey kit which worked really well – there were a number of different things to make, so each child could choose what they wanted to make. After we’d baked them they spent another couple of hours happily playing tea shops with the results πŸ™‚ Double the fun – thanks Merry πŸ˜€

Wednesday was Latinetc, but a rather depleted one, with no Beans and no Puddlechicks. We did have the pleasure of Zoe and her girls, though, and a last session with Michelle and C for a while (although you’re always welcome to come along anyway, Michelle πŸ˜‰ ). No science, but we managed some French (pencil case vocab game – rather wild but fun!) and another quick whisk through Minimus chapter one for S and P’s benefit, followed by some chatting about Roman dinner parties and rich and poor households. I rather like doing half Latin and half Classics πŸ™‚ J and J did some GP Latin too, while the others played on the field. Some Music Theory happened, I think, and some recordering, and we all ate cake (J wanted to make one for C, including a little Eiffel Tower on the top, which he made very painstakingly, and occasionally painfully, out of cocktail sticks, only to find the craft sticks a few minutes after he had finished. Ah well.) and yummy crumble, which E assured me had been made by Gina “all by herself” πŸ˜€ Zoe had brought along lovely craft idea, which all the children managed to do, some with more help than others, making little felt brooches (or stuffed toys) with buttons and beads sewn on for decoration. They were all very pleased with their efforts, I think, and it worked well because the shapes could be pre-cut and then as many or as few buttons added as child (or parent) had patience to sew πŸ™‚ Gina’s glue came in useful too, for those who were tired of stitching πŸ˜‰

Today we went to a lovely birthday party, on the theme of Secret Agents, so the children spent yesterday tea-time coming up with ideas for different kinds of agents they could be. In the end, L opted for taking an inflatable globe with her, to be a secret travel agent (sidling up to people and saying “Psst, wanna buy a holiday?) while K toyed with the idea of taking lots of pictures of houses with him to hide under a raincoat, but decided instead to dress in black and take a newspaper with eyeholes. A thought this was such a good idea she had to do it too πŸ™‚ The party hostess had had the happy thought of providing eyeliner pencils and a mirror so that they could draw themselves false moustaches (there was even a sheet of different moustache types to try) and that was great hit with all the children πŸ™‚ They also had secret phones with code words to work out in order to get their cake. The weather was kind to us, so lots of playing in the garden ensued (and the hosts do have a wonderful garden for playing in!) while A got to do lots of bouncing on the trampoline because it had been reserved for the three littlest guests – a lovely idea, thank you Emily πŸ™‚

Dashing through the holidays!

Time seems to be rushing past again, with the weeks galloping by…

The “holidays” began with a First Aid course for K and L on 23rd July, while A and I popped over to visit friends in the same town. J decided to stay at home, which was fine since Bob was working from home that day anyway. The course was done by Guardian and the woman teaching was excellent; both K and L came out having had a fantastic time and feeling confident that they would be able to deal sensibly with a minor emergency and to get help for a major one. We came home and packed for K’s Cub camp, then Bob took him there (he and J had been there the evening before, helping to put up tents ready for the camp) after tea. The rest of us went to the sports and arts festival day, as already blogged.

A week of Oliver! workshops for J, K and L followed, 9 – 1 each day, culminating in a performance on the Friday. Apparently it was great fun – they certainly did well to produce a very watchable mini-show (condensed to just under 30 minutes) by the end of the week, and they all worked very hard learning words, choreography and songs, some of which (mostly dances) were cut from the performance because there was an awful lot for such young children to learn (they ranged from 3 to 10, with J being the second oldest child there, I think) – it was originally planned to be 40 minutes long. All of the children (including A, who was quite put out at not doing the workshops) now want to join the drama school run by the same woman who did the workshops (although it would actually be different teachers on the day we could make) but that means we will need to look at the time and money budgets and see what goes and whether they really want it that badly… I feel we are a little overstretched as it is! For now, we have promised that they can definitely do another holiday workshop πŸ˜‰

Unfortunately only A and I were able to get to the performance, which both Bob and the children were rather sad about, so we decided it was a good time to buy the digital camcorder we have been humming and hah-ing over for a while – only a little Flip, but it did the job (and was on special offer in Tesco’s, handily enough).

Thursday 29th July found us hosting a church coffee evening, which meant much tidying and not a little baking in the days leading up to it, as well as work on Oliver! It went well, I think – and Β£88 was raised, so worth the effort πŸ™‚
Also that week we spent much of an afternoon looking at pictures by Kandinsky and then first having a go at making our own concentric circles and then choosing a favourite image or style to imitate (thanks to Merry and Zoe for the idea). K and L in particular were very taken by the apparently abstract pictures which on closer inspection were full of odd things, or impressions of odd things…

Then, of course, on Saturday it was the wonderful Beans party πŸ˜€ The boys went to Astronomy Club in the morning, while the girls and I did lots of cooking and a bit of costume finding to suit an Africa/safari/animals theme – it all became more and more vague as the children looked at random assorted ideas! In the end K dressed in green and went as a frog, L wore her silk wings and became a butterfly, A wrapped herself in a blue silk scarf and wore a matching elephant hat and J opted for his beloved Oliver! tee shirt. Having found the galabiyas Bob and I brought back from honeymoon in Egypt I was persuaded to wear one of those and only then remembered that Michelle was relying on me to act as translator and general persuader to C’s French family… Michelle was waiting for me as I walked in πŸ˜† but needn’t have worried; they were lovely πŸ˜€ The weather was cooperative, the company delightful, the children splashed and frolicked in paddling pools and round the garden and we all had a lovely time – so much so that we decided to ask if we could go back again the next day, bearing cinnamon rolls and cheese stars to ensure a good reception πŸ˜‰

There followed a week of swimming lessons for J, to help him catch up a little from having done next to no swimming whilst away. At his request we went for a pool a fair distance away, but small and friendly, and known to him through having done lessons there before. Since it was handy for Gina and co and J happened to be signed up to the same classes as E we managed to combine forces a couple of times, fitting in some piano, music theory, French, Latin and even science between us all over the course of a few days, as well as helping out with lifts while Gina’s car was being MOT’d. The week whizzed past, with all the things I had planned for afternoons being set aside in favour of bike riding in the field. J and K are now both quite happy on bikes, with L not far behind; she was cross at being left out so J sorted out a bike for her, pumping up tyres, checking for punctures, lowering the saddle and so on, then taught her to ride it!

On Sunday I was preaching, so Friday and Saturday were full of preparation for that. The boys both wanted to be involved in the service, so we practised readings together, but in the end they both decided that Sunday school, which they had been uncertain about in a strange church, looked too good to miss, so Bob and I reverted to Plan A and shared the readings out between us πŸ˜‰
By Monday we needed a little r and r, so that was earmarked as a bit of a catch-up day, but then a friend emailed and asked if I was able to sign passport applications, which I am, and if we were around to do it urgently, which we were, so it turned into a having friends round to play day…

Tuesday started with piano etc and went on to include singing folk songs at an old people’s home in the afternoon, which began with a little panic as the organiser was nowhere to be found and that left two adults with a vague idea of what we were supposed to be singing, based on a list of words and some hastily googled tunes, plus 5 children aged 10, 8, 6, 5 and 3 and one tiny baby, none of whom knew any of the songs securely. We had all been intending to rely on the organiser to lead the singing… What made the whole thing rather surreal was that the staff were certain she had signed in a few minutes before we had all got there, and so must be somewhere in the building, but they couldn’t find her anywhere. It was only when somebody asked if she might be sitting in her car for some reason and I said that she hadn’t got a car that we started to wonder – apparently the woman who had signed in had also put a car reg. Then we checked spelling and realised it wasn’t her at all, which at least solved the question of “How on earth have we managed to misplace an entire family in an old people’s home?” but still left us with the problem of “How on earth are we going to sing all these songs we don’t really know with no music and nobody to lead us?”!

We quickly went through the list of songs and poems and decided which ones we would have to omit (actually only about 3) and which we could struggle through, while the children agreed to read some of the poems, then the staff led us through to the lounge where lots of elderly residents were waiting to be entertained and more were being brought, very slowly, to join them. All of a sudden there was a bit of a commotion and the organising lady arrived – phew! – having decided to just pop home and change herself and her daughters because they had been soaked by the morning’s downpour. It didn’t seem to have occurred to her that arriving nearly 30 minutes late might have made us start to worry, but in fact we were so relieved to see her that we didn’t say a word other than “Thank goodness you’re here!” πŸ˜† In the end it was actually a very worthwhile afternoon, and one which I found quite enjoyable, although I fear the children had used up most of their patience in the 30 minute wait for organising lady to arrive and then the extra 15 minutes or so that it took for all the residents to be ready for us to start after that. They made a good stab of reading their poems, but gave up on the songs apart from the ones they already knew or the ones with lots of repeats of the chorus. I have to admit, there were an awful lot of words there! I think we’ll try to sign up for Christmas carols as well though πŸ™‚

Wednesday was Latinetc, which was to have been a normal morning session and than an arty afternoon session, planning for a nature walk and then some sketching. Unfortunately Zoe wasn’t able to come πŸ™ and the art was a little less focused than we had intended, but I think each child still had a go at something, including using Merry’s rather lovely gel pens. The chemistry session Helen did, trying to work out what the mystery substance was (found in the fire pit after use), went very well as far as I could see, and there was also music theory for middle/older ones, French for younger/middle ones (playing a game which should have used a tape but in the end just had to use me, as the tape player refused to work; it was probably better that way really, though), cello trios, rounders, lots of playing, blackberry picking and crumble making for very little ones and a quick dash through Minimus chapter one for all those on the Latin list, followed by looking at how Roman towns were designed (all on the same pattern) and then designing our own. It was lovely to be able to fit so much in, largely thanks to having the afternoon to spill over into – thanks all πŸ™‚

Gina’s J stayed over afterwards, which all the children were very happy about, but especially my J, and we gave him back to Gina the following day when we met at the Norris Museum for a garden art event. Having worried about the weather it actually cleared up just when we needed it to, but in fact we spent far more time indoors making 3D items for the collage they were preparing for the St Ives centenary (900 years!) and ended up with Gina and S outside, collecting children as they finished, while I stayed inside with artists until they were done. Luckily I had remembered the camera, so was able to take pictures of finished works as they went onto the collage (which is apparently to be displayed in the Free Church) – Gina’s J in particular spent a lot of time and effort making a rather lovely shop, while J made a swan (with help from Gina and S collecting feathers), K a boat, A a goldfish and L and E a collaborative sparkly fish for the collage and boat for S πŸ™‚

We didn’t actually see much of the museum itself, although it looked interesting enough to merit another trip, I think. It’s very small and a bit higgledy-piggledy, plus you never quite know what you will see, since they have enough collections for a display four times the size (it’s rather a pocket-sized museum πŸ™‚ ) so they alternate what goes out. One thing which caught our eyes though was a display of Roman remains from our town, including a skull from a burial site not far from our house and a stone from the old Roman wall which we didn’t even know had been there, but when we stopped to think about it with our Roman Town Planner hats on must have been, because all Roman towns had a wall round them! There was even a plan of the town as it was in Roman times and another showing how it is now, overlaid with the main features of the Roman town – fascinating stuff, especially as it built so serendipitously on what we had just been studying πŸ˜€ We were able to trace all the key features we had read about and see where they fitted in, and even to see how they might fit with the shape of the town now. When we first moved here I remember seeing posters for history tours we had just missed; I hope they repeat them some time soon…

Outside they were bug hunting, which J really enjoyed, especially once he found he had a talent for creeping up on creepy crawlies and catching them in his flask πŸ™‚ A and S made little bugs and K, L and E made dragonflies from pipe cleaners with oht wings – very simple but very effective. By now S was pretty much out of patience, so we let the real bugs go, took the model ones with us and went to find some lunch, somewhat overwhelming a little church cafe with requests for toast when they didn’t have enough sandwiches for all of us. A good cup of tea made up for a lot though, and then Gina and co had to go and the children and I hit the charity shops. Our mission was to find respectable jeans for Bob, so he doesn’t have to wear his old holey ones to work any more, which we did, but we also found a few tapes for the car (including a Joyce Grenfell “George, don’t do that” πŸ˜€ ) and a Cluedo game which J and K were instantly entranced by and have now taught L to play as well πŸ™‚ The afternoon ended with a cello lesson for K, to keep him going a bit over the long holidays.

On Friday we met up with J’s godparents and their family at Audley End, in some of the most horrendous weather so far this summer! We arrived in rain torrential enough to keep us all in the car for a bit before venturing out, and the day continued with alternating bright sunshine and thunderous showers. Undeterred we went to the stables and saw old fire engines, then met a couple of very nice retired horses, listened to some stories and tried on some hats. A trip to the toilets turned into an extended stay at the play area, with handy tables and umbrellas nearby meaning it was a good place to eat lunch as well, while the children ran off to play whenever the sun appeared and back under the umbrellas as soon as it rained. J was waiting for the Time Travellers event advertised for 1 o’clock – the execution of Charles 1 – but when he and I dashed over to see if it was on (earlier events having been rained off) we arrived to find them making the most of a few minutes of sunshine to do a musket drill. By the time we got back with the news we were soaked almost to the skin by another downpour – thank goodness for raincoats and trees with a high leaf index!

The house beckoned, we thought, and all made our way over there, but on the way the children and I decided to check out the Time Travellers one last time, and the promise of an assault course was just too tempting to pass up, so we went and got passports, picked up a Roundheads and Cavaliers treasure trail and decided to brave the showers and stay outside, while Paul, Carol and co went inside.

The assault course was as good as it had promised to be, involving teamwork and timing to carry a cauldron containing a “bomb” round the field, under and over various obstacles (with 2 team members carrying the cauldron and the rest wooden “muskets”; all to pass under/over each obstacle), plant the bomb outside a castle door and then race back again via the same obstacles – as it happened ours were joined by a blind girl, so their task demanded even more teamwork than usual, but they did well πŸ™‚ While they rested from their efforts one of the travellers showed them his musket and talked them through how it was put together, what each part did and how it worked, as well as what could go wrong. He was very good, letting the blind girl feel what he was talking about as he said it and then passing each part round so that the others could also feel it and see it close up. They were joined by quite a crowd in the course of his talk, including a slightly obnoxious young boy who kept coming up with silly suggestions and then insisting at great length that he was right. Again the chap dealt with it very well, eventually saying “That’s a good idea – why don’t you put it down in a letter and send it to me?” and then each time after that cutting him off with “Great! Put that in the letter as well!” so that he could get on with what he wanted to say. Looking at the musket led quite naturally to musket drill, with the blind girl next to L so that she could hold onto her shoulder and feel where to go. I was rather proud of K, who spotted that there would not be enough wooden muskets to get all the way to the end of the row (where the blind girl was) and so volunteered to use a stick instead, so that she could have a proper one πŸ™‚ They practised holding the musket and the match in different hands (a useful skill!) and then stepping forward to fire, and then finished with firing in a battery, with two rows so that the back row could be loading while the front row were firing and vice versa. By now it was chucking it down again, so the Time Travellers hid back in their tent and we took our completed treasure trail back to the desk to claim a prize – a packet of sweets for each child – I’d so much rather they’d had a pencil, but there!

We met up with Paul and Carol again and had a wander round the amazing kitchens while the weather outside did its worst. As it eased up a bit the children went outside to splash in puddles and dance with umbrellas and then, as soon as it was clear enough to walk through, we made our way back to the car park – of course by the time we got there it was brilliant sunshine again! – said goodbye to Carol, Paul, T and grandparents and made our way home just in time to avoid the worst of the traffic.

And so we come to this weekend, and the Plum Festival πŸ™‚ Yesterday we dropped Bob off at an orchard for a talk on growing top fruit without artificial chemicals and went on to talk to some beekeepers. The children all got to try some locally produced honey (so delicious we bought some) and we found out how to make polish from turps and beeswax (we bought some of that too), then J, K and L tried on some beekeeping equipment from different ages: a modern coat with hood and veil, an older hat with veil and a linen robe with woven basket face piece, a style which they think was first used thousands of years ago. We saw how a hive is put together and found out that there is a meeting at a park near us every Sunday which we could go to if we want to see the hives being opened up and inspected, and if we ask there is a good chance that the children could have a go at handling the bees themselves. Since J has been keen for ages to keep bees this might be a good opportunity for him to look into how feasible that really is πŸ™‚

In the next room we were able to admire some pictures by local artists and to try some different varieties of plums and apples, as well as some apricot yum yum – sort of set fruit jelly. Then we wandered into the graveyard at the back of the church to find out where the boys’ workshop was to be in the afternoon, found a nice bench and had our lunch. Bob arrived in time to take over the children so that I could dash to the orchard for a walk and talk on bees, which was fascinating (must make notes while it’s fresh in my mind, but not now, I fear) while the boys did an Opal workshop on lichen and moss and Bob and the girls explored a little more, including trying some delicious icecream. We bought lots of fruit (plums and apples) then came home for a quick tea and early night for the children and some plum and rosewater compote making for me.

Today the plum festival continued, although we set off later than planned because the boys felt the urge to go out and look for samples of mosses and lichen to examine first. We still managed to fit in a trip to a plum specialist to find out about the plums in the field behind our house (cherry plums, edible but not necessarily very exciting, probably there before the field was turned into a playing field, as they used to be planted as a screening hedge round orchards), a quick peek in passing at the self-sufficiency lady with her ducks and chickens (she was too busy to be worth waiting for, we decided), a play in a rather nice old-fashioned playground, ice cream for the boys (who missed out yesterday), trying and then buying some freshly pressed apple juice and chatting to a lady about her farm and the various farmers’ markets in the area. Then we moved on to screenprinting some bags, which was excellent fun, starting with designing an inner section to fit inside an already made-up outer section, then putting the design together, adding the ink (with help from the artist in charge of the activity) and pressing it through the screen to make the print. It was so cool that I had to do one too!

We left the bags to dry while we went on to our last stop of the day, an orchard where they were offering sensory tours for the children. We began with a biodiversity game, each being given a card with a plant, insect or animal on it, then using wool to make links between us. Then we walked on and looked at the textures of the trees, bark, trunks, branches, leaves etc and did some rubbings to see how they varied. We sat and listened for a few minutes and drew a sound map of what we could hear and where it was in relation to us. Then we did some tasting of different types of plums, culminating in a blindfolded tasting to see if we could identify which ones they were of the ones we had tried. By the end we knew which ones we wanted to buy πŸ˜‰

The orchard tour ended just in time for story telling (it had to, as it was the same person doing both!) and we sat on blankets and listened to some stories we already knew (Each, peach, pear, plum, for example) and a few we didn’t (including the Frangipani Fairies, which I need to look out for, I think) while Bob nipped back to collect the bags, which were by now just about dry. (We still need to iron them to set the colours.) The children still wanted to do some picking, so we collected a punnet and set off round the orchard in search of apples ripe enough to be worth picking (to please L, who doesn’t like plums) and all the kinds of plums we had most liked on the tour. Despite worrying about how full our punnet was it didn’t come to much really πŸ™‚ I will have some work to do tomorrow to preserve all the ones we won’t manage to eat fresh though!