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 😉

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 £88 was raised, so worth the effort 🙂
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 😀 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 😆 but needn’t have worried; they were lovely 😀 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 😉

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 😉
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!” 😆 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 🙂

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 🙁 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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂 ) 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 😀 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 🙂 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” 😀 ) and a Cluedo game which J and K were instantly entranced by and have now taught L to play as well 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂

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 😉

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 🙂 I will have some work to do tomorrow to preserve all the ones we won’t manage to eat fresh though!

Do I cut the red wire or the blue wire, Lassie?

Phew! I’ve now migrated 2 blogs (this one and a pretty dead one) to WordPress 2.6.1. Hooray! It was a much bigger job than usual because my run-by-friends-of-a-friend-in-their-spare-time ISP hadn’t upgraded the MySQL database software beyond version 3.23! I had done all the steps in the WordPress upgrade instructions and clicked on the upgrade database link, and then got the error: WordPress 2.6.1 needs MySQL 4.0.0. :wall: To give them their due, they set up a MySQL 5.0 database for me very quickly. But that was an empty database, so I had to schlep all the data from the old database to the new one, without any nice tools like phpMyAdmin 🙄 Oh, and I couldn’t do it all in one go because I got weird out-of-space messages.

Because I exhibit the weird obsessive laziness of the geek, I had to write some scripts to save time (I will only actually save time if I remember to run them each time I upgrade), and because I’m rusty I had to look up shell scripting and some MySQL. (Yeah, really quick. The documentation was good, but I was v. rusty.)

Anyway, enough rambling. Katy took the children off to this Celtic place today, and they all came back tired but happy. (K and L came back with painted faces too – K’s was excellent.) I haven’t bothered to upload photos yet, but will in the next day or so.

Site problems

Sorry if you’ve been having trouble or strange error messages looking at the site in the last week or so. I’m not sure what the problem was, but my blog was hogging the database shared with other people on the same server and so the administrator clobbered the blog until I could sort it out.

The only thing I could think of doing was upgrading to the most recent versions of WordPress and Spam Karma I could – please let me know if it goes wobbly for you, and sorry again if it’s been a pain.

Pimp my blog

Inspired by the selection of smilies over at Making it Up, I’ve expanded the range of smilies on this blog (by pinching theirs). So, if you’ve been frustrated that you couldn’t put a little waving person or a Pacman drinking a pint of Guinness to express yourself properly, your day is a little nicer.

In case you’re interested (and you’re able to fiddle about the innards of your blog, and your blog is powered by WordPress) here’s how to do it.

  1. First, catch your smilies. Do this by visiting them in your browser and doing Save Image As, which is probably on the menu you get when you right-click. Save them to your hard disk.
  2. Put them onto the computer that hosts your blog, into the wp-includes/images/smilies folder, where you’ll already have things like icon_eek.gif.
  3. Take a copy of wp-includes/vars.php, just in case things go pear-shaped.
  4. Edit vars.php. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see an obvious list that shows smilies or magic text going to a .gif file. Add to this list so that new magic text goes to the new .gif files.
  5. Test it out in a new post. If you’re happy you can get rid of the back-up of vars.php.
  6. Smilie-tastic! :clap:

Moving blog home

I know, I know, I can’t stop fiddling. The blog is now in its permanent home, with hopefully everything working as it did before. If you notice anything wrong or broken I’d be grateful if you let me know. What I thought would be a 5 minute job ended up taking 2 and a half hours, and involved minor brain surgery on the WordPress database tables – grrr… MySQL auto-commit grrr… (Gory details available only on request.) I now have a better idea of what to do if I ever have to do this kind of thing again, and it showed how nicely put together WordPress is internally – all this for free 🙂 !

Two steps forward and one step back

The good news is that you end up one step further forward than you started, so you have to take heart in that. Bit of a theme for yesterday and today:

  • Yesterday J and I started catching up with the World Cup scores and putting them on our wall chart. Then by the power of maths we started to work out who had qualified from the group stages (yes, we were behind). This went really well, although we ran out of time after two groups. I think that J got a lot out of it as he saw there was a point to doing the sums. Tonight when I tried to do a bit more he was too tired after the afternoon’s bouncing, so we managed one more group with some effort. If I take a step back from the extra effort required, he’s still done maths more willingly than he has for a while.

  • After Jax and Kath pointed out Sage to me, I switched to it rather than using Bloglines to keep track of my RSS feeds. I love the auto-discovery thing, and the fact that it just works. One thing I miss from Bloglines is being able to tell it to hide feeds with nothing new on them.

  • The final forward/back (then forward again) was with the site. Ho hum. I expect I’ll get it just so eventually. I’d found out what the real problem was – when you turn on nice permalinks in WordPress (that don’t have question marks and random numbers in) WordPress updates the .htaccess files behind your site for you to tell Apache (the web server) to use one of its groovy features (mod_rewrite) to turn ugly permalinks into spiffy ones. Strangely it assumes that part of the turn-on-grooviness instructions are already there and doesn’t bother adding them.

    If you have an incomplete set of instructions Apache gets confused and your site disappears. Having sussed all this out, I fiddled with the site this morning before work and turned it all on and checked I could see the site. Hurrah! Nice permalinks! When I came to blog at lunchtime I discovered I couldn’t – same problem as before, but this time limited to just the WordPress admin stuff. I then realised that the admin stuff lives in its own directory on the server, which has its own .htaccess file, and I hadn’t added the missing bit of the instruction to that one (just to the main one for people reading the blog). I couldn’t do anything about it as I can only fettle at home. I’ve now fixed it all, and it’s all lovely and shiny, at least until I try to do the next bit of cleverness.

Site problems

Sorry if you’ve been unable to look at the site recently – probably just yesterday. The short version is: I clicked the wrong button and fouled things up. (Long version available on request.) Thanks to help from my ISP I’ve got it fixed at least temporarily. I’m still not sure that the RSS feed is working OK though – I use bloglines to keep on top of blogs I read and it has never told me about things we’ve posted. Has RSS worked / not worked for you?

An unrelated bit of good news: yesterday Katy bought me a Bagpuss video that includes the episode with the machine that makes chocolate biscuits out of butter beans and breadcrumbs. 🙂 My favourite! Professor Yaffle as hard-charging investigative journalist. The mice’s ruse is exposed!

Hello world!

We have finally got around to sorting out a blog, which will be about all sorts of things, but mostly family life, home education and so on. I don’t know how often it will be updated, and how long we’ll keep this up – I haven’t managed to keep other blogs particularly alive.

If you don’t have the password for any password-protected posts please send one or other of us an email.