Where does the time go?

Actually, looking at the calendar, it’s not been as long since my last post as I had feared. This is almost regular blogging 😉 Nonetheless this will be a quick catch-up, not least because I have a borderline migraine…

The main focus last week was getting the first three activities for the Shakespeare laptops completed: a timeline, a biography and the outline of a vocabulary section. All five children now have that done ready for next WedEd when we’ll move on to looking at the context of Shakespeare’s plays and then to looking at some of the plays themselves. H, J, K and L have also all been working through an HTML 101 course online, with a view to moving on to doing more programming if they wish to, once they’ve finished that course. Music practices are getting back on track too, after a bit of a hiatus over the summer, and H is getting good value from his monthly pass by fitting in as many swims as he can.

Monday was the first HE gym session this academic year. H, K, L and A all took part, while J opted for IGCSE English work(if he’s to take it this year then he needs to cover pretty much all the work before he goes to Germany, which is quite a tall order) and I had a lovely chat with Merry 🙂 The coaches said that next time they’ll know to expect older boys and will have some equipment and ideas ready for them, rather than having to make it up on the spot. That won’t be for a couple of weeks (gym is on but we’ll be elsewhere) but should make the sessions well worthwhile 🙂

On Tuesday A had an appointment for a filling 🙁 The dentist again told me off and said it must be diet and I again pointed out that A’s diet is the same as the boys’ (who have no fillings), that we very rarely have fizzy drinks, fruit juice or sweets, that she cleans her teeth well (he has even commented on how clean her teeth are) and doesn’t eat between meals any more (since that was the only area we could see which could be improved). In the end he conceded that it probably wasn’t a problem with diet after all and has prescribed her a mouthwash to try, in hopes that it might help to protect her teeth a little more.
In the evening L had her first fencing session, having been talent-scouted from the beginner sessions we did over the summer 😉 This meant that I had to get J and H to take A to Brownies, since the timings exactly clashed. L loved it and is keen to go back, so I fear we may have found yet another way to use up time and money! We’ll give it a term, and then maybe a year, and then see where we’re at.

Wednesday started early for me, driving over to my mentor’s house to get a lift to Usborne Head Office for training. We had a fabulous day, including meeting various HO staff, getting our hands on some as-yet-unavailable books (there are some corkers coming up!) and gaining lots of motivation. I now have a 90 day plan and I’m not afraid to use it 😉
Meanwhile Bob worked from home while the children educated themselves (I think most of what they did was educational…)

We had planned to get to the HE multisport we don’t usually go to, to see if it was something we wanted to do this term, but although everybody else was up and working at a reasonable time H remained sound asleep until noon and none of us had the heart to wake him, so we missed it! Instead we did lots of concentrated work to make up for lost time 😉 Then in the evening A had gym, I cooked a quick tea, we scooped her up and headed off to band. K is starting on euphonium, as a stepping stone to tuba, so he joined H in his lesson while the others were in junior band. there was no senior band, as they had a gig, so J didn’t need to stay.

Cello first thing on Friday for A and K – Gill started them both on pieces for their next grades (7 for K, 2 for A) so they’ve plenty to get on with in practices 😉 We delivered an Usborne book on the way back, fortunately as it happens, since the detour that involved took us away from our usual route which was at a standstill due to an accident. Bob came home at lunchtime and worked from home for the afternoon so as to be ready to take the boys to London for an evening of science-based stand-up. A last minute change of plan on discovering that a) my sister was in London for the evening and b) K would still be needed in Fri choir and Thurs choir discontinued meant that his ticket went to her and K came with us to choir, via L’s violin lesson.

No chance to sleep in on Saturday! The girls had music school, H and J their first day of volunteering at the cafe, Bob and K were covering an Usborne event for me and I was sorting out and adapting Tudor clothes for the girls and me to be visitors at a heritage event featuring a visit from the Lord Protector himself, Oliver Cromwell! That’s how we spent the afternoon, giving out biscott and little cups of that new-fangled spiced drink chocolate, collecting in donations and playing with little R, who was finding his feet but not always reliably, so clung to fingers in a very endearing way, then had to be rescued from unexpected bicycles!

Chemistry, lapbooks, earthquakes, fancy dress and more

First Wednesday of the month = WedEd, where it was especially nice to find that it was pretty much a full house 🙂
One side effect of this was a slow start as much chatting happened, but we still fitted in Chemistry, Maths, a few games (mostly Munchkin, I believe) and the first stage of setting up Shakespeare lapbooks, including a quick run-through of key events in Shakespeare’s life, as well as few other bits and pieces around the edges. No choir yet meant that we could stay a little longer than we usually can in term time, so we were late home for a very quick tea!

Thursday started early, so that we could drive to Leyton for a Geography workshop called Restless Earth. Since it was aimed at GCSE level this was just for the boys. They had to work as part of a team, each taking on a different role and using their skills and knowledge to make plans and draw maps to help deal with disaster scenarios involving earthquakes such as that in Japan in 2011. Apparently it was good, useful, interesting and worth the early start and fairly long journey – you can’t ask for much more 😉 While they were busy the girls and I wandered along the High Road investigating the shops. A bought herself a new scooter, since she is now too big for her Mini Micro but doesn’t like L’s scooter at all. This one has two wheels at the back so is more stable than a simple two-wheeled one, although not as easy to use as the mini micro. Hopefully it’ll keep her happy for a bit but not be so good that she continues to delay learning to ride a bike – she’s still adamant at the moment that she doesn’t want to! If all else fails, we may tackle this when we next go to Centerparcs and have safe roads to start her on again.
We got back in good time for some work to happen, A to get to gym and the rest of us to grab dinner, instruments and music and head out to band, scooping A up on the way. H’s teacher says he’s doing well on baritone – having heard him practising from time to time I was glad this is making a difference 🙂 J was asked to stay and play tuba in the senior band from now on, since they are desperate for more bass and are hoping to train him up in time for competitions next year 🙂

Friday was a relaxed day, with a list of suggested HE tasks on the board for everyone to work through at their own pace, with breaks when they felt they needed them. If that system works then we’ll use it for all our at-home days. If not then we’ll rethink. As ever HE is a work in progress! H went swimming again in the evening, and managed to join in with the club training session, which apparently is quiet enough on Fridays that he should usually be able to join in – an unexpected bonus 😀

Music school hasn’t started yet and K has been feeling distinctly short of time with his friend A, so when A’s mum offered to bring Z here to play with our A and take K away to play with her A it made all four of them very happy. K went off to play computer games and enjoy bonding with his friend again after six months away, while Z and A helped me do some cooking ready for the Beans’ party in the afternoon. We left J and H to sleep in, then H helped a bit, worked a bit and mooched a bit while J got the laptop as sorted as he could for the Sunday service. K was returned to us and Z collected in good time for collecting L from gym, but getting everybody else ready proved more difficult, as costumes were donned, discarded and altered (the party theme was Rebels). Finally everyone was happy, the food and drink contributions were safely in the car and we were off, via the gym, to the Beans’.

The weather was not as good as it might have been, so only the hardiest souls were swimming, but there was still plenty of fun to be had, playing games, chatting, eating and (re)connecting with friends. We stayed rather later than we should have done, really, given that J still had laptop things to finish (songs needed adding which weren’t sent until early Sunday morning!) – he ended up having to get up early to do it before the service, which was a struggle for a tired teen! It was a lovely evening, though, and worth a bit of tiredness the next day – thank you to all concerned and especially to the Beans 🙂

Today J managed to get up for church but I left the others to sleep, as they were dead to the world. Just as we were about to leave, A appeared, very keen to come along so she could see her friends, so we waited for her to grab some breakfast and throw on some clothes. Fortunately we were still early enough for J to iron out some last-minute issues – although were were still a few hiccups, mostly due to miscommunications. All good learning experiences, but stressful for him at the time.
We got home to find H mowing the lawn, a task which he says he enjoys a lot and would like to take on regularly while he’s here 🙂 A wanted to do some baking so we started some bread off and H came to help with that too. We made an enriched dough, for which he did most of the kneading, then rolled it up with cinnamon, butter and sugar to make cinnamon swirls – almost like Chelsea buns, but a little less sticky. While it was proving A and H stoned and chopped some plums then picked some apples from the garden to stew with them. H went off to research some more for his Shakespeare project and A and I made crumble, then L asked to cook too so she made a sosmix/falafel mix plait, which turned out very nicely. We had a high tea whilst watching a programme about what’s under the ground in Britain (secret fuel lines, the Underground, machines building the new Cross rail, supports for the Firth bridges, a canal tunnel through the Pennines, a water-powered electricity storage facility and more, it seems 😉 ) and then the girls went to bed while the boys all enjoyed a little free time on laptops.


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.

Swimming, Playing and SuperMario

I have been worrying for a while about A’s inability to swim and how impossible it has been to fit swimming lessons back into our weekly schedule for her (or the others, who can swim but don’t get much chance to practise) so was really happy when Gina pointed me in the direction of a set of lessons at her local pool which are cheap, flexible and have a very high adult to learner ratio because they are for training swimming teachers. I booked the girls in for all the days we could make: Thursday and Friday this week and Tues, Thur, Fri next and was then offered the opportunity to double up so that they have an hour of lessons at a time, making it more worth the drive to get there. That sounded a good plan, especially as I was assured that the girls could ask to get out partway through the second session if they were too tired to continue. Since the lessons were in the morning and there was a teen meet in the afternoon it made more sense for the boys to come along and Gina offered them space and a chance to hang out with her J, which made the early(ish) start less of a trauma 😉
A was lucky enough to have a teacher all to herself for both sessions, and to be in the middle of the pool with plenty of space and no disruptions. Her first teacher was exactly what she needed: very patient and gentle, in the water with her from the start and able to gradually get her back to pretty much where she had been when we stopped lessons. Having started off almost in tears with fright, by the end of that first half hour A swam a width unaided. The second teacher had obviously got her measure and jumped in with her just as the first lesson ended, so she had no time to think about getting out and getting nervous again. He was much jollier (she commented afterwards that she thought he was nice but just a little too enthusiastic!) and despite having drawn the short straw of taking over when she was already tired he managed to keep her going (and smiling) until two minutes before the official end of the lesson, when she asked to get out.
L, meanwhile, was a in a class of two down in the deep end, at a level which was a good refresher for her for the first class and then a little easier for the second (again with only one other child, but a different one). She worked hard, but enjoyed it – she still can’t sink though, so struggled to get down low enough to go through the hoop or pick up sinkers from the bottom.
Back to Gina’s to collect the boys from their Wii-fest and we were persuaded to stay for lunch, which made us a little late for all the various afternoon activities but gave a bit more friend time both for the children and for me 🙂
We dropped the girls off to play with A and Z then the boys and I went on to the HE teens meet, where they disappeared into the garden (and then the studio, since the weather was not kind) while I chatted with other parents in the house. I had taken H’s Kentwell kit with me to sew, but a combination of good company and low lighting meant that didn’t happen.
By the time we left there and collected the girls we were running late for getting to band so had to call in reinforcements in the form of Bob, who met us there with instruments and music. H has now been lent a baritone on which to start his brass lessons, the hope being that J will teach him the basics during the week and then he can either start in the band next week or have a lesson while the others are in band. I’m not sure he’s really convinced, but Bob won him over with the promise that he’d be able to make loud noises. Hmmm…

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.