Thursday, 31 December 2015

Into the New Year

Last year, I quoted from Frances Ridley Havergal's hymn with its line

God is all sufficient for the coming year.

Of course, this has been true. He has been with us, through difficulty and joy and yes, He was sufficient for the last year and will be for 2016.

Robert Robinson's verses, addressed to the Lord God, seem particularly suitable for a New Year.

 The term Ebenezer refers to a public memorial meaning Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. (1 Samuel 7 v12). Doubtless, this meaning is why the term has sometimes been used as a first name.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace,
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet.
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Wishing you all a joyful and blessed New Year.

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Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Top Read alouds from 2015

This has been a slightly strange year for reading aloud. There has been great enthusiasm about a few books but mainly not shared by both younger children. The only books which have met with joint approval are the Five in a Row books which are still often pulled out for bedtime stories.

The list of chapter books that I have read aloud is here. This year, I haven't listed picture books but hope to add these to next year's list.

Best Picture books of the year
  • Roxaboxen 
  • A Medivael Feast-the most favoured not Five in a Row picture book.
  • Lentil
  • Night of the Moonjellies
Onto chapter books, Younger Daughter, aged nine, loved some of Patricia St John's books, in particular, Rainbow Garden Treasures of the Snow. Her other favourites were the Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross Shakespeare Stories and Paul White's Jungle Doctor books.

Youngest Son, aged six, enjoyed some of Roald Dahl's books
  • Charlie and the Chocolate factory
  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
  • James and the Giant Peach 
as well as Enid Blyton's Famous Five series.

We had a few read aloud fails. Maybe, I was a bit over-ambitious but we had a couple of goes at The Hobbit, once as a read aloud and once as an audio book and didn't succeed in getting beyond the first sixty pages. Several books just didn't work for my youngest including the David Macaulay books Castle and Cathedral whilst I was impressed and his sister enjoyed these. I suspect the vocabulary was too complex.

Audiobooks that have been popular have included The Chronicles of Narnia, Black Beauty and Michael Morpurgo's Aldophus Tips.

I'm working on some ideas for next year and any suggestions would be great, especially for books which will appeal to both an almost seven year old boy and a nine year old girl. 

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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Joy at Christmas

This is a strange Christmas for us.

 A year ago, on Christmas Day, my Mum went to be with her Saviour and Lord. We don't mourn for her. She is far better off  but yes, she is missed. Over the last year, I have found myself remembering and talking about things she said and taught me over the years. Still, the run up to this Christmas feels strange; remembering the time when she last went into hospital and the last time that I saw her. This contrasts strangely with the Christmas buzz and ephemera around but actually, not at all with the real meaning behind this celebration.

In the midst of life we are in death and we celebrate a Saviour who came that through dying, sorrowing sinners can live for ever through Him. This is real joy- not the feasting, the gifts and the glitter but the birth, life, death and resurrection of a glorious Redeemer.  

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love.
 Isaac Watts

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Monday, 21 December 2015

Christian Book List 2016

Last week, I posted my Back to the Classics list. However, as a Christian, I also want to read plenty of  helpful Christian books. Having wondered about various lists, I have ended up using my own church list or at least my own personal variant of this! The reason for the personal variant is that I have read some of the books already.

There are two lists on the Read for the Lord scheme:

Read for the Lord Start-up  list

and Sequel List.

I have muddled books from both lists and selected twelve which will, I hope, be manageable. My plan is to mark progress on my books read page and ideally, to get through these in 2016. Since this is my own list, starting books in 2015 isn't cheating!

 My main concern is about finding time for reading books that need more concentration. I have made the mistake of trying to read theological books in the same way as novels or biographies which means fast and not worrying too much about whether my reading is when I'm most alert. This doesn't lead to optimal retention! Any thoughts about the best time and method for reading light theological books?

  • Holiness by J.C. Ryle. This is a reread.

  • The Holy War  John Bunyan. I think we have the abridged version shown on the list. It is still over 300 pages so the abridged version it will have to be. 

  • The Lie: Evolution Ken Ham

  • From Forgiven to Forgiving Jay Adams

  • Names of God Nathan Stone

  • The triumph of Truth-A life of Martin Luther Merle D'Aubigne

  • Life and Diary of David Brainerd Jonathan Edwards. Another reread.

  • Inspiration and Authority of Scripture Pache

  • The Work of the Holy Spirit Octavius Winslow I'm a bit nervous about this as I have started and not finished Winslow before.

  • Faith, doubts, assurance and trials Peter Masters

  • The Bible on the Life Hereafter William Hendrikson

  • This is cheating but I was convinced that To the Golden Shore was on the list but it isn't.  Anyway, this is the 12th book!                         

If anyone wants to join me, nag me or recommend books please do. Any thoughts about how to making time for books which need more concentration is also welcome. 

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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Back to the Classics 2016

Books and Chocolate is running a Back to the Classics Challenge for 2016.

 I  wanted some direction for my reading for this year. I  am thinking of combining this with a Christian book challenge. Neither challenge will include the children's books that I will read for the book club or for my own children nor some books about education and caring that I would like to read.

Reasons for wanting to read more classics:

  • to remedy a woeful ignorance of classical literature which can prove a problem when trying to choose books for the younger children to read/study.
  • to read some of the books that my older children are studying or have enjoyed.
  • to keep my brain active.
  •  for a better cultural understanding. I have often missed understanding the origin of phrases/thoughts because of lack of a broad reading base. Of course, there are classics that I don't want to read and am unlikely to have time to read everything that I might want to read.

My aim is to use books that we already have or library books as much as possible. Anyway, back to the challenge. These are my first thoughts although I may change my choices. Please note that I haven't read these books so they aren't a recommendation! I hope to blog about the books once they have been read. 

The details 

1.  A 19th Century Classic - Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

2.  A 20th Century Classic - The Hobbit. I am ashamed to say that I haven't read the Hobbit. There have been a couple of false starts in the past year!

3.  A classic by a woman author-probably something by Elizabeth Goudge. I have recently read Scent of Water so one of the other titles.

4.  A classic in translation.  

My eldest daughter is studying Russian so a book by a Russian author is in order, perhaps, Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev.

5.  A classic by a non-white author.  House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul.

6.  An adventure classic - probably something by John Buchan but not 39 Steps which I have read.

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic-20000 Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne. My older sons have recommended this to me several times so it is time to read!

8.  A classic detective novel.

My husband has recommended Agatha Christie's Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.  

Watership Down. I hoping this isn't counted as a children's book as these are not allowed.

10. A classic which has been banned or censored. 
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Aleksandr  Solzhenitsyn.

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  Tale of Two Cities was a book that I read aged 13 and haven't read since. I wonder what I will think about it so long after Mrs Ward's English classes.

12. A volume of classic short stories. 

Sherlock Holmes short stories.

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Tuesday, 15 December 2015


This is a less known Advent hymn but filled with rich meaning. I have never heard the second verse sung. 

It was written by William Chalmers Smith who also wrote Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise.

EARTH was waiting, spent and restless,
  With a mingled hope and fear;
And the faithful few were sighing,
  “Surely, Lord, the day is near;
The desire of all the nations,
  It is time He should appear.”

Still the gods were in their temples,
  But the ancient faith had fled;
And the priests stood by their altars
  Only for a piece of bread;
And the Oracles were silent,
  And the Prophets all were dead.

In the sacred courts of Zion,
  Where the Lord had His abode,
There the money-changers trafficked,
And the sheep and oxen trod;
  And the world, because of wisdom,
Knew not either Lord or God.

Then the spirit of the Highest
  On a virgin meek came down,
And He burdened her with blessing,
  And He pained her with renown;
For she bare the Lord’s Anointed
  For His cross and for His crown.

Earth for Him had groaned and travailed, 
  Since the ages first began;
For in Him was hid the secret
  That through all the ages ran—
Son of Mary, Son of David,
  Son of God, and Son of Man.

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Friday, 11 December 2015

Best books of 2015 and why you should read them too!

Over 2015, I have read 46 books. There are currently five on the go. Not an enormous total but anyway, here are my top books.

The photo is of my Kindle as four out of seven of my top picks were 

My reads tend to be divided into five categories

  • Christian
  • children's books-I pre-read for my children and for the Book Club which I run. 
  • books about education
  • light reading for when I am tired. 
  • parenting
So these are my top picks from this year's books.

J.C. Ryle's Expository thoughts on the Gospels. Over this year, I have read Matthew and Mark and am now on the first volume of Luke. These are a reread and are well worth reading. Why do I like them?
  • Ryle explains the passage in a clear way. They were written in Victorian times but this is not typical Victorian prose.
  • The passage is printed in the text.
  • Ryle applies the passage in a practical and challenging way.
  • Difficulties in interpretation are faced and not ignored or explained in a fanciful way.
  • Each section is sufficiently short that it can be read in a few minutes.
When Lightning Struck-The Story of Martin Luther by Danika Cooley. I reviewed this recently

Children's Books
These are the books that I have preread. There is another list of read alouds which I have read to the children.

Treasures of the Snow-an engaging Christian children's book set in Switzerland. We also enjoyed the DVD of this film.

Gentle Ben-what happens when a boy befriends a bear. My review is here.

Two very different books

Lynn Seddon's book Exploring Nature with Children. I have reviewed this book too. The book now comes with us every week on our nature walk.

Nancie Atwell's book The Reading Zone has encouraged me to be regular and consistent about setting aside time for the children, and me, to read. It has also provided inspiration for the book club and for talking to my children about books.  I have reviewed this book.

Light Reading

Elizabeth Goudge's sensitive book Scent of Water was worth reading and I am looking forward to discussing it in an on-line book club, in the New Year. Without giving spoilers, Mary is left a house in the country by her maiden aunt. She is able to learn more about her aunt's life and illness, through diaries, while she learns far more about life than in her London civil service post. Elizabeth Goudge is thought to have drawn on her own experience of mental illness in writing this book. 

Of course, I would love to have more book recommendations. I am currently enjoying a book recommended by one of my readers, thank you Nelleke.

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Thursday, 10 December 2015

Historical Christmas

We have recently joined the National Trust and want to make sure that we use the ticket to its full advantage so decided that a trip to Ightham Mote would tick several boxes. 

Ightham Mote is a Mediaeval moated manor which fitted very well with learning about the Middle Ages. It is hosting a Victorian Christmas celebration but also has a library decorated to fit with a 1920s American Christmas. In addition, it is set in the Kentish countryside and has a web of estate paths to explore.

The building is low lying and surrounded by a moat. 

It boasts the only grade I listed dogs' kennel which was home to a St Bernard but later to two Chinchillas. Go figure!

Inside, the staff were dressed in late Victorian costume. First, we went into the butler's pantry where the butler explained about stirrup cups and the dynamite proof safe. 

On the wall was a panel of bells to summon the staff.

Onto the housekeeper's room where Lady Colyer-Fergusson swept in to give orders about food over Christmas to her housekeeper. 

The Great Hall was decorated for a Victorian Christmas with a log fire, Christmas tree and table laid for lunch.

Sir Thomas Colyer-Fergusson was having an animated discussion with the more impassive butler. 

There was so much in this Hall: a basket for sending sweets up to the children above, displays of the type of toys that would have been given under the tree and a beautiful Mediaeval roof. 

Outside, there was a great muddy walk, along an ancient lane but this mother had forgotten the wellies so we had to curtail this. I should know after 22 years of motherhood, not to go to the country without wellies.

Highly recommended. 

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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

December Inspiration

 Almost the end of the year. This was just before the wind at the weekend so there aren't quite so many leaves now.

I've been thinking about books: those that I have loved this year and those that are on next year's wish list. Hopefully, more about this later. Two posts have given me some ideas:

Books and Chocolate is hosting a Back to the Classics 2016 challenge and Tim Challies has a 2016 Reading Challenge with four different levels depending on how much time you can devote to reading.

Also while on the next year theme, I have been inspired by Lynn's Calendar of Firsts.  My hesitation is that my art doesn't turn out how I envisage it should look so may be if I can pluck up my courage!

Back in time, what seems to be King Hezekiah's seal has been found. I would love to see this.

The All about Learning blog has a post about spelling lists that do and don't make sense. If you have struggled teaching a child spelling from a seemingly random or semi-random list this will resonate.

Please let me know if you know of any other reading challenges for 2016. Do you do reading challenges? Do you think that they are helpful or a distraction? 

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Friday, 4 December 2015

Christmas Plants

Our nature study, this week, was called Christmas Plants but the nature walk extended, this time to three walks and, of course, we didn't just see Christmas Plants. 

Early in the week, my husband told us that he had seen a tawny owl above a local footpath. We rushed out and thought the owl had gone but then realised that it was in a tree above us. Youngest Son drew in his nature journal.

The actual nature walk was full of squirrels. Youngest Son had some acorns in his coat pockets which he dropped on the ground for them.

We found a conifer to draw. I wasn't best pleased with my attempt so don't think that I will put it on here! Anyway, we had a happy time drawing and realising quite how low the sun is by mid-afternoon.

Youngest Son and I managed another quick nature walk. This time, we found holly.

This was slightly earlier in an afternoon and the light was wonderful. Youngest Son climbed a tree, as usual, and then decided that he had to record what he saw. The next photo is his.

If you are interested in getting children outside, then go to the Wildlife Trusts site for information about their new campaign, Every Child Wild. 

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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

20 Christmas activities for the Oldest Old

At Christmas time, the oldest and frailest people in a family, and in society, may need help to take part. I've put together some simple ideas for including these people in the celebrations. Most of these ideas should be suitable for people with dementia. Many should be suitable for visits to people in care homes.

Please note that the title is a bit misleading. Some very elderly people are cooking Christmas meals, organising events and helping others. These ideas are not directed at them but at the frailest people who may lack the ability to initiate activities. 

This is a general list. Please use common sense. Some of these ideas will not be suitable for people who have very poor sight and others not suitable for people with poor hearing. My hope is to give you some ideas and hopefully, you will be inspired to think of others. Please do involve your children. Older people often love to see children but remember that visits don't have to be long!

  • Advent calendar. Most people love chocolate!

  • Christmas plant. Do check that someone is going to care for this.

  • Photograph album. Often people with dementia can remember the distant past and may enjoy old photos. Ensure that their reading glasses are available.

  • Go for a drive. Obviously, it is important to check that the person concerned is well enough to get into a car. If they have a blue disabled badge, do take this as it makes parking easier. 

  • Play a simple game such as Snap. 

  • Go to a carol service or listen to Nine Lessons and Carols. Check that they will be able to hear first. If going to a service with someone with a hearing aid, check that it is on the T setting to use an induction loop. Allow much more time than you would usually consider necessary, especially if using a wheelchair.

  • Bible readings. Speak slowly and clearly. 

  • Enjoy a poem together. Susan Jeffers' illustration of Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods would be an excellent choice and one that we plan to use over this time.

  • Look at a book about Christmas past. John Goodall's Edwardian Christmas is a beautiful book with plenty of detail for discussion.

  • Help with present wrapping.

  • Sit around an open fire and enjoy a cup of tea together. Be careful not to leave anyone who may fall alone in a room with an open fire nor let them sit where they could fall into the fire if they stood and were unsteady.

  • Help the Grandchildren, or other children, make and give home made cards.

  • Watch the tree being decorated.

  • Bring small fir boughs to decorate the older person's room.

  • Bring out the old family china and linen for the table or a tray.

  • Stir the Christmas pudding together.

  • Enjoy mince pies together.

  • Write a letter to an older person that it might be difficult for you to go to see.

  • Show photographs of recent trips or your children on a phone. The frailest older people will not be able to operate the phone but often appreciate seeing the pictures.

  • If possible, arrange for them to see other friends. If not, do they need help writing and posting Christmas cards?

I do hope these ideas are helpful. Please add more in the comments. 

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