Thursday 30 August 2012

Blackberry jelly

Autumn is coming and every day there are more blackberries ripe.
  I've been picking them daily and storing them in the freezer. I used a few of these plus today's picking to make this jelly. This made a very small batch and it would have been better to at least double the quantities.

There are three ingredients:

1 1/2lb blackberries
1/2lb cooking apples
sugar-quantity later!

Put the blackberries in a pan, with the cored and roughly chopped but not peeled apples.
Add just enough water to cover the blackberries and cook until the apples and blackberries are "collapsed".
Put the mixture into a jelly bag (ideally) although I just used a sieve. Muslin would do instead of a formal jelly bag. A sieve will keep out the pips but won't give such a smooth, clear texture. Next time, I will probably use muslin inside the sieve. I'm not quite sure why I didn't today.

Measure the volume of the clear liquid.
Place the liquid in a saucepan and add granulated sugar in a ratio of 1 lb sugar for 1 pint of juice. Sorry, but I'm not sure there is a simple metric ratio.
Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved then bring to the boil. Boil for 8 minutes and then test for a set.

I put a small amount on a cold saucer. If the jelly has set, it's surface will ripple when pushed with a finger.
I didn't add pectin or lemon juice and worried that this wouldn't set. No fear, this jelly formed a very solid set after 10 minutes hence saying to boil for only 8 minutes before checking. It is probably the apples which help the set as they are full of pectin. Some commercially sold pectin is made from apples. If apples are not added, another setting agent may be needed.

Pot and seal.
Store in a cool place.

This made a 1lb pot and a ramekin dish of jelly. The batch cost 73p as the blackberries and cooking apples were free.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

The Silver Sword

One of the advantages of being a home educator is getting to read childhood favourites again. I sometimes think that my reading age is stuck about 10!

The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailler is a story about children in post Second World War Europe and their struggle to find their parents, across country boundaries, despite the attempts of authorities to repatriate. It deals with the issues of child refugees in an honest but not prurient  manner. I read this story as a child and found a copy again recently. In many ways, I'm sorry not to have found it last year as Middle Son studied the Second World War and this would have fitted in well. Still, it will do as an early read, for this coming year, and will link both years.

Ian Serrailler was a Quaker and conscientious objector so there is no glorification of war and no description of actual fighting. In common with many stories of this genre, it has a happy ending; more happy than seems realistic to someone with medical training. The author was a teacher so tried the book on his form, at Midhurst Grammar, before publication. It is suitable for children from about 10 and fits in well with studying the Second World War.

My main disappointment with this book is that the 1957 film of the book seems virtually unobtainable.

This term, I'm looking for ways of adding value to reading for older children. That film would have fitted the ticket. Hopefully, I will be able to write more about this issue as term progresses.

Friday 24 August 2012

Lady Jane Grey-biography for children

Lady Jane Grey is the latest in a series of Christian biographies for younger readers by Simonetta Carr.

Lady Jane Grey is a fascinating and sad figure who was Queen of England for nine days, between the reigns of Edward VI and Mary, just over 450 years ago. In this book, Simonetta Carr has written of Jane's short life and her beliefs.

Lady Jane held to Reformation beliefs. This was no mere politicking but was a vital belief in the Saviour and in salvation by faith alone. Jane was brought up in a way fitting a princess; she was well educated and was, for a time, under the care of Catherine Parr, sixth wife and widow of Henry VIII. Catherine was well known for her reformed views.

Sadly, for political reasons, Lady Jane had an arranged marriage and when Edward VI died, she was forced to become Queen. Jane was 17 and monarch against her will. Mary, Edward's sister was believed by most of the population to be rightful queen. Mary was able to take the throne after nine days. Jane spent the rest of her brief life imprisioned in the Tower of London until her execution on Mary's orders.
The Tower of London

This book is aimed at 7-12 year olds and is lavishly illustrated with photographs and illustrations by Matt Abraxas.There is a helpful introduction which puts Lady Jane's story in the context both of the Reformation and of the situation in England where the split from Rome had been for Henry VIII's marital reasons rather than from any love of Reformed doctrine.

At the end of the book, there is a "Did you know" section with facts, mainly, about the social history of Tudor times. These include facts about games and children.

The letter that Jane wrote to her sister just before her execution is also reproduced.

This book is beautifully produced and is ideal for children of this age group. For children in school, in England, the Tudors are part of the Key Stage 2 history curriculum. This book brings a real Christian perspective to this-not as part of the politics of this era but as a living reality in a life. For Christian home educators, I recommend this. Simonetta Carr home educates her own children and wrote this series for them. She obviously understands children of this group.
I highly recommend this book.

Lady Jane Grey will be available in the UK from the Christian Bookshop Ossett.and is available in the US from Reformation Heritage Books.

This book was provided by Reformation Heritage Books for review. The opinions in the review are my own.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Local summer

We've had a week away but like many, we have spent most of the holidays in our neighbourhood.  Outside has been a major feature of this summer. I haven't planned many activities beyond taking the children to places where they can play. They have sorted out games, adventures and ideas.

So where have we been?
  • The park. At one point, about three weeks into these holidays, we had been to the local park every day except Sundays and one other missed day. Miss Belle has mastered cycling this holiday. Mr Exuberance has discovered dens and his climbing has gone from height to height. Thankfully, there are plenty of other parks around for when we (probably should read I) need a change. Other parks have provided streams for paddling, different climbing apparatus (very important) and a sandpit. We've had picnics with friends and a poetry picnic.

  • The garden. In our grandparents' generation, the holidays were not for pleasure but for harvest. In the country, summer holiday dates were determined by the farmers when they saw that the crops were almost ripe. Whilst my children don't have to work to bring in the harvest, I like them to see the origins of our food. They love helping dig up potatoes and the excitement of finding tubers and the pleasure of eating blackberries straight from the brambles. They can help with weeding and try a bit of digging. There is still time to plant garlic and broad beans for next year  and my autumn Swiss chard went in just yesterday.

  • Walks, even in London, there are woods to explore and again, make dens, Hmm-dens have been a bit of a theme.

  • The swimming pool-not outside, for us. For those of you in the UK, British Gas has printable vouchers for free swimming. I took the younger children individually due to rules about ages of children with an adult. They both loved this time.

  • Local events. I'm not sure that there have been so many this summer-I've found no sign of the local bat walk despite plenty of searching but we did go to a great, free falconry display. It wasn't well publicised-I was tipped off by friend so worth keeping ears to the ground.
  Hope you have all had a happy, outside holiday too.

Friday 17 August 2012

Harvest or no harvest

This year, the yield from our garden has been disappointing. Why? Slugs, rain, cold and wind have conspired to remove the blossom from the apple tree, prevent seedlings growing or eat them. Adding to this, the squirrels ate the greengages just as they were ripening.
 These are the rather sad potato plants-the slugs loved their leaves!

We have harvested some potatoes but not quite as many as we had hoped.

What I've learnt

  • thankfulness that we do have supermarkets full of food.
  • gardening is hard work. I'm sure that ours would have done better with more time spent weeding and removing slugs. 
  • some of the produce that didn't grow is for reasons beyond our control. The tomato plants needed more sun. The loss of the apple blossom was due to the weather.
  • Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.
  • Appreciation of the food that we do have from our garden-some potatoes, garlic, a few damsons, some rhubarb (this did well), a few blackcurrants from very young bushes and we hope to have some apples and a few wild blackberries.
How does your garden grow?
How do you make time for gardening? 

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Feeding fussy children

I suspect that every family has one or more children that is more picky about food. We certainly do.This is my personal perspective on how we have managed. I'm not a dietitian and this certainly isn't about food allergies just about managing children who won't eat a broad spectrum of foods. 

Our goals are twofold. First to have a child who eats a sufficient range of food that they won't get nutritional deficiencies and second to have a child who can cope in society, that is, they can eat with friends and other families without causing a scene or difficulty.

What hasn't worked:

 This may be controversial but treating this as a discipline issue hasn't worked. Bringing out the food again or not allowing dessert has been counter-productive. Trying this tactic on fussy eaters leads to nothing being eaten.

Producing stressful situations-when we've made a big thing of likes/dislikes nothing gets eaten.

So what has worked?

Time-most children eat a wider range with age. For us this has meant that a very narrow range has broadened, not to everything, but to a much easier and more acceptable range.

Trying different foods-not all will be liked but there will be surprise likes. 

Soup-we use soup as a means of increasing vegetable intake and also trying different vegetables. The soup is pureed so issues of new textures are removed leaving the new taste. If the soup is eaten, it is worth trying the actual vegetable.  Many vegetables seem to be eaten as soup which might otherwise be avoided.

Practicing for social situations. Negotiating meals with friends and family is difficult for children with food issues. We practice using an unlikely example. "What will you do if Mrs X offers you shark's eye soup or ham sandwiches?" 

The appropriate answer 
"I would prefer a ham sandwich."

What to do if there is no alternative
"Please may I have a very small portion."

How to be polite when you hate shark's eye soup
"Thank you for making the soup."

This doesn't get over the problem of what to do if shark's eye soup makes them gag but does put them in a more confident position to manage. We have seen covert swapping of bowls with other  family members in this type of situation.

Low stress around different/possibly disliked foods. We have found that saying "I won't give you any x because you  don't like it" sometimes leads to a child asking for a portion. 

Providing food that will be eaten-OK not really an answer but it is better to provide the one or two vegetables that are eaten each day than for the child not to have any.

Do you have a fussy eater? How do you manage?

How to be a Bible princess-review and interview

How to be a Bible princess is a glittery, pink book aimed at girls from 8 to 12. It is suitable for reading aloud to younger children. I read this book to my daughter who is nearly six.

Many little girls are fascinated by princesses. Having celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, in the UK, this summer, has done nothing to damp this interest!

Catherine Mackenzie has taken the lives of eight princesses in the Bible, re-told their stories, applied it (princess tips) and has a section at the end of each chapter Think about Jesus. The interesting thing about this book is that the princesses covered are not just the obvious good examples but also some bad princesses: Herodias' daughter and Jezebel.

 Jehosheba, who rescued Joash, seemed a striking example for a princess setting a positive example and someone who is rarely discussed. The chapter about Pharaoh's daughter made it clear that the real princess was Miriam not Pharaoh's daughter.  Every chapter made it clear that glamour is not the important thing but the heart and our relationship with God . The last chapter "So what about you?" makes this very plain and introduces girls to the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31.

We enjoyed reading this book. One or two of the chapters were on the long side for a five year old but this wouldn't be an issue in the target age range.  I wouldn't have chosen the NIV as the version used. Apart from these points, we found this to be a useful read

Catherine Mackenzie has kindly given a short interview to Delivering Grace.

What made you want to start writing books?
 I’ve always read books avidly, since a child. When I heard of the Bronte sisters writing little books as young girls that made me want to do something similar. Then as a young child my parents started their own Christian publishing business and that introduced me to the world of printing and books in a big way. Much later on when I had left University the company my parents had started requested me to write a youth biography on Richard Wurmbrand which was what started me off on writing for real.

 Why did you want to write about Bible princesses? 
 For years I’d been thinking about a particular princess in the bible – Jehosheba – because I’d listened to a sermon by Dale Ralph Davis on her which he’d entitled “The woman who saved Christmas.’ I thought the title to his sermon showed creativity and the sermon itself was a real insight into the ancestry of Jesus and God’s plan of redemption. It made me think that there should be a children’s book that covered her story. The more I thought about that the more I thought about the other female characters in the Bible that often do not make it into a children’s book. Roughly about the same time my two sisters between them produced six nieces. One or two of them are definitely ‘girls’ and definitely like pink. One niece for her birthday got a big pink blanket – and someone asked, ‘How many flamingos did you have to kill to make that?’ You get the picture. Therefore princess stories are big hits with these girls. That’s what made me think about how these stories from the Bible could be joined together by the common theme of royalty/princesses.

 Which books did you enjoy when you were a girl? 
 I loved Enid Blyton books, Lavina Derwant books (she’s Scottish but a great series she did is based around a fictional island called Sula). Patricia St John was another favourite author – titles included Treasures of the Snow; The Rainbow Garden and others.

 Can you let us know about the books in your reading pile at present?
 I’m dipping in and out of The Necessity of Prayer by EM Bounds; The Obedience Option and have just finished reading a lot of different books on John Knox due to just completing a youth biography on John Knox for the Trailblazer series. At the weekend I purchased a book when I was on holiday in Raasay (an Island just off the Isle of Skye in Scotland) it’s called Calum’s Road – about a man who wanted his children to be able to go to the local school but they didn’t have an access road from their isolated house in the North of Raasay – so he built it himself, a task that took him ten years.

Thank you so much for this interview. I look forward to reading your biography of John Knox with my children.
How to be a Bible Princess was provided by Christian Focus. The opinions are entirely my own.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Ways to enjoy poetry and rhyme with young children

My little ones, aged 3 1/2 and 5, and I enjoy sharing poems and rhyme. 

 This is a list of things we have appreciated and a few other ideas from around the web. I've not tried to make a differentiation between poetry and rhyme although I realise that they are not the same.

  • Singing nursery rhymes. There are lots of books and most libraries have CDs of nursery rhymes-useful for when I had forgotten or not known the tune.
  • Make up rhymes using a nursery rhyme as a base. We've sung This is the way we brush our teeth to         the Mulberry bush tune, Three big whales went swimming one day to the tune of Five little ducks went swimming one day and Pitter, patter compost while emptying the potato sacks. The latter was the invention of one of the children.
  • There are so many rhyming picture story books. The Hairy McClary series, Amazing Machines by Ant Parker and The snail and the whale and The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson are some of the top choices here.
  • Illustrated poems or poetry books. I've enjoyed some of these as much as the children. Stopping by woods on a snowy evening by Robert Frost and illustrated by Susan Jeffers was a success as was the seasonal collection by Shirley Hughes, Out and about through the year. We are on our second copy of this. Paul Revere's ride by Longfellow, illustrated by Ted Rand didn't work so well; perhaps a difficult concept for English children! We have an illustrated copy of Hiawatha but haven't used it with the younger children, as yet. 
  • Rhyming words-this seems to be very child dependent. Mr Exuberance loves long lists of words that rhyme and likes to say these with an adult. His slightly older sister finds this less of an absorbing pursuit.
  • Poems at bedtime. We use a child friendly anthology and let the children choose poems. We end up reading the same poems most evenings but what does that matter?
  • A poetry picnic was such fun. We ate and then read a favourite anthology.  The children chose the poems and I read until they wanted to stop about six poems later.
  • Poetry tea is an idea from Julie, at Creekside Learning.  We hope to try this in the autumn.
  •  Poetry notebooks is from the South African site, Se7en. Again, something for the autumn and with little ones would probably need to involve copywork or a poem dictated to Mum.
  • Recital. This was one of the best things that we did at the Home Education group, last year. It was a chance of the children to work on memorisation, speak in front of others and dress up.

Which poetry works best for younger children?
  • strong rhyme
  • repetition
  • humour
The children's current choices are
  • What is pink? Christina Rossetti
  • Cats Eleanor Farjeon
  • A dragon in the classroom Charles Thomson
  • The race to get to sleep Brian Patten
  • Brian's picnic Judith Nicholls
  • On the ning nang nong Spike Milligan
  • Rat it up Adrain Mitchell
Which poems do your children enjoy? How do you use poetry with little ones?

This is linked to It works for me Wednesday.

Tuesday 7 August 2012


This year, I accidentally ordered double the number of potatoes we intended to grow. Not a disaster but it meant that we ended up growing potatoes in potato bags, compost bags, old dustbins and even the ground! 

Most of the bags used compost made in our compost bins from kitchen scraps, grass clippings and weeds. Due to my over-order, we did have to buy some extra compost. It will be interesting to see how the yields compare. 

Probably due to the rain, we have had a battle with slugs and whilst this crop is organic, I'm about ready to throw in the trowel and buy slug pellets next year. This autumn, I need to research pellets that won't harm children, birds, hedgehogs and frogs-all of which appear in our garden. The slugs had a bit of a field day with our potato leaves even with regular removal of many, many slugs. Suggestions on the slug battle are gratefully received.

Today was the great day for emptying the first potato bags. I think that it is worth growing even a few potatoes so children can have the excitement of seeing them appear from the ground.

There were a fair few worms too!

The first bag was of white potatoes and a fairly poor harvest perhaps because this bag had the most slug attacked leaves. The second bag was of reds and had a much richer content. Both the bags contained home made compost.

Fresh potatoes taste so much better than shop brought. I'm hoping that we have a good yield from the other bags. The family seem to eat more though so they won't necessarily last long.

Next year, I need to have more ground properly prepared and to work on the slug problem. 

Saturday 4 August 2012

August inspiration

We've had a rather rainy July and being English tend to complain about the weather so this article, from Kelly  at Generation Cedar, about teaching children to be grateful was timely. This is an area where I have much to learn myself let alone teach the children so this was helpful.

The countryside, on a walk this week, is just one cause for gratitude.

Another thought provoking article is Danika Cooley's about Raising Grown-ups. This is the start of a series about parenting-I'm looking forward to it especially as I have children in each of the age ranges that she mentions.

This article  has some helpful thoughts about providing an audience for home educated children's English. One of the most useful things that we did at our home education group, this last year, was a poetry recital. It was great to see our five year old have a chance to learn a poem, recite it to others and listen to and appreciate other children's work.

Another challenging article is by Teacher Tom about children "on the spectrum". Not about children with autism but about the many undiagnosed children who might have Aspergers. I love how he says

 I suspect we're all on the spectrum; most of us are just all lumped together in one narrow segment of it that we've come to call "normal."

Now for a couple of ideas

Almost Unschoolers has made some fantastic looking watermelon fudge-incredibly unhealthy but looks so yummy!

This is how to make bath bombs with children. Looks such fun. We hope to have a go before the end of the holidays.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

The lost prince

Down a winding road, there is an unmarked smaller lane; at the end of this, an old church in ruins.

The graveyard has old stones, most of which are difficult to read and some overgrown.

One of the graves has a fascinating story.

This is a close up of the inscription
Reputed to be the tomb of Richard Plantagenet. 22 December 1550.

Who was Richard Plantagenet? 

The story goes that he was the son of Richard III. He was brought up outside court but brought to see his father on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth, aged about 16. Richard III told his son that if the battle was lost, he needed to disappear and never be known as a King's son. Richard III lost to Henry VII so Richard Junior "disappeared", effectively and for many years.

Tradition has it that one day the owner of the local manor, Eastwell in Kent, noticed that one of the older bricklayers was reading Latin in his lunch break- an odd and unexpected behaviour in a labourer, in those days. He enquired and gradually the story came out. Apparently, the landowner then had a cottage built for Richard so that he could live out his remaining days in peace. Richard lived on until the beginning of the reign of Edward VI.

Apparently, Richard's death entry in the church records is noted with a mark against it that was used for denoting aristocracy.

How true is this? I don't know but a story that has fascinated me for years, and that I enjoyed retelling to my children.