Tuesday 31 December 2013

For the New Year

2013 has been challenging in several ways, certainly for us and probably for many others too. This John Newton hymn has been an encouragement to me, during the year. It was a joy to hear it announced in church,this week, in the Sunday morning service.

Perhaps not the most up-beat hymn for the New Year but full of true comfort from the Lord Jesus who says to His people, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

Begone unbelief,
My Saviour is near,
And for my relief
Will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle
And He will perform,
With Christ in the vessel,
I smile at the storm.

Though dark be my way,
Since He is my guide,
'Tis mine to obey, 
'Tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken,
And creatures all fail,
The word He has spoken
Shall surely prevail.

His love in time past
Forbids me to think
He'll leave me at last
In trouble to sink;
Each sweet Ebenezer
I have in review,
Confirms His good pleasure
To help me quite through.

Determined to save,
He watched over my path,
When Satan's blind slave,
I sported with death;
And can He have taught me 
To trust in His name,
And thus far have brought me,
To put me to shame?

Why should I complain 
Of want or distress,
Temptation or pain?
He told me no less:
The heirs of salvation,
I know from His word,
Through much tribulation
Must follow their Lord.

How bitter that cup,
No heart can conceive,
Which He drank right up,
That sinners might live!
His way was much rougher,
And darker than mine;
Did Jesus thus suffer,
And shall I repine?

Since all that I meet
Shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet,
The medicine is food;
Though painful at present,
Will cease before long,
And then, Oh how pleasant,
The conqueror's song!

If this all seems strange and unknown, do take a look at these video clips.

Wishing all my readers a truly happy New Year.

2013 in review

I can't quite believe that this is almost the end of 2013. The year has flown by. These are some highlights of the year, from the blog: some are popular posts and some events that we really enjoyed.


The post on UK home education resources was popular and I've now given it a separate page.


Fun Science is one of the all time most read posts on the blog. I love afternoons exploring science in a fun way.

We visited Rochester on a very windy March day. The Castle is definitely worth visiting and the city has close associations with Charles Dickens as well as fascinating buildings from different periods in history.

14 ways to save money on home education resources is the most read post on the blog.
Our kittens arrived. They are so much bigger now.

In science, we learnt about the blood.

In early July,the family went on holiday to a beautiful thatched cottage in the Devon countryside.

In August, I took part in the Schoolhouse Crew Five day blog hop. I wrote Five Days of booklists. 

The two lists, 70+ Picture books and Reference books for use in home education have been some of the most read books of the year.

My youngest son joined in with the learning more "formally". We did work on letters in the garden.

By October, we had reached the nervous system in our learning about the body.
This year, I've been privileged to review some really helpful books and resources but Seasons of the heart was probably the highlight. I'm hoping to read it each day in the New Year. 
Through this month, we seem to have been making bath bombs on a semi-industrial scale.

Happy New Year to you! I hope, although this isn't a promise, to be able to put some verses on the blog, later today, which have been an encouragement to me, this year.

The Schoolhouse review Crew has a post linking to Crew Members' posts looking back on 2013. Do pop over to see how others have spent the past year.

Thursday 26 December 2013

After Christmas soups

Winter days call for soup. The remains of the Christmas chicken or turkey makes excellent stock. Making stock in the slow cooker is surprisingly easy.

We ended up preparing more parsnips than we ate on Christmas Day. This recipe from Delia Smith is a tasty way of using up excess parsnip. The first time that I made this, I didn't think that I would enjoy the combination of parsnip and apple but was pleasantly surprised.

Years ago, I borrowed a library book about cooking for older people on their own. One of the recipes was for Stilton and Brussel sprout soup. This has become a favourite, for those of us know love sprouts, although with our own tweaks and in larger quantities. This is my recipe but do realise that I don't weigh ingredients for soups precisely! If you like sprouts then this is for you!

1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
Brussel sprouts about 300g of peeled and halved sprouts, alternatively use frozen spouts
1 litre chicken or turkey stock
pinch of nutmeg
sage to taste
Stilton or other blue cheese about 100g

Peel and chop the onion. Soften the onion in the sunflower oil until just browned.
Add the crushed clove of garlic and the sprouts. Cook for 1 minute.
Add the stock and seasoning. Bring to boiling point and then simmer until the sprouts are just soft.
Add the crumbled Stilton and serve.

This serves 4.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Joy to the World

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,
The wonders of His love.

Isaac Watts

Wishing you a very happy Christmas centred on the Saviour of the World.

Monday 23 December 2013

Making an Ice Bowl

We recently made a rectangular ice bowl.

 Younger Daughter had borrowed The girls' book of crafts and activities, published by DK, from the library which contains instructions for making an ice bowl. 

This require two plastic bowls which I don't possess. I wasn't willing to let my china or Pyrex bowls be sacrificed in the cause of education although we did talk about how the expansion that occurs when ice is formed might cause them to break. Instead of using bowls, we decided to use plastic rectangular freezer containers.

We used two containers-one larger than the other. First we put a couple of centimetres of water in the base of the larger container and froze this.

The second tub was put inside the first and taped in place.

The gap between the two containers was filled with water, rosemary, mint leaves and some late rose petals.

Both containers were frozen. The next day, the containers were removed.

 Don't let your four year old lick the ice bowl-just saying but it might lead to an emergency application of water to the bowl and tongue. This does lead to some quite dramatic cracking sounds!

If this wasn't being made for educational purposes and not handled and tasted after manufacture, it could be used to serve ice cream!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Chocolate wreath

We are a family of chocolate lovers so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to review a large Festive wreath from Hotel Chocolat. This is a chocolate wreath containing nuts and cookies.

I was a little concerned about the fate of a chocolate wreath in the Christmas post but I need not have worried. It arrived well packaged in a cardboard box 

surrounded by packaging beans. Recently, we had some parcels arrive with a large amount of packaging which didn't seem to be recyclable. However, the beans around the wreath are apparently compostable and so are currently residing in our compost bin!

The actual wreath was in a chic black and white box
 with a white ribbon, now in the craft drawer!

The wreath itself, well, it was appreciated! 

The chocolate is described as 50% milk chocolate so tasted much more "chocolatey" than most milk chocolate. The nuts were very small so I wasn't concerned about letting my almost five year old try some of the wreath.

The nuts and cookies also made a pleasant contrast to the smooth chocolate texture.

Everyone who tried the wreath was impressed. I had to hide part of it away for a family member who was away when it arrived! 

The Christmas Wreath could be used as a special dessert after Christmas lunch.


  • Well presented.
  • Recyclable packaging.
  • Attractive chunky wreath
  • Wonderful, moreish taste.
  • Appealing textures with smooth chocolate and crunchy nuts and cookies.
There is really only one and that is that at £21 this is really more than I would want to spend. However, if there is someone on your present list who is a chocolate lover and this is in budget then this is recommended!

Obviously, this isn't suitable for anyone with a nut allergy but the list of contents is clearly stated on the website and on the packaging so this isn't really a con.

We loved the taste of the Christmas Wreath.

Disclaimer: The Christmas Wreath was provided by Hotel Chocolat. for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. The views are my own and those of my family.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Museum of London

The Museum of London is a fabulous resource for exploring the history of London. The younger two children have been learning about the Stuarts so this seemed an ideal time to visit the War, Plague and Fire Gallery and to have a wander round the Expanding City (1666-1850s) Gallery before starting to learn about the Georgians.

The Museum itself is in the middle of a modern, and to my taste, rather ugly modern development, called the Barbican. It wasn't encouraging on a grey December day! Outside, however, there is  large monument to John Wesley with his own description of his conversion.

Whilst the Museum is in a modern development, the remains of the Roman walls of Londinium are just outside. It is amazing to think that these walls are about eighteen hundred years old.

The galleries are fun, interactive places for children with plenty to see, hear, touch and smell. My favourite part was a short film about the great fire with a model London in front of the screen. All the words in the video are quotes from three diarists of the time.  For a taster, take a look at the information and video on this page. There is also a linked website just about the Great Fire of London.

The Expanding City Gallery is large with a section devoted to Pleasure Gardens filled with manikins in period costume. The lighting in this area is low and between this and with the limitations of camera and operator, the pictures are poor. This is the best that I managed.

The Fanshawe dress is amazing-there is a picture here but this doesn't do justice to the beautiful woven silk.
I loved the trinket boxes.

We wandered through the Victorian shops, saw the prison and onto more modern times. Lyons tearooms were appealing although nothing to do with either Stewart or Georgian times!

This is a recommended afternoon in London and is free except for special exhibitions. There was more than enough in the free section to keep my four and seven year old busy for almost a couple of hours. 

Thursday 12 December 2013

Frugal festivities

This can be an expensive time of year. Christmas is to remember the birth of the Lord Jesus but we also enjoy a time with family and friends. Still, the added extras can spiral.

I work on the basis that it is never worth spending more than I can afford for Christmas. People are more important than things.

Just a few ideas for reducing the financial load.

  • Many Christmas items are much cheaper in advance. My younger children like chocolate coins: these were half price in October and had a long best by date. The same applies to boxes of biscuits and supermarket pyjamas.

  • Children don't need loads of presents and certainly not more than can be reasonably afforded. Some of those presents can be useful items: we often give pyjamas as part of the present. Usually they are an item which would be needed anyway.

  • Children can learn to make presents or manage a small budget. We have found that pound shops can be a useful place for children to buy presents with pocket money.

  • Gift labels can be made from the previous year's cards. I make these when I take the cards down. Scissors which make a zigzag edge are an advantage but not essential. A hole punch and some ribbon or wool complete the tag.

  • Wrapping paper doesn't need to be expensive-it is only going to be thrown away or recycled. I have tried to make my own but my level of creativity isn't high, again, the pound shop has come to my rescue. 

  • Postage is expensive. Sorry, Royal Mail, but in recent years, we've sent fewer cards and more Christmas letters as e-mails. No, I haven't written the letter yet! We still send cards to people who are not on line or who might especially, appreciate a card.

  • Decorations can be home made. There are numerous ideas around for salt dough and clay tree decorations. Some of the most beautiful decorations I have seen were made with evergreen boughs. We try to make our own wreath from items from our garden.

  • Chicken often tastes better than turkey as well as being cheaper. If there is a turkey enthusiast, in the family, then a turkey crown can prevent waste and having "I'm trying to use up the turkey" dishes.

  • Don't forget to make stock with the bones. The stock can be frozen for future use.

  • Some things just aren't necessary: crackers just seem full of tack that will be thrown away in five minutes-is my middle name Scrooge?
Anyway, over to you. How do you save at Christmas?
Frugal Family 2013

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Four Picture books about Christmas

Christmas books are an area where I'm quite picky.

My criteria are that the books have to be attractive and something that I enjoy reading aloud-as always-but in addition, books about the Biblical account should not contain pictures of the Lord Jesus and that books about general celebrations shouldn't include Santa as fact. So the list of books that we enjoy is quite short although usually padded out by books about snow

Books about the Nativity:
 The birth of Jesus by B. Ramsbottom sticks closely to the Biblical account. It has large print for early readers and of the two books about the Nativity, I much prefer the illustrations in this one.

Long, long ago in Bethlehem: the birth of Jesus by Carine MacKenzie. This book, again, has large print. The information on each page is short and simple.

General books about the season:
Jungle bells by Nick Butterworth is the story of how two mice managed to outwit a cat with the aid of a special present. This story always makes me laugh even though I'm usually on the side of the cat!

An Edwardian Christmas by John S. Goodall. This is a beautiful book, with no text, depicting an old fashioned Christmas. I love looking at this as do the children. Sadly, I think this is out of print but can be obtained second hand.

For more Christmas books visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog from 18th December.

Monday 9 December 2013

Best books of 2013

These books are divided into my own reading and read alouds. The books that I read aloud are mainly to my seven year old daughter and a few for my five year old son.

Here are the top five in each category for this past year.

My reading-a rather eclectic selection!

Renee of France Simonetta Carr

Bleak House Charles Dickens

Dyslexia 101-truths, myths and what really works Marianne Sutherland

The well trained mind Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise

The Irish Puritans:James Ussher and the reformation of the church Crawford Gribben

Read alouds

Milly Molly Mandy and Co Joyce Lankester Brisley

Charlotte's web E.B. White

The railway children E.Nesbit

The good news must out Rebecca Davis

Heidi Joanna Spyri

It struck me that half of these books are classics which have stood the test of time and can be obtained from the library or second hand. 

My own reading tends to be a mix of longer books and easier books, often children's books. My excuse is that I'm checking them for suitability but often they are a pleasure to read. Does anyone else need a few "easy" books for relaxation?

Friday 6 December 2013

Learning about the English monarchy

A friend recently asked about resources for learning about the English monarchy. I've pulled together a few that we enjoy. They are aimed at younger children up to about eleven. Please add your own favourites in the comments.

Ladybird books did a two volume series on the monarchy by L du Garde Peach and Brenda Lewis. The volumes that we have are out of print but available cheaply second hand. 

There also appears to be a new one volume Ladybird book, by a different author, which I haven't seen.
The older Ladybird books are appealing to children as they have a picture on one side of the page and text on the other.

Our Island Story is an older book by H.E. Marshall. It tells the story of Great Britain up to the reign of Queen Victoria and is suitable for reading aloud to children probably from about six to ten or independent reading by competent readers. This has several chapters covering the complex Middle Ages. It is also available on CD although I haven't listened to this so can't comment on accent and speed.

Usborne have produced a sticker book about the monarchy. My daughter loved this during Diamond Jubilee year, when she was six. It has paragraphs of information about the monarchs and of course, stickers.

The out of print, People in History by R.J. Unstead tells the stories of people in Britain in a way accessible to primary aged children.

There is a plethora of historical fiction for children about English history and the monarchy. The My Story series feature characters at many major events. In addition to these,  authors to look for include Rosemary Sutcliffe especially for her Eagle of the Ninth trilogy, Cynthia Harnett and Barbara Willard. These books are suitable for the older end of the age range.

Woodlands resources has a section on British history and another on the monarchy. The latter page is a must and filled with fascinating facts about the Queen, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as about Royal homes, why the Queen has two birthdays and lengths of reigns of various monarchs.

The Queen's official website is here. This website has recent pictures of the Royal family, information about how to greet the Queen, the Court Circular which has details of the official engagements of the Royal Family, details about the Honours system and much more.

Other resources
There are various posters showing English monarchs. We have one which has pillars for the lengths of reign of monarchs. We refer to this often. On looking this up, it is published in 1969 and is, of course, out of print. This would explain the comparatively short pillar for our current monarch, Elizabeth II who has actually been on the throne for 61 years.
This is a more modern poster in timeline format.

Usborne produce cards of monarchs.

I haven't played the Monarchy game available from Ichthus Resources but another home educating mother has recommended it to me.

Places to visit
This has to be incomplete as there are so many places associated with the Monarchy. These are particularly recommended:

  • Buckingham Palace. The Royal Standard flying indicates the Queen is in residence whereas the Union flag means that she is out. It is possible to visit the State Rooms although this is quite expensive. I haven't visited so can't comment on this as a trip.
  • The Tower of London is definitely worth visiting for its rich history and the Crown Jewels,
  • Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII's palaces and has frequent interactive events with actors dressed as Henry and his court.
  • National Portrait Gallery is only a few minutes walk from Buckingham Palace and has portraits of many of the monarchs. The Tudor gallery is especially stunning. Entrance is free.
Please add to these resources in the comments. 

Wednesday 4 December 2013

December Inspiration

I can't quite believe that it is December but the dark afternoons remind me that it is real. The children are hoping for some of this stuff. It is coldish, about 2C this evening, but so far there is no snow.

This month, Kirsty at Young Hosannas is blogging a Christmas children's craft activity each day. I particularly like the Bible verse but the clay stars are also on my to do list.

Frog Academy is a new-to-me Christian UK home education blogger. I'm particularly enjoying the art-this is the Mondrian post. I have a post with links to Christian UK home education bloggers here.

More on art, Se7en have a post about Monet with an interesting chalk pastel technique which could be used to learn about symmetry as well as art. Very convenient as we've are working on symmetry, at present.

International Pisa testing has been in the news recently, particularly, as the UK has shown no improvement. This BBC article gives an overview of the tests and a chance to try the maths test-have a go, it isn't bad!

Last, Middle Son showed me this amazing photograph, apparently, the largest in the world. It is a 360 degree view of London and a fascinating way to look at the city. We've enjoyed focusing on the detail: the plants in roof gardens and the sport being played. A great virtual way to explore.

Monday 2 December 2013

Making bath bombs

Making bath bombs uses the reaction of acid plus alkali producing a gas (carbon dioxide) plus water. The reaction doesn't take place until the chemicals have water added.

Bath bombs make excellent presents and are fun to make. The ingredients used are things that are relatively safe and are found around the house or in household products (citric acid is in lemons) so young children can take part in making these. They should wash their hands after touching the chemicals and be old enough not to eat the ingredients. My four and seven year olds made these, with supervision from me.

Sodium bicarbonate
Citric acid (we bought ours from Just a soap but I am sure that this can be brought elsewhere)
Almond oil (I am sure that other oils can be used)
Food colouring
Optional: essential oils or vanilla essence

Add 3 tablespoons to sodium bicarbonate to 1 tablespoon of citric acid in a dry mixing bowl. Mix well, add a few drops of food colouring to required colour. 

Add essential oils or vanilla essence. Be sparing with the vanilla-it contains water and will lead to the sodium bicarbonate and citric acid reacting. Large quantities will mean that there will be no acid and alkali left to react.
This is what happened when we added a large quantity of vanilla essence

Add almond oil slowly to combine. We started with 1 teaspoonful but needed to use rather more than this to make sure the mixture stayed together.
Put the ingredients in a model. We used doll's cups as well as a brought mould. The cups worked just as well.

Allow the bath bombs to dry then turn out into cupcake cases.
Store in boxes to give as presents.

Do label these as bath bombs and not for eating! I thought that the red bath bombs looked rather like coconut pyramids.

Put in the bath to start the reaction and watch the fizz!