Monday 30 November 2015

Looking back with ME

Hazel Stapleton is a cyber friend. In many ways, it seems strange that I have never met her. We email each other and pray for each other. We hear the same sermons as Hazel watches the live stream from my church. Hazel has written a guest post for me. We must be similar ages but there the similarity ends. Hazel has spent most of her adult years with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). This has meant that she is severely disabled and is cared for by her elderly parents. 

Now, Hazel has been unwell for a quarter of a century and has written a short book about this: Looking back with ME: an account of living for a quarter of a century with the neuroimmune disorder ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). 
This documents Hazel's life both before and since her illness. Yes, it isn't cheerful to read about a chronic illness and some of the difficulties both with diagnosis and in terms of management of the condition. Yet, Hazel is a Christian and is clear that she has a hope greater than this life.

I can see how things will be in the long-term (i.e.Heaven!), but I can't at present see how things will work out in the short- term. Yet I know that I am in God's hands.

This book is worth reading. Of course, it is of relevance to people with ME but also to those of us who have been given many years of good health. It is easy to moan and forget to be thankful for this gift. It is encouraging to be reminded of the Lord and His promises.

Hazel's book can be downloaded from her website, On Eagles Wings. It is available as  mobi, epub and pdf.

Disclaimer: Hazel sent me a copy of her book but did not ask me to review it. The opinions are my own.

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Friday 27 November 2015

Joyful through Winter

Winter isn't a time that I anticipate with pleasure.  The house is warm and we have plenty of food but the days are dark, hibernation seems appealing and being cheerful for the next four months looks challenging. 

Despite me wishing to hibernate, my family still want to be fed; their clothes still need to be washed and the children have to be educated. This all works much better if I am joyful.

This year, I have been giving the next few months a fair amount of thought. The last couple of Christmases have been challenging with bereavement and illness. It is easy to include Christmas in the general "not looking forward to the next few months" feeling.

These thoughts are things that have helped in the past that I have pulled together for my own benefit, and hopefully, those of you who have the same issue. Please note, I do not now hold a licence to practice. This is not medical advice. Please go to see your doctor if you have more than an annual mild dislike of the gloomy months and a longing for Spring. 

  • As a Christian, I know that I can pray and that there are commandments to rejoice and praise. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again, I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4 verse 4). They are there for dull days in February.  The Psalms are particularly helpful.

  • The Winter doesn't go on for ever. There are signs of Spring in February and things definitely look up in March. 

  • Going outside, in the daylight, as much as possible really helps. With proper clothing, it is only necessary to stay inside if there is a severe weather warning. Children behave much better if they have had adequate outside time too. 

  • Bulbs and inside plants help. 

  • See other people. Conversation and encouragement from friends helps.

  • Plan trips. As home educators, we go on a fair few trips. It is easy to do this in the Summer but having a day trip or even something longer, in the Winter or Spring gives something to plan and anticipate.  This year, the children and I went on a trip to Wales, at the beginning of March. Having this to look forward to, really helped through some grey January and February days. 

  • I'm enjoying Instagram. It is making me look for colour and light in a grey November world and bringing me other people's pictures of colour and light from around the world when I can't find any.

  • An encouraging book to read. In February and March, I read some of Patricia St John's lovely children's books. Twice Freed and Treasures of the Snow were books that I particularly enjoyed. 

  • Make something. For many years, I made pots and pots of marmalade in January. I loved the look of those amber pots. 

Doubtless, there will be difficult grey days in January and February but God doesn't change and Spring will come.

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God. 
Psalm 146 v5

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Wednesday 25 November 2015

Picture books with beautiful illustrations

We still read picture books, not exclusively but mixed in with chapter books. Now that the younger children are nine and six, the books tend to be more complex but we care more, rather than less about the illustrations. This is a personal list of picture books with beautiful artwork. 

The first few are books that my children have really grown out of but were firm favourites and the latter books are those that we have read since they have been older.

Peepbo by Allan and Janet Ahlberg is set in the 1940s and has detailed domestic interiors. Lovely rhyming text.

The Alfie series by Shirley Hughes again has detailed pictures of homes, in London.

Beatrix Potter's books are a pleasure from her wonderful vocabulary to the delicate watercolours.

John Goodall painted some wordless books. Edwardian Christmas is seasonal. Another favourite is Story of an English Village.

Also in the topical vein is Susan Jeffers' illustrated version of Robert Frost's poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy evening. This came out for our poetry tea, this week, and will probably make several appearances in December!

Recently, we have found, via the Veritas self paced literature list, Aliki's book Medieval Feast. One of my readers has told me of more titles which are on our list!

Another find, from the Veritas list, is St George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges. This is a Caldecott award winner and justifiably so.

We have been enjoying David Macaulay's books Castle and Cathedral, this term with his detailed technical drawings. His The way things work is also frequently off the shelves.

Marcia Williams produces historically related picture books. This picture is from the book about the First World War. We have found several of her books in our local library.

Have you favourite picture books with beautiful illustrations? I'm always interested to find out about different titles!

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Friday 20 November 2015

A November Week

November seems to get faster and faster. This week has included looking at a sixth form, a Medieval feast and tomorrow, we are due to have an early birthday celebration. We always celebrate Sunday birthdays on Saturdays. This birthday marks us having two children who are no longer teenagers. I can't quite believe that I'm so old!

Please remember that this sort of post shows the most visual side of what we do. I don't usually take pictures of the daily English and maths. This doesn't mean that we don't do these subjects just that the photos are less exciting and generally, we work in a room whose lighting is not conducive to photos.

The beginning of the week was dominated by our preparations for the Medieval Feast. We then cooked.

 Trenchers waiting to be used.

Pears in grape juice.

The table was decorated.

Apparently, white cloths would have been used in the Middle Ages. Note the absence of forks which hadn't been invented. Traditionally, guests would have been expected to bring their own knives but we live in London, and encouraging people to wander around with knives might be irresponsible.

I'm sorry about the light, in the next picture, but just to show that food was served on trenchers.

Lastly, the marzipan decorations.

Back to normal, or normal and rather tired, we went on our nature walk, the following day. This week, we were looking for lichen. Rather, to my surprise, we found loads despite living in London. I wonder whether the air is better quality than I had imagined or whether lichen are more resilient.

We found that many of the sticks, on the ground, showed a fair amount of lichen. Does lichen weaken branches or do conditions that favour lichen favour decay?
There was plenty of evidence of autumn.
Note the parakeet.

We didn't get to draw anything as there was a deluge soon after these pictures were taken. A fair amount of rain meant that the following day, Youngest Son and some friends were able to have a wonderful time jumping in puddles!

What we have been reading:
  • A Single Shard for the book club at the home education group. This is about Medieval Korea. This was the week in which we looked at South Korea. The picture book that I used was If you were me and lived in South Korea which is one of the series by Carol Roman.
  • A beautiful picture book Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges.
  • Cathedrals by David Macaulay and also his picture book, Angelo. Both these fitted in with the week's history topic of Cathedrals in the Middle Ages. This topic has led to some interesting discussions. As always, the history educates me-I should now be able to distinguish a Gothic cathedral!
  • Mary Jones and her Bible by Mary Ropes.
  • Narnia has been consumed by Younger Daughter. 
I've been reading
  • The Reading Zone
  • Dementia: Pathways to Hope by Louise Morse
  • Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray
  • J.C. Ryle's Expository thoughts on Mark
  • Penny Plain by O Douglas (John Buchan's sister)-a very quick reread. A book for tired days!
Hope that you are all withstanding the dull days well. I love sun and bright days but I guess these duller days make us appreciate them more.

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Wednesday 18 November 2015

The Reading Zone

The Reading Zone:How to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual and critical readers is the title of a book by Maine school teacher and award winner, Nancie Atwell. The Zone is a time both at school and at home when children are allowed to loose themselves in books of their own choosing. Book lovers will recognise this concept. My children tell me that they can say almost anything to me while I'm reading and I will agree-except that I have become a bit wiser about this over the years!

Image result for the reading zone by nancie atwell
In Nancie Atwell's school, the children have twenty minutes each day in the Reading Zone and another half an hour of reading as homework. Why? Apparently, educational outcomes are correlated with the time spent reading for pleasure each day. This link has details of the research. 

Often schools set reading books but Atwell is strongly in favour of letting children choose from a large classroom library. She spends time researching children's literature and trying to match purchases to the personalities and interests of the children in her class. The reading lesson begins with book talks when either teacher or pupils present books that they would recommend. Books are divided into three categories which vary according to the pupil: Holiday, Just right and Challenge. I think that this categorisation is something that most of us can immediately fit to our own reading.

The book contains a helpful section about struggling readers of various types; the type of books which are most likely to appeal and the use of audiobooks with the text to read along. The book was written before the advent of Kindle Fire with immersion reading but the concept is the same. 

Probably the part that I found most useful was about writing about books. Atwell's pupils are encouraged to do this as letters but only once the book is completed and not a letter per book. She gives examples of the letters and her replies. She maintains that the common practice of reading a few chapters and having to write formally about a book will destroy interest. 

 Whilst there are books, genres and authors recommended that I would not choose, the basic concept is something that can readily be extrapolated to the home. Our quiet reading time, after lunch, has gone into abeyance and reading this book has encouraged me to restart this. Of course, I will need to read alongside the children but that isn't exactly a hardship! It has also reminded me to ask the children to keep records of the books they read, and of books they want to read. It is also an encouragement to read children's books so that I can recommend and discuss them with the children.


Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my own reading. The views are my own.

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Monday 16 November 2015

Preparing for a Medieval Feast

As part of the children's study of the Middle Ages, it seemed appropriate to include a Medieval Feast. I must say that this has been received with great enthusiasm and the children have thrown themselves into preparations and have really made this their own.

We have used ideas from Angellicscalliwags' amazing Medieval Banquet , the BBC download on Medieval Feasting and the Story of the World Activity Book 2 as well as from our own searches on the internet.

We started with reading a book about feasts in the Middle Ages, a Medieval Feast by Aliki.

The children concocted a menu. 


 Stuffed roast chicken
 Pears in red grape juice
Marzipan subtlety

The children made the marzipan subtletys in advance. We used shop made marzipan and painted them using Wilton's cake colouring. 

These represent the Roses of York and Lancaster and at the top, the Tudor Rose.



In terms of decoration, we made a stained glass window. This was made from a large sheet of paper. When we researched stained glass windows, on the internet, Younger Daughter preferred the stained glass found in the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona. The topic of stained glass led to a discussion about how and where we should worship and where we find our authority.
This "stained glass" is based on a theme from the stained glass in Sagrada Familia.

This is the almost complete version. If anyone else should be tempted to try this, please note, that using oil pastel is much, much quicker than using felt tip pen.

Other preparation has included 
finding music
making crowns
finding out about which foods would and would not have been available
finding out about Medieval table customs. This trencher recipe seemed relatively authentic sounding and is the one we plan to use.

This has been one of our most enjoyable projects. Perhaps, we should have a meal for each period in history that we study!

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Thursday 12 November 2015

An Apology

Last week, I posted about our fungi nature walk and what we thought might be a puffball or could have been a common earth ball fungus.

We carefully drew this into our sketchbooks and looked up more images on line. It transpired that this fungus has a dark blue/black inside. This was growing in our garden so Younger Daughter thought that it would be interesting to dissect it. Armed with gloves and an old knife that we didn't mind throwing away, Younger Daughter and I set off up the garden to investigate, only, to our surprise, this fungus was rather tough.
It was extremely hard to cut and had an odd consistency and yes, we realised that we were cutting a polystyrene ball.


Apologies for misleading you all. We genuinely thought this was a fungus until we started to dissect. I guess we need to observe more carefully. We hadn't touched the supposed fungus in case it was poisonous. If we had touched it, we might have become suspicious earlier. 

This will go down in our family memories!

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Tuesday 10 November 2015

Christians and the First World War

Christians and the First World War is a booklet that we were sent by Christian Values in Education. This is a group whose aim is to counter atheistic and amoral influence in education today.

The booklet, written by Matthew Hyde, draws from letters and testimonies of Christians who were involved in the First World War in various roles: army, navy, air force and medical corps. It also details the impact on those left behind including a description from a man caught up in the bombing of Hartlepool. 

The Christians involved were Strict Baptists and many of the records come from letters and obituaries published in magazines associated with Strict Baptists but the thoughts expressed are those which are relevant to all Christians. John Ryland's lines were often quoted.
Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till he bids I cannot die;
Not a single shaft can hit,
Till the God of love sees fit.

One section deals with the difficulties associated with serving in the forces including being surrounded with bad language; not keeping the Lord's Day; difficulty maintaining principles and lack of fellowship. 

The book is simply written and I hope to read parts of this to my children, this week. Copies of the booklet can be obtained from Christian Values in Education. The email address is No charge is made for the publication but donations towards the cost are appreciated.

I recommend this little book for a Christian perspective on the First World War.

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Friday 6 November 2015

Nature Study: Fungi

Going to look for fungi is something that I had never thought to do with children. Probably, I was too scared that they would try to eat them. This week, I plucked up my courage and did the fungi study from Exploring Nature with Children. It turned out that my children were more worried than me and initially, had to be asked not to kick the fungi to order to get rid of them to prevent the cats possibly being poisoned. Not that the cats have ever shown much interest in eating fungi!

Not being a great observer of fungi, I had looked in our garden earlier in the week to check that there were some fungi there, in case we couldn't find anything on our usual nature walk. In fact, there were fungi both in the park and the garden. The business of identifying fungi seems complicated and I'm not entirely sure about what we saw and certainly would not know what was poisonous! Please feel free to comment about the types we saw. I really don't have a clue.

This monstrosity was found in our garden.  I thought it was a puff ball but it doesn't look quite like the pictures.

On to our nature walk, in the pouring rain. We tend not to worry too much about the weather. The children have ski jackets from Muddy Puddles which I purchased in the sale, in the summer, which seem well able to copy with rain.

We found far, far more fungi than I was expecting especially near to, and on, a fallen tree.

Tiny fungi at the base of a tree.

Fungi in a rotting tree.

This day felt autumnal with fallen leaves and

almost bare trees.

Riding home in the rain.

 I'm not sure that we are much wiser about identifying fungi but we have discovered a hidden world of fungi of which we were virtually unaware and some of my shop purchased mushrooms have disappeared in the cause of making spore prints.

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