Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Barnburgh Cliff

Thanks to geocaching, Small and I had a lovely walk yesterday in a place we wouldn't otherwise have gone to.  I've driven past the entrance to the path lots of times, but never knew what a geologically interesting area it was.  We went along a bridlepath that runs parallel to a place called Barnburgh Cliff.  I was a bit dubious when I read the location, because the word 'cliff' conjures up images of towering precipices, but as it turned out it was a relatively flat path and although still snowy, at least the frozen ground meant it wasn't knee deep in mud.

We got lucky and found the first cache quite quickly, but after that our luck ran out and despite spending a good 15 minutes furtling around in the ivy at the next two locations, we didn't find them.  We did see a big face carved into the rock, though no one seems to know who carved it or when it was done.

We carried on to look for number four, and this time we managed to find it.  We did have an audience looking on.  Apparently there has been a lot of conservation work carried out in the area, and these guys have been introduced to keep the ground cover down.

Wot u up to then?

The path emerged from the woods onto some fields and in the near distance, the windmills were slowly turning but surprisingly they seemed to be quiet.  Either that or I'm going deaf!

We only did half the walk, as the series of geocaches continues round in a circular walk to go back to where we started from.  Small was tired though, so we hurried past the location of cache number 5 - there was a group of lads and their dogs rabbiting nearby - and went on our way to meet up with Housemate at the end of our half as he'd taken the car round to pick us up there.

I really like that this new hobby has got us exploring places we wouldn't normally go to.  It also gives us plenty of opportunity for educational discussion.  We talked about the windmills and electricity generation; the sheep and how they are used to manage the undergrowth; the geology of the area and what we could see from various points on the walk.

So now it's New Year's Eve and I can't believe how quickly 2014 has disappeared.  As we look forward to welcoming in 2015, we wish you all a very happy and frugally prosperous new year.

Until next time. x

Monday, 29 December 2014

Rabbit Ings

We didn't manage to get out on Saturday.  The snow that had fallen had turned to ice overnight, so it wasn't even suitable for making a snowman - much to the disgust of HMS and Small.  Being so slippery underfoot it wasn't really a good idea to go out geocaching either, so we hibernated and played "Mousetrap" instead, which the kids had got for Christmas.  Yesterday was taken up with a trip to a family gathering, so there wasn't time for anything else.

Today the weather dawned bright, clear and cold.  Very cold.  We waited until just after lunch then set off for a local-ish country park, Rabbit Ings.  This is the site of a former colliery which has been landscaped and turned into a country park.  The blot on the horizon nearby is the Monckton coking plant, although I have heard rumours that this may be closing soon.  Certainly there was no smoke coming out of the chimneys today, so the area didn't smell too bad for once.  Normally it stinks when you pass the place!

We parked up and set off along some very icy paths to find a couple of geocaches, which we didn't have any trouble finding.  I've not been on this side of the park before, and it was very peaceful and pleasant despite the cold.

Look carefully between the trees - a heron standing still as a statue

Is it in here, Mum?

We saw a couple of cyclists, one of whom was in SHORTS, braving the icy slopes, and a few people walking their dogs, but other than that the place was pretty empty.  Apparently one can still find the odd fossil or two in exposed areas of red shale around the park, and I do remember reading a newspaper article published just before the landscaping began which invited people to one last fossil-hunting day before the reclamation work started.

I can see us coming back with the bikes at some point though as I'm sure HMS would enjoy a ride around here.  I know I would!

Until next time. x

Friday, 26 December 2014

The white stuff

We had a nice, quiet, family Christmas yesterday.  Small was happy with his presents and played happily with them all.

Today it was off to fetch HMS, and we grabbed a quick geocache on the way to fetch him.  Once we'd picked him up we went off to try again for one we didn't find the other day, and he must have brought us some good luck as we found it straight away this time.  He was a bit mystified about the whole concept, but after he'd opened his presents and spent a happy few hours building his Lego ship, I explained the idea to him and now he knows what our new hobby is.

All his own work
I'd planned out a nice little trail for tomorrow, as he wants to do some more and Small is always keen to go off 'treasure hunting'.  I'm not sure whether we'll be able to though, as at the time of writing, the white stuff is falling steadily from the sky.  It's not really settling just now as it had rained earlier, but things may change if it carries on overnight.  Only a day late for a white Christmas, but it will make finding things doubly difficult if they're all covered in snow.

Edited:  It's just starting to settle.

I hope you all had a good Christmas.

Keep warm.  Until next time. x

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas

From our house to yours, we wish you a very merry Christmas.  May Santa bring you everything you wish for.

Until next time. xx

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Munchy heaven

I made the mistake of opening one of these.  I only ever have them at Christmas, but like another well known snack, once I pop, I can't stop!

I will keep dipping into the caddy until my hand can find no more.  Then I'll pick it up and look hopefully into it, just in case.  If I'm lucky, I might have missed a few.

Off to enjoy twiglet heaven.

Have a nice evening.  Until next time. x

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Some festive fun

It's Winter Solstice - hope you've had a very happy one - and I'm feeling lazy today, so I'm posting a link to an article I found particularly amusing.   I hope it may elicit a few chuckles from you too.  It was housemate who saw a link to it on Facebook and he read it out to me as he knows my thoughts on the bureaucracy of the UK education system.

No offence meant to any readers who are teachers or who work in schools.  It's the system I dislike, not the poor sods whose thankless task it is to implement/try and learn what the idiots tell them they have to do/learn.  If politicians and bureaucrats


What if Ofsted and the DfE got their hands on Christmas?

Until next time. x

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The man in the red coat

We've had a fun day out today, at Nostell Priory again.  This time round we had a couple of missions to complete.  The first one was to take Small to see Santa.  In previous years we've taken him elsewhere and he's been terrified to go anywhere near the bloke in the false beard, preferring to run away and leave mummy to retrieve his present!

This time around he was excited.  He made a paper lantern, wrote a letter to Santa and waited patiently for his turn to go in.  He sat nicely, answered Santa's questions and actually posed for some photos with him.  He was also thrilled with his present, which he'd chosen beforehand from a list of options.  He chose a kite.

I don't know whether the difference this year was because Small is that little bit older, or whether it was because this Santa had a real beard, but he was very happy and relaxed about the whole deal.

We took the kite back to the car, and set off for mission 2.  More 'treasure hunting'.  There are quite a lot of geocaches hidden around the Nostell Priory parkland, and it's quite a hike to get round them.  Fortunately housemate was able to borrow one of the scooters so we managed to get to three of them.  I think the National Trust might have had something to say if we'd tried getting to any of the others and they'd seen one of their mobility scooters disappearing over the horizon!

There's one in here somewhere!
Found by Small
Looking across towards the mansion
There was nothing in the pot under the tree that Small wanted to swap for, but he's obviously taken on board what I explained to him yesterday and understands that it's OK to trade one thing for another as when we got to our third, and final, find of the day he asked if we could trade something.  Unfortunately the container was a very small one, so there was no room for anything other than the paper log.  But at least he's grasped the idea!

Until next time. x

Friday, 19 December 2014

Gales and no bran

It's been horrendously windy here today, with people's wheelie bins and all sorts taking off.  We had a trip to Pontefract this morning as Housemate had an appointment with the optician and Small and I had a bit of shopping to do.

It proved extremely difficult to find any wheat bran anywhere, and after trying Morros (which usually has it), Asda and Tesco I came up empty handed.  I ended up having to go back into town to Holland and Barratt who, it turned out, had a buy one get one half price offer on so I got two big bags for a princely £1.87 which should last us for a while.

After the boring shopping, it was playtime and we went off in search of a few more geocaches that were sort of on the way home.  It's great fun using multi-million pound former military technology to find bits of Tupperware hidden here, there and everywhere.  Even though it was only our second day of caching, Small's really got into the idea and loves going 'treasure hunting'.  He wasn't quite so keen on the walk back from one of them though, as he doesn't like the wind at the best of times and walking into a gale isn't much fun.  As a result of the weather, I didn't take the camera with me today, but we'll probably take HMS out at some point so he too can log the ones we've already found so I'll get some pics then.

I'd bought a couple of little 50p things while we were out shopping today and I showed them to Small when we got home, saying we could use them to swap for anything we found in a cache that he wanted to take out.  He shook his head vehemently, saying he didn't want to take anything because the things didn't belong to him.

He's got good morals, that kid.  He knows full well that you don't take things that don't belong to you, but once I'd explained the 'swap' concept, he looked much happier about the whole idea of exchanging something of ours for something in the box as an OK thing to do.  A proud mummy moment.

Hoping you're all safe and warm.

Until next time. x

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Found it

Big beaming grins all round today.  We, or to be more accurate Small, found our first geocache today.  He spotted it, and we've logged our first ever find.

Found it!
If you're wondering what on earth I'm on about, geocaching is something that's a really fun way to get exercise, is entertaining, and better still, can be totally free, which is something us frugals like immensely!

It's like a treasure hunt for grown-ups, but is also fun for kids too.  The object of the exercise is to use a GPS enabled device, and often an additional clue, to locate a hidden object.  When you find it, you sign the log and when you get home, you record your find on the website too.  Some of the objects, like the one Small is holding, are large enough to contain a few 'swapables', but as geocaching etiquette dictates that if you take something you leave something in exchange, we didn't today as we didn't have anything with us.  It was purely a quick walk and hunt around on our way to a friend's house.  Many of the hidden objects are considerably smaller than this one.

It was fun hunting around for it though.  Dozy me walked straight past it, but Small, perhaps because he was nearer ground level than me, spotted it no problems.  Oh to be young and have good eyesight.  I can see we shall be doing a lot more of these hunts in the future.

If you're interested and want to learn more, visit   You can sign up totally free, and there are hundreds of thousands of caches hidden all around the world.  There is an option to purchase a premium membership which apparently gives you access to lots more caches, but you certainly don't need one.  There are plenty of free ones to go at.

Until next time. x

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Deer on the wall

Small has been working on a little Christmas craft the last few days, with a little help here and there.  The end result is now proudly displayed on the wall, and we have our very own mounted, but not stuffed, deer on the wall.

Meet Rudolph!

Made extremely frugally, with some recycled cardboard, and other bits and bobs we already had, no money was spent to create him.  Bonus :)

Edited to add:  There's a link in the comments to the template we used for the reindeer head.  We 'mounted' the head on a paper plate that had two slits cut into it.  You'll see where these need to be if you download the template.  Small painted the centre of the plate brown, then stuck on the bits of tissue paper.  We didn't have any 'traditional' Christmas colours, but of course Mummy had some purple!

Until next time. x

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Starting to look a lot like Christmas

We nipped down to Nostell Priory this morning, our local National Trust property, to see the Christmas decorations as this was the last weekend they were going to be on display.  We got there just after opening time at 11am, but the car park was already jam packed and cars were being parked on verges outside the gates.

We drove in in some trepidation, but were fortunate enough to get a space up near the house - there are small advantages to housemate having a blue badge sometimes!  It turned out that as well as having the house open for Chrimbo decorations and hordes of children arriving to see Santa, there was also a run on involving 5 different running clubs which had led to some 500 cars descending on the place since 9am.

The house looked really pretty with a tree in all the rooms, and there was a 'treasure hunt' for the children which involved the poem "The Owl and the Pussy Cat" and a hunt for various items from the poem, such as an owl, a pig with a ring in its nose, a pea green boat, and so on.  Both Small and HMS enjoyed the hunt, which bodes well for giving geocaching a go once the weather gets a bit better as they both said they really loved hunting for stuff.

Unfortunately, the photos didn't turn out very well so I've posted those that did.

The dining room all laid out for Christmas
Stir the pudding and make a wish

Log reindeer
Can you spot Rudolph?
A roomful of gingerbread houses
All made by NT volunteers
Loved the train track going round the houses
The plan for this afternoon was to get the Christmas decorations up here after lunch, but that met with rather a delay as it took me ages to find the right boxes in the attic, and then the internet started playing up.  It looks like someone had tried to reset the router password, so Housemate spent a while on the phone to Sky getting it sorted out.  But better late than never and now the tree is up.

Until next time. x

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Camera shy

Despite a brief warm up around midnight, we awoke to a very hard frost.  In fact because the sun doesn't get around the back of the house at this time of year, it stayed frosty pretty much all day.

As a result the birds were hungry and were frequent, if flirty, visitors to the top of the log store where I'd put some bread.  The little robin didn't seem at all bothered by the humans, happily pecking around even when we were outside.  Any time I got anywhere near the window with the camera though - despite standing like a statue in the vain hope he'd stay long enough for a photo - he disappeared.

I did manage to get a shot of the blackbird, but he too soon became camera shy and this was all I got!

Housemate also spotted a dastardly rat scuttle through the back yard.  I hadn't seen one for ages, but it looks like they're back again.  I know they reckon you're never more than a meter from one, but I still don't like seeing them.

Hope you've kept warm today.

Until next time. x

Friday, 12 December 2014

Busy day

With the totally soggy, windy weather yesterday, I decided to hibernate.  Small's friend came round after school and we ended up playing Junior Monopoly.  Friend and I were soon bankrupt, which left Small and friend's mum.  She ended up winning.

Later that evening a delivery of logs turned up right on time, so those needed to be stacked in the log store round the back, and by the time that was finished, I just wanted to get dry and go to bed!

A busy day today. Up at silly o'clock for a group trip to the doctors.  Nothing serious, just check ups all round, but we've been trying to get an appointment with the doctor we all like for ages - seems he's pretty hard to get to see since he's been made a partner - and we finally all managed to get in together.  It saves on petrol and time!  Small can never remember his name, so calls him Dr Who, which always makes him laugh.

After the doctors, Small asked if we could go to Angler's Country Park.  We hadn't managed to get there yesterday for the usual home ed meet up.  Firstly the weather was lousy, and secondly it didn't seem anyone was going anyway what with the run-up to Christmas and all that, so we gave it a miss.  It was still quite early and the sun was out, so off we went.  A bacon butty and a cuppa at Squires Tea Room for housemate and me, while Small ran around getting rather muddy and soggy.  He had fun, which is all that matters.  If I'd had my wits about me, we should have had a go at geocaching as there are several caches around Anglers, but I seemed to have left them at home, so we didn't.  I'll try and remember next time.

We were back home before lunch, and Small got stuck in to the books, getting all his work done in good time.  After lunch it was cleaning time for me and now we're cosy in front of the fire watching the Tom & Jerry version of 'The Nutcracker'.  One of the neighbours, who is a bus driver, has just told me the works weather forecast is for snow for the weekend.  We shall see!

Wherever you are in the world, keep warm and keep well.

Until next time. x

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

It's Axl Small

Firstly, hello to some lovely new followers and thank you for all the comments on yesterday's post about making the wood burner earn its keep.  Some great tips.

We've been having a bad hair day here for quite a while.  In fact it's probably been a bad hair quarter!  One of Small's problems is sensory, and he can't cope with hair washing or hair cutting.  It's actually true that hair that isn't washed will keep itself clean, but that doesn't stop it growing and at the moment his hair is at that horrible in-between stage where it isn't long enough to keep out of his eyes but not short enough that it doesn't flop into them.  I was getting fed up of him trying to blow it out of his eyes, so we have found a solution.

Meet Axl Small.

Housemate had a bandana sitting around doing nothing, so we've pinched it.  Problem solved.  HMS calls Small "rock star" anyway because of his long-ish hair.  Personally I think he's just jealous as his own hair gets shorn within a 16th of an inch of its life every 3 or 4 weeks!

In other news we've signed up to give geocaching a go once the weather gets warmer.  It sounds like a fun idea that will not only give walks an additional purpose, but will also encourage navigation, map reading, discussion, exercise and fun.

Hoping you're safe and warm, or alternatively safe and cool for those of you in the southern hemisphere.

Until next time. x

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Making the wood burner earn its keep

After fighting with a howling gale to get to Small's swimming lesson today, I must say that I'm very glad to be indoors tonight, and feel extremely thankful that the wood burner was installed a couple of months ago.

There are pros and cons to most things, and a wood burner is no different.  They seem to be becoming very popular though and I'm even seeing them advertised on the telly.  Sorry if I'm preaching to the converted here but thought I'd share a few tips on how to save a few more pennies (hopefully pounds!) while you use your wood burner.

The downsides that spring to mind are having to clear it out, although that's more of a pain in the butt than difficult - I might change my mind on that statement as I get older!   I have noticed an increase in the amount of dust, and it does struggle a bit on nights like tonight when there's a howling gale blowing down the chimney.  It also takes a while to get up to temperature, whereas one of the pros of central heating is that you can put it on for half an hour, get instant heat, and switch it off again.  Once the wood burner's going at optimum though, it radiates heat for ages and has dried the house out no end.

On the plus side, gas consumption has plummeted compared to what I'd normally be using at this time of year and I can honestly say that for the first time in all the years I've lived here, the house feels warm since I started using the wood burner.  Even with the central heating on and chomping through gas like it was going out of fashion, the house never really felt warm and was always damp.  Another plus is that although the gale is blowing down the chimney, I can't feel it any more thanks to the wood burner doors.  That's a major, major plus.

I do make the wood burner earn its keep though.  Laundry is put on an airer rack to dry in front of it, and because it radiates heat long after I've gone to bed - I don't "leave it in", I let it go out - it is usually dry enough in the morning to need only 5 minutes in the dryer to finish off.

The other thing I do is use the camping kettle on the top to boil water instead of using the electric kettle.  Once the kettle boils, which it does fairly quickly once the stove's up to temperature, what isn't used is put in thermos flasks to keep hot.  Rather a lot of tea gets consumed here, so anything that cuts back on electricity consumption is a definite bonus and the tea tastes no different to the ones made when I take a flask out with me.

Bed time hot water bottles get filled from water that's been heated on the stove, and I always try to remember to fill a last thermos before I go to bed so that it can be tipped into the electric kettle in the morning for an almost instantly boiling kettle and first cuppa of the day.

Anyone else have any tips for how to maximise use of a wood burner?  I'd love to hear them.

Keep warm and safe.  Until next time. x

Monday, 8 December 2014

A helping hand

A normal Monday here for most of the day.  Up at sparrow o'clock to get HMS back to school, then hitting the books with Small interspersed with counting games and Junior Monopoly.

Later on, one of Small's friends came round for some help with his reading.  He's older than Small, and is in year 3/Grade 2 at school but considered to be behind with his reading.  He also brought some homework he'd been given.  Not only was the print so small the poor kid could hardly see it - I had difficulty and I had my glasses on - it was also presented in such a boring way, it's no wonder kids don't want to do homework.  I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard for schools to present stuff they expect kids to do in a more child-friendly way.

We got friend going on Starfall which is an American site, but the one that both HMS and Small learned to read on.  My only complaint when Small first learnt was that he tended to say "zee" instead of "zed" but that was soon put right.  Friend was soon having fun without realising he was learning.  The site's interactive, so there's plenty of fun stuff to do, see and click on while you're reading.  He must have enjoyed the experience as he can't wait to come back and have another go.  It felt good to see him growing in confidence as he read.

Not a solitary penny spent today as tea was stuff that had already been done and put in the freezer.  A day when no money is spent is always a bonus!

Until next time. x

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Parsnip and Apple Soup

While I was on holiday, I tried some delicious soup at a National Trust property.  Not something I normally do - too expensive - but it was a cold, damp day and I needed warming up.  The soup in question was parsnip and apple, which I must admit was not something I'd ever have considered trying or making.  But, it was delicious and is a meal that's both cheap and filling when made at home, and is lovely served with some homemade bread.

Those of you who've been with me for a while will know I'm a slap-dash cook, and things tend to get chucked in!  The recipe I was given by the NT chef also included potato which would bulk it out a bit, but I left that out.  You could also add a bit of cream to posh it up a bit and make 'cream of parsnip and apple'.

You'll need:

Some of these!  I used three parsnips which I think were about 60p from Aldi, one medium sized white onion which was part of Aldi's super 6 the other day (so around 49p for the whole pack), and three of the four apples you see pictured.  These were either lurking in the fridge or some windfalls I'd brought back from my mum's.  The smallest one was brown inside so I didn't use that one.

Get a heavy based pan and put in a chunk of butter - no idea how much I put in, but at a guess around 25g/1oz -  to melt on low heat. Finely chop the onion and put in a pan to sweat.  Peel and chop the parsnips and apples, taking the cores out of both.  Parsnip cores can be a bit woody and bitter so best to leave these out.

Once the onion is soft, chuck in your parsnip and apple pieces and add 500ml of veg or chicken stock.  I used a veg stock cube because I had some sitting in the cupboard.  Cover and cook until the parsnip is soft.

Blitz in one of these, with a stick blender or pass through a sieve if you haven't got either.

Et voila!  Parsnip and apple soup which should do 4 meals.  Lovely served with fresh crusty bread and a bit of butter.  The soup does benefit from a dash of black pepper added when you serve it.  A fab winter warmer that can cost less than 25p per portion.  Takes about 1/2 an hour to make.   Do let me know if you try this recipe, or have any suggestions for variations/improvements.

Until next time. x

Saturday, 6 December 2014

An icy bike ride

We woke up to an absolutely glorious morning with sunshine and clear blue skies, but a heavy white frost on top of the sheds.  Too good to waste, especially when the headlines in some newspapers are screaming about arctic blizzards this coming week.  From what I can see, the actual Met Office warnings are for the north and west of Scotland, but newspapers do like to sensationalise and you never know, it might make it to Yorkshire!

Off we went to Angler's Country Park with the kids bikes.   I walked round and housemate was able to come too as one of the mobility scooters was free.   HMS and Small scooted off on their bikes, although Small kept getting his stabilisers stuck on the grass verges and ending up with an exercise bike instead of one that went anywhere.  I kept having to give him a helpful shove.

Muuuuuum, I'm stuck again!
It's clouded over now and feeling decidedly cold so we're spending the afternoon in front of the wood burner with a family movie.  I think the vote is for 'How to train your Dragons 2'. Again.

Hope you've had a great day.  Until next time. x

Friday, 5 December 2014

Selling out

This post comes with a "slight rant alert" warning and is being written because there's something that's been bugging me for a few weeks now.

Is there a point where a blogger sells out, where ethics become compromised or a total conflict of interest occurs?  Yes.  I think there is.

Being in the fortunate position to make money from a blog or a website is a wonderful position to be in.  It means that in the eyes of advertisers, you've "made it" in that they consider you a worthy publication in which to advertise their wares.

If you have a blog about fashion, for example, it makes sense for the blogger to establish relationships with companies whose products are a good "fit" for the blog and to try to gain advertising revenue from those companies.  In this manner, forming a direct relationship with a potential advertiser can pay dividends for both parties.

There are also other forms of monetising a blog or website, usually in the form of a pay-per-click or pay-per-action style of advert, such as Adsense or affiliate programs.  The former pays a small fee (usually pennies) when someone clicks on an advert.  The latter pays a larger fee (commission) when a transaction successfully occurs.

This post isn't being written because I'm jealous, or because I have a mouthful of sour grapes.  I've been in the position where I was given things in return for writing about them, and the giver was always left in no doubt that what I wrote would be my own opinion of the product.  On the rare occasion when the potential giver took umbrage at that and wanted an assurance that the piece would be positive regardless, they were told in no uncertain terms that their offer was  declined.

I've also had websites where I've used advertising programs such as Google Adsense.  When it first started it was a good program because it targeted the adverts based on the context of the page.  So for example if I had an article about holidays in Yorkshire, the adverts that displayed were generally for cottages, hotels or B&Bs in Yorkshire.  It was a good match.  The articles I wrote were intended to encourage people to do/stay/eat at the places I'd written about, the adverts were targeted, and whether readers were armchair travellers or potential buyers, they were at least thinking about spending money.

I don't object to bloggers being given products to review.  I don't object to bloggers writing advertorial posts - so long as it's made clear that a relationship exists between the blogger and the company whose product is being written about.

No. What I do object to is a blog whose whole ethos is about SAVING money, about scrimping, doing without and cutting back, that suddenly slathers itself in adverts which, by their very nature, are encouraging people to spend money.  Quite often, LOTS of money.  If YOU are talking to me about saving money, please don't bombard me with adverts for expensive suits that are reduced from £600 to £400.  It just doesn't sit well.

I particularly object when a blog that's all about saving the pennies shows me adverts for gambling sites, betting sites and online casinos.  While obviously nobody is compelled to click on any of these adverts, I don't feel they should be appearing in the first place given the blog's supposed ethos.  To my mind, that is a total and utter conflict of interest.

That's all.

<end rant>

Until next time. x

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A typical Thursday

A very typical Thursday for us, except it felt much colder due to being a dull, damp day that didn't get much above 5 degrees C.  Small quite likes getting through his work quickly on Thursdays as he looks forward to going to Angler's Country Park - another one of Yorkshire's former colliery sites that's been landscaped and turned into a nature reserve, and is otherwise known as The Heronry - to play with his home ed friends.

Not much of a turnout this week.  It does depend very much on who's doing what, and on the weather, as to who comes along.  Small had two of his friends to play with and we all got to meet a new (baby) addition to the group.  I can't believe she's 6 weeks old already!

Small hit a major achievement today.  I think I may have mentioned that he's terrified of steps and heights, and sadly this tends to kybosh a lot of  playground activity.  It's been sad on occasions to see all the other kids, some much younger than him, clambering up, down, over and  through all sorts of playground equipment while he runs around watching, but not prepared to go on anything.

Well, today he managed to get to the top of both of the slides.  Not up the steps, but he hauled himself up to the platform at the top and, with a whoop of delight, slid down again.  Of course as soon as he'd achieved this once, there was no stopping him.

In other news, I got a wonderful surprise at Aldi.  They've started doing 6-packs of roast chicken flavour crisps.  They've probably never seen a chicken at all, but it's my favourite flavour so I did a happy little dance and bought two packs.  Seems rather a lame thing to get all excited about, but that's a highlight in my generally dull life ;)

Until next time. x

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Splish, splash

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, one of the advantages of home education is being able to organise private tuition inside school hours when tutors generally have slots free.  After several months of trying to find someone who could teach Small to swim on a 1-1 basis, yesterday was the day of his first 'proper' swimming lesson.

I want 1-1 initially because a) because of his difficulties I feel he needs very individualised attention for a while, and b) because he hasn't, up to now, received any sort of 'formal' instruction from anyone other than me.  Once he's got the hang of it and grown in confidence, I'll try him in a group class.

He's been swimming, as in happily splashing around in a pool with armbands, back floats, etc for a while now and it's something he appears to enjoy.  He lacks the coordination to do more than one thing at a time, so if the legs are going the arms aren't, and vice-versa.  It's something that may come with practice, but he's way less coordinated than he should be, which is something that often goes hand-in-glove with Aspergers.

Much to my surprise, and I think the instructor's too, he was more than happy to get into the pool - although he wouldn't go down the steps and had to be lifted in - and Small was absolutely delighted to find it was shallow enough for his feet to touch the bottom, which they can't in the pool we normally go to.  He soon cottoned on to just how far he had to come back down the pool before he could touch the bottom and as soon as he got there, the toes went down and he walked, rather than swam back to the edge.

He did well though and was soon down in the deep end and the instructor said that while his tip toe walking causes him great difficulty on terra-firma, he's got the perfect legs for swimming as his toes naturally go in the right direction!   At one point, she got him swimming around with one float on each arm instead of two, but we all laughed when Small craftily snuck over to the poolside and put the other two back on while she wasn't looking.

Small also hates getting his face and hair wet as he can't process the sensation.  Although he doesn't notice the latter too much when he's in the pool, if so much as a spot of water gets on his face, he wants to wipe it off.  When the instructor suggested to him that he just wipe it away with his hand, he looked at her as though she'd just said something really silly, and retorted, "No, that would just make my face wetter."  I don't think she expects that sort of logical, blunt response, especially from a 5 year-old!  She did comment on how polite he is though, which makes me wonder what the other kids she teaches are like.  After all, manners cost nothing and often get you a long way.

He actually seems to be much further on than I thought though, as she soon managed to get him moving around the pool with just the two armbands on each arm and no back float.  So long as he remembers to actually move the arms and legs and put a bit of effort into the whole deal, he does OK.  We shall persevere!

Until next time. x

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Why I home educate

One of my readers asked me recently why I chose to home school, and I must say it's a question I get asked quite often - usually by two groups of people.  The first group are the ones who are genuinely curious, the ones who didn't know it was a legal option but for whom, for whatever reason, home education isn't an option.  Then there's the second group.   The ones who look at me with abject horror that I couldn't wait to get rid of Small and pack him off to school like they've done with their kids.

I totally understand that not everyone is in a position to home educate, even if they'd like to.  But I don't understand the second group.  I can't imagine anyone not wanting to grow and learn with their child, given the opportunity to do so.  I truly don't understand why anyone would have a child, only to be counting down the days until the child starts school, and once he has, counting down the days until the school holidays are over.  I know so many parents who can't seem to stand being with their kids.  Children are a joy, a precious gift to be cherished and nurtured, not a burden or a parcel to be passed around to whoever will have them for a few hours.

I should add that the dear reader who asked the question doesn't fall into either of the two groups outlined above.  She was herself a home educator, and like most of us are, was curious to know why another home schooler chose to do it.  We all have our own, often deeply personal, reasons for ending up on the home education path, and unfortunately the answer to the question "why" can never really be answered in a few words.  I wish it could.  This post is about my path.

I always knew I wanted to home educate any children I was fortunate enough to have, and even before he was born, I knew Small would be home schooled.   In the UK at least, education law makes it quite clear that it's the responsibility of the parent to ensure a child receives a suitable education, and it's a responsibility I take very seriously.  It's certainly not one I would entrust to an instrument of the state.   I believe education should be worthwhile, meaningful, enriching and fulfilling, not simply an exercise in ticking off the parts of the curriculum that have been dished out.  This, in my opinion, leads to a well rounded, mature individual capable of dealing with the real world.

Ask any home educator why they home school and you will likely get as many different answers as there are differing styles of home education.  And that's one of the wonderful things about it.  The education is individually tailored to the individual child.  It's not a one-size fits all approach, where the system tries to force square pegs into round holes, wants everybody to be the same, to follow the same mantra and lose any real sense of individuality.

I've watched my housemate's son change from a bright, curious little boy who wanted to learn about everything before he started school and in his reception year, into a child who couldn't care less about anything relating to knowledge, wants nothing whatsoever to do with school, has the most horrendous tantrums over homework, is bullied, lacks self esteem, feels he's worthless, hasn't got a clue what he's done during the day, is well behind the level "expected" for his age group, etc etc.

I'm sick of people telling him he won't amount to anything.  He's a very artistic child, but pursuing art is seen as frivolous.  It's got to be math, literacy and "topic".  What the bloody hell is "topic" I asked him.  All sorts of stuff he's not remotely interested in, apparently.

Each summer, when school's out for 6 weeks and he stays with housemate, by week 4/5 he's happy, confident and wanting to join in and learn with Small.  Then he goes back to school and within a week, things are back to square one.  It's soul destroying to see a child who's just regained an interest and enthusiasm for learning turned, once more, into an 'I don't give a stuff' zombie.

And it's not just him.  The vast majority of my friends' kids are pretty much the same.  The bright ones are even more jaded.  An account I hear on a regular basis from parents and children who are above average is that the child feels abandoned and neglected at school because they have to sit around waiting for everyone else to catch up to their level.  They become bored, disillusioned and turned off learning.

Why would I want my son to become like that?  Obviously I wouldn't.  Plus, the schools in this district are amongst the worst in the country for achievement.  So much so, the LA has been slapped by Ofsted for its poor performance.  Home schooling is the right decision for us.

In some aspects - the academic ones - Small's well ahead of where he would be were he at school.  Several years ahead in some things.  His education is designed to suit him, nobody is trying to force him to fit the education.

Outside of academia however, there are a great many things Small can't do that a child of his age would be expected to be able to do at school.  I'm not going into details, but the difficulties he has coupled with Aspergers would make him a prime target for bullies and ridicule, probably from some of the teachers as well, especially given the very precise way he speaks, the fact that he can't sit still, flaps his hands around, and generally exhibits behaviours that would earn him the label "disruptive".

As a home educator, I can accommodate all those needs and adjust our daily schedule to suit.  When he's having a bad day, we can spend the day playing educational games, go out for a nature walk and discuss scientific things, go to a museum as and when we want to, go for a bike ride, do PE in the park or whatever else is required.  If he finds it easier to stand up to do his work, that's fine.  It gets done, he's learning, he's happy.  At school, he would be made to sit down, shut up, not ask questions, and do whatever is on the agenda for the day rather than pursuing interests he wants to learn about.

Why should someone be forced to learn about A, when he wants to learn all about B?  On the very rare occasion when housemate's son has shown an interest in something, school railroads him along onto the next item on the agenda, leaving him disillusioned and frustrated that he can't take time to find out more.  Just as a spark of interest gets ignited, it's just as quickly snuffed out again because the timetable's moved on.  Is it any wonder then that his attitude is "why bother".   With homeschooling, we often go off on tangents and end up learning about a whole different topic just because an initial question has been asked.

Home education is an extremely efficient way of learning.  When you've got a classroom of 30+ kids, you have to wait for them all to complete an assigned task before moving on.  Those who finish fast are frustrated at having to wait; those who don't finish are left frustrated and made to feel like failures because they can't keep up.  We can achieve in a few hours what it would take a class of kids a week or more to complete.  I was totally gobsmacked recently when a product I downloaded for Small (prepared for a classroom environment) came with the recommendation that it should be sufficient to last for at least two 60-minute lessons.  Really?  Small completed the 8 questions in ten minutes.

Small has already learned that by working well, he has more free time to pursue his own interests.  He's worked out how and where to find out information for himself.  One of his favourite books is his dictionary.  Not only does he know how to find words he doesn't know (with a bit of help, he is only 5), he finds new words and learns their meaning too.  By contrast, housemate's son, who is 10, hasn't got a clue how to use a dictionary despite many attempts to explain how one works, thinks it's far too hard anyway because the words are all jumbled up (his words!) and doesn't care whether the work he produces (homework) is right, wrong or indifferent. He can't (won't) find things out for himself, wants (metaphorically) his hand held through each and every step, thinks he's incapable of doing anything and appears to have little in the way of independent thought.

Home educated children tend, on the whole, to be self-reliant, turning to Mum only when they need to.  Schooled kids have to follow the herd, aren't allowed to do things independently - it disrupts the class don't you know - and they become so dependent upon being told what they need to know, they end up losing the ability to teach themselves or find out for themselves something they want to know more about.  It's almost like they're frightened to step outside the comfort zone of having the 'teacher' put the information in front of them, and if the information isn't there, it must be something they oughtn't to know.

I do not believe school prepares kids for real life, nor does it teach them a responsible attitude to life.  Real life happens outside of school in communities of people from all walks of life and all different ages.  Home education prepares individuals who are much better adapted to reality.   While I've no idea whether Small will want to pursue a university education, I do know that many universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, actually prefer home educated children because they know how to study independently.  The university doesn't have to waste spend the first year deschooling home educated children like they do schooled children.  Home educated kids are already 'university ready'.

Another plus of home educating is the ability to do things at times that suit us.  We can arrange private tuition inside school hours - something tutors relish because they're so used to having to do everything after 3.30, so they tend to have free slots in the day time that they're all too willing to fill.  We can take a day off when we want, and often do 'work' at weekends because we've done something else mid-week.  We can take holidays during term time which suits our frugality, as we can take advantage of reduced prices.  We can go to museums, the park or on other outings when places are much quieter.  We can meet up with other home educators and friends any time.  We can go to the dentists, the doctor's, to hospital appointments as and when, rather than getting told off for attending them between 9 and 3.30.

I want my child to learn because he wants to.  I want him to love learning.  I want that love of learning to be a lifelong one.  I want him to be able to become anything and anyone he wants to become.  I don't want him to be stripped of his childhood, to grow up hating anything to do with learning and the pursuit of knowledge.  I don't want him to be taught to the test, to be constantly evaluated, compared or graded.

Home educating isn't hard and anyone can do it.  You don't have to be Einstein, you don't need lots of money and you don't need limitless resources.  All you need is to have faith in yourself and your child(ren), and the desire to grow and learn together.  I want my son to be the person he is meant to be, not the one the system wants him to be.

Until next time. x

Monday, 1 December 2014

Homeward bound

Perhaps I'm weird but I'm one of those people who doesn't post about things until after I've done them.  I always feel when folks post about things they're going to do and when they're doing them is like putting up a sign saying, "I'm out/I'm away".  I never claimed I wasn't nutty!

Roosters cottage
Dorothea the ornamental sheep
Patio area, would be lovely in the summer
Anyway, we saved the walk around the village of Much Wenlock, where we'd stayed at "Roosters" cottage, until the morning we left.  It's a pretty, olde-worldy village and it has an absolutely F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S butchers shop.  I'd read about it before we went and whomever had written the articles about it wasn't kidding.  There were queues heading out the door.  The prices were phenomenally reasonable, and the range of products was amazing.

I bought quite a bit of meat, including some veal and a dressed pheasant, and got a gorgeous venison in red wine pie.  There were pheasants hanging up that were 3 for £1.95.  I love pheasant, but I didn't particularly fancy plucking and removing the innards, hence the ready dressed one.  Not because I'm squeamish btw, just that I haven't a clue how to do it.

The amazing butchers shop
As with the cottage, I'm not being paid/sponsored/bribed or otherwise persuaded to promote this butcher's shop.  I genuinely think it's great, and from the queues ahead of and behind us, so do an awful lot of other people.  The shop opens at 6am and apparently there are even queues at that time of the morning.

Pies of every description
I'm not a pheasant plucker!!

The George and Dragon Inn, one of the town's old pubs

The old police station

The last photo is all I could see of Wenlock Priory's remains as it was closed, along with the town's small museum.

Now we're home, and after a weekend of catching up with laundry, house cleaning etc, it's back to the usual.  Small has quite a lot of book/written work to catch up on and we're trying to get the remaining November work finished so we can start on December's.

Until next time. x