Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Joke of the Day and Conspiracy Theories 101

Arwen: What do you say after a bad date ?
Me: What ?
Arwen: Copper!

Hint: You need to know your chemistry. And how to text.


I don't know if I've mentioned here that Yoshi's become a Whovian. And the thing about being a Whovian is that everything can be explained with reference to Dr Who.

Lost colony at Roanoke ? Davros and the Reality Bomb.

Who is Davros ? Regeneration of Nikola Tesla.

No Martians on Mars ? Perception filter.

Sky covered with a mixture of smoke and cloud ? Obviously cover for a Dalek invasion!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

I'm Not Even an Animal Person!

Cats make me sneeze. I'm scared of most dogs. When once I woke up in a German train and saw a rat on the shoulder of the man opposite, I didn't find it cute. Rabbits glare at me like devil-kin, mice eat their babies.

Birds I like. Mostly, I like the way they sing happily way up in the trees and require no handling.

So it's hard to know how I ended up as the full-time carer of a guinea pig who won't eat and has the vet baffled.

It's sort of like having a baby, only even less convenient. This baby gets syringe fed every three hours, likes to watch TV - Downton Abbey is a particular favourite - and lives for snuggles.

I'm resigned. It's just one of life's little surprises I guess.


Staying home with the guinea pig for a whole month makes home schooling look thrilling. I've been excited out of all proportion at the discovery of Galore Park's 'So You Want To Learn' series and starting to plan for next year, Yoshi's 5th grade.


Like the rest of the reading world, I've got a thing for Scandi crime fiction. I managed to sneak in a few hours reading last night - Mari Jungstedt's The Double Silence. Not bad for whiling away a Saturday night. The translation was hokey in parts but the crime, which takes place during an Ingmar Bergman film festival on the island of Faro, was engrossing enough.

Yoshi and I had a read-aloud dilemma, having finished the entire Harry Potter series AND The Mysterious Benedict Society books, both of which he loved.

We're reading Emil and the Three Twins at the moment, which is incredibly old fashioned but has scenes of delightful things like children reading Goethe.

Before the day became too hot, we visited the book store and found Joan Aitken's trilogy, beginning with Go Saddle the Sea. If we like this one we're set for a little while.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Tale of Two Stories

We work for chocolate, the kids and I, and this week the job was judging drawing and story entries for our local library's Book Week competition.

There were a hundred or so entries from K-6. Judging the drawings wasn't too tough. Plenty of freedom and imagination and rainbow coloured crayon. The longer the children had been schooled, however, and the more prescriptive a classroom teacher had been, the less impressive the entries became. One or two of the students were natural writers, with a talent for enlivening even the dullest of prompts. As for the others, a faint sense of drudgery and - even worse - of a calculation as to what an adult teacher/librarian/judge might 'want' - hovered over their entries.

I can't say for sure how much each writer enjoyed the process, but in most cases, that joy certainly didn't make itself evident to the reader.


This week my non-writer has been writing. Seized with a sudden desire to write his own Doctor Who book, he's been at the computer for hours each day, the weekend included. Yes, his spelling leaves a little to be desired. Yes, our lack of punctuation lessons is showing. But, oh, the pleasure! The delight with which he announces Chapter Nine is now ready for reading! That's what creative writing is about, the living process of making, of wrestling words into a pattern that pleases you, of giving over your days, when the spirit moves you, to work.

He isn't writing for a prize. He isn't writing to please me. He has no anxiety about his spelling or his typing or his choice of subject.  He's writing solely because "it's so much fun!"

I am so incredibly grateful that he's here at home, building for hours when that's what he needs, embracing a new challenge when the time is right, when the imagination is ready to take off to another galaxy, just like the Tardis.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Crime and The Woman Alone - A Reading List

I've been reading hard this last week. The state of my house will attest to that. Nice and middle-brow, I've read the new Sara Paretsky and a trio of thrillers by Nicci French. To make up for the crime glut, I finished off with Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs, which, ironically,  turned out to be revolve around crime as well.

Breakdown, the Paretsky, begins with a group of tweens in a graveyard and ends with the expose of a murderer, long hidden. In between, V.I. Warshawski - a private eye now well into middle age - manages to explore the relationships between brothers and sisters, a biased media, politics, immigration, mental health, the lot! And still it works as a puzzle.

I've always liked V.I. She works alone. And the story is driven by what she thinks, the connections she makes. Oh, she's got a token niece, a kind neighbour, the dogs. She's even got a man. Her real world, however, takes place in her mind, is woven of thoughts. And the places she does her thinking aren't peopled; her apartment, her car, a train, the city on an early morning run.

Frieda Klein, title character of the Nicci French trio, is addicted to aloneness as well. She's a walker, following the buried rivers of London late at night. She's a listener also - it's her profession of psychotherapist that draws her into a series of police investigations. Her house, dark and orderly, is refuge from the world and the people in it, friends and strangers who bang relentlessly at the door. Freida's thinking is less straightforward than V.I's. She is attuned to image and to nuance.Yet the world she shapes from dream and emotion, from her separation from others, creates and solves the mystery for us.

I was interested in The Woman Upstairs after reading about the (mild) controversy over Messud's main character, who is said to commit the cardinal sin of being unlikeable. Is she ? Not for me.  Miss E, an elementary teacher and would-be artist reaching early middle age sans husband, child or even mother becomes involved in the lives of a family from Paris. She falls in love with the child, the man and crucially, the artist Sirena with whom she begins to share a studio. It reads as a novel of mortality, of thwarted ambition, of loss and of lack almost to the end. And only as the end approaches and a crime is revealed does the kaleidoscope change. A novel about the crimes we commit in the name of art and the crimes we commit against ourselves, here again is another world conjured by the thoughts of a woman alone.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

But I Want You To Teach Me!

Over the past six months, Yoshi has tried out the following:

Circus Skills
Digital Drawing
Reader's Theatre

and last week


Fencing is in the planning stage. And I wouldn't mind throwing some music in the mix.

To me, Queen of children-don't-require-umpteen-activities, this seems excessive. And if things continued this way, it would be.

I'm thinking of this year as a 'taster' year, where Yoshi can try out a whole stack of stuff and see what he likes. Gym, archery and (surprise!) reader's theatre are in the lead so far.

After the year is out, I think we'll discuss and settle on one or two favourite activities and stick with them through 5th grade, with a focus on mastery rather than variety.

I also think it's really important that my children learn how to learn from other people. I mean, I'm flattered that certain people want me to teach them everything. I just don't think it's ideal. That might seem a surprising comment from a dedicated home schooler, but for me, home schooling is about avoiding a particular kind of institutional learning rather than about avoiding teachers or classes.

A good teacher or a great class is something to be embraced for its own sake, but also because - let's face it - being taught by a variety of people who are not your mother is a huge part of living in this society. And I want my children to be comfortable with that, to have had enough experience to function in class settings, to be able to communicate appropriately with teachers, to appreciate good teaching, to be discerning about less-than-stellar experiences and to be able to teach others themselves.

Will I be glad when this year of everything is done ? Oh yeah - but I'll also be glad I pushed just that little bit, now my boy is old enough, against the cries of 'But I want you to teach me!'

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Slacker Mum's Guide to Homeschooling Part 2

Part 2

Two words. Scandinavian Pedagogy. Just make sure you practice the pronunciation of pedagogy a few times before use.

Why ? Well, Scandinavian Pedagogy buys you two precious slacker years. Those Scandinavian children start school at seven, and what's good for Thorbjorn is just as good for Lavinia.

With SP as your excuse, all Lavinia needs to do between the ages of five and seven is play with Lego, while you have a good lie down. When she bores of construction toys, bundle her up in her snow suit and send her outside to build a fort. Adjust according to local weather conditions. Finish the day with some rousing Swedish folk tunes, then it's a quick open sandwich before bed. Voila! Or its equivalent in Norwegian.

These children grow up to be robust and contribute to the thriving Scandinavian crime fiction scene. Under your tutelage, Lavinia too may one day grow up to start a novel with the words "The lobster fishery was not what it once was."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Slacker Mum's Guide to Homeschooling Part 1

Part 1

Before you make the announcement - Surprise! We're home schooling Lavinia! - just move house. Move house to a town, state or country where nobody knows you. Yes, it will be a lot of work, selling the house, buying a house, resigning from your job, packing all those boxes. And as a Slacker Homeschooling Mum, I don't normally recommend a lot of work.

Trust me on this one though. It will be less work than explaining to the entire world and her nosy neighbour why you have decided to home school Lavinia.

Even if you do manage the move and buy Lavinia a school uniform just to wear when she's Skyping with Nana, it's an unfortunate fact of life that you will probably end up meeting other people, whether you want to or not. Obviously, you can avoid actual friendships. I'm putting my faith in your inability to return calls/texts/emails or accept invitations. If Lavinia ventures outside for a moment though, you're done for.

"No school today, dear ?"

Teach Lavinia not to engage. Get her to practice an unnerving stare and the simple reply "No" delivered deadpan and followed by silence. It will save you from having to do it.

Once she's got that one down pat, teach her the next Slacker Essential Reply. If it somehow slips out that she's home schooled, after a prolonged interrogation by Shirley next door, there's going to be a follow up question.

"Is your mummy a teacher ?"

The correct answer to this is YES! Yes, my mummy is a teacher. Even if mummy is actually not. If Lavinia is an especially imaginative girl, she can elaborate on all the teaching awards you've received in your long career, but I don't advise it. Call her indoors and let her loose on the craft box instead.

Trust in Shirley to do her work and let it be known far and wide that yes, the new family are a little odd but at least the mother's a teacher! They'll still shake their heads - that poor child - but they are now unlikely to actually report you to a government agency.

You are now ready to begin home schooling.