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Trying to make the right choices in modern living.

July Heatwave

courgete_flowerThe garden is going a bit potty in the current heatwave, and I am having to water all the pots daily to stop them wilting. This means our two water butts are starting to run low. I am being quite careful watering so as to waste as little as possible, aiming under leaves of plants and concentrating on the plants fruiting now, like the courgettes and strawberries. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I hope we get a bit of rain in the next week or we’ll be using the kids bathwater. Maybe we’ll have a good, solid, butt-filling thunderstorm with all this close, humid weather?
We have been happily munching on the odd strawberry when in the garden for a while now, but I think tomorrow we should be able to pick enough to have for pudding, if we can resist them on the way in to the kitchen! We are also in the midst of our cut and come lettuce harvest, with mixed leaf salads at every meal. Which reminds me, I should give some thought to sowing some more, if I can find a space.
The courgettes appear poised to explode into a glut, so I am scurrying through recipe books for courgette inspiration. I shall let you know what is a hit (or a miss)! The plants are great, with fabulous leaves and the most amazing huge yellow flowers. If you have never tried them then give one a go next year. I grow mine from seed, they usually all germinate, and then pot them on into big pots, 40cm diameter or so. Last year the slugs got most of my seedlings, but this year I have five plants, I had to plant two in one pot, but they are doing fine.
We are all watching the peas and the raspberries as the next things to be ready. The peas have done well, with lots of flowers and the first pods filling out nicely. Keeping the kids off the peas is the hardest thing as they are eager to try them “just to see if they’re ready”!  The raspberries are probably a longer wait, but the canes are covered in fruit, so we should be able to gorge ourselves without restraint when the time comes.


Art awards and heatwave


We have been working with a home education group in a local gallery to enter for the Bronze Art Award, which requires entrants to visit exhibitions, take part in art workshops, discover and describe an art hero and pass on art skills. All elements need documenting, and then putting together in a portfolio. Friday was an art workshop combining a couple of “passing on art skills” sessions with a check through portfolios to make sure everyone was nearly finished. Both girls are entering for the award so this meant a hasty run round collating pages and deciding on a book format for the finished product. Cassie had most to do, as she put off starting until after her recent exams were finished.

We also wanted to get it all done by Thursday lunch time so as to join another home ed family by the river Wharfe, for an afternoon of swimming in the heat! I had to sit on the bank with baby Sam, whilst Neale took the kids into the river, but we did get to splash our feet to cool down. Everyone had wetsuits, which allowed them to mess about in the water for longer, and it only took a little while in the sun before folk were hot enough for another dip in the cool river. Being able to take advantage of the quiet midweeks is a huge bonus of home education. We get quite used to visiting empty parks, museums and galleries, so that busy weekends and school holidays, when you have to queue for things, can be a bit disappointing.

The workshop also went well. It was hotter on Friday, but we were in the nice air-conditioned gallery then, and had the memory of the lush, sunny riverside to bolster us against the day in the city. Now the girls have a few weeks to finish their portfolios before our next session, and the hot weather goes on.

Tuesday night is pizza night

pizza_nightTuesday night is pizza night in our house, so at some point after lunch I persuade Jonathan to go start some white bread dough for the pizza bases. Sometimes I end up having to mix it myself, and Jonners usually needs help to get the dough really well kneaded.
We use about 1.2kg of strong white bread flour, 2tspn quick bread yeast, and 2tspn salt.  Make a well in the flour and add a good few tablespoons of olive oil to get into the Mediterranean feel , and a generous 600ml or so of hot water. Both boys like doing the start off stir in  with a knife, but as it gets mixed and heavier they call for me to finish it up and knead it. I like using oil in bread because it saves doing the rubbing in of butter or margarine, which I dislike.
This amount of bread will do three big pizzas plus a loaf, which can cook either before or after the pizzas whilst the oven is hot. I also like sneaking a sweet potato (or a normal one) into the hot oven to bake with the bread and pizza. Then I can use the potato mashed up with a little full fat milk for Sam’s baby food for a couple of meals. Sam does like pizza, he has thin slices cut from a plain cheese one, but he can’t eat enough yet to fill his tummy, so a  couple of tablespoons of mashed sweet potato is very useful.

Our Educational philosophy and daily routine

There are different styles of home education, some folk adhere to strict timetables, with a wide range of subjects, others adopt educational styles available in more exclusive private schools like Steiner or Montessori, whilst a large portion of the home ed community dabble in autonomous learning, that is, a totally child led approach. The key thing home elders can usually agree on is that the educational style has to fit with the child and family involved. For some parents autonomous learning is too much of a leap of faith that nothing will get missed, whilst for a child removed from school due to unhappy circumstances the strict “school at home” could leave them no better off than they were. It is important for parents who have made the decision to home educate to consider their child carefully to see what will work best. And it must be remembered that the style can change! Autonomous primary school learning can give way to strict courses leading to qualifications quite naturally when a child is ready.
For us, as for many, a hybrid approach has worked well. Our days start with a quite formal session doing Maths or English from workbooks and textbooks. I have to be fully available for this ready to assist as required. There is no fixed time for this session, although I try to keep it under an hour to minimise fidgeting, as people finish exercises at different rates. After a break the work steps down a gear, the younger two may work on the computer, or do some games or activity with me whilst the older two tackle something from a correspondence course, or towards a project. Then we all gather for lunch.
After lunch is cleared up, and some steam has been let off, or we have gone for a walk or something, the afternoon tends to be time to get creative. We do art or play games, cook or they may monopolise me or their dad into some experiments. Cassie, and increasingly Libby, may also get encouraged into doing an hour or so of her studies, and I try to be available, if needed, for feedback or understanding. Often the boys will disappear for chunks of the afternoon to embark on epic adventures with various toys, sometimes Libby joins them.
Everything comes to a halt around 4pm because of minecraft! This is the time their friends are also available to play, so it allows a little social contact too. I can then sort out tea without too much distraction.
As you can see our day becomes less and less structured, and there is lots of room for changes depending upon current activities. We have found this balance works well for those days we do not have other activities outside the house. When we are going out, we can usually fit the formal session in first, especially the girls, but it can be difficult to get stuck into anything after being out and about. This is probably because I am more of a morning worker, and I am sure it would be different for other families.
A final comment must be included before you all get a rosy picture of idilic organisation… very few days follow my plan exactly! Home education requires a lot of give and take, especially with more than one child, but having a guideline keeps you sane, and gives you something to fall back on when things get too chaotic

Elderflowers Mean Summer

elderflower_cordialWith the cold spring weather some things have been very late getting going, and it has seemed a long wait for the elder to flower around here, but this weekend there were finally enough creamy heads around that when the sun came out for a bit we skipped off down the lane to pick a load to make elderflower cordial. This is something I always try to do as it is such an easy cordial and yet it really tastes good. Everyone seems to have a different recipe for this. My recipe comes from a BBC book called “Fruity Passions” which went with a series in the eighties, mostly about wine making! (We have tried quite a few of the wine recipes too over the years) As with most things I do, the original recipe has been modified to fit what I’ve got in. Basically you steep about 25 flower heads in 1.5litres of cold water, 250ml orange juice, a couple of lemons thinly and 1.5kg of white sugar. I also add about 15g of tartaric acid if I’ve got it, this year the tartaric acid was not enough so I added a bit of citric acid too. You can get acids from health food shops or wine making suppliers.elderflower_on_bush_large The whole mix just sits on the counter for a day, filling the kitchen with wafts of perfume that sum up summer for me. After 24hours you strain the liquid through muslin, or a fine sieve and bottle. I usually freeze a few pots for when I need a lift later in the year. Sometimes it can be a little sweet, but if you pop a few slices of lemon and some ice in a jug, add cordial and fizzy water to taste, it is a drink we can all enjoy. Summer is here.

The garden after our holiday

vege_patch_largeWe came home from our main family holiday tired but ready for new challenges and were met by the inevitable flourishing of the garden into a lush green jungle! Don’t get me wrong, the good plants had done well too, but the weeds seem to erupt from nowhere into foot high beasts. I couldn’t manage to leave them alone for two weeks, who knows what would have happened? Luckily it was not too long before I got the chance to cut down the long grass round the edges of the beds, in which I am sure the slugs lurk during the heat of the day, and clear out all the weeds.
I also cleared out some of the things which had got out of hand. The vegetable patches look very professional now, I am quite proud of it.
The spinach was billed as being slow to bolt but as a mere week without being attended had led them to show signs of flower stalks, I took out the lot and froze the leaves. Spinach had been sown to go between parsnips and beetroot, both of which are now up and growing nicely, so they need the room anyway. The radishes I sowed between rows had also done well, but luckily we got to them before they got woody, although they were nice and peppery.
I have enjoyed the baby spinach and radishes though, so maybe we shall sow some more where the beans failed. That is what I like about gardening, the plans shift with successes and weather so there is always something to consider, and every year is different.
Currently we are enjoying lots of cut and come again salads, the first few strawberries, and we are eyeing up the pea pods and vast array of summer raspberries only a week or so from being ready!

Geocaching handheld GPS’s

Here’s an example of some GPS units that may work for you. For a broader range check out this link: Handheld GPS It’s not an exhaustive list by any means but its a place to start. Just stick to your budget. You should be able to get something for  under £100. I spent a bit more to get the onboard maps function. The Garmin eTrex Summit:

It comes with maps installed but you will quickly realise that you need more detail. So download and install the OpenCycle map, which is freely available from http://talkytoaster.info/ukmaps.htm More information on Open maps go to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenStreetMap.

And some others that may work for you:


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Doing My Exams

Exams_kitI have recently sat my I/GCSEs for Chemistry, Biology and Maths. It was a very different experience to anything I am used to, and I found that there was a lot of revision I had to do, although reading through a revision guide for each topic helped a lot, it reminded me of what I had already learnt. You don’t want to take ages over reminding yourself, but doing it in short sessions with quick breaks helps loads, so you don’t waste the time you have. I also did a lot of past papers so I could see what I had remembered and it meant I know what sort of questions and answers appear on most papers. Somethings I only know from doing the past papers. Writing out crib sheets on what you need to remember the most, to focus your last minute revision, is a good idea too.

Just before each exam I didn’t really feel nervous, not until I sat down and the reality caught up with me. Some people can get quite anxious about an exam, but it doesn’t matter what other people think, you just have to be calm and do your best. All the examiners involved were kind and willing to help. I was usually in the same room as a few A-level students taking their exams, so it was a bit quieter than being with lots of other students all dong the same as you. It is strange sitting an exam, especially if you have not been in that situation before. Every sound is magnified in the quiet, but everything going on around you is irrelevant, only your own work matters.

Now that I have finished my exams I do feel a sense of relief, but doing them really gave purpose to what I had been learning before. And now I just have to wait for my results!

Time lapse frog spawn

One other idea that we tried out a while ago involved frog spawn. The kids had done the usual trip to their grandma’s pond and collected some frogspawn. The idea being you watch it hatch out and then release it back to the pond it came from. We thought it would be an interesting idea to set up a camera and take a timelapse of the process. It’s not hard. A home computer,a webcam and some inexpensive or free software usually is enough. We set this up in the kitchen with a fluorescent light and left it for about a week, taking one photo every 30 minutes. The result is quite stunning.

We uploaded it to youtube and you can see it here.

Alfalfa sprouting

OK, so I couldn’t resist posting this on. Using a webcam microscope attachment we took a timelapse of an alfalfa seed germinaring over night. The whole experiment took 36 hours and was shot on low magnification. Let me know what you think.



Mushroom and onions

I thought it woud help to see the sort of image that you can capture with a reasonable priced microscope at home with basic kit. So here are a couple of photos.

Onion Skin

First is the classic onion skin as mentioned earlier: It’s taken on a microscope-webcam set up.

Onion skin.

Onion skin.

The webcam fits in place of the objective lens that you normally look through so you don’t get  the same picture as you can see when you loo through the scope. However it does give a good reliable and easily used set up. Resulting in a rather nice”text book image”.

Mushroom Spores

The next shot was taken using a regular digital camera pointing down the scope through the objective lens used to view the image. This tends to give almost exactly what the observer can see if they look directly down the scope.

Mushroom spores

Mushroom spores


Both images were easy to obtain and Alex (aged 10 at the time) was able to do most of the work himself with some supervision. We spent quite some time looking at different things under the microscope and quite often get it out to examine something that one of the kids have found in the garden or on a walk etc.

If you need any suggestions or have questions leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do to answer. I’m not an expert, just a parent trying to give my kids the chance to look a things in a different way.

About Warhammer 40K

Warhammer 40k is a strategy battle game set in the 41st millennium! It is done by Games Workshop. There are lots of armies. I play with the Space Marines, because they are men with very powerful weapons!

It is very complex and the battles are quite long. When playing you will need dice, lots of dice. Every weapon needs some dice! When battling you can have two or more armies.

I like Warhammer 40K because you get to do huge battles! If you were just starting out then I would recommend Dark Vengeance or Assault on Black Reach, because they have every thing you need to start out. Or you could just buy an army, and play with somebody who has a codex.

There is a monthly magazine called White Dwarf that informs you about new models and what events are going on, like when the next white dwarf is coming out and even battles with the new models.



We’ve tried a few from the basic plastic ones just to get you interested in what you can see to a little more expensive and capable of some quite reasonable reproductions of those text book photos like the “Onion Skin” slide. It’s like all things, you get what you pay for and I wish I had paid a little more in the beginning, rather then keep trying cheaper models in the hope of finding the right one. You don’t want to be spending time sorting the optics, the student’s will get restless and move off and you will have wasted time and money.

These are some scopes that look like they fit the bill from low end and mid range. I’ve also added a couple of items that are basically pre-prepared slides. These already have specimens on glass so all you have to do is up them on the microscope stage and view them. No hassle and a great way to get started.

Halfway through her exams

Halfway through her exams and I am pleased with the way Cassie is dealing with exams. We are doing past papers nearly every day, marking and reviewing them together to see how she is performing in the time and what she needs to look again at. Right now I am concerned that her maths has got a bit rusty whilst she concentrated on biology and chemistry, but we have time to polish things, so we’re still feeling pleased. Cassie actually left her first exam ( chemistry) a little early, because she felt she had finished!
We are, of course, looking forward to finishing and being able to do something else. I want to tackle some of my projects left on hold (sewing mainly), and Cassie says she wants to do some art and writing for her art award. She also wants to start English, so she can be more creative than she has been!


Exam time approaches

At present we are approaching the first of these qualification hurdles, with Cassie due to sit IGCSEs in Chemistry and Biology, and GCSE in Maths this summer. She is doing really well, but having no experience of exams makes it a bit daunting -for me if not for her. It is also hard not to see these exams as a test of HE in general. If she were in school I think she would be top stream, expected to achieve high marks. But without the whole exam culture of schools will she be able to match their performances? Have we let her down by choosing this lifestyle? I do know that she is a very different person to the general institutional teenager, and I am very proud of her efforts as she grasps the exam challenge. She is genuinely interested in her subjects, especially biology, not just practised in answering exam question. If she is not happy with her results we can always resit, and the second time round will be enlightened by having done it once.

Approaching Exams

Hello. As the stay at home parent, I have always had the main responsibility for organising our home education, as much as that is ever possible! We are now approaching the first real test of our choices to home educate, the qualifications. As we are quite traditional parents this does lead us to GCSEs. Although there are a range of equivalent possibilities, GCSEs are widely recognised and understood outside academia.

Houses in Minecraft

In minecraft, monsters come out at night and kill you, so you need to have a safe house. First you need to get wood and build a crafting table. Then you have three choices;

Choice one: dig a hole in the ground and build a door.

Choice two: build a house then craft a door.

Choice three: steal a house from a village! (preferably the library)

Your house could be a simple home with one room and no windows, or it could be a fortress with a ball room and spare bed rooms, secret passageways, treasure rooms and spectacular windows!

A good house should contain a crafting table, furnace and a bed. The bed is good to have because when you sleep on it you skip to morning and escape the monsters. A crafting table is good to have because you can craft things and a furnace is good to have because you can cook things and smelt things,

To make a bed you will need 3 units of wool and 3 units of wood.

Once you have got your house you will need to make a mine. Find out how to make a mine next time.



In minecraft mining is very important because you can get minerals but when you do you need to know golden rule of minecraft. DO NOT DIG STRAIGHT DOWN! Because if you do then you could end up in a large cavern or a lava lake. Instead try to mine a staircase down.

You can pick anywhere you like to mine, no land is more likely to have minerals. You could have your house with the mine inside it, or you could put your bed and stuff underground inside your mine! Either way you should have a door to your mine to stop monsters coming in!

When starting a mine you first need a pickaxe. To make a pickaxe you will need 2 sticks and 3 of your chosen material. There are 5 tiers of pickaxe’s these are (I have ordered them in efficiency) wooden, golden, stone, iron and diamond. Sometimes you can find coal and iron on the surface, but this is very rare.

You can mine coal with any type of pickaxe, for iron and lapis lazuli it’s stone. An iron pickaxe can mine anything apart from obsidian and bedrock. Diamond pickaxes can mine anything, even obsidian. Gold pickaxes have only got more durability than wooden pickaxes, but make up for that from being the most enchantable.

Torches are needed to light your way in the dark, and stop monsters spawning in the mine. To make a torch you need coal or charcoal on the top and sticks on the bottom. Torches last forever so don’t worry about that. Sometimes you can come across under ground caverns with a variety of monsters. There will be more about the monsters you can encounter next time.


In minecraft you will need to know about monsters because they will kill you!

I will go through the monsters from weakest to toughest; zombie, spider, skeleton and CREEPER!

First the zombie, which is the most common. On normal or hard mode they can break doors. They can spawn with items held or armour worn. If you kill them you will get rotten flesh and if they have an item they might drop it. If you have just started out then you should run away. You are safe from them in a house at first.

Next the spider. There is not much about the spider, they can climb three block high walls and drop string. You could attack them if you want to, but I would not suggest it, avoid them unless you want their string. That’s it about the spider.

And now the skeleton. Skeleton’s are armed with bows and if you kill one it will drop bones and arrows, and there is a rare chance of it dropping a bow. There is an even rarer chance of it dropping an enchanted bow! I would suggest not attacking them to start with.

Next the CREEPER! Creepers are the scariest of the four. The creeper blows up when you get too close to it. It makes no sound except for a hissing sound when they get too close and as I said blows up! If a skeleton kills it, then it will drop a music record. But if you kill it yourself, it will drop gunpowder (very useful).

That’s it for now, next time I will be talking about food

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