Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Freedom at last!

The new term began last week for the Scottish schools. For the first time in 25 years, I have nothing whatsoever to do with schools, or schooling - I am free from living according to a dictated timetable! It feels good.

I was asked at the weekend when James would be starting nursery. It was the first time I have really been asked that question by someone outside the family. It seems to be a given that all children need to go to some kind of 'preschool' education to ensure they should have the 'right start' and and early 'advantage'. It all seems so negative, this jostling for advantage - making sure they are ready etc.
Yesterday, James and I were at a local country park. There was a group of older teenagers from one of the nearby secondary schools there on a field trip with a couple of teachers. They were all on bikes and were involved in some sort of map reading challenge, in the style of something out of the TV programme The Apprentice. Now, I have never seen this programme, but I understand it to be very competitive and aggressive. They had to navigate round the park, carrying out various challenges on the way. Point s were given for these achievements and deducted for transgressing the rules. They wheeled up to me and asked me if my name started with J (one of their challenges). I was happy to oblige them, and allowed them to take my picture for their evidence. They were excited to have completed this, but minutes later, their faces fell when their teacher, in a very loud and patronising voice, deducted the 5 points because one of the bikes was left in the wrong place. This scene troubled me all day. While I recognise that there were some team building skills involved in this challenge, I do not think that this type of conditional training is what our children deserve. In the future, they will face many real challenges - most of them the result of the mistakes and greed of previous generations. They will need to live and work in a different way - radical free thinkers will be needed, and I fear there will not be too many of those who survive such negative experiences.James and I went on to complete our own challenge - we got lost! Well, that can happen when you let a 2.5 year old lead the way. We weren't that lost, but we did end up taking a much longer walk than we meant to. It was a lot of fun though - pretending to be dogs in the long (wet) grass, sitting by the river, close encounters with butterflies, and finding our first conkers. James also walked up a fairly steep hill on his own. Given that 6 months ago he was lying with his leg in traction, that was certainly an achievement. We looked at the different leaves on the trees growing around and talked about where the river was going - he sat for ages waving goodbye to the water :) Yes - I guess he knew what direction he wanted to go in today!

So - James will not be going to preschool or nursery - he is in charge of his own learning, and while that may mean he will choose to attend school at some point, he will make that decision. For now, every day is a new challenge, and one he meets with eagerness and joy - I will do my best to ensure he always feels like that.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Sharing Monday (xvi)

This week's book choice is a Charlie and Lola story - Look after your Planet, by Lauren Child. After a sneaky look into friend Marv and Morten's big brother's bedroom (which looks like every big brother's bedroom) Lola decides to declutter her room.

Charlie suggests that she recycle some of her things, instead of throwing them away, and explains how recycling works. (He is such a great big brother - I wish he was mine). This starts Lola off on a quest and soon she has her whole school involved in a recycling competition to win a tree.

On the last day, it looks as if they have not filled up their tree counter:

When everything is recycled
Lola says,
"Oh no. We have NOT
filled up the
whole tree...
so we will not be
getting our
own real tree"

But then Morten
comes along.

Lotta says,
Look at
what he's

And so they get their tree. And Morten has to hide from his big brother for a while, after "decluttering" his room!

We love Charlie and Lola. We love Book Sharing Mondays too - visit CanadianHome Learning to share more.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shadow Shot Sunday - Boy in a kilt

We were guests at a wedding last week, so James wore his kilt to the event. He had great fun parading up and down the sunny courtyard.
See more shadows at Hey Harriet every Sunday.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Skywatch - Home Skies

After a week of what seemed like constant grey, last night's sky looked quite promising. I dashed out and walked up and down the street reeling off various snaps, almost getting run over by my neighbour as she wheeled into her driveway to find me loitering there trying to get a better shot of that bird shaped cloud
Later we took a short walk to the construction site which is just at the end of our street (we are getting a new railway station and link to Glasgow and Edinburgh). I managed to catch the last of the sun as it set behind the JCBs. How romantic is that!
Please visit Skywatch Friday to see many more incredible skies from all around the world.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Shadow Shot Sunday - Jupiter Artland

This week's shadow shots were taken during our day out at the magnificent Jupiter Artland
sculpture park. The previous two posts also feature works from this amazing collection. (Can you tell I liked it?)

These pieces are part of the series Weeping Girls amongst trees, by Laura Ford.

Just walking through the shady woodland, we happen upon five statues of little girls weeping. Quite a surreal experience and a wee bit disturbing; a real contrast to the other exhibits we had seen up until then. Great shadows though. I also liked the way the sunlight played on the tree above echoing the menacing ambiance.

If you scroll down to the previous post, you will see more of this work - Firmamanet, by Anthony Gormley. After looking upwards for those shots, I then looked down, and it was just as wonderful in shadow form. Sadly, the sun was only out for a minute, but it was enough.
The world is full of great shadows. See them at Shadow Shot Sunday on Hey Harriet.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Skywatch - Jupiter Artland, Scotland

A couple of view of the skies over West Lothian and Fife yesterday taken at the fantastic Jupiter Artland sculpture park in East Calder. This work is appropriately for Skywatch Friday, called Firmament, by Antony Gormley. It is a huge structure - a crouching figure composed of steel balls welded together with lengths of rod and is inspired by an old star chart.

See the worldwide skies at Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

To Jupiter and beyond.

We've just had the best day at a place called Jupiter Artland - amazingly only 12 miles away from our very house! It is set in the 80 acre grounds of Bonningtoun House and is a private collection of outdoor artworks, commissioned by the owners, who very generously allow the public pre-booked access. Around every corner there were the most incredible sculptures, earthworks and structures by some big names - Andy Goldsworthy, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Charles Jencks to name only a few. I took 402 pictures, but don't click away, I am only going to show a few highlights here. If you are in Central Scotland in the next couple of weeks, I would seriously urge you to visit this wonderful space. It is only open from Thursday - Sunday until the 31st August, then it closes until next May. The cake from the cool Airstream cafe is worth the trip alone!

One of my favourite parts was the Life Mounds by Charles Jencks. An incredibly sexy installation comprising various terraced earthworks, paths and water which are based round the theme of the cell.

I love Andy Goldsworthy's work and this one, Stone House was just... just... well, it rendered me speechless. From the outside it looks like a little stone built hut in the middle of a nice soft green woodland. But open that nice sturdy door and - wow! He has excavated all the earth away to reveal the natural bedrock - it is really quite a shock to be confronted with the naked planet.

This was a little limestone bridge, called Only Connect, by Ian Hamilton Finlay. On either side of the bridge are two milestones, inscribed with the words Only Connect - the final words from the novel Howard's End. This was James's favourite exhibit, and we played here for ages.

The knitters amongst us were very interested in Shane Waltener's Over Here. Knitted on circular needles using different types of fishing line, this was a fabulous site to behold, like a gigantic spider's web spun between two trees, and making us see the landscape in different ways.

Finally, for this post anyway, The Love Bomb, by Marc Quinn. An enormously colourful 12 metre high orchid - beautiful and yet terrible. Mind you, James thought it was Santa Claus - hmm - yes I suppose that could fit in the the sculptor's idea.

I so loved this place and we will definitely be back several times next year. I will be posting more photographs from Jupiter over the next few weeks.

A melty-downy sort of day.

Yesterday was one of those days where the chi just did not flow. We have had several disturbed nights and early mornings, I felt really drained and washed out and spent the day wandering around in a dwam (Granny's phrase), just getting through it. Thankfully, James was quite tired too and asked to watch the "diggers" - Bob the Builder. He settled down with his 3 DVDs and proceeded to lose himself in the world of Scoop, Muck and Lofty - changing the discs himself, of course:)
I don't mind that at all. I have moved back from the "all moving images are evil"standpoint that I used to have. Sunnymama posted a great link to a talk on children and TV, and Danya Martin has some interesting things to say on it. Having watched James watch TV or DVDs, I frankly don't believe some of the things written about the dangers of giving children access to it. James actively engages with what he is watching - he laughs, points to the screen, turns around and tells me what is happening. Later on he incorporates some ideas into his own play. If he enjoys something so much, how can I deny him that pleasure and tell him it is bad? Does that make him bad for liking it?
At lunchtime, we had fruit and yogurt. Very delicious, but I was jolted out of my stupefied state at the sight of James intently painting the sofa with his portion of extra-thick Greek style. My initial reaction was to shout to him to stop - what did he think he was doing - naughty boy- blah blah blah! I somehow managed not to - whether it was lethargy or realisation that he had spent most of the morning amusing himself, or whatever. I took a deep breath, then a picture, and then said something like:

"Oh dear, we don't paint on furniture, do you want some paper?"
"Well, I'm going to have to clean this up - do you want to help me?"

And of he went to play with his cars, while I scraped and washed the yogurt off
Another example of his artistic side, - or a non-present mother? Well, I'm not going to analyse it that much. That was just one such incident of several similar ones yesterday. I just happened to have the camera on the table at the time. The sofa cleaned up alright and no harm was done to it, or our relationship.
(I haven't tried to get the wax crayon of the glass in the hall door yet, but it will clean up too.)
Just another day in the life...

Later on, when the persistent, fine soaky kind of rain had stopped, we went to the end of the street to see the real Bob the Builders, relocating the gas main for the new railway line.

And later on again, two of my most favourite bloggers, Sunnymama and Debs gave me blog awards! How nice was that? Thanks to you both - I will pass them on in my next post.
Better sleep for all last night and a nice day out in prospect.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Banoffe Cupcake Recipe

Thanks to those who asked for this recipe. It came from Annie Bell's Gorgeous Cakes - and the title is so true. Just really a basic sponge with some banana and cinnamon chucked in, but extremely delicious. Here we go:
Cakes (24)
125g unsalted butter
125 g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
250g Self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 heaped teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
3 mashed bananas

Jar of dulce de leche
optional chocolate curls or hearts

Oven 190 C, fan oven 170 c, gas mark 5

Cream butter and sugar
add eggs one at a time then milk. (It will probably curdle but it is ok)
Sift and add dry ingredients
Stir in bananas

Fill paper cases about two thirds full
Bake for about 25 mins until risen and golden and leave to cool

Smooth a tsp of dulce de leche over the top then decorate with chocolate curls or hearts is required.
I just used a veg peeler on a couple of squares of plain chocolate.

Eat at least 2 - maybe 3 right away, before your teenage son, his friend and your husband notice them.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Sharing Monday (xv)

In honour of last week's glorious August moon, we have chosen Papa, please get the moon for me, by Eric Carle. A beautifully illustrated book with some fold out pages. Monica loves to look at the moon, and asks her Dad to get it for her. Well of course, Dad does his best and manages to find a very long ladder, which he takes to the top of a very high mountain and climbs and climbs.
Finally Papa got to the moon
"My daughter, Monica, would like to play with you,"
said Papa, "but you are much too big"

"Every night I get a little smaller" said the moon
"When I am just the right size, you can take me with you"

So, Monica got to play with the moon when it was smaller, but it grew smaller and smaller and then disappeared.

But of course, as women know, the cycle begins again.

Visit Serendipity for more Book Sharing Monday ideas.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

When the muse strikes....

...well - you just have to grab at it - even if it is 5 am!

So there I was at that time on a Sunday morning being dragged out of bed -
"C'mon Mum, s'light - me paint!" said the 2 1/2 year old artist. A whole new big sentence; words I had never heard him use before. How could I resist? I am unschooling radically and I am here to facilitate. I am also one of these older mums and I need lots of sleep to make sure I have the energy to do this. Nevertheless, I am there sloshing out finger paints into jar lids, finding paper, slurping down a strong English Breakfast blend, trying to convince an insistent boy that finger paints don't require water or brushes and that I don't have any other paints and I promise I will get some proper paints as soon as I can. I lose the argument, but he soon sees my point when he tries it out, and goes back to the traditional hands-in style. Autonomous learning by the "me do it" process. Works every time! (Why do I doubt it?)

At around 7-ish, he decided he wanted to go back to bed. Great idea Son! Back we went and snuggled in beside still sleeping Dad and we dozed on until 9.30 - not bad - everyone's needs met, and some creativity to boot!

Later I felt a bit creative, so did some baking. Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it:) Banoffee cupcake anyone?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Shadow Shot Sunday - Play park and farm

We had a nice day out on Thursday visiting a local heritage farm and adventure playground. Here are some shots of the day.
Shadow train.

Elephant trail.

Emerging into the light.

James and Dad shadowed on a Jersey cow.

Visit Shadow Shot Sunday at Hey Harriet and see this week's shadows of the world.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Skywatch - shallots

I took some pictures for my gardening blog today. This was one of my shallot harvest, hung up on the washing line to dry in the sun. I thought it was a good one to start Skywatch Fridays. Check out lots of other skywatch pictures here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


My wonderful word of the week is UNCONDITIONAL. I like this word; it is somehow very complete. Since reading Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, I have tried to mother in this way - not always successfully, but I give it my best effort.
One of the lectures given by Mr Kohn is called The costs of overemphasizing achievement. Well, with apologies to the man himself, I am about to emphasise a wonderful achievement.
Today the Scottish Higher results were announced. My 18 year old son, Kenneth, achieved 4B s!!!!
Chemistry, Maths, Physics and History.
He also received an UNCONDITIONAL offer of a place at Heriot-Watt University (his first choice) to do a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry - with a year in Australia!!!!
We are just so happy - this was no small achievement. Kenneth has severe dyslexia and has overcome many difficulties to make this happen. Although he has had support, in the end it was all down to him - intrinsically motivated to prove to himself and the world that he could.
Unconditional - love it - live it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Play dough fun

On Sunday we made play dough. Nothing special in that as things go, but James asked to do it, and so we did. Wanting to try something different from the usual food colouring thing, I boiled up a couple of beetroot that were going a bit soft in the 'fridge, and we used the water from that in our usual recipe.

The result was a beautiful deep reddish pink colour - well no surprises there - beetroot is red after all. It also has that nice earthy smell. I was a bit worried that it would stain, but it doesn't seem to.
James has really enjoyed this batch and has played with it A LOT! He started of with the usual play dough things, rolling and patting and then getting me to make things - a choo-choo, a cup, a cat, a digger (challenging one) and then squashing them as soon as they were ready. Then he started to cut it up into slices, and later discovered it cut very nicely with scissors - woohoo! - he cut and cut for ages. After supper he doggedly started again and he didn't want to stop cutting until quite late in the evening, despite being so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open. Finally he melted into a pool of exhausted tears, but not wanting to stop having fun. He cuddled in and then remembered something else he like better than play dough, so off to bed for milk and sleep.
I loved watching him do this - his own ideas from beginning to end - and the learning process unfolding before my eyes. It was an ordinary thing to do, but full of wonder.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Sharing Monday (xv)

Apologies for the blurry pictures today. We had a really busy day and I almost forgot to post a book. Well - the Granny in this story/rhyme had a busy day too. In My Granny Went to Market, by Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr, Granny goes shopping all around the world.
She starts off by buying her very ecological mode of transport for this shopping spree.

My Granny went to market
to buy a flying carpet
She bought the flying carpet from a man in Istanbul
It was trimmed with yellow tassels,
and made of knotted wool.

A lovely colourful book - far more exciting than out shopping trip to Livingston today.
I have always wanted a flying carpet, ever since I was a child. Visit Serendipity and be transported to the Magical World of Book Sharing Monday - the www is almost a fast as a flying carpet ;)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Shadow Shot Sunday - UFO in Edinbugh?

No - it is Edinburgh Napier University's Business School campus - stunningly redeveloped a couple of years ago - or not - depending on your views on modern architecture. The original
Victorian building is still attached. This was built as a Hydropathic institute, but during WWI it became a psychiatric hospital; war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were both patients there. Later it became a teacher training college.
The egg shaped structure houses a lecture theatre. Interesting building and shadows. See more at Hey Harriet's Shadow Shot Sunday.