Tag Archives: homeschool

Scraps and Pieces

Scrapyard cars

 

Hi everyone.

My husband’s taken the kids to Aldi, so I really should write something.  But I’m feeling the crush of perfectionism that comes when I’ve been away from the blog from too long.  I feel guilty for avoiding you.  Sometimes I forget that my blog isn’t actually a person, it really does feel that way sometimes.

I don’t have anything of great importance to share, but I thought I’d show you a few excerpts from messages I sent my family recently.  After all, this is how this blog began.  The original ‘fail’ posts were just group emails I sent out to my parents and brothers and sisters, many of whom were doing far more interesting things overseas.

Anyway, if you’re reading this and are related to me, please excuse the clip show.  I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things.

Also, if you have an idea of something you’d like me to write about, drop me a line in the comments.  I’m a bit ‘duh’ at the moment…

1. Goodmorning

“Hi everybody. Annie, in her quest for milk, managed to distribute half a litre on the kitchen floor, over the top of a stool, into Matilda’s shoes and all throughout the plate cupboard (both shelves). The worst part is, I was in the room the whole time, just didn’t realise what she was up to.

The cup in question somehow got a hole in the bottom. I can imagine Annie thinking “Why does this keep happening to me? Perhaps I should try pouring it over here instead?”

Everybody’s decided to join in the “I’m a nutter Knightley” chorus. Christopher is still in his pyjamas doing dishes at a rate of 1 dish per hour, Harry keeps trying to turn the TV on, Daisy wants to be fed nonstop and I had to confiscate Matilda’s iPhone after she kicked Christopher in a temper. No Background Briefing podcast for you today, Missy!

2.  Awkward

So I went out with a bunch of nice homeschool mums last night.  As we were walking to our cars I got a message from my husband: “ETA?”.  He was thinking of watching a movie and wanted to know if he should start it without me.  I surreptitiously communicated with my thumb:  “We’re in the carpark now, but that could still mean another hour or two.  These women do not know how to stop talking.”

Then my friend’s phone beeped.  A moment later she says “was this message meant for me, Kate?” and she read it out.  All at once I realised what I did.  I saw my husband’s text on the screen of my phone as it came in, but when I opened Messages to reply, it took me to the screen I had open from before, when I was texting my friend to let her know I was on my way.  I tried to gabble out an explanation, but it was a bit hard to talk because even my teeth were blushing.

I was home in time for the movie.

3. Ego a go go

I got an email from my editor yesterday. I was in the swimming pool cafe with Harry, Annie, Daisy and Poppy. I was a little noisy about it: “What’s this, children? An email from my EDITOR? I wonder what MY EDITOR would like me to write, me being a WRITER and all”

Then I looked impressively around the cafe. Harry said “I want chocolate.”

 

Greetings from Babyland!

Often these days, when friends (or, indeed, tradesmen) come to visit me, they might find I’m in my pyjamas feeding a baby. My conversation will not be witty or sparkling, and they may have to make their own tea, but I will be happy to see them.

As you, my reader friend, come to visit me at my blog today, imagine I’m wearing pink flannelette pyjamas with a piece of toast stuck in my hair.  My writing may seem a little stilted and bland, but, gosh, I’m glad to see you!

My beautiful twins are now almost eight weeks old.  For the most part, I’m enjoying my vacation in Baby Land.  We’ve developed a simple routine of feeding and nappies, and lessons and feeding, and feeding and washing, and feeding and feeding.     And cuddles.  There are always plenty of baby cuddles to go around (though they sometimes come with a side order of baby spew).  It’s really rather blissful.

We don’t often leave the house, but when we do, it seems we achieve instant celebrity status.  Everybody wants to talk to us and ask us (the same five) questions and tell us about the twins in their life.  Most of the time, my extroverted nature revels in the attention, but it can be a real challenge if we’re trying to do something in a hurry.

I’ve decided to christen the girls “Daisy and Poppy” after the mischievous twins in Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.  Not exactly literary, I know, but it seems to fit.  Those of you who don’t have preschoolers in the home may not have heard of Ben and Holly.  Those of you who do will have heard far, far too much.

Daisy and Poppy

And, now, if you’ll excuse me, Daisy is letting me know my services as a milk maid are urgently required.

Thank you for coming to visit!

Photograph Fail.

The dreaded form

I think I might be a special-needs parent. I don’t mean to say I have kids with specific problems, though they do have quirks enough between them, I mean I am a parent who has special needs. 

It would seem that the most simple tasks are far beyond my capacity.  At Harry’s kinder, we were supposed to fill out this “All About Me” sheet – you know the kind:  “my favourite colour”, “my favourite toy”, etc. etc.  That part was simple enough, but we also had to include a family photo.  A quick scroll through my phone told me that such a picture simply did not exist.  Any proper whole-family photos were taken before Annie was conceived.  After that, all our pictures were missing somebody – because one of us was always taking the picture.  No matter.  I had a plan of attack:

1.  The next time we were all together and in the company of somebody extra who had opposable thumbs, we could all bunch together and ask them to take a photo for us.

2.  Then I could put the picture on a USB stick.

3.  Then I could run down to the shops and get the photos printed

4.  Then I could stick the photo to the bit of paper with all the answers on it

5.  Then I could put the bit of paper on the shelf by the front door where I wouldn’t forget it,

6.  Then I could take the completed form to kinder to be stuck on the wall with everyone else’s.

It was a good plan.

Unfortunately, I never accomplished Step One.

Whenever we were out with friends and family, there were always so many interesting and exciting things going on that I never managed to remember to have a photo taken.  But I did become very good at remembering to do it at three o’clock in the morning afterwards.

And I haven’t even told you the most embarrassing part yet.

I was supposed to do this at the start of the year.

Throughout the first few weeks of Term One, everyone else’s All About Me forms were plastered all over the wall in the Home Corner, complete with cheerful, glossy photos.  That wall haunted me.  After several weeks of trying and failing to procure a photo, I finally decided I’d missed the boat and getting the form in now would just be embarrassing.

I was wrong.

A few months later, a second All About Me form came home, complete with a blank rectangle for the family photo and a little pink post-it note asking me to fill it out and bring it to kinder.  In a guilt-fuelled frenzy I took action and quickly set about forgetting to get the photo taken all over again.

Then, in Term Two, Annie turned three and started kinder in the younger group.  Annie was also given an All About Me form, with a blank rectangle for the family photo.  I now possessed two All About Me forms (three if you count the original) and zero family photos.

And my ability to perform a series of straightforward and simple tasks did not seem to be improving.

But things were looking up.  When Christopher Robin made his First Communion, we had a family photo taken, all in our Sunday Bests and by a proper photographer (well, he was one of the dads, and he was doing it for free, but it was a way of making up for not being allowed to take pictures during the ceremony and he did have some pretty impressive equipment).  At last, we would have a proper whole-family photo and my nightmare of shame would be over.

And not a moment too soon.  When I went to kinder for the parent-teacher interview, Annie’s kinder teacher made a polite enquiry after the much-overdue family photo.  She was really kind about it actually.  To spare my feelings, she made it sound like this was a new request and not something they had been wanting for the past six months or so.  Here’s the thing: it turns out all of the family photos, no longer on Kate’s Wall of Disgrace, were now mounted on bits of cardboard and compiled into a special book, sitting in the library corner.  The teacher showed it to me.  All of the children loved to look at this book and find the page with their very own family.  Plus it achieved all sorts of developmental outcomes about Belonging and Sense Of Self and something about Affective Cognitive something-something Relationship.

I’m pretty sure my two children were the only orphans with no special photo page.

But it was OK.  I reassured the kinder teacher that said photo had now come into being and all I had to do was get my hands on it and print it out.  She said I could even email her a digital copy and the kinder would print it off (how bad did that make me feel?  Like most kinders, ours is a struggling not-for-profit with little in the budget for coloured ink or photo paper).

Also, Matilda’s and Christopher Robin’s homeschool co-op had put in a request for family photos to be emailed around, just so we could match everyone together and see which kids belonged to which parents.  It was a great idea.  I was so glad to have that photo at last.

Except I didn’t actually have it yet.  After a few weeks of waiting, I worked out I was actually supposed to bring a USB to the co-ordinator of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (the group Christopher made his First Communion with), so I could download the photos from her computer.  Which would have worked, except Catechesis was now on break and I wouldn’t be seeing the co-ordinator for a few weeks.  But it was OK, because kinder was also on holidays.  By the time kinder started, I would be able to return Annie’s and Harry’s portfolios complete with the family photos, if not the All About Me forms (they were all a little worse-for-wear with food stains and torn edges and, in one case, a small footprint).

I sent the co-ordinator a message and asked if she could perhaps find the one whole-family photo and email it to me.  She responded promptly and said she would look it up and send it to me right away.  Which was great, except I sent that email over a week ago and I still haven’t heard back from her.

There is a whiteboard in the foyer at kinder with a list of the names of families who are overdue in returning their portfolios.  All of the other names are gradually disappearing, but ours remains.  I probably should chase up the Catechesis co-ordinator for her email, but I can’t bear the thought of making another person feel bad for forgetting to send in a photo.  I also thought about taking a family selfie in the bathroom mirror, but that would require cleaning the bathroom and that thought just depresses me.

Tonight, though, things are going to change.  We’re all going to my mum and dad’s for dinner and I’m not going to get sidetracked this time.  I’ve put several alarms in my phone and I will ask everyone there to not let me leave without a family photo in my phone.  We will finally have a proper picture of the whole family we can use for all our kindergarten and co-op needs.

At least for the next two weeks before the twins are born and it immediately becomes obsolete.

Busy Fingers #4

Baby Presents

Is it just me or is everybody having babies?  I thought I’d share some little projects I turned out recently for my fertile friends and their freshly-minted progeny.

crocheted elephant

I love this elephant.  The pattern for it is so clever that you hardly have to do any sewing together (I HATE sewing together bits.  I always do a wonky job.  It drives me crazy).

crocheted elephant

It’s all very elegantly designed (which I suppose would make it an Elegant Elephant).  And the fabric in the ears makes me swoon (even though I had to sew it).  I made it for my friends who recently had a baby girl.

Recently, I was making a set of tiny teddy bears as a get well soon present, using Lucy Ravenscar’s excellent design (I swear I’m a little obsessed with that brilliant woman and her clever patterns), and I ran out of wool before I finished one of the bears.  It struck me that this half-finished bear would make a very cute finger puppet.  And THEN I remembered the Bananas in Pyjamas that I’d made for my nephew and I thought it would be a good idea to give the bananas some teddy bears to chase on Tuesdays.  This was to make a present for my friends who had recently welcomed a baby boy into the world (and who already had two preschool girls who might also benefit from the present).

bananas and teddies finger puppets with pouch

Lucy Ravenscar’s bears and Chisachi Kushima’s elephant (as translated by Stephanie from All About Ami) are elegant patterns that are a joy to make.  Unfortunately, my pattern for banana finger puppets is a clumsy and complicated mess that brings no joy to the fingers and ends up looking rather wrong.  I’m too embarrassed by it to share it on my blog.  There must be an easier way.

I purchased a little pencil case from an entrepreneurial eleven-year-old on a market day at our homeschool co-op.  I figured it might be useful for my friends to carry the puppets around in a purse or nappy bag so that they could be on hand (sorry) to entertain their kids in waiting rooms, cafes or churches.

puppets in pouch

If I could only get a better handle on the banana component, this might be a good gift for my friends who live far away when they have babies – it would post so easily.

Oh!  And I mustn’t forget to let you know that these presents were ALL made from stash yarn.  But I did it before I took the shameful photo of my yarn mountain, so no progress made there…

Sigh!

Edited to add: The very talented Veronica from Veronica’s Miscellaney (who, incidentally, is another Australian Catholic Homeschooler who Crochets) has worked out an excellent pattern for these bananas.  She used the same method as me, but added some critical tweaks that have made all the difference.  You can view it here: http://veromarybrrr.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/bananas-in-pyjamas/

Handbag Fail.

Kate's Handbag

I think I might have double pregnant brain.

Last week was Matilda’s birthday.  One of the presents I wanted to get her was a guitar case from Aldi (only $9.99!).  The only problem was, it didn’t go on sale until the actual day of her birthday.  Matilda, however, is a pragmatist like her father.  She assured me it didn’t bother her in the least if one of her presents was a note that said “I will buy you a guitar case today”, rather than the case itself.  We formulated a plan (one of the perks of homeschooling is that you get to take the day off for your birthday).

  • In the morning, Matilda would have breakfast in bed, followed by presents.
  • After we dropped Harry at the church for his Catechesis of the Good Shepherd session, we would whizz to Aldi to grab the guitar case and then whizz back to pick him up at the end of the session.
  • Then we’d head over to Ikea and have lunch with Daddy (who works nearby).
  • After soaking up the sights and sounds of this Scandinavian wonderland, we would drop by the library to pick up the book Matilda had reserved and was itching to read.
  • Then netball practice
  • Then home.  Matilda would get to choose what we had for dinner.

It was as we traipsed through the local shopping centre on our way to Aldi that we met our first roadblock.  But it was a delightful roadblock.  I ran into Lovely M and Pippi outside the café, where a gaggle of nice school mums were sitting.  How could I resist?

I mentally shifted my Aldi errand to later in the day, ordered a special hot chocolate for Matilda and recklessly abandoned myself to a feast of marvelous gossip.

I guess the next road block I came across was when we got to Ikea.  I must admit, I have a bit of a weakness for the Grand Nordic Palace of Domestic Loveliness, and it’s possible I might have passed this obsession predilection on to my eldest daughter.  We spent rather too long drinking free coffee, sniffing at candles and gasping in rapture at the insides of drawers and cupboards.  After a while, it became too much of a good thing (get DOWN off that pile of rugs, Harry!).

I had been a hostage in that baffling Swedish prison for so long, I was starting to identify with my captors.

"Knights of the Ikea Table"  King Arthur and his knights grapple with Allen keys

By the time we had extricated ourselves, it was already time to take Matilda to netball training.   I longed to go home to rest my aching bones, but then I remembered I still had to go to Aldi.  So I swallowed a sigh and pressed on.

As soon as we trudged through the automatic doors,  Annie announced triumphantly that she needed to go to the toilet.  Getting about with a toddler who is toilet training is a bit like carrying a grenade with the pin drawn.  You have to keep your wits about you.

I ushered us into the nearest Ladies toilet (Christopher Robin insisted on waiting outside) and heaved Annie onto the seat.  Realising that this might be a two-hand operation, I slung my handbag onto the hook behind the open cubicle door and stood in a half crouch, poised for action.

As it turned out, not much action was required.  (“I was just having a try”).  Annie, it would seem, is a connoisseur of public bathrooms, and outside Aldi’s was one she hadn’t sampled yet.

We were SO efficient when we got inside Aldi.  We just swept through there, grabbing everything we needed.  Thankfully, there were still plenty of guitar cases in stock (What if they’d sold out?  What if Matilda missed out completely because her mother was an irresponsible extrovert?).  It wasn’t until we sailed up to the checkout that I realized something was amiss.

“Ummmm,”  I said nervously to the man at the register, “I appear to be missing my handbag.  Might I go back and retrace my steps through the store?”

The man blinked at me and began to shift my groceries off the counter.  I dashed around the store twice, but to no avail.  I went back to my Register Man.

“Ummmm,”  I said, “it’s not there.  I might go check if I left it in the car…”

Register Man nodded blandly.

It was as I approached the automatic doors that it hit me.  The hook.  The toilet door.  I dashed to the Ladies’ toilet and darted into the cubicle.

It wasn’t there.

My mind started racing.  Perhaps some kindly stranger had handed it in?  Perhaps some lady with a gambling problem saw it as an answer to her prayers?  The toilet was next door to a TAB after all.  Perhaps some woman was plonking my handbag on the counter this very minute saying “Put it all on horse number twelve”?

I went back to Register Man, even though he was in the Zone, swiping groceries through the bleeper at top speed.

“Ummmm,”  I said,  “Has anyone handed in a handbag?”

Register Man shook his head.

“What should I do?”  I said

Register Man didn’t know.  Perhaps I could ask at the other shops?

I joined the queue at the Post Office.  The children wouldn’t stop pulling PostShop merchandise off shelves.

Post Office Lady suggested I go talk to Centre Management.  Centre Management was located at the very far end of the shopping centre.  I heaved a big sigh.

As I dragged my poor pregnant bones and my bored and grumpy children across the shopping centre and up a very long flight of stairs (Annie insisted on counting every step.  There were 43.), I reflected upon what I had lost.  I loved that handbag.  It was really something special.  My sister-in-law bought it for me in New York, and I always thought it the Last Word in handbags.  And all the things I had in it.  My wallet.  My phone.  My keys.  Oh Lord – MY KEYS!  How was I going to get home?  How was I going to pick Matilda up from netball??  How was I going to call her coach???

It was a very white-faced Kate who sidled into the Centre Management Office at the Other End of the Shopping Centre.  I rang the bell and waited.

“I’ve lost my handbag,”  I stammered to the lady who appeared behind the desk.

“Can you describe it for me?”  Desk Lady enquired, not unsympathetically.

“Um, it’s soft red leather, with the loveliest stripy lining in really nice colours…”

Desk Lady triumphantly produced my handbag and then patted my back awkwardly as I fell weeping on her shoulder.  I trekked back to Aldi, still reeling from post-traumatic shock (handbag) and the after-effects of Stockholm syndrome (Ikea).  I approached Register Man.

“Ummmm … I found it!”

Register Man looked uncomfortable.  They had already put most of my groceries back on the shelves.

I stumbled around Aldi for about the fifth time that day, blindly grabbing at groceries and forgetting about half of them (but not, thankfully, the guitar case!).  As I finally completed the transaction I began with Register Man half a lifetime ago, I had a look at my watch.

I was going to be late picking Matilda up from netball.

I handed each child an armful of groceries (we’d forgotten the bags) and we raced towards the car.  Go!  Go!  Go!  Everybody tumbled in and we played Escape from Aldi Carpark.  I don’t think we got a high score.  By the time we pulled up to practice we were twelve minutes late.  I apologized profusely to the coach and to my Birthday Girl.  Matilda smiled brightly at me as she clambered into the car.

“Did you get my library book?”

Organic, Free-Range Children

So Matilda’s gap year has come to an end. 2014 has been an adventure in homeschooling. I’ve had a teacher’s dream job – a classroom with one gifted student, eager to learn.

This is the year I made new friends, learnt Japanese, went on interesting excursions and got re-acquainted with our local library.  Matilda now plays guitar, tutors one of Christopher’s friends, plays a mean game of netball and can rollerskate with the best of them.  She also walks taller, stands up for herself and chatters warmly and effusively to her new friends.

She’s still a sensitive child – she wouldn’t be Matilda if she wasn’t – but her eyes have lost that hunted, anxious look, she eats her lunch and goes to sleep at night.

Of course, it hasn’t all been easy.  It’s hard work organizing regular social catch-ups for Matilda and regular sanity-breaks for myself, and I often feel I could be doing more with her (her brain is enormous).  It’s no picnic having to explain myself everywhere I go, either (No, she’s not sick, we homeschool.  You want me to explain my reasons for homeschooling in 140 characters or less?  Forget it.  She’s sick.)

But it’s a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

I love the lifestyle.  I love learning about how Matilda learns.  I love the rich curriculum and I love being able to tailor it to Matilda’s needs.  I love the freedom and the simplicity.  I love socializing with other families.  I love the space it creates for extracurricular activities.

I feel like the most stress I’ve dealt with this year has been related to Christopher’s school.  The pick ups and the drop offs.  The tiredness and crankiness.  The readers and the homework books.  The bullying and standard-issue cruelty.  And the endless, endless admin.

Homeschooling is rather strange, I guess.  But sending my children off to a one-size-fits-all institution for an inefficiently mass-produced education is a different sort of strange.  Not that I’m anti-school.  And not that I’m telling you to homeschool or judging you for not homeschooling or waiting for you to list the manifold reasons why you can’t homeschool.  I’m just trying to work out what works for my family.

All through the year, Christopher had begged me to homeschool him too and I’ve struggled to find a reason not to do it.  It was difficult saying goodbye to the school, but in another way, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

So, I’m committing to one more year of homeschool.  After this year, things get a little more complicated.  Harry will be old enough for school and Matilda will be in Grade 6 and might benefit from a year at school before she goes to high school.  But I’m only doing things one year at a time.  I will have a clearer idea of where to go later this year.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

Am I a mad person?

Look Look Look!

I wrote another article for Seton Magazine. And they’ve totally published it! http://www.setonmagazine.com/family/grandparents/absent-without-leave-learning-to-live-with-my-gadabout-grandparents The editor added the subtitle, but it’s not entirely accurate.  My husband’s parents are not also my grandparents.  I live in Victoria, not Tasmania! Look at me: stay-at-home-mum and part-time freelance author!

Field Trip Fail.

Ceremonial Mace

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that my eldest daughter, Matilda, has a passion for politics.  Matilda’s favourite TV show is Behind the News and she would be happy to watch footage of Clive Palmer trying to get out of a sports car all day long.  A couple of years ago, when asked to write a story for Religious Education about two friends who had a big fight and then forgave each other, she wrote about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

When I first started to think about homeschooling Matilda, before I’d even started to think about curriculum, I knew I wanted to go on an excursion with her to Parliament House in the city.

At first, we had hoped to go on a ‘Role Play’ tour (where school kids get to dress up as the Speaker, the Serjeant-at-Arms etc), but I would have needed to organise a larger group.  I had also toyed with the idea of going to watch our local member give a long and boring speech on some local issue, but that proved a little tricky too (seeing as though I never did anything other than think “that’s a nice idea“).  In the end, I decided to keep things simple for our first visit and do an ‘off-the-street’ tour, which run on the half hour.

The day started pleasantly enough. We caught the tram in without any issues. Harry happily counted trams out of his window (he went nuts when we passed the depot), Matilda read her library book, Annie had a nice long nap and I was able to sneak in some crochet time. When we reached the city, we explored Fitzroy Gardens and had an early picnic lunch at Treasury Gardens (I didn’t want them to be hungry and cranky when we got there). We then wandered up to Parliament House to catch the 12pm tour. It was here we hit our first snag: tours did run on the half hour, but took a break from 11:30 – 1pm for lunch. No matter. I set my phone alarm for 12:45, and after running a few errands, we traipsed over to Treasury House next door to have a look.

The little museum at Treasury House was so interesting that Matilda asked if we could stay there a little longer and take the 1:30 tour instead. Accordingly, at 1:25pm, we stumbled up all the Parliament House steps, dragging the stroller behind us.

Parliament House

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We walked through the metal detectors, got our bags scanned and were emblazoned with security stickers. As we approached the main door, I noticed the tour guide was glaring at us and gesturing that we hurry. We were late! I checked the time. No. We weren’t.

We had to leave all our bags at the front desk, along with the stroller. My heart sank and I panicked a little at the thought of a free-range Annie. This was going to be harder than I’d planned.

We were soon joined by a small group of tourists and an attractive young woman who looked like she might be studying for her PhD (based on no evidence at all. My brain just decides these things for me). She was fascinated by the Parliament and seemed like a grown-up version of Matilda.

The tour guide peered down at Annie and Harry the same way a nurse might study an infected wound. “Will they be able to cope with this tour?”, she demanded in a tone that left no question of her severe doubts.

I flashed my most charming smile, “I’m sure we’ll manage,” I cooed, in a display of radiant confidence. The voice in my head disagreed loudly.

We walked into the Queen’s Hall. Annie and Harry skipped joyfully around the large space, which we had to ourselves, whilst Matilda listened politely to the rules. The tour guide stopped mid-sentence, “you really mustn’t let these children stray too far from the group.”, she snapped at me (her tone said: “you really are the worst mother I’ve ever seen”). In scarlet confusion, I scooped Annie up and grabbed hold of Harry’s hand. Annie began to grumble. I shushed her.

The tour guide was now telling us some facts about Australia’s levels of government. It would seem she was less confident of her material when she wasn’t talking about the rules. As she floundered through State and Federal jurisdictions, an evil thought entered my head: perhaps she might ask Matilda for help? Tilly knew all this stuff back-to-front. The tour guide abruptly yanked me out of my reverie. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this!” she exclaimed, “that is really disturbing me. I cannot do my job while he is doing that”, I looked to where she was pointing. Harry was quietly twirling on the spot, arms outstretched. She glared at me as I ushered Harry and Annie to a step at the side of the room. “This really isn’t a tour for children. They just don’t have the attention span!”. My scalp prickled with shame.

Annie, sensing my stress, was becoming more and more agitated. She made booming announcements for everybody’s benefit. “Let me GO, Mummy! I want to WALK!”, “Don’t say ‘SHUSH’, Mummy!”, “I don’t LIKE this!”, “LET ME GO!”. I let her sit on the step next to me and she calmed down a little bit. In my bag were toy cars, crayons, dinosaurs and finger puppets.  Unfortunately, my bag was locked in a cupboard at the front desk.

I was feeling a little bad for the tour guide. I remember what it was like to be a nervous student teacher. Maybe this was her first day or something. If she wasn’t confident of the material she was presenting, or was not a confident public speaker, distractions could be torture. At the same time, I wasn’t sure what I could do about it. The rules were very strict: once you joined a tour, there was no leaving the group (otherwise, the terrorists win).

Queen Victoria in Queen's Hall

But by now I had bigger problems. Annie had worked out that the step we were sitting on was, in fact, a small stage. She stood up. I looked at her. “NO.” I stated firmly. She looked directly back at me.  A wicked grin spread over her features. She had already made her decision.

The next minute saw me desperately trying to hush and catch Annie as she sang and danced on the stage, just out of reach. If the tour guide saw her within ten feet of the lectern microphone, she would lose her na na.

I don’t know how I managed to get Annie off the stage without the tour guide seeing, but I do know that the moment I did it, Annie dissolved into ferocious howls. Harry clambered on top of us in an attempt to comfort his sister, and it was in this tangle that the tour guide approached us. “We are moving into the Legislative Assembly now. You can stay in the room next door until you have them under control.”

Thus I found myself in a small room with a few carved benches, a phone and a grandfather clock. Annie soon calmed down (the clock helped) and so we crept into the Lower House of Parliament. As I attempted to climb into the second row of seats, the tour guide stopped me. “You can’t sit there!” she exclaimed in exasperation, “front row only!”. I blushed and fumbled my way to the front row seat. As I sank down onto the chair next to Matilda (I would have preferred to sink through the floor), Annie climbed off my lap into the spare one next to me, muttering something about “my own seat”. Unfortunately, Annie’s legs are not long enough to extend over the edge of chairs designed for members of parliament. “There can be no shoes on the seat”, the tour guide barked. I quickly started working on the buckles of Annie’s Mary Janes. Suddenly my coat was far too warm for me and my eyes felt hot. “No! No! They are MY SHOES” Annie shouted in consternation, and promptly burst into tears. I tried very hard not to do the same.

“This just isn’t working at all. You need to get out.” The tour guide pointed at the door. Dragging Annie and Harry, I was already halfway there.

As soon as I was back in the naughty room, I unzipped my thick coat and removed the five kilos of liquid explosives I had sewn into the lining. I then leisurely constructed a large bomb which I placed in the grandfather clock, set to explode the next parliamentary sitting day.  Then, left to my own devices, I went on my own tour of all the restricted areas with my plastic rocket-launcher.

No I didn’t.

But I could have, for all their security pageantry.

Instead, I’m sorry to say, I had a little cry. We had come all this way. We had been planning this excursion for weeks. I had called ahead and the man had recommended this tour. I said I was bringing toddlers and he said it would be okay. It meant so much to Matilda. I dried my eyes and managed to get a grip, but I had broken the seal. For the rest of the day it was going to be hard to stop the tears from bubbling up again.

I didn’t know what was happening in the room after I left, but Matilda filled me in later. Apparently, as soon as I was out of ear-shot, the tour guide exclaimed, “Honestly! I don’t know what that lady was thinking! I would never have brought children on a tour like this!” and continued on a miniature rant to everyone. Matilda was boiling with indignant fury. There was so much she wanted to say. She felt the wretched powerlessness of being the only child in a room full of adults. And then, she tells me, something wonderful happened.

“How dare you?”

The young PhD woman had stood up and was glaring at the tour guide. “You were so rude to that woman. Her children have a right to be here. They did not deserve to be treated like that.” Matilda told me that this woman (my hero!) went on to say all of the things Matilda had so desperately wanted to say herself. From that point on, Matilda spent her time shooting grateful smiles at the PhD woman and practicing her Julie-Bishop-Death-Stare on the tour guide.

When the group emerged from the Lower House, the tour guide approached me.

(get a grip, Kate, get a grip)

“I’ve been told off in there: they seem to think I was rude. I hope I didn’t upset you.”

I nodded briefly at this apology-of-sorts (don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry) and we moved on to the Upper House.

For the rest of the tour, the tour guide behaved towards us with a mixture of overdone politeness and stifled resentment. Thankfully, the kids behaved themselves. At one point, when describing carvings on the wall which symbolised the importance of the Next Generation, the tour guide made a simpering gesture to Matilda. Unfortunately, Matilda was still persistently and stonily channelling our Foreign Affairs Minister, so it was all a little awkward.

Julie Bishop

Source: Wikimedia Commons

At the end of the tour, the tour guide approached me again. Poor woman, she must have felt bad.

“I really do hope I didn’t offend you earlier,” she began, (don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry) “That woman stood up in front of everyone after you left the room and told me off. I can’t afford for that to happen in my job. This really isn’t acceptable.” (wait a minute – was she scolding me?).

I drew a deep breath:

“…planning this excursion for a long time…” (don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry)

“…when I spoke to the tour office…” (don’tcrydon’tcrydon’tcry)

“…Matilda is fascinated by Parliament and democracy…” (DON’T CRY DON’T CRY)

The tour guide seemed mollified and moved into a frenzy of over-compensation. As a result, we got an awesome showbag from the school tours office and, rather than having to struggle down the steps with the stroller, we were escorted all the way through the remarkably inaccessible and poorly-signed accessibility exit.

We stumbled into Spring Street and blinked in the daylight. That tour took far longer than I’d anticipated. I drew a ragged breath. I wanted to find a child-friendly cafe to collapse in. Then I checked the time.

We were late! We were late! We were never going to make it on time to pick Christopher Robin up from school!

I thought fast. The tram would take forever in school traffic. We’d be better off taking a train for at least part of the journey. We rushed to the nearest entrance to Parliament (underground) Station. Which was stupid. We should have rushed to the entrance with the LIFT. After I almost died carrying the stroller (with Annie in it) down a large flight of stairs and stumbled through the turnstile after swiping all the tickets, we were faced with the challenge of descending a double-length escalator at double-speed. That thing’s scary at the best of times! But we were fuelled by adrenaline and stupidity. Matilda dragged the collapsed stroller and held Harry’s hand (champion) and I carried Annie on my hip. Ugh. But we got to the platform in time to catch a crowded triple-express (and then a BUS) so that we weren’t as horrendously late as we feared. Two school boys immediately gave us their seats as we got on the train (don’t fall sobbing on his shoulder, don’t fall sobbing on his shoulder) and the otherwise surly bus driver was really helpful in getting us to our stop.

Parliament Station Escalators

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Safe at home, we flopped, all five of us, catatonic, on the couch.  Matilda spoke up.

“I just worked out what I should have said.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, when we were in the Legislative Assembly and that woman was telling the tour guide off, I should have stood up after her and said ‘I second that motion!'”

That’s my girl.

Oh Me! Oh My!

Yesssssssssss!

 

Look look look! I wrote an article for Seton Magazine, an American Catholic Homeschool Magazine, and it got published! And I’m getting paid for it! I am now a paid writer (or, as Mr Knightley puts it, “internationally acclaimed author”!). You can read all about it here:

http://www.setonmagazine.com/topics/general-homeschooling/5-great-reasons-start-homeschool-blog

Crab Apple Fail.

Annie's Haul

Oh, this was going to be such a beautiful post.  A visual delight.  Truly Pinterest-worthy.  You would have been really impressed, I promise you.

It’s all Mathair Fiona’s fault.

You might remember Meghan from Mathair Fiona if you stretch your mind back to last August, when we had our Art-Along.  One of Meghan’s art works was a photo of her canned produce (do you still say ‘canned’ when it’s in jars, or is there some other word?  ‘Jarred’?).  Pretty little rows of jars on a shelf.  At the time I remember feeling wistfully about how nice it would be to make my own preserves, just like Anne of Green GablesHow very wholesome.

Well, a couple of months ago, Meghan put out a challenge: I’ll Give You Six Months, You Give Me Food in Jars.

This approximately describes my thought process:

  1. It would be good to support Meghan in her blog-along, when she had been so supportive of mine.
  2.  I could make it part of Matilda’s homeschool curriculum
  3. It would give me so much Other-Mother cred
  4. I would have a legitimate use for all the pretty, empty jars I’d been accumulating
  5. I could finally make crab apple jelly

A street near my house is lined with crab apple trees.  Every year they put out a bounty of fruit.  Every year, Chinese families gather to reap with buckets and baskets and long-sticks-with-hooks and still the little red gems are everywhere, carpeting the footpath in their rosy (and, later, brown and squishy) abundance.  Every year, I promise myself that next year will be the year when I join in this suburban harvest and finally get around to making crab apple jelly.

pretty little crab apples

Crab apple jelly.  When I was little, my dad’s Aunty Lal, home cook extraordinaire, would somehow create these little jars of magic from an otherwise inedible fruit.  It would taste delicious spread on her fresh-baked scones, but, more than that, it looked beautiful.  Clear and rose-red.  In my mind’s eye, I saw how my jars would twinkle on the pantry shelf like rubies.  I saw myself giving the jars away as considerate little presents.  I saw myself becoming one of those people organised enough to give considerate little presents.  I saw this and I couldn’t unsee it.  I had to make it happen.

Every day, the children and I would watch the progress of the little apples as they grew and turned yellow, then orangey, then gradually more red.  I would tent my fingers and cackle “Soon, my little pretties, soon!”.  And the children would giggle, under the mistaken impression that I was joking.

I got a little panicky when we went on holidays for a week just when the fruit was getting ripe.  What if we missed the boat?  What if we came back to find empty branches and rotten fruit?  I had already signed up to the “Of Course I Can!”  challenge, what would I do?

That could be me...

I want to be her

Relief came the following Thursday when I arrived home to see the dinky little trees still as fruitful as ever.  We were going away again after Easter (this was Holy Thursday, you see – yes, I know, it’s taken me a while to get this post up…) so we only had a little window to go apple-picking in.  At least, that’s what I thought.  As it turns out, we needn’t have worried.  These trees stay in fruit for a long time.  As I write this, almost a month later, the trees are still laden with little red apples and don’t look like they’re going to stop any time soon.

We didn’t go the following day because, as Christopher Robin announced solemnly, “It would be too much fun to do it on Good Friday”.  Also, it was bucketing down rain.  It was seem that Holy Saturday was to be our Harvest Day.

Thus, it transpired that on Holy Saturday, whilst Mr Knightley was at the garden supplies store doing Manly Things, the children and I rugged up in raincoats and gumboots and grabbed fruit-bearing vessels of all sizes and marched up the hill to collect our bounty.

On our way

And, oh, we had so much fun!  There are times (often closely connected the state of the living room floor, the state of the school-notices-pile or the state of my hormones) when I doubt myself as a mother, when I worry that I’m not doing the right thing by my children, when I feel like a failure.  This was not one of those times.  I felt so satisfied and smug.

Harry's Method

The children were beside themselves with glee and so engaged in the task.  Christopher Robin and Matilda had clambered up a tree and were sitting in the branches making a verbal list of all the people they would give jars to.  They had draped plastic bags over twigs to collect their pickings.  Harry sat on a lower branch.  There were no crab apples within his reach so we got up a system.  Harry would badger me to pass him a ‘cwabappoo’.  I would reach up into the branches, pluck off a small bunch and pass them to him.  Harry would then toss the crab apples towards the bucket at the foot of the tree, invariably missing his mark.  Annie, tottering around under the tree would gather these fallen treasures and deliver them to the bucket.  Harry would badger me again.  As far as systems go, it was not, perhaps, the most efficient method, but it kept them entertained.

home again home again

When we got back home, the kids got to work washing the crab apples and choosing the ‘premium’ ones.  Meanwhile, I had another look at all of the internet tutorials for crab apple jelly.  In the end I picked this one and got to work.

As I stirred the simmering apples, I started to daydream about how I would dress up all the pretty jars.  Would I use fabric or little crocheted caps on the lids?  Ribbon or vintage lace?  I’d seen a cute way to decorate jam jar covers with paper on Pinterest, but of course, that wouldn’t work when it came to sterilising the lids.  The labels would need to be attractive too.  Hand-written on pretty paper.  The hand writing was important.  It would convey a certain nonchalance: “sure, I make this sort of thing all the time!  No need for printed labels – I haven’t given this a second thought!”  Mmmmmm…

After a while, it was time for much mush mashing.  Everybody took a turn and everybody got bored and everybody’s arms started to ache.  When we were sufficiently Over It, I decided it was time to strain the mix.  I poured the sludgy goop into a damp pillowcase and waited for Father Time to work his magic.

the mush

Two hours later and the sludge hadn’t budged.  There was no steady trickle, no drip-drip-drip.  I poked and I prodded, but to no avail.  I decided to leave it overnight.

Here is a picture of the juice I collected the following morning:

our gleanings

Just so we’re clear on scale: this is a 2-cup capacity jug, not one of those 2-litre ones.

I glumly put this jug of my gleanings in the fridge and went away to Warrnambool for a few days.

When I came back, it was with renewed determination.  So what if I only made enough jam for everyone to get one taste?  We had worked hard and we needed something to show for our efforts!

I needed to do some tricky arithmetic to work out how much sugar to add.  The measurements provided were for each cupful of juice.  I didn’t have enough juice to make up one cup.

I was no longer thinking about pretty jars and lovely gifts.  As I stirred, I thought moodily about the fact that crab-apple jelly probably wasn’t even FODMAP-friendly, much like most of the things you might spread it on.  The recipe said to simmer and stir for at least fifteen minutes, but after ten I had a feeling it was ready.  I let it go for a couple more minutes just to be sure and then poured it into my one, lonely, sterilised jar.

After it had cooled, I gathered the children around the precious jar.  I wielded the butter knife with a solemnity that befitted the occasion.  As the knife struck the surface of the jam, it made a strange sound.  The jam was solid.  It would seem i had overcooked the mix.  Several day’s effort had yielded one dirty pillowcase and 50 millilitres of solid jam.

crab apple toffee

Anyone for crab apple toffee?

PS.  I decided the ending of this post is just too tragic.  We did give it another go, with more successful results.  Matilda is going to write all about it soon on her blog.