Monday, 30 December 2013

Book deals on Wheels!

I wonder if any one else reads several books on the go? I have my 'car' book, my 'bath' book and my 'bed' book.

This morning whilst waiting for my daughter to finish her shift at the kennels I found myself engrossed in The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth - in particular the poem Michael by William Wordsworth. I'm fascinated by Lake District authors and have dipped in an out of Beatrix Potter, John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome and Wordsworth from time to time - there have been smatterings of information in our studies on Victorian and local history and I have even followed Wordsworth up to Loch Achtray near Callendar in Scotland and marvelled at the distance travelled by horse and cart in rough and mountainous terrain.

My car book travels with me everywhere. It is on hand when I wait for my daughter to finish her dance class, when I pick up my eldest to finish work, in fact anywhere where I find myself waiting around for someone (which happens a lot)

Although never a fan of kindle or ipads for reading. I'm coming around to the idea after straining my eyes under the dim lamplight in the car park during the winter months. I plan to download Shakespeare on toast' and Mary Poppins

My bath book is about travels in New Zealand A Land of two halves. It is a country I've always longed to visit although so far I haven't been impressed by the descriptions of the Eastern coast of South Island. Having circled the coast we have just reached the North Western coast and things seem to be improving.

Meanwhile my 'bed book' is a fictional story How to fall in Love         by Celia Aherne, daughter of the former Irish Politician Bertie Aherne. It lasted two evenings. I'm not a great fiction reader but I am a definate fan of Celia Aherne.

I learn so much from my 'travelling books' and they fill those inconvenient gaps when you only have ten minutes or so before your next task. It's a great way to set an example to the children too, so if you don't already have some books 'on the go" Why not give it a try?

Friday, 27 December 2013

Cooking for Kids-the sooner they learn the better!

I left my daughter to her own devices cooking flapjack in the kitchen this afternoon. She managed beautifully.I meanwhile, experimented with goats cheese and red onion quiches as we are having a buffet for New Years day next week.

Cooking is a skill that all children should have- if it is second nature to pop on the pasta and make cheese sauce to pour over it when you get home then, hopefully, they will be less inclined to use convenience foods and take-aways when they fly the nest.

So many people only really learn to cook 'real food' when they give up work or move to the sticks, well away from shops and supermarkets. Cooking is something people did in the 'olden days' before the invention of supermarkets and convenience times when mothers didn't have to juggle work, child care and after school activities. In the best seller I don't know how she does it the main character , a successful stock broker and mother. is frantically baking at midnight so that the non working mothers won't look down their noses at her when she turns up to nursery with her shop bought cakes. It made me smile- we've all done it. Only the other day my friend posted photos of TWO birthday cakes she had made for her daughter and iced at MIDNIGHT. One was for school, the other for home. How stressful!

For me the opportunity to learn to bake came when I gave up work and found myself with more time.Having our own hens encouraged me to make use of our new supply of eggs. I suddenly discovered that home made sponge cakes were so much yellow-er and wholesome than those you could buy in shops. I experimented with quiches and home made bread and discovered how delicious they were and made home made French onion  and spicy carrot soup.They were yummy.

I've graduated since to apple and blackberry crumble, jam. lemon curd and this year .for the first time. I made Limoncello for Christmas presents.

I still have a long way to go on the baking front. I don't do multi tasking when I cook and I certainly don't want a  kitchen /diner.Talking and cooking just don't mix unless you like charcoaled meat for tea. I can however do a mean Chicken fajita, or a Chilli con carne or curry which is  a great improvement on twenty years ago. Also Eton mess,flap jack and refrigerator cake no longer cause the mental anguish of former years!

I have learned shortcuts or cheats for emergencies too. Shop made muffins covered in home made icing or melted chocolate can be a life saver when the children have an unexpected cake stall or fund raiser and my daughter has made a beautiful rich chocolate cake from a box mixture then decorated it herself for birthday parties.

Looking back I wish I'd learned how to cook years ago. That's why I'm encouraging my children to cook whilst they are still at home. Hopefully they will learn to eat healthily and save money at the same time.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas holidays- End of school term or just the beginning?

Last night I watched Seven years in Tibet with Brad Pitt. It had been sitting in a drawer for months since I'd found it on the shelves in a charity shop and I decided to take over the TV for an evening and watch it. Once again I was amazed at the information you can learn when you are not 'trying to educate' either yourself or others. My eldest son came in to join me and we found ourselves talking about the invasion of China into Tibet in 1951 and the exile of the Dalai Llama to India. I've just spent half an hour googling Wikipedia for more information on a subject about which I had very little knowledge.

I was delighted when my Autistic son decided to join in and dress the Christmas tree .  At thirteen he still secretly gets excited at the thought of presents and Christmas generally and had  been asking when it was going up for several days.He still didn't want his photo taken as he put up the decorations!

On the other hand his twin was quite happy for me to take pictures of her as she made crackers! We discovered that the Christmas cracker was invented after a log rolled out of the burning embers onto the hearth next to a sweet maker called Thomas Smith who came up with the idea of putting a 'cracker' in his packages of sweets.There are lots of Christmas ideas on the Victorian Farm website.We also learned that during the second world war people made tinsel from the Chaff scattered by the Luftwaffe to break up radio waves and that what we know as Christmas carols were in fact originally hymns which were not necessarily associated with the Christmas period. It suddenly occurred to me that since we began home education journey we no longer think twice about researching further into subjects which we find interesting.It's not about 'learning" because we "have to". It's a natural inquisitiveness as we are interested and there is no pressure because no one is making us do it.

We put up a Christmas card my son made at school a few years ago which embraces the spirit of Christmas.

and arranged the tiny Nativity on the stove which my sister bought for the children when they were little and which is still a firm favourite!

and of course no Christmas would be complete without a walk in the fields to collect Holly and Ivy for decorations!

Wishing you all a very Peaceful Christmas!

And if anyone wants to know what I want for Christmas , well this home educating mum just about sums it up!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Oh the weather outside is Frightful

I always love this time of year.It's dark by 4.00pm so the hens are in their  coop by 3.30pm where it's warm and cosy and I can then shut the cottage door on the wind and rain outside and relax with a book , some craft or baking.

We're lucky that the walls of our cottage are a foot thick so with the doors closed and the burner on the house is warm and comfortable ( a bonus when we have snow and come rolling in from sledging on the back field in the winter)

This week has been a mixture of present wrapping, writing Christmas notes and reading Christmas blogs for inspiration. We've been to watch "Saving Mr Banks" at the cinema which has inspired me to re-read the Mary Poppin's books and today a friend prompted me to list the ten most influential books I had read as a child.Wow that was nostalgic and I 'll write about that another day.

 It's been busy in the run up to the end of school term. I've sung carols in our local Costa Coffee, and in our town Christmas concert, and  my daughter has been  ice skating in Blackburn on her school rewards trip.
It's a busy time but over the years I have discovered the magic of making Christmas special if you  avoid the commercialism and value what is important.

On Tuesday I spent an hour with special friends at a Christmas coffee morning in aid of the N.A.S. Home made  cakes and chocolate jigsaw pieces ( a symbol of  autism) with coffee and chat. I came away with  books to read over the holiday period and yummy cakes for the family.

 My daughter designed a Christmas jumper for school - a combination of snowflakes and Christmas berries were sewn to her cardigan to create a cheap and simple Christmas sweater.

We had a lovely early Christmas meal with grandparents at the weekend as they will be away for Christmas. My autistic son loved it - calm and relaxed without the pressure of presents and noise and loads of guests. He happily pulled crackers, ate his turkey and chocolate cake then sat with his dad and watched the rugby.He even asked tonight when we are going to put the tree up.

"When school breaks up we will do it ", I said.

Then yesterday it was the school carol concert at St Andrew's church Coniston. In the churchyard are the graves of John Ruskin and Collingwood. We are so.lucky to live in such a beautiful setting! The service was lovely and my daughter  played bass guitar. Then to round it off I popped into the village Honesty shop and bought some Christmas decorations which the pupils had made to raise money for our local Hospice. They will take pride of place on our tree when it goes up tomorrow!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

An Autistic Christmas -Making your own traditions

Well it's that busy time of year again. Life is a series of concerts,performances and Christmas meals in our household and with all the practices leading up to them it can be a tiring time.

My daughter has been rehearsing all year for a Christmas dance performance which came to fruition on Friday. As I watched her in her Michael Jackson costume of trilby,Shirt and tie, blazer and black shorts I realised that she was growing up and to put it quite frankly - in her element!

She has it all to do again next week but this time it will be a mother /daughter affair as I will be singing with my choir at the same performance!

A couple of years ago it stretched to three of us.My eldest played the drums, my daughter played the flute and sang and I sang in the choir!

Dad and my autistic son stayed well out of it! And that's how it is most Christmasses. Whilst three of us rush round like whirling dervishes (and my husband attends the odd Christmas meal), my autistic son needs 'sameness'.

When he was little he used to get so excited in the run up to Christmas that I remember him shaking as the 'real'  father Christmas walked past in a local procession. Luckily, because we had twins and couldn't keep up with who had given them what , we started a tradition of opening presents at intervals throughout the day which kept the suspense going and meant that they had time to study each present properly and play with it before they got on the the next one.

Again luckily, and quite by chance.we decided when we got married to create our own traditions rather than follow the traditions we had both had as children - mainly because they were so different we would have fallen out over it.. When the children were born we started a tradition early of not having a huge 'family' Christmas, we felt that it was a time for the children, not a time for driving up and down the country rushing from relative to relative. It turned out our intuition  for a calm, family time with no pressure was right.

We discovered early on that in the aftermath of Christmas my autistic son went into a huge depression for a couple of days, was horrendous  to deal with and needed to be left alone. We now know that he couldn't cope with all the Christmas parties, nativity plays and changes in routine which school threw at him and home education has allowed him to 'be himself' without judgement.

So whilst I go singing in an old peoples home today, my son will stay at home as he no doubt will at our Christmas concert next week. He will manage an early Christmas meal at his Grandma's as he knows the set up and there won't be too many people and he will manage a trip to the cinema to watch The Hobbit if we time it wisely when everyone else is at school or visit the early evening performance.

And as for presents- he just wants money - and believe me he won't be too happy if he gets lots of presents and no money as he is saving up for a gaming computer.So money it is and no surprises, because surprises knock you sideways when you are Autistic.

But we are lucky- we will have a Christmas tree, and crackers, and a proper Christmas meal unlike many families with a child on the spectrum.So spare a thought for those whose children don't understand,those who become 'creative' by having pictures of Christmas trees on the wall rather than the real one, virtual advent calendars because real ones are too scary,fish fingers and chips because that's what their children always eat and who feel alone because they would love to have a child who dressed up as a shepherd ,or sang in the nativity without becoming overwhelmed by the noise, the lights and the change to their routine.

But all is not lost,if you can change your own expectations of your child and harder still change or ignore the expectations of those around you who don't understand then you and your child can have a very peaceful Christmas. If anyone has found ideas which work for their Autistic children,please do share them here. You never know you might be making a huge difference to just one family!

However you spend it though have a peaceful and calm Christmas in your household from all of us!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Going it alone- I'm doing it MY way!

Yesterday's question of the day was " What does desolation mean mum?"

We discussed how the world might look if subjected to a nuclear attack- the vast wasteland, I explained, would be barren and desolate. Desolation could also mean 'alone' and 'sad'.That made more sense to my son  in the context he had read it. I suggested that the word must have been derived from the French word desole (sorry)  and quite possibly came from a latin word before that. 'Or perhaps it derives from the  Germanic language' piped up my thirteen year old son.

All this took place in my car whilst parked in a local car park eating our weekly KFC and it's a typical example of how learning takes place in our home.

It started me thinking about  how we each learn.There are five of us,Mum (me) Dad, Eldest son (just turned 17),Twins (one of each  aged 13).My daughter is in main stream secondary and her twin who has a diagnosis of Aspergers is home educated. We are all very different.

I was the classic academic student at school, went to university, got a law degree then worked as a lawyer for 25 years before giving up to home educate my Autistic son. I have  changed my views on the education drastically but in a very liberating way since having my three children.

 My husband on the other hand went down the college route to university, got his degree in Engineering and worked for a time  in engineering before switching to  the fire service at 26. He has just retired and has set up his own fire risk assessment business (again I think due to his changing perception of what education is truly about and his confidence in his ability to learn throughout life)

My eldest son decided against university. He wanted to get his hands dirty and engage in 'real life' ,as he put it. He has just left school at sixteen,has secured an apprenticeship with our local council doing motor vehicle maintenance (his passion) and day release in a local college one day a week. At the moment he is focussed on a career in motor sport but who knows, that may change as he learns and gains experience in other fields, His ongoing education is therefore currently linked to his passion for cars.He spent the weekend watching a local rally through Grizedale forest and, as of last week is learning to drive. His motivation and enthusiasm is infectious.

My daughter's passion is dance.This week has been packed with practices for a performance on Friday. At thirteen she is looking ahead at how she can expand her experience. her brother she has  developed a confident 'can do ' attitude,being ready to grasp every opportunity with both hands. I meanwhile run the taxi service.

My youngest son is very different,partly because he is Autistic, and partly because he just 'is'.
He is in many ways, self taught.He thinks outside the box and sees the details. Things the rest of us miss,like where a jigsaw piece should fit or where there is a glitch in continuity in a film- the detail in fact. He has the single mindedness to keep working on a job that matters to him until he has perfected it.He doesn't give up and he focuses on the job.

And me- well I'm continually learning all the time too.Learning how to perfect my craft of writing, learning better music technique with my choir and learning how to motivate people to get on and do things for themselves rather than rely on government to provide them with the help and funding they so desperately need.

Home education it seems has opened my eyes and given me a lot to be thankful for!