Friday, 26 February 2016

Five Little Things : Knitting

Ulysses from De rerum Natura
A bag of wool in the post

There are few things that bring me as much simple joy as wool and mail. I love getting post, particularly packages but also letters and post cards. When the two combine together as in one lovely package from the great people over at De Rerum Natura it makes me one very happy person.

De Rerum Natura's wool makes me especially happy because of their humanist ethos which means that the lovely wool I get to knit with comes from sheep who've been very well treated. It feels great to be knitting with wool from happy, loved sheep.

And the endless possibilities it announces...

The thing I love most about wool is the possibility. From a simple string of twine you can make almost anything - socks, mittens, sweaters, hats, leggings and tea cosies. And that's a very tame list. This wool was destined to become a sweater for Noah and it's knitting up beautifully if slowly. But even the slowness of (my) knitting doesn't really bother me because for me therein lies the beauty. Stitch by stitch, row by row I can see something growing and even if I only knit one stitch or one row, I am moving forwards I am making something.

Softly You in Green
Noah's new sweater, a work in progress

This slow but constant progress has been a lifesaver to me over the years when with a young family I often didn't have long stretches of time to create. But I could knit. And I did. I took it to the park in a bag and knit while I stood around watching the kids play. I knit on the train and the bus. I knit in the little snippets of time I had between naps or when everyone was finally sleeping in the evening. And it made me feel better. It made me feel okay that my days went round like a fixed loop endlessly repeating the same gestures as I fed and cleaned and played and slept.

So I'm grateful for sheep and I'm grateful for needles and I'm so glad you have your whole life long to learn new things and that knitting and I found each other. And I'm so, so grateful for one more ball of Malabrigo Rasta to finish my first shawl. I know it's going to keep me warm for many winters yet.

Malabrigo Rasta Azules
Malabrigo Rasta Azules

Caitlin French Offhand Lace
My Offhand Lace Shawl

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Homeschool Files : How to Make a Cardboard Space Station

Well not just any space station but a model of the International Space Station (ISS). 

File:STS-135 final flyaround of ISS 1.jpg
Image from NASA

Noah has always been interested by space. A visit to the National Space Centre with his grandparents as a toddler left its indelible mark on his mind it seems and he comes back to it over and over again. 

His current interest in space and particularly the International Space Station is thanks to Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to spacewalk. We have followed Tim Peak's time on the ISS, watched him blast off with a thumbs up, seen his first wobbly gravity-less cartwheels and watched him repair the space station during his almost 5hour EVA - extra-vehicular activity.

We also watched his question-time with British school children who asked such great questions as Which is your favourite button and what does it do? Does your heart beat faster in space? and What is your favourite science experiment?

We've learnt a lot through youtube videos direct from the space station. Things like how you brush your teeth and wash your hair in space, how you make coffee and what food is like. We've also conducted experiments to help us understand the scale of space and the size of our planet - a tiny blip on the face of the universe! We like to watch the BBC Stargazer programme to and we also got ourselves outside and observed the skies to see the ISS pass over us

This last experience was truly magical. It's easy to find out when the space station will be passing overhead and really fun to observe. We can see it when it's night here but the station is still in sunlight so just before sunrise or just after sunset. Noah said afterwards "I really didn't think we'd see it mum! It was amazing!" I found it moved a lot faster than I was expecting and was exceedingly clear. We were lucky in that it seemed to make a perfect arc from one side of our garden to the other. It really gave me a sense of the fact we're living inside a curved surface in a way I had never experienced before.  

As I've said recently, no passion seems to be complete here unless we get out the toilet rolls, scissors, glue and double-sided sticky tape! Space is no exception and Noah quickly articulated his desire to make a space station. As usual I googled it - make a space station. I was rather disappointed with the results, no go-to tutorial, no creative mama happily paving the way. So we improvised. We based ourselves on pictures I found by googling cardboard international space station and took it from there. Here's what we did... 

Making the Space Station

Our project began by collecting lots of toilet roll tubes and then by sitting down with a ruler and a piece of paper. 

I cut out some pieces of paper roughly the length of about four toilet roll tubes. I then drew geometrical patterns on the paper - basically lots of squares and triangles which we coloured in with black and yellow pencil crayons.   

Then we cut out eight identical strips of paper and used a ruler to draw lines in black pencil crayon to make it look like solar panels. We coloured these in blue. 

I joined the tubes together using a method I'd adapted for making towers (when we made castles) which consists of cutting little slits around the end of one tube and sliding it into another. I then rolled the decorated sheet of white paper around the tubes and secured it by folding the edges over the ends. The extra length was created by the fact that the tubes were slightly overlapping each other once assembled. 

I then made a small fold at the end of each 'solar panel' and taped this flap to the tubular structure. We ended up with this: 

Once we'd created the main structure we got to work planning out the perpendicular one. We used toilet rolls and sized it all out first.

I drew patterns on correctly sized paper and we wrapped this around the tubes and secured it in place. 

Then came the really hard bit, putting all the tubes together. I don't have any photos of this, all I can say is we used a lot and I mean a lot of tape, double-sided and normal sticky tape. We also used paper to run across places in order to make the structure more secure. Here's the finished result:

It took us many hours spread out over several weeks but I thought it was worth it when I saw this face:

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Friday, 19 February 2016

Beach Combing : Finding Dreams

On our way to the beach on Tuesday I was hoping for interesting finds. It's been stormy here, wild winds and rain sweeping inland for days. Reading this book by poet Jean Sprackland about beaches near where I grew up had made me eager to find something out of the ordinary.

In fact, when we got to Gavres, the beach seemed strangely calm and almost tidy. There were two distinct tide lines. One like the smeared rim of a glass that's been through the dishwasher too many times, barely there. The other a scattered constellation of stones, pebbles and fossils, great drifts of debris forming a barrier to bare feet between the warm dry sands and the exposed wet sticky sands that stretched out to meet the ocean.

I wandered along the two tide lines lazily my eyes scanning the surface, taking in all the old familiar friends; cockle shells, turret shells, calico scallops and an infinite variety of smooth, rough, flat, round, large and small pebbles and stones.  

And then I saw it, so small I should have missed it, would have missed it if I hadn't been so finickity, shuffling along at snail's pace my eyes sweeping the sand. A starfish.

As it was on the beach

I've dreamed of finding one of these. I know that's a bit strange but it's true, while some people dream of fame and fortune, I dream of sea shells and starfish. Trying to identify our find proved difficult. There are about 2000 species and they are not in fact fish but echinoderms. The preferred term for them is therefore sea stars as opposed to starfish. Noah and I scrawled through hundreds of photographs on the internet. Our specimen seemed to resemble the beaded star the most in colour and form but I'm not sure from the information available that this particular species is found in this part of the Atlantic ocean. Perhaps a common starfish then although it seems to lack the size for that.

Well whatever kind of sea star it is, it is perfectly formed, it's five arms making a slightly wonky star. On one side it is laced with white, tiny blanket stitches seemingly holding it together. On the other it is a dark speckled pink - it could almost be a pin cushion except for its hardness. It is exquisitely delicate and beautiful. 

One by one I shared my find with the rest of the family and we were all touched by the wonderful strangeness of it, like a star fallen down to the sea. It struck me then as it has before, how beautiful the world is, how marvelous it is to find the same forms in the constellations and on the seabed, as if the same intricate pattern is woven into everything. I'd love to hear from anyone who's found a dream recently, or a star or anything that made them feel joy or wonder just as this sea star did for me...

Up close

Blanket Stitch?

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Homeschool Files : Time to Do What You Love

One of the main reasons we home educate is that we'd like our kids to grow up and spend their days doing something they enjoy. We want them to keep their innate connection to their true interests, the things they do because they like them not because someone else has decided it's what they should be doing. 

The other day, my eldest, Maya, asked me what I would do all day every day if I had to pick one thing. It was a tough question. I was hard put to answer. I finally settled on writing, but did point out that as there are many things I enjoy I'd rather do a few of them. She replied, that for her, if it really had to be just one thing then it would be pony. All day, every day, she would want to ride and be with ponies. 

We do not own horses and so her reality is two full afternoons a week at a wonderful pony club where she gets to ride and care for the ponies. Luckily there are other things she really enjoys doing and she did quickly move on to talk about one of them. "Oh and drawing," she said, "I'd want to draw". She is a talented artist and spends a portion of each day drawing. She also makes things, does origami and collages, sews and knits.  

If she were in school she wouldn't have a lot of time for these activities and I think that would be sad because these are the things that make her her. They are the things that make her happy and even more, they are the way she makes sense of her world as anyone who's ever flipped through a few pages of one of her many journals could tell you. In fact when we stopped and thought about it, both my husband and I felt we couldn't imagine Maya without her drawing.

From time to time I worry about whether she's spending her time doing the 'right' things. I hesitate, wonder if I shouldn't be trying to teach her something else, to get her to spend less time doing what she enjoys and more time doing something more 'serious'. And in the weeks running up to our annual Local Education Authority home visit, I can even be known to panic for a moment thinking - how on earth will I justify this to the inspector? I've practically nothing but drawings to show for the year!

And then, I start looking at the drawings. And it's like taking a walk back through everything we've done over the past twelve months. I get lost in how far she's journeyed with her art and her personal and unique education since the last time I took stock and I think, honestly, if she only did this - and of course she does not - how could I be anything less than amazingly proud of her talent and commitment to her art not to mention inspired by her creativity.

When we let our children do what they love, however hard that might be sometimes when we compare it to what we did in school or what our neighbour's kids are doing, they blossom, they flourish and they grow.   

Saturday, 13 February 2016