Wednesday, 23 February 2011

More Music

I was very happy last week to finally make it to one of the RNCM's free music concerts on Thursday. I had been meaning to go to take The Boy for several months, ever since I found out about them. Of course, all the kids are welcome to go, but I thought he would probably get the most out of it.

Circumstances conspired in my favour last week, and it finally happened. The Changeling was home to babysit since it was the half term holidays for her. The Meister had plans, The Boy was planning to go into town anyway,  friends phoned up to actually remind me that it was on, and one of the peices was of a composer that I really quite like, Steve Reich.

So off we went in the car, and I couldn't find a place to park! Dropped The Boy off at the door, so he could meet up with friends, and then went and parked about 3/4 of a mile away, and walked back. I missed the first piece that was being performed, but made it for the rest of the performance, and got to hear the Steve Reich, which was lovely. It was 8 Lines which you really should go and listen to. Free music in Manchester is wonderful!

Then The Boy went off to play instruments at Hobgoblin and Johnny Roadhouse. I hope I remember to go another time as well.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Worthy stuff!

This week we had Book club as well as History club. They are each organised by lovely home ed mums who remind me of me 15 years ago. There was a time when I had more energy and lots of motivation and everything was new and exciting and we were learning loads of stuff together. But it does seem as though the more kids I have had, the less energy and motivation I have had, and I have done lots of things several times already, so I don't think to do them again.

On the one hand, it means that the Meister has had lots more freedom than her two eldest sisters, and on the other hand, she has had less attention from me. But being around these new friends with younger kids, as well as having good mummy hormones from having the Babe, is re-energizing me and making me want to do things again.

The good thing about both Book club and History club is that they are each once a month. So we have a goal that is achievable, and still lots of time to do all of the other stuff that we do. We read, play music, watch films, play games, go places, visit friends, bake and cook and eat, and do all of the regular weekly activities, and then do the worthy Book Club and History Club.

This month, The Meister was doing Henry VIII and his 6 wives. Of course, she chose this because it is interesting to her, and we have done some reading and stuff about them before. But I thought it was a bit boring. She planned to do it all on her own, and still was planning that, until 10pm the night before they were meeting. :-) Of course.

Her plan, which was sorted out with the group leader, was to be the head of Katherine Parr (5th wife) and to tell the story of the other wives. She had done loads of research, and had started to write it in first person, but it was a bit too much for her. Actually, she would have done it, had I encouraged her more, rather than just saying, "Go do your History." However, she isn't quite able to pick out the most relevant information. She wants it all to be in there! Being concise is something that we may need to work on. :-)

So I was up until midnight finishing it off for her. (I got to work as soon as we finished our family Valentine's day Trivial Pursuit game!) And then the next morning realized we had no props. We had all the props that other people were borrowing, but hadn't done any for her. So after some last minute (again) stitching and stapling and cutting, we had a lovely authentic (sic) piece of regal headwear.

It's amazing what you can whip up with an elastic head band, the cardboard lid of a Thorton's chocolate box, and the cut off leg of an old pair of velvet trousers, and a stapler. :-) (and a wall hanging that matches)

She gave hear speech, with lots of face paint on to make her look like she was adequately dead, while she was kneeling and somebody else held her head in the crook of their arm, like Katherine Parr was holding her own head. :-)

Katherine Parr Speaks....

Hello, I'm Katherine Howard – or at least, I was, before my head was separated from my body by my dear husband King Henry VIII. I shall tell you all about that man and his wives, for wives they all were, no matter what Henry's church says.

Henry was only young when he married Catherine of Aragon. I think that he did love her really, although he didn't tell me much about her. You see, she had married his brother, Arthur, in 1501. They were really only married for political reasons because Henry and Arthur's father, Henry VII, wanted to make an alliance with Spain, and that was where Catherine was from. But after the marriage, Arthur died. They were only married for 6 months, and according to Catherine, the marriage was never consummated. (That means she says they never had sex.) That was how she was able to say they were never really married, and how she ended up marrying Henry. Actually, they didn't get married for a few more years as Henry was so much younger than Arthur. But in 1509, they did get married, and all seemed settled for quite awhile. It would be a couple of decades before all the brouhaha erupted.

When it did erupt, it never really ended. You see, Catherine had lots of babies and miscarriages, but she didn't give birth to a male heir for Henry. In 1511, she had a baby called Henry, who only lived 52 days. And in 1516, she had Mary, who was queen for a while much later, but other than that, it was all quite sad.

Henry did have mistresses, and they did have children, but he needed a legitimate male heir, and I think as he got older, that became much more important to him. It wasn't until 1532, after Henry and Catherine had been married for 23 years, that Henry started trying to have his marriage annulled.

You see, he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, and in 1532, she finally gave in to his advances, and she ended up pregnant. All Henry wanted was a son, poor man. So he married Anne in secret in January of 1533. He had finally given up on getting the Pope to say that his marriage to Catherine was never real. She didn't think that, the Pope didn't think that, nobody thought that. But he wanted to have a legitimate male heir to be king after him, so he ignored them all.

He got the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to break with Rome, that means breaking with the Catholic Church, and to proclaim that Henry's marriage to Catherine was invalid. It was as if they had never really been married. So now he was free to be married to Anne Boleyn. Boy, she didn't know what she was letting herself in for, poor woman.

The baby she was pregnant with when they got married was expected to be a boy. But it wasn't. It was a girl, who they called Elizabeth, and turned out to be a pretty good queen, but Henry didn't think much of women ruling. He only wanted a son. And then Anne had a couple more miscarriages. Poor woman. After they had been married for only 3 years, Henry had her arrested. She was accused of adultery, incest and planning to murder the king. There were quite a few other men arrested at the same time. It was as if Henry used this as an excuse to get rid of a few enemies, or he just didn't care, as long as he ended up with what he wanted.

And what he wanted this time, was to be married to Jane Seymour. Poor Anne was beheaded on May 19th, 1536, in spite of the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declared that this marriage was invalid as well.

A few days later, on May 30th, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour. Their son, Prince Edward was born in October of the next year. But his birth had been too much for Jane, and she died a couple of weeks later. Who knows? Maybe she was lucky. Maybe, had she lived, she would have been beheaded, like Anne and myself? Henry was quite sad when she died, though. He thought of her as his 'true' wife. But he didn't know how things would end up, and that his daughters would prove more important in history than the son he wanted so so badly.

I suppose Henry grieved for Jane. He didn't think about getting married again for a couple of years. And then he hadn't fallen in love with anyone. But his advisor, Thomas Cromwell, who had supported him in getting rid of Anne Boleyn, now helped to arrange another marriage. This was another marriage for reasons of political alliance, and the poor bride was Anne of Cleves. But Henry had to form alliances. After all, you can't break with Rome and expect all to be well. So this marriage was to help England, but it didn't in the end. It didn't really help anybody. Henry was unhappy because he didn't like Anne of Cleves. He called her the 'Flanders Mare.' Thomas Cromwell ended up accused of treason and executed. Anne didn't really know what was going on, but her marriage was never consummated. I guess she was lucky in that their marriage was dissolved, after she testified that it had never been consummated. She didn't do too badly though. She was given land, and was treated like the king's sister.

Maybe that all went well for her because Henry was falling in love with me. It was 1540, Henry was 49 years old, I was 19, and he was besotted with me. I was quite lovely when I was alive, and Henry gave me lots of lovley presents.

But I guess I didn't know about everything that was going on. There were a lot of people trying to get power. And all I was interested in was love. You see, I had been engaged to Francis Dereham before I met Henry. And then I met gorgeous Thomas Culpeper. What did anybody expect? I mean, I know Henry was king and was very powerful, and he had been quite something when he was younger, but now he was older, and he had that smelly infected leg, and I was young and naïve, and I liked Thomas. Henry gave me lots of gifts. He called me his 'rose without a thorn' and the 'very jewel of womanhood'. I did like him, but, well...

Thomas Cranmer got involved again. The Archbishop of Canterbury went to the king, and told him about me and Thomas Culpeper, and poor Francis Dereham, who had expected to marry me. Francis and I had been officially engaged, and since that was never officially changed, it meant my marriage to Henry supposedly wasn't valid.

Henry and I had only been married just over a year and I was in prison, and Francis was hung, drawn and quartered. Thomas was beheaded, which wasn't as bad, but both of their heads were stuck on spears on London Bridge. They stayed there for years.

And then I was executed too. February 13th, 1542, and off came my head. I can't remember if it hurt very much, but it wasn't very nice.

And then I had to watch as Henry got married for a 6th time. I was a bit surprised when he married Katherine Parr. I mean, he had been so obsessed with getting a male heir, and he goes and marries a woman who has been married twice before, and has never been pregnant. Maybe he wasn't worried because he already had Prince Edward growing up.

And he did like Katherine. Parr that is. She was witty and vivacious and even though she was in her 30's, she was still 20 years younger than the king. I wonder if he ever knew that she wanted to marry Thomas Seymour. Thomas was Jane's brother. You remember Jane? Henry's third wife?

But in July 1543, Henry VIII and Katherine Parr were married. Although the king liked her, there were many who did not, and there was a plot against her. She was rather too taken with Henry's reformed church I think. In 1546, she was nearly arrested for heresy, but because the arrest warrant was found after it had been dropped, either by accident or on purpose, Katherine was aware of what was about to happen, and she managed to placate Henry. She wasn't arrested. And she was able to remain his wife, and a good stepmother to his three children until Henry died a few months later, in January 1547.

I think Katherine wanted to be a part of the new King Edward's rule. He was only 9 years old, and needed older helpers. But she wasn't allowed to be involved. Instead, she finally married Thomas Seymour, whom she had loved before Henry, and she finally got pregnant. Unfortunately, she died just after giving birth to her baby daughter. She only outlived Henry by about 20 months.

It wasn't really easy on any of us being married to Henry. Some lived longer than others, but there was always a price to pay. And it is rather bemusing to think that even though he was married 6 times, and had several mistresses, he only had two official wives, Jane Seymour, who died while they were married, and Katherine Parr, who outlived him. All the other marriages were declared invalid. But 'Henry the Eighth and his Six wives' makes history sound a lot more interesting than 'Henry the Eighth and his two wives.' Plus there were his daughters Mary and Elizabeth to account for. They each became Queen.

But that is another story...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The importance of playing games...

One of my New Year's Resolutions this year was to start hosting Games evenings, in which we invite a few friends around, (very few as we have a smallish house) and eat and game and laugh together. The reasons for this desire of mine are many.

Firstly, we need to have fun. We don't go out much with the Babe still being so young, and with not having much money, but we still want to enjoy ourselves. Also, we are reconnecting with some home ed friends who have older kids and the Changeling doesn't get to see them now that she is at college. So this is a nice family thing that we can do, and can help her keep in touch a bit. Plus, as I said, it is fun.

But what I had forgotten was how we used to use games all of the time as a teaching tool. Our home ed life has been full of games! And the thing that reminded me was playing cards with a friend whose family doesn't play cards. It got me thinking about all of the benefits of playing cards and games. I seem to remember reading an article about how card games were good for developing mathematical thinking. I am not sure if I really believed it, but it seemed a good reason to keep up with the family tradition of playing cards together. Now that the kids are older, and we have met a few people who don't play cards, I think I begin to believe the argument after all.

It is really just a case of what you are used to - I am not saying that if you don't play games, you are a bad person - I am just noticing the benefits of things. I suppose it is a bit like playing Brain Training games, your mind just gets used to doing certain things. Plus there is a whole vocabulary associated with card playing - run, set, consecutive, suits - and things like pattern recognition and developing strategies based on probabilities. It does actually help with logic and problem solving.

What I had forgotten was how we used to play games all the time to learn things. We played I SPY, to pass the time on long bus journeys or car journeys, and to remember to be observant about the world around us. I remember one game that lasted about 40 miles as none of us could figure out what 'P' we could always see - pylon! And the memories of The Boy first learning his alphabet - "I spy something beginning with..." It didn't matter what letter he said, the answer was always Airplane! We would guess a few things beginning with whatever letter he actually said, in the hope that he would recognize the sounds eventually, but then we would guess "Airplane!" Yay!

And there was the ever popular Animal Guessing Game. 20 questions without the first question of "Animal, Vegetable or Mineral." We used this game to introduce vocabulary relating to geography, habitat, and scientific classification. "Is it a mammal, amphibian, etc?" "Does it live in trees, water etc.?"  "Is it native to South America?" As well as passing the time while travelling, it was a good way to learn things, but we forgot about that since we were having fun, and spending time together.

We play a lot of word games, going through the alphabet and doing list games, making things up, doing logic puzzles, guessing countries and cities and capitals, etc.  And we have been reminded of this, since we have sort of gotten out of the habit, by a book that The One got me for Christmas. She is away at university now, but she obviously remembered all of the fun we had playing games, because she got me Parlour Games for Modern Families   and we are having fun doing quite a few of them. I must admit that we don't do many of the movement ones, since we don't have much room, but maybe we will when the weather gets nicer. But the word games are great, and the dice games pretty good too, especially Farkle - if only for the name. :-)

I suppose some people just enjoy that kind of thing - and we do. :-) A couple of comments have been made about how our games guests need to get their brains in gear to come to our games night, but really, I know a lot of people who play much harder games than us! We are wannabes on the clever game circuit! I guess it is because we are enjoying ourselves too much.

I can't imagine not playing games, although there are plenty of specific things that I have no interest in. I am happy to play Magic, but not Pokemon. I am happy to play Munchkin, but not Dungeons and Dragons. I am happy to play lots of traditional card games, but I do get sick of playing Spit - mainly because it is too fast for my old brain - and I never win. The kids are too good - which I suppose was the point of all of this game playing in the first place. They have great brains. :-)

The view from my chair...

I have this chair in my living room, which I got from the Red Cross Charity shop and it is my breastfeeding chair because the sofa is so old and baggy that it hurts my back to just sit in it. So I sit in the chair in the window, and yesterdy I was trying very hard not to look out as the council screws up our road, tarmacs everything, and takes our paving stones to make other streets in the city look nice. :-(

But here we had lots of music. The Boy's musical talent is infecting us all. We bought a ukulele at the weekend, and he is already pretty good on it. We have been playing Gay Pirates, and here is the Babe learning her drum bits, with a little help from Creature. :-) That is Creature's mum, my best friend Martine, sitting on the piano bench, finishing off a little dress she has knitted for the Babe.

Not a good photo, as she was dancing and moving, and wouldn't stand still - so not a good model at all. But a cute dress. :-)

We are doing a lot of music. Of course, The Boy does a lot anyway. Drums, Piano, African Ensemble, Congos, Piano, and I think we can add ukulele to that. He is also saving up for a quatro - which he has picked out at Hobgoblin Music. I have been playing a bit of guitar as well, trying to keep up with him a bit. I haven't played for a couple of years because my skin was quite bad, and the skin on my fingers kept splitting. But I have suitable sore fingers now, and I hope to have callouses again soon. Then I can accompany The Boy, or play a few tunes at the next camp we go on.

The Changeling has been playing the piano a bit as well. She doesn't really do the learning music bit, but she learns songs, and can play they pretty well. And The Meister wants to learn the violin. I  am not convinced this is going to be a long term thing for her, but The Boy has a violin he doesn't use, so she can have a go with that. And who knows, as she and another home ed friend have apparently been offered free singing lessons.

They go to a young performers group, and a couple of weeks ago,  a new accompanist joined the group, and asked if the two of them had singing lessons. Of course, they haven't but the thing that marks them out as different is their confidence. They are home educated, and when they sing, they sing. They don't mumble or pretend to sing, or worry about what all the other kids are doing, or worry about getting it wrong or being laughed at. They just do it. :-) I am proud of them both, but also sad that the normal world makes so many kids afraid to be themselves.

Off to practice my guitar chords...

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Musings on a rainy Saturday morning...

The boy is off to York for the weekend. He is going with his Scout Jamboree Unit. He has a few camps and training days coming up, but we still have £1000 to fundraise. I am slightly disappointed with the fundraising support we are (not) getting. I thought there were going to be more county level things to take part in, but alas, the 4 Scouts in our district seem to be left to their own devices. All of which means I am more actively involved than I want to be.

Don't get me wrong - I am really excited about this opportunity that the Boy has to go to the Jamboree. But I am doing enough what with home education, and toddler watch, and just trying to get through each day. He has done a lot himself, but not using his own initiative, and it can be just as exhausting being the one to do all the reminding and worrying- which means I am doing some organising as well.  But we are half way there money wise - just need to sort out passport and EHIC as well. :-)

Other than that (worry), we have the Meister's friend coming to visit this weekend, and her mum, so I can play, too. :-) Socially, we have been very busy this week, but not so much on the getting things done. We have hardly had any time to read, or play games, or even talk much.

But I did have a nice time on Monday, going shopping with the Changeling. She is 16, and wondering who the hell she is going to be, and we don't spend much social time together. Even though it was only shopping, and it was at the Trafford Centre (crosses self, spits, turns around three times) and we had the Babe with us, it was nice. I find it a little bit sad, that since she started college in September, she seems to hardly see her home ed friends. They were her best friends for years, and it seems a bit as if they have all gone on to other things, and don't really think about each othe that much. It could just be time constraints, but it still seems sad to me. She does have a few new friends at college, but they all seem to be either angry or apathetic, and she is trying to be those things too, when to my mind, she doesn't really have reason to be. But since I am her mother, I would say that wouldn't I?

Anyway, the kids are all so different. Home education has been great in that it has allowed them all to be who they want to be slightly more than if they had been institutionalised. But I still think that they can feel pressure to be 'good' or 'clever' or 'insert trendy lefty characteristic here' even though I do try to not exert pressure, I probably do. I have certain expectations - that they be true to themselves, that they not be rude or impolite to others, that they not be lazy, that they leave me alone once in a while. :-) I mean, that they become independent. :-)

And there are societal pressures. There are sibling relationships. And because the eldest has gone to university, they others may think they are expected to as well. I think that by the time they are 15 - 17 they are really ready to get away from each other. Which is fine, but because we are a family that spends so much time together, maybe they don't think it is fine. I think the Changeling still wants to be part of all we do, and yet wants her own life as well, and just gets angry at us for carrying on without her. But since I am the mother of teenagers, I am no doubt wrong.

Back to the easy bits of home education. I am thinking of starting up an English group for a very small group of the Boy, the Meister and a couple of their friends. It would consist of word games, grammar lessons, reading and discussion of books, writing (both critical and creative) and would be as weekly as we could manage. I like doing this kind of thing, but I just have to be sure I have the energy, and there are enough kids with the interest. :-) I think many families already have too many committments.

I do find myself getting slightly more stuctured, (very, very, slightly) but I think that has something to do with the changing family dynamics, as it isn't anything to do with shifts in ideas about the necessity of the learner having the freedom to choose what to learn.  And no doubt, most families would see our once a month, or once a week activities as having little resemblance to their daily or weekly programmes of learning. We still seem to be doing what suits us, it is just that what suits us is changing. I have been home educating for so long now, that I don't spend much time thinking about it, or talking about it, or challenging myself on its apects. Having the Babe is getting me to do that again, which is useful.