Aug 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Baby!

July has just turned 7 and after one abandoned party attempt (thanks tonsillitis ; ) we got together most of the usual crew of families and kids to help us celebrate. Her fave book series at the moment is Harry Potter - presently at the 3rd book - so naturally this was her chosen theme... (even though we have done a HP party before...)

I found a wonderful free printable invite from Colleen at Sweet and Simple - thanks Colleen! We made HP inspired collage crafty bookmarks (which I laminated) for the party take-home bags which included the list of the series' book titles on the back.

We sorted the kids into house teams using a sorting hat using audio files that announced the house choice...

we played broomstick relays...

ate chocolate frogs in a race where the prize was...ahem, the chocolate frog

gave crazy prizes...

ran a gumboot relay because we could...

built Hagrid's Hut together out of pear prunings...

then sat in there for a HP trivia quiz...

swung at piñata...

swung at it a little more...

and ate cake (see below)...

After we all had lunch together and then popped on a movie for the kids (not HP as it turned out) the Birthday Girl said it was "The Best Birrthday Party Ever" which was good to hear as once the last family drove off into the twilight we all collapsed tired and happy at the end of it!

Speaking of best ever...

Best ever, top reviewed, most delicious, almost healthy gluten free cake!
It has been one year since we all kicked the horrible gluten habit and in case you have ever wondered how to hold a 7 year old's party without mysterious white powder (that is, the strange combination that is gluten free pre-packaged flour mixes) here is my recipe for the best ever, most delicious wheat-free, gluten-free delicious chocolate cake (scale it up and down as needed):

Chocolate almond cake

5 free range organic eggs
200g butter
200g raw sugar
200g good dark chocolate
200g ground almonds (blanched is best)
2 tablespoons of coconut flour (optional)

Preheat oven to 175 celsius (350 F.) Grease then line your tin with silicon paper.
Place chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over low heat, stir to melt.
Add almond and coconut flour to the chocolate butter. Mix well. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.

Separate 4 of the eggs and put the whites in their own mixing bowl. Take the remaining whole egg and mix with the 4 yolks. Add the raw sugar. Mix well until smooth and frothy.

Stir together the yolk and sugar mix with chocolate mixture.

Beat the remaining 4 egg whites until stiff (I use a whisk attachment in my Kitchen Aid mixmaster). 

Using a metal spoon, stir whites through the chocolate mix. Mix til it has a uniform colour - though little specks of whites are fine - try not to over mix as you will lose the air in the batter. (note - photo shows half-way through the mixing).

Pour into a greased non-stick spring form tin (line base with silicone paper) and bake at 175c  (350 F.) for 45 minutes. Check 5 minutes before time is up to make sure it isn't already cooked through. Top should be firm and not gooey. See my skewer holes? That is how I tested this monster sized cake - usually a little push on the top will let you know...

This isn't a wheat-like fluffy cotton wool cake, but has a lovely light texture, with a slight crust on top. Delicious! Serve leftovers warm with granache made with melted dark chocolate and fresh pure cream stirred through.

Yum. Which reminds me...must go and get some leftovers out of the freezer to warm up for dessert : )

Aug 3, 2012

Cranky pants

Some days are hard. Sometimes my limited store of patience gets burned up too quickly and I am left suddenly hot and cranky and wondering "Where did this come from?"

Some days it is hard to be a happy mama. Mothering isn't always smooth - nor is it always easy to be a happy wife. Sometimes it feels like everyone in the family is just_not_listening_to_me.

Today is one of those days. I lost my cool - I've got "the poops". I have failed in my anger management.

Do you ever have days like that?

The old pleasure of expressing anger
I actually find it quite difficult these days to be angry - really in the moment volcano erupting angry - as I used to sometimes get (long before husband and kids). That youthful rush when that annoying person in the office finally goes too far and you feel yourself sliding into justified red-faced indignation and you snarl the perfect biting comeuppance...that can actually feel good in that moment of release...

Anger and parenting
But feeling and expressing anger as a parent? 

That is tough for me, and probably for you too. I don't feel I can allow myself the self-indulgence of it. When I do yell, I immediately feel like a horrible person and try to pack all of those scary feelings back away. 

It truly breaks my heart to see my child's face crumple when I have gone too far and yelled. 

And over the years of being a parent I have learnt the important balm of saying "sorry" for losing my temper - again, this is very different to saying sorry to an adult IYKWIM. Something along the lines of "I was wrong to yell, but this is what I was feeling...I am sorry for yelling at you. Why don't we clean this up together."

To be clear, I do think anger is a legitimate emotion: I think it is important for kids to see that parents have big feelings too; and sometimes anger is the absolutely most appropriate response to a given situation.

But I also think it is just too easy to jump into anger when you are parenting very intense kids or in an intense situation (such as homeschooling). You need to give yourself a little breathing room to feel it, then decide what to do.

Hitting is not a healthy expression of anger
This is why we don't smack our kids: I was hit as a child - and I could feel all that anger come flowing from my parent into me as a punishment and a shaming. 

You know that distress of watching one of your children hit another child. The hypocrisy of then using that same method to discipline your child...I just can't do that. But I have certainly yelled - and have always regretted it.

There are better ways to deal with anger when you feel it than to pass it on to your child. 

So, today I am asking myself...
What is going on with me? Do I just need a break?

Hold on, then deal with it
So, I (mostly) hold on to it. Try to keep the sorry-for-myself tears in until the door closes and the rest of the family are out for the rest of the day. 

Thank goodness it is "homeschool park day" today and I can be here alone.

And instead of my inside melodramatic voice complaining endlessly about all of the horrible choices I have made for myself while I struggle not to be a cranky pants all morning (ahem...this is NOT a very clearheaded or reasonable voice you understand) I finally get the chance to sniffle and sigh and moon about when the family has gone out. To tap out a slightly sooky blog post...

Give it time
Being alone in a quiet house does wonders.

Ok. Now it's time to put the hot water on for a pretty cup of tea and to find the last two almond peanut-butter biscuits in the house to put on a pretty plate and...actually, I think is going to be alright after all. 

Quality time to look after me -  just me - for a few hours. 

You know, I think all parents need a bit of that kind of quality time.

(Oooh, might use the chance of this free time to laminate some long overdue timeline pics and then watch some "just for mum tv" : )

What makes you feel better when you have been a cranky pants?

Jul 13, 2012

Life as a collage...make and do

Creative times here at Mansted Family are some photos about what we do when holidays (and a break from homeschool) come around. 

Virtually all of this was kid-selected and/or kid-directed, which just shows that homeschoolers' holidays are like the cliched busman holiday - "what did you do this holiday?" "make stuff...what about you?"

Um, I thought that is what we did when "school" was in : )

Fooling around with Zome and making a stellated dodecahedron (or so I have been told by July who is hard to direct at times, but is very self directed if there is anything hands-on to do herself)...

Bath bombs (see this CSIRO activity sheet)...

Head-dress making (at a wonderful birthday party with the best face painter I have ever seen - thanks Tara and Alex, and Dalee). Here is July as a blue bird:

and November as a butterfly:

which is a clumsy segue to Fiona Hall's Fly Away Home kids exhibition and activities at GOMA

where the girls made their own birds...

July continued the bird theme with her choice of inspiration for a collage... 

"Hope is a thing with feathers" by Emily Dickinson - the last verse:

"I've heard it in the chillest land - 
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me."

seen here with November's piece on Peter Pan from a quote she discovered in her favourite Michael Clay Thompson book - Caesar's English 1: 

"His eyes were of the blue of the forget-me-not, and of a profound melancholy."

 Kudos to our local library crafting wiz Kate for running this workshop : )

Dreams of butterflies have abounded as bug catchers are gathered in the early morning BEFORE mum and dad wake up enough to call out "Get your warm clothes on!". It is winter so the usual catch is a spider or occasional moth, but still butterflies are the main aspiration. Though July did find an owl pellet which led to a messy soggy dissection finding regurgitated beaks and claws and bones of prey...

Naturally, the girls wanted to do an insect identification and pinning workshop, the results shown here with November's notes on Greek pronunciation (just discovered this today in a vain attempt at tidying).

and somehow July made a little time to weave.

So lots of making and doing (and planning to do some tidying on my behalf : ).

Have you been making and doing?

Jun 1, 2012

Do you need to get out more?

I am feeling a little torn. We are all quite tired here at the Mansted Family Project, and while I can come up with all sorts of good excuses, I know what is a big contributor: we have a lot of outside activities. 

And yet, I don't want to cut a single one...

I think there are some negative homeschool stereotypes around the social isolation of home educated kids and I have to say "Get thee out of your homeschool now!". I am often surprised to see that other homeschool families don't explore outside activities...but this isn't a post about the usual crazy notion about "unsocialised homeschoolers" - I talked about that here

This is a post about why I think signing up to "extra curricular" activities is an excellent, sanity-saving, nurturing, intelligent approach...

Selfish Reason Number 1: Get out of home
I need the break, and chances are you need it too. Tensions develop when we are all inside trying to battle ahem...smoothly get through "kids'  work" whether you are an un-schooler strewing and encouraging gently, or more curriculum focussed. Change the scene and change the dynamic.

Selfish Reason Number 2: Do something other than educate
While the kids are doing the activity, you get to do something too. For a homeschool parent, this is your big chance for a break. For us, virtually the only break we get.

In piano lessons, I knit. Drama class time means socialising with a dear friend for me. Mike and I spend their netball training time playing - hahaha you'd never guess - tennis! Yes, we really do. You get the idea.

Selfish Reason Number 3: Build relationships with mentors
All of us need mentors and models. Your kids do, mine certainly do, and lets face it, I really appreciate someone who is fascinated by their subject and wants to pass that on. It is naive to think you can be everything to your child - your relationship the model for every relationship they have. Kids need to see that adults are diverse, with different skills and styles and tolerances, as this allows them to accept their own differences. 

It also helps with discipline and learning respect - experiencing first hand how to negotiate and work with adults while you develop a new skill, one-on-one or in a group with kids.

I don't want to be the drama teacher (thanks Brian) because I really enjoy my coffee with Amber in that hour and a quarter once a week and my girls think he is the greatest. He is.

Aaargh - that should't say MFP but THANKS AMBER!
I will never be the musician Sara is - and what a wonderful teacher of piano in a fluid Suzuki meets classical teaching kind of way. As November says of her piano teacher "She is our kind of person, Mum". November, July and Sara sing, play, puzzle, percuss and solfege their way through that hour and a half. She takes notes for them and they each work through those notes in practice in between lessons - because Sara has asked them to. Truly.

After homeschool group, we end our week with the Scarlett School singing class. Wow - are those women incredibly talented! What role models! Thanks Mel, Melia and Nerida - you rock. 
Mike and I sneak off for that hour and sit with a glass of wine. Phew. Here is a clip from the last show...

Nippers is mostly finished until later in the year, but the 4 age managers that coaxed, excited, enthused, and inspired our girls through last season at Byron Bay Junior Surf Lifesaving Club were lovely. November's age managers turned her around, and her participation in the State Titles was a highlight. They believed in her, and she really did her best, proudly. Mike and I were quite involved here with helping out in the water, but it is difficult to be grumpy about an enforced summer excursion to the beach every Sunday.

In winter, it is netball with the calm, patient Julie and Nimmity. Got tall girls? I really recommend netball.

Peer support
Did I mention we also attend a homeschool group that meets in a park an hour away from our home? Our girls play and run and talk, and we mostly just talk to the other crazy adults like us who are outside the school sausage factory system. Lots of wisdom swapped here while kids rough and tumble and "socialise". The trip is taken up with audio books or French songs while I knit...hmmm.

Selfish Reason Number 4: Contribute and feel a part of something lasting
Cub Scouts. I never imagined that we would do this, but now we are a true Scout Family. Mike volunteered and trained to become a Cub Leader and has found that the activities he loved to do as a boy he can now facilitate for our daughters and other children. 

Outdoor life, survival skills, independence, equality between boys and girls in the pack, individual achievement through the obtaining of badges, long lasting traditions. Very cool. And as your child gets older, they just move up through the groups, making great friendships as they go. 

Sanity tip: try to group activities together to have "out of home" days
When we started homeschool, I sprinkled activities across the week. Not any more : ) We tend to do big days where it is back to back lessons and classes. It works well for us and keeps us home more often.

Try to keep your "school" holidays relaxed and un-scheduled. If you are anything like us, you'll need it!

What activities do you get up to?

May 19, 2012

Change in plans - history speeds up!

Sorry - it has been a while since I stopped by...
Here is a quick flick through some of what we have been up to during the blog silence:

The Big Tour - European Family Travel
We have decided to go travelling through Western Europe (and Scotland, Wales and England) for a year starting in September 2013. As you can imagine, this has been a monumental decision...and as the homeschool planner, it has really rocked the program!

Countries on the list so far: Austria, Czech Republic, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Scotland, Spain and Portugal, Sweden, Turkey and back home via New York, USA.

Our leisurely chronological stroll from the Big Bang to current day is only at Ancient Greece, yet now we are going to explore ancient through to modern sites on our trip, I need an abridged version!

I realised - we cannot cover everything of significance in Europe over the last 5,000 years before we go. Truly. LOL.

So now Mike and I are amassing ideas and "must see/do" mental lists that hopefully make it into the country file...anything you want to suggest? Please put it in a comment below!

This of course meant a trip to the library biography and literature section where November seized Shakespeare (I had been holding back on the Bard because of the chronolgy), Bronte sister books, insights into Beatrix get the picture. The straight travel guides alone are taking over the house.

I have had to let go of the strict historical timeline. We are reading things out of order (gasp!) and even adaptations rather than the originals. Outrageous isn't it...but a really worthwhile shakeup. 

I dipped my toe with Matt Haig's "Dead Father's Club" - a reworking of Hamlet which though written from the viewpoint of a 11 year old boy is NOT recommended for children. A fun read for adults.

Parlez-vous français?
Languages have leapt to the forefront. We are hitting French hard at the moment (Tapis Volant is our main program), and my rusty German is jumping for attention in the background. I really want to learn Italian...and November is clamouring for Greek and Latin but truly, we don't have enough time for all of that. The plan so far is French for the whole family, German brush-up and basic Italian phrases for me, while Mike has volunteered for Spanish.

You can see why the blog has suffered attention!

EPGY maths
But life has to proceed too. We have just finished our first Stanford EPGY (Educational Program for Gifted Youth) 3 month Open Enrolment maths subscription for each girl (US $45). It has been brilliant. We will definitely do more 3 month enrolments. Review to follow soon...

Ancient Greece
We are all swallowed up by Greek myths - loving D'Aulaires for this - and just finished a wonderful, rollicking audio book by Geoffrey McSkimming "Cairo Jim and the Chaos of Crete" set in the labyrinth beneath the Minoan Temple of Knossus (yes, a definite on the itinerary).

The Mensa for Kids Mythology unit is a good summary - and free - and for gifted kids.

Hands on maths
Hands on geometry practice for July as we are about to start a Year 7 unit (why do schools save the fun stuff until so late in school?) on Geometry with November, and July will sit in for the first section.

Yummy food
Other than that, our fabulous gluten free foodie life means lots of gf cooking - I am putting together a post on a week of gluten free breakfasts to inspire those who know they should be gf, but are overwhelmed by breakfast - that wheat fuelled, starchy high glycemic index meal of the day : )

Garden wise - weeds are in abeyance, winter vegetables are in and shooting, the last of the blackberries are warming in the late autumn sun, and we are all having much more time in the sun! Hooray!

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