Thursday, July 30, 2009


Two days ago, I was wandering around the garden, with Juliet and Severus, looking for Cassie-cat. Out of nowhere, she called to me and I saw her sat a little way away. I picked her up and walked around the garden cuddling her for a few minutes and talking to her. After a while, she wriggled to get down, so I placed her back on the grass. Without looking back, she stalked off, purposefully if rather unsteadily, towards next door's garden.

She hasn't been seen since. The intervening 48 hours have been chilly with persistent heavy rain and Cassie-cat was extremely frail. We've searched, put up posters, called, asked permission to search neighbour's gardens and posted leaflets into the nearest 40 odd houses. We had some very kind responses from people and one or two reported having seen her earlier, but not since my garden cuddle.

Although when a cat goes missing there is always the faintest of hopes that they will turn up again eventually, with Cassie-cat in the condition she was, I think in our hearts we all have to accept that she's gone and she's not coming back. We had been going to keep her in, but she was desperate to go out - and we wanted what were sure would be her last few days in any case to be as happy as possible and on her own terms, following her own instincts, so we let her go. It was nice and sunny at the time. All we can hope now is that she curled up somewhere out of the rain and slipped into a peaceful sleep.

Cassie-cat and Merlin came into my life many years ago as tiny kitten fluff balls. I hadn't yet met Jon; Cassie and Merlin were my faithful companions through five or six years of a fairly tumultuous time in my life. They were my first "grown up" pets, the first I had after leaving home and the two of them will always hold such a special place in my heart. Merlin was the joker, into everything and everyone, the handsome, playful attention-seeker. Cassie-cat was the beautiful sage, much more cautious but with a depth of wisdom about her that you couldn't ignore. Together, they were witness to a lot of tears during that "pre-Jon" period of my life. I think - apart from the obvious grief of losing a much loved pet - that might be why I feel so utterly bereft at Cassie's loss. After we lost Merlin a while ago, she was my last link to that strange other life I led. Back then I was slim, pretty, confident and relatively affluent - not happy, but a very different person to the one I am now. She knew the other me in a way that my beloved Jon and Emily didn't and when they came into my life she gave them her undying loyalty and love too.

Poor Emily has wept a river for Cassie-cat; not knowing the exact circumstances of what has happened to her is very tough. So many unknowables to torture ourselves with.

Cass Cass, we love you and we miss you. We're so sorry we weren't there for you at the very end, but it seems that was the way you wanted it, perhaps hoping to spare us and you the pain of a protracted goodbye. The more I think of it now, the more I think you knew you weren't coming back when you walked out of the garden that last time. Sweet dreams, Caca-wa-ah-ah and happy reunion with your brother Merlin. It must have been a very long two and half year separation for you both.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Poorly Cassie-Cat

Poor sweetheart. She's sixteen years old now (I think) and until very recently had been in fine fettle, if rather thin, purring, nuzzling, chasing bits of string and enjoying padding around her territory.

Four or five days ago, she started coming home with soaking wet feet. Didn't think all that much of it at the time, because it has been quite wet - but she's been coming home with soaking wet feet *every* time she goes out, much much wetter than the other cats, and wetter to a higher level up her legs. She's also stopped grooming herself and has stopped taking an interest in pretty much anything except food. No purring for the last couple of days either.

Last night, we were trying to dry her paws off for her and spotted patches of very red and sore looking skin. Kept her in, to see what her feet would be like when dry - still red. We don't normally keep her in because she claws and claws to try and get out, which won't do poorly feet much good or indeed her mental health much good. She doesn't appear to have any pain there and doesn't object to her paws being touched and is still walking as well as can be expected for her age and stiffness. This morning she was absolutely desperate to be let out - and then she came back with soaking wet feet again. They're wet beyond what you might expect from a cat walking through wet grass. I suspect she's visiting a pond or something in a neighbouring garden and standing in it.

I don't know whether her feet are sore because they're wet all the time, or conversely whether her feet are sore for some other reason and she's getting them wet because it helps soothe them. It looks like a trip to the vet might soon be in order, although we'd been trying to avoid that because it puts her under so much stress. There's also, of course, the thought that the vet might voice the opinion that she's come to the end of the line and that the kindest thing would be to put her to sleep. While Cassie's not exhibiting any signs of actual pain, we'll hold on for a few days and see if it clears up, otherwise we'll have to see. Her quality of life seems to be disappearing. It's so sad. We lost her brother Merlin two and a half years ago after a long illness - to see Cassie cat now fading away too is heartbreaking. Lots of tears being shed here while we try to work out what's best to do.......if only she'd get back some of her spirit and start to purr again and take an interest.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Still Here: Quick Catchup Plus Links

Well. Only 15 posts on this blog so far this year....not a good thing.

It would be impossible to properly cover the missing ten weeks or so between my last post and this one, not to mention mind numbingly boring for anyone who doesn't have a close personal interest in our lives...and those that do already know what we do. So I'll settle for the edited highlights before getting back to home ed. Lots of text here and no photos except in links....bear with me!

Following my brother-in-law's death, his partner Barbara came to visit from Canada and stayed a while. As soon as she left, Emily's friend Maisie came to stay with us for a two night sleepover. On the Saturday, we took her to a falconry centre near us and the girls had a whale of a time there. We also went strawberry picking and they made fantastic strawberry and white chocolate cakes together. A few days after that, Emily went to St Bees with my Mum and Dad for a little holiday; as it turned out, they only stayed a couple of days, but they did have a lovely time while they were there, marred only by the discovery that the excellent Sellafield Science Discovery Centre was in the middle of closing down.

During June, Jon and his father both celebrated their birthdays and around that time we went on a family trip to Magna too, which was excellent. Emily and I also visited Bempton Cliffs and saw some puffins! Photographs from Magna, Bempton and from the falconry centre are here. I'm so far behind with blogging now that I can't upload them individually here. Eep. At some point (brain fog) we also visited The Collection in Lincoln with Jacki, Mei Lin and Jasmine, who we've continued to see every Friday, alternately at their house or at ours.

There were assorted hospital and doctor trips scattered throughout this period and at the beginning of July Jon went away on a week long mediumship course, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Last week, Emily and I went to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Price on its first showing at our local cinema; loved it to bits. Emily's still doing karate and kickboxing every week and last weekend she went to Maisie's birthday sleepover party, which she enjoyed very much. Preparation is already under way for Emily's 11th birthday party sleepover, lol.

All four cats and Lulu the parrot are still well, healthy and happy...and shortly to be joined by two new members of the family in a few week's time....two new kittens, half brother and half sister to Severus, born to Sevi's mum at Jacki's :-)) Lulu's antagonistic and aggressive behaviour towards Emily suddenly vanished a few weeks ago and she is now very affectionate towards her junior flock member ;-) Lulu is starting to talk and has mastered "hello" and "good girl" and just today is making huge efforts to say "peep-o" because I've been playing peep-o with her at teatime for the last few days.

Since my last post, Jon has done two more paranormal investigations, which he has thoroughly enjoyed. He was able to give lots of accurate information on both and on the second one in particular some brilliant video footage was captured, showing two unidentified figures. A brief clip from this investigation is on the paranormal team's website. The footage is very dark, but immediately after the screen says "someone makes an appearance", you can see a figure which seems to be wearing glasses appear, peer over Jon's shoulder and then move away. You might have to stand up and/or darken the room to see it properly. Anyway, this figure was not anyone present on the night, was not noticed by anyone at the time and is not a reflection (Jon isn't standing in front of mirrors) and remains unexplained. Later footage from this same investigation (not online yet) shows a glowing white figure in a doorway, again not noticed by anyone at the time and as yet unexplained.

Home Ed
Emily has been getting through quite a lot of education recently. She's working on maths with my father and has been working on a whole variety of things with me. We're just about to start a gothic literature project, studying Dracula, Frankenstein and Edgar Allen Poe.

We're on the verge of wrapping up a world war two project, which has been very successful. During the course of that, Emily's done a lot of work ranging from understanding appeasement to debating the causes of the war, from the morality of the Dresden and atomic bombings to the intricacies of D-Day, from the horrors of the holocaust to the everyday life of British residents and the home front. She interviewed my Mum, who lived through the Blitz as a young child, and read about my Dad's very different war experiences in Northern England. We've read part of Anne Frank's Diary, watched the Anne Frank Film and also watched Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Carrie's War, as well as newsreel clips from the time and the horrific first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Was going to watch Schindler's List, but changed my mind....that would have been a step too far for her age, no doubt. An amazing resource for all of this has been World War II at the National Archives - this is full of detail and has indepth investigations to carry out for many of the turning points and issues of WW2. We've also very much enjoyed a D-Day souvenir pack that my Mum and Dad picked up from a second hand shop, which had facsimile newspapers, letters, telegrams, maps and notices dropped for German troops.

Emily's really enjoyed this modern history. I'm not entirely sure the horrors of it have fully sunk in - my voice would often catch as I was reading her something, and tears would prick during some of the films; Emily on the other hand has taken it very seriously but not particularly emotionally. Perhaps she's just that one generation too far removed from it all; perhaps she's just being ten. Either way, I'm confident that she has a very good understanding now of what went on, why and how and probably a better understanding of the moral issues than many schooled kids would have. She would like to continue with modern history, so after a break from history I think we'll move on to looking at things like the Cuban missile crisis and the cold war.

We've also begun some work on the Antarctic, watching a documentary about the Scott-Amundsen race to the pole and creating an annotated wall map of important points in Antarctic exploration history. We're now moving on to look at the wildlife and at the environmental concerns surrounding the continent. Two excellent sites useful for this are Discovering Antarctica from the British Antarctic Survey and Classroom Antarctica from the Australian government. Both packed with lots of ideas for things to do.

We've been gradually getting back to doing more arts and crafts too. Emily's two thirds of the way through sewing a beautiful white kitten soft toy and recently we've also done lots of photography (forced perspective photos and a colour/texture photo montage) plus chinese brush painting, pattern mandalas and the Northern Lights in chalk pastels. Photos of some but not all of these are here - some of them inspired by the lovely Elle at Ellie's Treasures and in turn by a site I found linked (I think) from Elle's site, Homeschooling Ideas.

Emily has also been doing a LOT of baking and has conjured up all manner of cakes, cookies, biscuits and muffins. She has also been teaching herself animation techniques on the PC and continuing to work on her Warrior Cats book. We've been having many morality/ethics/citizenship type discussions too, including about animal research, the essence of Britishness, immigration and the law.

So, that's maths, English, history, geography, art, cooking, citizenship and IT covered - lol. I'm still trying to work out how to approach science from now on. This is a tricky one. Emily loves science, especially chemistry and biology, but she's at an age now where most of the "do it yourself at home" type experiments are a bit lame and we don't have access to secondary school level equipment in most things, although I know my Dad's got a few things up his sleeve for physics. It's too dry to just work from a textbook except in very small doses, but watching experiments online doesn't really cut the ice either. I think we'll have to watch lots of documentaries instead and I'll try to dig up some interesting ideas from a few sites I have bookmarked, like these ones:
Physics and Ethics Education Project
Bioethics Education Project
Creative Chemistry
The Naked Scientist Experiments
Active Science
BioEd Online

Phew, bit of a brain dump there, but hopefully someone might find some of those links useful. We do have some great science resources, I'm just now sure what to do with 'em. I did post earlier in the year about a great book which shows you how to create a "proper" chemistry lab at home, but we can't really afford that at the moment. We shall see.

Anyway. That's where we are. Financially, Jon and I are still muddling through chaos, with bad news piling upon bad news when it comes to contracts and earning opportunities. But we're managing and we've got I'm feeling relatively confident about the future. And am determined to get back to blogging properly!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sad Family News & Notes from the Asylum

It's been a roller coaster few weeks here, with some exciting highs but also some terribly sad family news and related family tensions.

My brother-in-law, David Harper, died on the 2nd May, in Canada, his adopted country, following a short battle with pancreatic cancer. David's death was unexpected, as the news until then had been that although in hospital, he was fighting well and expected to make a good recovery, but I gather that complications with his lungs set in and in the end it was all too much. Our thoughts since then have been very much with David's partner Barbara and his four children, and my own concerns have also been for Jon, who is dealing with his big brother's death with quiet strength and dignity.

Jon's passport has expired and although we were ready to head to an emergency renewal appointment in order for him to be able to attend David's funeral in Canada, my elderly father in law, who lives with us, pretty much emotionally blackmailed Jon into not attending - for reasons that make me spit with fury and which I shan't go into here.

Sadly, my relationship with my father in law has become ever more strained since the news of David's death - at one point, he accused us, behind our backs, of ignoring him and not caring about his grief, despite the fact that he never has anything to say to us other than to complain or belittle us, and despite the fact that when invited to join us at any time he's usually totally uninterested and rates watching TV far more important than being with us. Oh, and despite that fact that he couldn't care less about Jon's grief for his big brother, even moving Jon to comment the other day that he feels he may spend the rest of his life being blamed for not being David and that his father perhaps feels that "the wrong one" died. I'm disgusted with the way father in law has behaved.....but as anyone who's read here for a while might now, this kind of behaviour from his is sadly nothing new. I can make allowances for grief causing people to behave oddly - but for him, I'm afraid it's normal. I could rant for hours, but out of respect for my brother in law's memory, I shall - temporarily - leave it at that.

Jon was asked by The Henley Standard to write an obituary for his brother, as they grew up in the Henley area and David was well known in the community there. I'll add a link to it when it goes into this week's issue.

On a happier note, Jon's first paranormal investigation on the 1st May went exceptionally well. I'm so proud of him. He had no idea where they were going right up until the time the arrived but he was able to tell the investigating team, among other things, details of the floorplan of the ruined building (which room was the kitchen, that there used to be a walled garden in such and such a spot, etc, all verified), information about the landscape of the area before the building existed and details of various spirits who were communicating that night. Notably, he gave the names Rosalind and Samuel and told how Rosalind was searching for two children who were not her own, but for whom she was the nursemaid; further details emerged from his spirit link about how Samuel (who it turns out was Rosalind's young boyfriend) had been looking after the children during a flood during which one of them drowned and that he had been full of guilt and remorse. All of this was verified too.

During the investigation, the team took lots of recordings, both video and audio. On the audio recording, there's some very clear EVP, including a voice saying "Jon, go now, it's my fault" and repeating again "It's my fault". Fascinatingly, this took place during the time at which Jon was holding a "conversation" with the spirit contact Samuel and the EVP on the recording is hear during the pauses after Jon speaks each time, during which the people present heard nothing. I gather from those who've heard it that it's spine-tingling stuff! On the night, the team noticed that during Jon's pauses, as he was listening to spirit, their sound meters were recording spikes in the gaps, even though nothing could be heard.

There's a report about the evening on PP Paranormal's site here. We're all exceedingly chuffed and very proud of Jon :-)) This Wednesday, Jon is going out on another investigation with the team, again to an unknown but apparently prestigious location, this time with the press present and an audience of staff members from wherever they're going too. Can't wait to hear about it!

The other week, Jon took Emily out and about to the Newark Air Museum, which she much enjoyed, and we've also been to visit The Deep with friends. We had to cancel a planned trip to the National Parrot Sanctuary for a variety of reasons, but will be going soon. Meanwhile, Jon came back from a shopping trip the other day with a sparkly surprise - he'd had his ear pierced :-)) Well, re-pierced, since he'd had it done before as a teenager, but had been wanting it redone for ages and hadn't got round to it.

Emily's at her kickboxing grading tonight before visiting friends. She had a mini trauma earlier this week when she half knocked out a molar tooth, leaving it at a very weird angle and bleeding profusely. She has quite a fear of dentists, so that caused a few tears, but ultimately the dentist advised down the phone that there was no need to attend unless it didn't come out on its own within a couple of days. It did, eventually and as an added bonus the matching one on the other side also popped out this morning, with no warning, lol.

Home ed wise, things have been progressing nicely. Emily's been doing lots of maths and English, and a fair bit of history and science too. We didn't get all that much done last week as we were all somewhat thrown by news of David's death, but we're starting to get back on track now. Towards the end of April, we did do some fascinating microscope work, more of which will follow soon as Emily loves doing that. Some photos:

Emily's cheek cells, stained blue so you can see the cell nucleus.

Blood cells....mine, lol. Emily didn't want to volunteer her blood, even in the interests of medical science ;-)

SandTable salt

Fashion designer has apparently gone on the back burner, career-wise - Emily has decided, very seriously, that she wishes to become a vet. Lol, probably one of the most academically demanding things she could have chosen - I read on one of the university vet school sites the other day that they had nearly 200 applicants for every place this year. Eeep. Whereas we could most likely have found a way around formal qualifications for entry into a fashion course, I really don't think that Emily's going to be able to waltz her way into an incredibly competitive vet degree course without at least some of the relevant bits of paper. For which, we're talking a minimum of seven As at GCSE, plus top grades in biology, chemistry and either maths or physics A levels. Double eeeeeeeeeep.

Should Emily still want to go down this route in a few year's time, we'll have another serious think about qualifications and I'll talk to admissions tutors etc about home education....and yes, we have plenty of time...and yes, of course she might change her mind....BUT in the meantime this does back up my instinct that faffing about for the next six years "hoping" that everything will be OK doesn't quite cut the mustard. We'd already decided that we were going to be knuckling down to some serious work, so we still will. It may or may not ever lead to any formal exams and bits of paper and hoops to jump through, and time will tell in that department, but for now we're going to focus on plenty of science (and lots of sewing, lol, should fashion design make a comeback).

Oh yeah, and before anyone goes away thinking what a terrible mother I am for putting all this pressure on my sweet little ten year old....I'd like to point all that all of this "career focused" stuff comes from the little ten year old herself. She's very aware of her future and very determined and actually wants to work hard towards a goal. None of it was put into her head by us. Some ten year olds haven't even thought about any of this kind of thing, which is great. Some have, which is also great, and mine has. *Steps off soap box but is tired of feeling that I have to defend my home ed approach*

I found some brilliant and rigorous "old fashioned" science books, one each for chemistry, biology and physics. My Dad was going to do lots of physics with Emily anyway, so that's sorted, and we'll take our time working through the biology one. As far as chemistry goes, I found this amazing book which goes into enormous detail about what you need to set up a "proper" chemistry lab at home and where to find the equipment and chemicals. The shop bought chemistry sets are all very well and good, up to a point, but quite frankly health and safety stuff has dumbed them down soooo much that you have to wonder why they bother at all. If Emily's still serious about the vet thing by the time she's, say, 13, I think we will go ahead and kit her out with some proper equipment.

Jon's been working very hard in the garden and it's looking absolutely divine out there. The vegetable patches in particular are pretty impressive, I think. We have a huge variety of things growing out there :-))

Web of tiny spiderlings, from the greenhouse. Ugh. All very well and good, but Jon left them out of the greenhouse during a windy next thing we know, there are hundreds of tiny spiderlings....everywhere. Double ugh.

Lulu is now nine months old, and after a very wobbly week during which the stress of everything else didn't exactly sit well with a very demanding parrot, we've finally figured out that apparently the parrot "terrible twos" can start around now in African Greys. Indeed. And they have. Our beautiful girl is adoring and loving one minute and an absolute little devil the next. She's figuring out where she is in the pecking order and acting up, pushing the boundaries, just like a little toddler, bless her. It's infuriating at times.....but now I know that it's normal at this age, I can relax a little bit more and not get so stressed about it. Lulu's a real handful sometimes....but if we won the lottery, I'd still want a houseful of parrots, so I guess she can't be all that bad!! She's just being a parrot. She's doing her job. It's our job to understand her natural behaviour and work with it rather than trying to stop her being a parrot. We're getting there.

And some tabbies, to finish with. Kibby Juliet, looking rather alarmed, plus a rare sight these days - the two tabbies, Romeo and Juliet, together in the same place and not hissing at one another. They were inseparable as kittens, but they seem to have taken a dislike to one another recently. Funny moggies.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Working Out Rather Nicely

Life is motoring along and things seem to be coming together rather well, for a change.

Jon has some exciting news: he's been taken on as the medium for a paranormal investigation group and will be going off on two investigations in May. Very much looking forward to hearing all about those :-))

We had a very pleasant Easter; skipped a big Easter dinner this year in favour of an evening of family games and buffet instead. Couldn't miss an Easter egg hunt, though - this year we hid a dozen plastic eggs in the garden, each one containing a cryptic clue to somewhere else in the house, where Emily found some little gifts, mostly books and the inevitable chocolate, lol.

With the arrival of her new bed and mattress, Emily is now finally and firmly ensconced in her "blue room" for real, and the junkheap aka the pink room aka the old bedroom is now a spare room cum parrot training room. Speaking of parrot training, there's been a definite improvement over this last week. Emily and Lulu and either Jon or I are now making a point of spending ten minutes a day in the pink room, where there are no distractions for Lulu and nowhere for her to fly off to out of reach. Using the clicker and bits of custard cream biscuit (!!) as her all time favourite reward, Lulu will now take treats from Emily without puffing up or biting and will tolerate Emily putting her hands near Lulu. In order to help Emily get over her fear (because the bites do *really* hurt), she is temporarily wearing gardening gloves during these ten minute sessions.

It's natural that Emily is wary of putting her hands near Lulu, given her experience so far, but unfortunately of course that has "rewarded" Lulu and reinforced her behaviour - if she lunges at Emily, Emily moves, which is what she wants. So we have to break that cycle by proving to Lulu that no matter whether she lunges or bites, Emily's hands are staying put. I do believe it will only take a couple of weeks of consistency for her to finally figure out that Emily is a senior flock member ;-) and could do with a little respect.

The last couple of days, Lulu has been out of her cage from 8am until 6pm, in a combination of free upstairs, free downstairs and in her huge garden cage. She was worn out yesterday evening and couldn't wait to get back into her "home" to go to sleep, bless her. She does enjoy being out in the garden though and now willingly steps into her big garden cage. She's also enjoying being "showered" with the hosepipe on mist setting. Jon has been working soooo hard in the garden and it shows - we have an amazing selection of vegetables on the go now and the fence and veggie beds have been painted and cleaned up, as has the brick border at the end of the garden, new grass seed is down in the bare bits, flowers are sprouting all over the show - it's a delight :-)

Home education has been going very well recently too. Among other things, over the last ten days, Emily has studied longshore drift in physical geography and has completed lots more work on the second world war, including interviewing my Mum about her experience of life during the Blitz - my Mum lived just outside London, in an area full of munition factories and the like, and much of her area was completely destroyed. She was five when war began and has some very vivid memories to describe and fascinating information about her father's work; he was responsible for finding food, temporary accommodation, clothing etc for those who had been made homeless by the bombing in their area.

Yesterday, Emily started having maths lessons with my Dad, which they both seem to have rather enjoyed. She had another one this morning, and that will be a daily thing for half an hour or so once Autumn arrives and Mum and Dad are around here instead of up at St Bees. She'll also do a couple of hours of physics/technology with Gramps once a week. Yesterday afternoon, we enjoyed working on the earthworm and soil survey - we were sent a pack for this a while ago from Opal. Emily found sixteen earthworms altogether and had great fun measuring and identifying them and classifying our soil; she was bare handed most of the time, but having discovered that some of the worms emitted yucky yellow fluid when handled - very hard to wash off, too! - the gloves came out, lol.

This morning, after maths, Emily and I started on a study of Anne Frank's Diary and the holocaust in general. Emotionally demanding, to put it mildly. This afternoon, we had a debate about the pros and cons of capital punishment, including mock interviews with Emily taking the part of someone on each side of the debate in turn. She then wrote up the arguments in an attempt at a formal essay - I was very impressed with her efforts at that, especially considering it's the first time she's tried to do a full scale essay of that nature. We've also been doing a lot of English mixed in among everything else and we're looking forward to getting stuck into projects from this Letts KS3 Star English book. I've seen a lot, lot, lot of English textbooks over the last few years, but this one is completely different. It's a series of indepth investigations into (for instance) the origins of the English language, with research tasks for children to undertake and report back on; it looks so much more fun than the bog standard, uninspiring workbook route.

We're off to swimming tomorrow, The Deep on Friday with friends, an RAF/WW2 museum next Tuesday and the National Parrot Sanctuary later that week or the beginning of the next one. It's a busy time, but things are falling into place nicely :-))

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Schizophrenic Parrot and Other Musings

Oh dear, a month since my last post. How ever did I manage when I used to update here almost daily?? I must be growing very inefficient in my old age.

It's been a real mixed bag of a month, with some highs and some lows. Our financial situation has long since reached crisis point and is now wavering between blind optimism ("something'll turn up, it always does") and extreme pessimism ("better get used to bread and water from now on") with disconcerting frequency. We lost one major contract, with the client citing financial cutbacks, and we've had to accept a pay cut in the last remaining biggie, so it's quite dire when one has on one's bleak reality glasses. The money situation has caused quite a few tears, many tantrums and countless moments of despondency in the last few weeks....but we'll cope. It's not like there's a Plan B in which you don't cope, is it?

On a nicer note, there have been lots of good moments with friends over the last few weeks. We still see Jacki and family every Friday and we have plans to take the girls to all kinds of places once the dratted school holidays have finished. The other week, we went to the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, which was fun. Emily and I are back to going swimming every Wednesday; last Wednesday we took Romy too which was lovely, as it's ages since they've been swimming together. Emily and I have also been pottering around and we have a growing list of places we're determined to get to this year. A return visit to Gainsborough Old Hall the other week was pleasant too.

Emily went on her first ever camping trip this week with her friend Maisie and Maisie's Mum Janette. They went off to stay at Thornwick Bay near Flamborough Head; it was just for the one night, but a fantastic time seems to have been had by all :-))

We've been wrestling with trying to work out some kind of holiday event this year - given our dire lack of funds and the need to cater for a parrot, that hasn't been all that easy. However, we've found a few places not too far away who will take parrots while their owners are away, which is a relief. It wouldn't be fair to leave Mum and Dad with responsibility for Lulu as well as the cats and we can't take her with us, so parrot boarding it must be. At least the places I've found are all family homes with their own parrots so we know she won't be just stuck in a cage for days on end.

With that now sorted out, it looks as if we'll be able to get to St Bees a few times this year, hopefully with some of Emily's friends coming too for a few days at a time. We also want to go somewhere else, possibly Somerset for a week or two, and there might be a few one night trips in the pipeline too to various parts of the country that are just a bit too far away for day trips.

Cats are all fine, although Severus is still missing Voldy very much, I think. He seems to be looking for him in the garden often, which is quite heartbreaking :-( Here's an enormous looking Juliet with Emily, and her brother Romeo sleepy in the garden of Emily's dollshouse!

Lulu is being a schizophrenic parrot. For me and Jon, most of the time, she's completely adorable and very affectionate and largely well behaved. Every day she's out of her cage for a good five to six hours and she's looking very healthy and happy. Her "vocabulary" is increasing all the time, with lots of new clicks, tunes, whistles and vocalisations - she now does a faultless miaow that is indistinguishable from Severus' miaow, lol. Once, she did say Lulu - but she hasn't ever repeated that, so maybe it was a fluke. African Grey's don't really begin to talk until they're over a year old though, so she's still at babble stage :-)) Last week we bought a large dog cage which we can use as an "outdoor cage" for Lulu so she can keep us company in the garden during the summer. We do have a parrot harness for her, which would allow her to be out with us and not caged, but I'm a bit concerned about the fact that the leash is not elasticated....what happens if she goes to fly and then comes to a very sudden full stop?? Anyway, here she is trying out her outdoor cage for first time:

We are still having problems with Lulu and Emily, though :-(( If anything, it's getting worse in as much as Lulu now dive bombs Emily if Emily's walking underneath her play rope or anything like that and Emily's been nastily bitten a few time in the last week or two just for offering Lulu a treat. That girl has the patience of a saint, I have to say. Although I'm sure it must be upsetting for Emily, she's still trying and she's not giving up on Lulu, which makes me very proud of her. We've tried most of the ideas and methods that have been suggested to us for improving the relationship between Lulu and Emily, all to no avail so far, which is distressing. Not quite sure what we can try next, but we'll think of something....

Emily's done some Easter crafts over the last week, with decorated eggs for our seasonal tree and blown and painted eggs too. This morning she spent a few hours making Easter cards and tomorrow she'll be making an Easter cake and cupcakes. There's plenty of chocolate involved in that, naturally. Emily's new bed has arrived, but we're still waiting for the mattress to be delivered before she can move permanently into her blue room and her old, tiny, pink room will be spare.

Education has been going well, if rather patchily. We're focusing on history at the moment and Emily's enjoying learning about world war II still. We watched Carrie's War the other day and Emily wrote letters in the role of an evacuee. We've also learnt a great deal about the lead up to WWII, who did what, when, why and how things might have been different. Emily's going to interview my Mum shortly about her life in London during the Blitz.

There have been a few education wobbles, mind, notably one afternoon where it took Emily a whole hour to do ten fractions. When she presented me, eventually, with a scribbled on, illegible page of fractions some of which hadn't even been copied correctly from the book in the first place, I, um, wasn't happy. To put it mildly. We had a huge battle over that - it just pushed all the wrong buttons for me. We're a tolerant family and by and large Emily gets to do pretty much whatever the heck she when I ask for a mere ten minutes of her time to do a focused task, I expect to get it without a fuss. So I was upset and angry, then she was upset and angry....poor Jon got to mediate, yet again, but we all learnt something from the situation.

I still don't honestly know what to do regarding secondary level education for Emily. I'm (mostly) convinced that a) she doesn't need to jump through GCSE hoops BUT b) that doesn't mean that she doesn't need to be learning. At the times when she goes off down a self-directed avenue, that's great...but I'm not an unschooler and I don't think days on end playing on facebook (!) can be counted as an education. Up to a point, sure...IT skills and all that, lol....but not at the exclusion of anything else. So I think we'll vaguely follow some GCSE-ish syllabi and see where that gets us, without the pressure of having to sit the exams at the end of it. Every time I talk about this to someone, I end up changing my mind, because the rosy picture of autonomous education is very seductive ...but in practice it doesn't work for us. I'm tired of being made to feel guilty about that, to be honest. Emily gets masses of time to tiptoe through the daisies, to play and to follow her interests; I don't see the harm in ALSO requiring and encouraging some formal study.

Anyway, with the above in mind, I was delighted that my Dad has volunteered to help Emily with the scary subjects, lol, most especially maths, physics and technology. Having spent most of his career teaching maths/science/engineering type subjects at Reading College and then later in an army college, he's ideally placed to work with her on all the subjects I....dislike. He's having a read through some textbooks to get an idea of the scope and level we're looking for and has a real gleam in his eye ;-)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Daunting Responsibility

Emily, bless her heart, is feeling a little worn down by the cares of the world just now. In particular, she is worried about her future. Having successfully convinced herself that she's no good at anything at all, she worries about whether she'll be able to get qualifications she might need and whether, having obtained qualifications, she'll even be any good at her chosen career, whatever that might end up being. She worries that the fields she thinks she might want to enter, particularly fashion, are too competitive and that she won't stand a chance. She worries about all kinds of things which, presumably, a ten year old shouldn't be worrying about and which if we were doing our parenting job well she wouldn't be concerned about for a long while yet.

Meanwhile, Jon and I stand and watch and weep internally if not externally. How easy it would be if she were in school. Hand over all that responsibility to the school. Let them "guide" her towards a future career in the same way that they guided us - guidance which, it must be said in my case at least, wasn't worth the ten minutes it took to deliver the bloody obvious in a chilly careers room one winter morning aged 16. Largely incompetent and unpleasant my teachers may have been, but I wasn't worrying at ten years old about my future, because I knew I'd be getting the "right" qualifications at the "right" age and that it would all become clear just like it would for any other "normal" child at school.

Emily's career angst was sparked by the letter about the 11+ from the local grammar school; that's what brought all these conflicting emotions to a head, for all of us. If Emily genuinely wanted to go to school, we would facilitate that as I know many other home ed parents have done. She maintains that she doesn't want to go if there is any way round not going....but no matter how much we reassure her that there are plenty of ways around the s-word, there still seems to be some nagging doubt in the back of her mind.

It's becoming ever clearer to me that home educating a primary aged child is an absolute delight...but that once the child approaches secondary school age, it becomes altogether a different kettle of not entirely sweet smelling fish. Blend raging hormones and normal pre-teen angst with a naturally sensitive disposition and a still-working-on-it lack of confidence and we have a fairly tricky situation going on here with Emily. She's at the age where kids start to realise that their parents are fallible after all and can and do make what, she wonders no doubt, if we make mistake with her education? What if we bugger it up royally and she ends up unable to access the opportunities she could have accessed at school?

What indeed. We would never play games with Emily's future and would put her into school in a heartbeat if we genuinely believed she would be better off there or that by staying at home she is limiting her future. I wholeheartedly *believe* that we can do a much better job than any school can in giving Emily a decent childhood, a flourishing family life and an excellent education. I wholeheartedly *believe* that my child is an individual and that I do not want her jumping through someone else's entirely arbitrary hoops for the next six years of her life. I wholeheartedly *believe* that we can take alternative qualification routes, perhaps via the OU, which will stand her in much better stead than a set of identikit GCSEs will. I believe all of those things fervently. But what if I'm wrong? What if we're wrong? What if, in ten year's time, Emily curses us to hell and back for not having sent her to school?

My rational mind has it all planned out. We've looked at college courses and their entry requirements in Emily's areas of interest. We've reassured both ourselves and our daughter that yes, we can do this. We've planned at least three alternative routes to any one destination. And of course, at any age up to around 14 or so, the s-word remains an option should she suddenly change her mind and want to join the rat race. It's all going to be absolutely fine. We can do this and we don't need to delegate the task to a bunch of strangers, even strangers in a "good school". Who better to safely guide Emily towards a happy and fulfilling adulthood than us? On paper, it's perfect.

It's our job to listen to what Emily wants to do with her life and to make absolutely bloody sure that she gets every opportunity to do just that. And move heaven and earth to that end we will indeed. But when you're faced with a tearful ten year old in a panic over what might happen in six or eight year's time, the odd wobble in your self-satisfied and confident can-do approach is probably inevitable. I guess it's a good sign that we adults question our own decisions under these circumstances. At least we're not going into this blindly. Perhaps a wobble or two is justified....but we'll get there. The alternative simply isn't good enough.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Blue Velvet.... now officially the colour of my hair. I dyed it late last night and earned myself purple fingernails, scalp, toenails sand feet for my trouble, not to mention a blue ring around the bath and a blue spattered shower curtain. My hair is blue..ish, although not as deep a colour as I'd hoped for. It's certainly not as vibrant a blue as Emily's was a green, but I guess that's to be expected since my hair's much darker than hers.

I did try to take a picture of it, but it's not showing up at all well on camera and just looks black, so I'll spare you ;-)

Went to visit Hazel, Romy, Tansy and their adorable new rats today, which was a nice break. Was briefly rather concerned when I tried out Hazel's blood pressure machine only to find that it gave some sky high reading...and then gave an even worse one after that. Fortunately, "Nurse Hazel" came to the rescue and took it a third time for me, while I thought nice thoughts, and it turned out to be "ideal". I should think so. Thank goodness for that!

Nothing formally educational today as I spent all morning working on a deadline which turned out to be not required after all (breathe, breathe) and then we went out, but on the plus side I've tidied a bit. Which is always worth reporting as it happens so rarely. The morning's procedures weren't helped by a parrot who seems to think my new blue plumage is rather attractive and wants to sit on my head and preen it, lol.

Speaking of Lulu, she's being a darling at the moment. She's become so good at stepping up when requested that now she absent-mindedly waves her foot in the air if anyone mentions "step up" even if you're nowhere near her, bless her! She's very comical and still super-affectionate to Jon, affectionate to me and getting there with Emily. Lulu has discovered that custard creams and/or unbuttered scones are heaven on earth and will do just about anything if you mention the magic word "biscuit". Not that we'd resort to bribery or anything. Perish the thought.

I just remembered that I never did put up any photographs of Lulu's rope in the dining room; it's been up for a few weeks now and she absolutely LOVES it. It runs the whole width of the dining room, with lots and lots of hanging toys and ladders and climbing things on it and the giant hanging cube that Gramps made for her too, plus she has her hanging swing perch at the other end of the room, the hanging hexagon climbing thingy (technical term) and her downstairs playstand in there too, so it's parrot heaven :-)) Lulu's getting to grips with the fine art of foraging too, so now we can attach little cereal boxes and paper bags and things to her various toys stuffed with her foot toys or treats and she knows to tear them open to find what she wants :-)) She has a passion for baby rattles and things like that, so I've bought a few job lots of second hand baby toys from ebay for her to play with and chew to bits. Little love is extremely acrobatic on the rope and hanging toys and frequently swings from one toenail whilst squawking manically, usually just when Emily's supposed to be concentrating on maths. Perhaps they have a telepathic link!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Emily's New Blog

... is at

Various things and people have heartily annoyed me today, so it hasn't been one of my better days all round. We did squeeze in a bit of education this afternoon, looking at the rise of communism and facism following the end of the first world war. Emily keeps asking intelligent questions.... to which I don't know the answers... so that's either an indication that I'm stupid or that she's growing up to be an insightful and thoughtful young woman. I think I prefer the latter option.

I did finish some work for the press agency first thing this morning, which is a weight off my mind, but there has to be a way out of having to meet those deadlines for the rest of my life. Hey ho. Colour me "out of sorts".

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Great War and the Kindness of a Stranger

Education has been happening. Emily's firmly getting to grips with So You Really Want to Learn Maths Book 2...funny how her enthusiasm for maths has quadrupled since she discovered that she'll probably need some kind of maths evidence if she wants to study programming at college, lol.

History has been happening too, as someone has discovered an absolute fascination for World Wars I and II. Emily's been learning about and writing about the causes and build up to WW1 and about life in the trenches, with lots of background reading too and intelligent questions. We've got some videos of newsreel from the first and second world wars that she'll be watching and we're going to take a look at some famous war poems too. Naturally, it's also a good excuse to watch some more Blackadder. Tomorrow we're finding out about the Treaty of Versailles - funny how I'm learning far more about both wars now, with Emily, than I was ever taught at school, even at my supposedly outstanding girls' senior school. Sigh.

When it comes to WW2, Emily wants to read Anne Frank's diary and I suppose we could watch Carrie's War, among other things, although I was never that keen on that one. She also has a great resource in my Mum, who lived through the blitz as a young child in London; her father was (damn, I forget the correct title) one of those responsible for finding accommodation, shelter, support etc for those who had been bombed out of their homes. We have lots of other books and sites to look at too - it's odd how Emily has re-found her enthusiasm for history over this. She was such a history buff when she was younger - we spent months and months on end looking at Tudors, Victorians, Egyptians etc - but then she went off it all. I think it's the fact that this is modern history, within living memory of people she loves, and that she can see how it has had a direct impact on some of the world's situations today.

Emily has also expressed an interest in properly studying a Shakespeare play; probably either Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth. I did Julius Caesar at school and loved it, but I can't interest her in that one particularly. I'm rather enjoying getting our teeth back into some hard work, education wise. I still wish we were more organised and had more hours in the day, though. Don't we all?

Meanwhile, Jon was stopped in the street by a very kind lady today. She wanted to tell him that she was the one who had found kibby Voldy - she had knocked on various doors looking for his owners but it was someone else who eventually came to find us, so we didn't know who had found him. She said that she had come across him in the road and she felt that it had only just happened at that time. She picked him up out of the road and laid him on the side, out of further harm's way, bless her heart. She was able to confirm that he had died outright, or at least that he hadn't moved from where he had been hit and had passed by the time she got to him, thereby laying to rest my nightmares that he'd struggled to the side of the road himself or had lingered in pain. She said a lot of very kind things to Jon and reduced me to tears again when he came back in and told me. We're very thankful to her, that someone showed such kindness to kibby Voldy's body, moved him and set off the chain of events that then found us.....otherwise who knows what might have happened if he'd been left in the road.

Severus is still very lost; he seems to have grown up all of a sudden without his brother around to be a kitten-cat with :-((

On a happier note, we have all three of us discovered the "joys" of facebook (yes, I know, we're late starters). Lots of hours have been wasted this week sending one another daft things and catching up with old friends from school!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Green Hair, a Wedding Dress and My Life's Lesson

Thank you for your kind comments about Voldy. There have been lots of tears here and it still hasn't really sunk in. Emily has been distraught at times and her howls of utter misery when Jon and I first told her, late on Saturday night, will stay in my head for a very long time. She experienced losing Merlin, of course, and all the sadness and heartbreak of that, but this is different yet again; not any easier or harder, but different, perhaps because Emily was prepared for losing Merlin as he'd been ill for such a long time and we'd discussed it. With Voldy, it was such a shock and he was still a baby.

February and romantic moments are clearly not good times for our cats - we lost Merlin the day after our wedding anniversary two years ago and now Voldy on Valentine's Day.

I'm haunted by uncertainties over exactly how Voldy died; can we be sure it was a car or motorbike not a deliberate act of cruelty? If we'd got to him sooner, was there something we could have done? Was he conscious of what was happening to him? What silly, trivial thing were we doing, inside the house, when he was hurt? Was his spirit sad at not being initially recognised? You can imagine the thoughts, I'm sure and I'm sure others who have lost pets in similar circumstances have felt the same too. It's been doubly hard because I was so sure initially, finding the body, that it wasn't him. He just didn't look like our fluffy baby... or perhaps we were just desperate for it not to be him. He was jet black all over, with no distinguishing marks as such and it was very dark outside and there are a number of other black cats around here apart from ours. Alive of course, we could recognise him instantly, but although it sounds silly we just couldn't be sure at first. So although we picked him up and took him back to our home, we did so initially thinking it was someone else's pet - we took him off the pavement because we couldn't leave *any cat* there on a Saturday night with the drunks walking past and because we knew we would have wanted someone else to take our baby's body somewhere safe too. We did all that, still thinking it wasn't him and still calling for him and searching for him. It wasn't until much later, on yet another close look with a torch that we finally realised the worst.

But, life goes on, of course.

Today in an effort to take Emily's mind off things, we dyed her hair green. As you do. It's now Sonic Green from the lovely people at Bee Unique. We'd bought the dye about a week ago and I also bought Blue Velvet for me too, although we haven't got round to doing mine yet. The coverage isn't absolutely salon perfect, since I'm a novice at dying anyone else's hair, but it's pretty good and I think Emily's hair looks beautiful (just as well as she's got to live with it now for a month or two at least, lol) - she's very happy with it :-))) Plus, as only ever so slightly an ulterior motive, it didn't hurt to point out to her that she wouldn't be allowed to dye her hair that colour if she was attending school..... ROFL! Never being one to post one picture when half a dozen will do, here she is in all her sonic green glory, including one cuddling our poor bereft Severus.

On Valentine's Day, before our hearts broke, we opened up the box containing my wedding dress, the first time Emily had ever seen the real thing. Of course, she had to wear it. And of course, I was thrilled that she did. It's obviously far too big, but she looked so pretty :-))

Work went out of the window on Sunday as we were all a bit numb, so I've only just now finished my deadlines that were due first thing this morning. Emily's gone off to kickboxing and to play with Jacki's girls - she wasn't going to go (didn't go to karate on Sunday morning because she was too tearful), but I guess it's better that she carries on with her routines rather than sitting moping. I think the green hair helped since she was then keen to show it off ;-) Lulu is doing well. We're going to have to start leaving her loose at the same time as the cats are around, provided we're there to supervise. We can't keep shutting cats out forever.

And of course, that's yet another thing to feel guilty about. Since Lulu arrived in early January, Voldy spent much of the last month of his life being shut out of various rooms at various times. Of course, he still had oodles of love and attention...but these things prey on your mind when it's too late. The night before he died, I was really cross to be woken up at 3.30 am by Voldy wanting to go out and threatening to rip his claws out under the door if he didn't get his way ... heck, most nights for the last few months I was really cross to be woken up at 3.30 by Voldy wanting to go out (you could almost set your clock by him). And when you're grieving, these are the things you have to go through remembering and feeling horrid about.

I'm beginning to seriously think that it might be my life's lesson to learn - to appreciate things while you still have them and not take them for granted. When Merlin died, I felt that I'd taken him for granted for a long time; now the same with Voldy. When I had my wobble about Emily being so suddenly grown up, just before her 10th birthday, I was in bits over the times I'd resented this and that instead of just loving every single day of her life. I'm really making a conscious effort now to just enjoy the people and animals in my life; it's hard when you tend to suffer from depression and when you live in utter chaos, lol - but I'm working on it. I get the message.