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 likes....so 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 ;-)