Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Home Ed Hell

Since returning from France our five year old twins have been waiting for the local council to find them a place at primary school.

So far, four weeks into the school year, they have as yet found nothing and I have been forced to home educate them. A position I am not relishing and find time-consuming and terrifying!

A trip to the local Home Ed group led us to a motley crew of yogurt weavers breast-feeding their toddlers. Chaos reigned during the ensuing three hours as children of all ages from babies to teenagers, and their mothers and fathers, raced around eating sandwiches, making lavender bags or plastic rockets, playing football, reading stories, gossiping and generally connecting with each other amidst the mayhem. I found myself graduating towards the obvious home ed virgins, who, like me, appeared bemused and bewildered.

After canvasing several mothers, the general consensus amongst the hard-core home educators revealed that most didn't heap much importance on sitting down and trying to teach their offspring. A revelation that shocked me. They seemed to think their kids would learn through osmosis, and at the same time citing that many European schools don't begin schooling until six or seven years old. Yet having recently returned from France, where the legal age for school education is six, I knew that despite the six-year-old start most every 2.5-3 year old child in the country went to Ecole Maternelle, similar to pre-school and aimed at teaching children children the basic structure of a school day, which included numbers, letters, cooking, reading and all the other myriad of classes a child must learn. I wondered is it the same in Sweden and Northern Europe?

At the end of the home ed meet-up I finally spoke to someone who did teach her kids and who introduced me to ABC Reading Eggs, an Australian company which has created an incredible online learning site which teaches children of all ages to read and recognise letters, words and phonics - it is undisputedly brilliant - and the twins adore it.

My mother-in-law has contacted our local MP in a bid to help us get the children into school - I shall keep you posted on the update.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Apples and Pears

Climbing a tree and picking some fruit has to be one of the simplest pleasures a child can learn.

My daughters keep appearing home with juicy black purple stains around the mouthes, on their fingers and all over their clothes. The freedom they delight in picking and eating as much fruit as they can squash in without the need to ask is almost too exciting for them.

And, although they think I have no idea of their berry feasting, the all too obvious purple stains and dark finger-tips give them away every single time. Meanwhile, they discovered the pear tree is covered in sweet, yellowing pears, apples litter the floor under the apple tree and Autumn has officially become the most fecund of seasons.

Gathering up great baskets of our apples and pears we decided to make for ourselves mini pear, apple and blackberry crumbles - the simplest recipe for children. They adored the process of first picking the fruit, then chopping and peeling the apples and pears rolling them all in a spoonful of sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon. The crumble a straightforward process involving their two favourite ingredients - sugar and butter - flour was added, as was a handful of oats and they really enjoyed the production line they set up adding a spoonful of fruit to each ramekin topped up with a spoonful of crumble.

I had grander ideas for my Autumn bounty and with dear old friends due for Sunday lunch I decided to make an apple ice-cream and pear granita, a simple affair involving slowly and gently cooking the apple pieces in a small amount of water and a spoonful of sugar, whizzing them into a puree and then gently folding them into whipped cream. Freezing them and occasionally forking the mixture to break up the ice crystals. The pears I also cooked very gently, with a larger amount of water, after whizzing them up and pushing the pulp through a sieve I added sugar syrup and then froze. Regularly churning the ice-crystals. I served the two frozen puddings in round scoops heaped into a crisp sweet brandy-snap basket.

The creamy apple ice-cream alongside the refreshing and delicate pear granita served with the gingery snap basket was a sensual delight and pleased all my guests - so much so that I took the same recipe to family at the weekend and re-served the dish. Adults and children alike were smitten with the fruit feast and it was all too quickly gobbled up.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Vintage kitchen

After months of trawling through flea markets in France, I come back to Blighty and what do I find, but five beautiful 1940's ceramic storage jars.

A stripy pea green and cracked cream glaze, so pretty, and so delicate, hand-painted and they have lasted all this time.

A tiny, floral sugar bowl with its lid was also intact and quietly sitting on an ambiguous shelf in the second-hand shop. Its gentle old-fashioned colour and flowers sang out to my heart and I bought the whole pretty lot for a tenner.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

My girl has her Boo

My girl has her Boo.
The heavens sent her. Her soul star.
And she carried her.
And brought her this far.
Soft as velvet. Sweet as honey.
Together they touch and delight -
In their new love fondue.

My girl has her Boo.
With each flutter and kiss
she whispers to her -
Of peace, and of bliss.
Perfumed flowers abound -
in their bubble surround.
And calm serenity, gently floats them, all, anew.

My girl and her Boo.
Their journey began long before.
A parcel of heartache left at each door.
This inseverable shimmer of dark, but, light-
spilt into their core.
And streaking right through them-
Hold tight.
My girl has her Boo.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Community Chest

Our year in France has come to a close. Having struggled so hard with their French school, making friends, coping with the language and the four-course lunches, the twins finally came back to Blighty, to their Grandma, they missed her close proximity, as did I.

The invaluable support you rely on from family and friends all but vanishes when you move far away from everything and everyone you love. It can leave you bereft, but it can also leave you it's freedom.

However, the natural desire to seek out your own kind seems to be innate, to connect with someone who understands every nuance and cadance of your speech, every subtle expression you articulate is a function you must somehow fulfill. And so it was for us.

In our small village in rural France an incredible support system had been established long before we lived there and maintained by the local expats. Who looked out for each other in difficult times, supported each other emotionally with friendship, helping with illness or with simple things like cat sitting and log stacking to more desperate straits such as hospital visits or filling in complicated governmental forms. The network was precious and much needed.

Aside from these necessities, our year also gave us an insight into true simplicity. Living far from any major city, with little more to do than roam around reams of fields, pick fruit, cook feasts, chop and stack logs, weed, wander and wallow in nature was in the main pure luxury. The friendships we made were intense and mostly inspiring. Though often within these small communities they can led to gossip and boredom. The people who blew us away were endlessly creating, building and recovering beautiful old houses and barns, making jams, chutneys, cakes, pies, wines, vegetable patches, flower gardens to die for, painting, sculpting, writing, singing and always, always busy.

We felt touched to the core of what we could possibly achieve in this world and how we could live without the pressure of consumerism or to be driven by money.

Of course it wasn't easy and simply heating our house was expensive and practically impossible. A very sick child saw us lost in the French hospital system; charged for services we take for granted back in Blighty. At times the very idea of more bread and cheese was enough to make us cry. And our wine habit has definitely become more intrenched. The weather, as it turned out, was far from perfect and the rain poured down on us just as much as at home. But the sky was incredibly huge and all engulfing, the colour of blue was more intense and beautiful and made your heart soar.

As the year continued, the recession spanked us, our children continued to struggle with their rudimentary French, we felt we should return home for their sakes and for the sakes of our ageing families and sorely-missed buddies.

But after a month back on this Isle our house languishes on the market, our children have no places at school due to the over-crowding population. The dark skies and rain lash down on us and from our crowded corner of South-East England the stars barely twinkle in a sky swathed in plane fumes and grey clouds.

What should we do next, where should we go? This 21st century question we all seek to answer to fulfill our lives and provide ourselves and our children with a simple lifestyle and space to be free, we cannot answer, and our children shout "don't take us back to France"!!

And as we sit paralysed with no school place for our children, no idea of our next move we are stuck in a melee of doubt and confusion.

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