Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Unschooling Sausages

Pig in a Blanket by Emily Orpin(CC BY-NC 2.0)

"I want to write a post for my unschooling blog," I say, "but I don't know what to write about." 

"You could play the writing game," suggests Sophie. "I'll give you a word and then you can write a post about it."

"Okay," I agree. "Sounds good. What's my word?"


"Sausage?" I think about this for a moment and then ask, "What's a sausage got to do with unschooling?"

Sophie shrugs her shoulders. She has no idea so I Google the words 'unschooling sausage'. I find a blog called Educating Sausages. (Hello Lucy!) And I discover unschoolers have lots of sausage sizzles. 

Sausage sizzles... unschoolers... No, that's not very interesting. I have to find another connection between the two words.

"Imogen, tell me something about sausages," I say, hoping she'll have an idea that will lead to a story. 

"We eat a lot of sausages."

She's right. We found a butcher that sells gourmet sausages. Some sausages have cracked pepper in them. Others have bacon, and there are even some chicken ones with feta cheese and rocket. They are delicious!

Every Saturday evening is sausage night. Sometimes we eat sausages during the week too. We love sausages. It's our favourite meal at the moment. 

At the moment? Yes, it hasn't always been that way. Not so long ago we ate lots of home-made pizza, the kind that has pitta bread as a base. Oh, those pizzas were delicious too! 

And we once had a hamburger phase: thick patties in soft buns with all the extras such as beetroot and cheese and salad greens. 

And during winter we couldn't get enough zucchini and leek soup.

I suppose sausages won't always be our favourite meal. Something else will come along, tempt our taste buds and then become the new flavour of the moment.

Unschooling's a bit like that. At least it is in our home. Not so long ago we couldn't get enough of Shakespeare. We watched one play after another. We even watched multiple versions of a single play. I lost count of the number of times we watched Hamlet.

Then suddenly we'd had our fill of Shakespeare. He was replaced by Jane Austen. We watched three different mini-series productions of Pride and Prejudice, and then every other Austen movie adaptation we could find. And then one day we moved on...

... to the BBC Farm programs. We've worked our way through The Tudor Monastery Farm series. Next we're going to watch The Wartime Farm episodes. And if we can afford to buy the DVDs, we'd like to watch The Victorian and Edwardian Farms too.

It's not just our viewing which changes over time. Other things go in and out of fashion too. The girls were doing a lot of sewing a few months back. They couldn't make dolls and monsters fast enough. Now they're crocheting. We haven't recited any poetry recently but we've been speaking out loud as we've been making podcasts. No one has done a lot of drawing in recent weeks but our blogs have been redesigned and hundreds of photographs have been taken.

There are so many interesting things to do. The menu of life is endless. We couldn't possibly do everything all the time. There just aren't enough hours in a day, or a week, or even a term. But that's okay. It's nice to concentrate on a few things at a time, and then have a change, isn't it? And we can always return to a former favourite activity, and continue where we left off.

Suddenly I feel like returning to Shakespeare. And pizza. Yes, my mouth is watering at the thought of crispy bacon, pineapple and cheese pizza slices. Perhaps our sausage phase is nearly over...

... just like my unschooling sausage story...

The End.

We've been talking about morning tea and books and photography over at my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. Why don't you come over and join us!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Five MORE Favourite Read-Aloud Book Series

Sometimes a book isn't nearly long enough. 

"I wish the story didn't have to end," someone sighs, as I close our latest read-aloud book. "I want to know what happens next."

"There's more!" I say. "There's another book in the series."

And the girls smile and ask if we can start the next book straight away.

Do you enjoy reading books to your children? Today I've chosen five more of our favourite read-aloud book series. Perhaps you'll like them too!

  • The Shakespeare Stealer series by Gary Blackwood

These books are set in the time of William Shakespeare. Actually they're set in his Globe Theatre! We enjoyed seeing an inside view of Shakespeare and his players. 

Here's the Amazon description for the first book in the series:

Widge is an orphan with a rare talent for shorthand. His fearsome master has just one demand: steal Shakespeare's play "Hamlet"--or else. Widge has no choice but to follow orders, so he works his way into the heart of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare's players perform. As full of twists and turns as a London alleyway, this entertaining novel is rich in period details, colorful characters, villainy, and drama.
The books are described as historical fiction and suitable for 10 - 14 year olds. Gemma-Rose was only 8 when I read these books out loud and she enjoyed them. I liked the books as much as the girls. I seem to remember that love and true friendship was a major theme.

  • The Sophie books by Dick King-Smith

This series is very different from the Shakespeare Stealer series. It was written for much younger children, (recommended for age 4 and up). I first read the series to one of my non-readers, but I noticed the older children all hanging around wanting to listen too. This series is one that adults will like just as much as the children. The gentle humour is very appealing. These books are also a good choice for younger fluent readers.

The stories are set in the UK.

Here's a description:
Sophie is small, but very determined. She loves animals - snails and cats and rabbits and dogs and pigs - and she wants to be a farmer when she grows up. Her best friend is Great-great-aunt Al from Scotland, who looks a bit like a bird, and her worst enemy is the dreadful Dawn. 
The books can be bought individually, but I'd buy the complete collection so you can read them all in one go! 

  • The Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall

Of course this is a very popular series so you may already have seen it. The books are set in America though I got confused when I read the first book because I had a version produced for the UK market: the vocabulary and spelling had been changed for UK readers.

I remember how excited Charlotte was when she read this book. I immediately promised to buy her the second book as soon as it was released, and she waited impatiently for that day. However, she didn't think the sequels matched up to the first book. Maybe there was too much emphasis on boyfriends (which Charlotte thought was ridiculous!) and there was a big coincidence in the third book which we felt spoilt the story. I shan't say any more in case you haven't read the books! 

Overall the series was a good read and I am sure we will buy the fourth book, The Penderwicks in Spring, when it is released in March 2015. 

The books are described as suitable for ages 7 - 9. 

Here's a description of The Penderwicks:
The Penderwicks: four sisters, as different as chalk from cheese, yet as close as can be.

The eldest, Rosalind, is responsible and practical; Skye, stubborn and feisty; dreamy, artistic, budding novelist, Jane; and shy little Batty, who doesn't go anywhere without her butterfly wings. And not forgetting Hound, their large lumbering lovable dog.

The four girls and their absent-minded father head off for their summer holidays, but instead of the cosy tumbledown cottage they expect, they find themselves on a huge estate called Arundel, with magnificent gardens ripe for exploring. It isn't long before they become embroiled in all sorts of scrapes with new-found friend, Jeffrey - but his mother, the icy-hearted Mrs Tifton, must be avoided at all costs. Chaotic adventures ensue, and it soon becomes a summer the sisters will never forget...

  • The Billabong Series by Mary Grant Bruce 

I'm currently reading these books to Sophie and Gemma-Rose. There are 15 books in the series but some of them are hard to find. 

A Little Bush Maid (1910)
Mates at Billabong (1912)
Norah of Billabong (1913)
From Billabong to London (1914)
Jim and Wally (1915)
Captain Jim (1916)
Back to Billabong (1919)
Billabong's Daughter (1924)
Billabong Adventurers (1928)
Bill of Billabong (1933)
Billabong's Luck (1931)
Wings Above Billabong (1935)
Billabong Gold (1937)
Son of Billabong (1939)
Billabong Riders (1942)

We discovered most of these books in our library, and I recently bought a copy of From Billabong to London from a second-hand book shop in New Zealand! Four of the books are available as free ebooks.

The Billabong books are set on a large cattle station in Australia. The stories are no longer politically correct, but it is interesting to see the attitudes of the past. Lots to discuss! 

I found this review on Amazon: 
An interesting and accurate look into Australia and England set before and during WW1 through the eyes of a teen-aged girl
The language is more complicated than the usual modern novel, and so doesn't always roll off the tongue as easily as it could. But the girls don't mind the long sentences with sometimes unfamiliar word usage. The stories seem to delight them. They like the extra long chapters!

  • The Nim Series

I read these books to Sophie and Gemma-Rose several years ago. They are a lot of fun and much better than the movie versions, which we didn't like at all.

The recommended age is 8 - 12.

Here's a description of Nim's Island:
A girl. An iguana. An island. And e-mail. Meet Nim–a modern-day Robinson Crusoe! She can chop down bananas with a machete, climb tall palm trees, and start a fire with a piece of glass. So she’s not afraid when her scientist dad sails off to study plankton for three days, leaving her alone on their island. Besides, it’s not as if no one’s looking after her–she’s got a sea lion to mother her and an iguana for comic relief. She also has an interesting new e-mail pal. But when her father’s cell-phone calls stop coming and disaster seems near, Nim has to be stronger and braver than she’s ever been before.
And she’ll need all her friends to help her.

I've just discovered there's a third book in the series. It's called Rescue on Nim's Island. I just bought a Kindle copy!

Five very different book series. Have you read any of them? I'd love to hear if you like them too!

You'll also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page where I post all kinds of extra blog stuff. I hope you'll visit my page!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Getting Older, Admitting One's Age, Lines and Wrinkles!

Mother Teresa and Orphan Baby by Fred Miller(CC BY-NC 2.0)

I wonder if I am the only person who's finding it difficult coming to terms with an ageing appearance.

"A lot of women feel that way," says Imogen.

"I guess there wouldn't be such a huge anti-wrinkle cream industry if everyone was satisfied with the way they look," I observe.

"And think how many people dye their hair," adds my oldest-at-home daughter. "They're not happy with grey hair."

Maybe Imogen is right. I am not alone. Many women are concerned about getting older. But I still feel a little bit guilty because my appearance is of importance to me. I wish I could be like Mother Teresa. She certainly looked old but her wrinkles were irrelevant. She never had time to think about what she looked like. She focused on other people and not herself. And so she shone with a beauty that came from deep within her.

You might have guessed, I talked about ageing in this week's podcast. After listening to my recording, I'm not sure I'm comfortable posting my inside views on ageing. But it took me a long time to make this podcast so I shall publish it. But that doesn't mean you have to listen. Feel free to skip over this one, if you'd like. I won't mind at all!

I haven't got any program notes this week. Instead I shall post an untouched photo of me. It was taken in the cafe at Mary MacKillop Place. Imogen and I were enjoying coffee before the start of the Catholic Digital Media Conference.

Sophie is so excited. Her new second-hand DSLR camera arrived in the mail. I posted some photos on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. Please hop over and have a look!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Camera, Photography Books and Playing the Ebay Game

Flowers by the WWII Memorial by Mr.TinDC(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sophie has a dream: "I'd love to have a DSLR camera just like yours, Mum. I'd really like to take special photos with blurry backgrounds. I have a bit of money in the bank, but it's not enough." She sighs. "Cameras are so expensive."

I have an idea. It starts with a lot of loose change which we gather from around the house. We count it. It's an unexpectedly large amount of money. And then...

On Thursday: “Look, Sophie! There's a second-hand DSLR camera on ebay. It has two lenses and comes with a camera bag.” It looks like a perfect camera for a 13 year old daughter.

"I’ll bid for it on Saturday night,” I promise. “Just don’t let me forget.”

On Saturday morning we set multiple alarms.

That evening...

8:30:00 pm: the alarms beep. There's exactly an hour until the end of the auction. I open my computer. I sign into ebay. I find the right page. "No bids!” We all grin.

8:35:00 pm: “One bid…” The grins fade.

9:05:00 pm: “Two bids…” The grins disappear altogether.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I have a plan, and if it doesn't work, it's just not meant to be."

The minutes tick by.

9:25:00 pm: I type in my bid. I hover over the 'enter' button. Wait! Wait! Not yet…

9:29:30 pm:  Wait! 

9:29:35 pm: My heart is racing. My fingers are shaking. But I have nerves of steel. Now? No! 

9:29:40 pm: Yes! I click. I've joined the battle! Will anyone have time to bid again?

9.29:50 pm: “Mum! Another bid!” Will it beat mine?

9.30:00 pm: Mum! Mum! You won the auction!” We all grin.

"Did you see how I snatched victory in the last 20 seconds?" I do a happy dance.

"I bet they didn't see you coming, Mum!"

"They must have thought they'd won."

"Do you think they're disappointed? It must be awful to be beaten at the last moment."

I stop jumping up and down. For a few seconds I feel bad. But I didn't really do anything wrong. I only played the ebay game.

Sophie can't believe she's now the proud owner of a DSLR camera. She is still grinning. She feels so fortunate.

By Thursday Sophie's camera will be in her hands. While she's waiting she's been reading Tony Northrup's book, How to Create Stunning Digital Photography.

It's the best how-to photography book I've seen. It contains links to lots of videos produced by the author.

Sophie is looking forward to doing some more challenges from Steve and Carla Sonheim's book, Creative Photography Lab: 52 Fun Exercises for Developing Self Expression with Your Camera.

And she wants to complete these online Snap Shot Delight Classes. 

“Can you do photography as a job?” asks Sophie.

“Oh yes!” I answer.

I can imagine Sophie as a photographer. That is if she doesn’t become a mathematician. Or a website designer. Anything is possible.

And dreams can come true. Sophie's did. All it took was some money she saved, a lot of loose change, and a winning bid for a second-hand camera on ebay.

Do you ever play the ebay game?

Please join me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page for all the extra blog stuff!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Logarithmic Time and Other Old and Inappropriate Stories

It’s Friday. Imogen is making dinner. My husband Andy will be home from school soon. And I have just enough time to share a few stories from this week.

Yes, another week has disappeared. Doesn’t time pass quickly? Apparently time acts logarithmically. I read about this in a very interesting maths book called Alex's Adventures in Numberland. When we’re young, the days seem so long, and a year lasts forever. The older we get, the faster time seems to pass by. I must be quite old because a year doesn’t feel very long at all.

Talking of age, I keep meeting a very young looking Elle MacPherson in my Facebook feed. She’s been trying to sell me some miracle face lotion which will make me look 20 years younger. I looked at Elle’s gorgeous face and then I looked into the mirror, and felt dissatisfied and even ashamed of my appearance. (Elle and I are similar ages.) I was tempted to believe I needed those expensive lotions and potions.Then I began to feel annoyed with Elle for encouraging me to feel this way.

Later my feelings changed again. I started to feel sorry for Elle. It can’t be easy being a supermodel. She is her face as far as the world is concerned. How difficult it must be for her to accept she is getting older and not looking quite as good as she did at the height of her career.

It doesn’t matter at all what I look like when I make a podcast. I could make one with bed hair. I could wear my pyjamas and no one would know. Not that I’ve actually done this. I was dressed quite nicely when I made my second podcast this week. How did it go? So far I haven’t had any feedback so I have no idea what listeners think. But I think it’s better than my first one.

Although I don’t have to think about my appearance when podcasting, I have been forced to think about my voice. I’d rather not know how I sound but I can’t really publish a podcast without listening to myself. I have to play everything back and listen out for mistakes. I’m not entirely happy with my voice and how I’m using it. There’s lots of room for improvement. Ums and ahs seem to sneak into my sentences without me noticing. I decided I have to do something about them.

So I Googled the words, 'improving speech'. I landed on a website called The Art of Manliness. Just for a moment I hesitated. I'd caught sight of a post about... perhaps I shouldn’t mention what it was about. It was definitely a men-only article, not really appropriate reading for a woman. So I hurried along without looking and arrived at a post called Becoming Well-Spoken: How to Minimize Your Uh’s and Um’s. It’s very interesting. You could read it too. Just be careful to sneak past the inappropriate posts.

Sophie also wants to improve her speech. In particular, she needs to improve her articulation. Unfortunately she always seems to have a stuffy nose due to allergies. This affects her speech. But I’m sure she could work on her voice. We could work on our voices together.

Yesterday a new idea associated with voices popped into my head. I wanted to go to bed but I hadn’t written my diary entry for the day. I was tired. I didn’t really want to start writing. I thought how much easier it would be if I could just dictate my entry into my computer. A moment later I had this ‘great’ idea. I could dictate it. I could capture my words using Audacity, export it as an MP3 file and save it. (Just like I do when making a podcast.) Can you imagine coming back years later and listening to your younger self describing your former days? Grandchildren and great grandchildren might listen to the recordings one day too. Long after we are no longer here, our voices might still be going strong. Yes, this idea is worth considering.

I seem to have lots of ideas. Not all of them are good ones but I did get some feedback about one I shared here a couple of months ago. Do you remember when we were discussing Evernote?  I wrote a few posts and made some videos about how we could use it to keep unschooling/ homeschooling records. Yesterday someone told me she’d watched my videos and then been inspired to keep Evernote records. She recently had her homeschool registration visit and her Authorised Person was very impressed with those records. Isn’t that wonderful news? It seems that untested idea of mine actually worked.

I have some untested video ideas. I’ve been turning them over in my mind, wondering if they will work. I guess there’s only one way to find out. Try them out. Yes, I might do that. 

What's that? Dinner is ready? My writing time has run out? I am getting old and time is logarithmic. I guess that’s why the last twenty minutes felt more like five.

What did you do last week? I'd love to hear! 

You can also find me on Facebook. At the moment, I'm chatting about possible changes to my blogs. Please visit my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page to read all my behind-the-scenes blog news!.

Image:Time Traveller by George Boyce(CC BY 2.0)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mistakes, a Teenager's Love of Learning, and Loose Change!

“Would anyone like to chat with me while I make my second podcast?” I asked my family.

“I will,” volunteered Sophie, my 13 year old daughter.

“Perhaps this time my voice will sound more natural," I said, "because I'll be having a real conversation with someone I can see.”

Soon I was setting up my computer in the quiet of my bedroom. I had a list of conversation topics. I also had a new external microphone.

Soon I was saying, “Hi! I’m Sue Elvis from the blog, Stories of an Unschooling Family.” I got through the difficult first couple of minutes. The words started flowing. Sophie and I began to enjoy ourselves. Twenty minutes later, I clicked the ‘stop’ button. We’d done it. A perfect podcast!

I pressed the ‘playback’ button and we sat back to listen.

“Oh no!” Something had gone wrong. I'd made a mistake with the mic. The recording wasn't perfect after all. Should we start again? Yes? No? I couldn't make up my mind.

This morning, I decided to record everything a second time. “At least we’re learning a lot by making mistakes,” I said, trying to make myself feel better. Fortunately, Sophie agreed.

Some time later, my second podcast was finished for the second time. Am I happy with it? I think this podcast flows more smoothly than my first one. Yes, I think it’s much better.

So what did Sophie and I talk about? We chatted about our shared love of learning and all the interests we have in common. I mulled over how important it is for mothers to be a good example of learning. And how mothers usually end up learning from their children.  We discussed Sophie’s least favourite question related to learning. And we talked about perfection and why it isn’t necessary.

Along the way other topics entered our conversation such as cat bites, our huge puppy Nora, online art classes, loose change, DSLR cameras and mistakes. Does any of that sound interesting? I hope so because I‘d love you to listen and then give me some feedback, (good or bad but please be kind!)

Like last time, I will add some program notes about all the things we mentioned in the podcast, because they might be helpful. Posting program notes also makes me feel like a real podcaster!

So have you got something to do while you listen? Would you like to grab a cup of coffee? Ready? It’s now time for…

Mistakes, a Teenager's Love of Learning, and Loose Change!

Program Notes:

People and Podcasts

People and Videos

Online Art Classes

Blog Posts
If you'd like to see some photos of the bush walk Sophie and I took together, please read my post, A Late Winter Walk Through the Bush

Recently, we've been having some interesting conversations on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook Page about books, Youtube videos, podcasting and other topics. I've posted some extra photos too. Why don't you hop over and join in with all the behind-the-scenes blog stuff? I'd love to see you on my page!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Adding Children's Books to My Own Personal Reading Pile

It rained. It hailed. Lightning flashed, and then a huge ball of thunder rolled across the sky. We all looked up from our computers just in time to see Nora, our puppy, leaping into the air. Over 20 kg of dog landed thump! on Gemma-Rose’s lap.

For a moment we were all distracted by our quivering frightened animal. When Nora had calmed down, we returned to our computer screens and we all got a shock.

“I haven’t got an Internet connection!”

“Nor have I.”

Yes, we were no longer connected to the outside world. We waited. Minutes passed. More minutes...

“I wanted to post something on my blog.”

“I have to submit a uni assignment this afternoon.”

“I was watching a Youtube video.”

Eventually I said, "It looks like the Internet isn't going to come back any time soon. We’ll all have to do something else."

“But what?”

 We sat in silence for a while. And then someone said, “We could read a book.”

“I know!” I said. “I’ll read one of those books you added to my library pile the other day.”

“Read HIVE, Mum,” urged Gemma-Rose. “I’ll go get it for you.” She ran off and was soon back with Higher Institute of Villainous Education by Mark Walden.

I made some coffee and then settled down to read. Time passed and pages turned. The Internet remained disconnected, and before I knew it, I was saying, “Finished!”

“Did you like it, Mum?”

“Yes, it was a good story.”

“Did you laugh?”

“Oh yes, it was funny.”

“But did you understand it?”

“Of course I did!" I felt rather indignant. "It’s only a children’s novel. I can understand kids’ books. I'm an adult!” 

Gemma-Rose took a step back. “I was just asking!”she said, in a huffy sort of voice.

Later I thought more about the book. Why did Gemma-Rose ask me if I understood it? Is it possible I missed something? Now I’m wondering…

Something did confuse me, but don’t tell my daughters. I wouldn’t want them to think I’m not very clever. Was it a good-defeats-evil type novel? Or perhaps the villainous adults corrupted the good kids? But maybe the children weren’t that good to begin with? And how are they going to keep the story going (there's lots more books in the series), if in fact the children are good? They can’t escape from HIVE… or can they? Actually, I have a lot of questions.

“Gemma-Rose, have we got the second HIVE book?”

We haven’t. I really must borrow it from the library. Or could I buy a Kindle copy? I must find out what happens next. 

Yes, I rather enjoyed HIVE. Maybe I should read more children's books. (I suspect some kids' books are more entertaining than many adult books.) But which ones?

"What shall I read next?" I shout. "Give me some recommendations." The girls smile. They want to share all their old friends with me. I think I understand how they feel. There's something wonderful about sharing favourite books, isn't there?

Do you ever choose children's books to read, just for your own pleasure?  And if you do, which ones would you suggest I put in my own personal reading pile? Please share your favourites!

Now I usually make suggestions in an if-it's-not-too-much-trouble-and-if-you-are-interested-you-could... kind of way. I'm not going to do that today. Instead I'm going to shout...

Have you visited my Facebook page yet? No? Well, hop on over right now! Please read my posts and like my page!

Why do I want you to do this? I'd like to share all the behind-the-scenes blog stuff I post (like books, photos, resources, ideas and conversation). I want to invite you to stop and chat. It would be nice to see you there. So come on over to my Sue Elvis Writes FB page right now!

Okay. I've stopped shouting. I'm heading back into my shell... I really shouldn't be so bossy...