Monday, October 20, 2014

Why Picnics are Important

Many years ago, parenting and homeschooling could sometimes seem rather overwhelming, Some days my children refused to do what I asked. Or everyone needed me at exactly the same moment. Or I felt so tired I didn't want to do anything at all. It sometimes became too much and I wanted to run away. "I've had enough!" I'd yell before running outside. 

I'd sit on the garden wall, my body stiff with tension. Then gradually as I calmed down, I'd notice the warm sunshine soaking into my skin, and the flowers blooming alongside the wall. I'd glance up and see my children peering nervously at me through the window. Then all of a sudden, I'd jump up and shout: "Make some sandwiches. We're going on a picnic!"

The crisis was over. I'd remembered what was most important: my children. We were a family. We were supposed to enjoy each other. And that's exactly what we were going to do: We were going to leave the problems at home and go on a picnicking adventure.

Eventually I left that stressful life behind. I stopped trying to make my kids do things other people thought important. Instead I listened to my children and their needs. And my own. Of course by that time, I'd discovered unschooling.

These days I rarely get all worked up over unimportant things. But we still go on picnics. We go on lots of them. I don't wait until we need a break from our routine before suggesting we set off on an adventure. I try to take advantage of every suitable picnic moment.

We grab the picnic basket and fill it with food. We pack the sunscreen and make sure we have our cameras. Of course Nora is coming too. She climbs into the car and stretches her long doggy body on the middle seat next to Charlotte.  Sophie and Gemma-Rose are in the back, and Imogen is in the front. We are ready. Off we go!

Soon we are at the park.

Imogen hands out sandwiches filled with potato salad and ham and cheese.

Charlotte fills cups with coffee or icy cold water.

Then we eat.

And when we can't fit in another mouthful, we go for a walk.

We take photos...

 of ducks...

and flowers...

and each other.

When we go on a picnic, we get outside and enjoy nature: We observe flowers and birds and trees, and how everything changes with the seasons. We practise our photography skills. We stroll along paths and down bush trails, breathing in fresh air and exercising our legs. And while we are doing all of this, we talk and talk about all kinds of things. We link arms and smile. We soak up all the pleasure of living in the moment. We love and enjoy and the bonds between us grow stronger.

And that's why picnics are important.

So when was the last time you went on a picnic? Do you have a favourite picnic place? And what do you like to pack into your picnic basket for lunch?

The Angels of Abbey Creek

I've just created a new Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page. I thought it makes sense to have a page with the same name as my blog instead of posting all my extra blog stuff on my Sue Elvis Write Facebook page.

Of course I'm starting all over again with followers. My page feels rather lonely at the moment. Will you hop over and 'like' my page? I hope so!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Maths and Other Wild and Yummy Stories

We've just had a very wild week.
A week ago, we thought we'd arrived at summer. But by Tuesday we’d been thrown back to winter. The temperature plummeted, the rain fell and the wind howled. On Wednesday morning we woke up to find part of our backyard fence lying splat on the ground. Resurrecting the fence, before Nora our dog escaped, was the first challenge of the day. 

We'd planned to go out to our usual weekly homeschool meeting, but we decided the weather was too wild and unpredictable to venture out. Instead we turned on the gas heater and snuggled up together on the sofa to watch a Youtube video.

Do you remember me telling you about the Tudor Monastery Farm series, which is available free on Youtube?
Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold turn the clock back 500 years to the early Tudor period to become tenant farmers on monastery land.
Ruth, Peter and Tom obviously enjoyed living the life of Tudor tenant farmers. And we really enjoyed watching them. Can you imagine living in a time when the Church was a natural part of every aspect of daily life?

We finished watching this series last week, and immediately the girls were eager to begin watching War Time Farm, made by the same team:
Ruth and Peter are joined by archaeologist Alex Langlands, as they turn the clock back to run Manor Farm in Hampshire exactly as it would have been during the Second World War.
So we found the first episode on Youtube and settled down to watch. And it was good!

Would you believe Gemma-Rose has been taking an interest in maths?

One day Sophie said, “Can I have some maths problems to do, please Mum?” I do not lie. She did say that! So I remembered the Yummy Math site which has real life maths problems. She’s been dipping into the site (in an unschooly way) and learning heaps of interesting things. (So have I.)

The other day Sophie and I were looking at a Yummy Math exercise, comparing Pixar and Dreamworks movies. Which is the most successful studio? What criteria do we use to decide? Gemma-Rose heard the words Pixar and Dreamworks and couldn’t help herself. She peered over our shoulders as we were looking at various figures and graphs. Then she joined in with the very interesting discussion. 

We ended up on the BigPond Movies site looking at the Rotten Tomato ratings for various movies, and in the process discovered a movie we haven’t yet seen: Mr Peabody and Sherman. It has a 79% Rotten Tomatoes rating, which is supposed to indicate it's rather good. Have you seen it? We might rent a copy tomorrow night and have a family movie night.

What shall we eat before we settle down to watch our movie? I don’t think we’ll be cooking sausages for dinner even though it's Saturday night. Our sausage phase seems to be over. Now we can’t get enough of quiche… made with a tortilla crust. Have you ever tried making quiche this way? It’s delicious! We’ve been using shop bought tortillas but we might try making our own. I did a bit of research: Tortilla making sounds very easy to do.

Making a podcast is easy too. And fun. Maybe your children might like to try it. (Or you.) All you need is Audacity which is free to download. You could keep your kids' (or your) efforts private, or upload the podcasts to Google Drive for free, and share the link on a blog, or with family and friends. Here’s a good basic Youtube tutorial video in case anyone would like to have a go.

I’m still learning about podcasting. This week I worked out how to improve the sound quality of my podcasts by adjusting the Audacity settings. I also eliminated those annoying pss pss sounds by using a pop filter in front of my microphone. I made my own filter by stretching an old pair of tights over a coat hanger. It worked perfectly! I think this week’s podcast sounds better. At least I hope so!

Today I realised it’s been exactly a year since the Hall Road bushfire which threatened our village. Yes, 12 months ago we were homeschooling in a crisis while the sun blazed overhead, and a huge bushfire blazed out of control down the road. Wild weather. Wild fire.

But today we're not wiping the sweat from our brows. No, we're shivering. Soon I'm going to put on my winter pyjamas and then snuggle up on the sofa next to my husband, with a glass of wine and a few pieces of chocolate. Does that sound good? I think so! The perfect start to our weekend.

So what did you do this week? Did you learn anything new? Anything wild or yummy?

It looks like there's something yummy for morning tea. And is Gemma-Rose laughing wildly?

Before I finish this post...

My children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek, is available from Amazonas well as Lulu and Barnes and Noble.

And recently on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook pagewe've been talking about tortillas, educational videos, paper dolls and other things. Please hop over to read the extra blog stuff!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beginnings and Endings, and a Simple Christmas

We’ve had a lot of beginnings recently.

Last week the new school term began and Andy, my school teacher husband, went back to work.

On that same day my daughter Charlotte celebrated her birthday. She began the 18th year of her life.

And the girls have begun a new project which they’re hoping will earn them a little pocket money.

Some beginnings are closely followed by an ending. On 9th November 1999 our son Thomas’ life (after birth) began. A day later his life ended. I have begun thinking about how we will celebrate and commemorate those two days next month.

I have also begun thinking about Christmas. Is it possible to have a simple Christmas? And is it okay to end old traditions and begin new ones?

And what is the best way to begin and end an episode of a podcast?

I talked about all these beginnings and endings in this week’s podcast: 
Beginnings and Endings, and a Simple Christmas

Program Notes

Paper Dolls
Paper Dolls by the Serendipity Sisters
Imogen's and Charlotte's paperdoll blog

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do...
A blog post about how our children are always watching us, learning from our example. I mention the girls' paper dolls.

My Books
My children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek
My grief book, Grief, Love and Hope

My Grief Stories

Sue Elvis Writes grief page
Lists all my grief posts

Stories of Grief, Love and Hope blog
All my grief stories collected on one blog

Leo, Augustine and Theodore
The story of how Thomas' teddy collection began.

Crochet: Bears!
A Pinterest board with lots of cute crocheted bear ideas and patterns

Getting Rid of Our STUFF!

Becoming Minimalist
Interesting blog written by Joshua Becker

You'll also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. Please hop over and join me!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

More About an Unschooling School Teacher Father

When my husband Andy was made redundant from his job of more than 20 years, there was nothing else to do but trust God. Even though we couldn’t see it, He had a plan for our lives. We learnt to look at the blessings and not what Andy had lost. And so we enjoyed the unexpected time we got to spend with each other, while we wondered what to do next.

Soon Andy realised he had a unique opportunity to begin a whole new career. When he was accepted onto a Masters degree course 25 years after completing his Bachelor degree, we learnt that it is never too late to follow your dreams.

University was very different for Andy the second time round. But that didn’t matter because anything can be learnt when you need to know it. And so Andy very quickly gained the skills which allowed him to learn online in this digital age.

Andy graduated with a Dean’s medal. The thought of winning a medal hadn’t been his motivation to learn. He hadn’t even known such a medal existed until he was awarded one. Andy did so well, not because of the lure of a reward, but because he was truly interested in the subject.

Andy is an inspiration to our children. His achievements encourage them in their own learning.

You know what? I reckon Andy is a perfect example of an unschooler, which is rather funny considering he’s a school teacher!

If you missed my podcast: Unschooling Children, a School Teacher Father, and Tea, you’ll find it on my podcast page. There will be a new podcast tomorrow!

You can also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook Page.

And you can find my children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek on Amazon, as well as Lulu and Barnes and Noble. As you can see, even unschooling school teacher fathers can enjoy my book!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Approaching Classic Novels the Other Way Round

Mrs. Duffee Seated on a Striped Sofa, Reading Her Kindle, After Mary Cassatt by Mike Licht, (CC BY 2.0)

“What are you reading?” I ask my ten year old daughter, Gemma-Rose.

She looks up from her Kindle and says, “Bleak House.”

I remember reading this Charles Dickens book a couple of years ago. It took me a long time to finish it. I had to return to the beginning a couple of times and start over again, because I kept putting the book down. By the time I came back to it, I'd forgotten what I'd previously read.

“Are you enjoying it?” I ask.

Gemma-Rose smiles and nods her head. Yes, she is enjoying Charles Dickens.

It was actually Sophie who asked me for a Kindle version of Bleak House. I found a free copy and had it delivered to all the girls’ Kindles, along with a few other free classic novels.

"Classics seem less dense when I read them on my Kindle," Sophie tells me. I think I know what she means. Most paperback classics are printed in very small font on cheap paper. It takes ages to read each page. But on an ereader the font can be enlarged. The words seem less forbidding.

Sophie and Gemma-Rose have been watching the BBC mini-series version of Bleak House. They’ve seen it maybe three times. And they love it. Now they want more so they’re reading the book.

I have a habit of reading books first and then maybe seeing the movie. Some people might say this is the right way to do things. The books are so much better, because how can you condense a classic into so few movie minutes? But sometimes approaching a classic novel the other way round (movie before book) can work well. At least that’s what I’ve found with my girls. After watching movie versions of all Jane Austen’s books, a couple of Charles Dickens', and even several of Elizabeth Gaskell’s, all the girls are now eager to read the classics.

Google in the Afternoon, after Gari Melchers by Mike Licht, (CC BY 2.0)

Here’s some of the mini-series or movies we’ve enjoyed:

There are other versions of these books, plus many more adaptations of other classic novels. 

A couple of thoughts...

The 2007 version of Persuasion has an awful kiss in it (at least we think so!) and the heroine was rather wishy-washy.

And we couldn't finish the 2007 version of Northanger Abbey. It was unnecessarily sensual. We couldn't bear to watch it. 

So what do you think about the classics? Do you like to read the book first or watch the movie? And do you have a favourite screen classic? I like Bleak House best... or maybe North and South. Oh, it's hard to decide. So many wonderful versions to watch!

My children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek, is available from Amazonas well as Lulu and Barnes and Noble.

And recently we've been talking about Thomas' birthday and teddy bears, as well as quiche and other things, on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. Please hop over to read the extra blog stuff!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Unschooling Children, a School Teacher Father, and Tea

"What does your husband think about you unschooling your children?" 

I have been asked this question quite a few times. I guess people are interested in the answer because my husband Andy is a school teacher, as well as an unschooling father. 

"Would you like to chat with me about unschooling, being a school teacher and your involvement in our children's lives?" I asked Andy. "Our conversation could be this week's podcast."

Andy was agreeable. I decided to ask our 19 year old daughter Imogen to be part of my podcast too. Soon we were talking, and before we knew it, episode 7 of my podcast series had been recorded.

This is not a 'what's wrong with the school system' conversation. We did discuss both school and unschooling, but as Andy is working in the public school system, and has responsibilities towards his school and his colleagues, there were some things we couldn't talk about. Also Andy, like so many other school teachers, does a great job under circumstances much more difficult than my own, and I wasn't about to pull him and his efforts to pieces.

Leaving the subject of school, Andy and Imogen shared their father-daughter story, as we talked about ways a father can be involved in his unschooling children's lives.

And Andy also chatted about how he faced the challenge of redundancy and had to begin a new career, mid-life. I hope this story will encourage anyone who wonders if they should make their children learn as much as possible while homeschooling,  just in case they might need it sometime in the future.

Program Notes

Related blog posts and a video...

A Dean's Medallist of a Husband
No Mistake
Good Morning Mr Elvis!
Engines, Muscles and Spending Time with Dad
Imogen Talks about the Role of Parents in Unschooling

A couple of musical videos performed by Andy and our children...

A Musical Interlude
By Your Kingly Power, O Risen Lord

This week you could... 

subscribe to my podcasts on iTunes... 
or listen to my other podcasts...
or have a look at my children's book, The Angels of Abbey Creek on Amazonas well as Lulu and Barnes and Noble...
or join me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page where I'm posting lots of extra blog stuff!

And of course you could also watch this week's podcast episode...

Unschooling Children, a School Teacher Father and Tea.

Tea? Oops! I forgot to talk about the tea. Oh well, you'll discover the significance of tea as you listen!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bits and Pieces, Some Hard to Believe

When my youngest daughter Gemma-Rose said, “Will you play a board game with me… please!” I was tempted to tell her I was much too busy. You see, board games are just not my thing. I could have come up with a dozen reasons why I didn't have time, but I didn't. Though it's hard to believe, I actually smiled and said, “Okay, what shall we play?”

Gemma-Rose set up the Guess Who? boards. Unfortunately some of the people were missing, and a few of the cards had identifying marks on them, so we couldn’t use them. But we still enjoyed our slightly reduced game. “I wonder if there’s a computer version,” I mused. Later, I found a Guess Who? app. I haven’t downloaded it yet but I will.

Now I know computer games aren’t the same as the real thing. Some people might think they are inferior. But they do have one huge advantage: The pieces can’t go missing. You should see our Cluedo set. It’s even worse than our Guess Who? set. Not only do we have to work out the murderer, the crime scene and the murder weapon, we also have to remember that the button is Miss Scarlett, the miniature teapot is the dagger, the chess pawn is Reverend Green… I can't believe how few of the original pieces are left. I wonder if there’s a Cluedo app.

Board games and computer games remind me of paper books and ebooks. A lot of people prefer real books to ebooks. Sophie has been thinking about this. “Do you think I could make a video about the advantages of Kindle books?” she asks me. “What could you say?” I wonder. We start brainstorming and it's amazing (unbelievable perhaps) how many advantages we come up with. It should be a very interesting video.

The other day, I watched an interesting video related to this topic. You might have experienced books and ebooks, but how about bookbooks? (I think you will really enjoy this 2 minute video.)

A few days ago, Sophie published an interview video on her Youtube channel. She put together some questions and then persuaded big sister Imogen to answer them. The video, Questions with Imogen, turned out really well. Sophie filmed it using her new DSLR camera and it looks good. The answers to the out-of-the-ordinary questions are good too.

Sophie isn’t the only person Imogen has been helping. A week or so ago, Imogen agreed to be interviewed for a podcast about writing. And then a couple of days ago, I asked her to be involved with yet another podcast. “Dad’s going to answer some questions about being a school teacher who’s also an unschooling father,” I told her. “I’d also like to talk to him about his involvement in your lives. I could ask you some questions about that.” So the three of us sat around my computer and had a chat, and I recorded it. Later I edited the podcast. Now all it needs is a title. An Unschooling Father, a School Teacher Husband and Lots of Tea? Tea? All will be revealed when I publish the podcast on Thursday.

People are actually listening to my podcasts. That's very surprising, maybe hard to believe, considering they're far from perfect. (That first podcast episode wasn't very good at all.) My podcasts are in fact more popular than the accompanying blog posts. I have no idea who is listening to them. It's all a big mystery.

How to submit my podcasts to iTunes was a big mystery too. It took me ages to work out how to do this. Now I’m waiting to hear if my podcast series has been approved. Me on iTunes? Doesn’t that sound unbelievable? It’s amazing what opportunities are available to us via our computers. 

Did you hear I’m now on Amazon?  Or rather my children's novel is. Yes, The Angels of Abbey Creek is now available from Amazon (at an unbelievable price), as well as Lulu and Barnes and Noble. I haven’t done much promotion for the book. I feel rather shy about the whole matter. I did have one idea: I‘m taking photos of people reading my book in different situations.

On Friday Andy asked me if I‘d like to go to town and have coffee with him. I took my children's book and my camera along with us. We settled ourselves at a table in the shopping mall and then I said, “Could you look like you’re reading my book, please?” So Andy opened the book and started reading.  “Hold the book up a bit more so I can see the cover. Could you drink your coffee at the same time? No?” Snap! Snap! I had my photos. I then let Andy get back to his coffee.

Yesterday, the book made an appearance at breakfast time. Gemma-Rose, our Porridge Princess, found herself reading it in her pyjamas while chopping nuts to sprinkle over our oats.

I’m posting the book photos on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page, one each day. 

If you hop over to my Facebook page to see the photos, take a look at the painting stones ideas. I rather like the stone domino set. It would make a good gift. Would Charlotte like stone dominos for her birthday? Perhaps not. She might be too old.

Charlotte turns 17 this week. That's hard to believe. She's almost all grown up.

There is one thing that is not hard to believe at all: Nora is a very mischievous puppy. She is full of energy and won't sit still when I want to take her photo. And she has a very wet tongue! 

But I did manage to get one good photo of Nora, Gemma-Rose and my book. It's on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page.

I wonder if anything unbelievable happened to you last week!