You’re just on holiday all the time!

So declared a neighbour’s kid to Lego Boy one day.   She definitely struggles with the idea that he doesn’t go to school and you can see her thinking it through, and occasionally she’ll come out with pronouncements like that.

Lego Boy is a bit bemused by it all.  As getting his education outside of school has always been an option for him, and even though he knows that the vast majority of children go to school, to him it is such a simple idea, that he doesn’t get what is so hard for others to understand.

He is aware that he is lucky that we give him the option (although sometimes he isn’t sure why all children don’t get that choice from their parents) of going to school or not………

(And he certainly doesn’t think that he is on holiday all the time. In fact there are times when he gets quite cross when I ask him to do something)

But, we only do a couple of hours of more formal work a day, so yes, the rest of the day can seem like a holiday.

Do you have holidays, like half term and Easter

We definitely have ‘time off’.  Whether this is in line with the cantonal school holidays depends.  It depends on if we are doing something particularly engaging that we wish to continue with, or if we need to catch up oth a few things (which I’m aware is a slightly abstract concept, as we don’t have deadlines), or if we just need a bit of a break from sitting down at the table.

This last week though was Relaches, Swiss Romande equivalent of half term.  It normally means kids and families take off for the mountains for a week of skiing, or children spend a week with grandparents.  For us, it usually means at least a few early mornings and a bit of one-on-one time for me and Dino Girl. This is because, with a bit of searching, (and not always online, as the Swiss don’t seem to be huge internet users, particularly businesses) I sign Lego Boy up for one or more workshops, or ateliers.

Last year, he spent a whole week with the maison de quartier sous gare (sort of like a youth club) away skiing. He didn’t want to do the same this year, as he said that 5 days skiing in the morning and the afternoon with no choice to opt out was way too much for him.

However this year I was a little slack in looking for something. A friend saved the day. She told me about Un Jour, Deux Musées, a workshop between two local museums, the Alimentarium and the Musée de Jeu. As they have just moved back to Switzerland and their eldest, F, is not so confident in French, we booked the same day for Lego Boy and F to go to. Unfortunately on the day, F was ill, so Lego Boy went on his own. He had a great time. The morning was spent in the kitchens of the food museum making vegetable lasagne, salad and dessert (never could get out of him what dessert was as he didn’t like it). After a few games and eating what they’d made, they walked to the next village and the games museum (situated in a castle), where they spent the afternoon playing loads of board games and playing in the castle grounds.
As F didn’t want to miss out, we booked for both of them to go a couple of days later. The woman seemed concerned that Lego Boy was doing the same thing again, but seemed placated when I said that he was helping his friend to understand what was going on.

The rest of half term week was spent pretty much as normal, although his yoga, theatre and art classes were cancelled. After a couple of weeks of not doing much ‘work’ we decided to do a couple of tasks each day, just to keep our hand in. Or something.

I guess I should probably start thinking about activities for the Easter holidays now…

On Your Marks, Get Set, BAKE!

(with a nod to Nigel Slater)

I do like to bake. It manages to lift my mood when nothing else can. I can’t get philosophical or metaphorical about why. It just does.

I have been baking for quite a while, even managing to knock something up in our badly equipped uni hall of residence kitchen many moons ago. I think I’m lucky that I have a family that love cakes and biscuits (although I think its probably a rare one that doesn’t).

Since moving house last March, we now have a bigger kitchen (in our old one, if you had the dishwasher open you would be trapped in there, and there was just enough built-in workspace to put a kettle) and this has helped enormously. It also means that both The Hub and I can be in the kitchen at the same time, and this has helped to ignite a love of baking in him.
We watched the latest series of The Great British Bake Off together, and drooled over the delights that the amateur bakers created. Then at Christmas my lovely sister bought me not only Paul Hollywood’s How To Bake , but also the book from the series, How To Turn Everyday Bakes Into Showstoppers , by Linda Collister, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

The Hub has taken it upon himself to become the bread expert. He baked his first batch of Christmas Buns with aplomb and can often now be found in the kitchen kneading and mixing (with the help of our latest gadget, our trusty K-Mix).

Christmas Buns

Christmas Buns

And so I found myself at home with Dino Girl today without Lego Boy and The Hub who had gone skiing.
The Hub had recently made a bet with a colleague over a piece of code he’d written (something to do with a zero point exception, or something similarly geeky) and as the loser has to make a cheesecake. He has settled on Marbled Lemon Squares from the Showstopper book, but as we don’t have, and find it difficult to get, ginger biscuits for the base I said I’d bake some whilst he was out (yes I realise this is overkill for a coding bet, but I think The Hub wishes to restore a little pride).
Of course, me being me, I can’t just bake one thing, so as we had some left over cooked beetroot in the fridge (from a trout, bean and beetroot salad from the night before) I decided to also bake a chocolate and beetroot cake.
On scouring the internet (well, I did a Google search) the general consensus seemed to be that Nigel Slater’s recipe from his Tender cookbook was the way to go. Helpfully someone had copied the recipe (its okay, I intend to buy the book) so I got to work with my trusty assistant, Dino Girl by my side.
There were several warnings about the amount of utensils and gadgets you will need. These should be heeded. I’m not sure how many bowls I used, but I used the food processor, the K-Mix to whisk the eggwhites, a bain marie, a whisk, a spatula and various spoons. Oh, and the coffee machine, as surprisingly (well, to me anyway), the recipe calls for hot espresso.
Into the oven it went, and surveying the kitchen, not for the first time in my life, I was grateful for the dishwasher.
So, after 40 minutes, out of the oven it came. It seemed rude to cut into it before the boys got home, but well, it was lunchtime and I’m pretty certain that a girl and a cake can’t co-exist in the same room.

It was……..delicious. Light and wobbly, wonderfully moist, chocolatey but not too much so, slight earthy tones of the beetroot. Okay I’ll stop. I sound like I’m pretentiously tasting wine, not eating a cake!
But I was pleased that even with 200g of dark chocolate, it wasn’t too chocolatey. I’m not a huge fan of chocolate cake. And I’m glad that I could taste the beetroot, albeit only slightly. I’m not a fan of hiding vegetables in things, even for the kids, so with this recipe I don’t feel like I’m tricking anyone (lentils in bolognese is a whole other story, however…).
Next time I’ll make it without the espresso, as I’m not sure it added anything to it, but I think this recipe is a keeper.

Nigel Slater's Chocolate & Beetroot Cake

Nigel Slater’s Chocolate & Beetroot Cake

Of course, I still have to make the ginger biscuits for the cheesecake and the cottage pie for dinner, but well, I’m sure there’s time for just one more slice……


That is how much apparently it costs for Lego Boy to become aware of the passing of time, to make him realise that its always better to do what you have to do, what you’ve been asked to do, before you do what you want to do.

4.95CHF: the price of an analog clock in Coop, the local supermarket.

We are lucky in that we now have space for a ‘school room’. Schoolroom implies that we do school work, that we follow a curriculum, but we don’t.  However ‘learning lab’ doesn’t sit well with me, neither does ‘education space’ or ‘work room’.  However it is a room with lots of books, a table, pens, pencils and a computer, so hopefully you get the idea of its function.

Every morning when Lego Boy gets up, he goes straight to his computer.  He loves watching lego reviews on you tube and checking out the lego website to find out the latest lego sets, their pieces (and their price, so he can figure out how long before he can afford to buy it).  Normally, this is by 7am/7.30am.  Any time before that and I suggest he goes back to bed (here we’ll gloss over how lightly I sleep that I wake at the slightest sound, maybe thats for another post).

I always  like to try and start ‘work’ at 9am, as we normally do a couple of hours, and therefore we can be done before lunchtime with plenty of time to get to the shops if we need to get something for lunch.
Before we start, I ask him to be dressed, have clean teeth, had breakfast and sorted out the chickens (not every day, as we take it in turns).  Even though he normally has at least 90 minutes to do these things, up until today he is normally so engrossed in the computer that at 8.30am I have to remind him what he has to do, and so it is always a rush and a bit stressy (I know that if we had a later start time it would still be the same thing).

This morning, having bought the clock and just put it in the room, with no reminder from me, at 8am he came downstairs stating that he was going to do the chickens so that he was ready in time.

I was speechless…..which takes a lot.

I know this may seem a small thing, and there are those of you who are wondering how I could possibly write a blog post about this, please believe me when I say that this morning everything just seemed so much calmer, and as a bonus all formal learning was done by 10.30, which meant I could plonk my self-pity at my cold on the sofa with my crochet and Murder She Wrote.

So, today’s Tip of the Day? Buy a clock.

Happy Flower

It is a friend’s daughter’s 6th birthday today, so along with some Fimo, I thought I’d try my hand at the Attic 24 Happy Flower decoration (click on it for the tutorial) to give to her.

It was a lovely quick make, and just right for using up scraps of yarn and odd beads.  I probably needed to use more glue to stiffen it more, but time was running short (leave things to the last minute, moi?) so I used a minimum of glue and then used some cocktail sticks with the ends cut off to keep the leaves straight.

They have just moved house, so I hope it will look good in her bedroom.


(Please excuse the rubbish photo; as I said, time was running out!)

When I grow up, I want to be…..

….a doctor.

At least I did when I was about 12. I was a clever child, top of the class sort of material.  And therefore I figured that the only thing I was meant to be was a doctor or a lawyer. (Of course, I couldn’t have been that clever if I thought those were the only two careers open to me!)

Trouble with being a lawyer was that I wasn’t much good at arguments.  I tended (and still do) to get very emotional at the first sign of confrontation, and even now you will find that I won’t complain about bad customer service, or send food back in a restaurant (I’m aware that this isn’t the only quality a lawyer is desired to have, but remember this is my 12 year old self you’re talking to).

So I would HAVE to be a doctor.

Now, technically I might have made an okay doctor.  Where I would’ve failed would be the nursing aspect of it.  Empathy is not my strong point.  In fact I would go so far as to say that I am really quite a selfish nurse, particularly with The Hub.  I’m not exactly sure why.  I think that maybe 50% is due to concern that the patient is in pain, (could it be something serious?) and the other 50% is impatience. I don’t want you to be ill, I have things planned, this is messing it all up, it can’t be that bad, yada yada.

Give me a crisis and I can handle it.  I will organise people.  If you slash your finger with a broken glass, I will talk to you calmly, have a plan, and everything will be fine.

In other situations though, its different.  I’m a borderline emetophobe.  I’m not so bad that I think about it all the time and it seriously impinges on my life, but for example, if a drunk gets on the bus, my one concern is that he/she will vomit.  Sometimes I get off the bus early as it bothers me that much.  If you feel sick near me, please don’t expect me to help, I will probably be heading for the nearest exit.

Poor Dino Girl was ill last week.  She managed to decorate a shop in town (who were very kind and understanding about it all) and then took a few days to recover.  By Friday I was a nervous wreck and she must’ve been completely fed up with me, constantly asking if she was okay, waking up at the slightest sound coming from their room.  Finally, she was better. Phew.

But then it started again with The Hub.
When The Hub is ill, I feel a sense of injustice.  If he is ill, as he has been from Friday until today, he can come home from work and get into bed until he feels better.  Me? Not so much.  Unless I am ill on a weekend, I still have to get up and at the very least make sure the children are fed and don’t kill themselves, or each other.  Its just not fair.  I want someone to look after me. *stamps feet* (see, I told you I was selfish)
The thing is, I wouldn’t change a thing about our set up.  I know that I am very lucky that this is our lifestyle, and I do not have to take a job outside of the home.
But when illness strikes, well I tend to get a bit wistful.  Just allow me this little pity party won’t you?

And be thankful that I never did actually become a doctor.

(At 12, I was also going to never get married. I would live with a man until I got bored of him and then move on to the next one, probably every few months.  Just like that.  I remember informing my unmarried aunt of this whilst standing in my grandparents bedroom.  She was not impressed (not sure whether it was due to my impending ‘loose’ lifestyle, or if she thought I was passing comment on her marital status).
I have been with The Hub for 19 years now, which is half of my life, so that didn’t really pan out, did it?)

Back to ‘School’

We home educate/home school our children. Okay, so Dino Girl is only 2.5, but I include her in this because for us, home schooling is part of our family life, it is as much a lifestyle choice as anything.

(I intend to do a ‘Why’ post at some point, just because people always seem interested, but for the moment, this is mainly a ‘How’ post)

In Switzerland, all 26 cantons have differing education laws.  Home education is included in this.  In some cantons it is illegal, in some you have to be a qualified teacher, but in our canton, which is probably the most liberal of the lot, we are free to home educate as we wish, just having to have a yearly inspection.  We had  our first one in November, and passed, no problem. (She talked to us about our approach, and asked Lego Boy to show her some work.  She was only really interested in the few workbooks he’d done, rather than the more interesting (to us and him) projects, which to us gave us a good indication of the departments attitude to home ed.)

A friend once explained our approach as eclectic.  I think this is a good description.  We don’t follow a curriculum.  We aren’t very structured, but we aren’t completely unstructured either.  We don’t unschool, although I think if we lived somewhere, like the UK, where there are no inspections, then we would explore unschooling more.

Since moving house we have a dedicated room to work in.  The benefits of this are that everything is contained in one space, and I don’t have to constantly clear the dining table to eat every day.  Of course we are not restricted to this room; we read in bed, craft normally happens in the warmer months in the conservatory or outside (easier to clean up) and we are often out and about.

Lego Boy seems to prefer structure in terms of knowing when we are going to start every day (normally 9am, but sometimes earlier if we are ready) but we have no fixed timetable for when we do things. Normally the night before I will write a list of things we are going to do on top of the chest of drawers and each drawer contains the items needed for that task (books, paper, etc).

How do I decide what we are going to do? I consider what we did that day, what projects are ongoing, if Lego Boy has shown an interest in something new recently, and then we also have the basics too. We live in the French speaking part of Switzerland, so although we don’t teach in French, it is important that Lego Boy is able to converse and work in French particularly if he decides to go to school at any time. The inspector is only really interested in French, Maths and German for the swiss and people here long term. He doesn’t have to start learning German until next year (and we’re lucky that The Hub is fluent in German and works in the German speaking part of Switzerland), and Lego Boy seems to take after both his parents when it comes to Maths, even though he doesn’t believe he is any good at it (no idea where that came from). So its just the French. He has a French teacher for an hour a week, and she focusses mainly on grammar and pronunciation. With me, he does reading, spelling and all other general French stuff (French teaching (for native speakers) seems to be very ‘old school’ here, with lots of focus on grammar, hand writing and copywork).

As an example, this is what we have planned for today.
French spelling, English spelling (using Montessori reading word lists), reading aloud his French book Pit Le Pingouin, Life of Fred (a series of Maths story books based on Maths in life), making a cuneiform tablet, reading a chapter of The Story of the World history book, working on his Pets project for a presentation to our homeschool group, and continuing to read The Hobbit, which he is really enjoying and we will probably do a project about when he has finished it.
This will be done in about 2 hours, and then he is free to play and do as he chooses.

He also goes to a yoga class, has theatre group, goes iceskating with friends, is part of an English homeschool group, goes on trips with a youth group, goes skiing with The Hub at weekends, and has regular playdates with friends and neighbours. He has a social life that I am envious of!

And now, as it is past 9am (and I have already lost a draft of this blog post) we need to get to it. We can’t have him slacking now, can we? 😉

Sales Day

I guess if I’m going to be more serious about this blogging malarkey I shouldn’t leave posts in the draft folder. Not much use there.
As is evident from the first sentence, this was originally written a few days ago.

Today is the 3rd of January.
After the shops being shut for 2 days, (I know, the Swiss are a strange lot 😉 ) I thought I’d take some time to myself, take the train into town, sit in a café for a while and then mooch around the shops for a bit, if I could stand the crowds.

I needn’t have worried.  Although some of the bigger shops were open, and have sales on, most up to 50% off, the place was really quite empty.

I’ve never understood the desire of people to queue at 5am for the Next sale.  What makes Next so wonderful that you would disturb your sleep to go out in the cold just for a few things that you probably are only buying because they are a bargain?

But this was something else.  9am and there were only 2 other people in Starbucks.

And the Coop City wasn’t much better.  I was almost disappointed.  I’m not a fan of shopping.  I’m getting better at nick-nack shopping, and things-I-don’t-really-need shopping and I love food shopping but all other kinds leave me cold.

Still, I was disappointed that I didn’t have to get my elbows out.

I had sharpened them especially.


Do you resolve?*

I’ve always been a bit of a ‘bah humbug’ when it comes to New Year celebrations.  It started in my late teens when I was outraged at how much I had to pay to get into the local nightclub, pay for taxis etc for that one night.  After all, it was just that, right? Just another night in the year.

I wonder whether by putting so much emphasis on the turn of the year, we set ourselves up for failure.  Our ideas and dreams are grandiose, we publicly articulate our desires and although many of us joke that our resolutions will be broken by mid-January, we must be slightly disappointed when we fail, that we have let ourselves down in some way.

Of course, all of you may be completely happy and comfortable with the notion of resolutions, I’m overthinking it, and you’re all just thinking, WTF Clare?!

But what is so important about the changing of the date on a calendar?  Do we think about what our resolutions will be in say, mid-December, and then wait to begin them until the magical January 1st date?  Shouldn’t we just make the changes we want to be when we decide upon them?

A popular resolution is to lose weight, become more healthy.  After the excesses of Christmas this would seem like a good one, but a lot of the time we take draconian measures, banning this, that and the other from our lives and perhaps after a few weeks of having what we want, a better approach should be “A little of what you fancy” to ease you into it.

So, after that, have I made any resolutions? I know that I have weak resolve, I expect to fail, and therefore in my head I don’t want to choose anything that I want to succeed at, because I ‘know’ it won’t happen.
So, I want to learn how to drive a train in 2013. There, something I won’t mind if I fail at, but something that would be really cool if I actually did it.

In all seriousness, I had a bit of a tough time in 2012, which hasn’t really resolved itself now, so I think the only promise I want to make is that I will keep on looking after myself.

So, do you resolve?


*I’m aware that the verb ‘to resolve’ may be used in the wrong context here.  I apologise.  Engineering never really put much emphasis on written English.  If I’m wrong, I hope you know what I mean and will forgive me my error.