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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy New Year!

On the brink of a new year, here is what the end of the old finds us doing:

My oldest turned twelve, 12, ten and two more. She thinks she may want to be a vet most days, but the option of spy is also high on her list. In either case, she has decided that Spanish would be a good asset, so we are studying Spanish together. In the meantime, both she and her brother (now 10) have accepted a great lit challenge that I did not exactly issue, but suggested. They are both reading Dickens; Oliver Twist this month, and ds completed Plato's The Trial and Death of Socrates, Four Dialogues this week as well. If that all sounds very serious and academic, not to worry, they only spend about an hour or so a day with that particular activity!

Everyone is busy with their Christmas toys. Legos have kept some sequestered in their rooms building and rebuilding, especially no. 2 and 3. They have been building creative structures and very elaborate critters. The playroom houses block structures and a wooden castle. The basement has been turned into a gym and lots of time is spent down there with a new tumbling mat and music turned up till it hurts your ears. Outside, usually a favorite destination, has been a dubious one of late, with temperatures below freezing with a bitter wind or else in the 40s and raining. There were two days when it was too cold to stay out for more than 3 minutes, brave or not. Yesterday we came in completely soaked through all our winter layers with feet that required rubbing and rice warmers. At least we got in an hour's walk, but it was not the most fun walk in recent memory; if you weren't slipping on the ice build-up from weeks past, you were sloshing through running water, and getting rained on non-stop.

Our second daughter turned seven in November and insists on daily reading time with us both. She has scheduled her father for this during his vacation, and she and I have a standing 9am time to read. All her idea, she has decided she is too old not to be reading on her own, and is truly ready for the gift of reading from the Wise Sophia of her Waldorf book.* It has been very cute to see her work her way through the riddles, figure out the roman numeral system and learn her vowels. She and her sister can skip rope "like never so," and love to knit.

Little guy, but not the littlest, my four-year-old, is drawing real pictures and writing letters and has such a vocabulary he makes me laugh sometimes. He is all about knights and castles and being a hero against the bad guys. He does lovely cartwheels can sing any song he has heard once before.

Baby, now 19 months old, is a munchkin. He acts like a real little person, and can communicate almost everything he wants or needs quite clearly. And when that doesn't work, he gets your finger in a death grip and will lead you to where you need to be to see what he wants. He has a new word; en garde! And if there is a sword in his hand when he says it, you'd better take care. I have some worries about the situation, since he only says two words besides "Mama" and "Daddy," and they are "feu" or fire and "en garde." I trust this does not show a predisposition to a career in arson or violence, just natural boy curiosity from a third boy.

December has been a month of preparation of hearts and home for the holidays. We took break from a normal school schedule to decorate, bake and read Christmas stories together.

Other activities have continued, at home and out of it. The three oldest worked on a Christmas play for three months with their favorite director. The ten-year old has been playing hockey,(hockey?! Must have something to do with living in a land of snow and ice), and the girls have joined Girl Scouts. We have a darling four-year old who is a friend and has become part of our school day on Friday each week. She is apprenticing the French language with us. This has been great fun and encouraged all to remember to speak in French. She is a very quick learner and already knows a number of songs and expressions and how to count to twelve.

We have counted our blessings and look forward to a new year. Happy New Year to you all!



*A Journey Through Waldorf Homeschooling, grade one, Melisa Neilsen

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Recipe secrets too dark to share

I am waiting. I just slid the glutinous mass of flour, egg, sugar and sour cream into the freezer; a shortened version of "refrigerating for 3 hours," and the timer is set, things will be set in motion in just 30 minutes or so. But it will be later, when friends will taste what may be the lightest, fluffiest, most delicious sugar cookies they have ever had in their lives, that I will be obliged to make the big decision; to share or not to share the recipe. I don't think that I can, I don't believe I should.

This is a recipe capable of doing permanent damage. It can rip apart families; damage mother-daughter relationships, make a fool out of you in front of cousins or in-laws, stretch to the limit the love between a husband and wife. I have made my peace with it, I make the darn things, year after year, but this is the very first year I have been able to surrender to what I must have conveniently forgotten; what those cookies are going to put me through.

I woke up completely at peace with my project this morning. After attempting spritz with a cookie press last night, most likely nothing else could faze me. The dough would not come out of the cookies press. When the dough did come out, it stuck to the press and had to be scraped off with a knife, rendering the pressed image obsolete. I did refrigerate it, for a few days actually, between the first time I tried with limited success and this time. So I made a fresh, unrefrigerated batch of dough, at 8:00 at night, which is bedtime. I had promised the kids cookies. My husband is staring at me incredulously, and not in a good way, wanting to know what I am doing, not making more dough? What about the other dough?

The first disk I tried maybe wasn't the easiest, I went back to the Christmas tree. Still no luck. I simultaneously googled "cookie press instructions and called my mother. Online I read encouraging comments along the lines of, "I HATE MY COOKIE PRESS!" and; "Mine went to the trash man, and I put a hammer to it to avoid some poor other fool suffering the same fate." Hmmm, what had I gotten myself into. My mother came to the rescue with her observations of, "Your generation doesn't seem to have the same level of patience as mine had. Yes, they are a pain, you have to work with a press to get the hang of it. Grandma made even more types than I did; she would make wreaths with the ribbon-shaped one; around for a wreath, then a bow on top." I remembered them, they were even dyed; green for the wreath and red for the bow. That settled that. I loved both my mother and my grandmother, but I did not require some remnant from the 50's housewife era to make my time here on earth meaningful. I declared it a most unfortunate experiment and made the rest of the batch up as "smashed spritz," which consisted of pinching gobs of the stuff onto the baking stone and smashing them down a bit to look like what was coming out of the cookie press to start with.

But my epiphany came because there is more to it than that. I know that one person's nightmare is a labor of pure love for another. Each year up until now, these "fat sugar cookies," everyone's favorite, have been the bane of my holiday baking existence, yet the only ones anyone really wants to eat. They were always my favorites, so I guess I thought it only fair to share them with others.

The first attempt was made on a trip to Paris. I was visiting my husband to be who was working for a company there. We stayed with his uncle, aunt and their three young daughters. It was very kind of them to make room for us in their home and I wanted to do something nice in return. I had no job, no gifts, but I had my recipe with me. It was almost Christmas, and what could be better than cookies at that time of year.

I made a mess, a mess that took a long time to become a mess, and even longer to clean up. The sour cream was not the right consistency. Heck, it wasn't even sour cream, it was "creme fraiche," which technically means the exact opposite of sour cream. I had no Crisco, no experience with making this recipe, and no pastry cutter to at least get things moving in the right direction. Years later, I would also discover, via the wisdom of the great Julia Child, that the very consistency of French flour is different than American flour, and the percentage of fat in American butter also differs, which means recipe modifications beyond my wildest imagination.

The year my mother tried to teach me to make them we will leave out of this discussion.

I would eventually figure out a version of these that worked in France, still no pastry cutter, and make them year after year. I made them in a tiny toaster oven, six at a time, all for love. Each year it was a struggle. Each year I would threaten to throw the whole thing out the window as the dough warmed up and became stickier and stickier, then more and more full of flour to compensate.

Now that I have a great big ol' American oven, and a pastry cutter, and even shortening, life is pretty luxurious, but these fat sugar cookies are still a thorn in my holiday-baking side! I guess it's time to go unwrap the dough and get started. The recipe? A family secret, I'm sorry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Twenty years

I have known my love for twenty years today. We met and fell instantly into something like infatuation within minutes on a rainy December 10th in France, twenty years ago. I walked in the door, he walked out, holding out his hand to his father for the car keys. Later that night at dinner, with the entire family present, as well as a few guests, things heated up, talk about a public courtship! But it was France and flirting was standard in this cozy atmosphere.

Dinner was a cheese fondue, and of course, if you drop your bread in the fondue, you have to take a dare. As a novice fondue participant, I dropped most of my bread into the pot with each try. The naughty dare was issued but not seized upon; "you have to sleep with me." It was all in jest, mostly, at least for that night.

And then, five years later, we were married, not far from that first meeting, in the town hall of a village that is so tiny it can't even be granted the title of "town." Many addresses, fifteen years and five children wealthier, we are celebrating.

Happy Anniversary, mon amour!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mini Christmas revolt

For all the poor Francophiles out there, affected by a decision of the French justice to shut down websites with lyrics to songs in French (which I discovered this morning while innocently looking up the words to "Silent Night" to make sure I got them right when I was teaching my little French citizen-abroad children the words to a classic Christmas tune), HERE ARE THE WORDS:

(I wonder if they can shut down my blog from France?)

Peace and blessings to you all in this Advent season,

from the snowy Midwest, to the tune of what we call, Silent Night, here is:

Paroles Chants de Noel Douce nuit, sainte nuit lyrics

Douce nuit, sainte nuit !

Dans les cieux ! L'astre luit.

Le mystère annoncé s'accomplit

Cet enfant sur la paille endormi,

C'est l'amour infini ! {x2}



Saint enfant, doux agneau !

Qu'il est grand ! Qu'il est beau !

Entendez résonner les pipeaux

Des bergers conduisant leurs troupeaux

Vers son humble berceau ! {x2}



C'est vers nous qu'il accourt,

En un don sans retour !

De ce monde ignorant de l'amour,

Où commence aujourd'hui son séjour,

Qu'il soit Roi pour toujours ! {x2}



Quel accueil pour un Roi !

Point d'abri, point de toit !

Dans sa crèche il grelotte de froid

O pécheur, sans attendre la croix,

Jésus souffre pour toi ! {x2}



Paix à tous ! Gloire au ciel !

Gloire au sein maternel,

Qui pour nous, en ce jour de Noël,

Enfanta le Sauveur éternel,

Qu'attendait Israël ! {x2}

Paroles soumises aux droits d'auteur. Ces paroles de chansons sont réservées à un usage privé ou éducatif.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First snow

I awoke this morning to the magical scene of our first snow of the year covering the ground and still falling, all was still. Upon opening the drapes to better enjoy the vision, I found a possum, eye to eye with me, just as surprised as I, who made his way, widdle-waddle, around the back porch, to the gate, then up, and wiggled his way back down. It was wonderland.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A BOOK REVEIW

Today I am doing a book reveiw on a book that I have read at least six times. It is called Harriet the spy, and I love it. I have also read Harriet spys again. Read this book!

Cate,

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Season of Autumn

It's here, autumn and woolens and tea cosies (I just made my first one!) and fires in the hearth...our favorite season, a prelude to winter days and Christmas. The candles are out and burning, the leaves decorate our windows, the weather is cooler, and I am grateful.

Here is baby in his gnome hat I knit for a Halloween disguise.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

 
 
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Unschooling Meets Waldorf

*Respect for the child and observation of his needs, sensitivity to developmental stages, trust in her capacity to learn and grow and lots of love have been the basis of our “educational programming,” since our children were born. Homeschooling made sense to me on this deepest level and unschooling followed naturally. *


“I want to know exactly what I need to do every day so that I can finish it and get on with my life.”


My oldest daughter, having reached the ripe old age of ten, finally eclipsed both of her parents in the organization department. Her room was neat, her work was neat, her ideas about what she wanted and did not want to do were clear. Her request could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather.


At heart, I am an unschooler. I chose to homeschool because it meant following my instinct. I get to spend the "good" part of the day with my children (as opposed to the grumpy morning and worn-out afternoon hours before dinner). We learn together and explore the world and its wonders. Always before, our days consisted of reading aloud, taking nature hikes, sailing, camping, baking and cooking together. We dabbled in art and music. Occasionally, a math panic set in, and for half an hour or so a day, my kids did math problems. It worked, we lived in bliss, sibling rivalry and housework excepting.


So my daughter's request was devastating, what did it mean? Was I really coercing her into learning that meant nothing more to her than a to-do check list each morning? Was she only participating in order to please us and to be left in peace afterwards? And I thought our way of life was so relaxed and informal. Discussion time, and many weeks of it, followed. It turns out she thinks right now that she really wants to go to college some day, and would like to have the skills to do so, because her dream of working as a waitress at Village Inn and letting Mama have her breakfast free each day has been replaced by jobs requiring higher learning; detective, veterinarian, librarian. She also wanted to expedite the work to be done in an efficient manner, thus leaving the rest of the day “free.” I felt better, a bit. I also felt sick to my stomach. I was expecting our fifth child and my energy level was at an all-time low.. My five-year old daughter wanted to read and “do math” as did the toddler who had become a two year old. My eight year old son did not want to do anything ever that one of us might have suggested he do. They were all quite vocal in expressing their desires. Our peaceful reading sessions had turned into situations requiring the negotiation skills of a union labor dispute specialist. Nothing felt right and it was all awfully noisy. I needed help.


I knew what I was looking for. We already had a daily and a weekly timetable consisting of hours during which we read together, did math, painted or played music. I did not need curriculum as much as I needed to bring intentionality to the moment; I wanted the moments we did spend together to be good on purpose.


I thought of my friends who had either put their children in Waldorf schools or "did Waldorf at home." They all had such very interesting lives; festivals and feasts, putting on plays, taking trips. I researched further. I found much that I liked. First an emphasis on the natural world. Perfect! Then on world cultures; teaching little ones through stories, verses and celebrating festivals from different cultures throughout the year. And finally, on handwork; knitting (right up my alley!) as a precursor to reading and then as a life skill to develop and expand upon, painting and music. There is also an emphasis on limiting access to media; television, computers and video games. That approach reflects my own philosophy. So it was that we looked to Waldorf for inspiration and eventually time management techniques to help us on our homeschooling adventure.


I spent hours online, looking at sample curricula from various publishers.. I talked to my good friend, Elizabeth, mother of three homeschooled children “extraordinare,” to find out what she thought. She knows me well. “You know, you can go ahead and buy a program, but that is not going to turn you into someone who will use it on a regular basis.” Harsh, but true. “If I were you, I'd skip the curriculum and buy the art supply list, that looks like a lot more fun.” I was not getting any closer to my goal.


I went back online. I unearthed more resources and checked out books from the library recommended for further information on both theory and activities. I read Rhamina Baldwin, Melisa Nielsen, Donna Simmons, and Barbara Dewey. I smiled with Betty Jones, I read Steiner. I found a marvelous world of beloved childhood, of observation, really looking at children to find out where they might be in their voyage and finding the way to meet them at that point and accompany them. Fairy tales, festivals and imagination form the basis for everything, how marvelous! This Steiner guy really knew his stuff.


I came up with a plan of action. I would not go with a packaged curriculum. Instead, I chose to work with a Waldorf homeschool consultant. What a cool concept! An expert, who would not judge us for our shortcomings, and who was in sync with our way of doing things, available for questioning all year long, both by phone and by email. There are quite a few offering their services, and after much debate, we found someone whose life experiences and views on family coincided most closely with our own. She has helped me explore the aspects of Waldorf and become more organized. Her plan “adds rhythm to the existing structure.” Our yearly rhythm is enhanced by celebrating more festivals throughout each season. Our monthly rhythm is enhanced by our chosen topic. Our weekly rhythm is enhanced by designating days for certain lessons or activities. Our daily lives are lent order by a morning routine. Our consultant has provided a precious perspective from a distance. She has been a source of novel suggestions and encouraging words in the face of bad days and disheartening moments.


I began this quest for the sake of my eldest, but I discovered a daily ritual that would help the youngest first, with the incorporation of circle time. We come together after breakfast and a walk to do movement to verses and rhymes, whole body and finger plays, and perhaps sit-ups or yoga (something for everyone!) Circle time for the older ones is a gathering, around a candle for us, in order to share, thoughts, gratitude, verses and whatever else one wishes to put into it. In our family, it has become a daily moment of sharing joys and sorrows. The youngest one has been happy about the pool and sad about his shot (a rare immunization, he still doesn't understand why) for the past five weeks. The older ones sometimes use it to vent. Sometimes we switch to appreciation, focusing on the positive and how fortunate we are instead of becoming mired in the complaints. It is also a lesson in reverence for this special ceremony each morning and a lesson in respect for one another. We continue in this moment to recite a poem together, and maybe work on math facts; tossing a bean bag back and forth between each line or math question; this has worked well for memorization work.


We set up a nature table near our meeting spot, to treasure the highlights of the season and allow for hands-on exploration of rock and shell collections that were previously in a cupboard or on display up high. A Waldorf nature table is a reflection of the season and of the four kingdoms.


I had a sweet baby boy in May, and then spent the summer reading, dreaming and scheming. We began our journey of intentionality; inviting friends over to celebrate obscure and well-known festivals; anyone up for a lantern walk for Martinmas? A bonfire and marshmallow roast for the summer solstice? Poems about nature and the seasons have become part of our circle. We've learned some new knitting stitches. Each day we read and illustrate stories from the Old Testament, Grimm's Fairy tales, and folk tales and legends from the world over. Daily walks happen, lessons are planned, written down and followed through upon.


I have to admit though, that by February, the whole three different lessons per day went right out the window. In the middle of the dreaded math block we took a week off and started over.


However, the dreaded math block was lovely; truly! It has to be the biggest triumph of this whole experience. We had fun, we built, measured, drew pretty designs, and learned stuff (to misquote David Albert). Following Eric Fairman of Australia's suggestions, we took a walk through measuring history (third grade) and the history of geometry (fifth grade). We were all fascinated, entertained and enlightened. Our very first project was to explore biblical measurements, tying in with Old Testament studies and farming. We used our thumbs to measure out twelve “inches” or “thumbs” translated from French. We decided we'd better come up with a standard “thumb unit” before making our own rulers. So we found that Mama's was the closest to what looked like a standard inch and used it to mark off twelve units on a stick. We measured the room, the backyard, and Noah's ark; 300 cubits! It just happened to be a rare, rare day in January in Iowa when the temperature hit 50 degrees. We set out to see just how big this ark might have been, and were amazed when two hours later we found that it spanned from one end of a city block to another; eight houses and garages long. The baby was snug in a carrier, the younger two played happily on their bikes, and my older son and daughter measured. The best part of planning on purpose a math block was the opportunity it afforded me. Math-phobic since my algebra days in high school, I had many issues to work through. As parents, we inevitably communicate our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes to our children. I did not want to be the source of an inane math aversion for my kids. Waldorf's “whole to parts” way of approaching math was healing to me.


When it became clear that I was over extending by attempting to read every single lesson aloud with each child each day, we chose to modify our schedule a bit. The children and I sat down and looked at what was on our schedule for the rest of the year. We extracted the elements we most loved and were interested in. Then we looked at a way to proceed that would best meet the needs of our family. We are currently exploring China together, then on to Greece. Sometime in May we will return to botany and farming via our family vegetable plot. We love our newfound world of Waldorf. For us, it fits right in with our unschooling ways. Things have not changed so much after all. The basic structure remains the same; read, draw, paint, bake, innovate, celebrate.



First published in the September-October 2008 edition of Home Education Magazine




Resources:

(1); A Journey Through Waldorf Homeschooling, Grade One, Melisa Nielsen, (part of a series of guides per grade for homeschoolers wishing to explore Waldorf, that cover preschool to grade five, currently. Blog: alittlegardenflower.blogspot.com)


_homeschoolingwaldorf@yahoogroups.com _ (a lively online discussion group for homeschoolers)

Christopherushomeschool.org (a website by a family in Wisconsin, who writes books for use by homeschoolers and runs online seminars, Donna has written a lovely book on Nature Studies, among others)

alittlegardenflower.com (a website that includes a radio program, a weekly newsletter full of tips, and ideas for fun lessons, crafts, etc., run by Melisa Nielsen, author of the aforementioned grade by grade guides, and the person who accepted the task of homeschool consultant for our family this year.)

waldorfwithoutwalls.com (by Barbara Dewey, a well-known expert on Waldorf, author of many books, speaker and consultant for homeschooling families)

waldorfbooks.com (this is Bob and Nancy's Bookshop; to obtain Waldorf-related materials; books, anthologies and videos)


_http://www.waldorflessonplans.com/_ (one of a number of resources from Kristie Karima Burns, author and naturalist, Kristie has excellent videos on many topics, from home organization to creating homeopathic candy. She speaks on Waldorf in the home and temperament and Waldorf all over the country.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Small requests

My four-year-old, also child number four in the line-up of the family, is a source of many joys and laughs. He is a gentle soul, in the midst of some rather out-spoken souls that abound in our house. He sort of knows his place in life and stays there. His way of phrasing requests attests to that. Before using the potty the other day, he stuck his head in the kitchen to ask:

-Mommy, can you wipe me, when you're done doing, ah, everything?

At other times, he insists on his share of affection, like at bedtime the other night. We were having our good night hug and he did not let go. He said;

-Hug me forever.

I said, sure, and held on, knowing a good thing when I saw it. As we were into our long-term cuddle, he added;

-Hug me forever, let go for breakfast/lunch/dinner/supper and then let's hug again.

My answer:

-OK!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Edible USA

We had a really fun geography experience this weekend. The idea is
not my own, it comes from an article in Home Education Magazine
(Nov.-Dec.2007) by Audrey M. Smith, titled "Incredible Edible Maps."
We hand-drew outlines of the US, made chocolate chip cookie dough
without the chips, and the kids formed the dough into a giant map of
the US. After it was baked, we filled in the details: blue frosting
lines for rivers and lakes, candy kisses for the Rocky Mountains,
chocolate chips for the Appalachians, gummy snakes for the desert,
gummy fish for coastlines. circles and stars cut out of gum drops for
towns and capitals we wanted to mark, potatoes carved out of tootsie
rolls for Idaho, candy corn for Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas, gummy
bear heads atop chocolate chips for Mt.Rushmore, etc. Use your
imagination. To make it big enough, we removed a tray from the oven,
covered it with aluminum foil, and formed the map directly on it. We
foil-covered Florida and other fragile points to avoid burning. It
needed to bake for 15-20 minutes.

It was so much fun that we have decided to do one for our study on
South America, and then maybe for Europe and Asia and Africa and
Australia and Guatamala and Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso and Germany
and...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Michaelmas follies

 
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Michaelmas

 
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Celebrating the festival of Michaelmas

OK, so this does not look like a celebration held in a decorous and reverent fashion, but it was a celebration in good fun, this was the play part of our day. The kids, familiar with the story of St.George and the dragon, headed to the basement to find costumes and rehearse a play they invented. It was hysterically funny, and a little wild.

Then children and adults alike came together for a time of verses and breaking bread together; pumpkin bread, and cookies and lemonade. They went outside to play and we followed to sit at the table and yack all afternoon.

A special thanks goes out to our friends who joined us who are new to the festival and who participated wholeheartedly and did not even let on that they found the whole thing a little...new.

Crocodile Museum

 
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Dubuque Crocodile Museum

 
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Dubuque Crocodile Museum

Officially, it is not called the Crocodile Museum, it is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa. And there are no crocodiles, just three alligators. But for Charles, the idea of a crocodile is just too cool, and he will always call this the crocodile museum. He and his siblings have been visiting since he was a baby, but this was a field trip with our school district. What a wonderful way to partner with the school system. The folks at the HSAP (homeschool assistance program) went to great lengths to make it possible for entire families to make the trip together, we thank our chauffeur and the event planners.

They had so much fun, and the adults got a chance to talk all the way there and back, so it was a great day for all. We saw giant catfish, otters, a huge tortise and lots more. The day was perfect, so we had lunch out on the deck, and grama and grandpa even stopped by to say hello while we were in town.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not Back to School

My favorite season is upon us; cooling temperatures, earlier nights, candles on the dinner table...and fresh pencils, paints, erasers and notebooks! Not to mention good books, beeswax, crayons and yarn. I have stopped questioning the whys of the conditioning that makes some of us school-supply and lesson-plan crazy at this time each year. It just is.

So two weeks into our "school" year, here is what has been happening around our home. We are focusing on North America this month, looking at maps of our area, of the country and the continent, drawing and coloring them and adding information in each child's area of study. The eldest has chosen the Crow Indians to map and study, from a historical perspective, as well as continuing her interest in healing herbs to learn about ones traditionally used by this people. The ten-year old is mapping his favorite poisonous bugs, and looking at the relationship formed between the land they live in, the plants and the people they eat, bite and interact with.

Everyone is doing a bit of math each day, to keep stretch their skills just a little after a summer of mere practice.

We're reading books (picture and longer) on N.America: "Aunt Minnie McGranahan" by Mary Skillings Prigger, "The Boston Tea Party" by Steven Kroll, "Carry on Mr.Bowditch" by Jean Lee Latham and "Indian Captive" by Lois Lenski, to name a few. We are still finishing up Missee Lee, a Swallows and Amazons adventure featuring six sailing children. (And taking advantage of this to work in latitude and longitude and prevailing winds and using a sextant to navigate by.) We will do a brief timeline of US history to keep and fill in as we come across other events later in the year.

We have learned or listened to some great autumn poems and verses, taken nature walks, and reveled in the crisp fall days that have begun.

We have also had days of cuddling up by the fire with knitting and a book on tape to enjoy.

My six-year old daughter and I are reading "The Mary Frances Book of Crocheting and Knitting," as she learns to knit and crochet. She is making a pink scarf for her dolly.

The two eldest received their new penny whistles the other day and have practiced for hours on end ever since.

We have been to visit a friend who fell and is recouping in a nursing home, and another who moved into an independent living home. We attended our library's carnival and plan to take in the Moon Festival there, complete with Vietnamese dancers and Chinese musicians, on Sunday. We have been to the Not-Back-to-School Potluck with our wonderful park day homeschool group. We met with the knitters at church today.

The three older kids have begun their theatre rehearsal again, and are thrilled beyond belief to be back in this group, Charles loves his movie and popcorn time each week while they're gone.

It's a great start to the year.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Lighting a candle

There are many reasons we light candles in our house. All of them go back to my mother who loves candles for their light and beauty and my grandmother who lit them for a reason. For each birthday and each feast day, or times when I was going through something hard, I would get a card from Grama to let me know she had lit a candle for me at mass that morning. Today, as each year on this day, I light a candle in her memory on her birthday. I light it in joy, for the life she lived and the love she brought to the world. I light it also in sorrow, for the very short time she spent on earth.

As a child, to me, my grama was perfect. She was patient, she was soft-spoken, she was gentle and she was beautiful. She was devoted to God and the Catholic church she called home. She went to daily mass at six, read poetry at twilight in the back yard, always had a ready supply of red licorice and diet soda (so as not to rot your teeth), and took me along on her daily bike ride in the summer. She brought to me the love of Robert Frost, nature and Brussel sprouts.

Even today, the standards she set are the ones I aspire to; on good days! Her soft-spoken nature has never been as big a part of my make-up as I would like it to be, her patience still costs me all the strength I have to even begin to emulate. But, walks in nature; in the woods or by the river, are top on our to-do list. I start my day before the family gets up with my own special kind of devotion and praise. Reading poetry is a daily affair in our family, and as for Brussel sprouts; well, I cook them and the kids snub them, but I may yet prevail!

Acceptance and love are the feelings I felt always radiating from my grama. I am pretty sure that she would not necessarily approve of my alternative spiritual ideology today, but she would still approve of me. She would continue to let me know that I really ought to try to be more patient, in an oh-so-quiet way, and she would continue to light a candle for me on each special day.

I light one today for her, Grama Rand.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rats

Rats, lots of people think, are nasty little beasts that carry sicknesses wherever they go. This is partly true. In the middle ages millions of people died because of rats. However, today rats are considered as one of the smartest and cleanest animals on earth. They also make very good starter pets. They are small, clean, non smelling, do not take up a lot of space, and are not very expensive. I highly recommend them as a pet to a child like me. I got a rat for my ninth birthday. Now I am eleven and have a rat. But it is not my first. Rats only live up to two to three years.

Living with a rat.

It was my ninth birthday. I had gotten a white girl rat that I named Socks Elisabeth Chenus. I kept her in my room and soon found out I was allergic to her. But, by then I loved her too much to get rid of her. So, I sneezed, and rubbed my itchy eyes and I got through the asthma attacks. I taught my rat to come to me, I potty trained her, and we became the best of friends. When my rat died on November 16th, almost two years old I was very sad. Until I got Al.



Caitlin

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gael in cardigan knit in Cascade Bollicine Dolly

 
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Knitting: yarn advice 101 needed!

As if it weren't enough to be on the verge of a 20-year high school reunion that for some reason I have decided to attend (having never been to any of the other reunions, I don't see why I chose this particular one to show up at, must be nostalgia due to age or senility, due to same), I have also decided to knit myself a little something to wear for it. The little something being the "Lacy Hug Me Tight" from "Knit Two Together". You can view it here: pretty_ing.blogspot.com/2007/04/fo-lacy-hug-me-tight.html. That took long enough to decide, now for the yarn...

Help! The pattern is a fitted shrug; holey but fitted. The yarn called for is Blue Sky Alpacas Alpaca Silk. So why not use that? 1)I have my doubts about its form-keeping abilities. 2)I need to stick to my self-designated budget, (be good, be good, be good), so I am considering two yarns from Knit Picks for the project: Shine Sport and Andean Treasure.

Andean Treasure would be my first choice, except that it is baby alpaca and it might be itchy, and would hold its shape? And how does it do after washing and wearing in the long run? I made a fantastic pair of socks for my husband out of really nice baby alpaca, but they are so warm they should have a warning on them and they itch me, sensitive me, silly me. This will be the first time I knit something for myself. I have four sweaters to make for my munchkins (because I said I would), so I don't want to mess around with a project that will look shabby six months from now. Anyone knit with this? How did it keep its shape? How would it feel on bare shoulders?

Shine Sport seems like a shoe-in, since it is half cotton, half modal. However, I have read on one review that it sheds "little shards" when knit, that can irritate hands as much as wool. Yikes, this sounds alarming! Personally, I can knit with wool just fine, I just have a problem wearing it. I also read that the Shine wears and washes fairly well, at least in small garments. Any experience with knitting this? And with adult-sized garments?

Last of all, are there other yarns you would recommend for this project? Keeping in mind budget, shape-holding and itchiness, thanks!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Clean laundry

Aaaah, were it only enough for it to be clean. Clean I can handle; sorted, washed, dryed, even on the line. Folded even, is not too bad, since it is either a quick load in front of the machine (me) or folded for me in front of the tv at night (dh). But getting it all back to where it needs to go...even the fly lady can't help us here.

It doesn't help that the children keep switching rooms. They do it when we are not looking, they do it at nap time, they do it when I am typing, folding wash, giving birth; any time my attention is occupied elsewhere. We have discouraged, forbidden, ranted, about this habit, but they will do it. I wouldn't mind if they just slept in another room and left everything, but each time it is a whole new interior decorating project. I find closets half-way refurbished, clothes in transit, clothes under beds, in the hallway. It can take days to get everything all sorted out again.

Cate is 11 now, going on 12, and very organized, very neat, has a very hard time not micro-managing the rest of us. Duncan and Valentine have my creative tendencies, things need to find their place, rather than being dictated a spot. Charles still does what he is led to do, Gael is barely walking, so he is basically an ambulatory mess machine. Between the five of them and their socks, life if crazy.

We have taken measures over the years to simplify the whole process. Beds are European-easy; everyone gets one fitted sheet and a comforter covered with a duvet cover made of soft cotton, both are washed each week. This greatly reduces bed-making time and untidiness. All they have to do is vaguely toss the comforter in the right direction and straighten out the corners a little.

They all know how to fold wash, and I plan to take this one step further when I buy baskets for each bedroom. Too bad for separating darks and whites. I am going to throw each room's basket in the machine and then back in the room to be folded (at least by everyone over 8).

How about you? What ingenious laundry solutions have you found for your household? Please do share and get me out from under this pile of wash!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Living with a cockatiel


During the short period of time that I had my bird, we were very good friends. I got him for my eleventh birthday after saving enough money to buy the cage, food, and toys witch cost $200. The bird itself was $150. My parents paid for that. I named him : Alestor Socks Harry James Potter Albus Madeye. I got him after my ninth birthday present, a much loved, and very old girl rat named socks died a few months before. We called him Al because his real name was to long to use all the time. His cage was over four feet tall and very hard to clean for an eleven year old. A bird is very hard to potty train, and I'm sorry to say that his life was over before he got the hang of it. Most cockatiels live up to about fifteen years, but they can live up to twenty five. My cockatiel however was a whiteface and they are generally more susceptible to birth defects. Mine had a hart problem. I was able to command my bird to step up on my finger when I said step up. He would sit on my shoulder and lean his head down to rub it against my neck. Me and my bird had a wonderful time together. But, on February 13 2008 he died. The vet did a free autopsy, and we found out that he was born with an over large hart. It was a happy adventure with a sad ending. At the time I did not know that it would lead me to another great adventure: mammito.


Caitlin, Tuesday, March 25th



Saturday, August 2, 2008

 
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Fasting, motherhood and the world

I have decided I prefer the term "fasting" to describe the experience of subsisting on water and lemon juice. It evokes the great spiritual traditions of Native Americans who journeyed into a land of holy trances and visions deep in the woods as well as Gandhi, objecting to the world's injustices. The mystical Orient with its melange of great luxury and austere deprivation holds great appeal for us in the highly antiseptic, neon-lit, edged-lawn-owner West. I am well aware that 24 hours of food abstinence does not begin to qualify as a spiritual experience, I don't even feel light-headed yet, but my perception has changed subtly overnight.

At 24 hours; the carpet felt softer under my feet walking down the steps. The morning air felt cooler and was a welcome vision of green and gold through the trees. I felt lighter, less distracted by the superficial, the unnecessary.

What am I hoping to gain? Certainly not saintly visions or voices-they would cart me off in a hurry. I am hoping for a purity of perception, to reconnect with what is vital. To let the ensnaring strings of modern life float away and find the root of necessity once again. To renew my faith in the beautiful, the light. I want the things that keep me from being kind and composed to fall away forever. I want my children to find a mother who is serene, tranquil and happy, yet efficient, energetic and ready to listen, play or meet whatever the occasion calls for.

Darn, I am afraid it would take more than four days of fasting for all this! But let us keep the faith and give an update tomorrow.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Cleanse

It's time to cleanse, a practice my chiropractor insists upon once of year or so, when I am not pregnant or nursing a newborn, which really limits the time frame for someone in my advanced condition of motherhood! Five babies in ten years and two babies that weren't, poor little angels...that has not given me a wide window for cleansing. Add to that the fact that in the past I have been a whiner and felt miserable (like everyone else) when on a cleanse, and it all adds up to something I have not often indulged in.

So here we go. I am posting to oblige myself to some measure of accountability. If all million regular readers of my blog ask me how my cleanse is going, I will be more likely to stick to it during day two and three when I am longing for a doughnut, a slice of leftover foie gras, or just a bowl of dry Cheerios.

Why cleanse? My chiropractor takes one look at my eczema that is driving me mad and pronounces "yeast." She always says "yeast" to me. What reassures me is that she always says "dehydrated" to one of my friends, so at least this is not a "one-size-fits-all" solution. Then comes the dreaded word: "cleanse." And she walks out of the room.

Now, dear reader, if you are also a mother of five or four, three, two , one, or even just living with a room mate who loves to eat, you will understand the particular pressure and temptation of preparing meals three times a day and snacks in-between while conscientiously drinking your lemon-juice or water or whatever you have chosen as a weapon. We really like to eat in our family. It is more than a hobby, it is an obsession. We spend hours dreaming up menus, looking up recipes and cooking. Last night was our 15 year wedding anniversary. We created a feast, a lovely feast, with foie gras from France, a salmon terrine from fresh salmon, fresh cream, a mushroom/egg/cream tartelette, and a green salad tossed with balsamic wine vinegrette and garlic croutons made from homemade bread, all in delicate portions, served beautifully (by my husband), and accompanied by a light rose wine. Dessert was a new cream cheese brownie recipe from Joy of Baking.com, that I have perfected my making it three times in the last week, a true delight to behold, even better to taste. Despite this, it is fairly easy to be disciplined in this respect, once I have made up my mind to do it.

What is harder is the lack of energy and lethargy that kicks in on days two and three. I have not attempted this for years, so my body has forgotten how awful I will feel tomorrow...I will give you an update then. For now, I am a happy day one, hour one cleanser, drinking my happy water.

I'll check in tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Learning all life long

Learning is not something that begins and ends in school, quite the contrary. Here is a little list of my favorite lessons from the past year or so.

It will always be more tempting to go back to sleep than to get up at five am. On the other hand, I will never regret getting up, once I am out of bed. (One foot at a time, one eye at a time.)

Life is enriched and made more beautiful by starting the day with a simple "thank you."

Babies, planned or not, will always be a source of love, joy, lovely smells, cuddles, sweet nights and days of giggles, spills and sticky kisses. There's nothing like a baby in your life to warm it up and reveal the beauty of life again. And there is nothing like a child to reveal all of the wonder you may have forgotten is in the world, or to ask you probing questions that awaken your curiosity again.

This does not mean that everyone should go out and have their own baby today. You may want to just go sniff someone else's for a minute. One must be reasonable and know when to say enough babies. (And that, I'm afraid, is a lesson I will never learn!)

Meditation, taking time to be, to remember that we are human beings and not human doings, has also made an intense difference in my quality of life. This time of quiet, not of reflection, but of inner stillness, requires more discipline from me than an intense housecleaning session or a run in the heat (probably my two least favorites.) Meditation, for us utilitarians, does not give one a sense of having accomplished anything measurable by society's standards; no work was done, no calories burned, no stitches knit in that time. The worth is there nonetheless, patient, biding its time as a bulb in the winter, growing stronger with tending and watering.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Tribute to Tasha Tudor, who passed away June 18, 2008 at the age of 92.

No one asks anymore, but if they did, I would say that when I grow up I want to be Tasha Tudor. This great lady passed away yesterday, but leaves in her stead such a legacy that she will be remembered for moons upon moons to come.

Each one who loved Tasha Tudor will have their own memories of her. It may be that what you remember about Tasha are her fabulous, magical gardens, beautiful beyond compare. It could be her lovely books, with their flowered and ribboned borders and irresistible characters are your favorite. It might be the way she lived and dressed, farming as though it were still the 1830's; knitting by firelight, spinning, weaving and stitching her own period clothing. Or yet again the wondrous toys she created and played with; her puppets, animals and doll houses.

Her elegance of spirit and simplicity of life are an inspiration to many. Her unwavering belief in her vision allowed her to live passionately and fully. Her disregard for what the world said or did meant her focus stayed true. Her farmhouse, carefully reconstructed and allowed to age gracefully, was a reflection of the path of her life.

She accomplished more in a year than some of us do in a lifetime. This, I think, is what leaves us the most perplexed; how did she do all of the things she did? As a mother of small children, I marvel at how she simultaneously farmed, wrote and illustrated books, tended her beautiful garden, raised her four children and created elaborate doll worlds and many celebrations for them.

Her secret, I believe, comes back to her passion for all she did. She loved what she did and worked in joy and love. Allowing yourself to work on the things you love, along with diligence and patience, will yield better results than any forceful running about to fulfill someone else's "to do" list.

I light a candle to the memory of Tasha today and pledge to live this day to my fullest. Today I will remain true to my love of peace and beauty, of creating a good home for my family. I will pursue my passions, nurture those of my children and enjoy each sip of my tea.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cockatiels

Cockatiels are the second most popular pet birds in the world. They are very beautiful too. They can often be taught to talk and whistle tunes. When you buy a cockatiel, make sure its eyes are clear and bright, its feathers are smooth, shiny, dry, clean, and lay flat on its body. Its beak should be smooth and well shaped, its nostrils clear and clean. Twenty inches by twenty inches is the bare minimum for a cage. Seeds, pellets, and fresh fruits and vegetables are a good diet. Hard boiled eggs can be fed sometimes. Cockatiels are less noisy than other birds and are good with small children. Bird names that I have thought of were: Jasper, Harry Potter, Ron Weasly, Ginny, Luna Lovegood, Madeye, and Voldemort. Poisons for birds: bleach, ammonia, oven cleaner, glue, nail polish remover, paint, perfume, heavy metal, lead, and zinc. Sugar, salt, fatty foods, and chocolate is very bad for birds. Electric cords, ceiling fans, windows, doors, and mirrors are also deadly to birds.

Caitlin, Tuesday, March 25th.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The first moment

"That sounds very waldorfy honey..." - I wondered if she was serious, then I realized the tone of her voice. I think the kids will enjoy posting about their homeschool journey, about history, history of China, Greece; about their pet rats maybe, or about math.

Hmph, talk about being coerced into a writing project! I guess it's my turn. I am Mama, of these five marvelous beings, wife to the funny guy making statements I need to refute lest I be labeled "anti-family project" and blogging is not quite my thing. Computers are not my thing, technology is not my thing. My dream would be to be Tasha Tudor, living her life, pretending it was still 1830. A farm somewhere, wonderfully isolated, milking my own goats and cows, growing flowers and vegetables, canning my own produce. Knitting by the fireside, baking and cooking, reading for days on end, writing to "keep the wolf from the door", that would be the life.

However, in the name of family unity, I am willing to attempt blogging; even though the very sound of the word is offensive!

Our family journey is largely of the learning and living together type. We speak both French and English, having our roots both in France and in Iowa. We already live, in great part, our ideal lives. We read a lot, especially in front of the fire in unpleasant weather. We take frequent walks in nature, sail the Mississippi (don't laugh, it's quite large where we live!) We're building a canoe in the garage, and we enjoy gardening, cooking and baking together. In the past year we have come to include a new level of structure to our day, this in order to accommodate life with a new family member. Our darling baby number five arrived in May of '07, and I felt that something needed to change or chaos would take over the household.

In our great voyage into the unknown waters of more structured learning, we found that the world of Waldorf met ours halfway. It has opened doors to a harmonious way to begin the day on a positive note. We come together to light a candle, share our joys, sorrows and a poem or two. Waldorf has validated my love of knitting and baking, making them suddenly bona fide avenues of learning. It has introduced many festivals throughout the year, and more festivals mean more fun, as well as more reasons to read up on other cultures and civilizations. It has also meant the discovery of fascinating math projects that we have incorporated with joy, instead of the dread that used to accompany "math time" at home. My meditation and yoga practices come under the category of "inner work". I tend to make more time for them, since their immediate impact on my family and our learning together are clearer.

Thierry, Angela

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I'm a musician!

If your in-laws have recently arrived for a month-long visit and your house is topsy-turvey, or if the scale says you've put on five pounds though you've been dieting for the past two weeks, if you can't draw to save your life and your last cake fell because you can't bake either...here is an instant confidence-booster:

Learn to play the recorder. Right now. In about five minutes. Then go play a song. It feels great!

I have been procrastinating. For about a year. Since adopting many Waldorf ways to our home setting a year or so ago, I have been avoiding the recorder. Waldorf schools begin their day in singing or playing the recorder. Doesn't that sound lovely? I would love to start our days in music, but poetry is as close as we were coming, and that was pretty good. Besides, I had to master it myself before I could teach the children, and I simply had no time for one more thing. Sure, my daughter taught herself and my husband can pick it up and play it. And once upon a time I played it as a small child with my mother's tutelage. The plan was to work on it some day, when I had a minute, and "layer it in" as our homeschool consultant advises of each new endeavor.

I checked out a book on flutes and recorders from the library. Yesterday, with hubby and parents out of the house, I picked up the once-renewed, about-to-be-due book, turned to the finger chart and played through the exercises on the first page. Then I zipped through the second, third and last page and thought; huh, I can do this. I pulled the only recorder book I could find off the shelf; a Christmas duet book I'd ordered a few years ago when my dd decided she would learn recorder. It is May and I know we have other recorder books somewhere in this playroom, but I was not about to argue with fate or reorganize my library. Ten minutes later I was playing "Away in a Manger."

Victory! My kind of instrument!

Yes, friend, you too can play music, you too can make melodious your household each morning...Karen Carpenter was right...and even if you cannot and should not sing (like me), you can play the recorder. Go on, find yourself a $2.50 recorder (rainbowresource.com has a couple at this price), check out a book at the library, and you'll be on your way!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The In-laws Have Arrived

After a wait of seven years and much planning, dreaming and some dreading, my in-laws arrived Saturday night for a month-long stay. This is their first time in the United States, their first time leaving France, and the first time they have visited our family since we moved here in 2001. Such an event!

The last time they visited we had two children, not five, and we lived an hour and a half from their home, not 20. We were not homeschooling then either, and we had not converted to a simpler, more practical way of cooking and eating, and if I was still nursing a toddler, I was hiding it! Oh yeah, and I was not trying to plan the first family reunion in years and years with my family and them too, nor a family trip to Chicago, two birthdays, French Mother's Day, Father's day, shopping trips and sightseeing.

Will I have any hair left when they leave?

It has all begun splendidly, with many gifts and much joy all around. We made a real French meal yesterday for lunch, (at the end of which my father-in-law said only: don't you have any lettuce here?) They helped us in the yard all day. We took them on a walk, made a nice dinner, with fresh-from-the-oven scones and gingerbread in the shape of roosters (the French national bird.)

We are all on our very best behavior, we shall try to maintain this for one short month and all go home with happy memories. Watch for updates.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Playgroups???

At circle time yesterday, our daily morning gathering, every single person named "park day!" as their joy for the day. The three-year-old named it his sorrow too; but he always has two joys every morning; one he calls "my joy" the other "my sorrow". (His baby brother is usually his sorrow, and though we know he means it to be a joy, you have to wonder...) After a winter hiatus of meeting in church basements and gymnasiums, and many weeks of illness keeping us from our weekly appointment with friends, we were all thrilled to be meeting our friends outside again.

Being an intensely private person, from a family of people that love to be alone, the whole concept of purposely planning a get-together with a bunch of other people with a zillion kids is a painful notion, at best. I have practiced play date resistance successfully ever since we moved to this country seven years ago. No mommy groups for me, thank you! But I have to tell you, this weekly rendez-vous has become the highlight of our week. And it was finally nice enough yesterday to go back to the park.

Not for you, a set play date each week? Bear with me a moment, if you will, while I convince you of the error of your ways. Knowing that one day each week you are setting aside for play and (the great buzz word of the school people, "socialization") creates several advantages. One, you get to see your friends and talk to people you like. Two, the children get a running, shouting, friend-filled day to look forward to. This is good for everyone. But you must make sure that your park day is with people you like to spend time with, because, don't tell the kids, but the socialization is mostly for you. Three, in setting up a regular day each week, you help to build a rhythm to your week, a fundamental of a Waldorf environment and good for children. Children do well with some sort of regularity in their lives. It need have nothing to do with school work or a school day. I know that's part of the reason you are homeschooling, us too, gleefully even! However, working rhythm into their lives in agreeable ways is both reassuring for them and makes life easier for you. Since I stopped asking myself the question each week of "Are we going to playgroup?" it has become easier to plan my week around it, prepare a loaf of bread for sandwiches the night before, or throw together a pasta salad and fruit. It has become a part of my routine, and not something I try to add in at the last minute.


How to go about creating a park date? Well, this is how it worked for us. A few homeschooling friends were meeting sporadically on nice days at the park a few years ago. Each week we would work out what day and where we would meet the following week. One day we decided we would set a day each week. We fiddled with the meeting time and place, but finally settled on Wednesday around lunch time. Little by little, our group grew. One brilliant woman had already set up a website for area homeschoolers that was inclusive to all, no matter what your reasons for homeschooling were. I began posting our weekly meetings there to get the word out. Last year we had our first "Not back to school picnic," in September. Over 25 families attended.

Our group is special, in that it is inclusive and unique in the area. I very clearly desired a space to come together, first with friends whose families had grown to the point of making getting together at our houses impractical. Second, one in which my family and I might connect with people from many places and many walks of life. Exploring the world is part of why we have chosen to homeschool.

Connecting with others who felt this way has been such a good part of my life. Dedicating a time for play for all honors the child in each of us. If you haven't already, you might want to give it a try.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Book Review

Anthony Horowitz. Stormbreaker. Speak, 2000.

Alex Rider is a fourteen year old spy hired by the MI6 intelligence agency, when his uncle Ian Rider who had been taking care of him since Alex parents had died in a plane crash when Alex was a baby, was killed on a mission. His first mission takes place at Port Talon, England, but he is on the mission his uncle was killed on. Before going on his mission Alex has to train with SAS unit in the Brecon beacons.

I liked this book because on each page there is more action, I first read this book when I was eight and now it is my favorite series. If you like fast moving books with spies and evil maniacs with plans to destroy the Earth, like I do, read this book.

Aragorn