Friday, 26 December 2008

And, relax...

We are having a lovely, relaxing Christmas break. On Christmas Eve we went round to the grandmothers’ house for the traditional tea time gathering. The kids do like traditions and the girls have developed one of their own – the devising of a treasure hunt for the boys. Presents were exchanged and good food eaten and then all five grandchildren walked back across town together. P and L watched the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special in their beds – with one of us on each bed with them. L was very attracted to the Crooked House ghost story trailers but I watched them and advised him to steer clear – a bit too terrifying, I think.

Christmas Day started at the agreed, and civilised, hour of 8am. The kids came and opened their pillowcases on our bed. Then we got up and did the presents under the tree. We were all pleased with our presents - so thanks are due to all. We tend to do a few medium/large presents for the kids, rather than any one huge thing – and that worked particularly well this year. P looks gorgeous in the purple Boden jacket she had been wanting for a while and L’s collector’s edition Mohawk has not left his side. After a late morning gathering at the house of one set of cousins (two mins from us) we had a quiet day at home with just the four of us. I think it must rank as about the calmest and most enjoyably relaxing family Christmas day we’ve ever had. P was pleased to get Sims 2 (at last – she has been wanting it for a while but we never had a good enough computer until this year) and L was very happy with the leather notebook with clasp that we found from an online shop. D was settled on the sofa with the Guardian Araucaria Christmas Prize Crossword. We also watched several episodes of Outnumbered series one (one of L’s gifts from my mum) and Beautiful People (one of P’s gifts from us) and feasted well. We made a puff pastry leek parcel and mountains of roast spuds, carrots, parsnips, peas and sprouts. Then we had meringues with strawberries and cream, which P loves. I made a trifle for tea time. We ate it while watching Doctor Who. The addition of Dervla Kirwan was a welcome one for me.

Today we had my dad and his wife over for lunch and the afternoon. This was also lovely but made rather tricky by the lack of crockery and cutlery in the house! I also cooked lasagne in a new, and enormous, tin. This took far more sauce than I had expected and longer to cook. But it was quite nice when it was done. The kids got more presents – all lovely and exciting. Cousins S and D popped in with both their parents and we drank tea and ate sweets – before a lively game of cheat. Cousin B was not around as he is a football fan and had gone to the match with his dad. When my dad and his wife had gone, the kids started making riotous movies with cousin S’s Flip Camera – her present from her parents. Then it was back to quiet pursuits for the evening.

Tomorrow, we have D’s parents, sister, her partner and their kids arriving for a few days. They will be staying at a holiday house quite nearby, which should work well – we hope!

It has been a wonderful few days and I feel so very lucky. I hope everyone reading is having a good time – wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

P making Sims

Mohawk supervises the writing of spells

The beautiful book gets beautiful writing

Lost to the world in the depths of the crossword. I'm not much help, except for the occasional book title or song lyric!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Duck Rock

Here is a bit of video of P and L with friends B and M playing in their band, Duck Rock. This was at the Squeezebox Rocks gig on 20th December. Quality isn't great but it gives you an idea! Their two original songs are called Turquoise Skies and What Are You Doing? This link doesn't have a picture at the moment but do click it and it will play!

Burning the Clocks in Brighton

Here in Brighton we have a wonderful Solstice celebration. We have been going since before the kids were born and have participated almost every year since. It gets easier each time. The evening starts with a couple of hours of waiting in the corn exchange but this is well worth it because, as official participants, we get stamps on our hands that give us access to the best area for watching the show at the end.

This is what happened when we went along this year with cousins S and D and their mum. This is also an experiment with the new Flip camera! The original quality is much better but too big to share easily. There is no sound track on here - the music is the music played at the final show. It is a weird and wonderful Brighton event. I love it.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Festive stuff

We are really into the swing now. The tree is up and looking gorgeous. We got one delivered this year and it was wonderful. Instead of an increasingly bad tempered slog to the garden centre with the old buggy, only to find they are sold out or have straggly old remnants only, we got to stay in our cosy house and wait for a friendly man to ring the doorbell and hand over a plump and perfect tree. It was worth every penny.

We have had some lovely family card making sessions. Sticky foam is excellent stuff! I have eaten my first mince pie. Sadly, the morning after that I woke with a violent migraine. I hope it was only a coincidence. Whatever the cause, I managed to improve my symptoms a great deal by doing a strange thing – wrapping up warm and walking slowly around the block chewing spearmint gum. Dani was at work and the children were lovely to me – buying my gum and being gentle. It was so cold that they went in and carried on the important business of playing Card-Jitsu on Club Penguin. I carried on walking up and down outside the house and the nausea abated. I don’t know why that helped but I thought it was worth a try after I did something similar on a day when I had to work with a migraine. I guess mint is good for nausea and maybe the chewing gets my gut going again so the drugs can get into my system. My throat has come back to life but I am blowing glue out of my head every few minutes tonight. Hopefully that is the end of it.

We are all pottering away at our own stuff. Leo is into communal blogging with a friend and P has made the most beautiful Christmas window display. She is very much on top of all our Christmas preparations and her own commitments. Dani is knitting lots of lovely things at the moment and I’ve been wasting time playing silly games on Facebook. I’ve also been busy with shopping and some tidying. One of the up sides of having to get our roof re-built in the spring is that we are planning a decent storage space – something these little terraced houses really lack. I’m planning some bookshelves and games and toy boxes up there. It would be good to have an archive of the stuff we aren’t currently using but want to keep. The down side of the roof work is, of course, the money. But I reckon that a sound roof is worth spending money on. Probably better to spend it on a roof than put it in a bank!

Ooh, our little Flip camera is a fun thing. We still need to explore it more but it will be just the job for the sort of short, impromptu films we are likely to make. Right, now we must do some list updating.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A hard week

It has been a week of a bit too much. The pace of festive stuff has been hotting up and I seem to have spent the week rushing from one place to the next. Dani has been laid low with a cold and Leo, too, has a horrible cough that makes him sound rather like a walrus. Dani had a couple of days off work and did a good job of fighting off the lurgy. Leo ploughed on regardless. So, what have we been up to?

There was a launch of the Little Green Pig anthology. That was a nice event down at the library. Friends were there in number and a very pleasing book has been produced. Leo is proud to be in print.

I had to spend rather too much time scouring the town for cloves and red ribbon. Note to self: don’t expect to find either of these things in the shops in mid-December next year. I could have got cloves in a supermarket but I needed them for pomander making with children was so wasn’t looking for a dainty little pot at a high price. I did find them, in the end. I did the pomander making at a very relaxed craft session with 10-13 year old home edded kids. Purple and blue ribbon looked fine! The living room now smells delicious.

Meanwhile it has been my last week at work before my off-contract weeks over Christmas. This is usually a week of winding down and clearing things but there was a certain amount of disruption (*cough*) when a construction worker drove a digger through a main power cable. We didn’t lose power at the site where I work but spent a day with *no* networked services. It is hard to convey the effect of this on a university library in the last week of term, or, indeed, the effect of the services coming back. We run a back-up system when the network is down but all stock that had been returned that day had to go through the system, and be checked for reservations and so on, when it was back. This happened in the evening, when we were running on a team of two... Suffice to say that it was tiring.

I now have my common throat infection again. This makes me want to sit quietly under a duvet and not talk. Instead of this, I am off to the kids’ club Christmas fair. This is going to be a triumph (we hope!) with grotto, cake stall, craft activities – fun and games for all the family etc. Shame it is pissing down. Hope someone shows up! It’s meant to be a fundraiser for the group, which Leo goes to a couple of times a week.

The saddest part of this rather overstretched week was that poor Bunny, the guinea pig, died. He didn’t respond to any of the treatment he had and just seemed to shrink away before our eyes. But he was eating grass and dandelions right up until the last day, and drinking probiotic solution and vitamin C, so I think we did all we could to make his last days comfortable. We also got him treated for skin mites so at least he wasn’t itchy. I suspect he had cancer or some failing of a major organ – he just got thinner and thinner. The kids were upset but we’d had plenty of time to warn them that he was dying and he went very peacefully in his little fleecy bed in a warm living room. That’s not a bad death.

Right... Get up! Get busy! I’m looking forward to tomorrow, which is a family day at home – apart from a brief shopping trip. Dani and I are buying ourselves/each other a Flip Video Camera as our Christmas present. We’re having it early so we can film at the kids’ gig. We haven’t really done presents for each other for a few years so this is a big extravagance. But I hope it’ll be something we get a lot of use from. Oh, yeah, and the tree is coming tomorrow. The tree is my favourite thing about Christmas. That and the cheese... Must go.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Fantasy, imagination, lies

OK, so here’s a real contentious issue for you. We never did Father Christmas. Our kids never believed that FC was anything other than a story. Not a story they particularly bonded with, TBH, but part of our mishmash Christmas Yule Solstice thing. The other day, I read something that suggested that parents who didn’t ‘do’ FC were somehow depriving their children of the ‘magic’ of childhood. This seemed to be something about lack of fantasy and imagination.

I find this rather bizarre. Having now lived eleven years with two kids, I can say that fantasy and imagination are always there. Both the children have engaged in different types of fantasy play over the years. These are things in which we have often colluded – building the fantasy through discussion and play. One example is a glove puppet that we had when the kids were little. He was a passed on toy from a neighbour and rather old and grubby. He was a king – called King, imaginatively enough ;-) He was ‘naughty’ and was responsible for all the knots on the wooden kitchen cupboards. These were caused by him hurling fruit (one of his favourite wicked activities, which were called King’s Naughty Jobs) and he talked in a haughty, bossy voice. His best friend was a small, plastic, ray fish – called Ray... They had a wild time together and went on holiday to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, where King was arrested for shoplifting. It was all very strange and organic. I’d throw things in and the children would build and change it. They would go and find the puppet and demand, “Do King!” So, it is true, of course, that they knew King was not a real being. They didn’t really think he did these things. But it was magic. He would come alive. They were able to suspend their disbelief and address themselves to him, in a way that most adults would struggle to do.

I think that children are capable of a remarkable level of sophistication when it comes to fantasy. They know all about pretending. Leo invented his own magical creature to bring him tooth money and Christmas pressies – the Golden Dragon. It came out of him – wasn’t planted in his head as any kind of explanation for the appearance of money and gifts. And, of course, he knew (on some level) that it wasn’t real, but was inviting us to join him in this fantasy – in this bit of magic of his own creation. And, of course, we did. It was play. It was pretend. It was as real as he wanted to make it.

For me, there is a difference between the invented and evolving fantasy play of children and an imposed piece of pretend like FC. FC has always seemed, to me, more like a big joke being played on children. I’m sure that it can be done as a kind of ‘tongue in cheek’ shared pretend. But, for many kids, I think it is presented as FACT. That is a different thing altogether. It must be a loss when the child learns that FC is not real. Why do people want to set their children up for that? Anyone?

Children don’t need their heads stocked with fantasy. It bubbles up out of them. They can spin their own tales. Of course, those tales are fed by the culture in which they live. I love story and love sharing it with my children. But I’m not keen on lies. I could never line myself up with the adults and spin my kids a special ‘kiddie lie’. That just isn’t magical to me.