Friday, 29 March 2013

Hot Cross Pieday

We made a hot cross bun pie!
Or, to put it another way, we made a rather peculiar treacle tart.

The recipe we worked from is here, but of course we took some liberties with it.
Most significantly, we did not use "Sainsbury's Be Good To Yourself" hot cross buns: I feel, quite strongly, that a hot cross bun that goes to such lengths to be healthy does not deserve to be called a hot cross bun.
 Besides, we didn't go to Sainsbury's this week.

Baffled Americans may be comforted by the knowledge that a treacle tart is a confection similar in nature to a molasses pie, or sugar pie.
Only not that similar.
 Other baffled foreigners will just have to find peace in their bewilderment.
Or bake it: that will explain all.
 Ultimately, this is one of those ultra-cheap desserts that languished in obscurity* until rescued by a wealthy benefactor in the form of the gastropub.
It is, however, none the worse for that, and is actually quite nice served with that very-rich-but-good white vanilla ice-cream that such places insist on presenting with all desserts.
I would advise against the sprig of mint, though.


Sweet pastry, or ordinary shortcrust, whichever you prefer, pick a recipe and go with it.
300g (most of a bottle) of golden syrup
Two and a half hot cross buns
Two tablespoons of cream (unless you bought creme fraiche by mistake, in which case use that and pretend you did it on purpose)
An egg
A pinch of ginger
A smaller pinch of cinnamon (or just buy cinnamon hot cross buns)

Optional silliness

Orange juice
Icing sugar

Roll out the pastry, use it to line a tart tin, put it in the fridge and forget about it.
 Fetch a big bowl and dole out the hot cross buns, giving the half-bun to the smallest cook.
Tear and crumble the buns into the bowl, trying to prevent the smallest cook from eating too much of hers.
 Now prevent Smallest Cook** from returning her half masticated chunk of bun to the bowl.
Give up and present Smallest Cook with a handful of raisins.
Smallest Cook has Won.
 Let merely Small Cook finish crumbling the buns, while you heat the golden syrup on the stove.
Turn off the heat once the syrup is simmering and is of the same consistency all over.

Pour the syrup onto the buns.
 Do not let Smallest Cook touch the syrup because the syrup is hot.
Hot! Don't touch!
 Give Smallest Cook another handful of raisins.
Now Small Cook needs some raisins too, or it will not be Fair.
 Beat the egg and let the various sizes of cook decide for themselves who will pour it in.
Take turns stirring in the egg then dollop in the cream (or otherwise), ginger and cinnamon.
 Distribute stirring privileges according to your autocratic whim.

Once all is combined, pour into your chilled pastry case and put it all into a lowish (we used 180 degrees) pie oven for thirty-five minutes, or until it is slightly risen, firming a little on top, and a deep golden brown.
 Allow to cool.

If in a silly mood***, combine icing sugar and orange juice to make a reasonably runny icing, and ice a cross on the top.

Eat, with or without ice-cream.****

*Obscurity being the food equivalent of a debtors prison or a workhouse.
I really wanted to use the word gaol there, but I couldn't make it work.

**I decided she needed capitals.

***Read the above and judge for yourself.

****Except for Phoebe, who isn't allowed any.
If you feel that this is peculiarly cruel of me then I refer you to my Snail Pieday, and the events therein.
 Or, if you cannot be bothered to look this up (and a quick search by me completely failed to uncover it) then you may simply console yourself with the knowledge that she ate two hot cross buns this morning, not to mention the bits she was supposed to put into the bowl, and two handfuls of raisins.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Viking Visits Part two

Following our trips to the Jorvik Centre and Dig, we returned to York for the Jorvik Viking Festival.
 This is actually a huge, annual event which takes place over the course of a week, however we only attended the festival on the last day.
 We thought we'd start off by visiting the re-enactors' markets, but on the way there we encountered a group of Danish vikings having a bit of a scuffle.
 It seems that one of the warriors had insulted the other's dress-sense and the insulted party had decided to respond with his sword.
Now, usually I would attempt to calm matters down, or at least remove the kids from the vicinity, but the vikings had chosen to kill each other behind a rope barrier and, as every museum-goer knows, you mustn't cross those, so we had no choice but to watch the battle instead.
 Once it was safe to proceed once more we headed on, Ellie now toting a big bag of tat* and a shiny red balloon, which she had appropriated from some Danish ladies who had been standing by, seemingly quite unfazed by their ancestors' behaviour.

The first of the re-enactors' market was in a large tent.
That is very nearly all I can tell you about it: apart from that, it was too crowded for me to make out much of what was on the stalls, or to form any impression beyond an intense desire to get out.
 At some point Ellie obtained a furry viking-style hat.
  The next market was much nicer.
Held at the Merchant Adventurers' Hall, this market had a much nicer atmosphere, as well as the space to breathe it in.
 The stalls held the usual mixture of lovely things that no-one can afford and self-printed pamphlets (including some nice ones on viking handicrafts that I was tempted to buy for future use), as well as one stall full of period-appropriate fabrics.
We escaped the hall without buying Ellie anything and, after a quick stop for lunch, headed off to the main event of the day: the battle.

 As we arrived the Vikings had formed their battle line on one side of the field, while their Saxon foes were taking up a position opposite them.
 An announcer was making grandiose pronouncements over a loudspeaker, but apart from noting that Eleanor and Phoebe were far less disturbed by the armed hordes than they were by his booming, distorted voice, we paid him very little heed.
 We were watching the battle.
Once combat was joined, Ellie stood like a statue, apparently enthralled by the spectacle and the clash of steel.**
 Phoebe, on the other hand, paid little attention to the proximate bloodshed***, preferring to scamper merrily up and down, distracting me from the action on the field.
I'm told it was terribly impressive.
 What impressed me, was the fact that, after the battle, the combatants picked themselves up and walked over to the fence to answer questions and give the smaller audience members**** the opportunity to see that they weren't really hurt.
 Richard asked a few questions about local re-enactment groups, Eleanor was persuaded to ask a non-zombie related question*****, Phoebe tried to steal Eleanor's hat, and we all headed home.

We would have liked to stay for the last events: the fiery funeral of the defeated Viking leader, and a Viking banquet, but the girls were now beginning to flag a little, so we yielded to the inevitable and left.
 Perhaps we'll be able to stay later next time.

In the meantime, we might not have been able to attend the banquet at the festival, but we did hold our own Viking Feast
 Viking food******, Viking stories, and a Viking-ish******* song performed by Eleanor, made the perfect end to our Viking Project.
 I hope the next project is at much fun.

*Just adverts I'm afraid, they hadn't even included a fuzzy bug in an inappropriately horned helmet.

**She says she knew it was all pretend, I still think she just liked watching people die for her amusement: like a tiny, female Elagabalus.

***Obviously she knew the warriors couldn't get at her as we were behind another rope.

****Those neither bouncing around obliviously, or, to pick an example from thin air, wondering loudly if the Vikings were zombies now Mummy?

*****She settled for telling them that her Daddy had trousers like that.
I'm sure they were thrilled to hear it.

****** Trout (which I did not eat), green soup, viking bread, goat's cheese and oat-cakes, washed down with honeyed apple juice.

*******Ralph McTell's The Island.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

February Update

..yes I know it's almost the end of March

Amelia has posted alot about the Viking project so I won't go into any great detail, but to say it was a very fun project. She loved the field trips to the Viking festival.

Looking at Eleanor's progress, I'm still very impressed with her reading progression, she's now sitting down and reading to her sister, and when my folks visited for Dad's birthday she sat down and read the whole of the Gingerbread man

Her maths is also coming on but much slower, but it is improving, considering how much she's taken to Reading Eggs, we'll sign her up to Maths Eggs when it is released.

For Science / Nature, The weather has really limited our ability to get out, shes set up a spring table and is growing a sunflower but we've not really done much else in the last month. Amelia has used the Viking project to discuss basic navigation by the stars , but I feel this is something we need to work on next month.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Viking Visits, Part One.

We finished the viking project this week.

I won't go into details of the whole project, as I suspect Richard will include some of those in his overview of the month*, but I wanted to review a few of the places we visited in the course of the project.

The Jorvik Viking Centre.

This is that place that opened up in the eighties and made the news due to the number of people who were sick as a result of the supposedly authentic smells.
 The smelly Viking Experience is still there, albeit somewhat toned down, and is quite enjoyable even if it is no longer state-of-the-art.
 You traverse this not on foot, but in a car like that of a roller-coaster, which plays a recording to accompany the various buildings and characters along the way.
I was impressed to note that they provide two versions of the recording: one for adults and one for children, thus tailoring the whole experience to their visitors.
Eleanor certainly enjoyed this part of our trip, and explained afterwards that a little viking boy had been talking to her while she was on the train.
 The rest of the centre is also reasonably impressive: You start by walking over the site of the Coppergate archaeological dig**, looking down upon the dig through a clear perspex floor, various artefacts are visible through the floor, while displays around the walls explain a little more about the area and what these artefacts may mean.
 This may seem a little too serious for younger visitors, however Eleanor raced around, looking at the dig from all angles, calling with glee when she lighted upon one of the finds.
The Coppergate dig is followed by the aforementioned historical roller-coaster, which in turn is followed by a walk through the museum.
 This museum is laid out like a viking street, with the various exhibits displayed in the appropriate shops.
 To these are added projections of various characters talking about their lives in the context of the exhibits: a woman talking about her amber beads, a blacksmith grumbling over his forge, and so forth, and costume guides demonstrating various crafts and skills.
 I would have expected this area to be Eleanor's favourite as it contained various interactive elements while allowing her to set her own pace, however she seemed significantly less interested than she had in the other areas.***
 She enjoyed watching a lady striking reproduction viking coins, but was only vaguely interested in museum exhibits and artefact demonstrations, which was a shame as I would have liked to spend a little more time there.
 Still, we can always go back.****


Dig is a museum of archaeology, which sounds a lot less enjoyable than it really is.
 Again it comes in three parts.
The first is a traditional style museum, looking at various digs, and at archaeology in general.
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to look around here, as we arrived just a few minutes before it was time to go through to part two.
 This is the area that really makes Dig stand out: a series of re-creations of real archaeological digs, filled with rubber "soil".
We entered in a group with other visitors, and were first given a short talk on archaeology in general, before being provided with trowels and unleashed upon the digs.
 We had a whale of a time.
Eleanor's artefact hunting was somewhat impaired by the presence of a band of older boys*****, who tended to pounce on anything she uncovered while shouting loudly that they had "found" something, but her enthusiasm was undiminished as she dashed from one site to the next, digging in with enthusiasm.
She seemed particularly gleeful about her discovery of a victorian potty (ok, chamberpot) in the victorian privy******, and showed genuine dedication in uncovering what proved to be the prize discovery: a hoard of silver coins hidden under a roman hearthstone.
 When Tools Down had finally been called we moved out to the museum area once more to investigate some trays full of real finds: sorting these into different categories and trying to decide what each type of find might tell us about the area from which that tray full of objects was taken.
 By sheer luck Eleanor managed to select a viking-era tray, and was thrilled at being able to make real deductions from the objects within.
Not, however, so thrilled as when she was selected to help carry a mystery object from person to person as we each tried to identify it.
 Even this excitement was dimmed, though, in comparison to her elation on discovering that it was, in fact, the worlds biggest fossilised human poo.*******
And a viking poo at that.
 Alas, we had no time left after this, so instead of exploring the (very interesting-looking) museum further, we merely giggled at the stream of people hurrying to wash their hands********, thanked our guide, and headed reluctantly but happily home.

*Which would be February, not March, I'd be more pointed about this if I hadn't failed to produce a Pieday post for weeks.

**Coppergate being where the dig, and therefore the Viking centre is.
Copper, by the way, has nothing to do with the metal, but refers to the wood carvers who lived in the area.
I bet you feel so much better for knowing that, don't you?

***In fairness, she may have been flagging a little by this point, so perhaps didn't enjoy it as much as she would have done had it come sooner.

****Although unlike just about every other attraction on the planet, the Jorvik Centre doesn't offer free re-entry if you go back within a year.
They do give you a little money off though.

*****As in boys, who were older than she.
Is it me or is that a really awkward way to phrase it?

******And was duly impressed by the awful privation suffered by the unfortunate victorians who had to choose between sharing a single, unsanitary, outdoor lavatory, even when it was raining, or using a potty like a little toddler and not a big girl like her.

*******I, meanwhile, was only slightly smug at having whispered "Coprolite?" to our guide, before she made the interesting revelation.

********Presumably to remove the fossilised bacteria.

Friday, 1 March 2013


or Why I'm Writing "Kick Me!" On Eleanor's Back

We decided to home educate for a lot of reasons, but bullying wasn't one of them.
It's true that keeping our daughters out of school may help us to avoid it to an extent, certainly severe, persistent bullying is much less likely outside of school*, however any gathering of children*** offers the potential for bullying.
 So, naturally, I want to equip our children to handle bullies.

The first thing I want them to know is that The Law of the Schoolyard**** appears in no book of legislation anywhere whatsoever.
 All too often children hide the fact that they're being bullied.
Sometimes, perhaps, it's because they don't think their woes will be taken seriously, but frequently it's because of some fear of being a tattle-tale, some idea that to seek help, or to be unable to deal with bullies oneself, is shameful or dishonourable.
 This is of course rot: it's a parent's, or a teacher's, job to look after the children in their care, if a child can't stop the bullies bullying them, then it's down to the adults to step in.
 Of course in order to step in we first need to know there's something to step into and, as we are somewhat less omniscient than our kids tend to believe, we generally need them to tell us about it.
Which is where we come up against the Law of the Schoolyard, a law enforced, and reinforced, by the very people it benefits most: the bullies.
 Why don't children speak up?
Sometimes it's because they simply don't think of it*****, but often it's because they're ashamed of needing help, or afraid that they'll be laughed at, or even bullied, if they tell us.
 So it's very important that we let them know that we want them to tell us, that they are supposed to tell us, that no-one will look down on them for telling us, and, perhaps most importantly of all, that telling us can't make things worse if they're already being bullied.
 Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to talk about it, and to make absolutely sure that when they do tell us their problems, we listen properly and do our best to put a stop to the bullying.

 Which brings me to the whole not-being-taken-seriously thing.
It's easy to tell a child to "Just ignore it", it's surprisingly hard to actually ignore a bully.
Likewise it's very easy to imagine that because something seems trivial to us, it can't be that important to anybody else.
 The fact is, though, that if a child is unhappy, for whatever reason, then the adults around them need to take their unhappiness seriously.
Ok, sometimes "taking their unhappiness seriously" can mean explaining, seriously, that there really isn't a monster under the bed and that, seriously, they can't wear the pink pyjamas again because they're in the laundry basket seriously covered with something that looks like glue. Seriously.
 But we manage that sort of thing with a reasonably straight face, so I think we can cope with being told that our child's life is ruined because they wore a green jumper today and Mildred Prenderghast said that green jumpers are made from bogies.
It sounds silly, but when one thinks about it for a second it's pretty hurtful: the green jumper was probably that child's own choice, maybe something they cared about, or were proud of.
Perhaps they thought they looked nice in their green jumper, only to be told that it, and therefore they, were actually a loathsome pile of snot.
People may well have laughed, it's certainly pretty unlikely that anyone stood up for them.
 Silly things can hurt.
As Margaret Atwood wrote: "Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life size".

By laughing off, or telling our children to ignore, their miseries, we tell them that they don't matter to us, or,  even worse in its way, that we are powerless to help them.
 I'd rather do my best to help.

The second thing I want them to know, is that bullies are not as powerful, or as ubiquitous as they seem.

Bullies are, by and large, rather pathetic individuals.
 They want to stand out, or to look stronger than others, or to prevent anybody from picking on them, and the easiest way they can do this is by picking on somebody else first.

 Television programmes and films such as Mean Girls, rather promote the idea that bullies are powerful, popular people, well-dressed and well groomed, whose merest word can make less stylish, less socially accepted individuals shrivel on the spot.
  I'm fairly sure my own school bullies had seen a few programs like this, it would certainly explain the way they walked about as though they owned the place.
In reality, though, they were just a rather small clique of particularly unpleasant, not very bright, distinctly foul-mouthed girls, who wore clothes and make-up that were far too old for them********.
Seriously, they looked like warthogs.
Sounded like them too.
 But while I was aware that their apparent self-images didn't quite match the reality of their appearances, it didn't sink in somehow that while they seemed powerful and confident, that confidence and power was as imaginary as the glamour they thought they exuded.
 It would have helped to know that those girls were barely scraping by at the work I found so easy, that they, in turn, had things to fear, that their confidence probably came out of their make-up bags and not, as it seemed to, out of any genuine sense of self-worth.
 It would have helped me, so it's something I will take care to talk about as my daughters grow up.
Knowing that a bully is afraid won't stop them from bullying, but it can blunt the sting of their words a little.

Of course it's hard to believe that the bullies aren't all-powerful when it feels like everyone is a bully.

Which brings me to the third thing, and to why I'm (metaphorically) writing "Kick Me!" on my daughter's backs.

 When you're a child, and you're being bullied, it can seem that bullies are everywhere: someone says something mean and everyone laughs, everyone is on the bullies' side, not yours.
 The fact is that most of those children probably don't even know why they're laughing: they just laugh because everyone else is laughing.
Of those that do, the majority probably don't actually want to hurt anyone, or don't care either way********, they just don't want to be bullied themselves, so they join in, rather than draw the bullies attention.
 Of course, while not everyone, and perhaps not anyone, really thinks your jumper looks like a pile of bogies, it can still feel like they're all on the side of the bullies.

So, the third thing: always stand up to bullies.

Yes, I know, the first thing was that it's ok to ask for help.
It is, it really, really, is.
Children should never be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help, and I absolutely want my daughters to let me know that they're being bullied.

But the first thing they should do is stand up to the bully.
Not because all bullies are cowards and the bully will magically back down in face of their defiance.
That's rather improbable, not least because bullies are, by and large, cowards, and backing down would leave them open to further defiance, or even attacks.
 But it's still worth doing.

Firstly because not all bullying words are meant to be: sometimes the apparent bully will stop doing or saying hurtful things, if only someone points it out.
It can happen.
 Secondly, it's important not to back down, so that the bully knows that they are not all-powerful, that they aren't as scary or as cutting as they think, and that bullying isn't actually an easy route to social success after all.
It may not look as though you have any effect at all: they may laugh all the harder at your failure to bend, but it will show on the inside, they will lose a little belief in the power of their bullying.
It feels better to stand up to them anyway.

 And thirdly, it's important to stand up to bullies because you won't always be the one being bullied.

Remember what I said about it feeling like everyone is a bully?
It only takes one dissenting voice to change that.
 Just one person saying that, actually, that's a really nice jumper, and it doesn't look like bogies but like new leaves, can turn the tide of opinion away from the bully.
 Ok, often it won't, quite often it will be one quiet voice amidst a multitude of laughing voices.
More often than not it will be one voice surrounded by staring, silent children, who might agree, but certainly aren't going to say so.
Most of the time the bully will just repeat what was just said in a special bullying voice******** and move on to criticising the speaker but that doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter because now everyone knows the bully is not the only arbiter of taste-in-jumpers.
It doesn't matter because, hey, that bully sounds like an idiot doing that stupid voice.
Most of all, it doesn't matter compared to the fact that someone now knows that all the world is not against them, and that world is bearable again because of this and you did that.

If it doesn't work, come and tell me.
I'll do my best to fix it.
I promise.

That's what I'm trying to teach Eleanor, and what I will try to teach Phoebe.

It doesn't just go for child-sized bullies either: one of my proudest (if simultaneously embarrassing) moments as a mother was of seeing another parent smacking her daughter, over some silly dispute about sweets, and Eleanor instantly leaping up and saying "That's not very nice: We don't hit!"
I don't know how much of an impression it made, but I was proud of her, all the same.

Long may it continue.

*Almost Certainly Unnecessary** Disclaimer: I might home educate but I have nothing against schools, I also understand that they are supposed to much better at dealing with bullying than they are when I was a child.
 I am simply aware that large groups of children, meeting in a reasonably confined space, for most of the day, five days a week, offer much more scope for ongoing bullying than do smaller, more varied groups.

**Because everyone who reads this is far too sensible, of course.

***Or adults, alas.

****Well, that's what Homer Simpson calls it.
Seriously, I have nothing against school, I just prefer home ed.

*****I've encountered this myself: after an apparently happy week at her Musical Theatre Summer School, Eleanor informed me that she liked everything about it "except those girls calling me a baby".
Yes, she did tell them to stop, but they "just wouldn't".
She wasn't afraid to tell me, or her teachers, it simply didn't occur to her to do so.
 Hopefully she will know better in future.

******Possibly a side-effect of the tendency for men and women as old as thirty to be cast as teenagers, so that clothes and make-up selected to glamourous on them on-screen, look simply awful on boys and girls of their supposed ages.

*******Children can be terribly self-centred.

********You know the one: it either sounds like a demented Mr Punch or like one of those Tex Avery cartoon characters that go around mumbling "Duhhh, George..." all the time, and are actually inspired by Of Mice and Men, of all things, that voice, the one that sounds like nobody real but that all bullies seem to produce when their imagined authority is threatened.