Saturday, 31 October 2015

Where's the Pumpkin?

Last year I made an attempt to wean ourselves off the neigbourhood trick-or-treaters by making it a low-key event that involved just us, indoors.  I neither put our pumpkins outside nor put any decorations out.  Still, they came knocking on our front door, and I had to tell many small, disappointed English witches/wizards/ghouls/zombies/vampires that I was not celebrating Halloween.... I felt like a total villain by the time I said that to the tenth junior vampire who appeared outside my front door.

This year, to redeem myself, I decided that we would be better prepared for the trick-or-treaters.

We started preparing our pumpkin yesterday.  I used a marker pen to draw Tiger's chosen template onto the pumpkin before he proceeded with carving it to the music of Mussorsky.

I must say that we are very pleased with our pumpkin this year.  We think it really captures the essence of the spirit of Halloween.

After we had enjoyed the roasted pumpkin seeds, I put the Jack-O-Lantern out while Tiger decorated the front porch in preparation for night fall.  My husband even donated his car for a few hours to let a skeleton sit in the driver's seat, which totally scared a little four-year-old witch who refused to let go of her mother's neck when she spotted it.

All went really well this evening.  We were graced with visits from over 30 young English witches/wizards/ghouls/zombies/vampires, resulting in the sweets being nearly all taken.  We were all enjoying giving the sweets away when, about 20 minutes after nightfall, I noticed that our pumpkin had disappeared! 

I thought it might have rolled off the front step -- which is quite impossible to begin with since it is huge and heavy -- so I looked for it all out at the front of the house, but I could not see it anywhere.  Since I was not expecting anyone to take our pumpkin away, I only bought one this year.  For the rest of the evening, we had to rely on our milk jug ghost to annouce to the neighbourhood children that we are playing Halloween this year.

How bizarre it is to have a Jack-O-Lantern stolen on Halloween night!  This has never happened before so we are all quite perplexed by the incident.  Who would do something like this, and what can anyone do with the pumpkin after tonight?  The pumpkin is neither expensive nor particularly difficult to carve.  Our conclusion is that the foxes living in the nearby woods must have carried it off to their dens to have their own Halloween celebrations, or maybe the cats might have done so...

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Chongyang Festival

The above clip is a very famous verse, 《醉花阴》,written by the Song dynasty female poet, Li Qingzhao (李清照), about how badly she missed her husband who was away on official business on the Chongyang Festival (重阳节).

Chongyang Festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, hence it is also called the Double Ninth Festival.

The festival took place a week ago on Wednesday.  As is customary with traditional Chinese festivals, there are special food to go with it, so I spent a whole day in the kitchen making the various desserts from scratch, as these specific festive food cannot be bought in the UK.

These are by no means the only type of dessert to be had in the traditional sense.  I only made what I can manage to do with the ingredients I could find:

  1. Chrysanthemum Tea (菊花茶)
  2. Chrysanthemum Crisp (菊花酥)
  3. Goji Chrysanthemum Cake (枸杞菊花糕
  4. Tricolor Chongyang Cake (三色重阳糕) 
  5. Chestnut Chongyang Cake (桂花板栗重阳糕)
Tiger's favourites are (2), (4) and (5).

Besides eating specific food, there are so specific customs associated with the Chongyang Festival.

Usually the Chinese people will go for a hike on the hills or mountains on this day to be in touch with nature.  Since we don't have hills or mountains near us, Tiger and I got our nature fix by doing some gardening.

You might have noticed that the chrysanthemum flower features very prominently at the Chongyang Festival -- hence Tiger's gardening task was to pot a bunch of chrysanthemum.  To the Chinese people, the chrysanthemum flower symbolises elegance and courage.  It is therefore a significant symbol of autumn for us.

Tiger asked whether there is a poem that goes with the Chongyang Festival, to which I replied that there are many but the most beautiful is the verse by Li Qingzhao, which is shown in the clip at the beginning of this post.  He is not ready to learn it yet though, as the depth of emotions described in the verse and the masterful use of language are beyond his comprehension at present.

Friday, 16 October 2015

No Two Days Are the Same: Friday


Despite saying last night that he would have a major lay-in today, Tiger actually set his alarm clock for 7:45am and got himself up at that time!  However, I didn't get up early today so once again, our expectations of each other are not quite synchronised -- more work needed there!

We had breakfast, completed our long-than-usual morning chores (we have a few additional chores on Fridays), and settled down to start work at 10:30am.  Tiger started on the second part of his science homework which involved researching on and writing about how clean drinking water gets to UK homes.  As usual, I asked him whether he needed my help.  When he said no, I went to the kitchen and started cooking lunch because last night's dinner was so well received that there was none left for today's lunch.

Tiger completed his research and wrote his report on the water treatment process.  He then brought his completed report into the kitchen and read it out to me.  It was spot on.  No mistakes at all.  I then asked him to prepare for his class this afternoon by looking through the topic, photosynthesis, as we waited for lunch to be ready.


Lunch was ready at 12:15pm.  Pan-fried venison with blueberry sauce served with mash and steamed vegetables (a modified version of this recipe).  Yum!

The rest of the afternoon was taken up by science class.  It is a small class attended by five children.  Two of them were absent this afternoon so it was almost like a one-to-one tutorial today.

I sat at the back of the class as usual, half listening in on the lesson.  Most of the time I read but the science class is always quite lively because of the many hands-on experiments and I find it difficult to concentrate on what I am reading.  When that happens, like it did this afternoon, I work on something else that requires a different type of concentration, such as drawing or hand-lettering.

During the 10-minutes break this afternoon, Tiger's science teacher was interested to know what I was reading because he has seen me reading the same book for weeks.  I showed him the title page and he became interested to know what a liberal education is.  I tried to explain it to him but felt that I have had a failed elevator speech moment.  He is an ex-school teacher and has a young son who attends elementary school, so if I have not explained the concept clearly (I don't always feel up to it), perhaps I have piqued his interest such that he may look into it more closely at his own time.

We arrived home around 4:15pm and my husband took Tiger out to a nearby skate park to play with the remote control car.  Meanwhile, I start drafting the blog post for today and changing the all the sheets in the house -- Fridays are all-sheets-change day so every towel, hand towel, bed sheet, pillow case, etc go into the laundry basket.


The boys came back in time for me to take Tiger to his swimming lesson.

It is 8pm at the moment, and we are just about to have dinner.

Next week, according to my calendar will be somewhat different from this week, so it is true when I say that no two days are the same for us.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

No Two Days Are the Same: Thursday


I looked through Tiger's history homework last night before I went to bed, and saw that although he had written a summary of Mesopotamia well in terms of content and coherence -- a result I attribute to oral narration), his written narration is, well... sloppy.  His writing transgressed a few points (such as poor handwriting, careless spelling and a disregard for grammar rules) that warranted a "This is unacceptable.  You have to rewrite it." from me, which he was very unhappy about.

After breakfast, Tiger rewrote the summary in its entirety.  I'll be lying if I told you that he rewrote the assignment cheerfully.  No doubt he was seething with anger over the injustice of being made to write it a second time but he did it anyway, and the final copy was perfect.  It just shows that the poor quality of the original piece of writing was not due to an inability to write well but was caused by carelessness.


We then headed out to a centre where we spent most of the day with many other home educated children and parents.  I usually sit at a corner while Tiger attends his English and history classes as I like to listen in on what he is learning.  Sometimes I read my own book and make notes in my commonplace book while listening to the lessons (a skill that I developed in primary school), but more often than not, I make write out plans for the following week.  At the centre there is a waiting room where most other parents congregate as they waited for their children's lessons to end.  I usually join them at lunch break to socialise while Tiger has his lunch with the other children in one of the other rooms.

After class, we stopped by the supermarkets to pick up some groceries and reached home at 4pm.  I reminded Tiger that he had not started with his science homework yet so he buckled down and did a part of it (the other part he will complete tomorrow).


It was Tiger's turn to cook dinner tonight.  He is capable of preparing dinner by himself now so while he was busy in the kitchen, I wiped all the non-carpeted floors in the house.  Tonight's dinner was a modified version of Duck with Plum Sauce and Noodles.  You might have noticed that we always modify recipes.  It is because we follow certain dietary restrictions for health reasons.

Tiger was ready for bed by 8:55pm but he came downstairs in his dressing gown again (as he did on Tuesday) to draw a tank before he felt happy to go to sleep.  I read to him again tonight and finished the second half of the Samuel Morse story.

Before I left his bedroom, Tiger announced that he will have a big lay in tomorrow.  Hmm.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

No Two Days Are the Same: Wednesday


My cup of tea arrived at 6:46am this morning.  The tea was very hot so I read a chapter from the book on my bedside table as I waited for the tea to cool down.  Today's chapter is on the topic of kindness.  I was soon engrossed in it and lost track of time, hence I was on the exercise bike a little later than yesterday, resulting in coming back in a quarter of an hour later too.

I ate my breakfast as usual then started on today's main chore: wiping windows and surfaces.  I break the household chores down to smaller tasks and aim to complete one major chore each day so that I don't feel overwhelmed by having to do everything all at once.

8:45am.  I was wiping the windows in my bedroom when Tiger came in to find out what the noise was (he's a light sleeper).  Seeing that it was just me, he went back to sleep for another half an hour.

It was 10:15am by the time he finished his breakfast and his morning chores.  We started with memory work, still working on the same three poems as yesterday.  After that, I read a chapter from The Golden Age of Myth and Legend while Tiger drew another helicopter.  No narration this time but we discussed the similarities between the stories of Pyramus and Thisbe and Romeo and Juliet.

Then it was on to the meat of the day: history.  We are still in the homework-completion mode, today it's history.  Tiger's homework from his history of medicine class has to do with Mesopotamia, so I thought it would be a good idea to start using the History Odyssey: Ancients (Level 2) curriculum that we have to go through the Mesopotamia section as part of completing his class homework -- I had a look at his homework requirement and found that there are a few overlaps.

Right before we started work, Tiger took put a CD into the player.  It was our music for the week: Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet, 2 Violines, Viola & Cello, in A major KV581!  Would you believe it?  The boy certainly has the right idea about things.


After lunch, we took a 30 minutes break after watching a documentary on ancient Iraq.  Our dining table looked like this at break-time:

We were to resume at 2pm, but my mother called right on the hour so she and I talked for 30 minutes as she updated me with news from her part of the world.

At 2:30pm, I was off the phone so I read another chapter from The Story Book of Science from which Tiger narrated orally.  At this point, my husband came home from work!  He has a flexible work arrangement such that he works from home half the time and today is one of those days.  Another half hour was taken up with us fussing about him before all of us resumed work - my husband to his work in the home office, Tiger and I back to the Sumerians in the dining area.

By 4:30pm, Tiger has completed four lessons in the History Odyssey: Ancients (Level 2) curriculum and said he has had enough of Sumerians and cuneiform for a day, so I asked him to take a break.  While he was enjoying the Blueberry Bakewell Cake (a modified version of this recipe) that I made yesterday and a cup of mint tea, I got started with dinner.


Tiger's final commitment for the day was tennis.

It was 8pm when we got home.  My husband had a work-related call to take then so we waited until 8:30pm to have dinner together.  This evening was a short one but we spent it together as a family, which is nice.

Tiger is in bed now, and I am going to join my husband to watch a movie.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

No Two Days Are the Same: Tuesday


I was woken up at 6:50am this morning by my husband who brought me a hot cup of tea in bed.  We chatted for ten minutes until he left for work at 7am.  I sipped my tea for a few more minutes before getting up to spend 30 minutes on the exercise bike while listening to The Book Thief.

It was 8am when I came back in.  Not a sound in the house so I had breakfast and started to write the post about yesterday.

I heard stirring from upstairs at 9:40am.  I have almost completed my blog post so I stopped what I was doing to make some pancakes for Tiger.  Like yesterday, Tiger spent the morning completing homework from his poetry class, which consisted of researching into the poems of Christina Rossetti and Wilfred Owen.


Meal times are not too exciting when daddy is not around, so we had a 'working lunch' where we watched clips from BBC Nature on the birds and small mammals that we saw on our nature walk last weekend.  I had two boiled eggs for lunch so there was a lot of time for me to put together my menu plan for the week.

We took a half-hour break after lunch before resuming lessons at 2:15pm.

Since we forgot to start with memory work this morning, I made that our priority in the afternoon.  Most of the poems that were recited yesterday are in the "weekly" folder, which means that they need to be recited only once a week.  Therefore, Tiger only worked through the following poems today:
  1. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
  2. 《古朗月行》 - 李白
  3. The Word Party by Richard Edwards

When Tiger starts to work on memorising a new poem, I usually ask him to read it out loud first so that we can both listen to it.  Normally that is enough for him to pick out the basics such as rhyme, rhythm and structure.  This afternoon Tiger identified the rhyme scheme and the rhyming couplets from The Word Party.

We then moved on to oral narration where I read a chapter from The Story Book of Science and had Tiger tell it to me back, in his own words.

This would have been a quick five-minute task for Tiger were it not for the customary "Why do I have to do this?  Can't I just listen or read it to myself?"  We had been through this Q&A session many times before and he knows exactly why I insist on having him narrate after one reading.  However, I must admit that the level of concentration required for a successful narration is immense so I do understand why anyone would rather not do it if they have a choice.

Maths was next on this afternoon's school menu.  Today Tiger worked on fractions from RightStart Level E.  The lesson was more of a revision for him but as he completed it so quickly we had time to play two rounds of fraction game which helped to improve his mental accuracy.

After maths we headed out for Tiger's weekly table tennis session where I usually sit in the waiting/viewing room and read while the session was going on.


It was 6pm when we arrived home.  I started to cook dinner while Tiger alternated between fixing his remote control car and watching a documentary about animals that burrow.  When dinner was stewing for 15 minutes, I used the time to do a rapid dusting around the house.

By 8:30pm, Tiger had had a shower and was in his dressing gown, getting ready for bed.  Seeing that I was baking a cake for tomorrow, he decided to stay downstairs to draw a helicopter while following his go-to online drawing instructions.

At 9pm, my husband came home.  He is back late tonight as he met a friend after work.  The cake batter is in the oven by now and Tiger has finished his drawing, so all of us had a good chat before the boys spent some time together (fixing the shower and Tiger's remote control car) before Tiger went to bed.

I, on the other hand, had the pleasure of ironing.

I am very glad, though, that I have caught up with the post for today!

No Two Days Are the Same: Monday

The days are flying through like a blur for me, so for my own benefit (read: what have we been doing all day?) I decide to make a record of how we spend our time this week.


My alarm rang at 7am but I turned it off and went back to bed.  Tiger came in a little while later to ask me what we would be doing today.  I told him we would wait and see, but that I would like to get on with our routine as well, if that was possible.  He didn't sound too keen and headed back to his bedroom to continue with the game that he has started a few days ago.  I turned to look at my clock, saw the time and cried, "Holy cow!"

My husband has taken the day off.  He is the welfare manager around here, as in, he makes sure that we get lay-ins, have delicious breakfasts, and generally enjoy a good life.  This morning, while he prepared breakfast, Tiger and I started on our new readings.  By the time breakfast was ready (it took about 20 minutes), Tiger was halfway through his book while I had just finished the preface of mine...

Our meal times at home is usually a long affair because we have lots of discussions, especially when my husband is there.  Hence, by the time we cleared the table and started 'school work', it was 11:30am.

Tiger and I did our morning chores then started with memory work, which consists of him reciting poems out loud.  This is a new practice that we have taken on since September.  The idea is that Tiger will have a repetoire of beautiful poetry that he can call up at will.  Today being Monday (the start of a week), Tiger recited a few 'review' poems (i.e. those that he can recite easily) and worked on others that he is in the process of memorising fully.  The poems he reviewed this morning are:
  1. From a Railway Carriage by Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. Aunt Jennifer's Tigers by Adrienne Rich
  3. The Land of Nod by Robert Louis Steveson
  4. 《静夜思》 - 李白
  5. 《早春》 - 韩俞
  6. 《春晓》 - 孟浩然
  7. 《游子吟》 - 孟郊 
The ones he is working on are:
  1. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
  2. 《古朗月行》 - 李白

As Tiger attends a class on the history of medicine, I recently signed up for a free short course called Brief History of Medicine.  The first episode on prehistoric medicine arrived in my in-box this morning so I read it out to him.  Each episode is a one-page summary of the key development of medicine through history and takes only five minutes to read.  I signed up only because:
  • it gives a good summary of what Tiger will be covering in his history class;
  • it is a good, quick way to get us into the frame of mind to start the day;
  • it is free;
  • it is relevant to Tiger's class.

Tiger is given homework from his tutorial classes each week.  I am a stickler for completing homework before the next class and I told him as much.  Although Tiger is not a readily compliant child, he agrees with me on this point so he got on with his English homework, which includes an analysis of one of Obama's pre-presidential speeches.  I asked him whether he needed my help.  He said no, so I organised his class notes from last week's classes while he completed his homework.  I also started to cook dinner and had just put all the potatoes on boil when Tiger called me over to help him with a question on the use of a particular rhetorical device.


Tiger finished his homework around 1:30pm, by which time we were all starving so I heated up last night's dinner.  My husband joined us for lunch so another round of interesting discussion ensued.

After lunch, the boys decided to go for a walk.  I was volunteered to stay at home to wait for a collection service for something to be returned.  I did not mind that too much since Tiger and I had taken a few long walks over the weekend.

While the boys were out, I:
  • listened to episode 3 of The Mason Jar while organising my collection of recipes;
  • read about the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature, which led me to research a little more about her;
  • registered Tiger to go on a few field trips;
  • replied to an email from a friend whose son studies at a top school in one of the top three Pisa-ranked countries - we have been having ongoing discussions about the teaching methods and educational outcomes;
  • made dinner; and
  • deep cleaned the bathrooms.


The boys came home just as I sat down for a cup of tea.

Dinner was served soon after but our dinner session was longer than usual because:
  • the boys filled me in with what they saw on their walk; and
  • they hated the vegetable pie that I made so I had to make something else quickly and try again.  It was a case of "We love you but we can't possible eat this pie!"

After the drama of a rejected dinner, one would think that should be the end of my day but no!  My husband and I were informed that we were to attend a science class after dinner!  The two adults groaned, "Do we have to...?"  At which point we were reprimanded for having a bad attitude towards learning and told to get our act together by half past seven when the class would start promptly.

In the half-hour session, my husband and I were shown how the carbon cycle works, and quizzed afterwards to make sure we were paying attention.  Luckily we aced the quiz to avoid incurring further wrath from the teacher.  Nonetheless we were given two homework assignments at the end of the session, one of which was to "take proper notes" at the next lesson.  Our obvious lack of note-taking has been observed and highlighted.

After the late-night science lesson, it was time for bed.  Tiger usually reads to himself but tonight he was drawing so I asked him whether he would like me to read to him as he drew.  He said yes, so I continued where we had left off and started on the story of Samuel Morse and the telegrah.

That was our Monday.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...