Wednesday, May 30, 2012

St. George's play

At the end of April we had St. George's Day here in England.  Apparently it's a big deal.  Since we were in the midst of a local geography lesson, it seemed only right to learn more about it and how it's celebrated here.

We already knew the story of St. George slaying the dragon.  It has been told and retold countless times, by countless people.  Usually it's something we do at Michaelmas, and my go-to version comes from one of the Waldorf books.  However, this time I told a version I found over at the Baldwin Project from C. S. Bailey, entitled simply: St. George and the Dragon.  And the girls were quick to say that they preferred this retelling much more than the others.

Because Sunburst had been studying the Crusades a few months ago, we were reminded about how St. George's cross was used to identify a crusader and then brought to England by Richard the Lionheart to identify English troops in battle.

We set out to hear the poem by William Blake ("And did those feet in ancient time") that was turned into a hymn of sorts and named "Jerusalem."  It's a wonderful song-- even Emerson, Lake and Palmer covered it in the 70s.  The girls were so enamored with the song that we were inspired to learn it.  And that was Monday.  Our first attempts to get the tune down were hilarious, but by Tuesday we had begun to show signs of improvement.

The girls both made some lovely St. George drawings for their books.  Sunburst wanted to draw hers in pencil, while Moonshine asked if she could use pastels.  Moonshine's drawing had such an otherworldly quality to it that it reminded me of program covers from Waldorf school plays.  The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that we finally had a large enough cast to put on a proper play.  The kids were immediately excited by the idea and thought it would be a great surprise for their dad Einstein.

We created a program using artwork from the girls' main lesson books.  I included the words to "Jerusalem" so that it would be a nice keepsake for the kids.  Even Kitty Bill picked up the lyrics rather quickly.

 Here is Sunburst's drawing on the inside of the program:

And Kitty Bill was inspired to draw a picture, as well: 

Both Sunburst and Moonshine wanted to help write the dialog, so we worked on it together in the afternoons as they found the inspiration.  Somehow the entire thing took on a life of its own and turned into a musical-- this is what happens when you have children that don't ever stop singing.

Sunburst played both the king and the dragon.  She managed to transform a cereal box into a convincing dragon's head.  Moonshine took the part of the Princess Sabra, with the comic exception that she wanted to be eaten by the dragon.  Kitty Bill played St. George.  His role was fairly straight forward, but he managed to bring some comedic personality to the role when, overcome with wonder by Sunburst's convincing dragon death scene during rehearsals, he shouted, "Awesome!"  We laughed so hard that we decided to leave that line in for the performance.

They had a fantastic time, and Einstein was completely impressed.  He couldn't believe that they had pulled off the show without him catching any hint of it.  And of course he was taken with their performances.

We managed to capture the entire performance on video to send the grandparents back in the states.  I think it will be quite the treat for my British grandmother in particular.  I fully expect she will be singing along.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


The children and I have all finally recovered from a terrible cold.  It was the kind that gets into your bones and makes you feel weak and weepy, inconsolable and feverish.  We spent the last couple of weeks coughing and sputtering and feeling just utterly miserable.  

Because it goes with the theme, I thought I'd show you a couple of sketches of the plague doctor that Sunburst and I penciled a few of weeks ago when we were talking about the Great Pestilence or Great Plague of 1348.

A few years ago we came across a lovely historical museum in Switzerland that had a section dedicated to the Great Plague, or Schwarzer Tod.  We were all mesmerized by the costume on display for the Doktor Schnabel.  It's an image that you don't forget easily, though I'm sure it's nothing compared to how the people of the time felt about it.

I just loved Sunburst's drawing of this-- it has such great feeling to it.  I love how she captured the mystery and foreboding-- the fog creeping over the ground, the clouded moon.  I think it's just marvelous.  Her drawing gives a much more sense impression than my static close-up pictured on the right.  It is such a joy to draw with her.

On a somewhat related note...

We're still house hunting.  We recently viewed an interesting house on the market-- a house from the 13th century.  It's wild to me that we could choose to live in a house that predates the Black Death.  I'm just a simple girl from the Southwest, so back home, that would be akin to renting out a cliff dwelling or something.  It's hard to wrap my brain around it.

It was a fascinating house with two separate stairwells, many little bedrooms and offices, and tiny period-sized windows.  My imagination was running wild the whole time.  The children, despite feeling a bit crummy, enjoyed poking around and exploring all the nooks and crannies, trying to imagine themselves living there.  Sunburst had the rooms parceled out in no time, before heading out to explore the garden which was another world of its own.

First of all, there was a pigsty.  Yes, an actual period building that housed pigs!  It was jammed full of boxes and things, so we couldn't explore inside, but the actual outside sty part of it charmed me.  The kids started dreaming up farm animals they could house there, like pygmy goats, and it wasn't hard to imagine.  It was all very ethereal.

Next there was a giant outbuilding, like a garden house but larger, perhaps the size of what I imagine Laura Ingalls might have lived in at one time.  It had a wide porch on it, the kind you could imagine somewhere on a hot day in the Deep South, sitting in your rocking chair, playing the banjo, and sipping lemonade.  Completely out of place in England, I'll tell you.  Until the sun came out four days ago, I couldn't even fathom a truly hot day here or drinking anything but a steaming cup of tea.

We couldn't explore inside that outbuilding either, because it too was crammed full of the forgotten remnants of someone else's life.  In fact, the entire house and outbuildings were completely packed and overflowing with stuff.  Clothes were strewn around the tiny kitchen, every closet and cupboard was bursting, and nearly every flat surface was laden with who knows what.  It was so strange.  I've never gone house hunting and encountered such a menagerie of, well... stuff in my life.  The character of the house was a little lost because of it.

It was very old world meets new world in a way.  And this wasn't lost on the children.  Sunburst aptly pointed out how strange it was to see teetering piles of plastic toys in an old, wooden house.  Or crayon and marker drawings all over the walls.  It was surreal to say the least.

The strangeness didn't end in the house, it followed us into the garden where we also discovered an old grindstone and some abandoned bee boxes in the far corner of the garden.  A little sleuthing under the overgrown ivy uncovered  a sign advertising local honey.  There was another outbuilding full of beekeeping supplies, strewn haphazardly about, as if several years ago the beekeeper walked out in the middle of his work and just left everything splayed out there.

Einstein has been considering keeping bees for some time now, so he was really intrigued by that one little room.  And the garden itself, though overgrown and mysterious, stole my heart a little bit.

We mused about it the entire drive home.  The village was adorable.  The house is bigger than what we have now.  But it's also darker, and by the signs of electric blankets on the beds, colder.  Every room was heated with electric heaters.  Every windowsill and corner had signs of mold, and the only word I can find to describe the wall in the stairwell is... mushy.  It doesn't even matter that our car doesn't fit in the driveway or that our sofa wouldn't have a chance fitting through the tiny doorway.  The mushy wall clenched it.

We're going to continue looking, but meanwhile, it sure does make the house we're in seem a whole lot nicer to come home too.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Braving the rain

I'm happy to announce that we have survived what the locals tell me is the wettest April England has seen in over a century... or perhaps ever, depending on who you ask.  I cannot even begin to tell you how relieved I was to hear that it wasn't normal spring weather: cold temperatures, several days of hail, superior amounts of wind, and a daily wallop of rain.  We've been feeling a bit like the beginning of Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat:  "Too wet to go out. Too cold to play ball..."

Although we did a lot of staying in the house and guzzling tea to keep warm, we did manage to get out and brave the rain a few times.  One of those trips was to tour the manor and grounds of a local 12th century Tudor mansion.  It was another adventure in local geography that answered the question, "What is there to see around here?"

Exploring the "old" kitchen.

The kids were intrigued by the landscaping.  They decided that it made a great place to take cover from the intermittent rain.

After a strong shower passed, we had a chance to explore the grounds a bit.  It would be a great place to go walking on a sunny day.

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