Picture Study: Ojibwe Gathering of the Clans



I was very excited about doing a study of Ojibwe art because I adore it!  I had pinned an inordinate amount of pins with references to this art form.  There is something powerful within its simplicity.  There is much more to it than first meets the eye, and yet even if one did not dig any deeper to find the spiritual references, just the art is enough.  It is beautiful, striking and strong:

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This type of art is called Anishinabe iconography  Whilst many of the examples we see today are modern, post 1960, these type of images were traditionally incised on rocks and Midewiwin birchbark scrolls.  We have already touched upon Ojibwe pictographs as a form of ancient communication.  And in deed these paintings, known as woodland art, are created to communicate a powerful, deeper spiritual meaning.

Most pictograph artists were thought to be shamans or medicine men. To the Ojibwe people the dream world was closely related to the spiritual world.  Dreams were therefore interpreted as signs from the Great Spirit. If the dreams showed a place or animal, a pictograph would be used to symbolize or remember the dream.

The pictographs were also, to some extent, a reflection of the cultural character of the tribes in relation to where they lived, how they lived, what their values were, what their spiritual beliefs were, their system of government and how they viewed themselves in relationship to the rest of the universe.

The woodland style specific to the Anishinabe nation developed as a direct result of the imagery of Norval Morrisseau.  Morrisseau sought to share the spiritual concepts inherent within the woodland art form, in the 1960’s.  In ancient times three main categories of representational imagery (other than human) outweighed all the rest:

  • The first category included large carnivores – especially bears and large cats.
  • The second categories focused on snakes.
  • The third category was full of birds – most often raptors, especially eagles and hawks.

There were often representations of transformations (known as simultaneity).  Transformations were pictures of a man or animal being two life forms at the same time.  For example, both Norval Morrisseau and Daphne Odjig did paintings they entitled Thunderbird Man:

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This type of human/bird imagery can also be seen carved into both copper and shell from pre-historic sites that date from 1000AD and 1400AD.

The pictures often showed humans communicating and struggling for supremacy with animals as in this painting by Morrisseau depicting man in communication with a serpent:

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I knew whenever we did carry out a picture study on some Ojibwe art we would need to look past the surface detail at the meaning behind the art.  It was a prospect which delighted me and I hoped the children would catch my enthusiasm.

We chose to study two paintings which depicted ‘The Gathering of the Clans’, a topic which fitted in nicely with this weeks history focus – Ojibwe Clans:



meeting of the clans

I blew each picture up larger so they could really see what they were looking at, and we simply chatted about each painting.  The first thing they noticed was the solid colours with a black outline.  They commented that the paintings looked like pictures inside pictures.  We all struggled to find meaning for the patterns inside the first picture but there was much discussion over the placement of each animal and the clan they represented.  They had learnt enough to postulate why the turtle had pride of place at the front of the picture (Ojibwe creation story making Turtle Island), they found it hard to say which animal represented the deer clan and someone made the comment that the deer clan had been disassembled due to intermarriage and the failure to keep other rules.  A6 was the most observant, although she was not able to follow through to suggest what her observations meant.  She pointed out the two sun-like pictures with a thread which seems to connect all the animals together.  T, I think, suggested it was to represent the coming together of the clans to become a whole people, intrinsically linked by a common thread of working for the Ojibwe nations.  Someone, possibly me, mentioned the yin and yang like symbols found in one of the suns which, again, suggested that when the clans met together there was a sense of the whole nation being represented, all of whom complemented each other so that the interests of everyone were served.

The second picture created the most discussion.  The children found it fascinating to peel off the layers of the painting.  The first thing they noticed was that each clan was represented by the animal and a person.  We discussed whether this was the transformation or simultaneity of man and beast.  To be honest we weren’t sure.  The children did notice that the characteristics which each clan animal was supposed to have were depicted in each pair of animal and man.  For example the man associated with the crane contained a couple of fancy headdresses traditionally worn by leaders.  The crane clan was in deed a leadership clan.  Likewise the marten picture contained weapons which were perfect for displaying his role as a warrior clan. It was all fascinating and as always I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the children’s thoughts on everything.

I wanted each of the children to replicate a part or all of one of the pictures.  I was getting ready for the twins’ birthday and really didn’t want to have to clear up the mess of acrylic paint so we opted for twistable crayons!  Paint would have been a far superior medium to use in order to get the clarity of colour the originals had but I was still pleased with the results.  The purpose of picture replication isn’t only an artistic one.  One must carefully study a picture in order to become familiar enough to be able to replicate it faithfully.  Careful study means that the picture’s nuances, so easily missed on brief acquaintance, jump out to commune with the observer.

The children chose one of the clans they had written their fiction stories about and went to work redrawing and colouring in:

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Ribbet collagepicture studyclans

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And the resultant pictures:




And a replication of the whole picture ‘Gathering of the Clans:

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Copied from this:aaaaclans

This was a good study and one I would have liked to have taken further.  However, I was unable to do this because there was so much about the paintings I didn’t understand or I had questions about.  I had attempted to find more out on the internet to pass on to my children but there wasn’t anything out there written specifically about these pictures, so we had to make do with only our own thoughts.  Nevertheless there was a definite sense we had come away from the study understanding something more about the Ojibwe people and their clan system of government.

Law Study – Ojibwe clans


The Ojibwe people lived in familial groups, made up of several extended families.  The groups had between 300 and 400 people in them, living together in summer camps but splitting into smaller camps of one or two families for the rest of the year.  As well as being part of  a family of blood relatives, the Ojibwe also belonged to dodems or clans.  The children studied seven of the first clans, although there are now many more.  The seven we looked at were marten, loon, crane, bear, sturgeon, hoof and bird clans.  Members of each dodem were said to share the same ancestor, which was the spirit of the animal for which their dodem was named.


We used the following resources to learn more about each dodem:


This Clan system was given to the people by their creator as a system of government to create strength and order and was known as O-do-i-daym-i-wan.  Each clan was given a function to serve for the people.  The children studied the hierarchy of the clans and, using the white board, drew one up themselves, writing what they understood to be the roles of each clan in relation to the others:

Discussing where everything goes

Discussing where everything goes

Carrying out the work together

Carrying out the work together

The final hierachy

The final hierarchy

Close up of some of the details

Close up of some of the details

We have looked at a few forms of government in our history studies and I have to say that one of the great things about studying history as we do is the comparisons we can make between cultures and times.  We had already looked at:

-Feudalism and made a diorama to display its hierarchy:


-Autocracy, where one man rules an entire kingdom:


-Democracy, where the kingdom is ruled by the people, via a system of voting:


We’ve studied Hammurabi’s stele, a set of rules drawn up by Hammurabi and followed by all men as quite possibly the earliest legal system to be seen:


and we have studied the Magna Carta, a set of rules made up to contain the autocratic rule of King John and one of the first moves towards a devolution of regal power in our country:

Our very own set of rules for our home.

We revised these legal systems and I asked the children to explain which system the Ojibwe clan most closely aligned with and why.

The children felt it was a democratic system because the rule was for the people, by the people.  And they were right!

The children then took two clans each and made up a fictional story based on the animal and the characteristic linked to it, which they read out loud.  This I hoped would consolidate the main characteristics and responsibilities each clan was to have.  They made a poster of the clans to represent all they had learnt.  It also contained each of their stories:

They made it into a poster which they would present to my mum at the end of the week

They made it into a poster which they would present to my mum at the end of the week


T's essay about the bear clan

T’s essay about the bear clan, showing its roll in leadership

L's essay about the deer clan

L’s essay about the deer clan known for their love and gentleness

C's essay

C’s essay about the Marten clan illustrating the competitiveness and warrior like quality of the Marten

Following this we did a picture study on the picture shown at the top of the poist and the following painting, both of which are called ‘The Gathering of the Clans':

meeting of the clans


And I will be posting on that sometime soon.



Ojibwe Fry Bread Recipe



This is for Ticia, who asked for the recipe of our Ojibwe fried bread.  We basically used the recipe from this book:

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2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tbs oil

3/4 cup water

Cooking oil

Add ingredients together and knead until soft and pliable.  Form into small balls and make a hole in the middle to ensure even cooking throughout:

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Use about an inch of oil in the frying pan and fry a few at a time.  Toss in sugar and serve with a fruit dip:

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They were yummy-scrummy!

Art Study – Ojibwe Birch Bark Biting



Birchbark biting was mentioned briefly in the Birch Bark House as an activity which was done over the winter months to pass the time.  Birch bark biting, otherwise known as Mazinibaganjigan, is an ancient folk art.  One of the oldest forms of aboriginal art, it is practiced among the Ojibwe, Odawa, Cree and other Algonquian peoples for whom the bark of birch trees is a widely available resource.  Plain bark pieces can be turned into intricate works of art by using the canine teeth to bite.  The pressure of the bite pierces the bark pieces to create patterns or to allow for light to pass through:



We watched this very quick video about it:

Most of the bitten motifs were of sacred significance, such as this turtle which is important in the Ojibwe creation story:


Symmetrical designs were obtained by folding the birch bark:


According to the video, it is a practice which almost died out although there are now a few determined artists who are teaching this skill to the next generation.  We did our bit to keep this ancient art form alive by creating our own Mazinibaganjigan.  We didn’t have enough birch bark available to try it out for real, but the children gave it their best shot using a tortilla:


T bit into his whole tortilla, creating a single bitten picture, whilst the girls folded their tortilla into quarters:


A6 just kept biting and had lots of fun doing so:

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And here are a couple of the resultant tortillas:

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C bit a pattern (RHS) whilst L bit a cross, a religious symbol which meant something to her (LHS).  A6 simply ate hers before I could photograph it!

Wibbly Wobbly Weight-loss – Losing Weight the Wibbly, Wobbly Way


LilySlim Weight loss tickers

You all know I’ve just returned from a wonderful break in Ireland?  Gary had already decided that there was no way he would be dieting on holiday.  For me it was less clear cut.  I finally chose to attempt to be moderate.  Yes, I do realise that sentence has probably made anyone who knows me splutter out their coffee in disbelief.  Claire?  Moderate?  Those two words are not usually seen in the same sentence.  In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if Claire was an antonym to moderate.  But I digress.  So moderate it was.  And in many ways moderate I was.  I could have gone mad and eaten everything in sight.  But I didn’t because I was being moderate.  However, I could have been miserable and eaten very little.  But I didn’t, for again I was being moderate.

And there’s something to be said about this moderation thing.  I still had fun.  I wasn’t miserable in the slightest and I didn’t even feel I was missing out.  Thing is, I really didn’t miss out.  Due to the aforementioned moderation.  I did however feel like I had put on a wee bit of weight, and before tucking myself down for the night on Sunday I weighed myself.  I had in deed put on weight.  Only it wasn’t huge and it wasn’t a shock.  I weighed a very moderate three pounds more than I had when I left the shores of England two weeks hence.

Next morning I decided to weigh myself again.  Lest you think daily weighing is my norm, you’d be wrong.  I’m a once a week weight check girl, if that.  But I felt lighter.  I couldn’t explain why, I just did.  And when I weighed myself again I had lost the three pounds from the night before.  There it was gone!  I tell you, this moderation thing is cooo-ell! (That or the water retention from nearly 24 hours of travel….)

Four (ish) weeks ago I set myself the goal of losing 10Ib by the 1st of November (next Saturday).  I had forgotten at the time I was going on holiday (duh!).  However, I weighed myself this morning and I was 232.5 pounds, a loss of 5.5Ibs over the last 4 weeks and bringing my total weight loss to 25.5 pounds.  Yipidee-dipidee!!  I have since decided to be moderate in all areas of my life……..no, not really!

To meet my goal of 10Ib loss by next Saturday I will need to lose 4.5 pounds.  This is highly unlikely, especially as my twins birthday sits bang in the middle.  I wasn’t going to post today but I thought it might help keep me on track and try even harder next week to shift a few more pounds so that even if I do not meet my goal I will be that little bit closer to it.

This week past I have done two things which, I think, have made a big difference.  I have eaten more food but with less calories and I have not drunk my calories.  Oh and I cut my hair off – that may have helped move the scales in my favour!  The not drinking the calories idea was something that hit me as a very helpful idea given my propensity for lattes and smoothies.  I got it from the skinny rules:

the skinny rules

I’m not sure if these are things to do to be skinny or things that skinny people naturally do, but they seem fairly sensible to me, especially the one about drinking my calories.  And to be honest many of them I do anyway and the rest seem eminently doable, although I’m not sure I’m ready to go to bed hungry yet, after all I’ve only just learnt to sleep!

There was one other thing I did which has made a huge difference.  Do you remember I handed this weightloss journey over to God last month?  I’m not sure what I expected, but I expected something.  I know from experience that when one lets go of an area of one’s life, especially an area of struggle, and hands the reins over to God, then God will act.  Well, I didn’t become weight loss girl extraordinaire, but I did remember at all times I was trying to lose weight.  I had mentioned to Lorna, my badminton buddy, that if I could just remember I was trying to lose weight before eating something I might have a better chance of losing it.  (I’m kind of hoping that’s not just me??  I have been known to be a bit scatty at times….).  The last four weeks I have been aware of a small quiet voice reminding me.  This means that every decision I have made with regards to food has been made knowing I was trying to reduce my size.  This is huge for me, and has clearly helped.

My mantra for this week I pinned whilst I was on holiday:

don't be fast...

Yes, this week I am not going to be fast, cheap, easy or fake.  At least not gastronomically speaking.  I feel like there is a small possibility of some momentum beginning to build.  I hope so.  Momentum decreases the effort required and I’m all for that!

How have you all done over the past few weeks?  Are you relinquishing control of your area of struggle?  Can I pray for you in some way?  Do you have any tips or recipes you’d like to share?

Precious Memories


So, last Saturday we went aboard the ferry home, crossing from Belfast to Liverpool overnight.   Gary slept with the older ones in a cabin, I slept with the littles in another cabin.  It was a stormy night, which the little ones slept dead to the world the whole way through.  Unlike their mother and father.  Gary slept on and off but assured me he had not been scared (Uhuh).  And me?  I was awake all night clutching onto my mattress praying my little heart out as the boat went up and down at an alarming rate often coming down before my body had caught up.  I’m not entirely sure what help I thought my mattress might be if we did suddenly capsize but it was nevertheless comforting to hold on to anything.

It also crossed my mind that if I was left suspended mid-air due to the rockiness of the boat, what on earth was happening to our car, which was parked on the top deck.  I had images of it bunny jumping over board.  I even looked up on the ipad whether a Stenna Line ship had ever drowned, figuring I would work out the probability that we, also, would drown.  It was probably a good job that the free WiFi wasn’t working at its most efficient at that moment in time because being ever so slightly of the impatient disposition I gave up after half an hour of waiting for it to connect me to the last twenty ships to go down in modern times.

I have one thing to say.  Never again.  Ever.  Never ever.  Ever.  I don’t care that it was only a small storm.  And equally it matters little that the cars are belted onto the deck and so the likelihood of them bunny jumping to their demise is even slimmer than it had been in my mind the night before.  I will never spend a whole night on a ship ever again.  Ever.

We then had a five-hour drive home.  I found it slightly disturbing that I was still rocking even after disembarking the boat and driving for a couple of hours.  It was a weird sensation to attempt to attend to the most basic of hygiene needs with a toilet that kept moving.  At that point I told myself to pull it together and man up.  Nothing was moving.  Not even the loo.  Five hours later we arrived home, ate and went to bed.  Even I was in bed by 8 and slept right through until the next morning.

And it was due to the aforementioned diatribe that I decided on an unschooling week.  I needed a holiday.  That said we had a lot which needed to be done, y’know chore-wise, and not one to selfishly keep things to myself I happily split them with my children.  I know, how great a mother am I?

The house stank of dog due to no vacuuming being done whilst we were away.  My mum very kindly looks after the dog, cats, rabbits and chickens whilst we’re away.  She had little spare time in which to vacuum.  So I did every room.  The smell was still there and it was revolting.  So I went a bit mad and spring cleaned the whole house (dragging the children into it as well, of course).  After opening all the windows, we took all the rugs out for an air; stripped the sofa of all the washable covers (Oscar had obviously been using it as a bed, if the hair was anything to go by); bleached, yes bleached all the tile and wooden floors; carpet cleaned the rugs; washed and dried the sofa covers and lit a few candles.  Soon it was all smelling like roses again.  Actually it smelt of a mixture of apple and cinnamon (candle), bleach and cleaning fluids, but anything was better than the smell of dog, so I was happy:

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It was kind of lovely to watch the children disappear off into various corners of the house to pursue their own fun.  L and C decided to ‘put up a shop’ for the victims of Ebola.  L began making some octopuses (or should that be octopi?) from wool and painted some cards to sell:

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In contrast, her sister used some material from our rather large stash and sewed a pillow case just like that, which she then proceeded to place on her bed, followed by a second one which she placed on L’s bed.  Either she had forgotten about the Ebola victims or there was something they weren’t telling me about their health!

Ribbet collagepillow

T spent hours in his bedroom planning world domination.  Actually he was in the depths of planning his car washing business but one gets the feeling if he wanted to pursue world domination he might just have the determination to succeed.  Any time he needed to blow away the cobwebs he sauntered outside, after throwing on his new gardening overalls, to tend to his beds:

Ribbet collageww3

The picture bottom left show our rather lovely stack of logs for burning in our log burning stove.

We have also been spending a few sessions in the garden with the sole aim of clearing it.  To be honest, no one is desperately enthusiastic about the gardening delights which await them but everyone is pleased once they are out and working and we all love looking at the results which occur quickly when there are seven people working together:

Ribbet collageww2

Our goal is to have the whole site cleared of rubbish, wood and anything else which is cluttering it up by Christmas so we can start our back garden nature study in the new year.

I also had the pleasure of my two youngest asking to play dressing up.  It brought back incredibly fond memories of my older three who spent their entire childhood in one make-believe world after another.  My younger two had not shown much interest in spending their young years doing the same and my older three have long since grown out of dressing up.  So you can imagine my delight when I overheard the four girls deep in make-believe play:


They chatted, danced, taught their younger sisters all they knew and all four were in dress up the whole time.  Ah, be still my beating heart.  Childhood is such a blessing:

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Last but not least a couple of photos which I included because I thought they were gorgeous:

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Life’s kinda fun, don’t you think?

Homegrown Learners photo 50ee37ee-4f60-43f2-83eb-bb7deb75fd49_zpsbacda61d.png

Rest, Relaxation and Restoration in Northern Ireland


DSC_0632 home

We have just returned from a couple of weeks of holidaying in Northern Ireland.  I love Northern Ireland.  Gary, of course, loves Northern Ireland and all five children love Northern Ireland.  It is familiar, friendly and fun.  My incredible mother in law also strives to make it restful, relaxing and restorative.  Gary and I lie in bed in the morning for as long as we want, she does all of the cooking and no sooner do we wear something it is washed, folded and back in our drawers to wear again.  We are surrounded by farms, countryside, mountains and some of the most glorious beeches in the world.  We feel free in so much space.  One’s eye view is uncluttered and goes on for miles:








Our holiday consists of a lovely balance between spending time with family, visiting old haunts and taking the opportunity to enjoy just being together.  Each time we visit home Gary’s parents arrange a family get together.  Gary has four brothers and one sister and between us all we have 16 children!  Family gatherings are large and noisy!

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With lots of hilarity occurring when beards were bought in to challenge Uncle Tim’s:

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We also squeeze as many extra visits to them all as well as friends as we can without them getting fed up with the sight of us!

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We also visit our favourite beaches and of course Cheeky Chimps, a soft play area where we spent hours burning off energy during the older one’s younger days:

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The rest of the time is spent enjoying being together as a family:




Which of course entails hours and hours of fun at the beach:




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T dragged his father out of bed before dawn to drive him up the  Slieve Gallion mountains to get photos of the sun rising:

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Happy, happy sigh….we have determined to save up every penny in an attempt to visit Northern Ireland twice each year.  Honestly, these are the best holidays of our lives.  Thank you everyone (especially my mum-in-law, Heather), who make such an effort to welcome us and make us feel at home.  None of us want to leave and we miss you all terribly.

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