Tuesday, 30 December 2008


I am sitting by a log fire looking across the valley to the misty hills beyond. My children are outside with my friend feeding the horses and ducks. It is beautiful and peaceful here and I can feel my habitual hurriedness seeping away. I have brought 'Brisingr', the third book in the 'Eragon' series, which will occupy many hours, and 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban' which we are enjoying as a family read aloud. There is ample tea for the day-time and red wine for the evening. I think I am going to have a lovely week!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

And we're off!

I have spent the last 48 hours cancelling, rearranging and finally reinstating our plans for a week's holiday.
Our car's sudden death on Friday meant that I thought our trip up to the Midlands to visit my in-laws, and then on to Yorkshire for a quiet week of rest and fun in the countryside, was scuppered. Via a circuitous route asking the grandparents to make the trip to us, borrowing a car, insuring the car and asking the advice of my car salesman neighbour on whether it was worth repairing our car (it isn't), it occurred to me at 8:30 pm last night that we could still do exactly what we had originally planned. This means that we are leaving in a couple of hours for a week's holiday - Hooray!
I hope to have internet access and to keep in touch, but if not I will be back in the New Year.
Best Wishes!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

If you know the person ...

... you'll find the gift.
The pre-Christmas advertising slogan for John Lewis this season.
I gave my eldest son "The Aspiring Author's Journal", which he is very excited about starting on 1st January. Apparently it's the best present of the year.My middle son received Star Wars Lego, which kept him happily busy. (There's also his new book of survival tips next to him - you never know when you might need it!)And my little girl got a Barbie! On Christmas Eve, a dear friend gave me a gift. "It's just for you," he told me, "We saw it and thought - yes, it's just right!" I was intrigued and it was the first present I opened on Christmas morning. It was a Cath Kidston floral bag - just lovely: so me, so useful and so pretty. And it warmed my heart to feel so known, and loved!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Cam Belt

This was my car at 10am this morning, after my Boxing Day run in Richmond Park:

I know little about cars, but the expression on the roadside rescue guy's face was not one of optimism.

I did indulge in a fair amount of berating the Almighty for letting our car die but I gradually began to look at it a different way. If the car had to break down, for it to happen on a day when I had nothing else to do and nowhere to be at any particular time; for me to be on my own and not to need to entertain bored children and be able to listen to Desert Island Discs; for me to have remembered to take my mobile and to have topped up the 'emergency' supplies in the car so I had juice and shortbread; to have friends who are willing to lend us their car to travel up to the Midlands and then on to Yorkshire next week - I am blessed indeed.

Thursday, 25 December 2008


Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


In my perusal of blogs this morning, I noticed a theme that resonated with how I'm feeling. Both Melissa and Mrs G. have written posts about the less-than-picture -perfect nature of family life. I have an image in my head - a patchwork of film clips, story books and chance comments - of what family should look like, especially at Christmas.
A few days ago, a friend whom I have not seen in a long while dropped by with presents for the children. As we chatted over a cup of tea we smiled over how lovely it is to put up the Christmas tree - carols playing, Champagne in hand, excited children. I agreed. We looked at each other and she admitted that it hadn't been like that at all, that she had taken refuge in the kitchen to avoid the stress and her husband had been cross with her for missing the children's faces. I admitted that last year our tree decoration had resulted in me shouting about all the mess and how I didn't want a tree in my house at all. Although I would love my children to recount in years to come the special family time of putting up the tree together, I know that the reality would be them remembering the arguments so I just kept out of the way this year.
I realise that I want my family life to look like a story book - I would like the children to be as obedient as Laura in the Little House Books, I would like to be as calm and unruffled as the Mother in The Railway Children (who never cried in front of the children), I would like to coax my garden into beautiful life like Mary, Dickon and Colin in The Secret Garden and I would like my children to have adventures like The Famous Five and to have Christmases worthy of poetry. By the end of yesterday I was crying with frustration and exhaustion.
In the midst of this, I have been pondering the expectations placed on the Christ Child. While many, even at his birth, recognised him as the long-awaited Messiah, I wonder if he lived up to their hopes. His victory on the cross was not the victory over Rome the oppressed people were longing for. I wonder if the shepherds, as old men, heard of his crucifixion and connected the victim with the babe in the manger; and whether they understood that what was perfect in God's eyes, was not the story book picture they had, perhaps, imagined.

Monday, 22 December 2008

This term, my middle-son has got into knitting in a big way. It is perfect for a child who likes to be busy with his hands while he is listening, say to a chapter book or a church service.
In October, he announced that he was knitting a scarf as a Christmas gift for a three-year old friend of ours,and then proceeded to knit four more, in carefully chosen colours, for other friends of various ages - 7, 21, 27 and 60. It was a great insight into who is special to my son.Yesterday, we wrapped them to give at church so that the recipients would have them to open on Christmas morning. Labels were painstakingly written in green glitter pen, all signed 'with lots of love', even remembering to thank the friend who had taken him bowling a few months back. All of this was his idea, from the generosity and thoughtfulness of his heart and I was deeply touched. What more could you want for Christmas?

Saturday, 20 December 2008


Last week, as we were going out for dinner, my husband asked where I would like to be in three years time. This kind of conversation has been a favourite over the years - planning out our future. In a box upstairs, I even have our 25 year plan neatly written out! However, my heart was not in it this time - I just can't imagine what I will be doing in three years. I hope I will still be Home Educating my children and I think it's very unlikely that we will move house, so it would seem that the fundamental structure of my life won't change. My husband is ambitious in his job and has a career plan in mind, but there are no promotions to aim for in my line of work.
I have no idea what will come up for me. In the past I have trained as a gym instructor, completed a triathlon, taken courses in story-telling and bread-making and, while all were a lot of fun, none have made any major impact on my life. In February, I am starting a Creative Writing course and I am currently enjoying playing around with some writing ideas, but whether this will bear any fruit, or whether I will enjoy it for a while and then put it down again, remains to be seen.
I came across some words this morning which gave clarity how I'm feeling:

The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into
ambiguity, not into some pre-determined, clearly delineated future. The next
step discloses itself only out of discernment of God acting in ... the
present moment.

Brennan Manning, quoted in God On Mute
by Pete Greig

This gives a context for my unwillingness to plan my future, and an aim, a goal of sorts, to pay attention to where God is acting now and to let Him lead me into the future, whatever that's going to be.

Friday, 19 December 2008

End of Term

The last few days have been a bit of a drag. I have had a nasty cold and the children are tired and under the weather. Home school has not been fun here! I always know when things aren't going well when I hear myself say - way too many times - "If you were in school ...".
Today is officially (and as I'm the only official here I can say that with confidence) the End Of Term.
I have Maltesers,
I have popcornand we are off to the cinema!

Thursday, 18 December 2008


Nothing worth a post,
Irritable and crabby.
Season of good cheer?

Image (c) FreeFoto.com

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


Is there an etiquette for germs, or at least for people with germs? I am due to leave in half-an-hour to lead a Breastfeeding drop in clinic at my local hospital. When I woke my daughter a little while ago she was full of cold, crying with the soreness of her throat. They were due to spend the morning at the house of a dear and lovely friend from church and I knew that my little girl would be warm and happy there. However, would my friend wish to host the germs? So I called, putting my friend in that very awkward postion of having to decide. She consulted with her husband and has offered to come over here so I can do the clinic, which I would have to cancel otherwise. In talking around the issue, I quipped that she was as likely to have caught cold from me on Sunday, when I felt truly dreadful, as she is from my daughter. Ah, she said, perhaps that's why I have a sore throat! I'm not sure if she was joking, and I felt terrible that I might have infected her, or anyone else. However, I know that I was not the only snotty and sneezy member of the congregation. Was I wrong to go? Am I wrong to be asking my friend to come this morning?

Three years ago, I woke on Christmas morning, my then two-and-a-half year old girl snuggled in bed with me, and I noticed an angry red spot on her neck. Drowsily I thought it must be a bite, not really thinking about the likelihood of that in December. Then I lifted up her pyjama top to find her covered in chicken pox! Immediately I thought back to the afternoon before, the children's Nativity at Church, and how she had been running around with the other children, playing tag and then kissing them goodbye as we left! Oh dear, a walking germ factory, she would have infected most of the non-immune children!

Currently the norovirus is prowling the UK and doctor's advice is to stay off work for 48 hours after the symptoms have passed. I wonder how many people heed this. It must be hard to justify taking time off sick when you aren't sick any more and you know how hard pressed everyone is at the moment with so many people ill with colds.

Wouldn't it be great if we had some kind of indicator of how germy we are?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Monday, 15 December 2008

Earth's Treasury

Day Out Day was Friday last week and we ventured up to the Natural History Museum again. Although we've been there ever so many times, the children are still eager to go again. Following a question from my middle son, 'Where do rocks come from?' and my quick and thin explanation of the rock cycle earlier in the week, I had a renewed vision for visiting this old favourite and finding the answers to his question.
On arrival we bought worksheets, not something we do often and the children weren't too impressed but I was determined to do something structured and useful. We headed off to the Earth's Treasury gallery to complete our 'Explore and Discover ... Materials: Unearth the treasure game' sheets:
I enjoyed having these and I think the children did too. It felt to me that we were taking time to look at one or two things more carefully, noticing detail where we normally only see the bigger picture. With this done, I felt more free to amble around another gallery or two before heading home.
However, I think the two things that most caught their attention were not those things I had planned on.
Firstly, outside the museum is a Christmas Fair and Ice Rink. On arrival the free hot chocolate stand (a promotional give-away) was up and running and the children were delighted to be given little cups of mint-flavour hot chocolate. We got chatting to the guy and learned two pieces of information which kept the children in conversation around the museum most of the day. Firstly, that he works a twelve hour shift, not finishing until it is way past the chilren's bed-time and is very dark and cold. Secondly, that there was also orange-flavour hot chocolate as well as just chocolate flavour. Of course, we had to drop by on our way out to collect some more.
Secondly, in the Materials gallery were some bubble tubes. I think they were demonstrating the different viscosities of the products of crude oil, but they were pretty and endlessly fascinating.

Saturday, 13 December 2008


I love tea. I tell the children that, just as you put petrol in the car to keep it going, so you have to put tea in mummy! Occasionally I worry that I drink too much tea and sometimes I flirt with herbal 'tea' or green tea in an effort to drink less caffiene, but they never quite hit the spot.

I am very particular about which mug or cup I like. I have a huge mug which I use first thing in the morning as I settle down on the sofa to pray. It is plenty large enough to wrap both hands around and hug. It is also large enough to have to count as two when I tot up the day's tea comsumption.
On our mug tree there hang my stripy mug, my husband's mug, a Denby Imperial Blue Craftsmans mug which I use for guests, and my three other mugs.The heart one was a Valentine present and the pink one which says 'Mum' a Mother's Day present. I did tell my husband that I liked a mug I had seen and if he wanted to buy me a gift it was in Ruby's in Hampton. I bought one for my mother and my little girl commented that it was just like the one daddy had bought for me - so it wasn't a great surprise! It's quite fine china so it's a good one for the herbal tea too. The one with a gold pattern is, strictly speaking, for coffee. It just suits coffee better.
I also have a proper tea-cup and saucer with a matching plate. This is another charity shop find and is exclusively for poetry tea-time, usually with a home-made treat on the plate.I always, always, make tea in a tea-pot, even if it's just for me. I have a large tea-pot for the whole family, (another item seen in a charity shop, left on the shelf due to its huge price and then I had to call the shop and ask them to hold on to it for me until I had time to make a special trip to buy it!)and a smaller one if it's just for one or two. I usually use freshly drawn water and I try hard to only boil the amount I'm going to need, this is better for the planet! However, we have a new kettle and I haven't quite got the feel for it yet. I also hate pouring old water away as this seems wasteful too and I am not truly convinced that I can taste any difference if I use previously boiled water. If I really cared I could do a taste test, but I guess I'm not that obsessive! I usually warm the pot too. This keeps the tea hotter, but I've also heard that putting the tea-bag into a warm pot prevents the boiling water from scalding the tea. Then I pour the water on the moment it boils, stir it after a while and pour into a mug with milk already in. That is, if I haven't been distracted at some point and forgotten that I'm making tea. My husband makes great tea as it is something he takes very seriously and would never be distracted from. I, however, sometimes offer to make him a cup of tea and only get as far as boiling the kettle; sometimes I put the tea-bag in the warm pot and forget to pour on the water; sometimes I find a tea-pot, sitting on the side, full of luke warm tea. So there is something to be said for quickly making it in a mug - but there is nothing like a cup of properly made tea.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Poetry Books

In the photo of our tea-time, you can see 'I Like This Poem' which I picked up in a charity shop. Kathy asked me if I would recommend it and the answer is yes. My son in particular likes it and often choses a poem from it to share. It's divided up into age groups, and the poems are chosen by children themselves, and each comes with a little explanation of why they like them. There are some quite high-brow poems in here and also a lot of favourites.
'One Hundred and One Favourite Poems' is another one I like. In this, it is poets who've done the choosing and each have chosen one of their favourites from their own writing, again each with a comment on their choice. This book has introduced me to some new modern poets. We also like 'The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry' which we bought because we borrowed a friend's and tore it! It is filled with colourful pictures which helps with the poem choosing for those of us not reading yet.
I like 'The Nations Favourite Poems' and we are working through these one at a time as I think it's good to be introducing some more 'grown-up' poetry! Although I did skip over the five pages of 'The Lady of Shallot' and Stevie Smith's 'Not Waving but Drowning'.
I did used to try and read mostly 'proper' poems, believing in the need to 'educate' my children in great literature. I have now, finally figured out that, at their tender age, enjoyment of poetry is the point and loving poetry will naturally lead us, as they mature, into deeper waters. So my real tops a the moment are 'Now We Are Six' and 'When We Were Very Young' (both still bearing my childish scrawled name on the first page) although I'm sorry to say the my middle son is now getting bored of my rendition of 'The King's Breakfast', complete with silly voices for all the characters, especially the cow! Oh please, just one more time!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Reasons I Home Educate - No 4

Writing and reading poetry with the children; tea and home-baked cookies!

Reasons 1-3

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Building Blocks

Judging from the questions in Maths workbooks for my daughter's age (5), one thing that it is very important for children to understand and know how to describe is the order of events, being able to use 1st , 2nd, 3rd and so on.
In one of our recent sessions of 'Table Learning' (recently re-named from 'Table Work') the book which my daughter is using had a page on this topic. There were sets of three pictures and she had to write next to them which order they would come in. For example, there was a bean, a seedling and a large plant.
One set showed some children's building blocks scattered on the floor, a half-finished construction and a completed tower. When I came to see how she was doing she had labelled it thus:

1st: Half-built tower
2nd: Completed tower
3rd: Scattered blocks
She looked at me with a mischievous grin. "Playing with blocks, finished the tower, knocked the tower down," she explained.
My son told me she'd done it wrong. I say "Yey for the free thinker!"

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


On 16th August 2009, I will, God willing, be boarding a plane for Uganda; I am going to Watoto. Whether to go has been the subject of much heart-searching. Eventually I said to God, if it were just a little shorter, a bit less expensive and there was a bit of a break between returning and the beginning of the September term, I would go. That day, the leader of the trip found me at church to let me know that there was an option of coming home 3 days earlier, and that the cost of flights had been reduced! I was still worried about the money and so, although I don't actually need the money right now, I asked God, in his mercy, to give me a little something as an encouragement. Two days later I was given an unexpected cheque! So I'm going!

Saturday, 6 December 2008


There is one dilemma I have frequently with my children watching tv - should I watch it with them? There are all sorts of times for them to watch the box: sometimes it is a movie we all watch together and eat pop-corn. If I am feeling very 'educational' I will stop the film every so often to point something out or to ask an illuminating, or irritating, question. Sometimes, they will watch a nature documentary or a videoed episode of 'Blue Peter' while I chat with a friend and I don't want to be disturbed. And then there's the middle-ground. Sometimes I would quite like to watch with them, I am interested in the programme myself, but I am very busy and need some space to catch up. Sometimes I am exhausted and I let the tv babysit and worry that I am neglecting them. Sometimes I want to watch so that I can converse intelligently with then about what they have seen, this was my reason for watching "The Phantom Menace".

However, I have been reminded of the value of Narration, a Charlotte Mason idea. My friend was telling me how last week my middle son explained the plot of one of the Star Wars films off and on over a 2 hour period with interjections from my little girl. It struck me that this is narration in practice. On occasions I have made a point of sitting down with my children after an episode of 'Blue Peter' and asking them all about it. If I haven't seen the programme, we have to work together as I ask questions and try to grasp their explanations and they struggle to find the best way to let me know. Of course, if I have seen it, the exercise becomes forced, dry and 'teachery'. While it takes commitment on my part to find time with them after they have watched, I can see many benefits of this: helping them remember and think through what they have seen and heard, as well as the language skills needed to explain something clearly and the team skills to share out who tells what.

I can also see this skill having its uses in sorting out sibling disputes ...

The Phantom Menace

"Star Wars" fever has been gripping our family, or at least my children, of late. I am regularly asked questions such as "Who is your favourite Darth" (there's more than just Darth Vader?) or "What do you think Kit Fisto's voice will sound like" (Kit who?)
Yesterday we watched "The Phantom Menace" and I have to say that I enjoyed it a lot more than the first three (or the last three, depending on how you view them. We opted for production order, rather than chronological order. The purist in me prefered this, and it puts off the decision about "Revenge of the Sith" which is a 12 certificate.) The more I learn about the Star Wars films, the more complex I discover they are, (although I'm sure countless other places you could read up on this.) Anakin was conceived by Virgin Birth - remind you of anyone? However, Anakin turns well and truly bad, (I'll say no more just in case there is anyone reading this who doesn't already know) and I found an added sadness to the film about this adorable boy with such strength of character, knowing as I do the destruction he will eventually wreak.
I have had some interesting pre-film debate with my middle son as to what the Phantom Menace itself is. Perhaps the boy Anakin? The double-crossing senator? Or the fear in Anakin's heart which will eventually open him up to the Dark Side?

Fear causes anger, anger causes hate, and hate causes suffering.

This struck me as a profound truth. I know that much of the time, when things are not going well, as they haven't this week, I notice that a lot of my reactions are caused by fear. What if the children don't learn maths, manners, anything? From this, I find my temper is easily lost and I certainly act in a hateful way. While I don't like the idea that I cause my children suffering, I have certain caused tears this week.
Which is why spending Friday afternoon with then, a good film and a bowl of popcorn was such a good thing to do!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Teaching Subtraction

I have been teaching my middle son subtraction. Not just simple taking away, but 2 digits and 'borrowing' from the tens column. This follows teaching him addition with place value and it was quite a challenge getting him to begin adding the units and carry any extra tens. I pondered his dislike of this method for a while and came up with the idea of using money, not to bribe him, but for him to see in a concrete way what the place value meant and why he had to 'borrow'. I dug around in the parking change I keep in the car and in the children's pocket money purses until I had enough, then we sorted out pennies, ten-pence pieces and some pound coins. We got the required coins to make the amount given in the question, say 51p. Then I asked him to give me, say, 27p. Of course, it was obvious to him that he was stuck and couldn't do it, but he immediately took my suggestion that he trade one of his 10p pieces for 10 pennies. Then he could pay me what I was asking. This made perfect sense, he could grasp it, not only with his mind but with his fingers. We did a few and then I showed him how he could write down what he was doing. He was happy because it made sense, and wasn't nearly as hard as he had anticipated. I was happy because he was able to do it. The next day after a quick reminder he was off again.

However, I was then keen to get him to let go of the need for coins, to do it all on paper and we hit problems again. It is only in reflecting on this experience that I can see that he himself will naturally drop using the coins when they don't help any more. In other words, when he is so sure in himself of what to do, when he owns the knowledge, counting out the coins will become something he sees as a waste of time. He will find it quicker to write it down.

Why is it that, as 'teacher', I feel a need to push the children faster than they are ready to go (my daughter's reading is another example) instead of letting them learn and grow at the pace that is right for them? I think it is a natural instinct to want to challenge ourselves (think of all those multi-level computer games) and that we are the best judge of when we are ready to progress to the next level of difficulty. So, while my son has been learning about subtraction, I have been learning about letting him pace himself!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

What do you think of first?

Last night, as I was going to bed, I went to kiss my little girl good night. When she is asleep, cuddly and cosy, I cannot imagine ever feeling angry with her! I smothered her face with kisses and savoured the warmth of her body. She opened her eyes.
"Give me my advent calendar, " she murmured.
"What do you want it for?"
" I want to open it in bed" she replied.
Puzzled for a moment, I realised that she thought it was morning! And her advent calendar is her first waking thought!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Not really a post!

I'm not going to post today, I'm going to spend a bit more time with my children!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

A Wasted Day

It is on the days that I feel least like I am coping that I begin to obsess about all the educational opportunities the children would have if they were in school and thus the complete waste of time that being at home with me all day is turning out to be.
Last Thursday I was feeling pretty spent and so I cut down to the absolute bare minimum what I thought I had to do. Friday wasn't much better so I applied the same philosphy and looked forward to a new week. However, yesterday, I felt even lower and when the library web-site reduced me to a sobbing wreck I decided to batten down the hatches and only do the essentials, again. However, my doubt-defences were seriously compromised and I felt like a big fat failure of a Home Schooler. But, I got the children out of the house and to the library, and we delivered some church Christmas fliers on the way. This proved a surprising hit with the children and, as it was sunny and this seemed a good thing, we did some more after lunch. We met a neighbour with whose daughter does Rainbows with mine so I was able to offer a lift on Saturday and we met her very excitable dog to the delight of my children. I needed comfort food, so I made cookies with my little girl and then insisted on some "Tablework" (complete with"if you were at school you'd do this all day everyday, you have no idea how lucky you are" lecture). In half-an-hour or so each of my children had done something towards the goals I optimistically set at the end of our recent BraveWriter workshop.
So, if I were to be clocking up educational experiences and temporarily abandoning my belief in autonomous learning, by my reckoning we covered Numeracy, Literacy, Physical Education, Social Skills, Home Economics and Information Communication Technology.
It does make me feel better to put it like that!

Monday, 1 December 2008


I completed NaBloPoMo and I posted every day for one whole month!

I am so fed up this morning. A combination of hard week, an overbusy weekend, lack of sunlight and impending Chrismas has coincided to make today something I just don't want to do. I have been at the computer a while now, I have fiddled around reading blogs and checking things that don't need checking. I told the children I'd be with them at 9:45, which is now, and still I am struggling to motivate myself. Frequently, at this time of day, one or other of the children will appear, the squeaky door-handle alerting my nerves to their entrance, and I will bite back the urge to tell them to go away and leave me alone, (usually!) My little girl just came in. I continued to type for a few moments, hoping she'd get the hint, but already contending with the guilt of knowing that, if she did, she'd feel totally rejected and that would be all my fault. So I turned and asked her what she wanted. She put a card in my hand:

Dear Mother and Father,
I hope you have a nice Chrismas.
I love you both very much.
I love you so much. Happy Christmas.

Sunday, 30 November 2008


I went out with my husband yesterday. Like proper people, we went up to London, had lunch out, visited Tate Modern and the current Rothko exhibition and stopped in Starbucks for chocolate cake and Chai Latte. I can't remember the last time I had a date with my husband and it is a rare treat for us to have a conversation which is not interuppted. Big thanks are due to the lovely Kate for occupying and entertaining the children all day.

I have always liked Rothko's work, although I discovered yesterday it is only realy a small part of his work I like: the big, red and marroon stuff. There were some half-black, half-white ones that did nothing for me but the huge floating frames react with my brain and produce a wonderful sense of space and peace. I can vividly remember seeing them 'live' for the first time when I was in my teens, having only seen postcards or posters before, and feeling quite spaced out by their size and floating presence.
It was timed entry and we awere a little early to we took afew minutes to wander round the surrealist gallery first. I don't get it, and I hate to say that because it sounds so ignorant and philistine; but I cannot understand how the process works. I cannot imagine how an artist conceives such an idea in their head and then reproduces it on a canvas. As I look at some of these pictures I find myself wondering what it's about, what it's for and what it's trying to say. Very few move me in any way and many of those that touch me I find quite repellent. And yet when I overheard two women admiring a portrait, commenting how much better it was than the "rubbish" in the other gallery, I didn't agree at all. In not understanding, I feel that the lack is mine and that there is more here to appreciate, to grasp and to wrestle with. While modern art itself is not all that important, this has caused me to reflect on how easy it is to disregard that which I do not understand, or does not appeal to me, whether political, religious, personal or artistic.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


Two years ago, our church began to plan for a second team to visit Watoto in Uganda. I was tempted, but couldn't see how I could take two weeks out of my life and away from the children to visit Africa and I decided not to go. God, however, had other ideas and in April 2007 I found myself trekking in the Mountains of the Moon in South West Uganda for a reality tv show for the BBC!

Our church are now planning another Ugandan visit in August 2009. Knowing that there would be another trip, I had thought all along that I would go, and I immediately paid my deposit cheque. But I am still undecided. If I am honest with myself, it would be a huge relief not to go. The trip will be just over a fortnight and, while my husband is very willing to let me go, I feel that it is a long time to be away from the family. It is also very expensive, and a lot of the family's money to spend on just me. However, I was convinced it was what God wanted for me and I would love to be involved in the team and the work they will be doing. I'm stuck. Is it fear that makes me feel uneasy about going: do I just need to step out in faith? Or is it a different kind of fear propelling me to go: fear of feeling left out, fear of missing out; am I still listening to a message from God which is past its sell-by date?

Friday, 28 November 2008

Not getting it!

My cat has just burst in the cat-flap, which is right next to my computer, and raced over to his litter-tray with a worried look on his face. Moments later, looking decidedly more relaxed, he has gone outdoors again.
Barney - this is not the point!!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Am I a writer?

A little bit at a time, I am beginning to think of myself as a writer; or at least, a potential writer. I write every day here in my blog, and I have taken to carving out a little time in the week to write, even if it's just a 10 minute freewrite. I was playing around on Monday night and had go at a freewrite Kathy at 1o Minute Writer has set back in the Summer. Although I was tired and grumpy, the act of writing cheered me up and I even made me giggle (not everyone thinks I'm funny, but I do!) Kathy was kind enough to comment on my attempts and to encourage me to pursue the idea further. I have been perusing short story competitions and have sent off for a trial copy of a writers' magazine. I have discovered flash fiction and even micro-fiction, and I think I might give both a go. I have registered for an Open University short course "Start Writing Fiction". I like this journey - I wonder where it will lead?

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Wednesday morning lie-in

It's 8am and the blackbird on our birdsong clock has just sung. According to my tried and tested routine, we should all be up and dressed, with tidy bedrooms and be sitting at the table eating our fruit, lovingly prepared by daddy, listening to Classic FM. At 8:20am the children should go upstairs to clean their teeth before clearing the kitchen while I do one housework task. After that, we all play, which usually involves a den made out of sofa cushions and blog-surfing. At 10am our offical day begins, often with "table work", the best label I have managed to come up with for sitting at the table and doing something that most people would recognise as education: copywriting, maths workbooks, times tables practice, that kind of thing.
However, today the children are all still in bed and I have started playing already, although I am still in my PJs (which are brand new, red and white check and I am rather enjoying wearing them!) I know that it will all end in shouting, as we all feel lesuirely and relaxed until around 9:45am and I realise that not everything has been done and if we don't get a move on and clean our teeth, wash up, and tidy our rooms the world will end.
My heart is filled with the dilemma of letting them sleep if they are tired: after all, they don't have to get up for school; and sticking to a structure which I know works for all of us and gets everything done in a calm and orderly fashion.
However, it is still all quiet, so I'll drop in on a couple more blogs before I get them up!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Lego Wars

My daughter just came to me crying: her eldest brother had been calling her names. After a little investigation, I discovered that she had been playing with a piece of Lego belonging to her middle brother and my eldest son, ever the one to be the law keeper in the family, had felt it necessary to intervene. He was convinced that, although no-one else wanted the item at the moment, she would not give it back when they did. It took a little untangling and apologies were made and my little girl went back to her breakfast. My son, however, was walked away muttering, holding back tears. I called him back and we talked more. He told that yesterday she had taken a particular Lego piece belonging to him and hidden it. He had still not found it. "Sometimes," he told me, his fists tight, "I wish she didn't exist."
A tough way to feel.
I called my daughter back and she hunted for it, but it was lost. However, she did discover a Lego mini figure she had previously abducted. "Sometimes," she told me, sadly, "I just want what the boys have got."
A tough way to feel.
They are such little people and yet have such big emotions. The most apparently trivial of sibling fights are often an outworking of underlying passions. It is hard for me to hear of their jealousy, dislike and irritation. I imagine that in years to come they might say the others got more than they did, were listened to more, understood more, even loved more and I am anxious about whether I manage it the best way, whether I get it right. I hope that by listening to, acknowledging and encouraging awareness of these emotional storms, I am encouraging my children to navigate them more successfully. But I'm never sure.
A tough way to feel.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Always in a rush

How much of my day am I supposed to spend with my children, actually educating them?
Last night, I committed myself to one more thing this week, something I really beilve needs to be done; at first it sounded small but will actually will involve my children spending most of the afternoon with a kind friend.
I am teaching an antenatal class one evening and, because I am busy in the late afternoon, I will have to spend some of my early afternoon preparing and so my children will not get the benefits of my full attention.
I have a personal appointment another afternoon, so they will spend some more time with a different friend although I am intending on taking natural history DVD for them to watch so it will be "educational" and not too much trouble for my friend.
I have planned to take them swimming and shoe shopping. My eldest has two deadlines this week, one for a competition and one for an e-mail book club he belongs to, and a maths test. My little girl is taking part in a CBeebies Christmas Special and needs taking to the studio and collecting.
As I try to work out how I'm going to fit all this in, along with keeping the house clean, the children dressed in clean clothes and the family fed, I start knocking things off the list of what we're going to do. So, I don't have to go swimming, they don't need shoes this week; I don't need to have a quiet evening to knit the four hats I've promised for the church fair in less than two weeks.
With the aid of a couple of kids' DVDs I could free up some time to get everything done, but what about the children? What do they actually need? I'm trying to be imaginative and creative about the time I am with them. I've just got some audio books on CD so I can make the car journeys more profitable, I can read chapter books at bedtime instead of the day, we can combine shoe shopping with a poetry tea in a cafe.
I hear myself too often tell the children that I'm in a rush, or that I have so much to do. I have sent the children away more than once even while writing this. I'm not sure what yet, but something this week is going to have to give!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Sunday morning at my house

There was a light dusting of snow in our garden this morning. Apparently, Artic winds are sweeping Britain! The cat was not impressed.
Here is the wheelbarrow and sack of garden waste waiting to go to the tip after a session in the garden yesterday.My lovely husband has made breakfast, and lunch, and is now doing the washing up! My children and a friend are playing in the lounge.And the cat is still waiting for me to sort out the weather!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Bottom Line

Yesterday, at some unearthly hour, while it was still dark, I was running with my friend Kate and she asked me what I thought was the most important stuff for children to learn in school. It was too early for me to have my tactful and carefully thought through filter up and functioning so I was able to boil it down pretty quickly to three things:

They need to be able to read and write.
They need to be numerate enough to handle shopping, saving, rents and mortgages, figure out if something is a good deal, that kind of every day, useful stuff.
They need to believe in their own ability to learn anything else they need to know.

My sons, especially my middle one, are madly into "Star Wars" at the moment, and we are working our way through the entire saga, in order of production. I must confess to not being very interested in sci-fi, but I need to have some understanding of the plot in order to be able to converse with my children at the moment. My little boy has happily written a number of freewrites on Star Wars and yesterday we pieced them together and polished it up. He checked spellings of names and I showed him how to indent a paragraph. While the subject matter would not be viewed as conventionally educational, the end result was a fine piece of written English, a quick lesson in presentation and a happy, engaged and proud child with something to read out to daddy over our evening meal.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Thoughts on Christmas

It is less than five weeks until Christmas. With no discernible middle ground, I feel as if I have gone from a state of Christmas being too far away to think about, to there being too much to do to be ready in time!
I did my first Christmas shopping this week, thanks to my parents-in-law who had the children for the afternoon. I was a Woman on a Mission. I went with a list of six things, knowing that any more would overwhelm me. From leaving the car to the last ker-ching of the till, I was done in 50 minutes! No dithering, no pondering: I was a present-seeking missile. This compares well with my normal rabbit-in-the-headlights shopping persona!

We are enjoying "Little House on the Prairie" as our current chapter book, and last night Mr Edwards met Santa Claus and brought Laura and Mary's gifts home from Independence.
"They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny.Think of
having a whole penny for your very own.Think of having a cup and a cake and a
stick of candy and a penny.
There never had been such a Christmas."

I do not think that my children would be overawed by four such small gifts, and I know that I would not. And yet, part of me longs for a Christmas of such joyful simplicity and of such gratitude, for, in Laura's words,
"They were too happy to speak."

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Domesday Book

Our trip out yesterday was a return to The National Archives where we took part in a workshop based around The Domesday Book. Our family played the Putney villagers; here are my three little Anglo-Saxons: Ham, Swetricus and Athelhard:The workshop was led by two professional actors and was a demonstration of how the statistics for this great survey was collected.
William I had sent a second set of Investigators to the village of Mortlake as he suspected the information given previously was not entirely honest.The villagers of Putney, the Canons of St Paul's and some tradesmen from London had also been called to give testimony. Before the arrival of William's men, all Norman Barons, the Reeve, the man in charge of the taxes on the manor under scrutiny, instructed us all in what we had to say. (Prior to the workshop, they had each been given a little bit of information to learn.):
The Mortlake villagers were indeed concealing information from commissioners by a variety of mean, including hiding a herd of pigs in the neighbouring manor!
The chief examiner was a terrifying figure, intimidating the villagers by speaking first in Latin and then in French before agreeing to use the "uncouth Anglo-Saxon" language. He missed no opportunity to insult the locals, claiming that, when we chose the village idiot, we must have been "spoiled for choice."

The whole event was excellent, although my little girl was so frightened by the Commissioner that she was in tears at the prospect of having to speak to him! (She didn't have to and I spoke her lines!) My eldest was apoplectic with rage at being so insulted and didn't trust himself to speak either, (so I did his part too!) It was a highly emotional experience and I think, as a result, the Domesday Book and the circumstances surrounding its origin will never be dull history for us, but something we have experienced, felt and understood.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


I have mentioned before, once or twice, my difficulties with my daughter's eating.
Sometimes, however, just sometimes, I am inspired!
(This one is supposed to be a vampire bat!)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Pretty as a Picture

Since 1945, two paintings by Titian, “Diana and Acteon” and “Diana and Callisto”, have been on display in the National Gallery of Scotland. This Summer, the owner offered them for sale at the bargain price of £50 million each. The Gallery, along with the National Gallery in London, has until the end of December to secure the funding, and a campaign to “Save the Titians” was launched.
I think they must be beautiful paintings and I would love to see them (and I am kicking myself for not realising that, in fact, “Diana and Acteon” has been in London since 22 October and I could have seen it, twice. It leaves on Thursday.)
One of my favourite paintings in the Gallery is “Bacchus and Ariadne". I first really noticed it on a Home Ed visit with a guide and we were introduced the Greek Myth depicted. The colours are breath-taking and there is so much to see, so much detail in the background characters as they make their drunken procession led, by a cheetah-drawn carriage and the love-struck Bacchus literally falls in love.
Another Titian in the gallery is “The Death of Actaeon". This one is the partner, the prequel, to the one the Gallery is trying to save. I always smile when I see it as I remember my middle son patiently copying it once, capturing every detail.
“Diana and Actaeon” looks fabulous and I really hope that is stays on public display.
Initially I was quite shocked by the price of the paintings, £50 million seems beyond my wildest dreams, and a vast sum of money to pay for a picture, however pretty. On the other hand, it is a tiny fraction of the Health Service budget and, with a British population of 60.9 million, it works out at about 80p per person. So, I have just £5 donated on-line.
Support the Titian Campaign
Enough for my family, and a little extra for good measure.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Renaissance Faces

I took Saturday afternoon out all for myself and went up to the National Gallery to see the exhibition of Renaissance Faces.It was fascinating, peering into the faces of these people long dead, and wondering about their lives, their motivations, their passions, their characters. There were faces that I took an instant dislike to, wouldn't trust for a moment or would expect to be cruel and manipulating; plenty of villains for a story. There were faces I liked: one, beautiful and peaceful, at ease with herself whom I would aspire to be; a handsome, passionate young man who would rival Brad Pitt for smouldering good looks; a slightly shy young woman, peeping from under her headdress, the life-long companion of a priest, with whom she had a number of children although they never married, it was a painting intimate in its fondness. There were brash, calculating, shrewd and sentimental faces. Paintings of fathers, sons, wives and friends. Paintings stunning in their skill and execution.
A full-length self-portrait with the artist's hand extended to the viewer, standing, as it were, in the mirror, his other hand in the background drawing on the very piece of paper I am looking at hundreds of years later.
Blanche, daughter of Henry IV of England, wealthy and privileged, born and married into European Royalty, and now dead and forgotten.

I would love to take the children and, while I was happy to wander and absorb, I think they would need some more structure. I'm thinking that many of the paintings would make excellent starting points for stories, there were a few of royalty to place in history and a funny portrait composed entirely of fruit. With little planning and a few activity ideas, I think this would make a great Day Out.

Sunday, 16 November 2008


My husband left for Belgium on a school trip early this morning and friends with a new baby came to our home for lunch after church. We spent the afternoon sitting in the kitchen chatting and my children disappeared off to play. After our guests had left, I went upstairs to check all was tidy before we settled in front of a film together.
This is what I found in my daughter's bedroom:
And this is my son's knitting on her bed, amongst the strewn library books:
I was moved. This scene spoke so much to me of a happy time spent playing together, alongside each other, in a safe and peaceful world.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Victoria and Albert Museum

I adore the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. Even the entrance hall is fabulous, with it's Dale Chihuly glass chandelier.I was hoping the boys would do the next assignment of their Art Course and my eldest chose this jug to draw, but was ultimately defeated by the fish scale pattern. (This would look great in my kitchen! I wonder how much it is?)My middle son didn't want to draw, but he did like these.In a rather gloomy side gallery we found an ancient book (or, more likely, a copy) with detailed descriptions of medicinal herbs. This led to quite a game involving my son as a doctor and my daughter as worried mother with a sick child. With it was a video showing how books were made, printing presses, ink, stitching and leather. They enjoyed this.To give some direction to our visit, they each chose one object from the Hightlights page of the map. This was my little girl's choice, a Victorian decanterShe also was very taken with this, and wanted to wear it, although my eldest was quick to read the label and point out that it is actually a boys jacket.And wouldn't all little girls love this?There was an audible "ooh" on finding this cabinet! and we had fun with the photos!