Friday, 31 October 2008

Friendship on the net

Another of my favourite blogs is Restoration Place, where Kathy has posted about a bird she had spotted in their garden. Kathy's blog is always full of wonderful pictures of where she lives and what she gets up to as she Home Educates her family.
I've never met Kathy, although we do exchange the occasional e-mail, yet I would count her as a friend. I feel sure that if she lived nearer we would hang out together, chatting over tea and cake, discussing our faith, our children, our Home Ed.

I've never told Kathy this, but she was an answer to prayer. I don't have many close Home Ed friends. I know a whole bunch of mums who Home Educate that I get on really well with and a couple I would count as good friends but, for one reason or another, it is hard to hook up with them often. I've also had some Home Ed friends who have returned to their native lands (although I don't think that was too much to do with me!) At one point I prayed very specifically for a friend, someone who would walk alongside me on this journey ... and I discovered Kathy's blog. It wasn't quite what I was expecting as the answer.

Sometimes I worry that I spend too much time on blogs but it meets a need for me. By the nature of busy lives, children at home and the distance between myself and my friends, to sit and have an undisturbed catch-up time is very rare. I can read a blog, and post on my own, any time that suits me. Real time interruptions don't disturb the flow of the virtual communication. I can share worries, ideas, joys and experiences.

So when I saw Kathy's post this morning, I knew exactly what I would do if she were there in my kitchen. "Oh yes," I'd say, " I saw a great bird yesterday too. We had a jay hopping around our climbing frame (My middle son especially likes jays.) And I jumped up from what I was doing, grabbed my 'phone and got a shot. Look here it is!"

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Before I was a Mum

Kathy, over at 1o Minute Writer, sent me an interesting e-mail earlier this week, asking what I did before I was a mum. Replying to her set me thinking of all the different stuff I did before, and in fact since, motherhood.
I am a Physics Graduate, something I often keep quite quiet about. I remember at 13 insisting that I wouldn't do Physics O Level, but then it seemed, for all sorts of reasons, the most sensible choice. Similarly with A Level, which I loved and this led to my choice of degree. At the end of University, teaching seemed the most obvious choice, so I did my Teaching Certificate and took my first teaching job. This was not dissimilar to the Christians of Roman times being thrown before the lions! However, I survived my first year, coped with my second and was fed up of the school by the third. Then I saw a part-time teaching post in a Sixth Form College (16-18) advertised int he teaching press. Everyone I knew was very surprised at the idea of me working part-time, I didn't have children after all, but I did have a life and I had decided to enjoy it. While I wasn't teaching I ran and I did the London Marathon in April 1997. I also did a short course Triathlon and trained as a fitness instructor and this led to taking on another part time job at a local gym.
This was fun for a while, but after a year I was begining to get itchy feet again. I had regained my sanity and wanted a more challenging job. I wrote to the National Physical Laboratory and asked if they would like to employ me, and they did. So my next label was Research Scientist and I discovered the world of Microwave Antennae. Six months into this job I fell pregnant.
My boss was not keen on the idea of me returning part time and I was glad to leave and be a full time mother.
After my second child was born, I began training as a Breastfeeding Counsellor and qualified three years ago. I have been leading antenatal breastfeeding classes, counselling mums on the telephone and occasionally leading a drop-in clinic at the local hospital. In the last few years I have taken breadmaking courses and storytelling courses and dabbled in these.
For most of my life I would have flatly denied being creative. "Oh no," I would have said, "I am a science person." But this year, largely inspired by "The Artists Way", I have begun to change that view of myself, which has led to me beginning this blog back in June and to, even in recent days, discovering my poetry writing self. I am now considering taking and Open University course in Fiction Writing next spring.
Who knows where I'll be off to next!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

On Cake

Like a beckoning whisper
the fragrance teases me.
The ghost of another's satisfaction
and I am jealous.
I glance over the bright packs of infusions
on the shelf,
none suggest such a rich and pungent experience.
I see the cake:
Soft, dark, thickly-sliced,
Plump currants glisten like jewels.
Placed on a cobalt edged plate.
Four pieces: one for each guest:
Assurance that one is for me.
Delight in discovery,
the smell: not a memory but an invitation.
Can earth show more grace than fresh-baked cake
brought at four o'clock?
Warm and moist, sweet and spicy.
A gift I will let my lips and my heart receive.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

St Michaels' Convent

St Michael's Convent in Ham is a special place. I have been visiting regularly for two years now and I treasure my time there. The last week on retreat was full of beauty.
A welcoming posy:The hug I took with me:The 300-year-old mulberry tree which still bears its fruit in season: The Autumn light: I spent many hours spent wandering in the garden: and at the heart of it all:

Monday, 27 October 2008

Return from Retreat

A snug duvet and an unscheduled morning is a rare and special treat. To lie, still with my eyes closed, savouring the warmth of the cocooning cover until the lure of a cup of tea draws me forth, is an experience of uncommon pleasure. This week, on retreat, I was able to enjoy this every day.

And so it was leaving the convent on Saturday morning, shedding the silence and the slowness to be thrust into the rough and tumble of family life. As I sorted through my things in preparation for coming home, I felt so deeply that I just wanted to stay on and on in this place of peace.

A family Christmas was always full of presents. We would wait until after the Queen's Speech, always at 3pm, and then open the piles of gifts under the tree, each opening one present in turn, round and round the group, until every surprise had been revealed and we each had a heap of new things and a muddle of torn gift-wrap. Then my mother would give my brother and me a box each to store our new treasure in and Boxing Day morning, I would take great delight in carefully, one at a time, reviewing the contents of my box, relishing again the excitement of each present. Some could be enjoyed straight away: chocolates or a simple toy. There would always be a book or two, pristine and unread, the promise of quiet hours of reading, new sagas to be enjoyed and characters to be befriended. Perhaps a new gadget, still needing to have batteries put in, the instructions read and the skills to use it learned. Sometimes the gift would be promise, a voucher to be redeemed in the coming months.
And so it is with my experiences of this week. There have been so many moments simply to look over and enjoy, precious gifts from God. But there is also much to process, still to understand or to figure out how to use in my every day life. And promises and vision for what still is to come.

The last week has been incredible. I would liken it to a tropical island holiday with my husband: just the two of us and no distractions, no children, no housekeeping, none of life's daily irritations. A opportunity for romance to flourish amidst lesuirely strolls and intimate conversations. But normal service must be resumed, and truly a good marriage is one that functions well in the midst of life, not separate from it.

And so with God. This week I have met with God and experienced the abundance of his blessings and gifts. Now I face the challenge of bringing this deeper relationship with him into day-to-day life.

Friday, 24 October 2008

October Roses

(This is a scheduled post. I am on retreat until 25th October.)

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Isn't he gorgeous?

(This is a scheduled post. I am on retreat until 25th October)

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


My youngest child has a very spontaneous relationship with God. She is quick to pray in any situation, especially when the car won't start, and is confident in her friendship with Him. Here is her picture. She had originally started on the other side of the paper, but God's nose didn't look right, so she flipped the page and traced over the letters of His name. Jesus can be seen on the cross and leaving the cave. She also plays I-spy with God. God can see everything in the whole world so there are some pretty wild guesses. Of course, as she pointed out, it's very quiet on His turn!

(This is a scheduled post. I am on retreat until 25th October.)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Tuesday Tea-time

(This is a scheduled post. I am on retreat until 25th October.)

Monday, 20 October 2008

The Reasons I Home Educate

(This is a scheduled post. I am on retreat until 25th October.)

Saturday, 18 October 2008


I am heading off later today on a week-long silent retreat at St Michael's Convent in Ham. I have to confess to being a little nervous. The silence bit is quite scary; as is being away from my family and home for a whole week. However, I am also very excited. A week of peace, quiet, no house-work, e-mails or laundry! And, of far greater importance, an opportunity to meet with God and to soak in his presence.

Do keep dropping by though, I've left some pretty posts for every day next week.

Friday, 17 October 2008

The National Archives

On Wednesday, we visited The National Archives in Kew. "The National Archives is ... the UK government's official archive, containing 900 years of history with records ranging from parchment and paper scrolls through to digital files and archived websites." The children were very excited to see both The Doomsday Book and The Magna Carta, both of which we have read about this term in Our Island Story.
We were attending a workshop, organised by another Home Ed Mother, on maps and we spent the afternoon investigating four of London: one Tudor, one Georgian, one Regency and one Victorian. I find maps fascinating and we pored over these, noticing the changes in the number of bridges, the spread of the city, the developments as well as the continuity: St Paul's Cathedral and The Tower of London remaining constant. Victorian London was not so far removed from the London of today, and we were pleased to see The National Gallery and The British Museum, and of course, Trafalgar Square, none of which had appeared until this time. Tudor London was so much smaller and, where there is now the busy-ness of Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road, there was only St Martin's Field, where the church of St Martin's-in-the-Field would one day be built.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities

I fly under the radar. My local education authority know nothing about me or my children. Many people ask me if I am regular inspected or monitored in any way; sometimes I am asked it it is legal not to send my children to school. I am tempted to reply that it isn't and I'm on the run, but I am aware that being facetious does not aid communication.

I have been having a look at the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities which were published in 2007.

I am surpirsed to find that they are really helpful. I think I will cut out the bits I like, laminate them and post them over my desk.

I frequently worry that I am not doing enough, that my children won't learn enough and that if the Local Authority ever discovered me, they would not be satisifed that I was educating my children enough. However, I have discovered, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has a pretty good handle on Home Ed. Apparently, my provision may be reasonably expected to include:

  • consistent involvment of parents ... although not necessarily constantly ... involved in providing education.

  • recognition of the child's needs, attitudes and aspiration

  • opportunities for the child to be stimulated by their learning experiences
  • Access to resourses/materials ... such as paper and pens ... and the opportunity for appropriate interaction with other children and other adults.

This is great - I do all this! (Although I'm not sure how anyone could not.) I don't even have to think about it, it's just what we do. There is also a list of what parents are not required to do. most of which I don't (like marking by children's work or giving formal lessons).

I have always felt a little apprehensive of what will happen if and when the Local Authority uncover me. However, if they have read the document and grapsed the ideas in in, I believe I have nothing whatsoever to fear. And if they have not read it, then I shall politely suggest that they do!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Land Where the Bong Tree Grows

In our last visit to the library, I picked up a copy of Edward Lear's Gromboolian Poems. 'The Owl and the Pussycat' is one of my most favourite poems and I have read it to my eldest ever since he was tiny. I knew a couple of others in the collection, but some were completely new to me.

I love the rhythm and the rhyme, the excessive emotion ("O Timballo! How happy we are...") and the glowing, nonsense descriptions of a fantasy land. These are superb poems to read aloud.

This version of the book is charmingly illustrated by Jenny Thorne. Each page has a colour picture reminiscent of botanical drawings with numbered and labelled specimens such as the Bacons Andwichis (a large pig), the Furrimbombus Buzziflora (a bumble-bee), the Tutancowmun Orientalis (the Orient calf from the Land of Tute mentioned in the Quangle Wangle's Hat) and the Mollusca Oblonga (the oblong oyster which produces a unique square pearl). The poems and the pictures made me smile and the children pored over the illustrations, my eldest explaining the puns to the two little ones.

An excellent find and one which I may well be tempted to buy my own copy of., if only for my own pleasure and delight!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

My Victory Dance

I've done it! I've managed to rotate my pictures and then upload them to the computer. I have an enormous sense of satisfaction that I have achieved this all by myself, pieceing together a chance remark, aimlessly flicking through the phone menus (trying to change the text alert tone which I haven't managed yet) and lots of wrong turnings. My phone memory is littered with copies of photos, some rotated, which I will have to go back and sort out, and I have spent far longer than could reasonably be justified (my carpets are still unvacuumed). But this is learning in its purest sense. No-one has taught me; I know I was not efficient; I have followed many rabbit trails, but I fully understand the photo process now, the knowledge is my own and I am proud.

Here are my pictures of London.

The Hungerford foot-bridge. We walk across the Thames from Waterloo Station, over this bridge with it's fantastic views of St Paul's Cathedral on the skyline, as we enter London.
In a few minutes we're in Trafalgar Square

with The National Gallery, one of my very favourite places,

and the beautiful church of St Martin's-in-the-Field.

We leave Trafalgar Square under Admiralty Arch along the Mall. I'm not sure who this chap is, but he caught my eye!

Back through Horse Guards Parade; I'm never quite sure how they keep such a straight face.
A quick look at the Banqueting House, from where Charles I departed for execution.
And, finally, home from Waterloo Station:

Monday, 13 October 2008

London in the Sun

I met my mum for lunch in London on Saturday. It was warm and sunny, weather I had forgotten existed and is a bit of a surprise in October. I had loads of fun with my new camera phone and took so many pictures to share. Eagerly I uploaded them on my return home and rotated all the sideways ones, only to find that they are 'read-only' and I cannot save them the right way round. The software of my new phone is driving me to distraction and I have much to say on the matter. However, here are the four that I took landscape, a taste of city in the sun.

A fountain in Trafalgar square:

An allotment in St James' Park. (This was something to do with remembering World War 2. It was overflowing with wholesome vegetables. There was also an Anderson bomb shelter but I had my finger over the lens and ruined the picture I took.)

A riotous flower-bed in St James' park, with Horse Guards Parade in the background:

And the Thames with St Pauls and St Mary Axe ('The Gherkin'). I love London!

Saturday, 11 October 2008


I was given a turquoise necklace for my birthday which my daughter covets. Yesterday, she was playing with it as I was wearing it.
'Can I have it when I am old enough?' she asked.
I replied that, by all means, she was welcome to borrow it when she is bigger, but that it is my necklace.
'Can I have it when you die?'
'I guess so.'
At this point my son piped up, 'You may have to wait a long time. Mummy is really looking quite well.'
At the age of 37, I am quite relieved to know that I don't look as if I'm at death's door!

Friday, 10 October 2008


In the Summer of 2000, in the same week I found I was pregnant with my daughter, I discovered a patch of bald skin on my scalp, about the size of a small coin. When my husband looked, it turned out I had a few more.

I was told I had alopecia and that it would probably grow back in time. Lots of people have this experience apparently. Any kind of treatment was ruled out because of my pregnancy and my hair continued to fall out slowly. I wept many tears fearing that the worst would happen and I would end up totally bald. I remember when I was 30 weeks pregnant, telling a friend and lifting up my long brown hair to show her the large bare patches. My one week before the birth, I had lost all my hair.

That was over 5 years ago and I still hate the way I look. People tell me that I look beautiful; one dear friend told me that, because I have such an animated face, it doesn't seem important; lots of people I've met in recent years say they can't imagine me with hair; I am even told it suits me! Twice it has been thought of as a deliberate choice, a fashion statement. Initially I coped with it by being very out-going, blasting through my own self-conciousness by opening conversations and putting myself out there. Somehow this has become part of me, a learned behaviour I guess, and I am far more extrovert than before. However, I still avoid having my photo taken and had to steel myself to take the children swimming when I would have to bob about in the learner pool in a swimming hat feeling ugly and obvious. I would never let myself be seen without a head covering, any more than I would go out topless.

I have tried hard to not let it become a taboo subject and I will talk openly with the children about how I feel. But it is still painful when my daughter tells someone that 'All mummy's hair fell out', or little ones look at me in curiousity. I know that others suffer far worse disfigurements and sometimes I feel shallow for caring as much as I do, but I have learned to accept my feelings for what they are.

On one occasion I went to a health spa with my mum and I took the opportunity to have a few swimming technique lessons. I also braved the pool without my swim hat, just to see how it felt. One morning I was powering up and down the water, putting into practice what the coach had been teaching me. My mother overheard two ladies in conversation, clearly perplexed as to why I had no hair. My strength of swimming ruled out chemotherapy. I was rather flattered to hear that they concluded that I was an athlete and had shaved it off to improve my swimming times!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Three Things

This week I have achieved three things:
  1. I completed the Great North Run.
  2. I have figured out how to use my new mobile phone (well, maybe not all the features but I can work it enough) and upload the pictures I took. (It has been a long and tortuous route involving a faulty CD, customer services, downloading software and uploading photos via the laptop to the blog and then posting on the desktop, but here they are!)
  3. I have reached 100 posts on my blog!

All of these come together in my pictoral record of Sunday:

Here we are at the start. If I had remembered that I was wearing a bin-bag I would have taken it off for the photo! Although it was gloriously sunny, it was not warm.

And here we are at the end, still smiling:Sally, with the dark hair in front, kindly hosted us for the weekend, came with us to the start and met us at the finish with her two lovely children. I think she was probably more exhausted than we were by the end entertaining two little ones and pushing a buggy for two hours. Her red-headed daughter took a shine to me and, as we walked places, would dash in front of me, arms aloft, to be picked up. I could not resist her adorability. My arms were as sore as my legs but my heart was warm.

The highlight for me was the Red Arrows. They are the coolest! I was enraptured and like a child in my excitement. Sally's little girl was rather over-awed by the noise and kept her hands over her ears the whole time. I had great fun every time two planes passed each other, 'Are they going to crash into each other, are they, are they? No-oo-oo!'

Aren't they beautiful?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

How far is 13.1 miles?

A Half-Marathon is 13.1 miles. I worked out on Sunday morning that this was my 8th race at this distance so it is one I am familiar with. I know it's hard and I know it's long, it takes me a little under 2 hours, but somehow I still belittle it in my own thoughts: 'It's only a half-marathon - it's not that bad.' I think it may be something to do with the word 'half' in the name, as if it is only a part of something, not to be taken too seriously. Other people run further, faster and more often; really, it's no big deal.
I notice this tendency to minimize in all areas of my life. So often I find myself saying or thinking, 'It's no trouble, it's just a little thing,' only to find out, slap bang in the middle of it, that it was a lot more than I allowed for.

Cakes are a great example. Occasionally, I am asked to bake something for a coffee morning at church. 'Of course,' I say, 'no problem,' and I scribble in my diary 'Make Cake.' It's not that hard to make a cake, other people manage to fit it in. But I fail to take into account that I will need to put aside an hour, at least, from start to finish to assemble ingredients, make and bake the cake, fill it with jam and then wash up. This will take longer if I have 'help' but I will feel that I am doing something with the children. If I do it quickly by myself, I feel that I am neglecting them and so feel obliged to do something 'educational' and fun afterwards. Then I have to deliver the cake, and, later, remember to collect my tin.

In both these illustrations, my thoughts are heavily influenced by 'other people'. Of course, I don't know anything about these other people. Their commitments may be less than mine, their energy levels greater, or perhaps they are marinating in a cocktail of stress and resentment.

Sometimes it is some trouble and it is not just a little thing. This is not to say that I should not do it, or am not willing to do it, but I have to learn to weigh the commitment involved in an undertaking more carefully, more realistically. To honestly weigh up if I have the time, the energy, the space in my Home Ed schedule and my life in general to fit it in, without stress or resentment or neglect of my own or my children's needs.

Instead of 'Sure, no trouble' I will train myself to say, 'Let me look at my diary and I'll get back to you,' and then to calculate the time needed and figure out if I've got it to give. Then I can say 'I'm sorry, I can't fit that in, but do try me again another time,' or I can say, 'Yes, I can find the time to do that,' with a smile.

I heard on Saturday that I had not got a place through the ballot in the 2009 London Marathon. Perhaps that's no bad thing!

The Great North Run - Part 2

This picture captures the best moment of the Great North Run for me. I was actually on the Tyne Bridge, the iconic image of Newcastle, as the Red Arrows soared over. This made my entire weekend - it was just fabulous!
Throughout the run, bands played, people gave us ice-bars, sweetsand orange slices, crowds cheered; the encouragement was uplifting and the atmosphere inspiring. The early miles were exciting, the middle miles tough and miles 10 and 11 bordering on the impossible. Still, my legs kept running and my lungs kept breathing and suddenly there is the '800m to go' sign, the '400m to go', the '200m to go' and the finish line. It's done, it's completed, it's achieved and it doesn't hurt any more!
At least, not until you try to climb the stairs next morning!

(I did take some pictures myself, on my new, shiny, purple mobile 'phone, specially bought so that I wouldn't have to keep remembering to take my camera with me and then finding the batteries were low. However, the software disc isn't working so I can't upload them - they'll have to feature in another post.)

Monday, 6 October 2008

The Great North Run

I got back late last night from a fab weekend in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne with my friend Kate. We travelled up to the North East of England to take part in the Great North Run, a Half Marathon from Newcastle to South Shields by the sea. We left home before 8am on Saturday and got home last night around 11pm. My daughter was so pleased I was home that she joined me in bed for a cuddle at 6:30 am!

We travelled North from Kings Cross Station, but took the time to visit next door St Pancras for a coffee and to admire the architecture.

A little over three hours later we arrived in a rainy and cold Newcastle. I was bowled over by the beauty of many of the buildings. We visited the art gallery and bought ourselves some new kit before having tea in the refurbished 1930s Art Deco Cinema with Kate's cousin Sally. Then, with Sally's children, we headed up to the Quayside to admire the Tyne and Millenium Bridges.
After a welcome supper we took to our beds to rest and prepare for our big race.