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!

Friday, 14 November 2008

Haut de la Garrenne

On Wednesday, Jersey's chief of police resigned. Much of what we have been led to believe about Haut de la Garenne, a former children's home on the island and the subject of and extensive child abuse investigation, is completely untrue. The remains of a child’s skeleton turns out to be a small piece of coconut shell. The shackles are a rusty piece of metal. The underground torture chambers, holes in the floor.
Apparently, the police had adopted a PR strategy of releasing as much information as quickly as possible in order to reassure the victims of abuse that they could be trusted. They hoped that this would encourage more former residents to come forward with information. Also, it was hoped that this 'tell all' strategy would to prevent the authorities from covering up damaging revelations.
The media then went on to embellish the stories. So, with in a few days, an item 25mm long, which could have been a piece of human skull became, in all the papers, the partial remains of a girl’s skeleton. An underground space has become four torture chambers.
We were told yesterday that, in fact, no murders had taken place, that much of this previously released evidence was misleadint. That no children were murdered is, of course, good news, but doesn’t take away from the fact that terrible abuse went on in this home for many years and there are very many victims coming forward now to say so.
However, what deeply shocked me yesterday as I listened to the report on BBC Radio 4's PM, was the hypocrisy of the media. The very people who have exaggerated this story beyond recognition were having a field day exclaiming, "how could this have possibly happened?" PM's presenter interviewed their own reporter who had been in Jersey to cover the story, although she was not asked if she had embroidered the facts, and I can only assume that she, or someone on the editorial team, is as guilty as the rest of embellishment. An expert author who was then interviewed stated that no news desk would thank a reporter who only reported the facts and did not enlarge the story to keep up with all the other news agencies; instead, they would be 'ticked off'. Journalists are, apparently, highly trained to be sceptical. He went on to say how he had been suspicious of the four torture chambers from the start. Why would you need four? One, he argued, was believable, but not four. If there is a choice between a good story and a true story, he said, they will always chose the good. The implication being that this kind of, well, lying is normal and we were fools for going along with it.
I feel taken for a ride, manipulated, and deceived. I also feel angry that the same presenters who had offered up this story and discussed it with deep concern, were now pointing the finger at everyone but themselves as to how it could have been so misleading. Surely, if journalists are professionally trained to be cynical, this self-same, well-respected presenter should also have known the story had been exaggerated. But the only person being held accountable for this is Jersey's chief of police.

Thursday, 13 November 2008


I took the children to church yesterday; this is a first for us, trying a mid-week service. On our way we passed the hairdressers and, noticing the balloons, we popped our heads round the door to enquire whose birthday it was and to sing ‘Happy Birthday'. Tony, the proprietor, was 60 yesterday and offered he children some sweets, which he always does when the children get their hair cut.
“Only one", I said.
“On no,” he replied, “take two, don’t listen to your mum, it’s my birthday.” I didn’t wish to cause offence, so the children got two little packets. Still, they helped to keep my little girl quiet in church.
On a Wednesday, there is “Coffee and Chat” after the Communion, so we stayed on, an unashamed bribe for being well-behaved in a long, wordy service.
It was lunch-time when we got home. I briefly contemplated doing something from the afternoon’s schedule first and delaying lunch to let the cake go down a bit, but the children needed some free-time after all the sitting still.
I had made soup and I had made too much, so I filled up my little girl’s bowl without consulting her on how much she wanted. She ate about half, which was not bad really, considering the large portion and the sweets and the cake, but struggled after that. I was impatient, and not keen to deal with the problem of disposing of bean soup - too lumpy for the sink, too runny for the bin.
In the end the situation degenerated to her calling me “an idiot”- her insult of choice at the moment. I have decided that I have had enough of this and, all other methods of reasonable parenting having failed, picked her up to spank her. This is not something I am proud of and I would rather gloss over.
As I did so, her foot caught her bowl - bean soup all over the floor!
In hindsight, it is so easy to see how one thing led to another. In the middle of it I was just plain mad. With incredible will-power I managed not to shout “Look what you’ve done now!” and I got on my hands and knees cleared up the mess. As I reflect, I can see the many opportunities I had to head this one off, but failed to take. I wanted to blame everyone but myself. Sometimes, I just don't want to be the grown-up!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


The boys have been following a Distance Learning Art Course since the Spring. We have been doing it in fits and starts, sometimes inspired and sometimes wading through. Particularly valued have been the personal comments on CD from their tutor which they have received after each assignment. They have enjoyed the detail and the sense of individual attention. My eldest, who is easily upset by perceived criticism, has reacted very well to the tutor's feedback and returned to some of his pictures to have another go, responding to her suggestions.
The latest assignment was to make view finders and use them to isolate a small piece of a pattern or object and just draw that part. This proved a great hit. The best bit of all was getting mummy to guess where they had used their "zoomers". It wasn't easy.I was impressed with their ingenuity in finding snippets to draw: book covers, decorative boxes and pieces of Lego. I could see this being a fun game on a wet afternoon.
My daughter of course, joined in too, with a collage and I had to guess what the pieces were cut from. The shiny pink one in the middle is a tooth!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


He was very grumpy. Nothing was right. As I selected books which I thought he might enjoy, he told me time and again that they were boring and he didn’t want to read them.
I stopped. I looked into his eyes. It was around 2:45pm and I realised with shock that I had not noticed him, I had not listened to him, all day. We had been too busy doing all the normal, routine stuff.
I had nagged him, cajoled him, fed him, instructed him, looked at spellings with him, helped him do a worksheet, read to him but I had not heard him. He had his heart set on a Star Wars book and the library didn’t have it. He didn’t want anything else.
How can it be that I spend all day at home with my children and yet days pass when I do not connect with them, when I do not look into their eyes, when I do not hear them?
Why does it feel impossible to fit in piano lessons, which both boys have asked to resume? Why have I only read five chapters in two weeks of the special, girls’ Chapter Book I specially got to read just with my little girl? Why did I only half listen to a request to do some free-writing, maybe later was my response.
What happens to those 24 hours, so that I go to bed exhausted with a to-do list longer than at the day‘s beginning, and yet feel that I have not spent enough time with them?

Monday, 10 November 2008

Cat on my desk

Barney, my cat, feels right at home on my desk. I don't think he quite gets it though and he tries to chase the cursor round the screen. His presence is not always helpful - I can't always see what I'm typing,or even get to the keyboard. But he knows I love him!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Remembrance Sunday

Today in Remembrance Sunday.

My Great-Grandfather was killed in World War I. He was a stretcher-bearer, having been injured in combat earlier in the war, and died just before Armistice Day. He left a wife and four children.

The husband of one of my best friends (they are the parents of my god-son) is serving with the British Army in Afghanistan.

My middle son is attending a Remembrance Day parade today with his Beaver pack.

I find the World Wars, and the current wars, difficult to think of, difficult to comprehend. I have tears in my eyes when I read the work of war poets, when I think of my little boy trying to understand what he is supposed to be remembering, when I think of my Great-grandmother, and the countless women of her generation made widows and the young men dying abroad.

Today, on Tuesday, every year, we must, we will remember them.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Moody Mama

Sometimes the children ask what kind of dinosaur I'd like to be. I always choose a Stegasaurus, a peaceful and, I like to think, rather stylish dino.However, I fear that this may be nearer the truth!

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Natural History Museum

Our Day Out yesterday was to the Natural History Museum. We have been here a lot of times, but the children still enjoy it. It is a remarkably beautiful building, approached from the subway of the Tube station:The architecture is fabulous, inside and out. One day, I will go without the children and take one of the audio architecture tours.

We visited the Creepy Crawly section first. This is a life-sixed model of a spider crab. I would not like to meet one of these!There were volunteer explainers with specimens we were allowed to handle. My daughter was fascinated by the silky cocoon of a Hawk Moth, my son by the scorpions. Me, I loved the story that it is possible to put a sea sponge in a blender, blend it to a mush and pour it out and it will reassemble itself! Even better, if you do this to two sea sponges, they will sort themselves out of the mush and become two individual sea sponges again! (I'm sure this was discovered doing very important and worthy research.) I thought this was awesome!We spent quite a bit of time watching the leaf-cutter ant colony. An overly optimistic ant had taken a very large leaf along the specially built bridge, got stuck and nearly lost it over the edge. As we watched, a group of about six or seven ants joined in the effort to haul this massive leaf back to safety. The leaf had a sharp corner which had got stuck on the branch that made the bridge and they were unable to right it. Instead, they turned their attention to dragging it along. Finally, one of them got the bright idea to use his leaf-cutting skills to cut a bit off the leaf and he hot-footeded it back to the nest. The others struggled on and when we checked on them after lunch they were still engaged in the heroic effort to get this leaf back to the hive. Hats off for persisitence but I couldn't help wondering how much more leaf matter they could have transported in that time if they had been willing to let it go!
My daughter was very keen to do the "Bookasaurus again", for the third time. It is a textile book with velcro sticky bits to arrange in response to various exhibits, perfect for pre-readers. She thoroughly enjoyed it.
We visited the Earth Galleries and saw the precious stones and minerals and paid an obligatory visit to the dinosaurs and the life-sized moving model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I wrote most of this post last night but I couldn't come up with a witty one-liner to end with. When the best I could think of was, "a good time was had by all," I knew it was time to switch off and head for bed. The truth is I was witch-mother all day. I was in the world's foulest mood and I personally met all those Home Ed Critics' arguments that my children won't learn how to handle bullying if they don't go to school and I knew I had lost it when I queue-jumped some nursery school girls in the Ladies because they were dithering!

Thursday, 6 November 2008


Sometimes, my decision making ablilities are rocket-fueled. Both of our last house purchases were made on the basis of instant, lightning decisions. Sometimes, however, less so.
For example, when I bought this jug:

I saw it in the window of a charity shop as I was mooching about on my own, and straight away I liked it. I made a bargain with myself that if it was more than £1, I would leave it. It was £1.50. So I left it. It wasn't until I was home that I got home the voice in my head screaming "50p! That's all, what are you thinking?" was finally heard. I had to make a special trip into town, all three children in tow and spent £1 parking to buy that jug. And I love it!
So, when earlier this week I saw this jug,
I was faced with a dilemma. It was £3.49. Quite an investment! I don't really need another jug, (after all, I have a nice brown one) but I did like it. I hesitated, I remembered my last jug purchase, and I stepped out of my comfort zone and bought that jug. And I love it!

It's only a little thing. It sounds very trivial, but do you know what, I think I'm growing!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


I treated myself to a Chai Latte in Caffe Nero yesterday afternoon and pulled out my copy of "Writing With Power" which I bought early this Summer. Recently letting go of a BA course has allowed me space to start thinking of myself as a writer again and I am eagerly looking for opportunities to explore. I was struck by the author's reason for returning to writing again after a block:

"I didn't just want to get things written for my own pleasure; I didn't
just want to hand something in that would satisfy or even dazzle some examiner
or judge; I wanted lots of people to believe what I was saying, to change their
minds and, damn it, to change their behaviour."

Am I allowed to feel like that too?

I am not known as a shy, retiring, quiet person: I have my opinions and I make them known. But I am wary of causing offence, of getting into heated discussion or of haranguing people. I will soften my arguments, present my weakest points and get easily side-tracked, not deliberately, but in an attempt to keep a conversation light. While I have not suddenly found a desire to lose all my friends by mouthing off about controversial topics, reading this yesterday opened a door, just a crack, to what it might be like to write with passion and conviction, to develop a "so sue me" attitude, to trust the strength of my beliefs, to trust that readers can cope with, and maybe even relish, being challenged and that they can always choose to stop if they don't like what they are reading.
I am challenged; I want to write with more conviction, more confidence, more audacity. I wonder what will happen?

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


I was reading a post yesterday on Handmade Homeschool which set me thinking about learning again. A while ago, I posted about my experiences of learning to knit, which were not wholly successful. However, I went back to visit Jane, in the wool shop, who is becoming something of a friend. In fact, we all went together: not so much Home Education as Wool Shop Education that morning. While my daughter played with some soft toys and my eldest son admired the interesting shades of wool and fancy buttons, Jane patiently taught my middle son to cast-off and sew in ends, admired his scarves and rescued me from the mess that was my hat. She advised me to buy different wool and different needles, provided a much easier pattern and sent me on my way with hope in my heart that I, too, might one day be a knitter. Since then, my son has knitted two more scarves and I have knitted two hats, of which I am very proud!

I also tried to learn to play "Skid" yesterday. This is a computer game on the Children's BBC website that my middle son would play all day if I allowed him. He has got very good at it and can complete all three levels without losing a life. It is part of the Bravewriter philosophy to let your children teach you things, so, much to his delight, I asked my son to teach me to play "Skid". Suffice it to say, it is much harder than it looks. However, I am sure there was much value in the children seeing that I am not necessarily better at everything than they are just because I am older. I also had to bite back a number of times the words, "I'm rubbish" which I encourage the children not to say; instead, I declare, "You're not rubbish, you're learning." It is also a humbling experience to be in the position of learner, of not being able to do something as well as the people around me, to know what I want to do and not quite be able to do it. As a Home Educating mother I think it is vital to keep learning. It doesn't matter what, just to keep that awareness fresh in my mind, how close learning feels to being rubbish, how vulnerable I am when I don't feel confident and how much of the time my learning children must feel like this. Once I've made my eldest a hat, I think it will be time to advance my knitting ability one step further and learn the next technique.

P.S. Check out Julie's blog: I'm thrilled to be featured!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Eating Habits and Parenting

Jo made some interesting comments on my post yesterday, which added to my general pondering about the issue.
My daughter is, of course, unique and individual and many of my finely-honed, expert parenting skills which I practicie with such brilliance on my two sons fail totally with her - I think it would be fair to say that she has me wrapped around her little finger! Perhaps there is some deep pyschological issue, that I see her as a minature version of myself and cannot bear to see her distressed. Perhaps it is because that she has learned fast that being smallest in a family of five, she has to shout loudest to be heard. Perhaps it is because she is a girl and, as such, a completely different species to her brothers. Perhaps it is because she is number 3 and I am just so much more tired. "Whatever," springs to my lips so much more easily now! And as a parent it is always hard to find the tightrope of "getting it just right" between the chasms of "being too soft" and "being too hard."
The food issue, as I said, has been an on-going one, with all sorts of dark fears lurking at the bottom my consciousness: obesity, anorexia, diabetes ... all the ways I could scar her for life. For her I think it boils down to a simple choice: is the eating (therefore not being hungry or consuming something yummy) more fun than playing with the cat, engaging mummy in an entertaining debate or colouring? I think this has been true all along!
Baby-led weaning largely involves babies learning to feed themselves, picking up, playing with, exploring, tasting and eventually eating their own food. As a tiny one, my daughter would sit in her chair and totally ignore all sorts of healthy goodies placed in front of her. Every so often a doubt would creep into my head: "Maybe she just doesn't know what to do? Maybe she can't see the food? Maybe her pincer grip is not developed enough?" And so, just to check, I would give her one, just one, chocolate button. Like a hawk, her fingers would descend. With expert precision she would pinch the chocolate. With feminine delicacy she would place it her mouth. Clearly more than capable of feeding herself, just very selective about what was worth the bother. As Jo says, she is unlikely to starve herself. The likelihood of her driving her poor mother insane, I fear, may be higher!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Am I the worst mother?

My daughter's eating habits have been a source of difficulty for me from the moment she started solid food. I opted to try baby-led weaning and by nine months she was still almost exclusively breastfed! It's not that she's especially fussy but that she doesn't really see the point in eating unless she's starving, in which case she must have some food NOW!! So I spend an equal amount of time persuading her to eat up her meals as I do trying to reason with her that I don't have any food in the midde of the park/museum/swimming pool. It is frequently a source of tension and distress on both our parts as I try to come up with new and inventive ways to get her to eat a sensible amount at a meal times, choose a filling snack mid-morning/afternoon and not fuss about every meal. Three days ago we started yet another star chart, which worked great on day one, so-so on day two and failed dismally yesterday.
The thing was, she said she felt sick. She didn't look great and felt a little hot so we didn't force the issue of lunch. An hour later, she was complaining of hunger, so I fixed her a snack from her new list of options that we had chosen in the supermarket, typed and laminated and pinned up in the cupboard. She had a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt and then complained of feeling sick.
What would you do? What would a caring and compassionate mother do? What would a wise mother do?
I sat down with her and spoon-fed her the yoghurt. At least I did, until she threw the whole lot - juice, breakfast and yoghurt - up all over the floor, my slippers and my trousers!
I can't say I was patient, kind or sympathetic, but once I'd cleaned her up she got to sit on the sofa with a Disney movie.
At tea-time I suggested to my husband that we didn't force the issue of making her eat. Her response was to dance around the kitchen telling her brothers in a sing-song voice that she didn't have to have any tea!
Am I the world's worst mother for forcing my child to eat until she is sick? Or am I being played for a fool?

Saturday, 1 November 2008


It's been a busy couple of days in my brain and at my PC. A thought that had been wheedling for attention at the back of my mind suddendly burst into a loud chorus of conclusion on Thursday morning.
In May, I attended a brief seminar on how to progress in my career as a Breastfeeding Counsellor. The obvious next step was to enrol on the first module of an Educational Studies BA degree. For various administrative reasons, I had to get on with it in 2008 and I had to apply immediately. I am a sucker for any kind of "limited offer - hurry now" approach and was signed up without really thinking it through. (This is familiar: I all too frequently hear the words "I didn't really think it through," come out of my mouth!) Once committed, I could then use my favourite excuse: "Well, I'm stuck with it now so I'd better get on with it," not to think about it any more. There was no way I could not see it through as I had made a bit of a fool of myself last year starting, then withdrawing from and then re-applying to the Diploma. There were plenty of good reasons to do the course: it was interesting and intellectually challenging, it was about something I knew little about so there was plenty to learn, at the end of it I would be qualifed for a salaried role that I could fit part time round my children. I bought the books, I did the required work and I was fully prepared for the weekend workshop this weekend.
However, while I was on retreat, the a thought popped unbidden into my mind: "What if I used the 15 or so hours I spend on Breastfeeding Counselling each month to write ... ?"
I ran a breastfeeding clinic this week and was reminded how much it drains me.
I had a drink with one of my longest standing friends and heard myself say that I wasn't sure that being a Breastfeeding Counsellor is what God wants me to be doing right now.
So the doubts grew, until the fact that I was committed to a course, with a weekend workshop this weekend, did not seem sufficient reason to spend more time and energy walking along a path I am not enjoying towards a destination I don't really want to get to! Of course, I felt very silly pulling out, and very much that I had disappointed people, but I could not continue to be funded for, and to spend time and energy on this study if I wasn't sure I wanted to continue as a Breastfeeding Counsellor.

It took a lot of time and e-mails on Thursday to extricate myself and to explain to my colleagues what I was doing. And then Kathy posted about National Novel Writing Month, and used Heartbreak Hill as a metaphor. Within moments I was mentally set to write a novel and run the Boston Marathon. Then I remembered that I have decided not to run a marathon next year, but maybe I could do the novel thing ....

It took me until Friday morning to reach the conclusion that stepping back as a Breastfeeding Counsellor was partly about being more available for my children, and also it will take a while to notice any extra time as I serve out my current commitments. Then Mrs G. mentioned National Blog Posting Month! Here was something I could do! I post pretty much every day, excluding Sundays, so not much more to add. Focussing on my blog for a month will begin to exercise those writer-ly muscles and, who knows, I may even appeal to some new readers.
So, thanks Kathy and Mrs G. Good luck to both of you, and here I go, posting every day for a month.