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.