Saturday, 19 December 2009

Christmas break

Like some crazy movie, time seems to have sped up in the last week and I have found myself with a to-do list under constant prioritization: what really has to be done? What can wait? The danger is that all those 'can waits' will end up crowding my carefully ring-fenced days next week: vital days of slowing and being, being slow and being together.
Sporadic blogging this week shows that often posting has been one of the things to take the hit. I have to be purposeful, zealous, ruthless even, if I want to let next week be the fun, peaceful, nurturing family time I so much want it to be. It will not happen by accident.
Towards that end, I will pause here, wish you all a peaceful and blessed Christmas, a Happy New Year, and hope that you come back to find me in January.
In the words a friend scribbled in her Christmas card to me just today: "Do nothing: You know it makes sense!"

Friday, 18 December 2009

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Carol Singing

Since I returned from Uganda, I have been meeting with a very small group of people from my church who also live in the same road as me. We have been praying for the residents of our street and have begun to see fruit in building relationships.
On Sunday we held Carol Singing on our drive. With funding from the church we were able to provide bubbly and mince pies, with fruit juice for the little ones, and we put an invite through everyone's door. One of the prayer group is an excellent guitarist with a beautiful voice and her husband rigged her up with microphone and amplifier. The music sounded great and people could sing along, or not, and chat too. Halfway through, the rain began to fall, cold and heavy, and I despaired, imagining people would scatter back to the warmth of their homes, but instead umbrellas were fetched and the singing continued! Many stayed to chat at the end, with much reminiscing over Street Parties for the Queen's Silver Jubilee and the Royal Wedding, and requests for 'next year'!
One of my children asked me what it was for. I gave it some thought and came to the conclusion that it was for relationship. We are all busy people, it takes a few seconds to walk from the door to the car, and few are the chances to chat with the people we live alongside. Hopefully Sunday's singing will have sown seeds for relationships to begin, to renew, to grow and to blossom and for neighbour to know neighbour, to care and love and help out. I hope we have done just a little thing towards building a community.

Monday, 14 December 2009

The Globe Theatre

We had a great day out on Friday. We took our time strolling along the South Bank, stopping to look at the Christmas stalls and play on the .. well, I wasn't sure if it was a skate ramp or a piece of sculpture, but they played on it anyway! The Globe has the only thatched roof in London, with special dispensation from the Fire Service. I think the Great Fire of London put city dwellers off the idea!
We admired 'the heavens', which more than lived up to expectations,
and some of us even got to sit on the stage!
We watched, and joined in, a dressing display,
and then marched, at top speed, back to the station. We just had time to grab hot chocolates on the platform as a reward for speedy and uncomplaining walking, threw ourselves noisily into the carriage, and settled down for the journey home.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Day Out

It's a long time since I've taken the children for a proper 'Day Out'. Somehow the rhythm has been different this term and energy levels have been slipping but today, as the culmination of our very loose Shakespeare 'project', we are heading up to the Globe Theatre on the South Bank. Sandwiches are made and a book is packed for the train journey. Like exercising again after a break, the process of organizing feels stilted and stiff, but I am confident that, with credit card and baby wipes, most emergencies, should they arise, can be met.
Being out all day means that there are none of those ten minutes spaces for a quick e-mail or phone call and it's easy to feel that nothing got done. But as I write that I am challenged on my idea of what 'something' getting done is. The heart of our Home Education and the heart of our family is spending time together, experiencing things together and having fun together. And spending the whole day together is, definitely, getting that done.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Falling off the treadmiill

Life is going slightly faster than I am at the moment. I am beginning to see all the things that need to be done in the next two weeks i.e. before Christmas and wishing that I'd planned it all a bit better. No matter what I try, this time of year is always frenetic. Perhaps it's just the depleted energy reserves, the dark evenings and the rain!
If you, like me, need a bit of a giggle, take two-and-a-half minutes to watch this. It will brighten your day!
Thanks to my parents-in-law for sending me the link!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Sea Monkeys continued

Our Sea Monkeys continue to delight and enthrall us. The population rises and falls: we hit eight last week, dropped back to five and currently have nine. There are four pretty big ones, around half a centimetre long, one medium sized one and four tiny, fizzing dots. One of the four big ones has two disconcerting round black lumps which, according to the sea monkey website are the females' egg sacs so I am optimistic that they are happy in their domestic situation.
I find myself spending five minutes at a time, just watching their antics, counting them, scrutinising the tank for babies (is that a bit of floating algae or a new-born?) and it is my first concern when I come downstairs in the morning to count them. If you're stuck for a Christmas present for anyone at all, why not get them some Sea-Monkeys?

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mince Pie 10

I ran ten miles yesterday. I ran the craziest, wildest, wettest, hilliest, muddiest, windiest ten miles I've ever run.
I left my mum's house and drove straight into hammering rain, with the windscreen wipers on full speed I still could not see where I was going. My friend and I decided that the race would, in all likelihood, be cancelled but had no contact number and her dad couldn't find anything on the web-site as she coached him remotely around it on her mobile. So we pressed on. We arrived in the wind-blasted town of Peacehaven on the South Coast (incidentally where I spent many hours mastering juctions as I learned to drive over twenty years ago) under dull but dry skies. We emerged from race headquarters a little while later to blue skies!
However, that did not affect the sheer quantity of water on the course: we were slowed to walking pace as we slithered in single-file past path-wide puddles, or tottered along slippery ridges between muddy ruts. The wind added to the excitement, gusting visciously just as footing was lost on the slippery surface meaning that staying upright became an achievement in itself. Up the Downs we climbed, before descending at a hurtling pace like so many overgrown children running full pelt down a hill. It was enough to make me laugh out-loud at the sheer madness of it all!
The hills and the miles continued and I was thrilled to see the end, although so much of my mental capacity had been engaged in avoiding a faceful of mud that I had not had the usual road race feeling of counting down the distance markers. I got a spot prize, too, for my stupendous sprint finish (or possibly at random!) and a free mince pie. And a reminder of why it is such fun to run!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Good

I wish I could extract from my head the list I carry around with me of the standard of 'good'. The 'good' mother or the 'good' friend, the 'good' home educator or the 'good' wife. The image that comes to mind is of the little tank where our sea-monkeys live just after it has been stirred. Lying on the bottom is a mix of dead sea-monkeys, sea-monkey poo, discarded sea-monkey skins, a few cat hairs that have fallen in and some balls of green stuff which I assume are the powdered food we occasionally add. Usually the water is fairly clear and the little creatures spin happily about, waggling their waggly bits. When I stir the tank (to aerate it rather than just for the excitement of the shrimps) all this gunk rises up and spins about too, in a cloudy mess. For a few minutes it is impossible to distinguish the living creatures from the detritus whirling around them.
Similarly, I carry around thoughts that, when I get all stirred up, cloud my vision and make a mess of things. A 'good' mother always cooks fresh, has a moment to listen and never tells her child that not liking the new margarine is 'just silly'. A 'good' friend is always available and always cares. A 'good' home educator makes learning fun and is always encouraging. A 'good' wife is always interested in her husband's day at work and never minds when he is a few minutes late home.
As I said, I wish I could extract these lists, have a clear-sighted view of them, cross off what I don't think is true and generally give my tank a thorough clean.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Learning to read

My little girl is learning to read. Each of my children has learned to read in a different way and I am very relaxed about the pace of her grasping this particular skill. My first taught himself at around five and has never looked back. (In the last 24 hours he has read 'The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy' cover-to-cover.) My next son took a little longer and, as I was inexperienced having only been through it once before, I began to worry. However, the expert I took him to for assessment told me that he was 'very advanced' so I laughed at myself, backed off and left him to it too. He does not have the same love of a good book as his brother but he does spend hours poring over the rule books for The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game.
My youngest is just on the threshold of reading and she is very excited. She is also beginning to be frustrated that she cannot write enough words to write down her own stories and poems. So, I am actively working on her reading with her. It seems to me that she is a much more visual reader and sounding out words doesn't work so well, even when it is possible, so I bought some flashcards which she enjoys. We've gone back to some Ladybird phonics books and this morning I dug out a set of easy animal stories and offered her the goal of being able to read them by Christmas if she practices hard.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Salt Licks

One of the many things I love about Home Ed is the sense of connections. We have just started reading 'Heidi' as a chapter book; in one of the first scenes of the maligned Grandfather, his goats run to him as he tempts them with salt. This reminded us of 'Caddie Woodlawn' and the prank she played on her cousin who was so keen to 'salt' the sheep. Deliberately failing to warn the unsuspecting visitor of the sheeps' eagerness for salt, Caddie and her brothers allow her to attempt to hand-feed the animals. She is overwhelmed by the over-enthusiastic ruminants and all of her buttons, of which she is very proud, are eaten in the melee. My middle son reminded me that Pa Ingalls, in 'Little House in the Big Woods' "had made a deer-lick, in a open place in the woods, with trees near by in which he could sit and watch it." In a touching moment, Pa is too overcome with the beauty of first stag, then a bear and finally a doe and her yearling fawn in the moonlight to shoot any of them and Mary and Laura have bread and butter for their supper.
We spent a few moments on the internet last night looking at a story of a boy chased by a deer which just wanted to lick him, reading how to make a deer-lick, finding out that animals need salt for bone, muscle and antler growth, looking at salt-licks to buy for wildlife or for 'small furries' and discovering the Norse legend of the divine cow Audhumla licking Odin's grandfather into being. Then we e-mailed our friend at Bushy Park to find out how the resident deer herds get their salt.
I am not sure, nor do I care, which part of the 'curriculum' this would fall into, nor could I ever have set this as a target or planned it. But I learned something new, in a context which means I am unlikely to forget it, and the children did too. That, I am sure, is what education is all about.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Friday, 27 November 2009

Sea Monkeys

For while now, we have been growing some Sea Monkeys. This follows two unsuccessful attempts to hatch Triops so the stakes felt high and it was with great relief that, just one day after setting up their tank, we had some baby Sea Monkeys swimming about. We got up to about seventeen at one point but the population is round five or six at the moment. They are surprisinigly difficult to count as the oval container they are in sets up some interesting reflections and they are indistinguishable from one another. For a while I had them under a desk lamp to keep them warm and lit but, according to the web-site, the colony could last two years and I wasn't prepared for that kind of carbon footprint! They now live on the kitchen window-sill with plenty of British November sunlight, with the occasional evening under the lamp, and they seem to be holding their own. My son has declared them 'boring' but also confesses to counting them throughout the day. He is convinced they are dying, so we have set up a chart to make a more accurate assessment of their survival rates and I discovered today that we should have been 'aerating' them (which I think just means 'stirring') so, as of this morning, they have a little more oxygen.
They spin around in their jam-jar sized tank appearing very worked up for such little creatures who can surely not have a care in the world! They are not affectionate, or even aware of my existence, and yet I feel very responsible for their survival and I must confess to really enjoying having them as pets.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Time Management

I was having a conversation with a lady who knows me very, very well. We were discussing my desire to be good at everything, not just good, but very good. How hard I find it to admit that I am rubbish at something, that, for example, I can't sew. Deep down, it threatens my sense of worth. She was encouraging me to be open, honest, up-front about my weaknesses, my incompetencies. "For example," she says, "Tell people how bad you are at time management." This hit me hard. "I'm not rubbish at time management," I protested.
I have not really spent the last two days in a flat spin, running from one thing to another, tired after a busy weekend, telling my son that perhaps I should just stay up all night and then I might get everything on my 'to do' list done, worried that when I take on too much it is my children who suffer!
So, I'm admitting it,I'm coming clean, I'm really, really bad at time management. I consistently under-estimate how long things will take. I regularly fall into the trap of convincing myself I can squeeze a little bit more in. I often tell myself that "it'll only take a moment." Perhaps, if I am honest with myself, I will begin to learn to pace things better and have more peace.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Petition

I am not a natural campaigner. If I feel passionately about something I get very emotionally involved, I get upset when people don't see things the same way I do and I get overwhelmed. It is for this reason that when news of the Petition to Parliament being organised, a co-ordinated response with petitions being handed on to local MPs to deliver to parliament, I got a sinking feeling and decided to keep my head down.
Each constituency needs a coordinator to gather the various copies together and send to the MP and my area didn't have one. Despite trying to avoid it, I eventually decided to volunteer for the role so I set out yesterday to get a few signatures. The second person I asked refused point blank. She believes that Home Educated children should be registered and so supports the Bill. I was dumbfounded and extremely upset.
Of course I know in my head that every person has an absolute right to their opinions and that not every one will agree. In my gut I wanted to scream. Just because a piece of legislation has some parts that are ok, if there are other parts that are fundamentally wrong, it should not be allowed to go ahead. Registration will solve none of the problems: problems for which there is no evidence of existence. School children have to be registered because the parent has asked the state to take on the responsibility for their education and so the state needs to know who they've got. I haven't asked the state to do this for me, so they don't need to know where my children are.
If I do nothing and this Bill is passed by a government obsessed with controlling every aspect of our lives, I will regret not taking a stand. If I campaign, I am vulnerable to the fear, anger and dismay which this issue stirs up in me. I will get a few more signatures from people I know are sympathetic and I will leave it at that. I just hope it will be enough.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Busy Weekend

I have spent the weekend at a conference organised by Catch the Fire, the international ministry of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship who are well known as the starting point of the 'Toronto Blessing'. It has been a mind- and spirit- shaking weekend and I have come home with much to process, ponder and pray about.
I am also shattered, having left home early both mornings and just been home in time to say goodnight to the children. Looking over what I have planned for the week, I seem to have realistic expectations and not too much scheduled. I just need to resist that voice that tells me I can probably squeeze a bit more in!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Spontaneous

I enjoying my new planner, but using it has thrown up a dilemma. The format has encouraged me to think about my "Weekly Priorities" and also to divide up our activities into the various subject areas. This has given me some focus and a sense of what areas we are not really touching on at the moment. It is also giving me a better record of what we have done, should I ever need to demonstrate to anyone that there is learning going on in our day.
What it has highlighted, although I guess I knew this if I'd stopped to think, is that we are not doing anything that would be classed as Science. We have done in the past and we will do again, but this term, nothing. So I found a game on the Internet to do with classifying living things and my daughter played it while I helped the boys with their bookclub work earlier this week. Is that rounding her education nicely, or papering over an imaginary crack, motivated only by the desire to fill in an empty box?
Today I have scheduled some work on our Shakespeare project and a poetry tea, but we have a game of Monopoly (technically Los Angeles in a Box, but you know what I mean!) which we didn't finish yesterday. We were due to go to choir but it was cancelled so we had a spare afternoon. I offered Poetry Tea out with the world's most delicious Brownies and this was greeted with polite nods. I suggested we could bake our own and play our new game, the response to this was loud cheers. So, today, should I let my planner keep me on track: after all, I did designate Shakespeare a priority? Or do I embrace the freedom of Home Ed and play the game until we're done (ssh, don't tell the inspectors)?
Of course, I could dress it up and call it 'Team Building', 'Personal and Social Education' or even 'Business Studies'. I could rub out what I have written (there's commitment - it only ever was pencilled in) and put "have fun", "be spontaneous" or "play games" in the appropriate box. Which are the true stars by which I am navigating and which are just lamps I have lit in the dark when it all feels a bit scary?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Vampires

My eldest son is a voracious reader and long gone are the days when I could make sure that everything he read was 'suitable'. There is little I would feel uneasy with him reading, although he did go through a phase of nothing but fantasy and magic books and I intervened by insisting that at least half the books he got from the library were reality based: not non-fiction, but just non-magic. I know many Christians who are uncomfortable with the Harry Potter series, but I cannot imagine that I would be able to keep him from The Boy Who Lived for ever and I happen to think the books are fabulous. We have made them into a family affair and, in my husband's school holidays, I read them aloud to everyone. The children associate this very much with camping and I know that their childhood memories will be full of hot chocolate, snuggly sleeping bags and adventures at Hogwarts.
The Alex Rider series was one I felt I should check out first, if only so I could discuss any tricky issues with him. I was completely gripped and we raced each other through the whole set.
His last trip to the library brought Twilight into our house. So far I have been left cold by the craze surrounding in these books, tagging them as dark young adult fiction for teenage girls. My son knew that I might not be happy and asked if it would be ok to read it. I said I would have a look first, there is much in both High School America and gothic horror that I feel 10 is too young for. I am won over, hook, line and sinker, and have found myself sitting down mid making the bed to sneak in a few extra pages. I have seldom read any book that has had such an effect, and I have fallen hopelessly in love with a fictional character, feeling weak at the knees and light in the stomach at his romantic and heroic exploits, his tortured passion and his super-human power. It's taken a while for my son to get a look in, and the book needs to be back at the library on Saturday, but he seems to be enjoying it so far. For totally different reasons, I'm sure.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Games

I have just got home from a couple of days at my mum's. We have come home with two new games. One, not really so new, is the Los Angeles version of Monopoly. My middle son discovered Monopoly at our last visit to Grandma's in the summer and had long games with his dad, developing quite a ruthless streak! We are hoping to be given a classic London set for Christmas but, in the meantime, we have brought back my mother's 'spare' set and the children have already got a game in progress this morning.
The other diversion we have returned with is Tantrix; at first appearance a very simple game of coloured tiles which soon becomes fiendishly complex. Simple enough for my six-year-old to grasp, the set consists of hexagonal tiles with coloured paths, either straight or sharply or gently curved. These can be put together to make long paths, the idea being to create closed loops. It can be a solitary puzzle or a shared, competitive game and twice already since we got home late yesterday afternoon, I have found myself on the floor with a child poring over the tiles.
I did have some 'proper' stuff planned today, but maybe I'll just put the kettle on, make us all a cup of tea, and settle down to play!

Friday, 13 November 2009

The Well-Planned Day

Who could resist such a title, such an elusive concept? A Well-Planned Day.
Last week, Kathy, at Restoration Place, posted about this 'family homeschool planner'. I was immediately won over, my credit card details winging their way over the Atlantic so that I too could own one and aspire to the kind of peace, organization and structure teasingly promised.
My copy has now arrived and I stayed up later than I intended last night filling things in and poring over the pages. Not everything is what I need (I am still wondering what kind of homeschool needs an attendance register? Surely, you'd just notice if one of your kids wasn't there?) but I love the space for weekly priorities, the clarity of layout helping me to see which areas I am covering well and which I am neglecting, the interesting articles and the planning pages for each month, with space to fill in 'Books to Enjoy' and 'Enrichment Activities'.
Tempted though I am to believe that this humble planner will transform my life, I know that it's not going to. However, I think it will help me to get a clearer overview of what we are doing and to be more intentional with my goals.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Sad

I live in a suburban street. I occasionally see my near neighbours as they come and go from their houses, most have faces I would recognise but I don't know many of their names. When I moved here three years ago I knocked on a few doors and introduced myself. I have tried since to build relationships and get to know people. But there is one couple, almost directly opposite my house, to whom I had never spoken until earlier last month.
I had noticed, with increasing frequency, visits from the ambulance crews but had no idea what might be wrong. Eventually it got to the point where I took my courage in both hands, crossed the road and rang the bell. I introduced myself and was invited in. We chatted and I learned that they were a German Jewish couple and had arrived in England, separately, just before World War 2. Her husband was elderly and now weak and frail with recurring health problems, hence the regular dashes to hospital.
I have dropped in a few more times since, just to say hello and to see if there is anything they need. I only met the gentleman once before this week and I met him again on Tuesday. He was bright and lively, bemoaning the waste of everybody's time that his frequent collapses were causing, he did not want to be such a burden. As I left, I wished him well. He smiled broadly, and clasped his hands to his heart. He thanked me for my good wishes and said that he would hold onto them.
This morning, their next-door-neighbour called to let me know that he died in the early hours. She, along with his wife, had helped him into the ambulance in the night and he had cracked a joke about having two ladies on his arms. He died peacefully, in clear mind and without prolonged suffering.
I know that his wife has friends there with her and I know that a Rabbi will be coming today. I have barely begun a relationship with them and yet it doesn't seem right to be normal this morning. Laughter or light-hearted blogging seems out of place. I am inexperienced in the ways of mourning, of what is appropriate and right at such a time. This is compounded by the fact that they were a devoutly Jewish couple and I am unsure as to what is culturally correct; I would like to take a cake but I'm not sure about Kosher regulations (although I guess the internet would be a good place to start).
I feel very sad. I keep stopping by the window, staring at the house, wondering at the grief and shock on the inside.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Not Hungry

Monday's paper had an article on 'the hungry generation' that caught my attention. Any tag-line with 'are mum's to blame?' tends to have that effect. According to findings there is a crisis amongst girls and their attitudes to eating and body image and it is fairly normal for teenagers to routinely miss two meals a day. I find it hard to get from breakfast to lunch without a little something and my children help themselves to a mid-morning, and a mid-afternoon snack, and woe betide any one who suggests that, as they didn't remember until midday and lunch is merely minutes away, it could be missed.
Although the causes of such distorted relationships with food are many and far from easy to untangle, the article identified two in particular:

“The playground is an incredibly strong environment when it comes to forming
their views and opinions. It has become almost impossible for girls to extract
themselves from some negativity towards their bodies and food.”

“For a lot of the young people I treat, food also becomes an issue when Mum
isn’t sitting down to dinner with everyone else, or is off preparing a separate
meal — or eating nothing.”

I'm glad that I'm fortunate enough to be able to Home Educate my children. I'm glad that it is our home, our family and those with whom we chose to share our lives which will shape their views and opinions. I'm glad that all three of my children know how to bake muffins and, just yesterday, sat at the table with me, tucking into chocolate cake, reading poems with a friend and enjoying being together.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Learning to balance

My little girl has learned to ride her bike! We finally got around to taking the stabilisers off the pink bike she was given for her fifth birthday,

and my husband took her to the park on Saturday. Off she went! No tears, no drama, ripe and ready to do it, it came easy. On Sunday we had a quick walk up to our local recreation ground for her to do a lap of honour, pedalling away, perfectly balanced, riding her bicycle! I forgot to take the camera though to capture her wide, proud smile.

I was reminded of her achievement, her grin and my pride in her this morning as I was praying. As I wobble along in my life, there are certain weaknesses I have that would cause me to crash every time. I have a real tendency to pride. I've just spent a week on retreat, an experience I loved, drawing me nearer to Jesus and also providing a much needed break in my busy schedule. But it doesn't take me long to start feeling that I must be very holy, better, in fact, than most folk, closer to God and that they would all have a lot to learn from me ... except humility of course! This is where I need my stabilisers. Why I'm not really ready yet to spiritually cycle unsupported, let alone go mountain biking. But my heavenly father is patient with me, he takes me out in the park often to practice, and one day I'll be ready. It's not that the potential to wobble and fall off will have gone, but that I will have learned to hold my balance and not to topple, or at least, not so often. And God will not be standing there with a scowl on his face saying, "About time too, what took you so long?" but with a huge grin of love and pride.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Comments

Having posted on the local e-group that I had written about Friday's walk, some new readers have made some very welcome comments around the blog. I have always try to reply to comments, usually by pressing 'reply' in my Outlook Express where notification of a comment arrives. Eventually,though, I noticed the 'no-reply' bit of the return address! This gave me a clue that my carefully composed responses may not have been reaching their intended targets. I checked this out by e-mailing and 'replying' to a friend who comments regularly. Sure enough, the 'no-reply' answer goes nowhere - go figure! So, apologies to those of you who have never heard back from me.
This morning I decided to tackle this. I have spent the last half-hour searching on blogger help, peering at indecipherable HTML code and importing code (from a site which told me that if I could read Chinese there would be additional detail to the instructions) in order to be able to reply directly. However, the promised link to click on has not appeared. I am left with the slightly uneasy feeling that I may have added something irrevocable to my template code which will gradually destroy my blog like some flesh-eating parasite, and still no way of replying directly!
So, I have replied to the comments by posting comments of my own, so scroll back and take a look. I have not cooked lunch, or started maths with the children. My planned tales of cycling and pet spiders will have to wait until later in the week!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Chilworth Gunpowder Mills

A week or so ago a message appeared in the Home Ed e-group I belong to (or should that be, lurk on?), suggesting an autumnal walk by the River Tillingbourne at Chilworth, with the added attraction of meeting some alpacas thrown in. So, even though I didn't know the lady organising it, or anyone who might be going, I thought we'd join in.
The idea of 'paddling' and 'dam building' was included so I made sure we were armed with three complete sets of clothes, all wrapped around hot water bottles, as well as hot chocolate and snacks and, this morning, we set off into the wilds of Surrey.
We met up with a lovely group of mums (one of whom I did know from a few years back) and lively children of varying ages and we strolled into the woods. Sticks, water and leaves were in abundant supply, with plenty of opportunities for collecting, climbing, investigating, paddling, dipping and running. We found an old tram-swing bridge which one or two of the children balanced across. Of course, it was my children. (Sometimes it's easier not to watch!)A little later we came across a shallow-ish part of the stream. My middle son took to 'extreme paddling' and was soon waist deep in November cold water, after a quick duel.Eventually, wellingtons emptied (for the second time this week), we meandered along and my son was stoic in the face of potential hypothermia. We met the alpacas of Chilworth Manor, the daddy of whom, Odin, was just as curious about us as we were about him.
By this stage my two wettest children were ready for the car so we hurried back and soon they were wrapped up in warm clothes, picnic blankets and sipping hot chocolate - worth getting soaked for!
It was one of the best mornings I have spent in ages. I enjoyed the adult company and the chance to be in the fresh air and surrounded by nature. My children had a great time with the others and the chance to really play in nature in a way that can seem so elusive in suburban life.
Even the best plans don't always work, but this morning was the perfect example of preparation and spontaneity going hand in hand, and the serendipity of the simple.

Thanks for the photos, uploaded from the e-group.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Nim's Island

Nim is an eleven-year-old girl brought up on a remote and secret island by her nano-plankton obsessed scientist father. In her own words she is "home-educated, well technically, island-educated." She plays with her friends, Gallileo, Fred and Selkie, (a gull, a lizards and a sea-lion), she hatches turtle eggs, she cooks, she sails with her dad, she reads countless books and knows enough about Ancient Greek military strategy to fend off invasion by crass, uncouth and spoiled Austrailian tourists.
I wonder what our Local Education Authority, or the many skeptics who are so fond of questions about socialization and examinations, would make of her? Of course, this is pure fantasy, but I was still left with the feeling that her life and her education lacked very little. I pondered whether such a situation would be 'allowed' in real-life society and I am pretty sure that this is exactly the kind of thing Graham Badman and all who are uncomfortable with Home Ed would like to see eradicated. There were no safe-guards for this girl and, had her father been brutally abusing her then there would have been no-one to protect her but this was not the case. She had a loving and close relationship with her father and they each respected and adored the other. But would many consider such an upbringing to be so unconventional to also be prevented? Would some consider such isolation or such disorganised learning, (no goals or attainment targets, no progress reports or testing,) a failure to educate?
There are many aspects of other people's parenting that I am uncomfortable with. I have heard loving mothers say how much their child hates school day after day, and yet they continue to force attendance, heart-felt believing that it is the right, or only, thing to do. And there are the tennis or gymnastic or athletic stars-of-the future who practice for hours a day on top of their school work and feel that anything less than perfection is failure. Could this ever be seen as abusive behaviour on the part of the parent? I would not behave towards my children in these ways but I would not suggest that these parents should be registered, annually inspected and required by law to change their life-style if I didn't like what I saw.
I am reminded of Laura Dekker, the fourteen-year-old Dutch girl who has been banned from attempting to sail around the world. Now, I know nothing about sleep management or sailing and maybe the enterprise is folly, but the arguement that one reason she should not embark on her adventure is that she will miss out on schooling seems to me to be laughable. Surely any person capable of sailing single-handed across the North Sea has a very developed skill set. I cannot imagine that any person with the strength of mind to complete the challenges that she has and hopes to, would be dettered from learning anything she set her mind to or that she needed to. Really, what do the authorities think a school will provide that following her passion and experiencing life to its fullest will not?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Wet Wellies

Today has dawned bright and clear: the perfect autumn day. Yesterday it rained as if the sky was being wrung out and I doubted earth could hold any more. This made for some great puddles. Not content with just splashing, my younger two devised a plan to scooter through the biggest puddle they could find. They returned some minutes later, giggling, triumphant, wet to the skin ...
and with wellies full of water.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

On Sunday I met with my father's cousin, my first cousin once removed. (Thanks to a handy table provided by a genealogist tracing my mother's family when a distant relative died without a will, I have finally grasped the subtleties of first and second cousins and how removed they are.)
He lives in a small town about half-an-hour's drive away and I discovered him through my great-aunt, whom I also met for the first time this year, who has a keen interest in family history. I was treated to a 'proper tea' with sandwiches, scones and cake which made me feel very special and I enjoyed a pleasant hour looking at his old family photos and showing some that I have recently discovered. He grew up on the same village street as my father and attended the same secondary school and I have a couple of photos of them together, along with another brother, clearly much more interested in going off to play than in posing for the camera. What touched me deeply was how very similar these two men are, both in striking physical resemblance and also in mannerism and speech and it was as if I was with an alternative version of my father. I realise that I, too, am part of this family line, mixed up with another, and wonder what I have inherited, genetically and culturally. How deep our family ties go and how precious it is to know something of where we have come from.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Half-Term

It has been a lovely half-term break and we are lucky that my husband has a fortnight off school in October. His kind parents have done sterling work looking after him and the children while I was on retreat and also having just the children while we had a couple of nights away at a Bed and Breakfast in North Surrey. Although I had been planning a six mile walk, (and half hoping I could stir up enough enthusiasm for an eleven mile one!) I was suffering from a bad cold and we pottered around the gardens of a local stately home instead. I ate enough, what with two restaurant dinners, two cooked breakfasts, lunch and tea-and-cake out, to feed the whole family, and it was a refreshing break.
I also find it very pleasant to be stepping back into routine again this morning, with a well-planned few weeks ahead. I have had to examine what our priorities are and have come up with these: making good progress with 'The Lord of the Rings' (so that we are not still reading it when the children start their first jobs!); practice for the Primary Maths Challenge which the boys will sit at the end of November; the boys' on-line book group which also has a 30th November dead-line; Choir rehearsals for the concert, also last weekend of November!; and our Shakespeare project which I would like to culminate in a visit to the Globe Theatre. Once all the November things are done I reckon we will be well into Christmas planning and preparation and maybe some card-making!
I find it very soothing to have such a sense of clarity and, even if we don't stick exactly to our plan, it is good to have a road map.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Guest Blog

Gaynor has asked me to blog today, so I thought I would write about our week in the Black Country with my parents while Gaynor was on retreat. Where is the Black Country you may ask? It is a region in the West Midlands that comprises Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Dudley. This area was the engine room of the industrial revolution and Walsall is where my family come from. Whenever we visit my parents we take a day trip to a wonderful place called the Black Country Living Museum. The children particularly enjoy the tour down the coal mine, the old fashioned school (where one of my school colleagues, Pat actually attended as a boy in Dudley) and the sweet shop where they buy old fashioned treats such as pear drops and fruit pips. This year we had a look at the 1920s cinema for the first time, and the children got their first taste of a Charlie Chaplin film called 'The Fireman'. We always end the visit with a canal boat trip under the tunnels of Dudley, one of the world's most important geological areas.
The children also enjoyed swimming at our local pool and a slide show from Grandpa Brian, always a highlight of our trip, where we look at a selection of pictures going back to the 1970s when my brother, Rob and I were growing up. It is always interesting to see their reaction when they see old pictures and try to recognise who is who! My parents are visiting us again tomorrow, but this time they will be looking after the children as we go off on a two day break to a Bed and Breakfast at Denbies Vineyard, near Dorking in Surrey. What a treat!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Little Things



Making some time this morning to do some little things.


Monday, 26 October 2009

Hurly Burly

Life has been a whirlwind since leaving St Michael's Convent on Saturday morning. A pleasant whirlwind of catching up with the children, husband, friends and family (and X-Factor) but also a culture shock after six days of silence.
My poor garden has been sadly neglected while I was in Uganda, ill and then getting back on top of life, the day is set fair and I am hoping to re-plant a bed by dusk.
I spent last half-term re-acting to events and running to stay still after the shaky and swine flu infected beginning so I will also be putting some time aside this week to get an overview of what the coming seven weeks hold and making some space to prepare, practically, mentally and spiritually for Christmas. Julie's post on Finding a Rhythm has provided some inspiration.
My husband and I have booked two nights in a local Bed and Breakfast to enjoy some time alone in each other's company, something we have not made time for in the last couple of years.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Retreating

This afternoon I am retreating: quite literally going on retreat, to St Michael's Convent for six days of silence and peace. I have been eagerly looking forward to this for weeks, at times desperately hanging on for it. It has been a busy and stressful half-term in which I never quite felt on-top of things, starting as it did on the back-foot. Not that I am hours away, I am beginning to feel nervous: a week without family, friends, life's distractions and even conversation is daunting. However, in preparing this post, I re-read what I wrote at the end of last year's time away and I am encouraged and excited by all that is in store for me.
I will be back next Saturday and posting again later that week.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Start School at 6

A report by the Cambridge Primary Review, subject of an article in today's Times newspaper, recommends that children should not start formal schooling until they are 6. In fact, the report says, trying to teach literacy and numeracy at such an early age is "counterproductive." Ed Balls the Schools Secretary, however, believes that this would be a 'backward step' and that "it is vital to get children playing and learning from an early age." (What does he think they do when they are not at school? How does he explain the fact that children learn countless things before they ever attend school, like walking, talking, the names of farm animals and dinosaurs to mention just a few?) Despite starting school at least one year earlier, English school children aged 10 show no real advantage over their European counterparts and even score lower on their reading.
So, this suggestion has not been supported by the Government of the Opposition. Is there another agenda here? Perhaps an economic one: the earlier children are in school, the sooner their parents are back into full-time work or the cheaper the child-care for those who already are? While I am sure that these financial pressures are very real for many families, it does not seem a good argument for early full-time education. It would be good to look at our schooling paradigms with fresh eyes and to see the needs of the children, their social, emotional and educational needs, put first. The rest, surely, should be worked around that?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Primary Proms 2009

We were delighted to receive tickets to the Primary Proms 2009, a free concert for London children held in the Albert Hall. Not only did we get seats, but we got a box (due to the fact that we are a high adult-to-child ratio group) so we enjoyed the concert in luxury!
There was a varied mix, with choral, orchestral, jazz, drumming and rock music. I always like some easy jazz and it was good to hear Holst's 'Mars', which the children are familiar with. They liked the choirs too, especially the song complaining about the hardships of school!There was to be an audience participation song, something my children frequently despise. However, I had downloaded the lyrics and we had listened to an MP3 recording of the song a few times, so we were at least prepared. What I was not prepared for was my son, wriggling and bored after an hour of music, greeting the suggestion that we could leave early if he liked by telling me that he did not want to leave before we had had the chance to sing. It was the highlight of the concert for them all and my daughter skipped along Exhibition Road singing at the top of her voice on our way home!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Purrfect Pal

My little girl has been saving up for a Nintendo DS for some time. The latest model, new, is £100 and, although she had saved a lot, she was still some considerable way short. I was telling this to a friend. 'Oh', she said, 'you should try Game, they sell them second-hand.' So, yesterday afternoon, I took myself off to our local town and located this shop and indeed they were selling the latest model, 'pre-owned' for only £70. Even better, the original model was only £40. Assured that it did exactly the same thing, (apparently the screen is not so bright,) I was able to buy her the console and a game and still bring her change home from her hard-saved money.
She was delighted with the aquisition and we immediately began to play with her "Purrfect Pal" kitten. It was hungry and meowed piteously (and, after a very short while, irritatingly.) Speed-reading the instructions I figured out how to feed it, but we had no food and no money to buy food. Nowhere in the instructions could I find any information on how to obtain cash. The cat continued to cry and occasionally lie down and I began to worry that it was collapsing with hunger and would, before too long, die of starvation.
Fortunately at this point the game switched off as it was out of power and we called a halt while we re-charged, not just the console but our own emotional tanks. Once energy was restored, my middle-son had a play and discovered the games. Having a quick try of one he was awarded $0.00 but realised immediately and triumphantly that, had he played better, he might have earned some hard cash. With adult help, enough money for the cat food was won and the cat was fed. Oh, the relief! By this stage he was pining for grooming, play and affection. We also discovered that his litter tray had 73 'kitten-clumps' in it, which took some time to clear up.
After the children were in bed I decided I would play a few games to stock up the cupboard with food and fill up the piggy bank. If she saves enough, she can choose a new kitten and I wanted her to be able to design her own pet when she gets up this morning. An hour later I was still sitting there, tapping out electronic tunes (do it correctly enough and the prize is a wopping $3:00, nearly a box of cat-food!), periodically pausing to groom, play with or pet the cat. It's a pretty demanding beast.
Each of its four basic needs are charted with 'thermometers' and I finally felt able to turn in when all of them were registering green and low. I had met the needs of my electronic cat and I could go to bed satisfied with a job well done. Although I know they will rise again, at least I can easily check on what is required and take appropriate action. If only my children were so easy!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Pencils and Pennies

The problem with high ideals is how you feel when you fail them. This time last week I was so proud of myself for backing off from my children's 'formal' learning and being happy with seven words. Then we tried some maths. The page in my little girl's book was covering how to add 9 the easy way: add 10 and take away 1. Then it went on to taking away 9, take away 10 and add 1. This seemed pretty straightforward to me. What I had failed to see was the number of steps involved in this process and, when adding 10 to a number feels pretty shaky, it was a step too far. All the demons were stirred: my child is behind, my child is lazy, my child isn't trying, I am failing. It wasn't pretty! We left it, tearfully, and tried again another day. It didn't work then either. So, picture the scene at tea-time on Friday. I am upset about my own stuff and panicky that she has not completed her set maths page for the week. She is tired and wanting to play. I am trying to cook a white sauce and explain, yet again, how the process works, while she sits at the kitchen table. It took less that five minutes for me to descend to yelling and her to be reduced to tears. Why do I do this?

Picture the scene yesterday. She is sitting on the table, giggling that this is easy. We have added ten to twenty, thirty, forty and so on. We have graduated to adding ten to twenty-one, thirty-two. Now we are making numbers with pencils for 'lots of ten' and pennies. I'm trying to give her nine, but I can't because I only have a pencil, worth ten, and I can't break it up, what can I do? She takes the pencil and hands me a penny. Then we figure out what she's got left, now she's added nine by adding ten and taking away one. It's such a fun game that she's asking for more and begging her brother to come and see. I am hamming it up, crying that I can't give her nine, only ten, and I don't want to give her ten, I only want to give her nine. 'Trust me,' she says, taking my pencil and handing me a penny. It's so good, we have to show daddy when he gets in from work.

It's amazing what backing off, unlocking horns and trying a new approach can do. It's amazing how good it is for the soul to giggle with your daughter. It's amazing there's always a second chance.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Box Hill

We took the children for walk on Box Hill yesterday, lots of beautiful views, healthy fresh air and October drizzle. Unattracted by the offer of a different walk, they opted to take the same way-marked trail which we took last time we were there. Reaching a corner by the main road, my middle son set off across the grass and took a very effective short-cut. My daughter was unconvinced and, anyway, she was able to see a post. So I accompanied her down the hill, to the post, turned right along the path to meet up with the men of our family who had all taken the short cut. I had tried to explain to her that we were going the long way but she strenuously denied it. Eventually, when the evidence was incontrovertible, she changed her argument:
"We're going the long-cut, because we are better!"
Now, that's my kind of reasoning!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Marconi

In order to squeeze every possible educational moment out of our day, the children and I were listening to 'Great Inventors' in the car on our drive to choir. Yesterday it was the turn of Marconi, the inventor of radio.Marconi was home educated until he was twelve and allowed by his Irish mother to indulge his passion for all things electrical, including building a box on the roof which collected static in thunderstorms and rang a bell in the house. (I am not sure I would let my child play on the roof or with thunderstorms, no matter how autonomous I was trying to let them be!) Although he then went to technical college, he was so absorbed in his interest in electricity that he failed all his exams and was not admitted to university. (His furious and disappointed father would destroy any of his son's experiments he found about the house so his mother hid all his equipment in the attic.)

Of course his mother did not know that her son would turn out to invent the radio, to be prolifically decorated or ascribed by the British Postmaster General as being the saviour of the survivors of the Titanic; it must have been scary at times when her son did not follow any kind of conventional educational route, to the point of failing his exams. And of course, not all children will grow up to make world-changing inventions. But I was inspired by this story to wonder what would happen if more children were allowed to discover and then follow their passion, indulge themselves more in the things that fill them with joy and interest, were less constrained by a National Curriculum of a little of everything and less bound by a traditional school-exam-university path. How might our world be changed and who else might be saved?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Learning

Following on from yesterday's post, I have been thinking about one of those Home Education Frequently Asked Questions: what will you do when they don't want to learn? My answer, honed over a few years and much thought, is that I would rush them to a doctor immediately as I would be extrememely concerned for their health. My children (and I am sure they are not unique) are voracious learners and will study a subject that interests them with passion and commitment. My middle son pores over the Rules Book for 'The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Games' for hours, he knows his Lego in depth and can indentify which set any piece belongs to, he pushes himself hard to achieve a personal best most weeks in a 5k time trial or to reach the next level of a computer game.

I believe the questioner usually means, "What will you do when they don't want to learn what you want them to?" While I am uncomfortably aware that this flies in the face of conventional schooling, I increasingly feel that if they don't want to learn something then that is because it is the wrong thing or the wrong time. While I do my best to provide educational experiences which I think they will enjoy, benefit from and be developed by, I accept my limitations that I can never see into their minds to know what they are ripe to receive. If something is absorbing them they I assume that is the right thing for them at the right time. Anything thing else feels like seed on the rocky ground.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Seven Words

I started this term with the plan that, once a week, we would do one 'hit' of formal, sit-at-the-table, workbook learning. This would be a page of maths, some handwriting and grammar and, for the older two, work on their monthly book project. It has become apparent that this is too much in one go: concentration and patience have been over-stretched and tears and shouting have not been uncommon. I am reminded of a recent post of Julie's, entitled "Strong Willed Mommies" which included these words:

"If you’ve got tears, you’re done. There’s nothing more to discuss or do that day. It’s gone too far."


Last week I reviewed what I was doing and split up the 'table-work' so that yesterday morning all we attempted was handwriting. My middle son wrote three sentences. My little girl, seven words. Having written their very best, they were tired, the pencil-work was getting sloppy and and I was beginning to find fault. I told them to stop. They looked at me with uncertain faces: was I about to shout? No, I simply said that that was enough for today (as I slipped away the lines from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' that I had optimistically printed off for them to copy-write!) We retired to the sofa and began "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" and the epic "The Lord of the Rings". I felt close to the children, relaxed, and read for far longer than I normally do.
In the back of my mind I could imagine a school-teacher or an inspector criticising how much, or rather, how little we had done. I could hear the voice saying "They've got to learn to push through," or "How will they ever learn anything if that's all they do?" It was scary. I knew I could have made them write more and probably done some maths too, but I know that it would have been poor-quality, miserable work. I also know that my relationship with them would have been frayed a little. And, while we would have had more to show the fictitious inspector, I do not believe that they would have learned any more, except, perhaps, that appearances count for more that reality. So, while there were few words on the page, I believe that their handwriting improved a little from careful practice and they learned that quality matters, their feelings are heard and that we don't always have to fight!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Friends

Twenty years ago my husband and I went up to University. We both joined the Christian Union in our college and, in meeting the C.U. rep, met someone who was to become a life-long friend and god-father to our eldest son. He married his wife a year before we were married and, six children later, we are still spending time together.
They all came to stay for the weekend and we spent a happy few hours in the woods on Saturday, sitting on a log and catching up while the children building dens.

On Sunday we drove to Ightam Mote and picnicked and played in the unforecast and summery-warm sunshine.It is good to spend time with people who really, truly know us as we are, and still love us. It is good to see our children forming the same kind of friendships.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Chocolate Chips

Last week I made the commitment to start using Fair Trade chocolate chips in my cooking. I found a company that produce them and a local health food shop that supplies their goods. I asked my son to ring them and find out if they sold the chips, but unfortunately they didn't. Since then I have been meaning to go in and ask in person. I was somewhat surprised when the phone rang and the lady from the shop told me that my chocolate chips were in. Apparently my son had left our name and number and the shop owner had ordered them in specially. My husband is going to pick them up for me later this morning. They are extremely expensive, almost twice the price of the ones we can buy in our local supermarket. Some of this price, I am sure, is because they are from quite an up-market manufacturer and are also organic, but these were the only ones I could see on a quick Google for Fair Trade chocolate chips. Some of this price, perhaps, is because this is what they ought to cost, a fair reflection of the price of chocolate. I am used to being able to have what I want, when I want, and, in terms of food, there is little that I cannot afford. In the days of slaves on sugar plantations, sugar would have been much more expensive if those who worked the land had been paid and had sick-leave and holidays. Free Range eggs are more expensive than battery-farmed. Off-setting the carbon emissions of flights makes cheap flights less affordable. I think of Charlie, he of the Chocolate Factory, and his anticipation and delight at his annual birthday gift of a bar of chocolate. At this price I will certainly not be taking my chocolate chips for granted and in more ways than one they will be more valuable.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Choir

Yesterday we went to our first rehersal of the newly re-instated Otherwise Choir. Over twenty Home Educating mums and their children met together to sing and to make friends. I love singing. I am not particularly good and I'm never going to win X-factor but I can hold a tune provided it is not too high and too quiet. My eldest threw himself into it with obvious enthusiasm, my middle son is a little more of the 'boys don't sing' school of thought but gave it a go and my little girl enjoyed herself immensely until her concentration span expired. After the singing, the children tore around and the mums had a cup of tea and some conversation. It was great. It was one of those examples of so many needs being met: something 'educational', something for us all to do as a family together, an opportunity for the children to mix and play with friends and time for me to have that most precious of things: a cup of tea and a chat with other mums.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Tears

On Saturday, my eldest son joined his brother and me at Bedfont Lakes parkrun, a 5 kilometre time trial, part of a national series. My middle son does it every week and, since my illness, runs on his own, without my ‘gentle’ coaching. He has taken nearly 3 minutes off his personal best in the 13 runs he has completed. My eldest is not so sports minded but he has marshalled a couple of times and was keen to give the race a go. I ran with him and offered him support and encouragement, occasionally allowing a quick walking break but keeping him jogging most of the time. It is a two-lap course and he had the option to stop after one but wanted to keep going. He found it tough and I was not a very sympathetic running partner. He made it to the finish in a very respectable sub-35 minutes but swore that it was the worst experience of his life! After a couple of days to absorb the experience and to savour the achievement, he is now considering having another go in a couple of months.
Monday morning sees our biggest hit of what would look to an outsider like ‘school work’. All three children have maths workbooks and do some writing practice and the boys do some work on their book-reading project. It isn’t working very well: it is too much in one go and has driven my middle son to tears nearly every week this term. I am finally wise enough to encourage him to stop, to have a break, to have a snack and to come back to it, but he is adamant that he wants to finish, to get it done. Often this means that he makes rushed or angry mistakes, slowing the whole process down, leading to more tears.
Yesterday it was me in a sobbing heap. I had the washing to put away, the house to vacuum, a blind to fix, my blog to write, all before quarter-to-ten because I wanted to take the children swimming early so that we would be home in time to read two chapters of our chapter book which we won’t have finished in September unless we get a move on. It all just felt too much and I was yelling at the children for not getting on with their chores and so taking up my time by making me nag them. I am not sure where I feel all this pressure from but I know that it has a bad effect on us all.
I have declared today a day off. The children have been released from their chores, including getting dressed and brushing their hair (we’re not going out so I don’t have to worry what the neighbours will think.) I’m hoping to get the paints out later and I’m going to bake some gingerbread so we can have a poetry tea. They have just been in to find out if I really mean it: I do. But we have agreed that they probably still need to brush their teeth!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Sheds

My six-year-old daughter is learning to read. Yesterday we were spelling out the word S-H-E-D. One thing she has trouble with is keeping the "D" sound in her head and it is often transposed to a "T". Mix this in with some random vowel changes and we had a few interesting words. After a few tries we reached "shed", but there was not that face of sudden comprehension as the sounds become a recognisable whole in her head. To try to figure out if she'd understood the word, I asked her to put it in a sentence. "Jesus shed the wine." Now it was my turn to look blank: "Do you mean shared the wine?" She still looked puzzled. "No, he shed the wine, or his blood, or something." Aaah, yes, of course, Jesus shed his blood for us. She has been to enough communion services to know that. Not the first meaning of shed that comes to my mind, I was thinking of where I keep my spade!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Rope climbing

I spoke to a woman at my church yesterday whom I only know very superficially. We have been part of the same church for seven years and I have spoken to her on many occasions, but I don’t know her well. Our church is currently meeting in a school, the church building is undergoing some refurbishment, and this lady and I were chatting in the gym. She commented on the ropes and mentioned that she had enjoyed climbing ropes when she was at school (a feat I never once managed). I was taken aback. She is further along the age spectrum than I am and she is on the plumper side of slim. She is a busy and involved member or our church family and helps out at most events and she actively supported our trip to Uganda. But I just couldn’t see her climbing ropes. She went on to tell me that she enjoyed gym as a girl. In fact, she was quite sporty and had enjoyed ice-skating, badminton and swimming. This was a side of her which I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined. She told me that she had stopped badminton when she got married and then, when her husband had taken it up later, he had not wanted to play ‘a woman’, and that had been that. She didn’t tell me what happened to the skates or the bathing costume. It was a passing conversation in a busy church service and I was not able to assess whether this was a great regret in her life or just one of those things.
I was left wondering what the next generation might find surprising about me when I am older. Writing a blog? Writing novels? Running half-marathons? Taking an alternative to mainstream education and home schooling? Mountain climbing? Really? Her? (Not all of these examples are really me, not yet anyway.) I would like to think that what is important to me now always will be and that, in later life, I would in some small way be an inspiration, an old lady who wears purple. But I would also like to think that I am happy not to be defined by what I do, that I am willing to let things go when they no longer fit my life, that I can enjoy what I enjoy and treasure happy memories.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Custard Pies

While consuming ice-creams before splashing through 'Pirate Falls' at Legoland yesterday (a birthday treat), we watched the entertainment provided for those in the long weekend queues. The scene did not include any dialogue, just a lot of 'Ooh Aar'ing and gesticulation from three pirates, the middle one holding a tray with three custard pies. His companions were taking it in turns to pull various items from their jackets (a rubber chicken, for example) in an attempt to pay for a pie. Three custard pies, three pirates. You can see where this was headed. I watched, cynically amused by the sheer obviousness of the set-up, really, how would anyone find this funny? And then I looked at the faces of my two sons. Enraptured by the goings-on, their mouths slightly open in fascination, their whole attention was on the unfolding scenario. Eventually, coins were found and pies were paid for. The first pie went smack into the unsuspecting first pirate's face. My boys laughed out loud, "I guessed that was going to happen," said my eldest, with the triumphant delight of one who has been proved right. They continued to watch and giggle as the second and then the central pirate received a face-full of custard.
I wish I had a little more child-like joy, a little more silliness, a bit more kid in me. I would like to take myself a little less seriously and laugh a lot more. As I pass another sign-post on my way to maturity, I hope I am a little less grown-up this year!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Happy Birthday

It is my 38th birthday today. My incredible children made me cookies yesterday for today's 'traditional' birthday breakfast. They insisted that I offered no help at all, they worked together and I did not hear one cross word from behind the closed door, they make perfect, delicious cookies and the kitchen was spotless at the end. They have showered me with gifts and affection, (which has gone a long way to making up for the fact that my husband is away on a school trip,) and I am proud of them and also of how their behaviour reflects how special birthdays have been for them.

The cookies were chocolate chip cookies which has added to my Fair Trade angst which leads me to my Baby Steps. Baby Step Number One is going to be making sure that all the things that we sometimes buy Fair Trade, we always buy Fair Trade: that is coffee, tea, sugar, bananas and orange juice. Yes, these are more expensive but they are easily available in my local supermarket so I cannot fall back on the excuse of it being hard work.
Baby Step Number Two is to start using Fair Trade chocolate chips. I cook with quite a lot of chocolate chips and I have found that Doves Farm produce a Fair Trade version and that a local health food shop is a supplier. (Does anyone in the UK have any other suggestions?) They are not cheap, especially if I do end up ordering them on-line, and I guess that is where principles can bite. But I know the truth is, if this is a fair and right price to pay, then I have to ask myself what paying less is.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Ethics

My eldest son is growing like a sunflower and few of his trousers reach the top of his socks. He has also decided that he would like have a go at the 5K time trial which his younger brother and I run together on a Saturday morning. So yesterday I popped into our local supermarket and bought him some cheap trainers and some new trousers. Earlier in the day I had read this post by my very good friend Jane. She writes of her own convictions to buy fair trade and I am challenged by my own recourse to the easy and convenient. I have my excuses to hand: I am very busy and 'time-poor', searching shops with small children in tow is an unpleasant experience, every penny could be spent ten times over and low-cost clothes really help; but these excuses are not exclusive to me and I am not sure what to do with this. I would like to live differently, I would like to make the time to shop more ethically, I would like to arrange my finances to prioritise what I believe in, but right now it feels more effort than I can manage and so I live with my low-level guilt. And this is tied in with the feeling of it being one more thing that I will do when I have more time. The phrase 'baby-steps' come to mind. So, Step One: here, in this blog, which I already make time for, tomorrow, I will think through which choices I would like to change. And, Jane, you can hold me accountable to that!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Water Bottles

This summer, my big brother paid the UK a visit. My children are always delighted by their Califorian, crazy Uncle and they were particularly amused by his pink drink bottle and his dire warnings about what might happen if you were ever to go hiking without water. He is a cub scout leader and is experienced in taking young lads into the wilds, avoiding the rattlesnakes and hanging his food in the trees to outwit the bears. His bottle is pink because, in a group of adolescent boys, no-one, no-one at all, is going to mistake it for theirs or even think about stealing it!
Yesterday we received an exciting package all the way from the States and he had been thoughtful enough to send the children bottles, pink, green and blue, and to include one each for myself and my husband. Not just water bottles, but carabiners too to hang them off our back-packs:
It was a warm day so we grabbed the inspiration and headed out.
We parked by a pub and, in the beer garden, met Duchess, a grey parrot. Apparently she can sing all of 'Half-a-pound of tuppeny rice' but she was quiet today, too scared of her new toy! We did get a 'hell0', a couple of 'yeahs' and a wolf-whistle though. Fin the park, fallen trees need climbing, and investigating for homes for the 'little people'.
And water needs teetering on the edge of, as far from the car and dry clothes as possible.

We found a bright blue jay's feather, collected sticks, ate our supplies, lay in the sun, and not a rattle-snake in sight!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Community Transformation

Community Transformation is a phrase that has always left me a little cold. Maybe a brief flame of interest, but nothing that really catches light. It sounds great for another place, another world, a far-off, South American city with gang wars and drug culture being radically changed by the Holy Spirit. But not here. Not in my suburban street. Not in the ordinariness of middle-class, middle-England dullness.
In Uganda I saw lives, villages, a city, a nation, being transformed. Not from the outside, not from some big NGO or some innovative government scheme, but by the church. The needs are much more obvious: the ravages of war and AIDS, orphans, child soldiers. It's clear. Not so clear is what can be done or how, but God has given his people vision and resourced them and now they are getting on with it.
The challenge for me on returning has been that I don't know the needs of my community, I have no idea of the hurts, the problems, the issues confronting the people I live alongside. Tonight, for the second time, I will be meeting with a handful of other people who live in my road. We have committed ourselves to asking God to show us the needs and to open up for us opportunities to be his church and to do his work here in this place. In the last week I have made a point of smiling at my neighbours and of stopping to talk and I have learned of the possibility of a community garden. I don't know where this will lead, but I am sure that with God in charge it will be exciting and I have faith enough to say that I will keep you posted!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Deep calls to deep

One of the many wonderful experiences on our trip to Northern Uganda was the joy of seeing Murchison Falls. Astounding in their power and beauty, here the flow of the River Nile is forced through a 7m gap to fall 43 m, transforming the nature of the river to a calm, unruffled saunter.
Our first glimpse of the falls was on our River Safari, when we approached them from below. Spectacular in the distance, they were silent: we could see the huge waves smashing into the rocks but could hear nothing.
The next day, after a gruelling two hour trek along unmade, dirt roads, we were able to walk to the top and to see their full majesty and appreciate the thunder of the roaring water as it crashed through the gorge.
I was reminded of the psalmist writing, "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls' (Psalm 42 v 7), of how this is Creation's echo of God's wonder, of how even the rocks will cry out in praise to their Maker.
And I am reminded now that, no matter how my day-to-day is feeling, whether I am battered on the rocks, becalmed and unmotivated or rejoicing in life, the water of the Nile is still thundering over the edge, the waterfall is still roaring and there is a place of praise and peace.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

12 into 8 won't go

The plan for the day had been to go to the Natural History Museum. I like to have a "Day Out" every week, it seems like a "Good Thing" and one of the primary advantages of Home Ed; but my gentle forays into resuming running and normal life after 'flu have left me literally weeping with tiredness and so I decided that a day home would be better all round. So far so good, but that is when I begin to think of all the useful, fun and educational stuff we could do if we did stay home, and my list of all the things I suddenly feel I have time for grows and grows until there are less minutes in the day than minutes of planned activity. So I was hoping to bake cookies, and a cake, and watch a film, and read poetry, and have some time by myself to work on the family history, and type up my middle son's book review, and update the family accounts, and give my eldest son a piano lesson, and order a book on the internet, and read to the children, all by 5pm when I need to leave for an appointment. It's not going to happen! I take it as a sign of the maturation process that I can spot this at 9am and, hopefully, head off the impending disaster, cut out a few (most?) of these ideas so that the rest can be done at a leisurely and enjoyable pace. I'll really know I'm there when I no longer even begin to think I can do 12 hours of stuff in 8!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Hard Times

People often ask me why I Home Ed and I often answer that it is fun. It ought to be fun, I believe that it's fun, but some days it just doesn't feel that way. Sometimes the four of us seem unable to say one kind word to each other, sometimes maths feels impossibly hard, sometimes the last thing on earth I want to do is go swimming.
Perhaps it is the change of seasons and the approach of winter; perhaps it is the return of my husband and many of my friends to their proper jobs after the summer, leaving me home alone; perhaps it is the last few swine flu viruses flowing in my bloodstream, but today feels like that. It's hard to believe that I'm getting it right, that my chidlren really will grow up literate and numerate and will fit into society, that I'm not wasting my own education, that it really is worth living on one salary to do this.
Yesterday the sun was shining. One child and then another went to scoot on the drive. Requests to cycle in the road were turned down on safety grounds. When the third child asked if he could go out on his scooter or his bike, I threw my carefully planned afternoon out, grabbed the keys and we headed for the local park. Lots of energy was expended and fresh air breathed, I got to read a magazine article and we all got some sun on our faces. And I remember that this, among many other reasons, is why I continue to Home Educate my children.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Great Uncles and Aunts

Now that I term has started again and I am feeling back to health, I am beginning to pick up where I left off with my family history. I am very excited to have discovered an Open University short course entitled 'Start Writing Family History', a sister course to 'Start Writing Fiction' which I took earlier this year. This sounds just what I need to draw together the facts and anecdotes, the photos and memories of my predecessors. While I will undoubtedly need some help refining my research skills, I have a number of people well practiced and skilled in this area I can ask. As I reflect on my family tree, what I want to do is to make some kind of sense of these lives, of who they were and of who I am, of where I come from and of my place in history. Sitting in my in-box I have three e-mails from relatives, two of whom I have only recently re-established contact with, one with snippets of news, one with tales of an eccentric Great Uncle and one with a promise of photos of my great-grandmother. I am also looking at my husband's side of the family with a view to creating a photo- and story-album for my children telling them of their Great-Great Grandparents.
Suddenly I am aware of the brevity of life as my grandparents' generation reach their tenth decade and their memories of their grandparents, parents and siblings slip closer to being lost. While I develop these precious relationships I am trying to gently ask questions and to learn more of the personalities of the people gone before. I regret the relationships I have missed, my grandparent's siblings I could have known better and I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know the remainder of my Great Aunts and Uncles.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Roots

I may be a long way from self-sufficient, but I am quite self-satisfied!