Friday, 27 February 2009

Early Spring at Claremont

Yesterday afternoon saw us going out for some fresh air and time with nature at Claremont Landscape Gardens.

An although there were no daffodils out yet, there was a definite hint of spring in the air!

Thursday, 26 February 2009


My middle-son was invested as a Cub last night. I was surprised how emotional and proud I felt, as I am not usually one for institutions or ceremonies. He was so excited about moving on from Beavers and finally being a proper part of Cubs, which he has been attending for a few weeks to get used to it. He is looking forward to going camping and playing football and eventually being a Scout.
He looked such a big boy in his new sweatshirt and, as my husband commented, another phase of his life has passed and a new one begun, another step on the road of growing up.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Carbon Fast

When I was sixteen and had just started my A Levels, 'General Studies' was a compulsory course. Part of this was an individual project and I chose to study environmental problems. I looked at Acid Rain, Leaded Petrol, the Hole in the Ozone Layer and the Greenhouse Effect. I remember having an A4 sheet which listed those garages in the UK where it was possible to buy unleaded petrol. Twenty-one years later virtually all cars run on unleaded petrol, aerosols hardly ever contain CFCs and I haven't heard of acid rain for a long time. Climate Change, Carbon Emissions, Global Warming (all new terms for the Greenhouse Effect) is big news.
Sometimes I feel good about myself: we only run one car and we always switch the TV and Computer off at the mains, shunning the carbon hungry standby. Sometimes I don't: I feel a twinge of guilt every time I use my tumble drier (and that is most days), especially when my neighbour's washing is cheerily waving in the breeze.
And today is Ash Wednesday. I never quite get ready for Lent in the way I'd like to and I always get half-way through and feel that somehow I'm missing something. I've tried Lent books, or adding extra prayer times, but they quickly become a chore and something else to tick off my daily to-do list. This year I'm opting for the Carbon Fast - simple actions to cut my carbon emissions this Lent, produced by Tearfund. I tried it last year and lost my way, this year I'm going to try and live in the spirit of it without being legalistic. Some days I just can't do the action (I don't own a microwave, for example) or the suggestion is something I already do but I will do what I can, how I can, and hold this in mind every day:

As we pray daily for God's will to be done on earth, as it is done in heaven, the
Carbon Fast is a practical step towards a fairer world, a sustainable planet and
the earthing of heaven.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Little choices

Yesterday, we sat down to our newly named "Table Learning" (So called because the children felt that "Table Work" sounded too boring, this is the only bit of our day, and not every day, which looks remotely like school.) My son soon began to show signs of imminent melt-down. His maths page was impossible and he couldn't read the instructions on the spelling exercise I gave him. I was engaged in explaining something to another child and the huffs and puffs coming from his end of the table were rising in pitch and frequency. "Finish this piece of colouring in," I suggested: crisis averted.
Another child refused to come to lunch as I was not serving the favourite "red" Heinz tomato soup. A quick rearrangement of food on the plate produced a passing imitation of a face and this was deemed satisfying enough to join us at the table.
Our work for the afternoon was "Journey North" which, while very interesting, is quite tricky. It fries my brain a little to work out the hours of daylight from, say, 06:59 to 17:27, and there are eleven such calculations to complete. I told the children they could do as many as they liked with me and then I would do the rest and fill in the graph for them. The two oldest did a handful and went off to play while I finished off.
Little moments, little choices, but each was a conscious decision not to fight, not to force, but to go easy and show humour and grace. I didn't raise my voice, I didn't lose my temper, and I think we were all happier and calmer people.

Monday, 23 February 2009

World Maths Day

Did you know that World Maths Day is fast approaching?

My middle son has become a little obsessed and he answered over 2000 addition and subtraction sums yesterday. This caused some amazement to his schooled friend visiting for tea - you mean you do school work on a Sunday?! But he is really enjoying it. This morning his breakfast was eaten and his morning chore done in record time and he settled down with the lap-top to start the day's maths. The format is very exciting: each minute long game is played in direct competition with two or three other on-line players from around the world (a little bit of geography thrown in!) and a bar-chart shows the number of each player's correct answers as they race for the number one spot. Three wrong answers though and strike out! He has 100 correct answers today and it's only 9:15!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Kitchen Cupboards

I had a new cupboard installed in my kitchen yesterday. We've changed the kitchen around a fair bit since we moved in to make it into the heart of my home that I envisaged: somewhere you'd love to come and natter over a cup of tea and some home-made cake, somewhere you might want to come and off-load and be prayed with, somewhere my children can sit and draw or play while I cook, somewhere I can enjoy a romantic meal with my husband or a cosy supper with a friend.
Yesterday's cupboard saw the removal of a fridge (we have another) and, in its place, a new cupboard. Oh, all that space! I proceeded to sort out and de-clutter and rearrange one cupboard at a time, creating a 'baking cupboard' in the new space, and organizing breakfast cereal and crockery more logically. By the time I had cleared out a couple of boxes for the charity shop and moved everything to my satisfaction I was left with one empty cupboard!
I was struck with the parallel with my personal, emotional life. I am doing a fair bit of sorting out of my internal world at the moment and a phrase that keeps coming up for me is 'making room for myself.' By getting rid of the stuff I don't need and don't use, by rearranging my resources, by acknowledging my desires and taking them seriously, I can create some more capacity in my own life, some space, some room to grow.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Rabbit relations

The novelty of having rabbits is wearing off. On Sunday, I was quite smitten and was even, secretly, thinking we could get some of our own. However, having cleaned out their cage twice already (despite being assured that it only needed doing once a week) and having my hands scratched to ribbons every time I pick one up, I am less enamoured! For the record, I am not picking them up to torment them, simply to move them outside to have some fresh air and some grass, or to bring them in again to be warm and dry, or to take them into the living room to hop about and have a break from living in a cage. You'd think they'd show some gratitude!
However, my husband, who hates them more than I do, has just come in with a peace offering of some apple slices, and they both hid under the stool which acts as a burrow. They don't hide when I come in, so maybe they like me more. I have also come up with the idea of using gardening gloves to re-locate them. Maybe we can still make this thing work!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Half Term

It is the half-term holiday this week, which means my teacher husband is home for the week and my over-anxious brain worries less about the unstructured hours the children spend. Since last week's illness, during which we watched hours of tv (some of which was even 'educational'), the children seem to have forgotten how to settle quietly and entertain themselves. It doesn't help that they are not yet fully fit and so are scratchy and irritable with each other.
I have tried quite hard not to fall into my usual trap of over-scheduling the week, which I often do with school breaks, resulting in us all feeling exhausted and frustrated at the end of another over-busy holiday. There is a loose structure, certain appointments that are fixed, but otherwise we're fairly free. My husband came up with the great idea that we would plan each day first thing in the morning, and even pray about it! This is scary for me as I like to know exactly what I am doing at least a month in advance, but exciting too.
Yesterday we went for a walk in the park. We took a picnic, met dogs, climbed trees, sat by a pond, saw some horses and were together as a family with no agenda, no need for time-keeping and happy just to be out. Perhaps, over time, I will be able to wean myself off the need to have every minute planned and let things just happen a little bit more.

Monday, 16 February 2009

House Guests

While my friend Jacki is away over half-term, we are rabbit-sitting.Their arrival was greeted with much excitement by my three children, but Barney wasn't too sure!

Yesterday, we had the rabbits free-range in the living room and Barney came in to join us. For a while they watched each other, creeping closer, only to back away suddenly if the other moved too quickly. Then Barney remembered that he is a cat, darn it, he's a predator. In a move strikingly resembling a lion's approach to a zebra he pounced on one of the rabbits, pinning it to the ground with his teeth at its neck! The rabbit appeared undisturbed and Barney looked a little lost, as if not sure what he was supposed to do next. However, I didn't think the prospects of Barney playing nice were high, so the rabbits were returned to their cage.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Sweet Overdose

After another full day's nursing, I was getting a little irritable and snappy by tea-time yesterday. I had to work in the evening, and by 11pm my glands felt swollen, my nose scratchy and my head ached. Whatever the children have had, I've got it now! (I can't help but hope they are still ill today - I don't think I can manage with three lively kids!)
My kind husband went out to the chemist before work to provide supplies of Ibuprofen (for me) and Calpol (for the children.) Only the supermarket was open so he had to purchase off the shelf and all that was available was for infants 2+ months - my eldest son will probably need the best part of the bottle as a dose!
On reaching the till, my husband had to hand over one of the two packets of Ibuprofen he was buying. He was not allowed to buy three lots of painkillers.
I can't help but think that there would be more efficient ways of overdosing than infant paracetamol suspension for 2+months, but I guess the sticky sugaryness and the picture of a smiling baby would sweeten the pills!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

My Life in Magazines

When I was newly married, my mother kindly bought me, at my request, a subscription to Good Housekeeping. I imagined that I was a proper housewife, who cooked and cleaned and bought all the best appliances. While I still enjoy flicking through a copy at mum's house when I visit, I realised that, at 22, I wasn't really in the target age-range. So I switched to She. This was much more of a young, independent woman's glossy, although it's not quite Cosmopolitan. I was always excited when it flopped through the door and, on one level, believed that it held the answers to becoming beautiful, glamorous and together. I was waiting for that one article that would change my life. After a few years, I noticed that I felt shabby and not good enough after reading it, so I switched allegiance again. This time had a subscription to Woman Alive. This magazine for Christian women was much more healthy and wholesome and contained some great articles, but felt a little dry and, well, good for me. At one point I was also a Runner's World subscriber, but this also had the effect of making me feel that I wasn't up to much.
This Christmas, my mother-in-law bought me, again at my request, a year of Writer's Forum. This is part of my year of discovering if I can be a writer. March's edition arrived yesterday, setting off the usual internal bickering: 'you're never going to be a writer', 'I could be', 'you've nothing to say', 'yes I do', 'your writing is pretentious and shallow', 'not always and I'm learning'.
I feel that, from all of these titles, I have been hoping that there will be something between the covers that will transform me, into a domestic goddess, a sassy young woman, a model of Christian virtue, an athlete or a writer. What I really want, and need, is to know and be happy with who I am, just as I am. Now I've noticed this, perhaps I'm on my way.

ps The children are still poorly and I was very grateful to my neighbour who went to the chemist for me yesterday to get some infant ibroprofen to supplement the Calpol! 'Night in the Museum' did arrive, and reminded me that I'd left the US Civil War out of our brief history of America!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


I left my three healthy children with a friend yesterday for an hour while I had a regular appointment, by the time I picked them up, my eldest son was complaining of a headache and my little girl was pale and shivering with cold. She fell asleep on the 15 minute drive home and he spent the journey with his arms wrapped around his head to shield himself from the sun.
They spent the rest of the afternoon on the sofa with blankets watching Tom and Jerry cartoons and were in the PJs and bed by 6pm. My son has slept well, but I have been up and down in the night administering Calpol and cuddles to my daughter, and all is very quiet upstairs as I type.
So it looks like I'll be re-thinking the plans for today and hoping that the postman brings our latest DVD. We are expecting Night at the Museum, chosen for its depiction of Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea as part of our ongoing early American History. I've popcorn in the cupboard and two bottles of Calpol ...

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


A storm blew up in my house this morning. In all honesty, I blew up at my children this morning: provoked by an 8-year-old in PJs playing with Lego, chores still undone and a 5 year-old-who just will not stop interuppting. My reaction, however, was not of a calm and controlled parent but of a minor volcano.
As I followed Kathy's advice (thanks for the timely posting) and barricaded myself in my bedroom to rant, sob and pray, I heard myself cry out to God what was underneath all this. At 8am I had a tearful mother with a screaming baby on the 'phone and she wanted an answer which I just didn't have. I am a Breastfeeding Counsellor so I expect calls from mums, but this was particularly early, difficult and painful on my ears. I read about the Australian fires and for the first time began to grasp the horror of what has happened and I am haunted by one detail in particular, my mind circling back and again to an image I wish I didn't have. Then I spent some time looking for some suitable resources on The Trail of Tears to complete our brief study of Early American History. This episode of cruelty and ethnic cleansing leaves me shocked and angry and by the time I reached my children this morning I was already emotionally stirred up, reeling from a world I don't always like and can't understand. Perhaps it is no wonder that it took so little to light the blue touch-paper.
It is no excuse for yelling at my loved ones, but I am hoping that by noticing, by taking stock of how I was feeling, I can learn when to tread carefull, when to lock myself away for those precious moments of reflection before, rather than after, a storm breaks.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Journey North

Spring is on its way! Not that there is any evidence of this as I glance out of the window at the persistent rain falling on the remains of last week's snowman, but we are starting our Journey North today and we are all excited.
The Journey North Mystery classes kept us hooked last year as we noted local sunrise and sunset, collected the online data on the 10 mystery locations, calculated the hours of sunlight in each place (the technical term being photoperiod) and plotted our graph. Immediately we could see whether our locations were north or south of the equator and gradually, as the weeks passed, we got a better idea of their latitude (how far north or south they lay). With the coming of the equinox we were able to calculate their longitude (how far round) and finally we got clues, photos or facts or teasers, until we figured out exactly where they were. And then we had a party, with food from the local area. Well, if you count carrot sticks for Santa's reindeer for the location near the north pole!It's not too late to join in and it could be just as much fun only tracking one or two locations. I felt that we had touched a fair bit of maths (subtraction, 24 hour clock, graph plotting) and a whole load of geography and science, all in one, fun, interactive and imaginative project. The best bit for me, was, week by week, watching the hours of sunlight increase, dawn recede, the evenings lighten and Spring arrive!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

It's contagious!

My little girl has decided that she would like to knit too, which spurred her biggest brother on to join in. Progress, slow but sure, is being made, with chunky needles and plain wool, but I have visions of peaceful half-hours of us all knitting together. Middle son has graduated to knit-one-purl-one on 4mm needles!
I am also learning a lot: about when to step in and when to step back; about accepting the little mistakes that come along with aquiring a new skill; about ownership and setting one's own standards; about trusting the children to have the same ability that I do to figure it out for themselves; and about when good enough is good enough.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Pretty Paper

This is my 200th Post! I am really proud of the fact that I have completed this many posts, that I have kept up this venture.
However, I can think of nothing at all to say today! So, I thought I'd share a link to this great site from which you can download all sorts of paper: lined paper, graph paper, storyboards, diamonds, bricks, trapezoids, circles, Chinese character guide paper and plenty more. Cool for handwriting, colouring, cartooning, graphs and keeping everyone entertained on an uninspired Friday.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Snow Ice-Cream

After Monday's snowfall, I suddenly remembered a post from a long while back at Restoration Place - Snow Ice-cream! We mixed up the milk, sugar and vanilla:We fetched some clean snow (from on top of a bush. Most of the snow is a bit mucky now!):

We beat the snow into our mixture:

We spooned it into bowls, with colourful hundreds and thousands:
We ate and enjoyed!
Thanks Kathy!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Who are you?

Yes, well, I would be!

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

Thanks Kathy!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Sequins in the Snow

There is a wide gap between who I would like to be and who I actually am. I have a fantasy self-image: patient and calm, funny and relaxed, wise and available, hospitable and welcoming. There are moments, especially if there is an audience, when I can feel myself on the knife-edge between being true and playing a part; or perhaps it is an awareness of trying to be what I hope to be and wondering if I'm coming over that way. It's not hypocrisy but aspiration. But then I am brought face to face with my own weakness. So often I find myself in a situation where I know what I wish I could do, what I believe I ought to do, when I want to live up to my expectations of myself.
I want to be the kind of mum that always kisses her children goodnight, stopping to listen to their hearts and blessing them with a prayer. Some evenings I am. Many more, I tell the children that I am tired and busy and, though I love them, I don't want to hear from them again until the morning and I leave the room with a hastily blown kiss.
I am learning that the more space I have and the slower I take life, the more I am the mum, the wife, the friend, the person I want to be. I am also taking the time to savour the sequin moments when who I am and who I want to be come together. Like last night when, with hot chocolate to drink and duvets on the floor, we all gathered in my little girl's room and I read aloud 'In which house is Built at Pooh Corner for Eeyore' with a cast of voices which I for one felt worthy of an award. We laughed at Pooh's clock always saying five minutes to eleven because it is broken, and remembered playing in the snow, and had a look at a run-on sentence featured in a Bravewriter Arrow, and talked about the earthquake simulation at the Natural History Museum, and it was a special, sparkly, family moment. And I was who I want to be.

Monday, 2 February 2009


We British have a reputation for talking about the weather. I know that in the U.S. and Canada it snows professionally and what we have is really just kids' play, but even a hard-boiled cynic like me finds it difficult not to be a little excited about the heaviest snow-fall for 18 years!
We woke up to thick snow and I got first light pictures before the pristine perfection is ruffled by eager feet.

My husband's school is closed for the day, and maybe tomorrow too, so we are having an unexpected holiday
The cat was great comedy value, his paws disappearing up to his tummy the moment he stepped out. He proceeded to try to bound over it, only suceeding in landing again up to his midriff further from the door. He decided that he was safer under the table where he could use the cross-bars of the chairs to raise himself a little. He patted and ate and sneezed in his exploration of this strange, uncomfortable substance before retreating to the house. He came out again, intrigued by our games in the garden, trying to avoid being a snow-ball target yet enjoying being near us. He's now curled up on his blanket on my desk (I'm such softie!) by the heater and is a picture of contentment! Seems like a good way to spend the rest of the day!