Thursday, 28 May 2009

Holiday Club

This week our church is running a holiday club for the children. My husband is on the music team and I decided to treat myself to that most rare of things for a Home Ed mum: time alone in the house. It started yesterday morning and I wrote a long list of all the useful things I could do: filing my sheets from the creative writing course I was on last week, renewing the house and car insurance, doing the end of month family accounts and so on. And then I noticed that itch of resentment, that little voice that I am learning to trust: 'this is supposed to be my holiday and I've got so much to do.' So I didn't. I did a jigsaw.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Journey North Tea

A good few weeks after the end of the project, we have finally got round to celebrating finding all 10 mystery locations of the Journey North Mystery Classes 2009.

We invited a lovely couple from our church to tea and the boys explained to them how we had tracked down the places. We had food to represent each location, although some of the links were a little tenuous.

Here, alongside our graph of each class's photoperiod, are green cupcakes to resemble Adelaide's famous frog cakes and yellow cupcakes in place of Thailand's suncakes. There is cornbread for Iowa; avocado and tomato salad, which was a recipe from Mozambique we found on the internet; and pineapple and melon, tropical fruits to represent the Pacific Island of Palau.

Below, you can see the sandwiches, to remind us of Bird Island which is part of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, filled with Swiss Cheese; a jug of tropical fruit juice for Thailand and, in the background, a bowl of seaweed crackers. These were for Homer, Alaska, the halibut fishing capital of the world. I wanted fish shaped crackers but we couldn't find any in the supermarket so we opted for seaweed, to represent the sea and all things fishy! We also served hot chocolate for the cocoa producing Cameroon.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Job Done

This was the scene after about an hour of enthusiastic clearing: Some members of the family just lazed about in the sun,
but others were more helpful (although this may have had something to do with being paid 25p per flowerpot of stones collected.)
Seeds down, they needed a water, which provided an opportunity for some fun.
And here, many collected stones later, is the new area of lawn.

The task ahead

Today has dawned bright and sunny, a rarity for a Bank Holiday! I have set the whole day aside for gardening and this is the task I have set myself: I am satisfied that the 'formal' area of the garden is ticking over nicely and it's time to move on to clearing some ground. This patch was a compost heap left by the gentleman who used to cultivate this land twenty, maybe thirty, years ago. When I set out to clear it two years ago, first we found it was home to a frog, who moved on, and a bumble-bee nest which I didn't want to disturb. Unfortunately the bees didn't survive the very wet June we had. Once it was apparent that the nest was no longer active, I had a go at digging it out: I would have been very interested to see it, but I could find no trace of it. Since then, the area has just got completely overgrown. I am hoping that by the end of the day it will be weed-free, stone-free, neatly raked and sown with grass seed. I'll post a photo of my progress this evening!

Saturday, 23 May 2009


We've had a bit of an insect themed week. Strictly speaking, not just insects but all things creepy-crawly. It started with this colouring competition I came across to colour in outlines of butterflies. I was very impressed with my daughter's peacock:and my middle son's rendition of a tortoiseshell: This gave me the idea of watching the whole of the David Attenborough series "Life in the Undergrowth" which is fascinating and repelling in equal amounts. There is something disturbing about wasps laying their eggs inside other creatures! We saw some colourful dragonflies (or damselflies, they didn't stop still enough for us to tell) at Bedfont Lakes yesterday and we also have some bumblebees of our own:
And to cap it all, we found a whole nest's worth of baby spiders on the outside table:

Friday, 22 May 2009

Bedfont Lakes

Bedfont Lakes is a Country Park ten minutes drive from our home. Close enough for a quick trip out for some sunshine, some nature and some fun.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Raising plants

I have harvested the first produce from our garden.Like walking on the moon, it is a pretty small step for some men, accomplished and experienced gardeners, but for me it was a giant leap! It is only an handful of radishes but it represents success and the taste of things to come.
Life has not been easy for the baby plants in my raised beds. The local cats have very much appreciated the soft and bare soil and many mornings I have found shallow pits and disrupted seedlings. I think I have come up with an organic and simple solution. Can you see the holly?
Three nights in and it seems to be working. The labels are statements of faith as m never convinced that the tiny, wrinkled seeds that disappear into the soil will reappear as plants.
I often find parallels between the garden and my own life: as I clear ground and plant new ideas and wonder what the fruit will be. Sometimes I forget what I've planted, and how growth can take place all by itself without me having to worry about it. Two years ago I got some free plug plants and placed a honeysuckle at the end of the garden. And then I forgot all about it. It has struggled on, along the ground, and on Saturday I rediscovered it, twined around the grass and barely distinguishable from the surrounding wilderness. I carefully extricated it, cleared the space around it and supported it up the fence. I am amazed at what a vigorous specimen it is, despite the neglect and lack of sunshine.
I wonder what else I might be growing?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

It won't do

The course last night was fabulous: well-run, exciting, inspiring and it was easy to park! Kate, one of the two course leaders, had us do an exercise on what we wanted to write about, our Unique Selling Point, and I found this very revealing.
So often, in many areas of my life, I settle for what will do, not what is best or even what I really want. Take clothes buying. For years I have bought dull coloured items which just about fit, because they will do, they are ok and I really don't want to spend any more money or time trying things on. Two years ago I discovered Allison, the personal fashion advisor at John Lewis. She is an angel, truly. Now, when I have saved my pennies or my mum has been very generous at Christmas, I go and spend two hours with Allison. She encourages me to buy clothes that suit me and fit me. She is not the slightest bit pushy but she won't let me say, "Oh, this will do." As a result I have some clothes in my wardrobe that I really love and if anyone ever says to me, "I like your top/skirt/trousers," you can bet it's something that Allison helped me pick out.
So last night, as I thought about writing, I could think of lots of ideas that will do but I had to listen very carefully to hear that voice telling me what really excites me, what I most want explore. And it turns out that what I want to write about would involve a lot of research in order to build up the frame I want to hang my story on, the investment of time and effort, believing that I will produce something of worth at the end of it and that it won't just fizzle out, another thing that I never saw through. It turns out that if I really want to write, I will have to believe in myself and not just settle for something that will do.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Tonight's the night!

Three weeks ago I mentioned that I had signed up for a course on Writing Commerial Women's Fiction - well, it starts tonight! I have to confess that I am very nervous, from the trivial, (where will I park?) to the significant, (am I any good at this?) Having had a sneak preview of the other participants on the on-line conference, I am intimidated by their concrete achievements and published works. I got my final mark from my OU course and I was a little disappointed and my confidence has taken a knock. However, I am hanging on to the encouragement I have. My tutor's comments contained much positive praise, I have had cheering from the side-lines in the comments on my blog (thanks Kathy and Jane!) and my very generous mother has contributed a significant amount to the course fees, (thanks mum!), demonstrating her belief in me. My husband is ready to be home promptly and do bedtime all week, my son has willingly given up his Tuesday night activity so that I can have the car. All that remains is for me to show up and see what God has in store!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

MPs Expenses

If you had access to an unlimited expense account, what would you buy?

I would love a machine that made lattes and someone to do my gardening and the occasional night in a fancy hotel. I don't think that my house really suits chandeliers and I don't have a moat that would need cleaning. I wonder it would cover a loft conversion so my boys could have separate rooms and a Summer house, with electric power, to serve as a writing shed?

Friday, 15 May 2009

Swine Flu

My husband has unexpectedly had some of this week off work. He's not sick, but his school is closed due to a case of Swine Flu. People noticably take a step back when I mention this but he is fit and well and has been given anti-viral drugs so that he is, in fact, less likely to catch it than the rest of us! He even e-mailed in to ask if he was needed today and was told he was not, so we're off to the museums in London for a bonus family day out.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

I am beginning to recognise a little voice, coming from somewhere near my gut, that tells me how I really feel about things. I am learning that I have spent a long time ignoring this voice, or dismissing it as silly or lazy. I am learning that if I sit still and really listen, it usually has an answer and I usually respond with a deep sense of "yes, that's right", and sometimes accompanied by a frisson of excitement. Sometimes there is also a sense of fear, that doing what I want may offend, upset or disappoint someone, like cancelling an arrangement which I realise I just don't want to do or haven't got time for, or resigning from a role which I realise I don't enjoy and don't do very well. But I am learning that, as I listen to this voice and as I take what it says more seriously, so I hear it better and beleive it more. Then I can hear it before I agree to something I don't like or take on more that I can manage.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Right and Wrong

I always find it easier to notice what doesn't work and what doesn't go right.
My daughter, initially excited at having the lyrics to a High School Musical song to copy-write yesterday, found the word "together" too long and too much repeated and tearfully floundered, needing letter by letter encouragement and she completed one verse.
I have tried to increase our read-aloud time by having two books on the go at the same time. We are currently trying to read "The Hobbit" and "Little Women" and I, for one, am actually finding it hard going. I was struck by inspiration, and yesterday we picked up "Little Women" on cassette from the library. We put it on and started a jigsaw, and I got to play too. My mistake was to listen to both chapters which we have already read and then a new one. Attention spans weren't quite that long. However, later in the day we had our part-chapter from "The Hobbit" and the children all asked for more when I stopped.
The trap I most often fall into is expecting too much: of myself, of the children, of the time available. There is the insidious voice of the imaginary Local Authority Inspector whispering in my ear, "You aren't doing enough" and I feel driven to do more.
I spoke to a headteacher friend at church this week and mentioned that we were slowing right down now that summer is approaching, much of my Grand Plan of September laid aside. She nodded along and then added, "Of course, there's really a lot of weeks left to go and you could get a lot done before the summer break." I agreed and took on more of the message that I don't do enough. But on reflection, I believe it is a fallacy to artificially segment our children's lives: time to work and learn, time to play and kick back. It's not a few weeks to go until it's time to stop learning for the year, they have the rest of their lives both to learn and to have fun.
Now, if only I could get that inspector to pipe down, I could get on with enjoying it!

Monday, 11 May 2009

High School Musical

I have been a little slow on the uptake, but on Friday afternoon I sat down with the children to watch High School Musical. Having recently watched 17 Again, I was interested in seeing more of Zac Efron (what's not to like?) and my daughter had received a High School Musical related gift for her birthday and I was at a loss to explain to her who the people on the stickers were so I ordered the film from our DVD service. I had little idea what to expect and my sons both told me that they would rather do maths. We agreed that they would watch the first half hour and then they could go if they weren't enjoying it. They stayed to the end and, although they both rated it less than 5 out of 10, when I watched it with my little girl again yesterday, they were both there on the sofa!
The plot was straightforward, if a little predictable and cheesy, and the music excellent - of course, this is all obvious from the style and success of the film. My daughter was enchanted, although high school, basketball, scholastic decathlons and auditions took some explaining. My sons laughed at plenty and were keen to inform daddy of the upcoming funny bits during Sunday's reprise. I have had the tunes in my head all night and have just printed off the lyrics on "We're all in this together' for my daughter's weekly copywriting.
What I loved most of all was the message of the film: who you are is more that what other people see, or how you may have been labelled. As I chatted with my boys about this, expanding on the idea by my suggestions that it was possible to be a artist footballer or a race-car driving ballet dancer, they seemed to think this was obvious. And I was happy that they know that they can be who they want to be!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Taking Stock

I have worked quite hard in the garden this spring, having been given some friendly direction and motivation in the autumn, and I am beginning to see shape and vision coming through. There is no colour scheme and some plants are not happy but I am feeling the very tiniest bit in control. In some parts of the garden, at least, I am calling the shots.
When something is growing (a garden, children, my sense of self) it can be hard to see the progress. It is easy to compare the current state of things with how I would like things to be and to feel discouraged. Looking back and seeing where I have come from is what brings to my attention the strides that have been made:

Late Summer 2006

October 2008

May 2009

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Yet more tea

Poetry tea-time is my favouite occasion of the week. It is a time when I really notice how my children are developing. Both my sons, eight and nine, read aloud and are eager to chose and share. They read clearly and with great intonation, frequently assuming different voices for appropriate characters. My daughter, six, chooses poems for me to read which she remembers from previous readings.

Last week, my friend bought me a lovely book full of inspiration; the photos are art in themselves. I found in this book, a quotation from Mrs Beeton, which appealed to me so much that I shared it with the children. My little girl chose it as her copy-writing this morning:
" ...tea and bread and butter and a few elegant trifles in the way of cake and fruit ..." Can you see the cake, the grapes, apple and pear, the thickly buttered bread and the tea-cup with two sugar lumps?

We invited our neighbour who treated us to a recitation of a poem she still remembers from school. We enjoyed a couple of classics, some A.A. Milne and Benjamin Zephaniah. What a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Too many photos

I am overwhelmed with all the pictures that I have taken. My phone declared itself 'full' last week and asked politely if I would like to store my photos on the memory card. That sounded easy, so I said yes and carrried on snapping. This means that I have 220 photos stored on my camera. Many are poor, blurry shots; or trivial pictures taken to illustrate something on this blog: a jug, say, or my kitchen timer. It's the same in my e-mail address book which is full, not only of the addresses of people I don't know (a result of receiving circular e-mails?), but also multiple copies of every address, an artefact of the change of computer a few months ago.
I am aware that I need to give both electronic items a clean-out but I find the idea a little scary. At the back of my mind a voice whispers, "Suppose you lose something vital and never, ever, get it back?" The perfect photo, the only memory-jogger of a beautiful day, the address of a friend that I will irrevocably lose contact with if I fail to e-mail. And yet our ancestors, even ourselves only fifteen years ago, fared very well without so much electronic information. We took a few snaps on film, printed them off weeks, or even months, later, binned the dross and kept a handful. We wrote letters to or telephoned our friends and kept an address book.
What I want to do is go through all these photos, upload all the special ones to photobox and get prints, and then arrange them in the pages of an artistic scrapbook, or at least an album. I don't want my children to say, "Where are all the pictures of our childhood?" and to have to confess that they are stored as zeroes and ones on a hard-drive in a landfill somewhere. The thing is that the task is now so huge that I don't know where to start and when I find a period of free time, I don't feel like trying to climb this mountain.
Processing my thoughts is germinating an action plan, always a good thing!
1) I will sort out the 220 photos on my phone, deleting the rubbish and filing the good.
2) I will consult my albums to find out how old the children are in the last pictures I carefully mounted.
3) I will upload all the really good pictures that are worth keeping. I mean really worth keeping. While I want a pictoral record for myself and the children of our lives together, do any of us want to trawl through endless photos? No, just a few to illustrate and remind. I hope that our memories are full!
4) I will put some money aside next month to get them all printed, maybe in the little books that photobox do, especially as they are sometimes 3 for 2.
5) I will refer back to my action plan when I am feeling overwhelmed.
6) I will do a little at a time.
And here are the pictures from our Bank Holiday day out to the Tower of London. There's even one of me!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Walking the dog

We took our neighbour's dog for a walk today. Ozzie is a cute little black and white thing with an over-riding urge to bark at any other dog in the vicinity. He was a great excuse to get myself and the children out for some fresh air and exercise. My little girl in particular was more than willing to walk to the park, around the park and home again without one single whinge. We also got chatting to some ladies training who were training Milo, a competitive obedience veteran dog (now, why don't we enter children into competitions like that?) I only had to scoop up one poop and then we got to give him back. It was fun. I am definitelya cat- rather than a dog-lover, but I can see us asking to borrow Ozzie again.
(No pictures, I was too worried about taking my hands off the lead and losing him! Once I am more confident the neighbour's dog won't disappear on my watch, I'll take some snaps.)