Thursday, 30 July 2009

Guest Blogger!

Gaynor has asked me to offer a contribution today, so I thought I would say a little about how we met back at university almost twenty years ago in October 1989. We were fresh faced undergraduates beginning our first term at Lincoln College, Oxford. We were in the same group of very pleasant Christian friends, and every so often we would have a cup of tea together after lunch. We would listen to the Radio 1 lunchtime show with Gary Davies, or perhaps to a Simon and Garfunkel tape. We laughed a lot, and seemed to share a similar sense of humour. We were very different in some ways- she was an earnest Physicist struggling with the complexities of a very challenging course, getting up early each morning to attend lectures, taking part in practicals and then off to the library for a couple of hours, whereas as a Historian I might manage breakfast with a friend in that time! Our lunchtime conversations in that first year often began with a discussion of how much she had achieved in the day so far compared to my more relaxed efforts!
Holidays now are very similar. I love being at home, getting up an hour later than in term time, slowly preparing breakfast, listening to Radio 4 or 5 . Gaynor has often been up at least an hour or more by the time I surface. I come alive at about 10 pm, when she is generally ready for bed! Our differences are a great strength in our marriage. Gaynor is a superb navigator- I am a patient driver. The reverse is not the case! Gaynor is a brilliant organizer and full of ideas. I would happily watch ball by ball coverage of the Test Match series, only surfacing for light refreshments!
I hope that we are a good balance for each other, and celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary last week gave us the chance to reflect on how we would like next year to work out. As always I would like to commit myself to a whole range of extra activities- tutoring, singing at church, badminton with friends, despite the fact that I have frequent evening and Saturday appointments at school. I think we have have come to a sensible compromise, but watch out to see if Gaynor can remember my name come half term!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Good Enough

I often set myself high standards. I don't always realise I'm doing it: I just have an idea in my head of how things should be and am disappointed if they are not. I don't always stop to think if I am being realistic.
My garden is an example of this. I am often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work required to transform this weed infested waste-ground into a blooming paradise, and I layer on the guilt by worrying that there isn't as much space for the children to play as there might be, there are not mature bushes for them to hide in or flower beds for them to plant.
I am learning to change how I look at it though. In two afternoons of gardening this week, I have called a halt as I have felt that hot, irritable, resentful feeling begin to bubble up and we have sat at our table on the decking, with cups of tea and the newspaper and purposefully enjoyed the garden. While we were out yesterday, my son helped me plant carrots, fennel and radishes. He helped me cut and rake some of the long 'meadow' grass. He climbed on the frame with his sister, picked blackberries from the bramble bush and played a swing-ball tournament with himself. And I noticed. I allowed myself to see all the things the children can, and do, enjoy in our garden. And I allowed myself to feel satisfied. It may not be a show garden, but it is good enough.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Albury Downs

Yesterday we went out for a family walk. This is not something we've done before, the suggestion of a walk usually being greeted with groans and moans. However, inspired by the book 'Nature's Playground', we thought we'd give it a try. We took a compass and butterfly books, as well as juice cartons for a half-way stop but none of these were needed. We took snacks and had two quick breaks. The highlight, however, was a spotting sheet, dreamt up over lunch, typed and laminated and ticked off with dry-wipe markers. We assigned a points system: 2 points for each dog spotted, 1 for a butterfly, 2 if we could name it and so on. We met 12 dogs in the last five minutes which boosted the scores! We also gave points for spotting way-markers, with the result that the children kept their eyes peeled for the signs and I didn't feel wholly responsible for finding the route. The two youngest carried sheets and scored around 130 points each, which seemed to satisfy them in itself. My daughter carried the camera and stopped to take two shots:

The whole thing took one and a quarter hours, which was about right for a first foray and to keep enthusiasm levels up. This is definitely something we'll be doing again.

Friday, 24 July 2009

A while ago, I discovered that I had a ninety-year-old Great-Uncle still living in Sussex. I have been in touch with his wife and yesterday we finally made the trip down to see them. I was thrilled to be able to introduce my children to their Great-Great-Uncle, a whole extra generation in our family, and to see the family tree of my father's side which extends back to 1390! My Great-Uncle and Great-Aunt were generous and gracious, patient with my questions and willing with their explanations. I was then able to drive into the town where my father's family had lived for generations and find some of their homes and shops, including my grandparents' house where I remember playing as a child. The memory of a little girl cannot always be relied on: the wide and steep drive from my childhood turned out to run gently down to the street and was only a little wider than a car. My favourite memory of that house is the heavy, shiny metal, real shop till, no doubt from one of the shops my grandparents had owned in what was then a village, with real money (obselete pre-decimal coinage) and a drawer that burst open with a loud ring.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Learning to listen

Currently on my mind at the moment is the issue of listening to my children’s hearts: hearing their feelings, even when they are hard to hear or understand.
My middle son suddenly wants to give up Cubs. He has loved both Beavers and Cubs, he has counted down the days until the weekly pack night, he has talked about becoming a Scout and a Venture Scout. And now he wants to stop. He finds it too strict, he is afraid of getting something wrong. I want to solve this problem for him, speak to the leaders, reassure him that he is almost certainly one of the best behaved children there. I am also concerned that maybe something has happened to upset or scare him, but he maintains that it has not. In the past he has frequently changed his ‘out-of-school’ activity but usually the feeling of having had enough has come gradually, like the sky clouding over. This seems so sudden. Yesterday, he decided that he would like to go to the film making class his brother attends. I do not mind what activity he does, but I am sad at the sudden demise of his love affair with Cubs and I have a strong desire to try to fix it.
Yesterday, we went to a university space science department on a Home Ed trip. We listened for an hour and a quarter to two talks. The first was fairly well done, although a little slow, with a few movie clips of rockets taking off. The second, while delivered with evident passion for the subject, was way over my head, let alone my six-year-old’s. She, who had been bored from the beginning, became increasingly restless and my middle son began to wilt. I could see time slipping away and it wasn’t hard to calculate that there wouldn’t be time for both of the practical activities which we had been promised. I was frustrated at the lack of time management and audience awareness. I debated whether to raise my hand and ask if there would still be time for both activities, I wondered if I should ask if I could take my little one for a walk. But I sat tight and hissed at her to sit still, resulting in tears. I agonised about whose needs I was putting first and whether what she needed was for me to act on her behalf or to learn good manners. Eventually we made some fab rockets and the children were thrilled with the heights reached, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that we’d wasted a lot of time feeling bored with something so potentially exciting.
I am beginning to put together next year’s ‘plan’. Inspired by Julie, I set the children a free-write on what they would like to do in the coming term. Following Bravewriter principles, I gave feedback and they wrote again, two days later. The ideas they have were rich and varied but I am not sure how to make puppets or how to manage them doing separate activities and still ensuring that it’s constructive. What I want to do is to allow our time to flow, to let them lead the way, with just a sprinkle of Maths and English, yet I find it so hard to be without structure or schedule, a list, if only mental, that I can tick off. There is part of me that would feel so much safer if I had workbooks, a time-table, an attitude of ‘you’ve got to learn this’; if I could see what they’d learned: text-books completed, exercise books filled, tests achieved, even though experience tells me how hollow that is.
There are times when dictatorship feels like the easy option yet I am striving, uncertainly, to value relationship over control, to trust my children and their feelings, and to allow them the freedom to grow.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

10 things I hate about camping

  1. Not having a warm drink in the evening so I don't have to get up in the night to go out in the dark and cold to the toilet.
  2. The long, uphill and frequently rainy walk to the toilet block.
  3. Unzipping and zipping the tent doors every time a shower passes over.
  4. The people opposite with their cool, huge tent extension/porch who sit in it, reading and protected from the weather and never have to zip and unzip their tent when a shower passes over.
  5. Sleeping on an air bed.
  6. Never feeling that things are tidy or organized
  7. Never being able to properly dry my towel.
  8. The kettle taking 10 minutes to boil.
  9. Only eating meals we can heat on the gas ring.
  10. The constant drumming of rain on the tent so that I feel like I'm inside a bass drum and the way the whole tent buckles in a 40mph wind causing me to fear that next time it really will take off.

Monday, 20 July 2009

10 things I love about camping

  1. Wearing Crocs, socks and three-quarter length trousers and not giving a fig what I look like.
  2. Strong coffee in the morning sun.
  3. The children making friends.
  4. No e-mails or phone calls.
  5. Reading Harry Potter to the children by torch-light as they snuggle in their sleeping bags.
  6. Nosing at other people's tents, deciding what make I'll buy next time, checking out the best pitches.
  7. Drinking red wine from a mug.
  8. Sitting outside my tent, other people sitting outside theirs, chatting with people as we pass, the sense of community.
  9. My daughter's excitement at meeting new people, especially new people with dogs.
  10. Being 'in touch' with the weather.

Friday, 17 July 2009

We're back!

We have just returned from a week in Cornwall. We had booked 10 nights, but the weather forecast was awful so we kept our options open. We made the most of the sunshine,
wore our raincoats on the beach.
and visited indoor attractions when it rained (non-stop, all day).
However, last night, after much prevarication, we decided at 7:30pm, as the rain thundered on the tent and the groundsheet began to float on standing water, to come home. We threw everything in the car, sopping wet, the tent in binliners, and left the campsite at 9pm. The main road out of Cornwall was closed so we took a lengthy diversion and eventually pulled onto our drive at 2:45am this morning! The children could not have been more excited about still being up at midnight and getting home 'tomorrow'!
We've dried out the tent,
a task which some members of the family found huge fun,
and are planning a holiday-from-home weekend, safe from the fear of flooding!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

We're all going on a Summer Holiday

We're gearing up here for our big summer holiday camping in Cornwall. This morning saw us clearing the garage and sorting all the gear we'll need, including, of course, the big black package that holds our tent. The last time it was used was for a Christian Youth Festival last summer. Not by us, but by the leaders. I have not checked that is is clean and mould-free. I just can't face folding it up and trying to squeeze it back into its pack. I am optimistic that it is ok because they gave it back to us quite late, apparently because they wanted to give it one last clean. It has only just occured to me that this may have been an excuse with which they knew I would not argue! I do, however, have a back-up plan. If it is ruined, we will book into a bed and breakfast overnight and buy a new tent at this camping shop the next day.
The weather forecast is 'unsettled' so we have had a family discussion about how we will keep ourselves occupied and sane for hours and hours if we are tent-ridden. We have a list of games we can play and both boys have 'volunteered' to help entertain our not-yet-reading six-year-old. We do have the fourth Harry Potter as a read-aloud.
I have a list, too, of all the visitor attractions in the vicinity, along with distance, journey time and price. Some will even offer us educational rates with our memebership of a Home Education organization.
I think I am prepared!
We leave on Thursday and have chosen not to use the electrical hook-up available (we like to thing of ourselves as purists!) so I will be electronic gadget free. We'll be back later in July (or earlier if it keeps raining like this) and I'll be posting again then.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Some Mothers

I went to see ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ last night, by myself, at the cinema – what a treat! Although it was somewhat distant from Jodi Picoult’s original book, sweetened and simplified for film goers, I did enjoy it in the having-a-good-cry kind of way. While I was wiping my tears away and hoping that no-one would notice, there was a chorus of sniffs from around the theatre.
One of the things that pulled my heart-strings was the nature of the mother, effectively played by Cameron Diaz. I found it hard to be sympathetic to her, despite the agony of her having a dying child, because she did not mother her other children very well, but at the same time I found myself wondering: ‘Am I like that?’ I don’t have such an extreme circumstances within my own family, but do I get the distribution of energy, attention, interest and money, balanced correctly between my children. Do I hear them? Do I trust them? How much of our life together is played out to my agenda?
Another mother to whom I compare myself is the Robbie, Peter and Phil’s mother in ‘The Railway Children.’ She is calm and stoical, so much so that her children know something is badly wrong when they suspect that she may be crying. My children know that tears may mean that I’ve stubbed my toe or I’m fed up with the housework and I blub my eyes out at the end of ‘Apollo 13’ every time. She is uncomplaining, gracious and writes for a living. I struggle when sharing a packet of chocolates with my child not to sneak a few extra when he’s not looking! I resent missing something I want to do to see my child in a end of term celebration. I don’t earn a penny.
In my favour, I guess, is the fact that my children aren’t out playing on a railway line all day!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Where does all the time go?

My husband breaks up today for a mammoth eight week summer holiday. It has been a very busy few weeks, not helped by a bad cold, hurting my back last weekend and a heatwave. As always, I am looking forward to 'The Summer': I envisage lazy picnics, plenty of days out, late breakfasts, iced tea on the decking, lots of tidying and sorting, getting the garden looking lovely, concentrating on my writing, making fudge, playing games and finally being totally prepared for the beginning of term.
It's never like that!
This year, we have ten days in Cornwall booked, visits to both sets of parents and my two-week mission trip. We have three weekdays before we leave, ten days between Cornwall and my parents-in-law and then we are straight down to my mum's. A ten days after we get back again, I am flying out to Uganda. I get back three days before the start of term!
When I look at it like that, it is a reality check and I have to remind myself that I won't get it all done. Also, I need to remind myself that this is just eight weeks of my life, any deadline is artificial and self-imposed, and being together as a family is what makes it special.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

A Big Day Out

We had a birthday celebration day out on Monday. We visited London, and Paris.
We took a boat trip through fairy land,
rode on Dragons, shot the rapids and flew in a balloon. The children learned to drive,

And we spent a little while in heaven!

Thanks, Legoland!