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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.