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


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.