Monday, 20 December 2010

Travelling in the snow

We made the trip down to Sussex to catch up with my parents this weekend. We had nothing like the travel chaos that some people have been experiencing, but it was adventure enough for us.
We left early on Saturday in an effort to beat the heavy snow which was forecast, but it had already started around Gatwick and we drove through progressively worsening weather. In one scary moment, we felt the car skid as we slowed down passing the slip road onto the motorway and, for a moment, there was the awful possibility of collision. We decided enough was enough and to turn back at the next junction, but the snow lightened and we soon found ourselves in a much better situation and made it to grandma's just fine.
It snowed heavily while we were there but, despite much indecision, we headed out to grandpa's house mid-afternoon. However, the journey through the town was bad, with another very scary moment of the wheels spinning and the car moving only sideways at the top of a hill, and we realised that we were not going to get across any country roads to my dad's and continuing home seemed an equally bad idea as darkness was imminent and we had no idea of road conditions. We had no option but to abandon our journey. We wrapped up, transferred what we needed to a rucksack, bought the children some warming chips, and trudged back to grandma's for hot chocolate and a bed for the night.
We had to repeat the walk in the morning, this time with the Christmas presents loaded on our backs, including my little girl's new (fortunately small) sewing machine! The children were troopers and complained not one bit. My daughter was determined we should be entertained and led us in a game of naming things in alphabetical order (Jobs, including iguana feeder at the zoo; Objects, including a dinosaur; Animals, including a pink poodle. We decided that Numbers would have been a bit boring!)
Safely to the car, we motored for a long while on well gritted roads and were confident of a quick journey, until the travel news informed us of an overturned petrol tanker and a closed motorway. We took the pretty diversion through country villages, the one-lane roads struggling with four lanes' worth of traffic, grateful for a fresh story CD. On the interchange near our home we passed two abandoned cars in ditches. We got home, tired and tense, but safe and well, and aware how much worse some people's journeys had been.
I was proud of my children and how they put up with both a long walk and a boring journey. And I was reminded of how a trip I have made many times in these last few months is not necessarily straight-forward. And I was grateful to get home.
Weather allowing, we are heading north tomorrow, firstly to my husband's parents and then to the Yorkshire Dales for ten days of peace, rest and recuperation. I will be back in the New Year.
Have a Happy Christmas!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Snow

Snow. Somehow it’s supposed to be fun. But I hate snow; and more than I hate snow, I hate being told that I should like it. Everyone gets excited. The children hurry through their breakfast in their urgency to get outside and pick it up, squish it together, throw it at each other and build pretend people with it. Even the vicar tells us, in his Sunday sermon, that if it snows we should ‘down tools’ and head out: we can even join him, sledging in the park. His dad was fantastic and would drive him miles when it snowed in his childhood Yorkshire to find the snow he had seen coming down the valley, and sled.
When it does snow, the children get cold fingers and wet gloves which then sit on the radiator where the dog steals them and hides under the table with them. They get snow in their eyes and cry. The utility room has puddles of water all over the floor, as does the bathroom where the children have dripped, towel-less after their hot bath. Hot chocolate is expected, using up the last of them milk. Three entire outfits appear in the washing basket because they are wet. A child is in tears, again, this time because we may not get to the Home Ed group Christmas party because of the blizzard swirling so much snow in the back garden that I can’t see the shed. And when we do venture out, we skid, ever so slightly, twice on residential roads, bringing too close to mind the prospect of an insurance claim. I worry about slipping if I go running and am disappointed that the 5k race tomorrow will be icy, if it is not cancelled, and will probably not be the personal best I was hoping to aim for as an end of year bench mark. A pile of wrapped Christmas present may not get delivered as a severe weather warning makes a quick trip down to grandparents unlikely, and so there will be more tears, and disappointed people, and gifts unexchanged.
But it is beautiful. The cloud substance seems somehow different, and I’m sure a meteorologist could tell me why, and so the light, glowing like iron in a furnace at both sun-rise and sunset, fills the sky and lifts my heart. And I am reminded that, no matter how well I plan my life, I do not have ultimate control, that I am at the mercy of snowflakes and that I only truly have the choice of how I react to the circumstances that will come my way.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

End of Term

I got everything out of the 'Home Ed' drawer. This was the moment on Monday when my heart sank.
But I've got it all sorted, odd pieces of paper matched up and stapled and filed. That feels better.

I have re-visited the plans I made, read through my blog entries for the term and compiled lists for each of child of what they have done:

Autumn Term 2010

Visits to:
British Wildlife Centre
Ham House
Coughton Court
The Science Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum

Study of the first half to the 17th Century: James I to the Civil War
History Workshops: The Thames at Richmond; The Tudors in Richmond; Romans in Richmond; The Slave Trade in Richmond.
Art Sessions: Linneus, Rembrandt, Gainsborough
Home Ed Sports Day Party
Swimming Lessons – 200m Award, diving
Puppy Classes with our new puppy and caring for two King Charles Spaniels
Regular attendance at Esher and Farnham Home Ed groups
Maths Week – Silver Medal in Primary Maths Challenge
Prologue: Wolf Brother; Five Children and It; The Hobbit; The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
Breakout (Church after school Kids' Club)
Muffin Baking Business
Film Steps (Film Making School)
Chapter Books: Children of the New Forest, Wesley – the story of a remarkable owl, The Ogre of Oglefort
Christmas School
Award of 50 T-shirt for 50 parkruns completed

That feels much better. Job done.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas School (4)

We have returned to Christmas School today, after the children's book clubs on Monday and puppy class, history workshop and swimming yesterday. The children are avid followers of Blue Peter and were very excited yesterday about the mince pies they had seen being made. Sorted. No reason for me to search through our Christmas cookbooks finding something suitable and no need for me to buy more than a loaf of white bread and a jar of mincemeat. It is easy to tell when they are keen to do something: my eldest appeared, already wearing his apron, as I was finishing a cup of tea to tell me that he was ready to cook and not a cross word was spoken as they organized themselves into a production line, just like they had seen on the telly. It's a simple recipe using sliced bread rather than pastry. A lot of sliced bread, so we had to pause while middle son was dispatched to the corner shop. We had some trouble remembering which way up to put the lids and a variety of flavours were made as not everyone likes mincemeat, even Waitrose cranberry and port.
Before:
After:
Ready to eat:

What fascinates me about the way children learn is how much they do it, or demonstrate it, when I least expect it. My daughter happily fetched a calculator to work out that, if we had three flavours and twenty-four bun tins, we would have eight of each. I asked her how she knew what to do. She told me that she'd divided it, of course! This is the first time I have seen her use this mathematical function with such clear, gut-level understanding of what she's doing. She looked at me as if it was obvious. My son, in the background, is working on some genetic diagrams, the result of a conversation about breeding gerbils, and my explanation of dominant and recessive genes. I'm not in the picture, I'm making a cup of Christmas tea and finding somewhere quiet to eat my, surprisingly tasty, mince pie.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Uphill Struggle

Some days there doesn’t seem room for everyone’s feelings in this house and I hear myself tell the children that I feel worse than they do and I am not proud of that.
I ran The Hog's Back on Sunday morning, an 8.2 mile race, seriously uphill and I was pleased with my time but I am struggling to recover. The last twice I ran a proper race, I took my recovery very seriously, researching helpful tips and taking at least a day out of my diary. This time I have not bothered and I am suffering the consequences. I feel fine until I try to walk quickly or up a gradient or have to listen to an eight-year-old singing in the car.
My little girl was upset after her swimming lesson: her teacher had let her down by promising to take her to the diving pool, as her big brothers have done many times this term, and then he forgot. I was wrapped up in myself and what I was doing and, instead of helping her get dry and listening to her feelings, I snapped at her.
It can feel as if we are four balloons, inflated with our emotions, squashed into a small space. As long as no-one is too 'full' we are ok, but there is only so much space and sometimes someone gets squeezed.
I've said sorry. I've let her know that it's rotten to be let down both by a teacher that doesn't deliver and a mother who doesn't listen. I'll take some more painkillers and hit the duvet shortly after my children tonight. And I will seriously consider declaring the Christmas holidays starting tomorrow!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Who is it all for?

I have reached that time of the term when I try to make sense of what we have been doing. I look at the few pieces of paper in the children's folders and my heart sinks: we have done nothing! But, somehow, we have been very busy doing nothing! As I piece it together, dig out work on the hard-drive, come across leaflets from our days out, make a note of the books we've read and remind myself of the work that has gone into achieving a certificate, I begin to see that is is a whole load more than nothing. But I still find myself wondering what 'an inspector' would make of it, what evidence I have that my children are learning, how it compares to a set of filled exercise books adorned with red ticks and ten-out-of-tens.
One way round this, I have found, is to print a list of everything, something that we can all look at, reminisce over and celebrate. I would like us to celebrate more often our achievements, but there never seems enough time, I guess I never make enough time.
When we moved house, four-and-a-half years ago, we cleared out a lot of junk from our loft, including boxes of my old university files. Reams and reams of close-knit, incomprehensible calculations using ancient Greek letters: calculus and matrices, differential equations and three-dimensional integration. (I barely understood it at the time and fifteen years later it made no sense at all.) It all went in the bin: hours and hours spent the library, gone. I have almost nothing from my twelve years in school: one story written in an exam and a project on cats completed when I was around eight. I remember that, even then, I felt they were good and I was proud of them.
So I often wonder what the point is of keeping all the children's work. Who is it all for? That is partly why there is so little on paper. Is it for them to remember, or to show someone else what they have done, or for me to look at and reassure myself that we did do something? Once I have carefully sorted it all out and it has lived in the back of my wardrobe for a few years, what will happen to it? I want to find a balance between putting enough on paper to remember and celebrate and simply writing things down to show an imaginary inspector. This blog serves both of these purposes: fun to re-read and evidence for anyone who requires it. And still a while away from university entrance forms or job applications, the greatest celebration and proof of learning is the children themselves.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Christmas School (3)

Our next activity for Christmas school was a choice, as I had planned both Thursday and Friday morning for craft and realised that there was just not going to be time. Each child chose a different project, with a collage fairy, a snowflake garland and a hand-made Christmas card under construction.
The children were all busy and entertained and so I decided to join in too. I got out paints, card and glue and had a go at making a greetings card. So pleased was I with the result and so much did I enjoy doing it that I made another, and then bought some prettier card when I was out shopping to make others. Simple and quick, yet requiring enough skill in order to get an attractive result to be engaging: I am looking forward to putting some time aside in the next week create more. For me, it is one of the precious Home Ed moments, when I am alongside the children, learning and active with them, enjoying developing myself as much as them.

The peace and goodwill of the approaching Christmas season has clearly permeated the household and the furry residents are gradually improving their relationship. Coco knows her place and waits patiently for Barney to want to play. Barney will never want to play, but he has, at least, condescended to remain in the room with her.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Growth from 'Resentment'

Last Friday was not a great day. I expressed this, and some of the thoughts that it brought up, in a post. I was rather surprised by the reaction I got, mostly verbally, from those who love me. They were worried about me, sad for me and my husband described it as rather bleak. And yet I found it an experience which brought with it the hope born of insight and a new understanding; the powerful position of recognising a choice in my life which I had not seen previously and so I had felt at the mercy of circumstances beyond my control. It is not comfortable to acknowledge the decisions I make which are based on a image of myself which is not true, which I would like others to see or which is how I want to see myself.
There have been a couple of occasions this week when I have been faced with the same choice, and now that I have noticed this way of thinking, I can begin to unpick it. Would it be a good idea to commit myself and my children to becoming pony helpers once a week? This involved mucking out two stables and feeding the horses. In the winter this will be a cold hour-and-a-half's work. While my little girl quite likes horses, she is not pony-mad. My son quite likes the idea of the hard work, but we have plenty of that available in the garden. We would be on our own and the horses are too old to ride. As my best friend pointed out to me, I would hate it. So why am I even thinking of it? I like the idea of my children having passionate interests which will seed early and flourish in later life; I like the idea of being a super-supportive mum; I like the idea of being an 'outdoorsy' family.' The truth? My daughter is getting over a horsey phase, she quite likes to ride but it is not a consuming desire within her. She is not yet eight and there is plenty of time yet for her to find her passions. I am a pretty supportive mum with a slight tendency towards the pushy, my children may well benefit as much from me backing off. We live in an area with access to some wonderful parks and not far from the Surrey Hills, we have just got ourselves and highly energetic working cocker spaniel and there is as much opportunity for being outdoors as I would like, on my own schedule and completely flexible.
Would I like to cook a nut-roast for Christmas Day? I like nut roast but no-one else in my family cares much. So if I do, it will be for myself, if it will be a pleasure for me to cook and eat; if it will stress me and be a burden then there is no point. No-one will thank me, or appreciate the effort or think I am a wonderful cook.
So, what am I going to do? I will call the pony lady this morning and decline (and I have written her number in my address book just in case.) I will take my recipe book away with me and see how I feel on Christmas Eve.
New territory, little steps to freedom.

(I started out this post with the intention of answering the question which had been posted in the comments on 'Resentment. I have been pondering my response all week. It will be there in another post.)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Christmas School (2)

It's the times when I want to do something a bit different that I realise how much we already do and how much life gets in the way of my agenda. This afternoon we got back to Christmas School, after puppy class, swimming lessons, visiting a lady with horses to see if we would like to commit to being weekly pony helpers and a trip to the vets. To save time and sanity, I whipped up some gingerbread dough without the children's help and, after lunch, the children had fun cookie-cutting. After baking and decorating we sat down with mugs of tea and Christmas books and our advent candle.
We began with Betjeman's 'Christmas' - a poem I remember my mother loving and reading to me as a child. The words and rhythm are beautiful and as I have grown up the words have deeper and deeper meaning for me. There were tears in my eyes as I read it this afternoon. We then had a Christmas story and 'The Night Before Christmas' from our collection of Christmas books in the 'Advent Box' in the loft, which we finally got down last night.
We now have our welcome lights and little lighted Post Office in the window, our Christmas place mats and the beginning of a Christmas feel at home.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Impressive Bleeding

I gave blood last night. I have been told in the past that I am a fast bleeder and this has brought out my competitive streak. For the last few donations I have been trying to crack the four-minute barrier and each time I have missed it by a few seconds. I explained to the donor carer last night that I wanted to know how long it took as I was aiming to break my personal best. He let me know that it depended a bit on the way he punctured my arm and said he would do his best for me. (I am not sure if this was tongue-in-cheek!) And away I went. He kept me updated with my progress, said I was doing well and when I was finished he revealed my time: 3 minutes and 23 seconds! A record! He even went as far as to say that he thought that was quite impressive. No-one else seems to get how excited this made me. Here is something I am good at, or at least fast which is nearly the same. I managed to impress someone and I achieved a personal goal. Now all I need to do is find something that actually matters.
(The same donor carer commented at the end that he had seen someone do 3 minutes 15 seconds before. The gauntlet is down ... )

Monday, 6 December 2010

Christmas School

Christmas School is an idea I first came across last year on Handmade Homeschool. Although my plans were not as ambitious as this, I really liked the idea of setting some time aside just to be Christmassy, instead of trying to squeeze Christmas activities in alongside normal life. So I have designated the last two weeks of term as Christmas School and the children have been looking forward to it. When it came to planning it, I went through the days and found how much time was already taken up: swimming, puppy class, history workshop and so on. We're also looking forward to a grandparent visit and a trip to 'Aladdin on Ice.' However, I found our empty slots and turned to our selection of activity books for ideas. My daughter got a set last year, with Christmas cooking, drawing, make and do as well as some fairy ideas. We selected a few we liked and went shopping for card, glue and paint. I've put in an afternoon to read Christmas poems and another to watch 'The Nativity Story'. Today, we made Christmas tree and snow-flake decorations, and finger-painted fat robins.



Sunday, 5 December 2010

First Freewrite

We are having a chilled Sunday morning. My little girl has a cold and I prefer the evening service at church so we have stayed home. She has just brought me her first freewrite. It is beautiful and I am so proud. The spelling is creative and phonically accurate, the character endearing (and just a little familiar!) Here it is:

Hi. My name is Rosie Butterflynest. That's my full name. Yes, I know it,s quite odd. My mum, her name is Miss Ann. Dad's name is Max. If you go into Rice Road and then go left, you find a road called Honey Road. You will find a number 42, that is my house with the red door and the blue gate. That's my house. I have yellow hair. I have light skin. My favourite colour is yellow, yes, yellow. My favourite clothes are a pair of red socks. Do not tell anyone but I wear pink pants.

(Apparently is was okay for me to share that last bit with you!)

Friday, 3 December 2010

Resentment

Resentment is an ugly and uncomfortable emotion, one that creeps up on me when I think I am doing well, strangling my good-will and reducing me, usually, to tears.
Today was another snow day. At least, for one of the local schools. Not for us though. My husband left early and expected to be home late as he decided to walk to work rather than risk cycling on the icy roads. Two of my children have had intensive weeks of maths, following our month 'off timetable' and had work to finish. My middle son was busy making 3 batches of muffins for the Christmas Fair at church tomorrow. So when, at 9:30, the boy over the road turned up on the doorstep, I was torn. We were busy, but my children love to play with the neighbours and I have some guilt about my educational choices limiting their friendship circle. So he came in to 'help' make muffins. The boys' conversation, however, turned rapidly to football, punctuated by 'whoops!' and, after three warnings that these muffins need to be good quality to be sold, I sent the lad home. My daughter rushed through her maths, making frequent mistakes and getting tearful, as she wanted to be free to play with his sister. The pressure was up and the fun went down. I tried to alleviate this by inviting the pair along to our Home Ed social group which turned in to me giving them lunch before we set off, a few minutes late while they collected a car seat and extra hats.
There were only a few children at our meeting, due to the bad weather, and the group dynamics noticably shifted with the addition of unknown extras; coupled with the lack of a football this made for a tense afternoon. The traffic was bad in the ice and, with stopping to do an errand, and giving in to our visitors request to be taken in the newsagents to buy football swapping cards, it took me an hour to get home.
It was sometime around lunch that I felt the internal shift to resentment. 'Do I look like a childminder?', 'Why do I have extra children when I have my own all day, every day and these children's (non-working) mother has every day at home on her own?' I felt it, but I did nothing about it. The end result: tears and shouting before bedtime.
I can begin to see that the real conflict is between who I really am within the current circumstances and who I would love to be. I have always hoped that we would have an open house for the neighbourhood children, that our home would be a welcoming relaxed place to hang out after school, that I would be the kind of cool mother the local children think of as a friend. If I had turned this boy away, I would not have been that person, I could not have even indulged in the fantasy that I am that person. My options? Inviting the children over, and fizzing with resentment, exhausted and unhappy, leaving nothing for myself or my own children. Or, accepting that I am limited and not who I imagine myself to be and living with the painful feelings that brings up for me. And sometimes, exhaustion and unhappiness are actully easier to live with.
I had a similar dilemma on Thursday morning faced with fulfilling my planned training session in sub-zero temperatures with depleted emotional reserves, or staying in bed an extra half-hour, not running and battling the fear of the fat slug within. The duvet won, but my image of myself as hard-core, super-fit runner took a hit.
I have the feeling that this insight is crucial to unpicking much of the stress in my life. If I could figure out more of who I am, what I like, what I want and peel away the layers of who I imagine myself to be, who I would like to be, who I think is acceptable, I would begin to be free to say no to the one-demand-too-may that comes knocking.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Quiet Time

My lap, 7am.Time to be; time to pray; time to be loved.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Progress

Improving has always been important to me: getting the next piano grade, achieving a personal best in a race, shouting at my children less, being ready on time more. At art class last night, my tutor was talking about plateaus in painting and how there was always something to be working towards, how one of her students has progressed to exhibiting and even selling her work.
At a talk I heard recently, the speaker told us that God loves us as we are, not as we should be. I have been pondering this since and was struck by the thought that maybe God is not waiting for me to change. I'm not suggesting that he is not working in my life to increase the image of his Son, but maybe he is not waiting for me to be something that I currently am not before he will love me, engage with me or use me.
Earlier this year I was challenged by a woman whose opinion I value highly to give up making progress. Everything in my life is about getting better: better as a person, a mother, a wife, a friend, a cook, a gardener, a blogger ... the list is endless. What would happen if I gave up making progress? If I stopped looking for change, measuring my success by how much I have improved, or my failure by how little? What if I accepted that I am always five minutes late leaving the house, I cannot finely chop an onion or slice bread straight, I eat more chocolate than fruit, I have a low tolerance for stress, lose my temper easily and run nine-minute-miles. What if I accepted that God and those who love me, love me this way: this shape, short-fuse, wonky bread and a little bit flustered because I am late. What if I love me like that? What then?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A little bit about each of us

There was snow on the ground this morning. Not much but enough to sprinkle everything white. Coco skittered about, sniffing it, licking it and sliding her paws in it. Yet another exciting experience in this wonderful world she is discovering. She then managed a whole minutes 'stay' at puppy class. Very impressed!

It was middle son's turn to walk the dog with me this morning. Crocs, no socks. I advised different footwear but was told he would be fine. He had cold feet. I'm not often right when I tell him to wear more and he is comfortable at some surprisingly cool temperatures. Secretly, I was quite pleased!

Eldest son finished his novel. That is 20,000 words in 30 days. The only day he's missed, due to a grandparental visit, he wrote extra the day before in preparation. What I have read of it is a gripping fantasy adventure tale of a young human girl pitted herself against an evil, power-hungry magician intent on raising an army of mythical creatures. Well done son - good job done!

My little girl is learning to read. This has been a slow and occasionally frustrating experience for us both. On Sunday night she read to me from a Charlie and Lola book. Not a 'learning to read' book, not a phonics book, but a real book. I think we're nearly there!

This term I have been tutoring some A Level students. I was telling my tutee last night that I have very nearly spent my month's allowance of texts, due to the fact that my best friend has moved away and I feel compelled to tell her almost every random thought that crosses my mind. And what I think of each X-factor contestant. I have sent 200 texts in around 2 weeks. "That's almost teenager level," he commented. At nearly 40, I took that as a compliment!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Super Boy!

My middle son completed his 50th parkrun on Saturday; not only that but he took a massive 14 seconds off his previous personal best! Very soon he will be the proud owner of a red T-shirt with a silver 50 on the back, reward for his incredible achievement - he is only the 4th parkrunner under 10 to have reached this number. parkrun is a 5k race every Saturday held all over the country: a brilliant running event with all the atmosphere of a race, but free, thanks to the volunteers who give up their mornings to marshall, time and organise the runs. My son first took part in the original parkrun in Bushy Park in May 2008. He then did a couple more the following year and then a new event began at Bedfont Lakes, much closer to home. He has completed 45 of his runs at Bedfont, he has run in blazing heat and bitter cold and, after a number with me to get him going, runs alone. I am so impressed at his sheer determination, his persistence and the 250 kilometres he has run. Well done son!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Gifts and Presents

I had this post all figured out in my head, but I've blown it. I can talk the talk, but I don't always walk the walk. I truly, in a place deeper than my intellect, believe that home education works, that it is freedom for my children to explore and to be who they truly are. This month I have stepped back as far as I am able and tried to let their education be autonomous, (at least a bit! ) My daughter has come on leaps and bounds in her reading, and together we have discovered the joys of sewing. My eldest son has written most of his novel, a staggering 17, 360 words! My middle son has just rediscovered his boxed set of David Attenborough DVDs and is working his way through 'Life of Birds'. And then I go and lose my temper. In a 'fit of crossness' (my son's words) brought on by being woken early by a child's nightmare, an over-busy week and worry, I told them all that they did nothing if I didn't stand over them and then sent the middle one off to 'just go and learn something!' I told my youngest that she expected everything done for her and that she had to more independent and why couldn't she just learn to read? I picked up her scissors to cut her velcro to size. 'But mummy,' she said, 'I can do it. You said you wanted me to do it myself.' Caught red-handed!
At the root of this anger, I suspect, is no small part jealousy. I would love to play around with sewing (or knitting or painting), to be free from the critical voices, only seeking to please my rag-doll. I would love the time to try and write a novel. I would love to watch the numerous brilliant documentaries I wish I had time for. Instead I squeeze in a watercolour class but find it hard to overcome my fear of making a mistake. I manage twenty minutes most days to blog, but even that didn't happen yesterday. I watch 30 minutes of an art history lecture series most weeks, but sometimes fall asleep in front of the tv.
On Tuesday I asked my painting tutor for a list of essential colours which I should kit myself out with if I'm going to continue. She gave me a very helpful sheet listing some I have and some I don't. "And of course," she added, "the colours you like." What do I like? How would I know?
My little needle-girl said to me yesterday that sewing was her present, her special thing that she could do. I'm guessing that someone had translated the word 'gift' for her, so that sewing is her gift, or talent. But I like the idea of it being a present: it brings her joy and confidence, and I'm sure that brings delight to her heavenly father. At nearly 40 I feel as if I am just discovering my presents and that allowing myself to enjoy the freedom I prize for my children is part of that journey.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Learning

Learning is a very tiring and emotional experience. I am not sure that I always make allowances for that. Yesterday I went to puppy class with a very excited Coco. She does not behave as well as she does at home, things she can do perfectly well she will not even begin. My self-critical self interprets this as failure and senses the teacher as disapproving and judgemental. I am irritated with the dog and defensive against imagined attack.
I also went to my art class. We have spent two weeks on one painting and the above is my finished work. When the teacher comments that some part is the wrong colour and needs an overwash, or tells me that I must practice a brush stroke before painting onto my work, I feel crushed, angry and despairing. What is the point of carrying on the class if I am so rubbish and will never have time to practice? (However, when, along with the other's paintings, mine is propped up for a critque and people say it is lovely, or the teacher declares it excellent it is like water off a duck's back and does not penetrate.)
It is hard to experience the results of my efforts not being as good as I would like. It is hard to learn from experience and not feel rubbish for failing to get it right first time. It is hard to put myself in a vulnerable place where my incapability is visible. When my children tell me that they are rubbish at something, I always tell them that they are not rubbish, but learning. I wonder if I truly hear the feelings behind those words and could extend more grace and tenderness, embracing them as they struggle with the same difficulties I experience.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Reasons I Home Educate Number 6

The schedule for today was full. It all fitted, as long as nothing went wrong. I had a few minutes before the first item on the agenda, puppy class and I chose to get a few bits and bobs of admin done and leave the children to their own devices. My eldest opted to continue working on his National Novel Writing Month novel. He has set himself the goal of 20,000 words and has stuck to his daily allotment without fail. My daughter decided to write out the alphabet, complete with little pictures for each. If you look very closely, you can just see me under 'M', between a Lion and a (K)not.
(My middle son was quiet in his bedroom and I snuck in to take a snap of what he was up to. But he was lying on his bed playing with his DS! I was tempted to get him to pose with a book ...)
Education happens, they learn, sometimes I'm involved, sometimes I'm not.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Tolerate

Everyone has a limit and maybe I'm reaching mine. I find it almost impossible to say no. I used to think it was something I was good at, and I do say no very easily to things I can't actually do, if I'm away on holiday, say, or don't want to do. But things I'd like to do, things I think I should do, things my children want me to do, well now, that's a different matter. If I can squeeze it in then I tend to, and the result is usually a squeezed me and then I'm not very nice to live with.
A long time ago, when I was still training as a breastfeeding counsellor, the idea of tolerating a child's discomfort came up. It is a phrase that has stuck with me, like a splinter, and I do not live comfortably with it. If my child came to me hungry, I would not tolerate their discomfort, but feed them. If they came to me bored, or hurt by a friend's rejection, or disappointed with a test result, will I tolerate this without trying to fix, and let them hurt, and grow?
If I can try to do something for someone, I tend to think I should: visit a lonely neighbour, attend a doctor's appointment with a nervous friend, find a babysitter so I can take my son to an evening lecture on birds. After all, who would ignore such a need? But I guess the need I end up ignoring is my own.
The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares. (Out of Solitude: Henri Nouwen)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Six weeks from now

It is exactly six weeks to New Year's Eve. That's all there is left of 2010. I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself today: I have just about done my Christmas shopping! I did a few bits and bobs over the summer, have spent serious amounts of time and money on-line this morning and have a couple of things to pick up from M&S just before the big day. I need inspiration for a little something more for hubby and middle son, but other than that ... I'm done!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Conversational Learning

There are times when I am not quite sure how my children have learned what they have. We don't have much of a structured curriculum and I do very little in the way of formal subjects. Sometimes I feel that we have a lot of wasted time in the car, driving to swimming or bookclub or to a social group. This week, however, while driving we have had a long talk about God and worship. Does he just want to be worshipped because he is showing off about how great he is? When he doesn't do things our way, who is right? What can we expect to understand of his plans? We have also discussed censorship. If I say a song or a film or a book is unsuitable for the children, should they trust me? Why would I stop them? What would happen and what should they do if they do listen or watch or read? Why are some films rated "15" or "18" and why would anyone enjoy watching stuff that puts horrible pictures in their heads? Looking out for the train on Thorpe Park's Stealth roller-coaster, which we regularly see in its terrifying plummet as we drive along the M3, led to a conversation about free-fall, gravity and orbit. The children don't make notes or write answers to questions testing their understanding and we have nothing physical to show for this style of learning, but learning they undoubtedly are. And not just the information, such as it is, but how to question, how to listen, that it's ok to disagree or not know or try to figure out an answer. And when we run out of stuff to talk about, we study contemporary cultural trends and listen to our friend's playlist on CD!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Things are not going well when you find yourself shouting at the dog in the street and look up to find a neighbour about to greet you and you end up carrying the dog home. Things are not going well when your daughter's dentist has to pass you a tissue because you are crying.
I want to be the kind of person who has an immaculately behaved dog who always does what she is told. I want to be the kind of person who has children with perfect teeth.
I do not want to be the kind of weak-willed and thoughtless person who cannot control their dog. I do not want to be the kind of mother whose child, teeth rotted by Coco-Cola in baby-bottles and endless sweets, has to take the child for an extraction.
In an epiphany moment this weekend I realised that most of my motivation for almost everything I do comes from an idea of the sort of person I want to be, the sort of person I find acceptable, even admirable and an idea of the kind of person I don't want to be, the kind of person I despise and judge. (Although, of course, the kind of person I want to be would never despise or judge another human being.)
I realise that I am not free to choose not to run when I don't feel like it, because the kind of person I want to be is fit. I am not free to eat a whole bar of chocolate because the kind of person I want to be is thin. I am not free to miss tonight's prayer meeting as I am exhausted, emotionally fragile and possibly have a stomach bug because the kind of person I want to be is always at prayer meetings, in fact is deeply spiritual and committed to the community.
What if the me that I really am is not the kind of person I want to be? What if the me that I really am is the kind of person I find hard to accept? What if "God, who puts all things together..." and makes "us into what gives him most pleasure" (Hebrews 13, The Message) has a different idea to me of the kind of person he wants to me to be? Am I prepared to believe that I am "fearfully and wonderfully made" and "God's workmanship", that the me that God made is acceptable, even admirable and I don't have to try to live up to the standard I set myself? I think the honest answer right now is "no". Perhaps that honesty is a first step to a "yes".

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Wild Thing

Our sewing skills are going from strength to strength. This is a 'T-shirt creature', doubling up as a "Wild Thing" as my daughter's project for her book group on "Where The Wild Things Are". It will also be a pillow for her doll and scare away any nightmares. We are now decorating her no-sew doll outfit from last week. The thread is coming out of the needle a little less often and my daughter is getting to grips with cutting out shapes round the pattern and we will be planning our next project soon.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Local Beauty

My best friend is in Snowdonia this week and texted me this morning to say that the mountains were looking beautiful. We live very different lives and I had a twinge of jealousy as I folded my washing and started another very suburban house-wife day. But we took Coco up to the park for a run-about and I was struck by the incredible beauty of my surroundings. It's a very suburban, outer London kind of place and I can see high-rise block and the purple logo of the Premier Inn; we are minutes from a motorway junction and the park is full of litter. But, through another lens, it is full of colour, and light.
Intricate detail,
a wide open sky
and people I love.
It all depends on where I choose to look.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Leaves

Sometimes there are a lot of thoughts in my head. Blown and tossed around by the winds of life. Worries and trivia: swirling and senseless. I would like to be able to focus on just one thought, think of a Bible verse and meditate, hold a friend in mind and pray, truly listen to my child's chatter.
Clarity.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Fairy Godmother

This is what qualifies you as a fairy godmother!
Creative friend, happy child, new non-sew dress for dolly.

Choices

I seem to be finding it hard to make choices at the moment. Not that I have any important ones to make, but even the little, everyday decisions seem to be hard to reach. Take watercolour classes. On the one hand I enjoy them; the timing fits well into our weekly routine and so I am able to carve out those two hours just for me; it is fun and relaxing to do something completely different to my day-to-day life and, for the first time this week, I have painted something that I'm quite pleased with. However the classes carry a financial cost which I could spend in an alternative way; I am not particularly good at painting and don't have the time to practice outside classes at the moment so I am not likely to improve much; I could use the time and money to go to the cinema, something I frequently lament not having time to do; I could use the time to attend a small fellowship group at church, something I've not done for a couple of years now; or I could attend evening dog training classes as Coco develops beyond basic obedience. my husband asked me what nourishes me most and I'm really not sure of the answer. I am reading John Ortberg's "The Me I Want To Be" at the moment and, to use his word, what is it that makes me "you-ier"?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Dog Days

She did it! She is, officially, a very good girl! Well done Coco!The cat, however, I can only describe as underwhelmed.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Little and Big


I spent some time with a friend this weekend, a friend who is suffering at the moment. It has been this way for three years and has shown little sign of changing. But she came along to church with my yesterday and agreed to talk to our curate, to ask for help and for someone to intervene. It won't be easy and it may well make things worse to begin with, but it is the only way forward and it was an honour to see her so brave.
Sitting down to blog this evening, I ask myself what is on my mind. What has occupied my thoughts today? My friend? My elderly step-father? My children's education? No, not really. Mostly I've worried about whether my puppy with stand on command. (The answer is sometimes!)
Coco will be having her assessment for her Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme Puppy award tomorrow. I have the personality-type which thinks: 'If there is an award, I want it.' For various reasons things haven't really worked out with the puppy classes we started and I want to swap, but I don't want to start all over again so she needs her award to go to a new place at the next level. Because I had to miss a class and one got cancelled, she has only had three classes. We have been offered a make-up one the next week, but that's when I want to start with the new club. It's complicated. Or, at least, I am making it so. Just ask anyone who's had to have a conversation with my about this! And I am finding myself stressed about it, and stressing the dog. There is no need to tell me that this is pointless and unhelpful, I know. Sometime between now and tomorrow morning I need to get some perspective. Or stay up all night training her to stand on command!

Friday, 5 November 2010

How many is church?

Church has been on my mind recently. We are currently going through a series called Just 10, based on the 10 Commandments and last week's sermon was on the Sabbath. The style of the services is very up-beat and contemporary, fast-moving and high-action. By the time I've squeezed in a long run I am rushing to get there on time and there are often a number of people to speak to and I arrive home at midday feeling frazzled. This does not seem to me to be sabbath rest. I do not find it possible to comtemplate, to sit in silence or to be still in the style of our morning worship.
When I run I often listen to a talk from another church down-loaded onto my phone or I listen to, and join in, worship songs. I marvel at God's creation and I pray in the silence of an early morning park. Does this not contain something of church?
Last Sunday, we went for an outdoor picnic with some friends. There were four adults and four children: we laughed, we enjoyed nature, we ate together and we talked, a little, about God. Does this not contain something of church?
But in mentioning this to one of the other adults, I was told that this was unbiblical. I suggested that what we had done was church, but was told that it was not: there were not enough of us, we had not worshipped, it was different in context and intent. I disagree.
I have decided that I will choose to do something other than our usual Sunday service some weekends: I will go on a long hike in the Surrey Hills, or a lie-in and still have time for a long run. Jane's recent post on Church at Home has added to my thinking: how could we as a family do church differently? I would be sad to loose the friendships I have at church; I love our corporate, lively sung worship; the teaching is frequenly relevant and challenging but I am missing something. I think that thing maybe a connection with God and I am prepared to seek Him elsewhere.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Hoo-ray!

Well, we're not rivalling Cath Kidston, but we are both very proud.

I have never sewn anything from a pattern before so I am rather pleased with the end result, a collaboration between mother and daughter. Even better is my daughter telling me that she is so glad I am her mum.
Next week's project: T-shirt creatures!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Unexpected

Some days it just all seems to go a little bit wrong from the word go. Not terribly wrong, certainly not a crisis, but nothing is quite how I planned it and my priorities get re-worked. A worrying phone-call, a friend in need of support, a cancelled arrangement, a hoped-for favour not going to happen.
I am just one day into my new, relaxed regime. The idea is that my children will plan their own days, pursue just two or three projects and I will be on hand to guide and support. My daily planner has marked off time zones when I am not to be disturbed but other than that I am available, I will not blog, I will not check e-mails, I will not be too busy for my children. Except today when I have been on the 'phone for at least an hour and have had a constant stream of texts as I receive up-dates and offer advice on a sick friend.
I begin to panic. This is not how it was meant to be but I can't do anything else. I cannot meet all the needs and solve all the problems. It is a constant battle to remind myself that I am not left an orphan but have a loving, heavenly father who is on the case, intimately and compassionately involved in my life.
I look out of the window. My children are having a football practice. The sport-mad middle one has set up a series of tasks for his siblings, written them a worksheet and is coaching them. I even saw them doing warm-up exercises!
My friend phones and, in response to my grumpy text, has set about finding a solution to one of my problems. She's not offering to do it, she's done it.
The children help me wash up after lunch, we set off to swimming lessons on time. The wheels have not come off my day and I am learning to be flexible.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Sewing

My grandmother was a seamstress, but it is not a skill I have inherited. However, my daughter is desperate to sew and I realised that I was going to have to overcome my reluctance and fear. The turning point came when I was reminded of the word "textiles". Suddenly it wasn't just messy stitches and wonky fabric, but a real subject, something she could grow in, be passionate about and develop her skill and creativity through. I purchased a book on sewing for children, took my daughter to a haberdashery department and today we began.
(In case you can't tell, it's an owl.)
Between us, we are doing ok and have nearly sewn all the way round and will soon be ready to stuff. What she really wants to do is to make clothes for her doll, but, true to my nature, I want to start at the start and work our way through the book, otherwise we might miss something on the way. Dolls clothes are not until page 34.
I'm never going to be good at sewing and I can't imagine I shall ever enjoy it much, but I am proud of myself for hearing her desires and trying to meet them. And I hope that I am modelling a willingness to try new things and to not have to be good at them.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Boundaries

This week has made me aware of how easily disturbed my boundaries are. It is hard to fit in all the things I want to do, need to do, feel that I should do and it is my resonsibility to do. Given time to reflect and plan I can figure it out: I have redrawn my trusty 'week-planner' form with bold lines around the boxes indicating my desk-time, time to answer e-mails, blog, sort out the money and so on; I have reviewed the weekends between now and Christmas with a view to giving each one a clear goal (time with friends, mum's time alone, family time etc.); I have put plans for Christmas in place put in alternative family visits. It is all fine until my son wants to discuss brain tumours when I have five minutes before I am due out or when someone expresses sadness that they have not seen me as much as they would like or I realise that I've not 'phoned someone in a long while but I only have a half-hour to spend by myself or on the chatting with them. I let the boundary get pushed, the bold line blurs, I squeeze something in and leave late.
I cannot believe, no matter how tempting, that I have more to do than anyone else. I wonder if I am too greedy for time to myself: time to run and paint and blog and read and all the other stuff I'd love to do. I know that I revisit my decisions over and again, wasting energy and peace, in a desire to make everyone feel happy, usually resulting in those very people being blasted with harsh words and resentment. I would to be able to capture these wriggly, slimy uncomfortable feelings of guilt and irritation and exise them and perhaps pinning them down with these words and exposing them to the light may begin to rob them of their power.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Back to reality

I've had a fabulous few days "off" from real life. With husband, children and dog all away at grand-parents, I have had none of life's normal responsibilities. For the last four days I have been out walking with a close friend, we have probably covered 30 miles of Surrey countryside in sunshine and pouring rain. A chance encounter with an acquaintance from a while back lifted the lid on a lot of memories and these two things combined have left me with an uneasy and disatisfied feeling, uncertain of who I am and what my life is all about. There seem to be so many different 'me's: the outdoorsy me, running and walking, quite happy in the mud and the rain; the young woman giggling over a silly joke, needing reminding that I am nearly 40 not nearly 20; the contemplative seeking peace and solitude; the professional A Level tutor; the concerned neighbour; the home ed mum and last, and sometime least, the wife. I find it hard to let myself be all these selves, to reconcile them into one, whole, human being, and to make room for all their different expressions. It feels as though there are parts of me who don't get let out so often and I wonder how I can integrate them a little better into everday life so they are part of my reality.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

October Rain

With rain forecast for this afternoon, we left early and caught sunrise on the M25. We parked in a deserted and secluded car park,
and enjoyed a second glorious walk in the Surrey Hills. We lingered over coffee, got hopelessly lost and thoroughly soaked. It was great fun!

Monday, 25 October 2010

October Light

Family away, friend visiting, North Downs Way, beautiful world.


Friday, 22 October 2010

Walking the dog

Life with our puppy is beginning to settle down a little, there are certainly less wees on the carpet, and we have started to take her out for little walks. The advice we have received is that she walks for no more than 5 minutes for each month of her age, which is 15 minutes. This, I thought, was plenty of time to get round the block. I am determined that she will not pull on the lead but will walk nicely by my side. One of the main purposes of getting a dog was as company for me when I run and so it is imperative that she is well under control on her lead. According to the books, the best way to train this is to simply stop every time she pulls: soon she will learn that pulling has the undesired consequence of, briefly, stopping her walk, but a gentle pace keeps things going. We have not got very far down the road! Someone told me last week that this was a good and quick way to teach good lead manners and might take as little as a month!
I have begun to think of my thought patterns like this. For all my life habitual thought patterns have dragged me along feeling helpless in their wake. A conversation this week led me to link this to walking the dog. I need to be in control, I need to stop when they are running away with me. It isn't easy and sometimes it takes less effort to let them pull me along with a "What can you do?" expression on my face. But if I am prepared to exert myself and my will, to stop when I start down the same old rutted paths and challenge old and false patterns, perhaps it won't be too long before I don't find myself dragged into the ditch any more!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Austerity - by Richard

I am on half term this week, so I thought I would do a guest blog. Today many people in the country will be waking up to a new era in British history, when the measures outlined by the Chancellor George Osborne will begin to take effect. Commentators are divided as to whether, on the one hand, the measures are just what the country needs after years of Labour mismanagement, or on the other, concerned that they are going to lead us into the dreaded 'double dip' recession feared by many experts.
I am not really sure to be honest. There seems to be something quite refreshing about spending less as a country, but I am aware that my job is not likely to disappear. There are two obvious measures that will effect us a family - losing child benefit after 2012, and the pension reforms for me as a teacher when Lord Hutton's full report is published in the Spring. But ultimately, whatever measures are adopted by the Government, I am almost certain to have a decent pension when I retire. Many other workers in this country, let alone in poorer parts of the world, have no such luxury.
So as the nights get increasingly dark and we head for winter, do we have lots to worry about? For some, there will be, if not a winter of discontent, at least a winter of worry and concern. I, like many others, will have the luxury of looking on from afar and watching the story develop. I was fortunate enough to meet Jeremy Paxman a few weeks ago, when he accepted my invitation to visit my school. I will be watching the BBC's Newsnight programme to watch how event develop, delighted that I am not on the receiving end of one of Mr Paxman's interviews!!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Decisions

My middle son is not enjoying puppy classes. It is important to me that the puppy is trained by us as a family, and not by me, who will then end up telling everyone else how to do it, no doubt moaning and nagging, being resented and feeling resentful. So the three chidlren and I all go together and I convince myself it's 'educational'. However, my middle son is not enjoying it. He finds the trainer brusque and intimidating. So do I, if I'm honest. I'm rather pleased with my personal growth. A while back I would have ignored my own feelings and told my son that he had to get along with teachers he didn't like but I decided to listen to both of us and try out a new class. And now I have to decide. And worse, I have to tell one of the trainers that we won't be coming back. But which. There are pros and cons of each choice (aren't there always?): length of class, distance from home, time of day, style of training, friendliness of teacher. And underlying all this, I think I detect a real note of fear. Suppose I get it wrong? What would wrong look like? Miserable kids, untrained dog, money wasted. It's the same with the pet insurance. What excess to choose, life-long cover per condition or just one year, to include advertising costs if she gets lost? Again, I feel the fear, what if, months from now, I bitterly regret this decision?
I guess the truth is that I will never know. There cannot be two "me"s, one to make each choice and see how it turns out. So, I will just have to do what seems best with the knowledge I have, and live with the decision I make.

Monday, 18 October 2010

What's learning and what's not?

My husband is a school teacher and broke up for his fortnight's half-term holiday on Friday. He came home at the end of his week to a very grumpy, tired and resentful wife. It's all right for you being on holiday, but I'm not. Because it is not the state-school holiday week, many of the activities that my children are involved in are still happening, plus puppy classes and opticians appointments and play dates. In planning the week out, I have a all-too-familiar thought: "If I hurry, it will just all fit in." But if I hurry, I am a shouting and stressed mother with harrassed children. It all feels so important, so educational, golden opportunities that if missed may never come back to the eternal detriment of my children's education.
It takes a major effort of will to drag my thoughts from this rut, to see that there is a world of opportunity out there and there always will be, there are more activities, exhibitions and organised trips than we could possibly go on and that free hours at home, unstructured and undirected, time to be and reflect and imagine and play cultivates thoughts and growth that can not otherwise occur. Isaac Newton formulated his theory of gravitation sitting in the garden whilst home from university on a plague-enforced break. It takes some stern self-talk to make myself step back and stop organising every spare minute of their time, and mine, with something 'worthwhile' and to trust them to learn and grow without my constant supervision. Who knows what they might come up with?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Love

Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling
them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs.
And be careful that when you get on each other's nerves you don't snap at each
other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.
1 Thessalonians Chapter 5 from verses 13-15, The Message

What good advice for mothers, especially for those of us who choose to spend all day and everyday with our children. I constantly need to remind myself that my children are little, young and vulnerable. I cannot and should not expect them to be like adults. I am remembering too the verses from the weekend, the command to love others as I love myself. Do I love myself this way? And if I don't, no wonder I it's hard to find the resources to love others like this.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Socialisation

Coco attended her second obedience class today, although, as the trainer told us, it is not the dogs that cause problems but the owners! Among the benefits of these classes is Coco's socialisation. She is learning to meet and relate to other dogs. Puppy socialisation is very important and is mentioned in every one of the puppy books I've read. She must meet all sorts of people, in all sorts of places and, of course, all sorts of dogs. She needs to meet bicycles and umbrellas and people in hats and other animals and she needs to be exposed to as many different situations as possible. One random article from a quick Google search suggests the dog not only meeting all kinds of people, ("Include men, women, youngsters, oldsters, different ethnic backgrounds, etc.") and animals ("invite ... healthy, vaccinated dogs, puppies and even cats to your home to meet and play with your new puppy") but also taking her to places ("Carry your pup to shopping centers, parks, school playgrounds, etc; places where there are crowds of people and plenty of activity.") and out in the car ("Take your puppy for short, frequent rides in the car.")

I am not sure why children are assumed to learn socialisation in classes of other children, pretty much like themselves, but puppies learn it from the whole, wide world.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Hurry


I spent the weekend at St Michael's convent in Ham. For various reasons, it's a long time since I've been and it felt like going home. It's a very special place to me and somewhere where I can connect with God and with myself, with my need to rest and to meander. I slept 11 hours solid on Friday night, and 10 on Saturday, and enjoyed a lesuirely rise into the day, thinking fondly of my puppy who would have had me out in the dark and cold at 6:30am. (And thanks for my husband for doing both dawn and dusk duty.)
While I often bemoan my busy life, I am beginning to see that a great deal of the stress I feel is fictional. Not that I make it up just to say I'm stressed, but that I generate such internal stress that I project it out onto my external environment. I have long suspected this, but when I found myself getting worked up at all I had to do to tidy my room when I was on retreat, I realized that this is how I feel and not the truth. And I know that at home I erupt this stress all over my family, who are frequently caught in the lava flow and so it spreads. They pass it on to each other, the tension levels rise and soon we are all sick with the stress virus.
I was reminded of the passage in Mark's gospel where Jesus speaks of the greatest commandments: to love God wholeheartedly and to love our neighbour as ourselves. No other commandment ranks with these. Not 'Thou shalt educate your children', not 'Thou shalt provide nutritious meals', not 'Thou shalt clean the house and do all the laundry', not even 'Thou shalt blog and answer all your e-mails'. Just love: love God, love your neighbours, (and I think in this case my children are my closest neighbours.) So today I have tried to respond in every moment in love. I've tried to listen, I've tried not to chide, I've tried to stop for a hug, I've tried not to shout. With God's help, I've even managed it a few times!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Spooked

While Coco, the puppy, has been settling in very well (only one indoor pee yesterday, and that on the lino), Barney, the cat, is less happy. He has been content to stay upstairs all day everyday, eat in the bathroom and allow us to open the front door for him whenever he'd like to go out, but I am beginning to feel that I need to work on our own entente cordiale. So yesterday, with Coco in her crate and being fed treats to keep her otherwise entertained, I brought the cat through the kitchen, past his arch-enemy. He puffed up and growled, but we made it through. We did this twice and later, while the cat was in the garden, I took Coco out on the lead. Barney took moments to disappear although the puppy showed no interest in him at all.
I didn't see Barney again until this morning! He showed up at the front door but was reluctant to come in. I had to round him up like an unskilled sheepdog and finally lunged at and caught him. I really needed him home as he is due at the vets for his booster vaccinations (having missed them last week due to running away from the dog). Poor Barney, he really is having a bad week!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Puppy Obedience

Coco attended her first puppy obedience class this week. She was very, very excited about her first trip away from the house and about meeting other puppies. She was the newest in her class of four and had a good stab at all the exercises. It was fascinating to see how the trainer could get each and every one of the puppies doing exactly as she wanted but the owners couldn't always. It is so easy, and so tempting, to blame the dog when it is actually myself to blame. If I am not clear, or give mixed messages, or expect the puppy to follow a command which she is not familiar with, I set myself and Coco up for failure, irritiation and even anger. One lady on the class found any and every excuse to explain why her dog would not behave for her, at one time even claiming that her arms were too long! If I tell Coco, "Good girl!" when she is sitting and I want her to wait before she jumps on the sofa or heads through the door, she thinks she has done what I asked her to do, so is it any surprise that she jumps up or heads out? So I am learning to use the command "Wait" and accepting that when I forget I will get the behaviour I don't want.
I am beginning to see the parallels with parenting. As I pick at the children because I feel stressed and overworked, so they start to pick at each other; as I shout "Stop yelling!" the noise levels increase and the loving communication decreases. With both puppy and children, I need to look at what my attitude and behaviour is asking of them, not just my words.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Work


About five years ago, a very wise and mature Christian prayed for me, and spoke of a three-fold annointing of Wife, Mother and Teacher. Nothing Else. What is my work? And how do gardening, visiting neighbours, training the puppy, running, watercolour classes, cleaning the house, reading books, attending a church small group or service, tutoring A Level Physics, watching X-Factor, drinking coffee with friends, visiting and keeping in touch with wider family and all the other things I want to and need to do, fit in? When is it right to rest, and how much? When am I called to give sacrificially of my time and energy and when am I called to steward well the resources God has given me? When am I called to work hard, to serve, and when do I put my trust in God's faithful provision for myself and others? Without a doubt I am trying to fit more into my life than God intends at the moment. I'm just not sure which are the 'too much' bits.

"As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work." (Colossians 1, The Message)

"What if your job is to figure out, from one moment to the next, how to stay in the flow? ... The Spirit is already at work in you... your only job is not getting in the way." (John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be)

Monday, 4 October 2010

A New Me

Tesco Diets welcomed me to the new me this morning! This is because, after 8 weeks, I have achieved my weight loss goal of 1 stone. For a long time I have been feeling that my weight is creeping up on me. I think I have a fairly comfortable relationship with food and I run a fair amount (though never quite as much as I'd like to) so I was certainly not fat and my BMI was within the healthy zone. But only just. Weight, and weight loss, is riddled with angst, anxiety and discomfort. I did not want to set my children a bad example or contribute to body image issues for them by being over-weight or obsessively dieting; I did not want to be a slave to a diet, depriving myself of one of life's pleasures for the sake of an unrealistic body, but I did not want to end up 50 and a stone overweight because I had let it slip. I talked openly and honestly with the children about my reasons: health, BMI, the gradual weight gain of middle age, and I still ate cake for poetry tea and on my birthday. I tried not to say that I wasn't "allowed" a certain food, but instead spoke aloud the truth that I was choosing to limit what I ate to attain a certain goal which I had set myself, and I have stuck fairly well to the menus that Tesco have provided. And I have lost a stone! I have caught myself in the past thinking that I would be happier if I were just that bit lighter, but I am not happier, my jeans are a little looser, but not much, and not one person has commented that I look different (not counting my husband's loyal answers to "Can you tell I've lost weight?") I am not a new me, but I am pleased with myself, my self-control and my slightly slimmer silhouette. And I am going to have a chocolate brownie with my tea this afternoon!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Busy Week

I am not sure where all my time has gone this week, but it has felt particularly fraught. I know that the puppy is largely responsible, but I'm just not sure how she has consumed my time. The children have been incredibly mature and responsible, willingly taking her in the garden, clearing up poop outside and wee inside and hiding in the garden to teach her to come when called.
Both my sons needed to visit the doctors today, and my eldest shooed me away from the surgery door and had the consultantion alone. While I was impressed and pleased with his independence, another part of me marked it as a sign of his growing up and away. Of course there is a time in the future when I won't even be aware that my children have been to their GPs, but it felt strange and sudden not to be in there, not to know.
Life changes. While I think that I crave it getting easier, I find that, as my children are growing up I have brought a dependent puppy into my home. I have had plenty of 'pit-of-the-stomach moments' this week, wondering what on earth we've done, whether I will actually be able to cope with this dog. Dog owners reading this, tell me, does it get easier? I really need to hear right now that it does, as I wipe up yet another pee, or take yet another shoe from her saying, with decreasing calmness, "Not for dogs."
I'm would love to write more, but I have an excited puppy and hungry children ...

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Havoc

There are moments in my day of pure bliss: my daughter snuggled up on one side, learning to read, and my new puppy with her chin on my leg, learning that we are her new family. There are moments of havoc: another puddle of wee on the kitchen floor, mud liberally spread throughout, one son trying to write a limerick and the Tesco delivery arriving, as always, five minutes early so my husband isn't home to help unload.
I am trying to emulate Brother Lawrence in the practice of the presence of God, and to this end I have begun a notebook in which I will write one Bible verse or inspirational quote each day to mull over and keep my thoughts turned towards Him. Today: "And I'm going to keep that celebration going because I know how it's going to turn out." (Philippians, The Message) I have not managed, quite, to celebrate all day, but I do know that God is good and that in His care this will all turn out well.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Becoming a Dog Owner

After a fun, but exhausting, weekend, being on the road from 7am 'til 8:30 pm on Sunday, we are now the proud owners of a beautiful, pedigree, chocolate Cocker spaniel puppy.Yesterday was spent in a blur of sleepiness, said puppy cried until gone midnight, and wiping up dog pee, desperately trying to find five minutes to upload my pictures and post, but failing. We did all get fed though and the children managed some work too. Coco is a delight, very excited but also already very obedient. She's very wriggly too, so that most of the pictures I took of her were blurred.
Until she fell asleep.