Saturday, 30 October 2010


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 ...