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 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


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


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.

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.


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


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


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


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.