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. 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.
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 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


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?