Monday, 28 February 2011

Hair Style

This is the proud face of my little girl after her first, 'proper' hair cut.I rather liked her wild, golden curls although they could be rather unmanageable. She had decided that she wanted a shorter style and we agreed on a bob. On Friday, I walked her down to the hairdressers and she had it cut. They told me that she very much needed a cut - she has never had it cut before - and that it would thicken up and grow much faster now. It looks lovely - so grown up - brushing is a pleasure and no longer a pain and she is very excited about it.

It was a surprisingly emotional experience for me. I lost all my hair nearly eight years ago - I have alopecia - and it all happened while I was pregnant with her. I discovered that I was losing it the same week that I discovered I was expecting her. By the time she was born it was all gone. What makes me a good parent changes as the children do. When they were babies it was my job to be there for them all the time, to meet their every need and to watch over their every experience. As my eldest proudly tells me, he will be a teenager next year and this 'little girl' of mine will be eight in two months. I have to remember to let go of them, to let them make their own choices, to experience their own mistakes, to live their own lives. The heart and centre of my philosophy of home ed is to let them discover who they are, to find their passions and gifts, to grow sure of themselves. They spent the weekend with a friend of mine and she commented on just this, their individuality and quirkiness, their differences and strong sense of self. This, she thought, had a lot to do with my commitment to just that, and I was pleased to feel that their personalities shine through. I would dearly love to have some hair to have cut, and I cannot deny some envy at my daughter's and a peculiar sense of her wasting it by having it cut. But that is my life and my stuff and I am in awe of her certainty of what she wants and her confidence in reaching out for it.

Friday, 25 February 2011


Life takes some unexpected twists and turns. I can leave my damp and daffodil-touched hometown to find myself out in beautiful, icy and arctic conditions hundreds of miles from both home and where I set out to be.

I'm not always sure what I want until I don't get it and then I find myself feeling disappointed and it can take a while to identify the moment that there was a whisper in my heart, one which I chose to deny, and I can only hope that I will listen more closely to it next time. Or sometimes I realize that I have been wanting the impossible and the unreasonable, both from myself and from others and that peace lies in letting go.
As I reflect on the last half-term it feels as if it has been a hard place. "I don't know why I feel like this," slips from my lips very easily and is twinned with the assumption that if I don't know why I feel the way I do, I don't really. As I read Lucinda's recent post on why she loves Thursdays, I feel an envious twinge in my heart. But my life needs to be no different to hers: I too could have a 'Thursday' any day I chose. Sometimes my life feels a little out of control but I have to remind myself that no-one but me writes anything in my diary, no-one but me agrees to anything that I end up doing, no-one but me creates the pressure I feel.
I love the idea of having priorities to work to, but find that without thinking I have written down six for myself next half-term. Secretly, I know that there are other things I want to get done too: a book I want to read, painting techniques I want to practice and, oh yes!, those children I want to educate. These are not priorities but a list and one which will ultimately cause me stress and unhappiness. If I want my life to look more like a "Thursday" I actually have to decide not what I am going to do, but what I am not. I don't like it and my childish-self stamps her foot and says it's not fair, I want it all. But what I want most of all is to feel comfortable in my own skin, in my own home and to feel comfortable about the way I interact with my children and friends. So, once I've posted this, I'm taking a pen to my priority list and crossing some out. They will just have to wait.

Friday, 18 February 2011

A Sign I Need

Spotted at Oxford Circus yesterday: This, I decided, was a sign I needed on my head!
I'm off to the Lake District today, four days of walking with my best friend. (Well, three days of walking and a day in Manchester drinking coffee and visiting the art gallery!)
It's been getting overcrowded in my head - the entrances to this station are closed for a while.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

O Duo

Today we had a trip up to London. It is the first time we have had what I would consider a 'proper' day out since we got our puppy in September and I had been strangely dreading it. We had tickets to a concert at Wigmore Hall to hear O Duo, a percussion duo. The concert started at 11am which meant we had to leave the house before 9am, no easy task, and the energy required to arrange a dog-sitter, pack a picnic and sort out train times and tickets felt more than I had to give. I seriously considered abandoning the idea. In the end I decided that a day out was what we all needed and the change in pace and location would be a lift. And I was right.

We listened to our times tables CD in the car on the way to the station, horribly catchy tunes which have left me humming "one times eleven is eleven is eleven," all day, and we bumped into an old friend at the station, both adding energy to our mood. We read our chapter book on the train and then set off on the tube. We emerged in the middle of Oxford Circus and I was excited, as I always am, by central London.I have lived fairly close to the capital all my life and have been fortunate enough to have been taken their plenty as a child, but I still feel like a tourist, pointing out the Thames, Westminster, red buses and Monopoly streets. I love to look at the buildings and ask the children their opinions - concrete and glass, art deco, Victorian red-brick. We spotted a statue of a bull on a balcony, a window cleaner precariously balanced and sculpture on the side of Oxford Street's John Lewis. We ate our lunch in the chilly spring sunshine - the first picnic of the year - and a good day was had by all. We thoroughly enjoyed the concert too!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

It's only a piece of paper

Tuesday evening sees me at my watercolour class. I am increasing in confidence and enjoyment and am beginning to think more about the style in which I paint rather than just hoping that my picture will be half-way decent.
We have just done a two-week project and were encouraged to sketch out our work first. Many of us joked that our drawings were better than we thought our paintings would turn out. One fellow student, an accomplished artist, did a beautiful charcoal sketch but was left with the feeling that, as she painted, she was not capturing the spirit of her drawing. Our tutor suggested a new technique - painting a colourful wash and then lifting out the paint with a rag to leave highlighted areas - which required both bravery and quick work. Not an easy combination. It was scary. "It's only a piece of paper," encouraged our teacher.
As the evening continued, I pondered this. Yes, it is only a piece of paper, it is only one evening and a few marks of paint. Why does it feel so much more? Why do I experience, as my fellow student clearly was, feelings of nervousness, even fear, when I embark on a painting? More than a piece of paper, it is an investment of my heart; it is venturing out into something new, where failure is a real and present danger and open for all to see. It is taking an infant idea, vulnerable and fragile, and trying to work it out in concrete form with limited skill, exposed to potentially critical eyes.
I have had the joy of watching three human beings learn to walk. It was not something I tried to teach them or even encouraged them to do: it is inherent in our nature that we will stand, and walk and run and even, one day, hop. All three of my children have consciously and without outside suggestion taught themselves to hop, beginning with jumping and moving on to holding on to door frames. They have all proudly shown me their attempts with no fear of my criticism and I have responded with delight and enthusiasm and never once pointed out that hopping is supposed to be on one leg. And they all hop pretty good now!
When did I become so afraid of failure that putting paint on paper is a nerve-wracking experience?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Sometimes, when maths is getting you down, you need to lie in the spring sunshine with someone who loves you.

Monday, 14 February 2011

What am I like?

I was lucky enough to have some time out to visit the Fountain Gallery last week. Inspired by my tutor's comments on observing what I liked and didn't in order to give me insight into my own germinating artistic style, I studied myself and the pictures carefully, noticing those reactions of 'love it,' and 'hate it'. Those I loved, I spent a bit of time with: what did I like? What spoke to me? What drew me in? Undoubtedly I like bright colours and big, bold images, but the most striking was a watercolour portrait, intimate and loving, carefully observed, with delicate blue eyes. Close to it was no more than splodges of colour, laid one over the other, with rough patches of untouched paper. Style and skill I can only dream of.
Enjoying a cappuccino afterwards, I began to contemplate what it is I like in a more general sense. What makes me me, and separate from others? How am I defined by what I love and what I hate? Separation and difference unnerve me a little, but here are some differences between me and others that I feel certain and sure of.

I love wearing my jeans but I hate wearing tights.
I love running but I hate team sports. (Too much pressure.)
I love delis but I hate supermarkets. (Rabbit-in-the-headlights, my children and friends know better than to expect me to go in one.)
I love George Michael but I can't stand Sting. (Sorry, darling!)
I love watercolour paintings, but unless it's in a major gallery, I really don't like oils.
I love 'Fox in Socks' but have never really enjoyed 'Where the Wild Things Are.'
I love Clive Owen but can't stand the sight of Richard Hammond, to the extent that I feel the need to point this out to my husband every time he appears on the small screen.
I love the Pre-Raphaelites but don't really like Picasso.
I love e-mail and text but just don't do, or get, Facebook.
I love avocado, prawn crackers, noodles and Toblerone but I can't bear banana cake, beetroot or chocolate oranges.

And all of these things tell me a little more about who I am.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

500 posts!

This is my 500th post. I started this blog in response to Julia Cameron's, The Artist's Way and being posed the question, what would I do if it didn't have to be perfect? Somtimes I've loved blogging and sometimes I've hated it. I've found it a source of inspiration and of pressure. It's been a way of making friends and keeping in touch with friends. A way of reflecting on my days and voicing my thoughts. I've learned that uncomfortable weight of thinking that it's time I blogged but I don't have anything to say. I have worried that I am too upbeat and it reads like the worst kind of Christmas newsletter, full of how brilliant my children are, and yet that it might be litany of depression, fear and anxiety. I've blogged every day for month, and also taken a stretch of time "off' when it became one burden too many.
I wanted to prepare and write something special for this milestone, but, as I am learning is the case, life does not follow my timetable and when I try to force specialness it is false or strained and yet moments occur of beauty and joy without my intention.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


Transition is a recognised stage of labour. It's the bit in between getting the body ready for the baby to begin its journey and the baby making its way out. Nothing particular happens, but it is the time when mums-to-be decided they don't want to do it any more. I remember feeling just like that in labour with my daughter: I'm done, I told my birth supporter, and I don't want to play anymore. Wise woman and NCT teacher that she is, she smiled and told me that it was just transition. It was such a relief to hear; I wasn't going mad, it wasn't going all wrong and these feelings I had were normal and recognised. It was just that uncomfortable stage between one thing and another, and no matter how much I want the new thing, transition is not a nice place to be.
It feels as if a lot of things are changing in my life right now: I am waiting on council approval for major work on our house which will lead to a change in our family situation; my step-father is elderly, frail and unwell; my dog is a boisterous puppy still learning to be obedient; my children constantly grow and change and our current home-ed strategy isn't currently working for me; last year's annuals are still standing dead in the garden and this year's weeds are already beginning to grow as winter turns to spring. I am uncomfortable. I am very much excited about all that the summer promises, however, there is a lot to get through before it is a reality. But it helps to know that it's just transition, it's known to be uncomfortable and a new life is being birthed.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

To much pi

My parents-in-law often send me pictures or funnies which they think will amuse the children. The last they sent was a list of puns, "Strictly for Lexophiles", and it has certainly amused me! I have printed it off and read a few to the children each day at breakfast. They usually take a little explaining to the younger two, but my word-smith eldest smiles with inside knowledge. I love the complexity and beauty of language, the precision of the right word, the surprise of a pun and I delight in those snappy advertising lines with a double meaning. These puns have led to lively discussions on how words can be both noun and verb: Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana, and common sayings: A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion, and today we got onto some maths: The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference, who acquired his size from too much pi. A chat ensued about ratios, circles and the value of pi, recalled from counting the letters in the phrase "How I wish I could remember pi," (3.141592.) And all this before 8:20am!
My favourite, though, is when a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Bookham 10k

I ran the Bookham 10k yesterday: six-and-a-quarter miles of hilly, muddy, glorious Surrey countryside. The woods were autumnal, unless I looked closely underfoot and saw the green leaves poking through the fallen dead ones. My emotions were stirred up and my training has suffered with a run of bugs and I had my usual bout of pre-race, 'Why am I here, what am I doing this for?' wobbles. But I have set myself the 'intention' of re-running all last year's four races and this was the first one. I may not be at the peak of condition, but I can manage a 10k and it is a joy to be out in nature, running in the country and sharing with a couple of hundred other enthusiasts. I reassured myself that I had the afternoon to rest and company today if I needed more recovery time; I encouraged myself with the thought that there is little point in driving so far and paying to enter a race if I am going to hold back and I reminded myself that this is a very 'me' thing to do. Separate from myself as a wife, mother, friend or any other role I fulfill, running is just me and the air I breathe, my goals and my achievement. I "got my head in the game" and ran hard.
I think I did well: I was 9th lady in my age group and 25th lady overall. I completed it in 1 hour and 7 seconds, which compares well with the winning lady's result of 46:11 (did I mention the hills and the mud and the hills?) But I cannot get over the bugging fact that I don't have last year's time. I want to know if I did better. I tell myself that it shouldn't matter, that it doesn't matter, that I can be pleased with this year's achievement, but still I want to know. I want to have been faster.
There will come a time, and maybe it has already come, when I don't run faster than last year and I hope that I still find purpose and fun in the race and in the process of running. Running itself must be the goal, the purpose, the end in itself, otherwise the drive to achieve more will become and unbearable pressure and drain the all the fun.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Inspiring Stuff

I was recently sent a thought-provoking and inspiring clip by a friend of mine who also home educates. I sometimes feel a little isolated in my choices, a little different, a little on the edge. I have had three home-births and breastfed all my children for over a year, I home educate and have room in my mind for the possibility of a seven-day creation. All of these things have led me into some sticky conversations over the years. Those of you who know me personally will know that I am not shy in stating my opinions and that I sometimes get quite worked up about those things I feel passionate about. I am also not above occasionally "poking the ants' nest" out of sheer mischief.
While I am always more than happy to explain my choices and to hear the thoughts of others, I am frequently irritated by comments dismissing my attitude as naive, simplistic or poorly thought through. What I find refreshing about hearing something like the clip below is the sense it gives me of being somewhere on a spectrum, so that, while I can feel separated from the 'norm', I can know that there are plenty of other opinions out there between mine and this 'norm', and also opinions far more extreme than my own. These positions are not held out of sheer stubbornness or delusion, these are not people who believe in fairies, but have evidence to support what they say and can state their arguements with clarity and with passion.
The clip just over twenty-one minutes, and if that is too long, jump in at 9:40 and watch for just two minutes. In this section, he tells the story of a world-wide community of children supporting each other in learning the electric guitar. No adults, no tutors, just the kids themselves. It's a scary example of what learners can be without any kind of teacher. It rocks my sense of needing to be in control.
This week I had put aside some time to work with my little girl on her sewing. I know nothing about sewing and don't like it much, but I wanted to help her to develop in an area she is excited about. After watching this clip, I sat her down with YouTube and found her some sewing films. And I left her to it. She has made her doll a skirt, a t-shirt and decorated them too. It's not much, but it's something and while she has learned more textile techniques, I have learned a little more about letting go.
I have deliberately posted this at the weekend so that you may, if you are interested, find twenty-one minutes, maybe with a cup of tea, to watch and listen. If you want to think more about our school system, if you are willing to be challenged just a little, and maybe disagree, then sit back, enjoy and marvel at the educational spectrum that is more than just schools. I for one, would love to dare to do less, to value more the engagement of my children and to see more "a-ha" moments and less "oh no."

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Oranges and Plums

I am continuing to enjoy my watercolour classes and to learn so much more than the techniques of painting.

This week I was discussing with my tutor a little, local textile exhibition I had been to see. I told her that I was struck by the strength of feeling that I had about some of the works displayed: some I really hated and some I loved. She told me that it was useful to try to analyse what I liked, what it was that I reacted to, as this would inform my own style and give me clues as to what it was I wanted to paint. I tend to have a default reaction that anything I like must be simplistic or kitsch and that the stuff I don't like must be more complex and worthy. It was challenging and refreshing to think that I could listen to my heart, that maybe my gut instinct was telling me something valuable, something about the self that I find so hard to get hold of.

Later, as I was bemoaning my attempt at painting fruit, another student reminded me that Tessa has been painting professionally for thirty years, how many hours and hours of painting has she done in that time? I, on the other hand, have done one-and-a-bit terms of two hours a week. It is small wonder that my skill is far less developed. He went on to tell me that he had been sorting out his own artwork and had come across many of his old paintings. He was pleased to see how much he had come on and, though he knew he was no where near the standard which he aspired to, he was much better than he used to be. He was happy to throw much of it away, content that he had progressed and did not need reminders of his early work. This made me think about the process. I will never paint as well as I would like and I will never paint as well as my tutor because, even if I wanted to, I will never have the hours to spend. But do I enjoy the process? Do I enjoy the experience of painting? Because if I am not enjoying it along the way, but am only trying to get to a destination that will inevitably ellude me, then I may as well stop now, as I am on a path which will only lead to disillusionment and discouragment. But if I am having fun along the way and enjoying the act and experience, then that is purpose enough.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


Today, February 2nd, is Candlemas. It is the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple when Simeon, who had been told by God that he would see the Messiah before he died, recognised the baby Jesus as the Light of the world and proclaimed him as such. Anna, an elderly widow, also got to meet the saviour of the world. How amazing it must be to be so touch with the Holy Spirit to recognise God in a tiny baby, one of countless passing through the Temple each day, and to speak out with fearless confidence.

"The wisdom of age, the years of stuggling and hurting and loving, the presenting of themselves regularly in the communal round of worship, the prayers of a lifetime - these are the experiences that enable Simeon and Anna to recognise God in Jesus and to have confidence in the safety and vulnerability of God's love."

Candlemas takes its name from the blessing of candles on this day for use in church throughout the coming year. To celebrate this, we made our own candles at home.

It was felt by the housewife of long ago that by 2nd February she shouldn't need to get up by candlelight any longer and that in the evening, supper would be had by firelight and the family would go early to bed. Wise time-keeping perhaps?
Candlemas day is also Groundhog Day and there is an old belief that hibernating animals would come out today to see if it is still winter. If they see their own shadows, because it is a sunny day, they will be scared and retreat: winter would continue. A cloudy day will not cause them to be frightened and there will be an early spring. Today has been overcast and there have been no shadows so hopefully all those sleepy badgers and hedgehogs have declared an end to winter's darkness and are ready for spring. I, for one, would certainly welcome the light after a gloomy few weeks.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011