Thursday, 31 March 2011


There's a certain look in my son's eye that he gets when he is upset with me but doesn't like to say so. Coupled with his exaggerated sniping at a no-more-than-usually annoying sister, I was pretty sure this indicated that something was up. He told me how hard everything was and how he was looking forward to next week, when his school-teacher-dad will be on holiday, and not having to do any work. I refrained from telling him that he didn't know he was born and that children who went to school worked much longer hours and then came home and worked some more (somehow, that never helps!) and inquired further as to what was up. Maths, it transpired, was up. We are preparing for the Junior Maths Challenge in May and, after he told me yesterday that working through past papers was going fine, I had told him to carry on. Apparently it was not going fine: he was stuck and couldn't do any more. Pausing only for a brief lecture on my inability to read minds, I told him I'd sit down and we'd do some together. We sorted out a few simple misunderstandings and careless errors and soon moved on to some simple geometry. This, I decided, was a good moment to introduce Pythagoras' Theorem. Serendipity indeed that my middle son was at that moment working on perimeters and needed to work out the length of triangle sides. So, I set them to drawing right-angle triangles, measuring, squaring, adding and square-rooting. Suddenly there was energy, enthusiasm and helpful brotherly explanations of what a square-root actually is. Triangles were drawn and tables completed. I suggested that, when they had done a few each, I had an extra idea for what they could do. "Oh, goody!" exclaimed my eldest. Was this the same child who had been telling me how much he disliked maths? That's what I love about how we do things. The opportunity for an individual approach, the opportunity to find out and sort out what's wrong and the learning that just happens when it all seems like fun.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011


We have just completed a second two-week project at my art class, this time on movement. Inspired by the previous week's subject of Degas, I chose dancers and these two images:
I began by sketching them both in pencil and then roughly painting copies. Last week was cancelled so I used the time to try a couple more rough versions, but was increasingly unhappy and even bored by the picture. At class last night, I steeled myself to paint one, final version, incorporating all that I had learned:

My tutor worked her way round gradually and by the time she got to me I was almost done. She was not impressed. I can tell it's not good when she says that my rough sketches were more successful! She then took a paintbrush and suggested I try something more like 'this', and in two minutes created a fluid and dynamic figure on the page. Disheartened, I added strong lines and sweeping brush strokes to my rigid and inexpert copy and, encouraged by her comments of "That's more like it," felt a little better about my efforts.With less than half-an-hour left, I decided to have one more go, drawing with my brush and 'painting from the shoulder' :

It took me about five minutes. It felt as if all the hours, probably four in total, of struggling with these images had been wasted approaching them from completely the wrong angle. I had managed to paint something really quite good in just five minutes. No, my teacher corrected me, it had taken all four hours plus five minutes because I had to get to the point where I had learned what I needed to know to paint like this. I wonder what else in life feels like a waste but is actually getting me to the place I need to be to create the thing I need to create?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Tea with Friends

It is a lovely thing to share something which is means something to us. Poetry tea has long been a corner-stone of our home education and it was special yesterday to welcome Lucinda and her children, one of whom joined the home ed world only in January, for tea and cakes and favourite poems. Lucinda brought the sequel to Marriott's Edgar's "Albert and the Lion", which was a joy to me as I didn't know there was one and Albert and his Lion are old friends of ours. I dug out Jim while we were on the subject of lions eating children (I was assured that our guests would not find it too gruesome) and we finished off with "The King's Breakfast". All the children read aloud, ate cake and drank tea and it was a very civilised affair.

It doesn't look much like school and it certainly doesn't feel much like school and I can't imagine what the lesson plan would look like, but as we reflected together, as the children bounced on the trampoline, we could list so many of the benefits. We have "covered" home economics, socialization (learning about sitting at the table and taking turns), socializing (having friends over), learning to read as our new readers follow the words of familiar poems, reading aloud in front of an audience, literature and ideas, (we have touched on World War I recently and Albert's Dad taught us about life insurance). All this in a warm and loving environment - and cake! What more could we want?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Dynamic Assessment

It's been a day for rearranging. I rang the council to see how our planning permission applications is coming along to be told that they have no record of it - it never arrived. And it will take eight weeks to process. The builder originally assured me that it would be a 48 hour turn around and they have already begun work. It's not that it's illegal, just that it if we don't get permission, we will have to rethink the whole project. However, on searching the council's web-site to download new forms, I discover that we may not need planning permission after all and now we are waiting for a response to to our query. Having spent quite a while dealing with this in the morning, my carefully planned and dove-tailed day was beyond rescue and a new plan needed to be created. Back to my to-do list and timetable to establish absolute priorities and what could wait. Somehow though, it's always the children's day-to-day education that seems to end up waiting and I spiral into panic that they won't get jobs and will end up homeless because on this day we didn't do half an hour of maths. A weekend booked to walk a section of the North Downs Way had been changed to a weekend in Wales and is now a weekend in the Peak District. Things change. Sometimes it feels as if there isn't even a moment to stop and figure out what is important. Still, today, cup-cakes got made in time for visitors, dinner is in the oven and the dog is asleep suggesting that she has had enough exercise so it can't be all bad. I am increasingly aware of my inability to discern what I really want before the point where I am disappointed that I haven't got it. What is the hurry with our building project? What are my priorities in a day, in a week, in my children's education? Do I mind where I walk or where I sleep when I'm away? In all of these shifting plans, the thread is being with the people I love. As long as there is space for her to sleep, it is not problem if the garage is not converted before my best friend comes to live with us. As long as they are learning and happy and relationships are in tact, it doesn't matter if the children haven't done today's maths or have yet to finish a writing project. As long as I am relaxed enough to enjoy their visit, it doesn't matter if there is not a table-cloth and candle out to welcome our friends to share tea and poetry. As long as we are having fun, are outdoors and away from suburbia, enjoying our time together and experiencing a challenge, I don't much care where I go walking in April. But I do care when I miss the opportunity to connect with my child, or with a friend; when the day-to-day stresses overshadow the moments of joy and laughter; when all I can see is the next load of washing up and I lose sight of the amazing people I share my life with.

Friday, 25 March 2011

A Friend to Play

My little girl had a friend round to play this morning. His mum brought him over and we took him along to Home Ed group for her to collect. They spent most of their time, along with my middle son and the dog, in the garden doing something with an old dustbin lid, garden canes and the children's plastic chairs. It looked like a siege and certainly seemed to take a lot of enercy and concentration. It also looked a lot of fun! My daughter is seven, this lad is nine and my son is ten. In a school environment they would be unlikely to meet, let alone play together and I don't think the boy/girl mix is the done thing in the playground. Many people ask me about the social side of home ed, and I do worry that my children have a smaller pool of children to fish for friends from, but when I see them playing as they were this morning, I figure we are doing ok. Pretty well even.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Another 13.1?

It's a tough choice. I'd like to set myself a challenge, but not one which will take over my life. I want to do something satisfyingly hard, but not crazy. I've just done a half-marathon in my best time ever and, despite still feeling exhausted, I'm keen to build on my good running form. It was suggested to me, while I sat in the car swigging water less than an hour after I finished on Sunday, that it might be an idea to train for a marathon. Well, it's certainly an idea, but is it a crazy one?
My intention this year was to run the same four races I did last year. I have completed two and entered the third, so my thoughts are turning to the winter. Last year I ran the Hog's Back, which was fun, but only 8.2 miles. A reasonable distance, but something and nothing, not a distance which can easily be compared with any other. The year before I did a 10 miler. A very hilly 10 miler. But it was a long way from home, and there is always a point at which I wonder why I am in the car longer than I am running, when I could run the same distance from my front-door and be home for breakfast. Both of these have the advantage, though, of a previous time to compare this year's with.
I've found a half marathon just over an hour away, mostly canal paths, which looks a good option. But then, there is the Greensand Marathon. Not just a marathon, but a marathon with a vertical mile of ascent and descent. Not just a marathon, but a marathon with a quarter-way cut-off point of 70 minutes, which doesn't sound too bad until you remember the vertical mile. And the fact that it's all off road. I won't be able to move for a week afterwards. At least. I won't educate my children much for a week afterwards - unless setting a role model of setting challenging goals counts as education. It's expensive, but it's close to home, and somehow, when it's an option on the table, everything else sounds just a little bit tame. So, it's an idea. But is it a crazy one?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


I have my mobile phone back. It doesn't seem to be charging up any better than before I took it in to be fixed, dropped the loan phone in water and was told I would be charged £50 for not returning it in good condition.
It's been a learning experience and here are some of the lessons:

1) Don't drop a phone in water, it damages the phone.
2) If you do, don't try and turn it on, this may well be what causes the damage.
3) Open the phone, take out the battery and SIM card and put everything else in a bowl of dry rice. It didn't help me at all, but apparently it can help. At least I felt I was doing something.
4) It is worth complaining. A very nice lady from T-Mobile called me in response to my letter explaining that I thought charging me £50 to replace a phone I could buy for £25 on-line was unreasonable and extortionate. She said she would credit my account with £25. And she thanked me for writing. You're welcome!
5) I am far more attached to my phone than I realised. Very few people call me, or text me. In fact, it is mostly my best friend. I have set the phone to ring a different tone if it's her calling, but as it nearly always it, I don't really need it. But I like it. In fact, I really like my phone. I'm glad I've got it back!

Monday, 21 March 2011


Strangely, my neck hurts. My legs hurt too, but I was expecting that. I am irritable, tired and a little dehydrated; all of that is normal. But my neck? I think it's all the down-hills. I ran Hastings Half Marathon yesterday on a sunny seaside day, with a pleasant breeze and huge crowd support. The first five miles are largely up-hill, with the stretch from around three to just after five one long, steady climb. Consequently, there are some pretty steep down-hills in the second half, before the last three miles from one end of the sea-front to the other. It's a great race and one I've enjoyed for the last three years. I was dead chuffed to have taken almost eight minutes off last year's time, which was three minutes quicker than 2009. My running seems to have come together this year. I have reached a place where I am happy with how much I run, why I run, whether or not I want to race and how hard to push myself. It was one of my 'intentions' this year, to run the same four races that I did last year, and it was one of my priorites this half-term to prepare for Hastings. As an approach, it seems to have worked. I am trying to take it as easy as possible today and I am not requiring much from the children. My son tells me that is a reason he likes me racing. Me? I enjoy the chance to bask in the glow of achievement and to have every excuse to eat more cake and chocolate!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Classical Spectacular

It was a shame that the cannons made her cry. Everything had been going well up until then and I had assured her that the big guns would not be too loud. But they were loud and unexpected and she ran from our box. And despite bravely trying not to, burst into tears when I went outside to find her. The 1812 Overture is so exciting and I love the cannons, and the lasers and fireworks, but it was all a bit much for my seven-year-old and we listened to the rest from the corridor. The Can-can finale restored her excitement and we left the Royal Albert Hall deciding which was our favourite piece of music. It wasn't an easy choice as, at the schools' performance of Classical Spectacular, we had heard Mars, Pomp and Cirmcumstance, Bolero, Saint-Saen's Organ concerto, the Blue Danube and more. I think I liked the theme from 2001:a Space Odyessy the best, with the perfectly timed laser show and the lighting rig rising from the auditorium like a UFO. Not the quietest or most refined audience, the 6,000 children cheered and clapped and danced along and it was a great afternoon.
As a home educator, I have always got box seats at the Albert Hall's schools' events because of the high ratio of adults to children: I am one mum with three children. In fact the Second Tier was full of home educating families and a glance around showed me many friendly faces. In the next box but one was a neighbour and we popped into the corridor for a chat and she introducde me to her husband and eldest son. Right across the Hall, so far that I had to squint to recognise the face next to the waving arm, was another friend. It always feels good to be reminded that I am part of a large and lively community of families with many shared values. I am not an odd-ball, and I am not on my own.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


Poor delivery man - he picked the wrong day to tangle with me. We have our groceries delivered on a Wednesday at 5pm. I am out and it is my husband's job to receive them and put them away. Quite often the Tesco van pulls up a little early and I end up hurriedly stashing the frozen goods in the freezer before I leave the house. Yesterday, the phone rang at 4:20, the van was round the corner, could he drop the bags off early? Now I know from talking to these guys that they are under tight time controls and getting ahead is really helpful. But I also had two tearful children, an unfinished painting on the table and fresh tea in the pot. I did not want to give up the minutes it would take to unload the crates, unpack the bags and deal with the chilled food. I wanted this time for myself and for my children. I felt guilty, I felt bad, I felt uncomfortable, but I managed to say 'no'. I was pretty pleased with myself, a baby step in establishing my boundaries.
I was incensed when the driver pulled up five minutes before five o'clock. When he rang on the door-bell I pointed out that he was early, that I booked a delivery slot that was convenient to me and this wasn't it. He mumbled something about his watch being fast. We unloaded all the goods and, as I signed his electronic machine, I noticed that it stated quite clearly the time as 16:57. I pointed this out to the driver too.
I don't find boundaries easy to establish or maintain and, as I read Townsend and Cloud's "Boundaries" for the second time, I am beginning to learn where and how I can build them. It wasn't a big deal really, the Tesco man coming early, but it felt like a violation of crucial principle. I had said 'no' and it had not been listened too. The disproportionate anger I felt at this over-stepping tells me how new and raw this issue is for me, how precious my 'no' is and how I am beginning to grasp that my time is my own to give away as I choose, not as is demanded of me.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

One more hour

Ask pretty much anyone how they are and the response is, "busy." Frequently, quips are made about needing extra hours in our day, or days in our week. The world abounds with tips on how to make more use of the time we have, how to manage our time better and how to get more done. Thinking in terms of a 168 hour week will help, apparently. I like the idea of looking at my week as a whole, and looking at what I achieve over this time period rather than the smaller and more variable chunks of days. But it does have to be accepted that there is a finite amount of time in a week, in a year, in our lives, and we do actually need to sleep! On the blog that accompanies "168 Hours - You have more time than you think" the author suggests 10 ways to claw back the hour lost to the recent US change in the clocks. I guess these could be applied to any week as ways to gain more time.
However, I was uninspired. As I look down the list, I laugh out loud at the idea of spending less time on my "personal care routine" (point 8) - any less time spent and I would be smelly and unhygenic! Similarly, I would be hard pushed to lower my housekeeping standards (point 5) without actually being able to grow fruit and veg in my carpet and we eat leftovers plenty (point 3). I have to cook sometimes otherwise there would be nothing to be left over. Things do have home in my house, but much time is taken reminding the other members of my family to put things back. And I do work from home so my only commute is from bedroom to kitchen.
Every list I see of tips to save time suggests watching less tv and I am tempted to agree. I do not imagine at the end of my life wishing that I had watched more American sit-coms, but there are hours, evenings, when I am really too tired to do much else. I would love to read worthy literature, hold erudite conversations with my husband, paint a masterpiece or even complete a jigsaw, but I'm wiped out and want to lie on the sofa, cuddle my dog and watch old episodes of "Frasier". I don't think we can make every hour count, fill each moment with something useful. I think we all need some time to just be, not in a deeply spiritual and meditative sense, but in a drifting along and feeling dozy kind of way. Otherwise we'd just be busy or asleep. And maybe these moments are valuable, these 'wasted' moments reading a friend's blog, texting a silly message, sipping a coffee, tickling a puppy's tummy. For it is in these moments that we are reminded that "our worth is not the same as our usefulness." (Nouwen)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Long Drop

Convex tummy of a seven-year-old, fuschia pink swimming costume, she walks on the to the diving board with a self-consciously proud air. She knows I'm watching. She is concentrating too hard to wave. She passes the end of the hand-rail and pauses for a heart-beat; continues, just a little more slowly. Her fearless big brother has just jumped, full of strength and without a doubt. She wants to do it too. She stops at the end and my eyes don't leave her. She looks at her feet, remembering what her teacher has told her about pointing her toes, and then jumps. She falls, for three, long metres, and splashes without grace into the water.
She is a fountain of pleasure when I collect her from the pool-side. Did I see? It was so exciting! She dived off the board! Wasn't she brave?
It doesn't seem so long ago that I had to hold her with two hands in the bath. She is growing up.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Mobile Woes

The connector on my mobile phone has been playing up.It can take all night to charge and I can't listen to music while I run any more because the regular movement dislodges the headphones. On Saturday, my husband kindly took it to our local store to be fixed, but they were unable to accept the phone from him and so he came home with it. On Monday, I dropped it off myself and was told there was only a 50/50 chance of it being reparable and I came away with a courtesy hand-set. I am not getting on well with this model and texting has become a painful and laborious procedure, accompanied by much cursing. Today, I dropped the phone and it has sustained 'liquid damage'. It is broken. Its little screen lights up but nothing else happens, there is no-one home. I rang the shop to find out what I should do: could I return it, pay for the damage and pick up another one? No - he cannot issue two phones on the same account: giving this one back didn't seem to figure. My only option is to buy their cheapest pay-as-you-go phone, at £17:99. Oh, and pay £50 to replace the broken one! £50! His best advice was to put the wet one in a bowl of rice in the airing cupboard and hope it dried out. The mobile phone repair company I spoke to were going to charge me £20 to inspect the phone and then, if they could sort it out, another £20 to mend it.
So, now I am phone-less and £50 down. I can't put my SIM in my husband's phone, or either of the two extra hand-sets we have because they are 'network locked'. I can't use either of the other SIM cards we have knocking around, presumably because the numbers have not been used for so long.
When did I become a person who had spare SIM cards, two spare hand-sets and feels anxious at the thought of being without a phone?
How do I become a person who trusts in her Father's provision for her every need and doesn't stress about £50, knowing that I have never lacked for anything and won't be in want because I have this unexpected, and unwelcome, expense?

The phone is showing more signs of life after its day in a rice-spa, so, although it is not fully functioning, I have a seedling of hope. But when I found a packet of silica beads which I thought I might put close to the phone, to help the drying-out along, the dog found it. And ate it, just to add to what I have found a very trying day, and I had to call the vets to make sure that she wouldn't shrivel up like a prune, desiccated from the inside out. (She'll be fine!) I think it's time I brewed some camomile tea and, now the heating has come on for the evening, let the airing cupboard work its gentle magic. And perhaps I'll just check my e-mails ...

Thursday, 10 March 2011

More things I love

I love the fact that my eldest, who is not the best of friends with maths, comes to me to tell me it's possible to make a triangle of odd numbers, where each consecutive line adds up to a cube in sequence, (1, 8, 27 ...) and the central number of each line in a square. It's not often I see his eyes light up about maths!
I love the fact that my middle son can tell me all sorts of facts about First World War tanks, gleaned from books and many visits to the Tank Museum in Dorset, and that we can work together on his writing skills while indulging his love of all things armoured vehicle.
I love the fact that I can share a table with my daughter while we paint watercolours together, and she paints herself and her brother "asleep under the stars", a hoped for treat this summer.
I love days like today where we touch all the "school-y subjects", like maths, english, history, art and geography, and it all feels like fun, and I still have time to spend over an hour on the phone to my best friend while the children play in the garden. This is what I want it to be like, more days like today.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011


I love the fact that when, needing change for the car park, I pop in to Waitrose and buy a cake, my daughter instantly suggests that we read poems when we eat it. Poetry tea is such an ingrained part of our life-style. I love the fact that she read aloud her first non-rehearsed poem today, a page-and-a-half long: an old favourite so the words are familiar, but still, for this newly emerging reader, a triumph. I love the fact that both sons also choose old favourites, humorous poems read with inflection, enthusiasm and laughter. I love the fact that I can read World War I poetry to them, and they can listen, and be shocked, and understand something of the passion and pain of young men on the front line, another aspect to our loose literary study of war in preparation for a visit to the Imperial War Museum's new exhibition. I love poetry tea time.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


It is time to celebrate another festival, this time Shrove Tuesday. We have pancakes fairly often as a celebration breakfast and it is my husband, or sometimes my best friend, who wield whisk and frying pan. They both make delicious pancakes, of which I am an eager consumer, and so I have never had call to make batter before. Today, my husband will not be in from work in time to make the batter and let it stand, which he tells me he likes it to do, even though I noticed in the recipe it said quite clearly, in italics, that this batter did not need to stand. Never having been in charge of the batter before, I bow to his wisdom and preferred way and so I have just finished whisking eggs and flour and milk. All we await now is his genius with the frying pan. Usually Shrove Tuesday creeps up and surprises me, quite often we miss it altogether and I find myself tumbling in to Lent without thought and arrive at Easter unprepared. This year is different, largely due to my New Year's Intentions. Pancake Day is my selected festival for March and so figured earlier than usual in my planning. And this brought Lent to mind. I had one idea to mark Lent out as different (other than my usual fast from pickled beetroot, banana cake and chocolate oranges) but then I was asked to prepare a piece of writing for Holy Week and this seemed a good focus instead. I will put a little time aside daily to write and this will draw my thoughts, heart and soul towards the Easter story.
It also serves as a timely reminder to revisit my intentions and see how I'm doing.
Bookham 10k is done and Hastings Half-Marathon is in 12 days time. Training is going well and I got a personal best at my regular 5k the week before last so I'm feeling good. And I have completed 69 of these 5ks, creeping towards my goal of 100 and the prize of a black T-shirt. My mother-in-law received a hand-painted card last week and I have another upstairs ready for a birthday next week. Plans for the North Downs Way are ready to kick off on 3rd April and, of course, I am celebrating March's festival today.
Over my husband's half-term holiday and this weekend I was able to catch up with four girl-friends whom I have not seen much of in recent months. I put in future dates with a couple and am working on it with the other two. I am trying to be more mindful of these relationships and at least contact by text or e-mail more frequently, little stitches in the tapestry of relationship.
The crowning glory for me was meeting up with my first-cousin-once-removed last weekend. For those of you who don't have a handy little chart to look these things up on, a first-cousin-once-removed is a parent's cousin, in this case my dad's. He remembered me from my grandmother's funeral but I had no recollection of him. I remembered his dad well though, both from experience and family stories. We spent a pleasant hour or so talking of relatives, drinking tea and sharing photos. I was even invited to a family barbeque. I have found it deeply grounding and surprisingly emotional to discover and meet my cousins and aunt and uncle in thes last couple of years, people I didn't know existed, to learn more family history from my maternal uncle and to begin to see my place in a complex web of human beings, and that I am not just the product of my nuclear family.
All in all, I think it's going pretty well.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Days that don't fit

Some days just don't fit: like a too-tight pair of jeans, they squeeze in all the wrong places and dig in uncomfortably. Nothing feels quite right and I know that I am no fun to be around. I find myself telling the children that I won't help them, complaining excessively at minor, or even non-existent, misdemeanours and getting cross at their needs because they don't feel as overwhelming as mine. It's days like this when the home-ed demons are out in force and the voice of rationality becomes a hoarse whisper. Suddenly, rearranging equations seems of future-affecting importance. It is vital that it is grasped this morning, right now, so that we don't get behind, fail to cover the maths curriculum and therefore are unable to sit GCSE Maths. University prospects are threatened and, consequently all hope of ever gaining employment, living a fulfilled life and earning enough money to hold body and soul together. So, in this crazy thought pattern, the verbal bullying, the impatience and the frustration are inevitable and unchangeable. The warmth and love in my relationships takes a hit, and my son's self-confidence, or, at the very least, his maths-confidence, plummets.
It's not easy being the adult when the explosive toddler is within. But I did manage to peel myself from the chair, leave him with an easy puzzle and take myself to a different room and persuade myself that this topic could be re-visited when I am in a better frame of mind. I am learning to leave it be when it's all getting too much and I am learning to celebrate my growth instead of re-hashing my failures. And if my son can see that modelled in me as I grow up, perhaps that will be more useful in his future life than being able to rearrange an equation.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Death is the only deadline

In what I hope is becoming a habit, I went to the Fountain Gallery yesterday to see the new exhibition. It was a stunning collection of pen and colour works of flowers and bridges, the colour being a mixture of crayon and watercolour and collage and gold-leaf. The flowers were eye-catching but it was the bridges which drew me. Still holding on to the idea of searching for what it is I like, what my style might be, a little insight into myself, I spent a long time studying them closely. If I had money to spare, this is the one I would have bought:

I love the curves, the shapes and negative spaces, the weightiness of the pillar and the lightness of the suspension and the swooping birds and I love the colour. The artist has completed a whole series of bridge paintings, each taking a couple of days, some painted in situ and some in the studio if she had been 'chased away by the weather'. I spent some time speaking with her, reluctantly agreeing that I, too, was a student of art. She told me of her sketch books from her college days, in the Sixties, and how she looked back at how complicated she had made each picture, how she had tried to capture everything about a scene or object. She said that she had learned to pick and choose what she included.
Fifty years of art! Perhaps, when I am ninety, I will have a style as skilled and unique. You go on, she said, until you find your voice, and then you use your voice to say what you want, or to sing: death is the only deadline.
I left inspired. I have so much more time than I imagine to discover and grow my artistic self: although I did not see myself as creative in my teens and twenties, it is not too late for me now to find my unique style, my voice. And this is true in a wider sense: approaching 40 is making me reflective and it is tempting to envy those who seem to still be in a place of so much choice but I am increasingly seeing the time available to me and the choices open to me. I do not have to include everything, I can pick and choose. I am beginning to whisper in a new voice and to grasp that, indeed, death is my only deadline.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

High Adrenaline Art

Tuesday's watercolour class saw us doing quick sketches of each other. While one class member sat on a chair on a plinth, the rest of us were given a strict time limit, varying from six to ten minutes, to draw and paint the model. It was the kind of exercise where I just had to jump in, there was no time to think or obsess about exactly where to put the first mark. With our teacher urging us on, it felt like we had only moments to draw before being told we should be painting by now. It called for confident and daring decisions, the ultimate in trusting that "it's only a piece of paper". My heart rate was high and my thinking quick; having arrived at class tired after a long day, I found myself excited and energized. I did the first couple in water-soluble pencil and I was moderately pleased with them. For the next two I used my fibre-tip pen. This is a high risk strategy: the pen is thick and dark and there is no way of hiding a badly placed stroke. As my tutor said, it is a fierce pen. But I love it. I love its definition and clarity, I love the boldness of its line. For the next one I tried charcoal which I found unpleasant to use, and for the last we were challenged to only use paint, no outline, no sketch. This makes it hard to create shape and light. Mine wasn't very successful but those who were demonstrated how beautiful this could be.
It was my two pen portraits which I was most proud of: There is much about them that could be improved, not least the proportions, but I love the overall effect. In my search for style, I think I could be one step closer. And my teacher even used the word "brilliant." I find it hard to hold on to compliments, but this one I heard and let myself enjoy.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Proud Owner

I arrived at our usual Tuesday puppy class yesterday to be told that we would have a run through of the Bronze Award which Coco has been working for. It came as a bit of a surprise, especially when I was told that Scooby, Coco's classmate, had had a run through last week when we were away and had passed. Oh, so a run through with some significance, then? Instead of our usual teacher, her colleague led us through the various tests, and Coco came to me when called, stayed in place for a minute, let me groom and examine her, waited while I went through a door first and walked, just about, to heel. So we were very pleased to receive her Bronze Award, a certificate and green and white rosette.
It's been hard work having a puppy, much harder than I had anticipated, but it is rewarding to see her obedience and control and to have worked with her, building up our relationship. I am a proud dog owner and she is a very good dog!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Another routine

Schools went back yesterday after the half-term break, my husband returned to work and the children and I started another routine. Somehow, this academic year, nothing has seemed to work quite right. We have tried strict timetable, which meant we got a lot 'done' but there was a lot of chivvying, even shouting, and a sense of always being 'behind'. We tried going autonomous, well, a bit anyway, and my eldest thoroughly enjoyed National Novel Writing Month, but somehow not much else seemed to happen. So we went back to timetables, and back to the stress and it became clear to me that this is not what I want in my home, in my life. So I have pared it back, which I find quite frightening. But the simple truth is that if I am to foster the atmosphere and relationships in this home which I value, which I want the children to experience, which I believe will nurture the sense of self which will lead them to success at life, then I need to do less. In fact, in typing that, I am reminded of some words I have stuck above my computer screen. I printed them from someone else's blog, but whose I have no recollection, and laminated them. They are dusty and ignored through over-familiarity, but they speak to where I am :

Almost all of my successes in life have come because I do less than other people, not more.

My productivity goes up as my distractions go down.

Less is better. Little things done daily are better than grand plans.

If I am honest with myself, something I increasingly realise I am not always and am trying to be more, I realise that I know what works. It's just that it doesn't look like much, not much gets written down, and it doesn't feel like much when other parents reel off the list of subjects and extra-curricular activities which their children take part in.
Reading aloud works. We all enjoy it, it is relaxed and fun and includes us all - even the dog - and leads to endless conversations and connections.
Poetry tea works. Again, we enjoy it, we are together, the children and I laugh, and I even sometimes cry, and they re-visit old friends and experiment with new poems and they all read aloud and with no pressure. Often we have guests and it is always a delight to share this special, weekly treat.
My eldest loves to read and to write and to model, my middle son loves to build and to watch documentaries, my little girl loves to create and left to their own devices, very little time gets 'wasted'. The longer I home educate, the more I want to be able to be brave and to dare to do less. I will only get this one chance.