Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Great Grandfather

Ron was a good deal older than my mother, and in this picture of him holding my baby daughter he is 87. His eldest great-grandchild was born just six weeks after my little girl. My children all remember riding on his back around the living room and snuggling up close to him as he read them Mr Men books. Friday is his funeral and we are travelling down today to help my mum prepare. We will return home late on Friday, pack up the car on Saturday morning and head north, to Swaledale, for two week's peace, quiet, rest and relaxation.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Twelve Today!

My eldest child is twelve today. He is a responsible, funny, witty, imaginative, creative, caring, sensitive and trustworthy young man. He is good company, with a passion for words, animation, manga and Dr Who. He is very much his own person and I am proud of his individuality. His presents reflect his character: a "cool dude" mug, manga pens, puzzles, a hard-back, beautifully bound copy of "On the Origin of Species".
Another milestone on the road of parenting.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Dr Who

Dr Who is a big character in my house. I lost interest when David Tennant regenerated, but my two son's have deepened and extended their passion, pored over many books, watched numerous clips on the internet and hold obscure conversations about particular episodes and the finer points of alien species. As his twelfth birthday is tomorrow, my son's present from grandma was tickets to the Dr Who Experience in London and we headed up into town today.
Despite the humid and sapping heat excitement levels were high and the exhibition lived up to all expectations. The interactive experience to begin with thrilled the children and caused just enough terror to bring them all close to my side but not enough to result in tears. The display brought exclamations of delight as we saw the costumes of all eleven Doctors, two TARDIS consoles, Daleks, Cybermen and Slytherines and more.
It was amazing to see my eldest so excited and passionate and I was reminded again of the need to engage with what interests my children, rather than trying to interest them in what I think is worthy; to enter into their worlds and to see life through their eyes.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Big Brother

My big brother flew in from the States on Saturday to be alongside my mother in her bereavement. It was good to see him and we both valued his support. He's working at his UK office today and stopped by yesterday evening for a bed for the night and, with a couple of friends, we headed to the rock wall and climbed. It was great fun: my arms still feel weak this morning and I've a couple of bruises, but I'm smiling. It's a long time since I taken part in any kind of activity with my brother: we both left home when we went to university and haven't spent much time together since, he's been in the US now for over 15 years. It's not always easy keeping up a transatlantic relationship but in recent years we have begun to get to know each other better. As I hung on the end of a rope, 20 feet off the ground, and he lowered me carefully down, it felt like a new place of trust and friendship. I even offered him some of my chocolate in the car on the way home. Now that wouldn't have happened thirty years ago!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

What have we achieved?

It's coming up to the end of term and I am beginning to review what we have done this year, what has worked well and what has not. I start out feeling that we've not done much but, little by little, begin to see the full picture of all that has happened.
Sorting out my daughter's folder I found the list of 100 essential words that she needed to be able to read and could only manage a handful of in September. All 100, hardly a pause.
One of my goals this year was for my son to learn more poetry by heart but I have done nothing about making this happen. Asked if he knew any poems, he quickly recited a humorous but short verse. "But I can do something longer," he said, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? ..." Word perfect, a Shakespeare sonnet.
Job done I reckon.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


It was recently brought to my attention that I have tags for both the dog and the cat but none for our three gerbils. We bought the gerbils last summer on a trip to the pet shop to research the logistics of getting a rat for my eldest son. It quickly became apparent that the space necessary for a rat was beyond our ability, but a gerbil, well that might work. This quickly escalated to three gerbils, one for each child, and despite a my insistence on a trip home to check with dad, the decision had already crystallized. And so, Argentum, Hat-trick and Bumble came to live with us. All the children adore their little pets and they are regularly taken out to be cuddled. My eldest son loves to write poetry and although Jonathan is not one of ours, apparently he was inspired by Bumble:

A radical rodent is Jonathan Gerbil
He doesn't drink water, but tea that is herbal.
Will he eat seeds and vegetables? No!
He'll eat boiled eggs and asparagus though.
He will not chew tubes made out of cardboard,
But instead smokes a pipe like a small English Lord.
In spare time he rolls not in a plastic ball,
But visits his uncle, who's six inches tall!
He has all his fur, but on top of that,
He wears a frock coat and a splendid top hat.
If you went to a pet shop, he wouldn't be there.
He lives quite comfortably near Coventry Square.
(Though you won't find him there at this time of year:
He'll be visiting his cousins in West Bedfordshire.)
And though a gerbil should sleep in a cosy little nest,
A four poster bed suits Jonathan best.

Monday, 20 June 2011


In the early hours of Saturday morning, my step-father died. Friday was his ninety-sixth birthday and he had been well enough on the morning to listen to my mother read him the many messages of good-will that had been sent, but throughout the day he became progressively weaker and was struggling to breathe. By the evening, it was clear that he was in his last few hours.
He and my mother met at Whitsun thirteen years ago. He was eighty-three. They married just over a year later and have been very, very happy together. They have travelled the world on many fabulous holidays, my children have loved riding on his back around our living room and listening to him read Mr Men stories and I have learnt much from him on the art of gardening. He will be sadly missed but remembered with much love and thanks for all the blessings he brought to our lives.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Goodnight kisses

It's a wonderful thing to be a treat for someone. Last night I was lucky enough to kiss my god-son goodnight and he thanked God for my visit. His mum had only told him and his brother and sister that I was coming half-an-hour before my arrival and they were full of excitement to see me. I was enveloped in hugs, showered with stories and had fancy-dress costumes thrust at me for my amazement. I did not bring gifts, I was not going to take them out anywhere, they were just excited to see me and wanted to hug me. I do not have to worry about the million minute decisions that make up their lives in the way that I do with my own children and was free to enjoy their affection without concern for their bed-time.
Their reaction to me spoke deeply of my being loved just for being me. It is hard for me to hold on to these simple feelings in the midst of my own family life, my own tiredness and sense of responsibility, my own fears and failings. Last night helped me to see what those around me who love me and tell me that they love me, not for what I do but for just being me, really mean and, maybe, will help me experience that just a little bit more.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

We'll always have Paris

Way leads on to way, and that's what I love about those Home Ed moments. We all feel engaged, connections are made and I am sure what we encounter will be remembered.
In an effort to produce something on paper to show for this term I have had the children working on a short piece of writing. My middle son, still in a war phase, has written a succinct history of the beginning of World War II, my daughter has written about her doll and my eldest a dramatic tale of the three gerbil musketeers rescuing a pedigree spaniel from the clutches of a wicked cat. They exit the story singing La Marseillaise and we needed to check the spelling. Google threw up YouTube and so we listened and marvelled at quite how bloodthirsty the lyrics are, and tried our lips at learning a few phrases. One clip was a stirring moment from "Casablanca" as Rick leads the cafe clientele in drowning out the German Fatherland. We went on to look at a few more scenes from this classic film as we had only at lunchtime been discussing famous misquotes such as "play it again, Sam." I indulged in the farewell moment, "We'll always have Paris," and, wiping the tears from my eyes, left my younger two back with the French National Anthem and the French National football team, spotting players they knew.
Connections, life, emotion, home ed.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

It must be lovely being a dog!

Coco's life is not very complicated. If she sees a bee she chases it. She is not self-conscious and does not worry that she looks a bit daft, or that she has never yet caught one. When she loses interest, she sits in the sun, eyes closed, relaxing. She does not worry that she is wasting time or not achieving anything. When she hears the door, she hurries up to see who has come, fully expectant that it will be someone fun, who loves her and will tickle her or play with her. She does not worry that she ran away at puppy class or obsess about whether she could have performed better. She just is and she is happy. I could learn a lot from my dog!

Monday, 13 June 2011

What's the score?

Quit keeping score altogether and surrender yourself with all your sinfulness to God who sees neither the score nor the scorekeeper but only his child redeemed by Christ.
Thomas Merton
I was once told that I am not agile. This caught in my mind like a fish hook and is repeated in my head every time I climb over a stile or skitter down a steep path. Walking the North Downs Way has provided plenty of opportunities for me to trip up and I do, frequently. I am always rather pleased when my best friend and walking companion stumbles and I keep a running total in my head of who has tripped the most. It's not loving, or helpful, but it happens nonetheless and I tend to feel better if I am winning - or at least not losing too badly.
I keep score with most things in my life - how often I shout at the children, how often I snap at my husband, how often I am brusque instead of offering a kind word and, again, I tend to feel better if I am winning - or at least not losing too badly.
It's not a comfortable place to be and I don't think that it makes me a nicer person.
When the children were learning to walk, and to swim, they did not berate themselves for every trip, stumble or spluttering grab for the edge and I certainly did not; I did not keep score. I did not compare them to Olympic athletes but was pleased and proud just to see them developing. I did not rush them or test them: I delighted in them. If I could grasp, if I could truly understand and know that I know, that God is looking at me that way, that he is not keeping score but is delighting in me then that would be a truly comfortable place to be. That, I think, would be the way to live.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Daddy's Girl

Sometimes even a Mr Man story isn't enough to keep you awake!

What a picture of safety and love. Of prayer.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Another Day on the North Downs Way

Two more glorious days and two more long walks. We didn't set out until lunchtime on Friday, intending on "only"doing 13 miles. It was hot, it was long, we were tired! We stayed away this time, intending on setting out early the next day, but a 4.30 fire alarm left us less refreshed than we had hoped. Twenty miles ahead of us and temperature rising nearly as fast as the contours, I was beginning to wonder if we had taken on more than was wise, especially when our first designated stop-point, a village where we planned to have lunch, had only one - closed - pub. A muffin- and water-break on the side of a hill revived us and the rest of the day passed, mile by mile. We saw some interesting,

and amusing things.

The views were beautiful,

and we are pretty proud of how far we have walked.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


My friend Lucinda calls it making up a story. You see something, or overhear a comment, and your imagination takes over. Before you know it, you have constructed a scenario, ascribed motives and you know exactly what someone else is really thinking. Or not. Too often I am way down this road, my fantasy is fact and I respond based on what I believe, without ever having checked in with the truth.
My head is full of dog training and I am homing in on the last few exercises which Coco need to perfect to get her gold assessment, so when I saw another woman in the park today, standing resolutely some distance from her stationary dog, I assumed she was training him. After a few moments, the dog ran a quarter of a circle and settled down again, much like sheep-dog trials. I was impressed, especially when he repeated the trick. After a while the dog came over to play with Coco and I approached the woman to express my admiration and to pick up some tips. She was quite surprised when I congratulated her on her dog's obedience. It turned out that my whole story was exactly that - a story. The dog would not come back to her. She had let him off the lead to play and now he would not return. Yesterday, it had taken an hour-and-a-half to get him back!
As I walked away, calling my dog to heel, I chuckled to myself about the absurdity of my feeling so easily intimidated and bested, how quick I was to interpret what I could see as a sign of my own failings. It's not about comparison and I can never know what is going on for someone else unless I ask. It's about doing my own thing as well as I can and being happy with that.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


Yes, my amazing dog has passed her silver assessment! She played, stayed, came and walked to standard and was presented with her certificate at the end of puppy class this morning. She is a very lively and bouncy dog and usually elicits comments about craziness or being a live-wire when she meets people in the park, but I can really see how she is developing her obedience and she is a pleasure to walk with. I no longer find myself dragged along the pavement or fear that she will not come back to me. I have struggled at times with the work that training her has been, and continues to be - after all, there is gold to aim for now! - but I am pleased and proud that all this work has paid off, not only in her behaviour but also in our relationship and my confidence. I was surprised how much anxiety I felt about her failing, and I knew that I would be deeply disappointed, no matter how much I told myself that no-one else even needed to know and that we could always try again in a couple of weeks. As my children grow up and exams loom on the horizon, there are few tangible markers of their progress and I am feeling that deeply and finding that hard at the moment; to have proof of achievement and success in a task I have taken on was sweet indeed this morning.

Monday, 6 June 2011


I am an introvert. I think this is pretty clear to anyone who knows me and I was not surprised to find that I scored as "clearly" introverted on a Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator years ago. What I did discover during the MBTI day was that it is not as simple as liking parties or not, but to do with gaining and being drained of energy. For an introvert like me, other people are great fun but take up energy. It is alone time, silence and personal space that recharge me. My friend Lucinda embraces her introverted nature and takes steps to order her life in a way that takes that into account. Inspired by her, I purchased "Introvert Power" and it has been a revelation. Much of what I have read has describes me and makes sense of behaviour I have thought of as, at best, quirky or, at worst, socially awkward. This paragraph in particular made a lot of sense to me:

"In 1967, Hans Eysenck published his "arousal theory" of introversion and extroversion which predicted that ... introvert brains would be more stimulated on an ongoing basis; ... this would explain why introverts pull away from environmental stimuli while extroverts seek out more."

This explains to me my extreme sensitivity to background noise. I cannot have a conversation while there is background music, either I need to turn the music down enough so I cannot hear it, or I want to listen to the lyrics and I find another person talking to me irritating. I love to have music on in the kitchen, but often find my tension levels rising and have to switch it suddenly off.
My desk has been in a busy part of the house and there are many times I have found myself yelling at the children or the occupants of the next room for disturbing me. Last week, we bought a refurbished lap-top and I have turned my bedside bureau into a desk. It is my space and my lap-top and I am typing this sitting on my bed in the peace and quiet of my own room.
As I get to know myself better and accept who I am, I am finding ways of living that suit me better: embracing my introvert nature, understanding it and allowing myself to be this way.