Thursday, 29 September 2011


There are weeks like this one, when there just seems far more to do than hours to do it in, when my eight-year-old is crying about the cat while my ten-year-old covers every available kitchen surface in chocolate-chip cookie mixture while my private pupil sits patiently and waits for me to teach him and the dog escapes onto the front drive. There are days like today when, after two late nights of emotional conversations, tired does not seem a sufficient word. There are mornings like this when my pale brown carpet is a patchwork of muddy paw-prints as the over-excited and under-exercised dog jumps at everything and everyone and it is nearly 11am before I am thinking about what to try to do today and how to make my home welcoming for a transatlantic visit from my brother. And it is moments like this when the devil-voice asks how much my children can possibly be learning. I look around: my twelve-year-old is in a GCSE maths tutorial with two other young lads, so we are covering maths and social skills. My ten-year-old has just returned from church where he has delivered, and sold, his muffins for a charity coffee morning and has set off to the shops to spend his hard earned cash. I reckon that covers economics and citizenship as well as developing his independence, oh, and leadership - because the eight-year-old has gone too. She's learning teamwork and social skills and as she spent the previous half-hour washing her scooter in the sunshine she's been developing independence and responsibility. Chapter book (literacy, history, maths) snuggled on the sofa (social and emotional skills) and a dog walk in the park later (P.E. and animal care) and the day looks very different.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


I spent a very pleasant morning at the Surrey History Centre with nearly 30 students all excited and engaged with the impact of World War II on the local area. I have to say, I was quite pleased with myself as I had organised the session - the first of four - with the County Council staff and it was good to see so many active and enthusiastic children. They planned a civil defence system, looked at genuine newspapers from the time and completed a quiz about the Home Guard. I am frequently asked how my home educated children will learn to socialise and how I manage to teach such different ages. It was refreshing and encouraging this group of children, ranging in age from 6 to 12, laughing and working together.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


"Readiness can’t be rushed.  We can lay a groundwork.  But nothing we do can take an unready human and make them ready."

I was reading a post at Handmade Homeschool yesterday and came across this.  As a mother, I would do well to remember. As a teacher, both of my own children and of other students, I would do well to remember. As half of any relationship, whether difficult or easy, I would do well to remember. As a child of God, learning to be gentle on myself, I would do well to remember. For if we are not ready, can we really do anything?

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Ben

I am reliably informed that true climbers refer to this mountain not as Ben Nevis, but "The Ben". I do not think that I really can lay claim to being a true climber - not at all in fact - but I gave it a go.
It was my 40th birthday on Saturday and to celebrate I, with my best friend, caught the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston station late on Friday night, arriving in Fort William on Saturday lunchtime. Sunday morning, in fairly clear weather, we set off to attempt the Ledge Ridge on the North Face. There is a route, the Tourist Track, which, while not as easy as its name suggests, is a straightforward walk, but I wanted to do something scary for my birthday so we chose to attempt a Grade II scramble. The owners of the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed were impressed that we were attempting the North Face, which confirmed my idea that we were indeed doing something scary.
The weather was against us: it was windy and wet and slippery. We made good headway along the paths and gained a good 600m but the steep and rocky scramble was dangerous and, after a good try, we decided that it was not sensible to keep going and turned back. We were now a considerable way up a boggy, slimy, rocky mountainside and it was certainly in the scary zone just getting back down. We considered the option of skirting the mountain to meet the Tourist Track but, with a train to catch, thought we didn't have have enough time. I was very disappointed not to reach the summit.
And yet I have been inspired by a quote in the Scramble Guide Book which we were using: The best mountaineer is the one having the most fun. I am certain that we qualified on that score! I am also learning to see the achievement in the attempt. We gained useful experience of difficult conditions, tried out new kit, practised our navigation skills and learned the lie of the land and the start of the route. As we sat in the supermarket cafe waiting for our train home we set ourselves the goal of achieving all six scrambling routes on Ben Nevis. We looked at what we would need to do to be skilled enough to attempt a route graded as Severe and drew up a timetable. It will take a few years but I think then we will have earned the right to call this mountain "The Ben" and this is just the kind of thing I want to fill my Forties with!

Friday, 23 September 2011


Instead of Watercolours, I am going to a Painting and Drawing Class this term. I have the same tutor as last year and she encouraged me to think over the summer of a theme I would like to work on: I chose rocks. There are a lot of rocks in the Yorkshire Dales where I spent my two week summer holiday: natural rock formations, stepping stones, dry stone walls, derelict barns. I took a lot of photos. Now I am faced with developing them into art. There is a programme of study, set pieces each week with a technique to focus on and I spent some time last session discussing with my art teacher whether I would be better off concentrating on following the plan and learning new skills or following my own ideas. She was dismissive of the scheme of work: I could bang out a few skies (this week's subject) if I wanted, she said, but could instead push my creativity far more with my own ideas.
I was surprised at my own internal sense of safety in learning technique, being told what to do, having a skill to learn, to, hopefully, improve on. Do I have any creativity to push? Can I really build up a body of work, push the materials to get the effects I want, create something personal with my subject? In short, is there really anything there inside me - do I have anything to say?
I am learning a certain sensation, a tickling feeling in my wrists, when I am challenged, when I am scared, when I am on the edge and about to jump. I have made big changes to my life in recent months, and playing around in new ways with paints does not compare, but it is the same feeling: a little voice daring me to step out, to push myself, to find something new, to be me.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Raising Money

The children have been keen to raise money for a local animal charity for a little while now. We have selected the end of October for a 21 mile cycle ride from Kingston-upon-Thames to Tower Bridge and the children have designed their own Just Giving Page. This is all my eldest's own work and I am very impressed with what he has done. I am also impressed by the children's commitment to an idea and support of animals. Do have a look at the page and see what they are up to, and if you feel like donating a pound or two we would be very grateful!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Not long ago, my eight-year-old daughter made up her mind to run away. I tried to stay relaxed and allow her to to talk through all her difficult feelings. She told me how she would sleep on the pavement and buy her breakfast from the corner shop. While I was confident that she would, eventually, calm down and not leave, I did wonder if I should lock the windows in her room. The thought of her wandering the streets, alone and vulnerable, gives me goose-bumps. She was so sure that she would be safe, that she knew the dangers and would be able to cope with them and she still is determined to be as independent as possible. As her parent, of course, I know how terrified she would really be and how utterly un-equipped she is to live alone; she needs to stay here, with me, to be under my protection.
That night she slept in a sleeping bag on the floor, denying herself the comfort of her bed in preparation for the hardships she would face when she left next morning.
I am facing some difficult decisions and I am frightened of the future. I am trying my best to foresee all potential outcomes and to protect myself against what might happen. It occurred to me this morning that I need to rest in my Father's house, to accept and enjoy his love and protection, to rest in the refuge he promises me. I am not equipped to see into the future or to control all the outcomes. I need to trust in him, his love and his provision. And I wonder how often I make myself "sleep on the floor" - uncomfortable with worry in the hope that this will offset some future problem, rather than resting now in the warmth of his Fatherly love.

Monday, 19 September 2011


My kitchen faces due West. In the evening, the sunlight pours in, often making tea-time a little too hot. In the morning it can be a cold and slightly dark room as the back of the house, the living-room and bedrooms are filled with sunshine. However, this morning, I caught this beautiful bouquet on my kitchen table reflecting the sun's rays and glowing with yellow light. The early morning sun was reflecting from the windows of the houses on the other side of the street and straight onto the sunflowers. By the time I had fetched my camera the brightness had faded a little and, as the clouds and the earth moved, the effect was lost. It was a the gift of a moment.
There are times right now when it's hard to find the sunshine. These flowers reminded me this morning that light, joy, beauty and love often catch us unawares and come from unexpected directions. I need to catch the moment.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Dust of Snow

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

The way a crow 
Shook down on me
The dust of snow 
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart 
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

To rue: To be sorry for, to wish not to have been, to regret.

There have been many days in the last month which I have rued. There has been much sadness, much pain. I struggle to understand what I am responsible for and what is not mine to carry. I cannot control how others respond, what they choose to think or how they choose to act. I remember a time when someone I loved called me from another country: she was in despair. I spoke with her for a long time, listened and consoled. After the conversation, I felt guilty settling down to watch a comedy, I felt as if it were wrong to laugh. But I cannot live in a state of sadness because others are sad. I care, and I listen, and I make amends if it is my responsibility and within my power to do so. But I can choose to live my life, to laugh, to be excited and to see the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


One new activity for this term is Horse Riding and this is my two keen riders before today's lesson. My eldest is old enough to be left at home alone for a while and had a maths lesson with a friend, which left me with a glorious hour with no children. I took the dog to the nearby forest and, while she ran free, I was free just to be and to think my own thoughts uninterrupted. Precious space, precious peace. And the horse riding was great too.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Black and Blue

It has been a hard week. Two of my children are busy in the kitchen as I type, preparing for poetry tea. We have the unexpected gift of Cornish Clotted Cream so they are getting a traditional Cream Tea ready to share; my middle son is upstairs writing a poem. This time last week we had poetry tea. Since then I have spent hours and hours in long, emotional, difficult  and often tearful conversations trying to make progress in some important personal relationships and defending home education for my children. Today I received an e-mail from a friend whom I have inadvertently offended and I am saddened by it.
The children are muddling along fine but I feel that my planned start to the academic year is having some trouble getting going. The suggestion to focus for the next couple of months on their emotional education: the expression and management of  big feelings, being gentle and compassionate with each other, listening and talking, has proved hugely helpful. They are unlikely, many years from now, to remember the details of the curriculum they followed this Autumn but I  will do my best to make sure that they also don't remember this term for the emotional stress. We can still drink tea, write poetry, take the dog out for a walk and enjoy living this life and being part of this family.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Autumn Colour

Start of term. Start of art classes. Two and a half hours to play with colour. There's a lot going on for me. This is just what I needed!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


It is good, even essential, to have friends. Friends bring light and fun to everyday, but it is the hard times that the essence of our friendships is most apparent. There are some who, in the hard press of circumstance, flow with the oil of love and unconditional acceptance. I have often been concerned in the past that I have not had, or made, the time to offer deep friendship when someone I know is in distress. This summer has shown me that something as simple as a single text, full of joy, encouragement and respect can touch a sore spot and bring comfort.
Lucinda sent me just such a text last month. She is another home educating mum, we get on very well and morning coffee never feels long enough to catch up on not only each other's news but the feelings and concerns of life, children and home education. One new innovation for her  this term is the introduction of a planning board, you can read more about it here, and I was excited to see her 10.00 entry: "Friends". That's us!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Yesterday saw us in Aldershot at a Lego building workshop with a Certified Professional Lego Builder. Professional Lego builders? Who knew? Apparently there are only 13 of them in the world. These are not the designers of the new sets, but people whose job is actually to build stuff out of Lego! The designers apparently all work in Denmark and you need to study Art and Design and 3D Modelling to become one. My eldest came out asking where he could study these subjects ...

They started by building bridges out of all one type of brick and then went on to make their names with guidance sheets showing how to make each letter of the alphabet. After that they went back to all one type, the basic 4x2 and were to be creative. My little girl built at boat and my eldest a foot with five toes. My middle    son constructed a tall and fragile spiral which he then doubled-up to make it stronger. The workshop leader asked him what it was, a string of DNA he replied. I had no idea that he even knew what DNA is!

A boat, a foot, a strand of DNA: three products of a life of home ed. I have my moments of fear, what am I doing, keeping them out of school?, but it seems that they are quirky, independent and leaning about the world. Doing alright, I think!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Running Away

My little girl settled down to sleep on Sunday night in a sleeping bag on the carpet. Bedtime had turned fraught and she had begun gathering her belongings to put in her bag ready to leave. We sat down to talk about and discuss her plans. I suggested that her godparents, to whom she was headed, would probably bring her home so she decided that she would just take a sleeping bag and sleep on the ground. She agreed that she would likely be found and brought home if she slept on the pavement and thought she would have to find somewhere to hide. She had her pocket money and was going to buy breakfast at the corner shop. After chatting some more, and me letting her know that if she did choose to run away I would have to call the police, she agreed to stay overnight (after all, it is cold out there) and reconsider in the morning. I left her packing her bag with her eldest brother. She decided that she'd have nowhere to re-charge her Nintendo DS so it got left behind but I  did notice that she had sensibly included a toilet roll. She wanted to try out sleeping on the floor and we agreed it would be good practice. She also agreed that she would wait until our friend flew home tomorrow night and discuss it with her before she made any decisions so I felt safe not locking her windows.
I find it hard to deal with her anger. She has always had a fiery and passionate temper and we often end up shouting at each other. She is particularly angry about daddy leaving and my broken promises. She is also fed up of being eight, being the youngest and not being allowed to do whatever she wants - as grown ups are, or so she sees. She very much dislikes being told what to do but listened with some interest, as I explained that I do things that I don't want to do, like washing up and laundry, and that, while there is no-one telling me I have to, if I do not do these jobs there are natural rules like dirty dishes and smelly clothes.
I, too, would like to run away at times, from the hard work of home ed, of running a home and of negotiating difficult relationships. It is often easy to perceive that others are better off or have an easier life. I have been challenged over this and my personality trait that looks at the dark clouds and not the sunshine and I am gradually learning to internalise this challenge. Yes, life is hard but it is fun, and blessed and full of joy and I can cuddle my daughter and watch old sitcoms and dance in the kitchen.

Friday, 2 September 2011


Every day has its unexpected moments. I am a natural planner and prefer life to come in its expected form, on time, on timetable.
I received an unexpected invitation last night for an event today and, thrilled to be included, re-planned my day. I received an unexpected phone call this morning needing my attention, time and a lift to Accident and Emergency, taking a couple of hours out of my schedule. I was stuck in an unexpected traffic jam on the way home and our journey was over an hour long.
I had an unexpected cuddle with my little girl, a tense knot of anger at the moment, and she told me that I was the best mummy in the world.  I had an unexpected connection with nature as I picked a tomato from the garden and breathed in its scent. I unexpected soaring of my spirit as I marvelled at my dog's speed and joy as she chased a bird across the park. I had an unexpected moment of peace as, taking some rubbish out, I saw the almost new moon smudged by a cloud.
I am also a natural pessimist and find it easier to dwell on the difficult unexpecteds, but I am beginning to notice the blessed ones. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011


Since I last posted, my world has been turned upside down: I have asked my husband to leave and he moved out this weekend to stay with friends until his new flat is ready. 

I have tried to let friends and family know before they read this here, and if I've forgotten you then I apologise. My dad heard the news in a less than ideal way and I hope that doesn't happen to anyone else.

We waited until this weekend to tell the children. It was important that they heard it as definite news and not frightening uncertainty. It was important that they were with me and at home in the days immediately following so that their shaken world seemed as stable as possible. There have been tears and many questions, not least why I have broken my promise to them that this would never happen.

It's a question I have had to ask myself, to look at hard, to face with open-eyed courage. I wonder now why I ever felt the need to say it to the children: perhaps I was bolstering my own belief that I could make it true. I truly thought that I could make my marriage work by sheer effort. I knew through years of evangelical Christian teaching that love is a decision, all relationships require effort and marriage is forever. I thought I could do it. This summer I realised that, although I could, I am still sure, have kept it together, the personal cost was becoming too great. Much in the last half-decade has brought about personal growth and a much stronger sense of who I am and I began to see that I could not be all that I am within this relationship. I know that there are those who think I have made a selfish choice, but I believe that I  have chosen life, I have chosen a path that will enable me to me more who God created me to be and I think that is what God would want. I think the children will benefit from seeing me happier and more free and, perhaps one day, from seeing their parents in genuinely loving relationships.

Life is going to look very different. Making this choice, causing pain to people I love, has been almost unbearably hard but underneath the tiredness, sadness and fear, I cannot help but find excitement. Life is going to look very different, yes, but life is good, life is full of possibility, opportunity and love. The start of September always feels far more like a new year than January and on this "New Year's Day" I am looking forward to all that life will bring.

"Sometimes, though, it’s really important to ask whether or not what is happening is actually a problem." (August 30th:  Handmade Homeschool)