Sunday, 7 July 2013

School's out!

I have not died, emigrated or been abducted by aliens. But I have been teaching in London, taking my sons to an Open Day at Oxford University and taking the whole family Trafalgar Square and Harrods after our planned Thorpe Park day out was rained off. I've been down to the south coast to visit family and returned home to begin marking 400 exam scripts. In the midst of this we have celebrated my eldest son's 14th birthday. It's been busy and we're all a bit weary but term has ended, the sun is shining and every time I look out of the window I remember that I live in the most beautiful place in the world!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Within the blur

Life is fading out of focus - this academic year is nearly done for us and I am beginning to draw together our various activities. My eldest has completed two IGCSEs this year and is aiming to finish a Literature assignment for his "1000 Years of Poetry" course so that he can put it away over the summer. My younger two each did a maths assessment this morning. Having been very excited by the idea of a maths exam, my little girl puffed her way through an hour of angles and I was surprised at the lack of her usual neatness that her work showed. It was only on marking it with her that I reflected on the fact that it was from a Year 7 textbook and she had got pretty much all of it right. (She's 10.) My student contact for the year is nearly over, the marathon is done and there is a sense of completion.

At the same time, my thoughts are turning to the future. My partner and I are in the process of transforming our tutoring into a business and launching my English teaching here in the Dales and I am beginning to put together my part-time teaching timetable for September. I am about to start exam marking and have just this morning seen a working-from-home opportunity in a local sixth form college which I will be applying for. I am considering options for the childrens' studies for next year, including Open Learn self-study courses available from the Open University and finding centres where the children would be able to take a Modern Foreign Language IGCSE and my two boys are busy planning our schedule for this coming Thursday when we will be at the Oxford University Open Day visiting the English and Engineering departments.

The image I have is of a slide-show, where one picture blurs into the next. For a while nothing is clear, it is just a mess of colour. The old picture is going and the new is not year clear. I feel as if I am living within the blur.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

I did it!

I did it. All 23.1 miles of it. The Swaledale marathon. It was pretty hilly, it was very hot, and it was a blast. The best jam sandwich I've ever eaten at 13 miles, ankle-deep mud at 20 and a hot meal at the end. Today has been the first day I've been able to take the dog on a decent walk and come down the stairs without wanting to cry. It's been a long and hard road and I thought that running in snow and bogs was never going to end, but I did it.


I'm tired. I''m tired of worrying if they're ok and if I'm doing enough, if I'm good enough. I'm tired of worrying that, right now, they are not learning anything.( I remember feeling that way while I changed the baby's nappy and my  eldest watched Teletubbies.) I'm tired of the relentless argument in my head that it really is ok, they really are learning and that they really are at least as educated as their schooled peers. I'm tired of the doubt. I'm tired hearing that the children feel an insidious pressure to go to school, to achieve 10 A*s and that owning a tea-room isn't ambition enough.
When they are excited about grasping vertically opposite angles, or proving the formula for interior angles or writing an essay comparing Shakespearean sonnet form to Spenserian, my confidence flashes for a moment and is gone, like a match flame.
When they are bored, or sneaky, or ungracious, or can't recite their times-tables, the slow-burn of my fear deepens.
I wouldn't have lived any other way. I just wish it wasn't so darn scary. And I wish I wasn't so tired.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Where am I looking?

It's that time of year again. The time of year when the sun is shining, the summer feels tangible, a picnic beckons and formal education feels like too hard a mountain to climb. We are all tired. My eldest is growing weary of revision: he has one more paper to go and he will have completed two IGCSEs. The younger two performed in the Swaledale Festival on Sunday: they played the parts of ghostly children in the poignant and funny, locally written "Deckchairs". I am beginning to panic that we haven't done "enough" this year, that there isn't enough on paper, that the fictional inspector would not be satisfied, that the voices of discontent would be, well, discontent.
I can see that what I often fail to do it to count our successes as weighty as our failures, that new and unexpected opportunities do not matter to me as much as the plans that got left behind. I like to tick boxes, see completed workbooks and have something to show on paper for a year's education.
What I do have to show is three happy, healthy and thriving children. They are increasingly independent and self-motivated. They have all become much fitter and eat more healthily since our move North. My eldest has taken his first qualifications. We have read books, studied maths and science, become part of the local parish church, my daughter has taken up dance, my middle son joined his first football team and my eldest become part of Youth Theatre in Richmond. For my own sake, I can keep repeating their achievements but I'm not sure that it really matters (or is very interesting to read), what matters is that we keep living this life that we have chosen, that the children keep on developing and growing and that I turn my eyes from what we haven't done to what we are, this moment, actually doing.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

You are not on the bus!

I work as a private tutor. It is work that I really enjoy and feel passionate about. The students I work with have more going on in their lives than their study of the particular subject which I am working on with them and often this will impact their learning. I see a whole range of approaches to education and to learning, not just from the students but from their parents and, broadly, their are two main schools of thought. For some parents, they are in the driving seat, or beginning to coach their child in taking control. The education, the study, is their thing, to be undertaken, engaged in, over-viewed themselves. This is true of families using schools and of home-educating families. For some, they are out-sourcing: someone else has been brought in to deal with this subject and that person - in this case me - is responsible. This is something I have had to struggle with. Where does my responsibility start? Where does it end? And I find that the more the responsibility gets shuffled my way, the more anxious and involved I get. A parent enters their home-schooled child for a different exam board than the one they are working towards and I notice this and provide the student with the correct specification; work with her to locate which areas of the spec have not yet been covered and which have been learned but can now be left; print off past-exam papers and make sure the student knows what materials they need to take with them. Another student desires an A grade because but fails to put in the question practice necessary, telling me that it is futile or that another subject's course-work needed extra time, and then can only manage a U grade on a mock paper. What is my responsibility? What is theirs?
My own children want to go to University and I have put time in to finding out the entry requirements and have put things in place to move them towards being ready to put together a strong application but they hear contradictory messages and are told that they won't have enough GCSEs. They are unsettled and so am I, and I encourage them to access the information themselves. I will take them to another open day, but I will expect them to plan our agenda, prepare what they want to know and to ask the right questions.
Students and children: I tell them that in the end, it does not affect my life - it affects theirs. They are not on a bus towards Higher Education, they are on a guided trek. I have the experience, the subject knowledge and the motivation to journey with them, to show them the way and to model the techniques  but I cannot (not, will not, but physically cannot) move them along this path myself.  It is their journey, their effort and one that they have to engage in. The answers do not come easily, tears will be shed and huge amounts of effort must be expended.
As this academic year begins to draw to a close and young people are filling exam halls, I am filled with this conviction and seeing the necessity of stating this expectation clearly with new and old students as well as with my own children: You are not on the bus! Get up on your feet and get walking. I will walk with you, I will lead and encourage you but the steps are yours. And at the end, the satisfaction, pride and achievement will be yours too.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


I am trying to support my eldest as best I can in his last minute revision for Biology IGCSE which he takes next week. My plan this afternoon was to take a part of the specification and teach it to his brother and sister and he could join in. Interactive and fun, I thought, and better than sitting with a text-book. He did not think so, and with gentle politeness said he'd rather revise alone. So I took his younger siblings to the wood just behind our house and we collected leaves: big ones, little ones, spiky and smooth ones.
We looked at them, listed their similarities and differences and discussed what leaves do and then got out the paints. We made Lego water and carbon dioxide, dismantled them and made Lego glucose and oxygen with the pieces. By this stage their big brother decided to join us. He looked up xylem and phloem for us and made sure that our Lego equation balanced.

The younger two had had enough by this point so they left and my eldest and I broke up our Lego glucose and "respired it" to return it to carbon dioxide and water. We talked about the energy changes and my son was deeply impressed that something as amazing as the breaking of inter-molecular bonds could happen in something as ordinary as a leaf. It was interesting, I hope it was memorable, and it was a good afternoon's work.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Isles Bridge

A perfect home ed day. Really. It doesn't get better than this.
My eldest son is preparing for his first GCSE exam on Friday and the twin priorities this week are practicing differentiation and keeping him relaxed. We did an hour of maths at the table, packed a bag and walked 10 minutes to the river. Paddling, it seems, is irresistible.

It wasn't long before my middle son had waded to the other side with his sister anxious to join in. My eldest sat down with me while I painted and we talked over the things on his mind and he drew a little. We had lunch and I read to them from the Science book (he is also revising for Biology GCSE) and we discussed genetic engineering and genetically modifed food. There are frost-resistant potatoes with the DNA of Antarctic fish which they thought was "cool" but were concerned about whether they were vegetarian.

The younger two returned to the river to dare each other to swim and my eldest and I read more about cloning and developed the dystopian idea of  football clubs cloning their best players and training them from birth to be even higher levels of brilliance. Who would the parent be? Would corrupt clubs produce clones with defective DNA and sell them to rival clubs? What if the child did not want to play football? My son's DNA clearly hold more novel-writing genes than engineering genes! I left him revising Biology on my iphone app as I responded to the calls of the younger to to watch them swim.
By this stage they were blue with cold, even in the bright summer sunshine, so we headed home and sat in our garden with hot chocolate and cake and read our current chapter book pausing only to gloat when tourists strolled passed, quietly and to ourselves of course, that we actually live here.
The younger two went out to rehearse for their play after dinner, I had some time to head out on a long run and my eldest enjoyed a solitary couple of hours.
Everything I had planned to do was done: Biology and Maths were revised, chapter book was read, art was available and so much more importantly, emotions were heard, attention was given and life was lived!

Sunday, 5 May 2013


I only managed five posts in April. My highest total so far has been January ,the month in which I didn't have internet connection. Nearly two weeks have gone passed since I last wrote and it has been so busy that I have barely had time to think that I  haven't blogged, let alone actually type!
My little girl celebrated her 10th birthday,
our first family birthday in our new home. She is such a delightful young lady, with so much will and character and imagination and love.
I have been down to London to teach and had sessions with two students here in Yorkshire. Private tuition is taking up more of my time and my mind as exams creep closer. I been thinking and talking to my partner a lot about the boundary issues involved. While many of our students' parents buy in our services as part of their own active support for their children, there are some who seem to feel that by paying for a tutor they have employed someone  to take on responsibility for the child's learning and grades. 
My eldest is approaching is first IGCSE on Friday and I am so proud of the way he is self-motivated and clear about his own goals. He has Maths and Biology this summer, is taking an on-line Latin course and is still busy writing, writing, writing. We are working hard helping him with his work, supporting his time-management and keeping him in the challenged-but-not-overwhelmed zone.
My middle son has fallen in between the obvious needs of his brother and sister and we have become more aware of the need to carve out the necessary time and focus for him. He is happy working his way cake-by-cake through his Christmas recipe book and taking himself on short walks in preparation for his self-selected 25-mile Keld to Richmond Challenge later this year but is in need of more cuddles and supervision than he has been getting in recent weeks.
We have had family friends staying in our annex and viewed some houses with them with the possibility of them moving to be near us. It has caused no small degree of heart-searching as we have considered all sides of the issue and begun to realise how much it would mean to all of us if they did and how it is probably not going to happen. In opening our hearts to begin to care we have, inevitably, opened them to the possiblity of hurt and disappointment. 
On top of  all this I am still trying to run. I am no longer sure that I will be able to take part in the Swaledale Marathon; I am just not sure that I am fit enough. I seem to have been fighting a virus which brings me down every time I take on too much but I ran 13 miles yesterday so I shall see.
So, it's been a busy time, but much of the busyness comes from fitting in more of the things we love and, as I look out over the Dale in the early moring mist, I cannot say anything else but that life is good.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


I like to plan and to know how things will work out. Sometimes it's just not possible and the natural twists and turns of life write a much superior script to mine.
I have always thought of my eldest son as an introvert, typically quiet and not always forthcoming. He is at his happiest with a book or a pencil, indoors, often alone. He loves to write and has ambitions to be a published author and has never really been a "joiner-in-er". Last Autumn I came across a Shakespeare workshop being held at half-term. He has never shown any interest in acting, but I thought he might enjoy a week working with Shakespeare. The tutor was very encouraging, helping him to see the connections between excellent screen-writing and thorough understanding the acting process and so, nervously, he signed up. He had a great week and most of all loved the chance to stand up and act. He didn't have a big part but he loved what he did.
When we moved north, he was the one I was worried about finding friends. The other two had natural niches  to slot into but not my eldest. Given the success of the Shakespeare workshop, we thought we'd try drama and eventually tracked down a Youth Drama group at the Georgian Theatre in Richmond. This is now the highlight of his week and a place where he has found like-minded young people by whom he feels welcomed, valued and accepted in all his individuality and quirkiness.
So it has come as a surprise to find myself rehearsing lines with my younger two children. They are taking part in a play being put on in June as part of the Swaledale Festival. We know the author and producer quite well and the parts of two other-worldly children who act as one and link the whole play together were just right for them. My eldest is just too... well... old; and too young for any of the adult parts. He has struggled with understandable feelings of jealousy but is looking forward to his own week in the summer with his drama group and the play to be put on at the end of that.
He is also busy revising for two IGCSEs in Biology and Maths and my partner and I are spending a lot of time working with him at the moment and so he is recieving a lot of one-to-one attention. Which means that it is all balancing out rather well: he gets our focus academically and the others don't miss out because we are spending time rehearsing lines with them and they all have a goal in the coming months. I wouldn't have planned it like this, but it seems they all have just what they need.

Thursday, 18 April 2013


I'm home. I notice that I haven't blogged in well over a week, not since 8th April ,and I realise that it has all been rather busy. I had a nasty virus and it feels at the moment as if I'm ill as often as I'm not. Nothing serious, just a general feeling of being run down. Or, perhaps, over-run. I was stuck in a cycle of trying to increase my longest run, struggling into double digits and then being to tired to run properly for a few days. It came to a head last week when I set out for ten miles, only to get lost after two. Cold, still running ankle-deep in snow in places and slipping in the mud in others I conceded defeat and headed home. I found myself a "last minute" six-week marathon training schedule took a week off.
I've also worked the last six days in London and come home to work two more. But I am home. I am sitting on my bed looking straight out of my window across Swaledale, astounded by how very green it is: there is not a trace of white left. I ran a couple of miles this morning, just enough to remind myself that running is fun and I really do enjoy it.Getting home and going running as soon as I can helps me to reconnect with my home and I can remind myself that in all the work and all the busyness, this is my life. I have taken hold of what is right for me and am living a life I love.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Reviewing the Twelve....the last six

Oh dear! As I look up the twelve goals I set myself this year, I quickly run my eye over the last six with a "no, no, no ..." I haven't really got far with these.

7)One day out per month. This hasn't happened in any kind of way at all. We have found the regular trips down to London to take up so much of our time that we just want to be home when we're home. We certainly don't want to spend any more time in the car than we have to and we live somewhere so beautiful that we don't feel any urge to go anywhere else. There are all kinds of interesting places around - York, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Hadrian's Wall - but it just doesn't feel right at the moment. Also, the weather has been dismal, cold and snowy and not at all enticing. Perhaps the summer?

8) Painting. I've hardly painted since I arrived. This is something that I self-sabotage, procrastinating until there is not enough time left. I did paint dragons with my daughter, and a few trees in January, so maybe they can count for the first two months and I've still got stacks of time in April. Again, maybe it's something that I will find more mental space for in the summer.

9) Personal admin. Perhaps I'm being harsh on myself here. I have taught two students a creative writing curriculum which I am gradually developing myself. I have completed all my change of addresses and the last few changes of name. I have signed up with a tutoring agency and applied for my criminal records check which will mean I can also sign up with some on-line agencies. I've contacted a few people with whom I've not been in touch for far too long and I've been all the way through my filing system discarding pieces of paper I don't need any more. It's not quite been the clear, one-a-month series of projects I had envisaged, but I have not been idle!

10) I am doing much better with reading: "Never Let Me Go", Kasuo Ishiguro; "The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year", Sue Townsend, "The Help", Kathryn Stockett, "City of Beasts", Isabel Allende; "The Lifeboat", Charlotte Rogan, "All The Things We Didn't Say", Sara Shepherd and now I am reading "Lone Wolf", Jodi Picoult. Seven completed in three months. Definitely hitting my target. It's becoming more of a habit now to pick up a book after last term when it was usually the remote control! We have just cancelled our tv licence so I have no plans to change.

11) Breastfeeding Counselling. This has not so much taken a back-seat as snuck out of the fire exit! I was all set to return, beginning with telephone counselling, but I did not hear back from my mentor before we moved and then we had so much trouble with the internet and phone that it just wasn't possible. Now, I just can't imagine finding the time. And, if I'm honest, my heart's not in it. My passion at the moment is for my tutoring and I would love to build it up and do more if only I had the time so I'm not making the time for the BreastfeedingCounselling. Maybe I need to make a decision to let it go. I'll see. Another thing to look at properly in the summer.

12) Blogging. Well, I'm still here but Internet arrived mid-February and I still didn't hit 12 posts in March. This is number three for April so I'm not quite on track this month either but a few people have commented to me that they're glad I'm back posting so maybe I'll just keep plodding away, aiming for that elusive 12!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Maths Demon

Maths has always been a thorny subject. My eldest is approaching his Maths GCSE in May and is motivated by the knowledge that once this exam is over he will never, ever have to study Maths again. He is apologetic about this, even asking if I am disappointed. but I am not at all worried. In talking it through with him I was able to explain that this is the case for most students: Maths GCSE marks the end of formal Maths study and, unless they take a Maths qualification post-16, most people never go near a Maths problem again.
My middle son is a much more natural mathematician, maths just seems to make more sense to him, numbers are more concrete and the ideas flow. He has worked hard this year and, even though we moved house and life was quite disrupted, had finished his Maths for the year by mid-March. He was hugely excited by the prospect of starting his GCSE studies and so he began last week. We have, however, run straight into the quagmire of misery, confusion and over-burden and I have been confused as to why. Every time I sit with him and work through his exercises he seems quite happy with the concepts but as soon as he is left to his own devices he is lost again. He is not resistant and is trying hard, testament to his eagerness to study at this level. My frustration levels are rising and his morale is falling.
On chatting to my partner about it, we began to see that he is learning so much more than Maths and, as with any multi-skill learning experience, it is too much for him to be putting it all together immediately. My son and I sat together and I wrote a list of all the skills I can see that he is using and developing:
1) Laying his work out neatly. Up until now he has had workbooks and not been responsible for the clarity of the page.
2) Organising his time. Once the initial subject has been explained, he is responsible for finding time in the day to complete the exercises.
3) Aiming towards a big and distant goal. Workbooks were tangible in size and once every page was complete they were done but GCSE has no such physical "size".
4) Concentrating for longer periods of time. There is no doubt that it is a greater workload and he will have to sit at the table and work for longer.
5) Copying a question from a textbook, especially difficult with brackets and indices. Here, I am seeing the value of all the copywriting we have done together and reminded of attempting copywriting in a different language. Without the sense of words and letter sets that already have a place in the memory, copying is hard and even harder when it is dense text on a page.
So, today, I will copy some of questions into his book for him which will automatically set out the page for him and reduce the copy-writing burden. I will write a time-table for the day with short blocks of maths and we will start with a pep talk about his goals which are admirable and tough. He has much to be proud of - starting maths GCSE at just 12  is no mean feat - and that is the most important message he needs to hear today.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Owl Bishop

The Easter Day service in our tiny village church was led by the Bishop of Knaresborough: he was quite taken with my daughter's owl hat - which she is seldom see without - and evidently arranged a swap! I am impressed with this church man and his humour and humility and the laughter on his face is testament to his joyful personality.
Bishop James also led the Maudy Thursday service, held in a neighbour's house as the church path was still blocked by snow-drifts. This was an intimate and beautiful occasion which I found deeply moving. I went with my partner and children and we sat with, perhaps, a dozen others and listened to a re-telling of the events surrounding Christ's arrest and we shared communion. I felt welcome and included, accepted and even loved. Bishop James spoke the words of the communion liturgy with a liveliness and enthusiasm which I found surprising in a man who has read these words aloud hundreds of times. He opened the service with words to remind us that Jesus welcomes us all, all of us, everyone. My choices in the last couple of years have led some to comment, judge and criticise and my heart was touched to be reminded that I am welcomed by Jesus and that I do have a place in his church.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Drifting - photos

A morning of sunshine has melted lots of the snow - but not all of it!


It is almost impossible to believe that we are at the end of March, past the spring equinox and enjoying the sight of new-born lambs. There is more snow here in North Yorkshire than there has yet been this winter and the Met Office "feels like" temperature has not yet topped zero.
A lot of snow fell at the weekend while we were away but the roads have been ploughed and travel is straightforward so I set off on Monday evening for a 12 mile run happy in the knowledge that the whole route was on roads. The last part of my journey was over the moor road behind our house crossing the Watersplash, made famous in the credits of James Herriot, and Surrender Bridge. It's not an easy way to run - there's a lot of ups and downs - but it is an easy way to navigate. I checked sunset time make sure I would be home in the light and set out, a little later than planned maybe, at 4.45pm. The first 9 miles were no problem, along the main roads, enjoying the views and not even minding about the gathering snow shower. I turned up the moor road, noting the sign to my village - 3 miles. I followed a tractor for a while and felt confident that if a tractor could get through then so could I. Then the tractor turned in to a farm and the road turned into a snow-drift. I was running into bad weather, up-hill, with 10 miles of tiredness in my legs, and suddenly realised that no vehicle had been over this road in a good few days. No 4x4 would get up here; I was knee deep in snow in places, walking quite slowly as I picked out signs of my route and getting colder as the dusk drew in. I took out my phone to take a picture of a snow-drift higher than my head and the battery died. Less than two miles from home I was aware that I was in a situation a whole load scarier than I had imagined!
As I plodded on, running when I could see the ground scoured bare by the wind, and trudging through the drifts where there was no road, I wondered if I should be more worried. I did have a rucksack with water, food and and extra jacket; there is a limit to how lost it is possible to get simply trying to get up one side of a hill and down the other; I knew there were a few houses dotted about, including the farm of the tractor driver; and while I could still walk or run, I was heading home.
From the warmth of my living room it became a bit of a story to tell but I am learning a lot about assessing the risks of an "easy run" in this new landscape - I never contemplated having moutain rescue called out on my behalf in Bushy Park!
We're going to head up on the moor after lunch with the children and have another look at the impressive and beautiful snow-drifts: I have never seen so much or so elegantly scuplted snow before.  But we'll make sure we're home long before dark with tea and cake in front of the fire.

Pictures to follow...

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Goodbye to Flora and Penny

We returned from our latest London trip on Sunday night and another of our chickens was "off her legs". This has happened before and we tried last time to revive the sad creature but soon realised that a swift end was better than a prolonged one and we arranged for her merciful dispatch.
Our chickens have not been a great success. Huge - really huge - and with constant runny droppings, they did not fulfill my image of cute hens pecking and scratching around our garden. They also did not lay any eggs and were costing us dearly in pellets, disinfectant and natural remedies to encourage them to full health. We tried hard: we fed and watered them, we swept up after them, we gave them celery and spinach and cooked egg-shells, but they remained cumbersome, lethargic and poorly birds.
Whatever infection they had wasn't clearing up which meant that we wouldn't feel safe eating their eggs, we wouldn't want to introduce new chickens and we couldn't give them away. Both seemed in poor health and, when the one couldn't stand up any more, we knew what we had to do - again.
We had a conversation with the children about the fate of the chickens a few weeks ago and they were understanding of the situation. We had worked since then at improving the state of the hens but had clearly failed. The children were sad, briefly, but quite excited about the prospect of new, small, cute, healthy, egg-laying  birds. The lady from the village who had fed then chickens while we were away was willing and able to help us out with ending their lives as neither my partner or I felt we had the experience or stomach for the deed. Not only that, she will be providing us with chickens from her father's farm in the next month: hardy Scottish chickens from healthy stock, unlike the rather odd creatures we had hoped we were rescuing from a battery-farm but I now wonder if came from a more suspect background.
So we have cleaned out the hen-house and disinfected the feeder and reflected on all that we have learned about chickens. And I am looking forward to some cute, speckled hens.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Call Centre

We're tired this week. One weekend a month we all travel back down to London; my partner and I both teach and the children spend the weekend with their dad. My partner actually travels down earlier in the week and we follow on Thursday. The children had a fun time as their grandparents were visiting too and they all went out on Saturday night. We drove home Sunday evening and were caught in heavy snow on the last stretch of our journey. Having been making good time we spent the last hour creeping along ungritted country roads praying that the tyres would remain gripping the increasing layer of snow on the tarmac. We arrived home, safe and well, later than we expected.
This month we are travelling down to London twice to make up for both Christmas and Easter breaks. So my partner leaves again tomorrow and the children and I will be back on the road on Thursday. Which leaves me stuck in a familiar home-school dilemma. Do I, accepting that we are all shattered and did not have our usual weekend down-time, declare two days off? Or do I press on to make up for the four days of lost time? The critical Greek chorus are quick to start: the children need to learn that they've got to get on with work even if they are tired; they are not doing anything educational and so will never get qualifcations and, consequently, jobs; Other women manage to juggle late-nights, work, child-rearing, keeping house and still look wonderful and never shout at their children and therefore I am a weak and ineffective failure; I am not instilling discipline or a good work ethic in my children; I am failing in home-education; and so the list goes on.
But, I am getting better at looking at their lives as a learning opportunity. Yesterday I asked my daughter to phone the horse-rescue charity she supports to let them know her new address. She had a quick and pleasant conversation and came off the phone excited, proud of herself and just a little bit more prepared for life in the grown-up world. She had really enjoyed it, she told us. Really? Would she like to ring a whole bunch of other organizations sending junk mail to our old address and ask to be removed from the mailing list? She spent the next half-an-hour happily calling catalolgue companies and charities. She was polite and clear and confident to answer questions. She developed her social skills, topped-up her extrovert personality and saved us a big  job.
My middle son is baking and working on his literacy by catching up on back issues of Top Gear magazine which we picked up from our old address. My daughter has spent this morning cleaning out our chickens and my eldest son is starting work on his online Latin course. It's all happening. It always does. Perhaps I don't need to worry quite so much!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Sometimes it just works. Unexpectedly, the usual amount of vague ideas, lack of "proper planning" and even a little resisitance still all come together.
We have a large box of art stuff, largely different types of coloured pencils, plus pastels, crayons, more pencils and lots and lots of half-used pads of different sizes and weights of paper. Every time I try to clear it out we get stuck with all the still untried possibilities. (But why are they still untried?) So my art curriculum this term has boiled down to opening the art box and using the stuff in there.
So that is what my daughter and I did yesterday. She really just wanted to carry on drawing her pictures to send to a friend (surely, my doubtful voice says, that is just as much art as my idea?) but agreed to give it half-an-hour. We settled on dragons as we have some delightful dragon stencils and I gave her the challenge of doing four pictures, each with a different material and different paper, and I joined her.

It was fun. She developed a character for one of her creations and was inspired to write a poem. She thought it would be "cool" to have a poem in which each line started with the letters that spell out "DRAGON" and my son let her know that this was an acrostic. We played with words and she wrote her poem and then copied it out onto her picture, which now, along with seven other dragons, decorates our mantlepiece.


Deep in the wood,
Residing in a black cave,
All his skin green;
Guzzling a young deer,
Orchids scattered everywhere,
Never more to return to the land of men.

 Middle son had, meanwhile, been baking, so we switched chapter book for Poetry Tea. devoured awesome, warm cherry cake and shared poems. Eldest son read us a poem he has written for his English course and a story which he has just heard has made it through to the second round of a national competition. We were reminded of the Geographical Fugue and listened to it on youtube.

Sometimes it just works.

Monday, 11 March 2013

So, I didn't do the race. I was all set to and just about feeling prepared. But the weather forecast was horrible - cold and windy and cold some more. It was an hour and a half drive away and then a bus ride, probably, as we weren't supposed to park at the race start. That meant over three hours in the car for all of us and the children and my partner waiting around for at least another two. If they dropped me at the race venue and went to the local town for breakfast, they may not have been able to get back to pick me up, necessitating a bus ride back for me, rapidly chilling off in my kit. It just didn't seem to be the spring day out I'd imagined when I booked a place in December.
But, this has been my main running goal since the New Year and was to serve as an important bench-mark, and, hopefully, an encouragement on my road to the Swaledale Marathon.
We opted for a simple solution. I ran 13.1 miles from a little way from home to our local town, via the road over the moor from Swaledale to Wensleydale. It's a tough route. Over the moor is not a phrase to be read lightly. It's up-hill, a long way, about 300m of ascent. And it was cold. And snowy. I did it. The children and my partner were there to greet me and congratulate me and we all went and had breakfast in our favourite cafe.
Did it count? Count for what? Was it cheating? Cheating what? It makes me aware of how much I hand my sense of achievement over to others, how much I desire some kind of official "approval" or certification. I ran the distance. I loved the views. I was happy with my fitness and my time. That is enough. But still there is a shadow of failure, a sense of not having done it quite right: I didn't actually do the race. I find it difficult to keep up my running without set goals and running is very much part of how I view myself - a fact which I am uncomfortable examining. It's hard to look at, as is the question of why I run: To be healthy? To stay slim? To impress? Because I enjoy the freedom? Because I feel good afterwards? Because it is an amazing way to get out and about into the countryside, the outdoors? Because it is part of how I view myself and I'm not so sure who I am if I don't?
Good reasons, bad reasons? The truth is that sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it. I'm not perfect and, like almost every other Western woman, I worry about my weight; I am also vain and competitive. But I do love running and I miss it when I'm actually prevented from doing it. Perhaps as I grow and mature (!) my reasons will purify or I will let go of this thing that has as much of a hold on me as I do on it. Or maybe I won't.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Reviewing the Twelve - Number six

For my birthday I got a book which I had asked  for: “Collins' Ultimate Navigation Manual”. I have not read it as much as would have liked and I set myself the goal of carrying out one exercise from the book per month. Somewhere out there is the idea that one day I might get the Summer Mountain Leader qualification and widen my tutoring business to outdoor education. In the short term my regular running territory has changed from pavement and park to isolated moor and it is necessary to be able to find my way safely about. Life has been so much busier than I anticipated and the imagined formal exercises have not yet surfaced at the top of my priority list but I have been out on a number of walks and runs for which I have needed to rely heavily on my map-reading skills. One early Monday morning on Brownsea Moor, ankle-deep in heather and snow I was trying to find a footpath across the desolate moon-scape of a lead-mining spoil-heaps.  I wasn’t sure I was on the right path. Then I was sure that I wasn’t on the right path. I became increasingly confused and anxious and could not make head-nor-tail of the features around me and convinced myself that I had taken a wrong turning earlier and was on completely different part of the moor. After a while I pieced together my map with what I could see and safely navigated my way back to my intended path, not all that far from where I was.  Reassured and happy that I was safe, I was left with the worry that I was still out half-an-hour after I should have been home with nearly another hour of running and hill-climbing ahead of me and my family at home may well start to consider me lost enough to be worth a call to mountain rescue. I got home, safe and tired, two-an-a-half hours after I had set out on a 75 minute run to find my partner confident that my map-reading skills and spare jacket had meant that I was in no danger. Not formal navigation practice from a book, but a far more valuable and enduring learning experience and a reminder that maybe I have been learning more than I realised all along!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Reviewing the Twelve- Numbers Three, Four and Five

The next goal was to bake 12 items per month. This has proved well beyond what I could achieve. The idea was born from the concept of a baking day, one day a week when I would be based in the kitchen and make a number of different treats: bread  by hand, a tray-bake or cookies, muffins or a sponge and a fruit cake. I would have the oven on just the once for everything, not need to wash up after every mixing as I would work my way from light mixtures to darker, as explained to me by a bed-and-breakfast proprietor I met on a bread-making course, and the house would be filled with the smell of fresh-cooked goodies and my cupboards would always be full for the unexpected visitor.
It hasn't happened. Not once. I am far too busy. It is this fact that gets under my skin. Am I really too busy or do I just not make the time? Baking day became baking afternoon, but it is always the first to be cut when life throws up an unexpected complication (like a meeting with a potential student, or tradesmen in the house again).
My son has also taken on the project of a cake a week, which we are all enjoying, and the one time I did bake a cake and cookies we were over-run with cake and felt obliged to hurry up and eat it.
In thinking this through, I realise that it is a dream I have had for a number of years and one that makes me feel warm inside. I love cake, I love baking and I love having good things to offer. But perhaps it is one that I can't priorise at the moment. And, if it is so important to me, then something else needs to take the unexpected - and yet usually weekly - hit. I need to find something less important, and, if there isn't anything, accept that regular, large-scale baking will just have to wait.

I have been much more successful with the tumble-drier. Whereas my washing always went straight from machine to drier, it has become habit for me to hang it on the airer, leave it for 24 hours and fold it next morning. It is great to have the tumble-drier for soft towels, suddenly remembered football kit and those days when the amount of washing threatens to overwhelm me, but I am pleased that I have broken the unthinking habit and am living just a little bit lighter on the environment.

Both January and February have seen my eldest and I in the pub pondering his writing over a drink. He takes his goal of publishing a novel very seriously and it is important to take time out of my thought-life and enter his for a while. It hasn't felt easy to find the time, even twice, but it has been so valuableand I will be pulling out my diary and putting in red pen our next date.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Reviewing the Twelve - Numbers One and Two

I am still revelling in our connection to the internet; the easy access to information and communication is delighting me anew. We are thinking through our use of, and time spent on, the web and are planning to find a way to keep the space we have found through not having constant access while being clear and focussed about what it is we can use it for.

One thing that I have wanted to do since the end of January is to properly review the goals I set for myself - my 12x12. I wanted these to be a tool to guide what I put first in my plannning- "prompts to remember how I want to live." I could, of course, have reviewed this without needed to blog but I find the process of blogging helfpul and clarifying and the blog provides a space to record my thoughts.
My first goal was to host local neighbours to eat at the house once per month. This has proved easy so far, easy and natural. The friends whose house provided the base from which we grew to love and dare to think we might be able to live in this beautiful Dale have been over for lunch. Our next-door neighbours (who own the attached holiday cottage and actually live in Liverpool) have had dinner here: an evening full of laughter, wine, games and competitions to see who could hold a quiz card to their face by sucking for the longest! It was relaxed and fun. The friend who has taken us caving and helped us out with advice and practical jobs has had coffee and cake, lunch and dinner a good few times and is becoming a much loved and always welcome visitor. Somehow I find myself more relaxed, more outgoing, more willing to stop and spend time chatting. It is a change that I welcome and hoped for. It is how I want to live.

The next goal was to run 12 times per month. With a place in Run Northumbria- a half-marathon in just less that two weeks time- and the Swaledale Marathon in June, I am running habitally again and the need to count runs seems superfluous. I did manage a few more than 12 in January but not quite in Febuary: a week away, a nasty virus and fewer days than a usual month mean that I've only just reached double figures. But I'm fit and getting fitter and looking forward to a race and that's good enough.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Hello world!

We arrived home after our weekend working in London to find that we still  had no internet. We had been told, promised and assured that it would be connected on 13th February. It was not. On Tuesday to spoke to a Customer Options Manager at BT who asked for 48 hours to look into the problem and to get it sorted out. Thursday, she said, we should have internet. We told her we had had enough and that we wanted to cancel our contract. 48 hours she asked for. We waited. We also began to explore the option of signing up with the local community internet provider. Thursday came, Thursday went. We had an answerphone message to say that internet wouldn't be switched on, she was very sorry, but it would be next Tuesday. We didn't get back to her. We made an appointment for a site survey to find out if we would be able to get Reeth Rural Radio.
We popped out this morning to run some errands. We came home to find a new blue light on our home hub. Internet? Surely not! But yes, connection! It took some believing. We checked on our phones,we checked on our computers. We are indeed connected! Hello world!
Being without internet has been irritating and time-comsuming and expensive in drinks in pubs using free wi-fi. E-mails have built up in my in-box, chatty messages to friends have been too fussy to send, blog posts have been unwritten, Spanish pronunciation has been guess-work and little admin jobs have assumed enormous proportions. But the children have played together more imaginatively, books have been read and work has stayed outside the house. A number of peopls have asked us if we really do want the internet back in our home. I do, without a doubt, but I have enjoyed aspects of the wi-fi free life. Before tide sweeps back in, it is time to review what has been good about our enforced break and to build firm boundaries to preserve the space we have found.

Friday, 8 February 2013


My head is spinning. The plumber came to move our gas bottles from the front of the house to the back, and cheerily let us know that we had used almost all the gas. All four bottles. £300 worth of gas. Since December! We knew bottled gas was expensive and the house difficult to heat, but we weren't quite expecting that!
He switched that boiler off to reconnect it to the new pipes. He switched it back on. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. So, next week, we are having a new boiler fitted. It's quite cold in the house right now!
Hopefully the new boiler will be more efficient and we'll use less gas. Hopefully.
In the mean time, we have had the most beautiful sand-stone hearth laid in our living room, ready for our new log-burner. The idea being that this beautiful feature will heat not only the lounge but the bedroom above and cut down on our need for heating, which is good considering the cost of the gas.
The sandstone slab was probably "dressed" two hundred years ago, and laid down in the local hills I-don't-know-how-many million years ago.
It puts our life into context, something to ponder as I will be sitting, toasty warm, on my sofa in a couple of weeks. For now though, it's an extra jumper!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


Not the broadband (latest ETA is next Tuesday, and I got a £50 bill from BT today!), me. I am on my first two-day visit down south to do 12 hours of teaching and head home. We are tweaking things a little and have bought a new car, just a 3-door Citroen, which works out around the same price as the trains but so much more flexible, and are finding our feet with the on/off pattern. Lack of Internet continues to more than frustrate me but we are making do and I was pleased to see that I had almost achieved my goal of 12 posts in January despite the technical obstacles. I achieved nearly all my goals (having changed the baking to 12 x in the year which seemed a whole load more realistic , especially with a son who loves to cook) but I didn't make the Breastfeeding one. I suspect that this too has its roots in wi-fi absence but we shall see ...

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

And still no Internet ...

We are, finally, on the 'phone! But there is a problem at the exchange, an engineer has been reassigned and we are assured of Internet connection by 3rd February. My frustration is enormous; I love my iPhone but it is not easy to blog on its tiny screen and I've just paid nearly £4 for two of the children to have a drink and crisps in the pub so I can use the free wi-fi.
Still, I have been out running on Brownsey Moor and seen my footprints in the desolate and untouched snow, days after it fell. I have been caving with the children and our new friend ( head of local mountain rescue so I was in safe hands) and seen our footprints in the silty mud 60feet underground. Opportunities we are grasping and loving!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Another life

I have been so looking forward to blogging but I only get 30 minutes on the library computer and I have 10 left and still got some financial stuff to do!

I have so much to say about our amazing poetry tea yesterday. We set off on foot up the hill-side and along the barf (a wide, flat stretch of grazing land) to arrive at our friend's house which he has rebuilt from derelict, powered by gas lamps,  a solar panel and a small wind turbine. We had fresh raisin bread, apple cake, pancakes and a long and happy afternoon of laughter, anecdotes, poetry and good food.

Our host is a man of the kind of wisdom born from a life of many experiences and I have been left with much to ponder regarding goals, schedules, savings and time..

BT are due on Monday! Hopefully we will have a phone and maybe even internet at home!!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


And it's still so busy! I am being forced to look long and hard at my choices and my reactions to figure out why, right now, life feels more, not less, busy that it ever did in South West London.
Is it really to do with BT failing to connect us last week? It does feel that every 'phone call becomes an issue as I have to walk down the road and stand in the snow to get a connection. Simple jobs like a quick transfer of money build up until I find the time to sit, as I am doing now, in a pub with free wi-fi, and then I rattle through the list watching the minutes slip away. On the other hand, no doubt I get those jobs done more quickly and I am not distracted by the computer at home.
Is it really to do with the snow? It did feel last week that the snow made everything harder, not least planning my first trip back south with the children to do my first weekend of private tuition. It was particularly important that I fulfilled these commitments to demonstrate that this ideas of living in the Dales and working in Sunbury was achievable. It was. Despite the snow all week and the car breaking down twice in one journey! But the snow does make it all so beautiful, the whole Dale a smooth white and fresh, untouched drifts to jump in three days after it first fell and the children free to head out of the back of the house and play on the hill-side and build a snowman taller than they are!
Is it really to do with it all still being so new? We have had the electrician round three times, the builder, the plumber and the chimney-sweep. Expensive decisions need to be made about installing showers, stoves and moving gas bottles. We are still getting used to heating the house, finding things in their new homes and remembering to feed the chickens.  However, we have a beautitiful home in a breath-taking location and my morning run from my front door is in an area of out-standing natural beauty.
Is it me? Too easily distracted, too high expectations, just too stressy? I am reminded that I take myself with me wherever I go and that weeding out the busy-ness and stress starts inside with some tough choices about what really mattter, what I ultimately choose to put first. And I will continue with my journey towards and stiller, quieter, more peaceful life.

Monday, 21 January 2013


We still have no communication! No-one arrived last Wednesday and we have been told that they won't  come until mid-February! Shocking service!

We're all well and good though: successful first trip back to London, despite the weather, and now home and enjoying the beautiful snow.  Three chickens are enjoying freedom from a battery farm in our "garth" (a walled enclosure) and the children are enjoying dance and football and are about to start drama (one each). All good!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Get busy

"When we have no project to finish, no friend to visit, no book to read, no television to watch or no record to play, and when we are left all alone by ourselves we are brought so close to revelation of our basic human aloneness and are so afraid of experiencing an all-pervasive sense of lonlieness that we will do anything to get busy again and continue the game which makes us believe that everything is fine after all"
Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Friday, 11 January 2013


"The first task of any school should be to protect its privilege of offering free time - the Latin word schola  means free time - to understand ourselves and our world a little better."
Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


Without internet connection I have scheduled a few posts. I found this in my drafts, originally dated March 2011. I don't know why it struck me as worth publishing nearly 2 years ago, but as we settle into our new home and new life, it seems just right for today:

Home is not where you live but where they understand you.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Communication has broken down

Tomorrow we leave the house where we have been staying and looking after the dogs and horses and we return to our new house in a neighbouring village. We only spent four nights there before moving up here, and the children have not slept there at all, so in many ways it feels like moving in for the first time. My daughter said to me that she feels homeless at the moment and in a way we are. Nowhere feels like home, that safe place we know well, that feels warm and famililar and offers both physical and emotional shelter and we are all craving time to settle and make it our new home.
The engineer from BT does not some until next Wednesday, 16th January, and we will have no landline and no internet. There is no mobile reception at the house and so we will find ourselves totally cut-off. It is possible to climb a short distance behind the house and perch on the hillside by a dry-stone wall and pick up a mobile signal. It is possible to walk about 20 metres down the road to a BT wi-fi hot-spot. The pub in the village has free wi-fi, the local town has good mobile reception and a couple of wi-fi spots. And yet I can feel a level of anxiety about being cut-off. I am typing frantically, trying to get this post written and a couple more scheduled as well as looking up electrical safety hazards to being the Physics curriculum with the children and answer and send all necessary e-mails before black-out occurs.
What am I afraid of? Having started blogging again that anyone reading will forget all about me in a week's silence? That friends and family will be so insulted at waiting for a week's reply to an e-mail and will end all relationship with me? That I can't teach Physics without access to the web, that I have no internal or book resources, or that the children will never get this GCSE if I fail to teach this aspect of the course, this precise week?
It is as I face a week without easy internet access that I face my addiction to quick information, easy contact and the perpetual sense of busyness and I start to think that if I want to slow my life down, perhaps switching off phone and computer once in a while would be a place to start.

Friday, 4 January 2013


One thing that we have been keen to change as a family is the sense of always rushing from one activity to another, hurrying out of the door five minutes later than I intended to join one of the busiest stretches of the M25 on our way to book group/swimming/climbing ...
Activities always sound so interesting, so educational, so sociable. They tick boxes for me as a home-edding mother, evidence (ammunition?) in those conversations that doubt my educational choices. But we feel run ragged; what the children really love is to be told that we have nothing planned, that their time is their own. They don't really want to be all that busy.
So we plan to slow down.
But I am afraid that they won't have friends or social opportunities. And so the activities are creeping back in, already!
My daughter is going to try the local dance class, as good a place to meet other girls as any, surely. My middle son has his first football practice on Sunday. My eldest plans to join the local amateur dramatics society - I just need to hunt down the youth contact who I have heard such good things of. And then there is church, and Pony Club, and horse-riding. Plus trying to find some "play-dates" and going for a walk with neighbours or extending and invite for tea and cake.
It scares me to not be busy, to not spend a lot of time with people. But it exhausts me. So we'll choose not to: we won't go to Pony Club just yet and we'll not try to fit in swimming too, or invite anyone next week. I'll cope with the nerves and anxiety and I'll make a note in my diary to review it at half-term (only six weeks away) and I'll choose to let my family begin to experience the space we've longed for.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


I love new year resolutions. The turn of the year presents the opportunity for me to reflect on how I want to be different and to make attempts to become what I want to be. There is a danger of the resolution becoming the law, exerting a pressure to be fulfilled that becomes an end in itself and no longer produces the helpful encouragement to change I would like; They need to be viewed as prompts to remember how I want to live. I am a sucker for patterns and themes and so have chosen 12 this year, either to be done once or twelve times a month:

1) to host local neighbours to eat at the house once per month (dinner, lunch, poetry tea, just a cuppa and a slice of cake ...)
2) to run 12 times per month
3) to bake 12 items per month
4) to choose not to use the tumble drier 12 times per month
5) to take my son out for a coffee and a chat about his latest writing project once per month
6) to practice navigation skills once per month
7) to take the children on a day-out once per month
8) to complete one painting project per month
9) to sort out one area of my personal admin once per month
10) to finish one book per month
11) to do one thing towards developing my workas a Breastfeeding Counsellor once per month
12) to blog 12 times per month

Together they are a mixture that encourages me to live the way I want to live: none feel over-ambitious and yet there is a challenge there to stop dreaming about how I want to be and to be that way, consistently, month in, month out for a year and see where that takes me.