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.