Wednesday, 30 January 2008

In the early spring garden

The emergence of the snowdrops has me back in the garden again. I forget how much I love it; an hour or more can pass without the slightest boredom or impulse to go and do something else. No guilt, no internal struggle to stay on task, just sheer enjoyment. And there are so many signs of life.


Winter flowering clematis

Witch Hazel

Verbena Bonariensis

I invited Beth into to garden to help and tried to be Ok with the fact that she scathingly said ‘no way, I’ve felt the temperature'.

I’m working on the front garden which is unusual for me as I don’t care much about appearances, or it seems my poor neighbours, and the back garden is my pride and joy. But the spring is the best time in the front garden, with snowdrops and tiny crocuses hidden under all the old growth. There are black and white tulips and primroses and hellebores, and I want to see and enjoy them.

I had been out for about an hour and as the light faded I decided to do one more thing, plant some tulips that I had bought as a present but which had arrived too late. I had no sooner pushed my trowel into the ground than a little voice says 'stop Mum you know I love planting'. I suppose the interest in the preparation can be allowed to develop in its own time.

I am trying hard to deschool myself and embrace unschooling, I still have a long way to go.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Arts and crafts

We finally got round to visiting a new group we have been meaning to try for a few months. It is science and art based and I have been sure that Beth would love it, however as it is on a Monday I have not had my thinking cap on in time to get there. Today we managed it and Beth loved it.

It was a shame that I misread my TomTom and ended up at Broadmarsh car park in Nottingham before I realised that I was going in totally the wrong direction. 38 minutes later we arrived an hour late! Everytime this happens I promise myself I will look at a map as well as putting the post code into TomTom, oh well next time.

Dyspraxic moment apart it was a real success and Beth was very good about not getting to finish even one thing. The running about with light sabers while the tidying up happened went down expecially well.

Light saber

And she finished off her snowman at home.


Thursday, 24 January 2008

A perfect day

Since starting home ed 16 months ago Beth and I have been very fortunate in being warmly welcomed into so many groups of home educators that we could be busy and socialising nearly every day. Beth has also found, for the first time in years, like minded girls who like to run and climb and imagine adventures, not that she has given up on the boys whom she still loves to play with.

However she has needed a lot of unstructured time and cannot cope with anything slightly schooly so we have not been able to take advantage of many of the wonderful events on offer.

Now I feel that things are moving forward for us, Beth has started spontaneously writing again and drawing


and yesterday agreed to attend a home ed event at Rosliston , part of the national forest, looking at soil and how the creatures that live in it recycle leaves and bark etc.

This group was perfect for us, there were no expectations of what the children would get out of it, they could take or leave as they chose. This meant that Beth could relax and enjoy herself.

Taking her own portrait

For me it was so good to be outside walking amongst the trees, the day was dry and mild, and there was even a tiny peek of sunshine, ambrosia to my eyes after so much rain.

The short educational session was followed by hours and hours of outdoor play with the children constantly grouping and regrouping with remarkably few problems, I hardly saw Beth and was able to catch up with “old” new friends and meet new people.

I feel so lucky to be a part of so many groups of friendly enterprising mums and dads with great ideas and lots of energy and enthusiasm, especially this one. Thank you to all of you.

Beth was inexhaustible and after hours of running around the park she still wanted to play in a little ball pit that was part of the centre and as I had promised that she could (before I had any idea of how long the event would last) she did. So followed another hour of play with a very forward three year old and a look around a very expensive dolls house shop.

And home to sleep on the sofa, me that is, and a short rest and refuelling for Beth who was off to taekwondo a couple of hours later. She later told me that she was determined to attend taekwondo however tired she was as she wanted to succeed at it. This level of commitment is a new for her and I think she is able to feel this way because she is not now emotionally exhausted and angry and resentful as she was all the time when she attended school.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

To do

I decided to do a short blog today as I have too much to do, and I decided to make this the subject.

A typical to do list

To do

Here are my notes.

The more I tick off my to do list the more there seems to be

Out or in

Pull of conflicting needs and requirements

Priorities immediate long term urgent, distractibility, over focus, lack of focus

Enjoying it while you do it, not panicking

Self and others

I then came across this doodle, it explains my problem much more realistically and succinctly than i could:


Doodle by Lee. The code for this doodle and other doodles you can use on your blog can be found at Doodles.

You just have to replace resume with accounts or internet shop and spacebook with Flickr and you are there.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Home education

Beth and I have been home educating for 15 and a half months now and she is a lot more relaxed and beginning to be self motivated.

When Beth was at school her special needs teacher always told us to play games with her to help her improve her number skills, but what works in general and in theory does not always work in practice. Previously Beth would have found the possibility of not winning too upsetting (we are still wobbling on a knife edge here but she is much better than before); you might say well a child has to learn to lose well and be a good sport, but what about games are meant to be fun and children learn well when having fun. Beth also had acute confusion between numbers especially 8 and 9 together with impulsive counting on which led to her getting her position on the board wrong. She does not take well to even the slightest hint of criticism perhaps because in the school system she has been wrong from the start just for being who she is, perhaps because she has a highly sensitive nature and is easily shamed.

Playing this game of Monopoly with her I watched her understanding of simple counting and number labels accelerate, it was fascinating and reminded me of Montessori’s “windows of opportunity”. She learnt more in that game than in the whole of the previous year and I think this was because the game happened at just the right moment and this is what makes autonomous learning and unschooling so effective.

Playing Monopoly

This level of confusion in basic number skills does not mean however that Beth does not understand number concepts. Here she is with her brother (supposed to be revising for A level maths) learning basic algebra, and picking it up straight away.


We both love stories and I try to make sure that Beth’s dyslexia doesn’t mean that she misses out on children’s literature, both by reading to her and by supplying her with audio cds of her favourites which means she can listen to a book as many times as she wants too. I have also recently found a great organization called Calibre which loans tapes and CDs to the blind and dyslexic and this helps cut down the cost and provides variety.

The book we are reading at the moment is Physik by Angie Sage, the third part of a gripping and inventive magical trillogy.

Reading Physik

Despite being unable to read fluently yet Beth has amazing comprehension and is always ahead of me in guessing what will happen next and very rarely has to ask for clarification of the plot. Being literate really has nothing to do with the act of reading, to my mind it is much more to do with an understanding of the way language can be used to entertain and entrance, to terrify and to bring one to the edge of one’s seat with anticipation. Beth has had these pleasures from a very young age and yet at school she was labeled as having literacy problems because she will be a late developer of clerical skills. I feel this is a dangerous and fundamental misunderstanding that pervades our education system. Taking her out of that system has limited the damage, but four years of being seen as defective will take some time to undo and emotionally she is still very fragile about her weaknesses.

She also has plenty of time to just play with no peer group telling her that she is too young to play like this or that she is being babyish. Nonsense I know as many adults love dolls houses but still the sort of taunt used by kids trying to maintain their status in the playground culture.

And this week she has started a totally autonomous project, exploring the textures that can be found about the house and making rubbings of them and has also begun to combine the textures to make art, and best of all has organized them herself into a ring binder. Of course the offcuts, scraps and rejects are still left for me to tidy up, but there is hope on the horizon!

Maybe she will let me take a picture of some of them to share soon.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Goals resolutions aims and objectives

Last year I only achieved one of my goals and that not completely!

Goals resolutions aims and objectives
I was struggling with my health and a complete change of lifestyle from working when the kids were at school to home educating a very angry school damaged child.

This was exacerbated by the acquisition of much stuff that may well come in handy for home education but probably won’t.

And by a health system that is not in the business of helping one to wellness but of picking up the pieces when you can’t cope any more and then only if you are lucky. Much of the year was spent trying to understand the interaction between thyroid dysfunction and peri menopause and working out which medication was helping and which wasn't, mostly without the help of my GP who's mantra was the bloods are in the average range. Not to say he hasn't been very helpful in some ways but a general medical reliance on tests over and above the patients lived experience has forced me to take even more personal responsibility for my health.

My two teenage children emptying their room of all things childish and dumping them into my bedroom and the computer room didn’t help, nor did my own unwillingness to deal with this quickly and so signal the end of their childhood.

No their bedrooms are not tidy now.

Finally my eldest daughters wedding which brought on an episode of full blown Tourettes and necessitated an urgent private appointment with a neurologist and a trip through thee or four different medications to find one that helps. I was though, very fortunately fine by the day and a very magical day it was.

But since December I have adjusted my medication and started taking my Omega 3 more regularly while being more serious about exercise and I feel much more clear headed.

This year I want to achieve a lot with Beth, I laugh when I see that I put homeschooling down, this is not even a British term and is very far from what we have been doing. What we have been doing is best described as unschooling or autonomous education, but Beth’s reading has come on and she absorbs information like a sponge from the tv. She is a very visual learner. But now I think she herself would like more structure so that is what we are going to try, just a little.

I also want to continue to grow our own vegetables, and hopefully the weather will be more auspicious this year, I couldn’t have picked a worse year to start. After a lovely early spring it rained continually for months last year and we had virtually no sunshine, so I will not let my abismal failure to produce more than a few meals worth put me off and will have another try.

And almost most of all I want to become a better photographer, I studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic in my twenties, and I found the technical stuff difficult then and I still do. But I think it is even more necessary to understand it now with digital so one of my goals is to learn a lot more about how my camera works this year.

And that I think is quite enough, if not too much.

Sunday, 6 January 2008


My gorgeous not so new now kitchen has come at a price and as my muddled efforts at not spending last year got us precisely nowhere I now have to hone my skills.

Hence the large joints of meat below, which are supposed to save us money on the kids’ lunches. They should do even if they eat more of them because they are so much yummier, as they were bought at very reduced prices, thank you Tesco.

The pork

The beef

all wrapped up

Also I am finding mysupermarket very useful as it compares your basket of goods from your favourite (as long as it is Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda or Waitrose) supermarket to the other three so you can tell which is best value for you, then it tells you if you can buy cheaper similar goods or less fattening products. When you are satisfied that you are getting the best or least fattening basket from the best value supermarket it will send them your trolley and award you ipoints (yet to see the real point of these) as well. Ideally you then go to Martin’s Money and find a voucher code which allows you to get your shop delivered for less than you could buy it in the shop.

I am also planning to entertain myself by taking long walks and cycle rides instead of shopping, at least this is the plan. But I will allow myself a little indulgence.

I get some great finds at charity shops, especially shoes, although I am an average size five I still find unworn shoes by Clarks, Rhode and Scholl, my goal is never to have to go out and buy a pair of shoes full price. Great if I can afford it and I want to, but there is nothing more frustrating than having to. These Rhode boots are my latest find.

Rhode boots

In the same shop I found an, in its wrapper, never opened Boden linen shirt for a few pounds and an indulgence which may be peculiarly my taste, a little metal vase probably of eastern origin.

Charity shop find

On a larger scale last year I bought my car insurances and rescue through internetcashback and received 60 odd pounds back in cashback, I intend to do this with any large purchase this year after checking with a comparison site such as to make sure I get the best price.

All this talk is about spending, not spending is my real goal for 2008 and that will really be a challenge. But we have made a start by making lovely home made soup from leftover vegetables, this one by Bruce, so no recipe.

Home made vegetable soup

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