Monday, 21 December 2009

Solstice!

As I write I can see the sun starting to rise above the roof-tops of the houses behind my house, and the sky is changing from an indigo blue to a pale, striped gold and delicate rose-pink. The snow still clinging to the roofs and fences and gardens is a shimmering pale blue in the early morning light and I can feel the world holding its breath for this one day of the sun 'standing still' before the tide turns just after sunset today and the gradual march towards summer begins.

Already I know that this year will be another year of challenges for us as a family: my husband's temporary job comes to end in January, and he also starts teaching his first few classes as a newly-qualified lifelong learning teacher. As a family we will have to learn to re-balance our lives as hopefully he gains more classes to teach, and we also need to find other ways of supplementing that income until it provides enough by itself. The Children, Schools & Families Bill has the potential to change our way of life if it goes through before a general election, and no matter what the outcome of the election, this will also have ramifications for all of us here in the UK. There are personal challenges too, as we both continue with our writing, and the children turn 7 and 5 and continue to develop in their own unique ways.

But for today I am content to stand on the brink of all that and let it wait. Today we'll have a time out of time and celebrate the sun. The children have enjoyed their simple stockings this morning and are happily sorting through the decorations, greeting each strand of tinsel as an old friend and deciding which ones to claim for their own rooms this year. Later we have family coming and we'll share a meal and exchange gifts. Good things to savour.

Happy Solstice everyone!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Never listen to phone-ins on local radio

I tend to listen to LBC radio last thing at night to lull me into a sleepy state, but since the Copenhagen Summit has been going on they have been talking about climate change and several nights in a row I've found myself so angry that instead of dropping off to sleep I've been on the point of getting out of bed at midnight to phone in myself and correct a few people!

I just cannot believe the level of ignorance and wilful refusal to act that I've been hearing. Examples: one guy said "well, if anyone can give me just one example of where climate change is having a bad effect right now anywhere in the world then I'll believe it." Erm, how about the Arctic, and the Antarctic, and the Pacific Islands, and the increased flooding in the UK, and the recent hurricanes which devastated New Orleans and caused a lot of damage in Jamaica. So, apart from those, there's absolutely no evidence... how much evidence does he want?!

Another bloke said that the only reason scientists agree that climate is happening, is man-made and is important is because governments have paid them to say so. And why would governments do such an inconvenient thing for themselves, we might ask? Apparently so that they can levy 'green taxes'. So, we'll just ignore the incredibly rich and powerful oil lobby for a while, with their vested interests in denying both climate change and peak oil and we'll also ignore the fact that if this bloke's view is correct, it must be the first time in the entire history of the world that all the world's governments have put pressure on their scientists at the same time and to say the same thing. And then we'll also ignore the actual science itself - which while complex is by no means incomprehensible to the average lay-person who actually takes the trouble to enquire into it even superficially. So, leaving all those little counter-arguments aside, would governments really deliberately risk annoying the electorate as much as they seem to be annoyed by the idea of reining in their cushy and wasteful lifestyles a little for the sake of, erm, their own futures, for the sake of a very paltry amount in green taxes which will ahve to be used in actually trying to stop climate change anyway? Seems rather unlikely to me, given that most governments are terrified of doing anything even near to half the amount needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change in the coming decades due to fear of harming the economy. It seems to me that if even governments are acknowledging that something has to be done, even if they're not actually doing it, then this proves that there's actually something in this.

A third man (yes, they were all men) said that he was looking forward to having the temperature 2C higher, he thought that would be rather nice, especially now as it was only 1C in his back garden. I almost threw the radio across the room at such a complacent and ignorant assessment of what would be the consequences of the potential rises in temperature.

And that's without even discussing peak oil.

I really really hope that people who generally phone in to local talk radio stations are more ignorant and reactionary than the average. Otherwise we are all really doomed.

And don't get me started on the results of the summit itself. I'm too depressed even to think about it right now.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

A poem!

Although I'm still struggling with my own muse, I'm happy to report that my daughter has no such problems and today wrote a poem (well, a song actually) which was inspired by an Enid Blyton adventure story:

Dire dark deeds
On the hill.
People being held
Against their will.
In the dark, dark house
There's a moveable floor,
And danger!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Musing on the Muse

I find it very hard to be creative at this time of the year; my inspiration seems to disappear as soon as the grey days start and rain falls. I've been doing some meditation on that and I think that my frustration at feeling unable to connect with inspiration gives my usual seasonal depression an additional edge. I'm no longer sure if it's the depression blocking my inspiration, or if my depression is partly fueled by my inability to create and both are caused by a third thing - ie the darkness.

My meditations and workings recently have all been centred in healing and health - for me and my family - but once we're all in good shape again, I'm planning to start meditations on inspiration and seeking my Muse again. For me, meditations on the sun seem a good place to start, but I wondered what other people use to kick-start their creativity while having a dry spell?

Obviously, being out in nature helps, but due to my back injury that has been difficult recently. This injury and our recent combined family ill-health have been a real shock to the system. It is scary quite how vulnerable we are, and how much of our carefully ordered life falls apart when I'm not very mobile even for a short while.

I think confidence has a certain amount to do with inspiration as well - or maybe it's just that confidence enhances my receptiveness to inspiration. I'll tend to question it less and act on it more when I'm feeling good about myself and my abilities. This is clearly also linked to my depression. Recently I read a certain famous series of books which, despite being bestsellers, are *really* badly written and it really knocked my confidence for several weeks. What is the point of spending years learning and practising my writing (and still not being published) when other people can get such badly written and derivative drivel published and have such a huge volume of sales?

Time is another factor. Sometimes I get a moment of inspiration but I'm in the middle of shopping, or doing some activity with the kids. If I was single with no ties or responsibilities I could write whenever the mood struck, through the night, without worrying about getting meals. I know these mundane things shouldn't interfere, but realistically they do. My kids have a prior claim on me, we all have to eat. Since my writing isn't bringing in any money, perhaps the time I spend doing it is self-indulgent and I shouldn't be trying to tempt the Muse at all. Maybe I should be glad I can't seem to write at the moment, and use the time to do some actual paid work.

I think I'm having an inspiration crisis, so I need to meditate on that. Any thoughts or wishes welcome!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Children, Schools & Families Bill

For those who may not have heard of this, it is a Government Bill which introduces all kinds of new things for parents, schools and home educators. For example, schools will have the right to restrain your child without your permission or even knowledge. Parents will have to sign contracts with the school which usurp parental choices in education (and also in family time), and may impose fines on parents not complying.

Not to mention the part about home education which gives local authorities a power to enter homes and interview children alone which even the police do not have unless they have suspicion based on eveidence that a serious crime has taken place.

This bill, if it becomes law, will fundamentally change the balance of power between the state and parents in favour of the state. Do you think this won't affect you? Think again. It will affect anyone with children in this country. They're starting with the home educators because we are a minority, and one that many people are suspicious of, at that. But if this bill goes through, it's only a matter of time before *all* parents are CRB checked in order to look after their own children, before health visitor visits become compulsory, before the state is able to tell you which school your children must go to, what qualifications they have to take, who they can and can't see in their family time, before the state can inspect *all* parents to check on their 'suitability' against a state measurement.

Don't let this happen. Sign the latest petition to keep family life free of state control, here.

Remember:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Martin Niemoeller

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Better & Worse

We seem to have a had a real catalogue of disasters since my last post - most of them relatively minor (but annoying!) domestic problems such as the light bulb in the fridge blowing, the doorbell falling off and some parts disappearing in the night, the handle of my daughter's window breaking meaning we can't open the window.

Others have been more worrying - another round of colds meaning none of us get any sleep, the fact that fell down the stairs getting up with my son in the night and hurt my back quite badly. This last one has set back many other things too - planting the rest of my onions and garlic, getting parts and mending the items damaged in the recent wave of domestic disasters.

It's very frustrating to be able to see what needs doing, have the time to sort it, but be unable to walk or cycle to the hardware shop, not to mention being unable to bend down or lean over to do the work itself.

But on the other hand, it was really nice to have a friend round yesterday and chat about stuff that had nothing to do with the kids or their education. Hooray for talking about other stuff!

And I also had a builder from a local green construction firm round to give us some advice about all our damp and condensation problems. I wasn't sure what to expect - maybe a hard sell for their firm to come and sort things out? But no, he was incredibly nice and incredibly patient. He looked at all the problem areas and gave me his opinion on what to do to sort them out. By the time he left, I had a list of stuff which would all help, in order of priority and in order of expense. None of the things were that expensive, a lot of it we could do ourselves, and one suggestion he made seems to have helped already, overnight. So, I'm feeling a bit better about the house now, hoping we can stop the damp and mould in its tracks. It's been a real weight off my mind, I had been so stressed about it all.

This year is really getting away from me though. I can't believe it's almost my birthday again. I'm determined to actually do something nice this year as last year everyone had a sickness bug for several weeks around my birthday and we couldn't do anything at all. Maybe a bit of celebrating in the greyness will help.

This post is brought to you courtesy of Philips Bright Light my cheery winter breakfast companion which, together with a couple of days of sunshine, is helping me continue on my weary way with at least a thread of humour...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

SAD

As you may know, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. People don't really tend to take this very seriously, I've found. After all, doesn't everyone get a bit down in winter? Well, yes, probably in our country most people do, but what I get is actual SAD, real dperession, which I struggle with most winters.

And this winter, it's set in very early due to the dull weather and being unable to get out of the house very little the last few weeks due to illness in our house. Winston Churchill wrote about his depression as being a 'black dog', but I find mine to be more of dull grey fog which settles over me and muffles everything. I find I lose my creativity and inspiration which also has a knock-on effect of its own on my mood. I feel exhausted all the time but when I go to bed I can't sleep for ages. Then in the morning I can't wake up and feel really sluggish. That's if I'm lucky enough to get a full night's sleep at the moment. I find that getting enough sleep and in a regular pattern can really help the SAD, but my son seems determined to deprive me of this right now, thus making everything much worse.

Another reason for the early onset this year is that my son has finally been cutting down on the breastfeeding - I'm losing out on all that lovely, mood-enhancing oxytocin from those long early morning feeds we used to have. And my body doesn't seem very good at producing mood-enhancing chemicals on its own.

I find myself craving all the things which I know from previous experience actually makes the SAD worse - chocolate, sugary and stodgy foods, staying in bed in the morning for hours given half a chance, giving up trying to achieve anything. I know that regular bed time and getting up time, enough sleep, good food, chocolate only in moderation actually help, but I can't help but think 'oh who cares? I can't be bothered'. It all seems such an effort.

Every day I drag myself out of bed and force myself to do all the things I should be doing - cooking, shopping, studying, allotment - all the jobs to keep the house running well but my heart just isn't in it right now. It just all feels dull and grey and thankless and without end or satisfaction. I can't manage to write.

I should probably dig out my sunshine lamp, which I haven't need the last few years due to breastfeeding hormones and getting out in the daylight during the day a lot more - but I can't be bothered. I'm falling into fiction again to escape the nothingness of my own brain, but I'm not sure this is quite the healthiest thing either - living vicariously on other people's vividness and then feeling my own life to be colourless in comparison. I tried to summon up a bit of enthusiasm for my birthday, coming up soon, but making actual arrangements for doing anything remotely enjoyable just seems so difficult that it seems easier to let it go by, even though I would actually like to mark it somehow.

I'm hoping for a sunny day soon to lift this feeling before it sets in for the whole winter. I don't want to feel like this any more. I'm sick of making the effort to carry on as usual. If anyone can send me some sunshiney thoughts, I'd appreciate it. I'm struggling.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Samhain/Hallowe'en

Every year I hope I won't need to do a post about this, but every year I'm annoyed again by the ignorance and lack of understanding about this important Pagan festival. We had a Hallowe'en Party at our Home Ed Group which several families chose not to attend because they don't do Hallowe'en. OK fair enough, but then of course my children come to me and ask "why couldn't x and y come to the party? They say they're not allowed to celebrate Hallowe'en, why?" And what do I say without saying that x and y's parents are ignorant?
So, to reiterate. Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sow-een or varieties thereof depending on the part of the country you live in) is the pre-Christian festival which was around 31st October. It was the new year, which meant it was a liminal time - ie a time which was neither the old year, nor the new year. Liminal times are times between times, neither one thing nor the other, and as such they are sacred and special. Things can happen then which cannot happen at other times. It was seen as a thinning of the barrier between this world and the next world, hence it being a good time to scry into the future and try to find out who you'd marry and so forth.
Due to this thinning of the barrier it was also seen as a time when evil spirits might be around, hence disguising yourself in some kind of costume to escape, and having things around (such as scarily craved pumpkins these days) which would frighten away anything nasty.
The main part of Samhain however is a festival of the dead, common to many cultures and similar to the current one in Mexico which is completely sanctioned by the Catholic Church there. This is a celebration of death as a part of the cycle of life. It reminds us that this is usually the point of the last of the harvest, and the point at which weather deteriorates so much that we have to stay indoors more. It's a time for remembering loved ones who have died, and for honouring our ancestors. It reminds us that it's growing darker, the year is hurtling towards the winter solstice and that it's a time for going inwards, going dormant, planning and assessing rather than action.
It was the Church who added all the most 'nasty' elements to Samhain and made it Hallowe'en - All Hallows Eve. Which is ironic considering it is now the Church who seems to object to these elements. When the Church started taking over, it deliberately placed its important festivals on dates which were already celebrated in order to absorb those festivals into itself and replace them with its own as it demonised the previous festival. So, the Church placed All Saints Day on what had been New Year's Day around 1st November and because you couldn't have anything unholy around on All Saints Day, Samhain became All Hallows Eve - the night when all nasty and evil things came out to play in advance of All Saints Day when they couldn't. This had been a very small part of Samhain before this and now the Church emphasised this part only and blotted out all the other aspects of the festival, which are the most important to Pagans today.
Of course, popular secular celebration of the event focuses on the dressing up and the trick or treating, which grew from the 'trickster' element of the festival - winter festivals quite often have a trickster element, such as the Roman Saturnalia which turns everyday life on its head with masters serving slaves. Trickster gods such as Loki and Pan and Robin Goodfellow are not generally evil, merely mischievous and playful, though they can have a nasty edge. They embody some useful fun during the dark, cold and dangerous months of winter, and also echo reality with their unpredictability and occasional cruel edge.
I don't object to people celebrating the secular aspects of Hallowe'en. It is similar to the way most people celebrate Christmas - not being Christian and with no intention of honouring the deeper, spiritual meaning of the festival. What I do object to though is Christians being all self-righteous about Hallowe'en. They invented it, in its modern form, so it's ironic when they object to it, without even apparently knowing its history. And they are ignorant of its true spiritual meaning for thousands of modern Pagans. I'm sick of apologising for one of the main festivals of my faith and sick of being defensive about it. Christians wouldn't object to Eid or Diwali in this way, so why my festival which their Church had such a hand in trying to destroy?
This is not a post to attack Christians, it is a post to attack ignorance and intolerance. If I have managed to inform just one person, I'll be happy. But I'm not keeping quiet about this any longer.
Happy Samhain everyone!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Breastfeeding

I am passionate about breastfeeding. Neither of my children have ever had formula milk and they never had breastmilk from any container except my breast either. My 4.5 year old is still breastfeeding at least once a day. I say these things not to be smug or implicitly criticise anyone who did things differently but because I am really proud of them as my own achievements. And I also want to link to this article telling the truth about breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding.

Many women I've known have talked about the pressure to breastfeed and feeling angry about that, but I actually think that most women are lied to about the reality of bottle-feeding and many would be shocked and upset to learn the risks they are running for their babies' lives.

I don't think more pressure is what's needed. I think there needs to be more support and sharing of experience if problems are encountered, more support allowing women to take the time they need to feed their babies, more normalising of breastfeeding which is after all the normal way of feeding an infant rather than the highly artificial and unnatural bottle feeding.

Having watched a programme in the evening on a channel with adverts recently, which I haven't done for a while, I've been shocked at the kind of baby milk advertising that's allowed. After all, so many people boycott Nestle for just such promotion in developing countries, maybe we need a boycott of the people who make and show these adverts here.

The answers aren't simple. The reasons women don't breastfeed are social and economic and cultural. many women think they 'can't' breastfeed when they encounter a problem which can actually be solved with the correct advice, but they don't get the correct advice.

I'm not going to go into all the reasons here that are covered in the article, and before anyone flames me. Yes, I know breastfeeding isn't always easy, particularly in our culture where we don't grow up subconsciously learning how to do it from our mothers, sisters, aunts and friends. I know it can be hard to get support and I know their are special circumstances in which bottle feeding is necessary, in which case it is a lifesaver.

However, it is still the case that bottlefed babies are twice as likely to die in the first 6 weeks of life than breastfed babies. Twice as many! How many people learned that fact in their antenatal classes? The World Health Organisation considers formula milk to be 4th best for babies - so not even 2nd or 3rd best, in fact 4th best, their absolutely least preferred option. Baby junk food in fact. And the NHS spends £35 million a year on treating gastroenteritis in bottlefed babies. Maybe some of this should be covered in birth preparation classes so women can make a truly informed choice.

See La Leche League for help with breastfeeding.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Inspirational books

Well, Christmas is coming and I thought a list of inspirational books which people might want to add to their wish lists or buy for other people would be appropriate. So here goes:
So Shall We Reap by Colin Tudge - this is a detailed and educated look at the current food situation and how factpry farming is not only not the answer but is part of the current problem.
Permaculture in a Nutshell by Patrick Whitefield - this is a classic and inspirational book. It's quite short but packed with get-up-and-go. Makes you want to forage in a skip for old tyres, turn them into planters and use them grow tomatoes on your patio!
Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets by Joanna Blythman - another book which makes you more and more outraged as you read it, wondering why this kind of information is not mandatory in all schools.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement and Reproductive Wealth by Toni Weschler - this is another on the 'required reading list' for all women. If you're trying to get pregnant, not to get pregnant, or have ever worried you were pregnant when you were not, this is absolutely vital information. I consider myself pretty clued up on health and reproductive issues but I learnt so much from this book. I can honestly say that I probably wouldn't have managed to have my children naturally (if at all) without this book.
How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson - I've talked about this book before and I still highly recommened it as a way of seeing our culture in a new way.
Affluenza by Oliver James - a psychological look at why everyone is so depressed these days despite being so well off materially. An interesting read.
Can Any Mother Help Me? by Jenna Bailey - a lovely, moving and fascinating read about a group of mothers from before and during WW2 who supported each other through a penpal circle.
And finally, one for the Pagans here: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics by Emma Restall-Orr - a must-read for all thoughtful Pagans with an interest in philosophy.
Enjoy!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Mooncups

I love my Mooncup and I would never ever go back to using tampons or pads ever again. I know that some people haven't heard of them, some people find it hard to use them, but I can honestly say it's been a liberation for me. I have found I need to empty it far fewer times than I would need to change even a Super PLus tampon, and I no longer have to get up at night during the first few days of my period. It had a learning curve, sure, but then so did tampons when I first used them.

And for anyone who thinks they are expensive at £19.99, here's a bit of maths for you. I first used my Mooncup 6 years ago. Since then I calculate I've had 45 periods. Using 20 Super, 16 Regular and around 10 liners (all organic Natracare) at least, for each period cost me around £6.18 per period. Therefore, since 2003, I've saved myself £278.10 purely by using a Mooncup. (Plus my Mooncup only cost me £14.99 back then.) And my Mooncup should last me at least another 5 years, probably more.

And that's without thinking of the amount of rubbish I've kept out of landfill (or the sewers if you're naughty). So, for anyone thinking of taking the Mooncup plunge, or who had never heard of them till now, go on, try one, it could change your life or at least save you quite a decent amount of cash.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Insulation

And as the weather turns colder and the condensation starts running, my mind turns to insulation. We've really got to do something about insulation this year, but I'm totally at sea and don't know what to do for the best, plus we have about £25 spare to do it with, if that!
So far, I've just spent our 'spare' £25 on some reflecting panels to go behind our radiators so that we are not losing the heat we do have (not that I've switched the heating on yet anyway). But we have a much bigger problem - leaky double glazing, especially in the main bedroom where the window is actually misted in between the 2 panes. The only outside wall in the main bedroom gets really cold on the inside and then runs with condensation over night, causing damp and mould. We also get a lot of damp and mould in our bathroom, mainly on the ceiling. We have solid walls in our 1920s terraced house and no airbricks, but we have loft insulation and gas central heating with radiators.
Whenever I talk to people about all this, I get completely different replies, but all given absolutely authoritatively: more ventilation needed, more insulation needed, external insulation, internal insulation, better heating, more loft insulation. Given that most of these options involve serious building work and serious money, I don't want to get it wrong. I'm happy to save up for a proper solution but I have no idea which one *is* the proper solution. Can you get an 'eco' building/insulating company to come and give a free quote of what could be done to make your house more efficient? If so, how do you find someone knowledgeable and reputable?
I'm finding this all so frustrating as I know we could be more energy-efficient if I could sort this problem, and I don't want to keep on opening windows with the heating on just to get rid of the condensation. There has to be a better way!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Reading

I have to share a great author I've discovered this year. I've gradually been working my way through many of his books and have been constantlyu blown away bu the sheer inventiveness of the polts and settings, the detail of the worlds he conjures up and the variety of characters. So, if you like 'hard' sci-fi, with a very surreal edge, but great rollicking adventures, I advise you to go and try Charles Stross - particularly Singularity Sky, The Atrocity Archives and Accelerando. Whenever I read his books I feel like my brain looks like the faces of astronauts who are undergoing heavy-g acceleration! But in a good way.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Check it out!

For those of you who have not seen it, here's the slightly adapted Pink Floyd song by the Children's Liberation Front calling for Badman to get his hands off our education:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nieMyl5puAY

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Little House Not On The Prairie

Today I've felt very much like Ma from the Little House series, or (for Georgette Heyer fans) like Jenny from A Civil Contract - all housewifely! So a quick run-down of my day:
- got up and fed my son for half an hour to help clear blocked up ears from a minor cold he has.
- put the washing in the washing machine, sorted out breakfast.
- got me and children washed and dressed.
- Mum and Dad came round and we all went to the allotment where we weeded, dug and harvested.
- got lunch for everyone.
- put washing out.
- washed up.
- boiled, peeled, chopped and pickled 2.5 lbs of beetroot from the allotment.
- peeled, chopped, blanched and froze 2.5 lbs of carrots from the allotment.
- made a lemon drizzle cake with the lemon my mum brought me.
- made pizza dough.
- washed up.
- comforted my son when he punched himself in the mouth with the end of the sink plunger which he was sticking to the floor and then pulling up with a popping sound. Came up unexpectedly hard that time.
- finished pizza and got tea on the table.
- got washing in.

And now I have to start getting the kids to bed, reading to them and getting them to sleep. Well, at least I've got a lot done today!
- made afternoon snack.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Autumn Fair

We went to our local Autumn Fair yesterday and I was half-inspired and half-frsutrated. It was inspiring and warming to see so any local community groups there - most that I'd never heard of before. There was a local spinning, weaving, knitting and craft group (who I've hopefully collared to come along and do a demo at my Home Ed Group with their spinning wheels and wool!), local Protection Society who try and protect the town's heritage whilst also trying to intervene on proposed future developments to get them to be proportionate and in keeping with the town, as well as a local Energy Group, Eco Vols, and 'Friends' of various of our local parks and green spaces. So why aren't all these people linking up their efforts under some umbrella organisation such as Transition? Argh! It's frustrating! What we really need here is a charismatic leader who has the energy (and time!) to go around to all these groups and draw them in so that we can co-ordinate all our efforts - surely there would have to be some saving in energy by ensuring we didn't duplicate effort and supporting each other?
I had been starting to think that just wasn't anyone in this town who was interested in green things, but now I see that there are many people who are, but only in their particular niche, or area of interest. People don't necessarily have an overview, or see themselves as a generally green person, they are just interested in their small area. I wonder if, in time, there could be some links made? It would certainly take someone with more energy than I have right now. But maybe there is hope.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Equinox

Well, the equinox and, predictably, I am thinking about balance. Last night's Home Ed Group Adult Social Evening went really well and it was so nice to get out and about in the evening to chat to othert adults. I felt a part of my life which had been dormant for a while start to wake up again, which was nice.

But this morning I feel all cross and crotchety despite having the Not Back To School Picnic to look forward to later. This could be due to waking to a big tantrum from my son, who hardly ever has tantrums, about something silly, but really because he hadn't eaten breakfast. Well, apparently this is the rteason for my crotchets, but really I think it is the feeling of transition which is responsible for both my grumpiness and my son's. The wheel of the year is turning towards the winter and, while I'm looking forward to colder mornings and that crisp autumn feeling, I'm also nervous of the winter - it has such power over my mood that it's truly something to respect in a way I never feel about the summer.

Tuning into the feeling of transition in the season, there are also changes afoot in my personal life - my husband has an interview for a teaching job, the Home Ed Group is really taking off and becoming a large part of our lives ( leading me to worry if this is a good thing? Am I relying too much on one aspect of my life?), the Transition Group I'm involved in isn't going so well and I feel it's draining me to no good purpose (which is very disappointing), I've started writing a new novel (young adult this time) and feel quite positive about it.

After all this pointless musing, I'll leave you with a picture of our Equinox Biscuits (half dark, half light, get it?):

Monday, 21 September 2009

Busy Time

As the year tips over from summer to winter, I have such a busy couple of weeks. Tomorrow I am running our local Not Back To School Picnic, which I'm very nervous about. After being in the local paper last week we also have a photogrpaher coming to this event and I'm really hoping it looks good and will help inform people about home education and what it's all about, and dispel some myths and prejudices.

Today is also the last day for responses to the Select Committee Enquiry into the Badman Review, so I'm also wondering what will happen with that. I sent in our local group's response a while back and I know lots of other people have also been working on responses. Fingers crossed.

Tonight we have our first home ed group Adult Social Evening. Thankfully, I'm not holding this in my house (like that would be feasible, NOT!) but I am a bit nervous about it. What if no-one turns up? What if we have nothing to say to each other without the kids butting in every 2 seconds? Eek!

And next week there's the first joint event we're holding with our local museum, which is also rather nerve-racking. Add to that our usual weekly meetings, plus the next assignment I need to do for my course, and the recent inspiration I've had for a new novel, and things are looking rather busy.

Well, suppose I'd better stop sitting here blogging and go and hang the clothes out, then do the shopping.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Onions

I've just had to buy my first onions since June/July when I started digging up my homegrown allotment onions. I *hate* having buy onions, I've decided, and next year will plant loads more onions and garlic too on the allotment as they grew so well and were so tasty, and now that I know how to dry and store them properly. Now if only I could remember how many onion sets I bought last year to give me this 2/3 month's worth crop this year.

Can anyone give me advice on storing potatoes? I have a bumper crop and the nights are starting to get cold, so I want to be digging them well before the first frost, but we have nowhere dark and cold to store them - no root cellar, no garage and no rodent-proof shed. What we have got is a plastic toolshed (with the lift-up roof from Argos, you know the kind!) on the north wall of our house. If I store the potatoes in that, inside a cardboard box and newspaper, will they stay good, do you think? Would the forst get at them in there? Or does anyone have any better ideas (other than digging a root cellar)?

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Autumn

It feels like autumn is coming - I can smell it in the air in the mornings and the evenings. We're almost to the autumn equinox and the children have named this time 'the start of snuggly-time'. Like me, my daughter needs to snuggle up under a duvet to really sleep well, so for that reason we are both looking forward to the change in the seasons.

However, I also suffer from SAD, so the depths of the winter are usually bad for me, and in a dull winter I'm really struggling by January. So autumn is rather a mixed time for me. On the one hand, it's one of my favourite seasons (along with spring), but on the other hand, it leads to a potentially difficult time.

in the past, I've tried to go along with the spirit of the season in winter and pretty much hibernated, but actually, I don't think this is the best approach for me. If I don't try to keep a bit active, the depression can take over.

The key, as ever, seems to lie in balance. Finding that elusive balance between going with the withdrawal and regrouping which are an essential part of the winter season, and yet not allowing myself to sink under the weight of dark days and give in to the yearning to just lie in bed all day reading Georgette Heyer books (my equivalent of a comfort blanket).

Maybe we'll have a bright, crisp and cold winter rather than a dull and mild one. Here's hoping.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Octopuses and jam!

What an odd week we've had! Well, we've made *much* jam in the last few weeks, here's some of it:

And we've also made octopuses - or should that be octopi? Whatever, we've made them, out of wool of course!
And there has been much time spent in making dens as the weather has started to turn slightly cooler:


And we've had a slight finger-knitting craze. No pictures yet, but my daughter has really taken to it and it's suprisingly relaxing. Let's hope that calmness descends on our house with the autumn weather. I can't wait!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Transition

I have been working up to this post because I really wanted to do it justice, but if I try to do a long, and erudite post in the way some people do, whose blogs I love to read, it will never get done. So it will have to be short and to the point.
I have been getting involved in my town's fledgling Transition movement, and currently it seems like an uphill road - I have days of inspiration and days of feeling very discouraged - but I have been changed by this already. It's hard to describe. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the Transition Movement basically takes as its starting point the fact that climate change is real, is happeneing, and that peak oil is real and is happening. It then suggests that, rather than waiting for the government to do anything about these things, or worrying that we'll turn into armed survivalists and it'll be the end of the civilised world, we start planning and changing our world now, starting with ourselves and with our communities. We re-localise, re-skill ourselves, establish local links, local trading, even local currencies, ahead of any catastrophic happenings in the enviornment, or running out of oil, so that when these things do occur, we will have 'resilience' built in to our communities. Plus it will make our communities nicer places to live in right now! Win-win!
Anyway, this is something to be inspired about. This is life-changing. Read The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins and start seeing the world differently. Check out The Transition Network for loads of information and help to become a Transition Town. Check out this blog for updates and other snippets.
I can't do this justice in words. Reading The Transition Handbook made me feel hot and cold all over, it gave me shivers up and down my spine. It made me feel very depressed and very inspired. It was one of those books where you *just know* that you've come home. I think everyone should be given a copy. It should be required reading at school. Then maybe we'd have a better world.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Books I've been reading

Well, I've read, in fairly quick succession: The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff
and The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson and Winning Parent, Winning Child by Jan Fortune-Wood which was quite an interesting juxtaposition.
I know many people Tom Hodgkinson's style rather annoying, but as I truly think his earlier book How to be Free should be required reading for everyone, I think I would recommend it, taken with a pinch of salt. It does sound like he enjoys a bit of lying down in the sun with a beer in his hand while the kids run wild, but, hey, that's not such a bad ambition. His 'message' is quite similar to Deborah Jackson's in Letting Go as Children Grow, ie, not to get in your children's way as they go about their business, only with more drinking and ukelele-playing. It is also similar to Liedloff's account of how the Yequana Indians treat their children (and Hodgkinson recommends The Continuum Concept). I enjoyed Hodgkinson's book without it really telling me anything new, and some bits I disagreed with. But I reckon he wouldn't be too bothered about that if you met him in person. He comes across as quite affable.
I was surprised that I didn't really like The Continuum Concept. Having read many books based on its ground-breaking parenting methods, and agreed with many of the concepts within Attachment Parenting, based partly on Liedloff's suggestions (such as long-term breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby-wearing), I actually found this original work rather annoying. I found her style awkward and I wasn't at all sure that she had anywhere near enough evidence to back up some of the claims and assumptions she made. Other people (including Deborah Jackson, Margot Sunderland and Sue Gerhardt) have since provided plenty of hard evidence for the benefits of these things and were the basis for my adopting them, as well as my own instincts backing them, but the evidence presented in The Continuum Concept only supported her assertion that something was different about this tribe compared to Western culture - it could have been the diet, the weather, the environment, the lack of pollution, a combination of these things that made this difference, not necessarily the way children were brought up.
I also was rather uncomfortable about the apparently idyllic and 'natural' lifestyle of Liedloff's Indians (a criticism which was incidentally shared by Jan Fortune-Wood) - in that their culture was patriarchal and seemed to suppress any innovation or deviation from their culture's norms. I wondered what happened to gay people in their culture, or those who did not want or could not have children? The whole set-up seemed to be purely consisting of extended families, with women doing repetitive domestic work and men hunting. I also wondered what happened to anyone who did transgress the norms of this society? In my reading of other anthropological works it seems that the threat of being cast out of the tribe is a rather effective one in this kind of culture, and keeps people toeing the line rather well.
I was also rather ambivalent about Winning Parent, Winning Child. This book is about the consensual approach to bringing up children, also called autonomous or Taking Children Seriously (TCS). Obviously I agree that bringing up children consensually as much as possible is a good thing, and should be everyone's aim. However, I don't go as far as Jan Fortune-Wood in this book, in that I *do* have a bottom line past which I will not be pushed, as far as children are concerned, and I also *do* consider myself to be in charge. We don't go in for punishment in our household, and we do a lot of talking, explaining, reasoning and finding solutions, but there are also some (loving) rules. Fortune-Wood asserts that coercion of *any* kind, including the approaches I have just mentioned, damages children, possibly beyond repair. I find this very depressing, even though she presents no evidence for it. She also asserts that there are always solutions to every problem, even if they are only theoretical. Call me mad, but I don't find a theoretical solution remotely helpful. And now I feel a total failure in every situation in our family in which I cannot find a solution. Obviously my creative thinking is limited, as she says. And maybe I have damaged my children, but they (like adults, in my experience) are not always rational beings who will engage with problem solution. Sometimes, they are selfish, angry, grumpy children who only want what they want and will not budge an inch. Are mine the only ones? Surely not...
However, I do also recommend this book as it's always good to reminded what we should be aiming for, and challenged in our thinking.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Stuff we've been doing

The last few posts have been rather full of my thoughts, concerns, worries and hopes, so I thought this one should be a quick catch-up on the stuff we've actually been doing just in case I have given the impression of wafting around wringing my hands like Lady MacBeth!
So, houses:

My son's 'work' laid out for Granny to see (this was totally his idea!):



My daughter's work:

And finally, those Houdini caterpillars:

Some of them seem to starting to pupate now. I think a box of chysalises should be easier to look after!
Junk modelling at Home Ed Group today, so it should be interesting getting the results home on the train afterwards!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Weird head space

I feel like my head is in a very weird place right now. We've had a lot of challenges recently - my daughter is needing a lot from me, some of which neither she nor I can quite identify - and I'm finding that very draining and very difficult.
I've also been getting involved in my town's fledgling Transition Initiative and I've been finding that challenging too, on several different levels. I find it hard meeting strangers and going amongst people a lot. I also find the ideas underpinning Transition to be very scary - peak oil and climate change are presenting a huge challenge to us all right now - and now I know more about it all, I'm finding it even scarier. Transition Initiatives are all about finding a positive response to these challenges and making a better future as a result of them, but I can't help also finding the solutions a bit challenging as they involve a lot more dependence on neighbours and community, a lot more shared stuff and working together, which though I'm attracted to, I also find difficult. I'm also finding the process difficult - I can see what needs organising with our group, but I'm reluctant to take charge and organise stuff because I already feel over-extended with everything else I'm doing and really don't think I can cope with anything more right now. And yet I'm torn as this is so imortant. (When I finish reading The Transition handbook, I'll post up a more detailed discussion of its ideas)
I'm also finding our Home Ed group more work than I anticipated, in that now that it's set up I'm still organising lots of the sessions, finding new stuff for us, liaising with the local museum, checking out local scrapstores, hoping our bank account application will go through smoothly now after an intial hiccup, and lots of other stuff. Which is fine, it's still very new and other people will join in more as it all beds down, but it's just bad timing s far as the rest of my comitments go.
Not to mention my own studying, the shopping, baking, cooking, allotment etc... I need more hours in the day and much more calmness in my brain.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Community

I've been having very mixed up thoughts on community recently. I wonder if I'm just odd or if many people have very ambivalent feelings about community and this is why people are finding it so hard to form communities these days. I find myself keen to make friends and get involved, but then suddenly it's all too much and I have to withdraw. I have a great need for space and not to feel 'invaded' and this can really conflict with my longing to belong and feel part of a community.
Recently, while thinking all this through, I had a bit of a revelation about wanting 'community', not 'communal', but I think this is only part of the story. I think I have much stricter boundaries than many people and often I've found people I don't know well making me feel under siege because they don't or can't understand my need not to be overwhelmed. Obviously we're all different, but I find many social things much harder than many people seem to, and really need to retreat to my own space or can get very depressed. I guess to find true community or even true friendship, there has to be give and take, but people's differing needs for limits and boundaries also need to be respected and therein can lie the problem.
Can anyone relate to what I'm rambling about here, or am I just going bonkers?

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Tomatoes

So, what's with the tomatoes this year? Ours are all still green. We've got loads but they're not ripening. No blight or blossom-end rot so far (touch wood), but no ripe ones either. Other people at our allotment seem to be having the same experience, but this is very late for tomatoes to still be green. How are other people in other parts of the country doing tomato-wise?

Monday, 3 August 2009

Thoughts on Lammas

Well, here's our Lammas Loaf for this year:


And very tasty it was too. But I have been having contradictory thoughts on Lammas this year. The closer we get to the earth and the more of our own produce we grow, the less I 'feel' Lammas - at least on the set date anyway. I feel the spirit of Lammas every time I pick another courgette, make more jam, use another of our homegrown and strung onions, but I can't feel Lammas on 31st July because that is tied to the wheat harvest and we don't grow our own wheat. Obviously, it's good to remember that the wheat we eat is grown and harvested, albeit by other people, I can't feel Lammas as anything other than a reminder at the moment. My heart is with our own crops and the constant harvesting and preservation of those crops.
I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on Lammas, especially as regards their own crop-growing.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Health dilemmas

So, what do you do when it's possible you *may* have swine flu but also possible that you haven't? Me and my husband are both starting to feel under the weather - sore throats, runny noses, headaches and the like. Nothing awful, just sort of cold-y kind of symptoms. My first thought is, 'oh well, we probably have a summer cold' - hardly unheard of, right? But, what if it is swine flu. Although it's only the first day, it doesn't feel anywhere bad enough to have the label of 'flu' of any kind. As the government, in their wisdom, are no longer testing people to see if they actually do have swine flu, the whole world and their wife are being diagnosed with it. I have jeard of lots of mild cases which sound similar to ours, but what if there's just a summer cold doing the rounds as well as the flu? How would anyone know? Now, as we have no intention of getting tamiflu or even ringing up the pandemic service, does it matter if we have a cold or flu, I hear you ask? Well, yes, because if it's damned flu we'll have to quarantine ourselves for a whole bloody week at least! Gah, just the thought of it is driving me crazy already!
Daughter is showing signs that she's sickening for something, so whatever it is, she's probably already incubating it and, given that even if it is just a little cold she will act like it's the worst flu ever, that'll be fun. Son seems his usual self and hopefully it'll pass him by as he's still breastfed.
Bloody swine bloody flu. *grump*

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The bill

So, the Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children Bill is listed already on the timetable for new legislation for when the Government come back from their nice, long summer recess in October, including the innocuous-sounding part about 'improving monitoring arrangements for those children educated at home'. It's nice to know that Ed Balls is really open to listening to the results of the Consultation of these proposals. I'm still very up and down about this whole subject. Part of me just thinks it can't possibly happen, it's so draconian, so mad, so far-reaching; the other part of me just feels numb at the inevitability and frantically makes plans for safeguarding my own family in the face of new legislation.
My own MP seemed quite resigned to the proposals becoming law, despite disagreeing with them, whereas I see other people's MPs (such as on the Sometimes It's Peaceful blog) take the opposite view - that there's no way there'll be time for any legislative changes before a general election is called.
I'm also finding the same pattern of thinking with the swine flu - one day I'll be completely blase about it. It's only flu, we're all healthy, it's a mild kind of flu, we probably won't catch it and even if we do we'll all be ill for a week and then fine. Then the next day, I'm terrified again, imagining horrible things that I don't even want to think about, let alone write down.
The whole up and down thing is wearing me out. I tend to be very up and down anyway, but these 2 current issues are exacerbating it and are really not good for my mental health. And there's no sign of any ending of either issue until the Spring either, so I'm going to have to learn to deal with it.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Allotment thoughts

This is our second allotment year, although I count is as the first 'real' season because we only took the plot over in March of last year, so didn't get much of a run-up to the growing season to clear it. And I've learnt so much this year already, and I already know there are some tings to do differently, or more of, next year.

I will plant more onions and also some garlic next year now that I've got the hang of drying and hanging them for storage. I will make sure the entire plot is properly weeded, cleared, dug and mulched over the winter this year, as well as planting the onions and garlic over the winter. The part that was mulched last year is definitely in much better shape than the rest of the plot.

I will get my compost bays constructed before next spring, and level the heaps of earth I've been left with from digging the pits for the shed and the compost bays. I will make fewer, but wider paths next year and more clearly define their edges somehow - stones? Sticks? Not sure. I would like raised, no-dig beds, but not sure how feasible this is in terms of actually getting it done.

I need to sort out my succession planting so that I have a steady stream of produce rather than gluts. This applies particularly to beetroot, courgettes, carrots - things which can't be stored so easily. I'm only going to stop planting this year when July ends. Once it's August, when I get bare ground after digging stuff up, I'm going to dig it over and prepare it for onion planting in the autumn. I've also got to research other winter plants. I have a small amount of purple-sprouting broccoli planted as an experiment.

There's a lot of work to be done, but I'm really enjoying it now. I've realised I like the growing and digging and weeding, what I don't like is the 'infrastructure' bit of the allotment, like constructing sheds and stuff. But it's great eating my home-grown produce!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Thoughts on swine flu

I am the kind of person who tends to panic about these kinds of things, worry that we'll all die, and then makes plans to move to an isolated Cornish island while also being unable to put the worry out of my head. Due to this, I tend to research these kinds of health scares a bit obsessively in the hope that I can find out that the *real* story is less alarming. Right now I am vacillating between panic and insouciance which is very uncomfortable, but I thought I'd share my thoughts and research in the hope it my comfort other hypochondriacs and also that others may have other hope to share.Firstly, it seems that actual facts are hard to come by. Given that the UK, at least, has given up doing serum tests to confirm swine flu infection and is advising people to stay at home and not contact anyone unless they feel 'very unwell', there is no way to have a true estimate of the number of infections. Worldwide cases have reached 125,000, but some sources seem to think up to 10,000 are coming down with it *per day* in the UK alone. It seems to me that without any actual hard facts, it is hard to make any kind of estimates about the damn thing.However, despite the lack of facts, the WHO have given a tentative mortality rate for this outbreak of 0.4% - to put this into perspective, ordinary seasonal flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%, bubonic plague a mortality rate of 30-75%. The 1918 flu pandemic is estimated to have killed 50 million people worldwide, while malaria kills 1-3 million people *a year* every year and is only classed as a 'health problem'.Experts have related this swine flu virus to the pathogen in the 1918 pandemic, just to wind us all up, I think, but looking back to that outbreak, conditions now are very different. For one thing, we haven't just had a world war. Which is always a good thing. The 1918 outbreak has been traced to mid-America and was then taken by American soldiers to the trenches which provided a fantastic bredding ground with their crowded, unsanitary conditions and their immune-suppressed inhabitants. From there, it spread worldwide due to troop movements as soldiers were demobbed after the armistice, and spread further due to victory parades held in various countries. Some have suggested that its unprecedented virulence (estimates vary from 2.5% to 20%) was mainly to do with the wartime conditions in that those who had it mildly tended to stay put and not infect anyone else whereas those who had it badly were often put on crowded troop trains to be transferred to field hospitals where they spread their virulent strain further. This is the opposite of usual conditions whereby people who have it badly are isolated and those who have it mildly spread their strain. I am hopeful that the wartime situations won't recur.And on to the vaccine. This I am also perturbed by. In what has become known as the Swine Flu Fiasco of 1976, the American govt panicked at the start of a relatively mild outbreak, announced a nationwide vaccination programme and had only managed to vaccinate 24-33% before realising that the flu had infected only 200 people and killed 1 person and the vaccine had killed 25 people and crippled up to 500. Of course, on that occasion, the flu luckily did not spread as it is now spreading. But it raises questions about the safety of vaccines which are rushed through. The UK govt has announced vaccinations will start at the end of August when the Head of the WHO has stated that the vaccine will need 2-3 months of safety testing starting at first availability at the end of August. Our givt seems to think that 5 days of mock-up safety testing will be adequate to start using the vaccine on our most vulnerable people - the elderly and children and those with these now-famous 'underlying health problems', those of which are immuno-suppressed will not be able to take a vaccine anyway. And the govt wonders why no-one trusts it.And the effectiveness of the vaccine? A recent piece of research has found that children receiving the vaccine against ordinary seasonal flu are actually 3 times more likely to be hospitalised with flu than those who have not had the vaccine. Plus the govt are stating in their NHS advice that having the swine flu now may not give you immunity if the virus mutates and returns in the winter. In that case what is the point of vaccinating everyone with the vaccine grown from this strain of the virus, if it won't help if the virus mutates into a different (and possibly, or possibly not,more virulent) form?Gah! Is it any wonder that I'm worried and don't know who to trust? Other thoughts welcome.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Reassurance

This article from The Times is an old one, but a friend has just drawn my attention to it and I've found it interesting. I keep meaning to read Margot Sunderland's books on child mental health and her recent research on cortisol levels in babies and the damage this can do, but so far have only got round to reading articles about her views. I kept nodding as I read this one about the value of co-sleeping, and how current UK culture and health policy actually goes *against* much of the available evidence.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Meeting with MP

This afternoon a home educating friend and I met with our local MP to corner him about the Badman Review. I think it went as well as could be expected really. He had at least *heard* of home education before and did not need to be told the very basics. He even didn't ask about socialising or socialisation - hooray!
It seems he is already involved in putting together some kind of enquiry into the Government's current obsession with safeguarding and agreed that this had gone much too far. I think he was kind of on our side, but not for our reasons. He wants to oppose the Government on this because he has a typical Tory antipathy to 'nanny state' type legislation, and also I think to try and put one in the eye for the Government - but to some extent his agenda doesn't really matter as long as he's fighting to opose this for us.
However, he didn't seem very positive that this opposition would work. He seemed quite resigned to the fact that these proposals will be implemented, which was rather a depressing prospect.
We made all the points we had meant to - pointing out that safeguarding was a much more relevant issue within schools than within Home Ed, and that parental responsibility for child welfare still lay with parents, not with the Government. We highlighted the major problems with the report - the right of access and the interviewing children alone - and the current lack of training of EWOs and how this would only get worse if their role was extended without further training. At the end we left him with a big wodge of stuff to read - the stats, the points, the arguments - everything put together as the 'meeting an MP' pack by the Badman Review Action Group.
Will it do any good? I really don't know. He promised to keep us informed, and I'll keep corresponding with him to keep it in the forefront of his mind. I'm glad we met with him, at least we've done the best we could.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Idle opinion

A timely and interesting article by Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson in The Telegraph pointing out that home education is an entirely sensible option and that Ed Balls is talking balls and that Graham Badman is, ahem, a bad man. Gosh, the people involved in this review could almost have been written by Dickens in the aptness of their names for their current roles. Anyway, due to this article, I have forgiven Tom Hodgkinson for having written books which I wanted to have written myself but which nobody would have published if I had, given that he is the editor of The Idler and I am a Nobody.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

It feels really good...

... to eat our own produce for tea! So far, we've had strawberries for pudding, a lasagne made with our own onions and our own courgettes, had roast potatoes which were our own potatoes with our own rosemary. I now have 2 strings of onions hanging up in the kitchen (although the first string is much depleted as we use onions so much. I think I'll have to plant even more next year now that I've worked out how to dry and store them properly!) and another lot of onions that I'm drying to dry out before I hang. Though the rain the last few days has somewhat scuppered me.

It has just been announced that our town is starting its own Transition Movement, which is great and something I had been hoping for. So, even though I am somewhat busy at the moment with setting up the Home Ed Group, doing my course, the allotment (not to mention the kids), I *have* to get involved. I totally think the Transition Towns things is a good idea, even though I'm not sure how exactly I can help. Maybe we'll become another Totnes with our own town 'money' and a plethora of locally-sourced food. Ah, I can dream!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Taken the plunge!

So, after much soul-searching, research, asking people and meditating on the question, I have decided what I'm going to train as and have enrolled on the course. And what is it? Life coaching. Despite my misgivings at the California-esque, airy-fairy nature of it, it is what seemed right and what fits my skills the best. It also fits in well with some of my previous qualifications (nice to know I wasn't utterly wasting my time) such as reiki, NLP and Listening Skills. Once I'm qualified, I'm intending to set up my own practice and specialise in low-ish cost coaching for people who really need it, such as new parents, people who've been made redundant, those who want to simplify/downshift their lives. I'm not interested in business or executive coaching - I want to do purely personal coaching helping empower people to take control of their own lives and be happier. I *know* that sounds desperately new age, but I want to do it in a common sense and down-to-earth way. I know it'll take a fair while to build up a practice and will entail some self-promotion, which I'm not good at, but I think I'll enjoy the course (having spent ages researching courses) and also the work. In a few months, I may need willing victims to practise on, ahem, I mean, I'll be offering free, quality, coaching to people to build up my learning hours. I'm cautiously optimistic. It feels right, deep down. That's not to say that it will all just fall into place without any further hard work, but hopefully, I'm on the right track.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Double success

Two very good things today. Firstly, we had the first meeting of our local Home Ed Group in our new hall home and it was a resounding success! Loads of families there and everyone enjoying themselves. We easily made enough money to cover the cost of the hall and the drinks supplies, and everyone was very generous with bringing bits and bobs to add to our resources. Now we're already starting to think bigger!

And the second thing is that I have another article published in The Mother magazine. If you are a subscriber, check it out, it's the article about the Highly Sensitive Family.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Heat

I hate hate hate this weather. It's too hot, I'm uncomfortable and grouchy, the kids are uncomfortable and grouchy, none of us can sleep, as soon as we go outside everyone gets even more grumpy and fed-up so we are staying inside the house as much as possible - which is mad in the summer! Plus everyone's sneezing constantly. I'm all for warm, sunny days but anything over 26C is too much for us here and it is that in the house in the shade today. Walking to the station along the hot pavements reflecting back the heat and sitting on stuffy trains is torture in this weather, and don;t get me started on going shopping this morning *shudder*. And I'm going to have to cycle to the allotment every day after tea to water it as it's so dry. Just another job to add to the mix. ARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!! Make it stop.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Onions!

Now, I realise it's very sad to be excited about onions, but these are the first crop from our allotment this year, dried and strung, and hung up in our kitchen and so I'm very chuffed!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Solstice musings

Currently, I'm finding the solstices are the festivals which resonate most with me. Change seems to be a daily occurrence here at the moment and this seems to be reflected in my feeling of affinity with those 2 most momentous changes in the year, the solstices, when the whole tide of the year turns and swings back the opposite way.
I've always felt the new year, for me, to start at the winter solstice. The return of the sun and the tide of the year turning to go out just always feels to me like the start of something. Things start to grow then, even in the depths of the winter. Tucked up in the house, the germs of ideas start in the mind just as the seeds already lie dormant in the earth, planted, but waiting for spring to burst into life. And this year this was more true than ever with our family's leap into the unknown with the ending of my husband's job in January. And so we've spent the first half of this year frantically putting plans into action, seeking inspiration, enacting new ideas and new projects. And now the tide is turning, will we see the fruits of our labours? I hope so. The tide is starting, ever so slowly at first, to return towards us. The year matures into harvest time and then consolidation and dormancy once again.
As my husband finishes his teaching course, I lead my local Home Ed Group into its new permanent home, we jointly seek new employment opportunities, my novel goes out into the world to seek an agent, I ponder ideas for re-training for myself, our allotment starts to yield its produce, and the children change in leaps and bounds in so many ways all the time - I wonder what fruits this autumn will have for us as a family.
This has been a quiet, contemplative summer solstice, and I feel I have learnt a great deal in the past year and also changed a fair amount. The noble virtue I have been meditating on most of all recently has been 'perseverance'. I am quietly confident that whatever changes we see by the winter solstice will be for the best, and that the chnaging of the next tide will bring further change and good fortune.
Summer blessings to all!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Solstice poems

In honour of tomorrow's summer solstice, the children have once again been composing poems. This time, they've both composed and written out (with help with spellings!) their own poems! This is the first time my son has done his own writing, so I'm really proud of him. And here are the masterpieces, first my daughter's:

The Sun Shines So Brightly

As light as a feather it feels today
With the sun blazing down, hooray!
Oh, we enjoy the sun so much
Because it grows our plants
And we can have fun outside.
We like to play in the open air,
Oh yeah!
Hooray, we can go outside and play,
The sun is blazing down today.

And my son's:

Summer Sun

I like blueberries when it's sunny.
I like the summer solstice.
I like sunshine.


So there you have it! Happy solstice to everyone for tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Conflict and balance

Things are getting so busy. Working, being with the children closely and attentively enough to be able to respond to their expressed needs and interests and follow up their educational interests in a timely manner, attending to the allotment in this, the busiest time of the year. That doesn't leave much extra time, but what little I have is now being taken up with organising the Home Ed Group as we move into our own hall, and writing to MPs and such-like to fight the Badman Report (Badman take note, I have to take time away from educating my children in order to fight your stupid report on whow I'm not educating properly! Grrr). And so now, just when I'm at my busiest, with my husband doing full-time temp work while also doing a college course, a writing class and an on-going role-playing commitment, my town decideds to start up a Transition Town Movement. This is something I'm really interested in and would like to be involved in, but how much more unpaid work can I really justify when every hour I spend on that kind of thing is an hour I could have spent working for actual real money which pays the mortgage and for food? And that isn't even counting the time I spend writing and trying to get stuff published, which I justify to myself by saying that it *could* end up bringing in money for us.
I suppose the essential dilemma is the eternal parental dilemma of how to divide your time: children v paid work v creative self-expressing activities v maintaining adult relationship & friendships v voluntary community work v reading a damn good book... need I go on? Anyone got any insights into creating that essential balance? Is it harder to get that balance when you home educate? Or is it just harder if you have a lot of creative interests and want to get involved in your community?

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Patience

I'm not very good at being patient. I may take a long time to research things and come to decisions, but once I have decided something, I want to do NOW and I want to do it PERFECTLY. Obviously, this is entirely doomed to failure and then I get very discouraged. There are so many things right now that I want to just get doing and get finished - the allotment, finding a permanent home for our local Hme Ed group, sorting out our work/family situation, trying to get my book published - not to mention all the other ongoing stuff such as meal planning and cooking, gardening, being with the children, working...
Once again, everything takes over my brain and I can't see the wood for the trees, but I'm learning. Being on the allotment, by myself, in nice weather is helping me to slow down, to re-connect and to find a peaceful centre in myself. At first when I arrived there today I though 'oh no! All the weeds again! And I'm just not getting anywhere!' But after a few hours of rushing round like a headless chicken trying to do *all* the jobs that needed doing, all at once, I began to calm down and feel that earth energy. A bit of weeding revealed that the beetroot and leeks I had thought had not germinated were actually growing after all. The potatoes are doing fantastically. The shed is now secure and helpful. I planted out my butternut squash plants, and managed to do a fair amount of tidying. But the best thing today was seeing a nearby plot-holder and finding out about the site email contact list. One of the things we moved to this town for, almost 2 years ago now, was to put down roots and become part of the local community. When this didn't happen immediately, I lost hope and felt cross, isolated and alienated. But today, I have finally realised that it is happening, albeit slowly and gradually. I am part of the local Home Ed community, I am part of the local allotment coomunity. I am making friends through the local La Leche League. I am starting to feel at home here. It isn't happening overnight, as I'd wanted, but thre fact that it is happening has taught me something about things taking their own time, about gradual change and about my own impatience.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Badman's Report, of course

Well, if there's anyone in the Home Ed community who hasn't yet read it and despaired, here is the link to Badman's Report and a real humdinger of an intrusion into private family life it is. Quite apart from the compulsory registration, there's the recommendation for the new power for LEA inspectors to have 'right of access' to home educator's homes and the right to speak to children without their parents present. Plus the usual crap about enforcing minimum standards by forcing parents to submit plans, curricula and expected achievement outcomes. I wonder what will happen if you submit 'I expect my child to be healthy, happy and curious' as a planned learning outcome? I notice he also recommends that flexi-schooling should be made easier and that exam provision should be taken on by the LEA and should be free to parents for the 'standard' exams. Which I suppose is a good thing (trying to look for the silver lining here). However, I can't pretend that I'm not utterly depressed by this report. Why should home educators register when pupils at private schools will not have to? Why are we suspected of abuse when most of these horrific (and thankfully rare) cases occur to children who are below school age anyway? Or are they going to use these recommendations as a way of opening up compulsory state access to younger children too?
I'm utterly fed up with the govt right now. They need to sort out all the stuff that is allegedly under their control before they seek to extend their powers into things which do not concern them. Where is all the money going to come from to enforce and police all these new ideas, that's what I'd like to know? I'm going to write to my MP, of course, and suggest that everyone else does too. Even those who don't home educate yourselves - if you have children, they're after you too. Fight for everyone to still have the choice. You are your child's parent, not the state.
The consultation is here so everyone get repsonding and tell the govt to butt out of your family life and how insulting and outrageous you find it that the govt wants to register home educators, dictate curriculum to them, have the right to enter their homes for no reason, and speak to their children alone without their permission.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Tolerance

The news this week has seemed full of depressing stuff even more than usual. The Badman Home Ed review is due out imminently and alleged leaks from it sound truly depressing - compulsory registration and imposed minimum standards. Plus the suggestion that, due to parents' concenrs over MMR, it should be made compulsory in order to gain access to state education. Do these people listen to themselves? Do they think about the principles behind what they're suggesting and the implications? Or do they just see other people doing things they disagree with and so want to lash out and make them confirm to what they view as the 'obvious sensible choice'.
I am getting totally fed-up of the state trying to micro-manage every detail of my life. The fact that they have failed so dismally with schools recently that the level of functional illiteracy and innumeracy is at the highest level for decades, children are committing suicide due to exam pressure, and depression is at the higest level ever, suggest to me that the government may not actually be the expert on how to raise a happy and healthy child that they pretend to be. And so now they want to extend this ignorance to those of us who have opted out from the state schooling system? Yeah, right!
And don't even get me started on how abhorrent it is to even think of introducing state-enforced medical treatment, of any kind, for anyone.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Cinema

Me and my husband have just been to the cinema on our own, alone! Yes, my mother-in-law has the children and we went to see Star Trek on the big screen. And wow! Firstly, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy going to the cinema - the big screen, the slightly-too-loud volume, the rustling with smuggled-in food in your lap, and the sheer spectacle of the whole thing.
Secondly, the expense! When the cashier told me how much it was for our 2 tickets I almost said 'but surely, my good man you have made a mistake, I merely want to see the film, not buy the whole cinema'. Thankfully, I managed to bite my tongue so only the merest squeak escaped.
And thirdly, what a good film. I really, thoroughly enjoyed it. Zachary Quinto was a fantastic Spock, much better than I'd imagined he would be. Spock has always been my favourite Star Trek character anyway, and this film showed his more human side, and his youthful impetuosity. I loved all the nods to previous films in it, and thought the cast had captured the spirit of the original characters whilst also enabling the whole franchise to move on.
Once upon a time I used to go to the cinema a lot, nowadays, I don't get the time, and we certainly don't have the money, but I'm not going to forget how much I enjoy it. Roll on July when the next Harry Potter film is released and I shall be pressing my mother-in-law into service once more (not that any pressing is actually required as she loves having the kids and they love going to her), and dusting off our credit card.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Rainy Days & Wednesdays

What a day! I'll never understand why the kids are so awful on dull, rainy days. Of course, I am also very much affected by the weather but even as a child I was happy to curl up cosily indoors with a book or my toys on rainy days. This morning we had tears, tantrums, shouting and fighting before 9am, and even on a sunny day we wouldn't have gone out before that anyway, so why should this morning have been any different?
On Wednesdays, my parents come over for the day which the children always look forward too, but it's been awful today - both children are being very demanding, upsettable, tantrum-y, intolerant and over-reactive, and despite the combined and very patient efforts of me and my mum, it's been just awful. After lunch (which usually cheers everyone up!), things deteriorated even more so we went for the fall-back option in dire circumstances - a walk. It was pouring down but this isn't usually a problem, in fact I often try to restrain the kids slightly from going out in the pouring rain. Of course, today, there was a chorus of crying and screaming 'we hate the rain!' and my daughter grumpily insisted on going out with bare legs and sandals. That'll punish me. We dragged them on a favourite walk for 45 minutes, and it does seem to have worked slightly. At least they're bickering more quietly now and the adults now have a cup of tea. My parents will be leaving in about an hour and I think we might actually survive once they've gone now.
I hate these days, they make me doubt everything - my way of parenting, the basic sweetness of my children, our method of education, my decision to be a stay-at-home mum - everything. Let's hope for better weather.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Recipes wanted!

Has anyone got any recipes for making crackers (or can point me to some online, UK not US measurements) - all kinds - cream crackers, butter puffs as well as posh ones with seeds and garlic and stuff in. The kids are really into crackers right now and I want to make my own, but I just can't find any recipes!

Also, does anyone know how to make rich tea biscuits? The only recipes for rich teas I can find online are referring to a more traditional cakey-style of rich tea, not the hard kind you get in shops which is what I'm after.

Thanks!

Back from holiday

Holidays are funny things, I always come back in an odd mood. Even before having the children I found holidays a rather 2 edged sword. They're supposed to be the most relaxing and fun thing ever but I've always found them also unsettling and stressful. I'm not a good traveller and the best holidays I've had have been close to home. Adding children to the mix gives them a whole new dimension. My daughter also finds holidays equally as stressful as exciting and managing her moods and needs is a full-time job in itself. However, my mum and dad did sterling work in having the kids in their caravan quite a bit, as well as helping us dig extensive earthworks on the beach, so we did manage some relaxation and couple alone time.
Even on a self-catering holiday there many compromises to make - we were unable to compost any food waste which felt really unnatural and wasteful; the kitchen was fully equipped with expensive coffe machines and smoothie makers but lacked many really basic items such as roasting tins, cake tins, mixing bowls etc which made it impossible to make bread or cakes, or things such as yorkshire puddings and even roast potatoes. This limited our food choices quite drastically and felt quite stressful as I tried to make healthy and ethical choices for meals for us all, and still ended up with chips more often than we'd had in the previous whole month put together. On the other hand, as it was a small village, we were able to shop for fresh food from local greengrocers and bakeries each day.
The weather was changeable but the children enjoyed digging on the beach every day whether it was in swimming costumes or cagoules. I watched as they played endless digging and building games, with my parents also totally absorbed and thought, yes, this is how I want things to be.
And, as always, I've come up with a list of things to change when we got back - some to help preserve that more relaxing holiday mood, and some which getting a bit of distance from our everyday life helped me to see:
  • get steel water canteens rather than re-using plastic bottles (already ordered).
  • stop feeling I have to rush everywhere.
  • look into making my own crackers.
  • get veg and fruit from the farmer's market every month.
  • properly throw myself into organising our home ed group.
  • tend the allotment more often.
  • stop stressing about money so much and trust things will work out.
  • take the children to stay with my parents more often.
  • look into camping weekends.
  • stop feeling guilty about everything!
  • de-clutter.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Off on holiday!

Eek, I think I've packed the right things. Anyway, ready or not, we're off tomorrow for nice simple bucket-and-spade holiday at the seaside, back in a week. I'll respond to any messages and emails then (especially yours Laura, deserves a good long reply!).

Sunday, 10 May 2009

22 Pieces of Me

Don't normally do these meme things, but having been tagged by Cave Mother I thought I would do this one:

1. What are your current obsessions?
Working out how much money we've got and if it's enough to live on!

2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
Black trousers.

3. Last dream you had?
Last night I had a very confusing dream, all I can remember is that I was living in a tent and an old schoolfriend I haven't seen or thought of for years was there and we were talking about children. I dream a lot, very vividly and often remember my dreams.

4. Last thing you bought?
A Cadbury's Creme egg (oh the shame!). I usually only buy fairtrade chocolate, but this was an emergency.

5. What are you listening to?
My children blithering on about how they'd arrange the school they're going to run when they're older. Which would be interesting as they're home educated themselves.

6. If you were a god/goddess who would you be?
Hestia - goddess of hearth and home.

7. Favourite holiday spots?
Cornwall, Sussex, New Forest.

8. Reading right now?
I'm re-reading The Children Of The New Forest by Captain Marryat which I haven't read since I was a child.

9. Four words to describe yourself.
Intense, passionate, idealistic, organised.

10. Guilty pleasure?
Chocolate.

11. Who or what makes you laugh until you’re weak?
Being silly with my husband.

12. Favourite spring thing to do?
Climbing a hill and seeing the green view.

13. When you die, what would you like people to say about you at your funeral?
“She made a real difference to me."

14. Best thing you ate or drank lately?
Some baby plum tomatoes from our local Farmer's Market. They were gorgeous, like a tomato should really taste.

15. When did you last go for a night out?
Hmm, a night out, not since January 2003. But I often go out during the day.

16. Favourite ever film?
I can't ever choose just one favourite film, book or whatever - there are so many and it depends on my mood. I like light, amusing films.

17. Care to share some wisdom?
People, not things.

18. Song you can’t get out of your head?
Lily Allen's latest is plaguing me recently. I hate it though.

19. Thing you are looking forward to?
Going on holiday next week.

20. Favourite vegetable?
Mushrooms.

21. What is your most irrational fear?
Being sick.

22. Anything you regret?
My first marriage.