For to be free is not to merely cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela -

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Computers and Peace

The other day we were discussing freedom and world peace. You know, as you do over dinner.
And I remembered a passage from this book I translated from English into Dutch in 2000, when life was in more of a turmoil than usual for us, because we'd taken the children out of school and were just starting on the path of 'unschooling', at the time totally illegal in Holland. The only reason I managed to do this translation is because the book gripped me right from the beginning. It became a lifeline to me and each chapter brought me a new and very valuable insight.
The book was 'Zen Computer' by Philip Toshio Sudo.

Here's the bit I read out to my dearest and nearest:

"For as much as technology transforms our lives and society, Zen Computer says true transformation - the kind that's authentic and profound - will not come through technology alone, but through the transformation of people's souls, one by one by one. It says salvation arises from self-awareness, not better tools and faster communications; that world peace stems from inner peace; that
freedom for all people demands first the self-discipline of each individual. To cultivate self-awareness through the use of tools and communications - this is the hard work Zen Computer seeks to support. Only then will we elevate our humanity."

It was and still is food for thought and contemplation.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Learning from Life

Our eldest daughter has a new job.
A job that - in my opinion - really suits her.
A job that she holds no paper qualifications for.
I am so happy for her, because I know this is the kind of work she really wants to do. And in my mind, it's the kind of work she's cut out to do.
She's going to be a support worker with MenCap, working with adults and children with learning disabilities.
Ever since she started to think about what she wanted to do she's said she wanted to work with horses and with special needs people.
She did the Horse Management Course in college, but it wasn't satisfactory for her. Too much aimed at 'the industry', while her interest lies in the connection, the bond between horses and people.
For her work experience she went back to Holland, to the riding school she used to go to when we lived there. They are specialized in working with children with special needs.
By the time she came back to England - not entirely by her own choice - all she wanted to do was earn money and have a good time. Go shopping. Party. Make friends.
She got herself a job in Tesco, which gave her the money and the time and opportunity to do what she wanted to do. But soon she started to realize that working without job satisfaction was only okay up to a certain level. And she didn't want to do it for the rest of her life.
Then we saw this job in the paper. And we talked about it. I could see the sparkle in her eye, I could sense her intention when she went to fill in the application forms. And I prayed that she would get the chance to go for an interview, because I was sure her intention would be clear to other people, too.

The invitation for an interview came. She was really nervous to start with. But then she started to prepare herself. Reading more about MenCap on the internet and in the leaflet they'd sent out. Buying the same perfume her clan-sister uses and wearing it to the interview, so she felt her much loved and supportive clan-sister was with her.
I drove her there and it literally felt as if the car was filled with purpose. I dropped her off and an hour later picked her up again.
She was all smiles and totally relaxed and said that, even if she wouldn't get the job, she was really happy with how the interview went and she was proud of herself. Big thing for someone who's suffered from a fear to fail and insecurity for a long time.
There had been three people and at first she'd felt slightly overwhelmed. But once she got the chance to talk she came into her comfort zone. She'd told them how it had been growing up with a brother with Asperger Syndrome and what she'd learned from that. She spoke of her work with horses and special needs children - and I know how she radiates enthusiasm when she talks about that. They'd asked her if she'd be prepared to do the necessary training and she'd said she'd love to and explained she learned best when it was coupled to 'real life'.
They said they'd let her know within the next couple of weeks whether she'd got the job, but we'd only been home ten minutes when they were on the phone to offer her the job!

It'll be part time to start with and they'll fit it around her hours in Tesco. That's good, because she wants to get her drivers' license and she wants to move out. So she'll need the cash. Once she's completed the training they'll be able to offer her fulltime employment. That's an excellent incentive for her and I'm sure she'll do what it takes.

For me it's hugely satisfying to once again see that autonomous education does work.
It's funny, actually.
As is custom in Holland, we sent birth announcement cards to friends and family when she was born. At that time totally unaware of home education, let alone autonomous education or child-led learning, I'd asked a friend of ours to make this drawing of a man and woman asleep in bed, with a balloon above their heads showing the dreams and expectations they were having of their child.

On opening the card there's this baby, peacefully asleep, and a text above her head:

Isn't it amazing how true this has turned out to be!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Creating confusion and pigeon holes

I can't believe it! I thought I'd posted on here not so long ago, but it's been almost two months!!
I really need to keep this up. For myself. Because my memory seems to be less adequate than when I was younger - haarrrumphh - and blogging was supposed to be a substitute for diary writing.

I just wanted to sum up a few short conversations I've been having in the past couple of months, about home education. You know when you're somewhere and people start bragging about how well their children do at school and all that, and then they ask you: "What school do yours go to?"
If the children are with me, this is the point where they disappear. They've heard it all, said it all. Been there, done it, got the T-shirt.

So, I answer: "They don't go to one particular school, we home educate."
One of the often heard responses to that is:
"Ow, I could never teach my own children!"
To which I always reply:
"No, I couldn't either."
And then I take a deep breath and get ready to explain about autonomous learning, the Natural Curriculum, and so forth, and so forth. If people are really interested, that is. There used to be a time when I'd find myself explaining all this to someone who looked more and more bored and confused by the minute. They just wanted to 'socialize', you see. Not get involved into any deep discussions...

Socializing is of course a big issue with people who have their doubts about home ed.
One of my favourite responses when people ask if there's not a problem with socializing, is:
"I don't know, they've been too busy recently to discuss it."

The other big Q is obviously about qualifications.
"But how will she get her GCSE's?"
"Natural Curriculum does not do GCSE's."
"But surely she'll need qualifications to get on in life."
"Then she'll get the ones she needs to do what she wants to do."
I very often end up explaining that, when a home educated (young) person really wants to do something, s/he'll either talk their way into it with a portfolio or some other testimonial of their qualities, or actually goes and does the exams.

At a wedding reception I got talking to this teacher woman, who, when she found out we were home educators, had disapproval written all over her face. After the usual above questions, she asked me if I didn't find it difficult to be a mother and a teacher at the same time.
I smiled and said: "Why? Do you find it difficult, then?"
"Well, I wouldn't like to teach my own children."
"Oh? Why not?"
"Because you need a completely different set of tools to be a teacher, compared to a mother."
"I see. That's interesting! So, what's the difference?"

It would take too long to copy the whole conversation here, but I quite enjoyed myself by just asking questions, really. She was talking about discipline, how you needed that as a teacher more than a mother, and obviously, in the end she couldn't deny that as a teacher you need to exercise more discipline because there are too many children to allow individuals to - for instance - ask questions to which the answers wouldn't fit in the time assigned to that particular lesson... and you need discipline because there just isn't time to try and find out why certain children are restless, upset, anxious, happy, or whatever... you need discipline because you can't have them talking and 'socialising' with each other while you're trying to teach... you need discipline in the school yard because their 'socialising' often gets out of hand, because they have to cramp all that energy and wanting to get to know each other in those fifteen or twenty minutes...

It was fun, because it wasn't really me saying all these things, it was her answering my questions. I don't know if she now hates home edders even more, or maybe maybe realises there might be another angle to home ed, that up to now she hasn't seen.

We are in the process of becoming foster parents and one of the Placement Consultants came the other day, to fill in all kinds of forms and have a first informal chat. Myrna is very keen about fostering and wants to be involved with the whole procedure. So she sat in on the chat. Obviously, the subject of home education was raised. And would we not find it difficult to have a foster child who'd have to go to school. No, we wouldn't. And obviously, the woman wanted to know what Myrna felt about being home educated, did she not feel lonely at times? (Maybe she thought that was the reason Myrna was so keen on having a foster child?)

But never mind, because Myrna set her straight with a very convincing and fiery plea for home education, starting by saying that she felt a lot of children in school were very, very lonely indeed, because quite often nobody had time to listen to them, talk to them. Hurray for Myrna, she brought a smile on the woman's face.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Check it out!

To keep you in the picture I've created a blog on which I post only photo's with short comments. You'll find it here!.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Knock, knock... I'm home!

After two weeks in Holland I was even more tired than I thought I was and I literally arrived back home with a bang. Having managed to drive to Holland, through Holland and back home without any problems whatsoever, totalling over 1400 miles in a fortnight, it went wrong at the very last moment.
I drove up to the house and saw four vans parked on the drive and on the pavement, belonging to the builders doing the extension. So I went to park on the pavement in front of our neighbour's house. I still don't know what and how it happened, but I heard this loud bang and was checking my mirrors to see if maybe one of the builders had dropped something or slammed a car door. "What was that?" I asked. To which Owen replied: "You just drove into the neighbour's fence, Mum."
And he was right. I hit a concrete post first and then buried the car's bumper into the wood of the fence. Couldn't go backwards or forwards without causing even more damage. I was so annoyed with myself and it took me a while before I could be grateful for the fact that my extreme tiredness hadn't caused more damage than a broken bumper and headlight. Anyway, Ken lived up to his Mr Superglue reputation and that same evening the car was legal to drive again.

Our time in Holland flew by and we didn't get to do everything we'd planned to do, and we didn't get to see the people we wanted to see. But that's not unusual. Every time we go back to Holland it's an agonizing choice of where to go, what to do and who to see. You can't just go and see somebody for an hour or so after not having seen them for such a long time. So it's always a challenge to avoid too much frustration, on either side, and we always end up having to make choices that we'd rather not have to make.
As this trip was also part of Myrna's birthday present, I wanted to make sure that she had a good time. But because I also wanted to spend as much time as possible with my sister we both had to compromise. When having to choose between seeing people or seeing places, Myrna eventually chose to see people, even though she'd looked forward to visiting 'old' places...
I had so much looked forward to visiting our old next door neighbour from Brummen, who'll be 95 this year and who I still write with a few times a year. I thought this might well be my last chance to actually see her. I'm glad I didn't tell her we were coming to Holland, because I know she'd have been so disappointed to not have seen us. In the end I had to choose between just dropping by for no more than an hour and not going and I chose not to go, because I was afraid such a short, unannounced visit would just be too stressful for her. Such a shame, though...

Obviously I also had too little time with my sister. But the time we did spend together was good and valuable. For both of us. I was pleased to see she looked a lot better than when I saw her in hospital and although I know she has a lot of hard and painful work still to do, I can see that she definitely is on the road to recovery and improvement. And I'm sure that in the end she'll come out happier and stronger. It would be nice if within the next few months she could come and spend some time with us here, in England. At least we'll by then have the space to put her up...

While I was in Holland a lot of work got done at home. It looks like the builders are true to their word and will have the whole job done within 6 to 8 weeks! When I tell people we're having an extension put onto the house nearly everybody feels sorry for us 'being in a mess' and 'having the builders in the house'. But I can't agree with that. All the people involved in the building so far have been nice. Hard working, cleaning up behind them every day, causing as little mess as possible for us, and overall just very pleasant to have around. I genuinely enjoy following the whole process and seeing all these people doing what they're good at. I think in my next life I want to be a joiner, because judging from the ones I see at work here it must give such enormous job satisfaction to build or beautify a home. 'Our' builders are always keen to answer questions we throw at them, and we take great pleasure in plying them with coffee, tea and the results of our baking sessions.

I tried to take pictures of the work in progress and I'll publish a few of the ones I took from the outside here below. Photo's of the inside are to follow later and I'll try and not let so much time go by again before the next post :)!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Never say never...

I'm sorely tempted to change the name of this weblog back to Never a Dull Moment. Or I'll name it No Time to Blog. Yeah, that might be most appropriate.
I came back from Holland just before Myrna's birthday and we did manage to make it into a bit of a festive day, but to be fair it was nothing compared to the weeklong celebrations she usually likes to have. She was very understanding about it, and I know that's just how it was and all that, but still... I would have liked to make her passage into being a teenager a bit more special. But then again, we could do something special sometime in the summer, when hopefully things have quieted down a bit.

It's probably obvious that my sister is not doing very well. And unfortunately with the hospital system being what it is, I really have to stay on top of things to make sure she's alright and being looked after and cared for in a way that she is happy with. Anyway, hopefully she'll be moved to a convalescent home on Monday and I'll be able to sit back a bit.

My niece, in the meantime, has passed her exams with mainly top marks! I am so proud of her, she has worked really hard for it. And, bearing in mind that after I left she had to look after herself, the dog and the household all by herself, she did such a magnificent job. She has certainly grown up and found her feet, under extremely difficult circumstances!
There will be a ceremony for her receiving her diploma and I'll be going to Holland to attend, not only because my sister won't be able to go, but also because I myself want to be there for my clan-daughter. I've arranged it so that we arrive in Holland for my Mum's 77th birthday (yes, birthdays are a big thing in Holland!) and can go to the diploma ceremony a few days later.
I'm saying 'we', because this time I'm taking Myrna and Owen with me.
We haven't had a holiday for years and even though this isn't going to be a relax-and-only-do-things-you-really-want-to-do kind of holiday, I'm going to try and fit in a few visits to friends and family and to do some nostalgic outings.
With Myrna.
Because Owen is going to stay with his best friend for the whole time. He doesn't do travelling unless he really, really has to. And he only occasionally does the kind of visits Myrna and I plan to do quite a lot of.
Owen is looking forward to being with his life long friend and to do all the things they always used to do. And that includes climbing trees, digging holes, building tree huts, etcetera. Now that they're both sixteen I imagine Owen's friend would also like to do other, more 'grown-up' things... and Owen will go along with him.
This friend's family are very, very good friends of ours, too. The kind of friends where it doesn't really matter if you don't see each other, and sometimes don't even speak with each other for a long time, and then when you do meet or speak, you just pick it up again and carry on.
They've supported us from day one in our home educating adventure. Openly, hands on, fully.
They live in one of the most beautiful spots in Holland, on the embankments of the River Rhine, and they built their extremely eco-friendly house themselves. It's one of those very rare places in Holland where you don't have other people living close to you, with lots of nature, birds, animals and what have you around.
Owen has always felt very much at home and at ease there. In fact, when he was five years old and we were driving home after I'd picked him up, he said to me: "I don't understand why I wasn't born as M's child, because I really belong there."

This certainly inspired us to find a place with an equivalent amount of space and nature around us in this country.

Myrna is looking forward to seeing old friends, too. And to visit places we used to go to when she was little, such as the Open Air Museum and the National Park. She's also very keen to take her keyboard and guitar and sing and make music with lots of people.

A lot of my time will go to visiting my sister and making sure everything that needs to be organized and arranged is dealt with. And I am so looking forward to seeing her and being with her again. We're on the phone at least twice a day, and that's okay, but there's nothing like real life contact, where not everything has to be put into words.

In the meantime it's a busy time here, with me trying to get my work finished four weeks before the deadline to be able to go to Holland, preparations for Myrna's participation in the Lanercost Festival and other concerts, Owen's Duke of Edinburgh activities with the Cadets, AL trying to find a suitable FE course whilst working hard at the same time, and all the 'normal' day to day things in a HE household. On top of that the building of the extension has started. If everything goes according to plan - does it ever? - that'll be ready in about eight weeks time. Owen will move in there and that will make his room available for a foster child.

Aw heck, I'm going to say it again:
Never a Dull Moment!!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I'm leaving the country...

but only for a while. A short while, I hope.
On Tuesday I'm going to Holland. My sister is in hospital again and I'm going to stay with her children for at least a week. My niece is in the middle of her final exams and these past few weeks it hasn't been easy for her to concentrate on her learning. Fortunately, her mentor is aware of the situation and is helping her any way he can. She goes to one of the best Steiner schools in Holland and enjoys going, she's actually thriving. I think if we'd still be living in Holland Myrna would probably want to go to that school and I wouldn't have any problems with it.
It's a shame there isn't such a school here, at least not anywhere close to where we are.
I find that even though home education is practically illegal in Holland, there is a wider range of school educational systems than in this country. Every major city has Steiner, Montessori, Jenaplan, Freynet schools as well as 'regular' ones, for all religious and non-religious walks of life. There are even quite a few private schools based on the Sudbury Valley School principles.
In this country educating your child outside the school system is a legal right, which cannot be appreciated enough. But - as far as I know, and I must admit I haven't done extensive research into the matter - there is a very limited choice of educational systems in schools. Which means that - unfortunately - the initial choice to home educate (or homeschool) is often a negative one: "I don't want to send my children to school." Instead of the positive: 'I want to home educate my child(ren) because I believe it's the best possible thing for them.'

In my eyes the difference in educational possibilities typifies the difference between the two countries.
Very generally speaking my impression is that in Britain things are more extreme, black and white, either / or, where in Holland there is a larger scale of greys.
Look at the difference in politics.
In Holland there are over thirty active political parties, of which I think twelve have representatives in the national parliament; the other ones are mainly active in local or regional politics.
And, as Wikipedia states, the UK is nearly but not quite a two-party system.

Anyway, I suppose I was just trying to say that my niece enjoys going to school and is very motivated to do well in her exams... which might sound like cursing in church on a home edders weblog ;), but I think it's wonderful and I can see her schoolgoing life genuinely suits her. She has spent a lot of time in our family, also here in England, and she absolutely agrees we're doing the right thing for us, but she's still adamant about preferring (her) school to home education for herself. And since she is a well balanced, confident, intelligent and happy girl I can only agree with her.

Obviously with my impending departure there are lists all over the house with 'things to do before I leave'. Also listed was getting the garden sorted. I'm not a very skilled gardener, but I just love putting my hands in the earth, digging and planting. I know it sounds silly, but I talk to every plant, tell them how pretty they are, why I bought them and how I hope they will feel comfortable and happy in our garden.
Only my little sedum plants didn't last very long. The morning after I planted them they were all dug up and in bits, poor things. First I blamed the cats, but then I saw from my bedroom window how the blackbirds were pecking at them, having a feast! Anyone knew that?
Ah well, such is nature, to eat or to be eaten.

So here's what I've been doing in the garden:

I don't like fencing, but we had this one put in to give AL some privacy in her conservatory. And to create a space behind the house where the dogs can wander around freely. On the street side I planted clematis and heather, so hopefully by next year this side of the fence will be colourfully covered.

Yes, the garden is only small and yes, Owen is a big lad :).

This charming spring flowering clematis grows just left of the front door and was a total surprise for us. There were just a few dead twigs there, until a week or two ago. And look at it now! And what about the hanging baskets (for the sake of symmetry there's another one on the other side of the door) with saxifraga in a colour matching the flower pattern in the stained glass window of the front door.

Myrna wanted a little rose garden, so we made this bed on the conservatory side of the fence with four rose bushes in different colours. And lavender - Myrna's other favourite - at their feet to keep the lice away.

Kitchen herbs are supposed to be planted by the kitchen door, but we don't have a kitchen door. And by the conservatory wouldn't be a good idea, because I don't want to have to go through AL's room - for reasons of self preservation and sanity. So these - mint, thyme and parsley - ended up by the front door....

together with these. The sedum still looked alright here :(.

And so this is what that side of the garden looks like now. Is it what you call a suburbian garden? I don't know. It suits the house and I'm happy with it, because I can just about manage it.
The garden in the Vicarage was so much bigger - about two football pitches - and so beautifully wild, with all kinds of wild flowers, apple and other fruit trees, high grass and all that. We didn't do much with it apart from mowing the bits where the mower wouldn't sink away in the mud. It was heaven for the kids when they were still climbing trees and building huts, and it was heaven for the dogs.
But they seem happy enough with where we are now. At least here we can go on walks along the river, where they can go off the lead without the risk of getting shot by a farmer who's worried about his sheep being upset. There's so many sides to life, isn't there? And different situations can be equally good. It all depends on what you need and want at that particular time.
We're happy here!

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I finally managed to get my stories written and sent off to the publishers. Blimey, it took me at least three times the usual time and I'm not entirely happy about the last one. I wouldn't be surprised if it comes back to be rewritten. The brain is still not back to normal working order and I feel every one of my fifty years.
Ah well, I'll try and be British about it, but that doesn't come naturally to me ;).

I need to show you a major metamorphosis within our family.
My youngest girl is definitely and most convincingly not my baby girl anymore.
I knew that, of course. She has told and shown me many times. But still, you know, it's kind of hard to let go...
Now, the outside has been adjusted to the inside.
One day she was looking like a tall little girl, on the balancing wheel in the playground.

The next day, after a visit to the hairdresser, she's this guitar playing cool teenager.

Mystery is her middle name.

Ahhh, another month and she will be thirteen and that'll definitely be the end of me being the mother of young children. I'll try and make the most of that last month.

About that playground.
I'm considering writing to my MP about it (does that sound integrated and British?).
See, there's this sign above the entrance:

I think that's just so discriminatory. Myrna and her friends really enjoy going in there, and even Owen likes to come along every now and then. They're always very mindful, helpful and kind to little ones. (When there are any, that is, because we're usually there in school hours.) They push them on the swings, they hold them when they want to climb, they pick them up and take them to their parents when they fall...
Yet they're all - apart from Myrna - over twelve, most of them over fourteen.

When I have the dogs with me, I'll not go into the play area because I realize some children might be scared of them. So I stay just outside. But I wish I had a pound for every time a little child comes up to stroke or cuddle them. And they are so good with little children, they lie down flat and undergo all the attention patiently. They've never yet scared a child, or caused any damage, for that matter.

On Mondays I take Myrna to the local Music Centre where the choir rehearsals take place. I always stay there until they're finished, not only because I like to hear them sing, but also because otherwise Mrs Y, who takes the choir, would be the only adult in the building. The Music Centre is on the premises of a Primary School, in a fenced off area, behind big iron gates. I don't know how, but the other day a group of about six youngsters - all boys - managed to get onto the school yard and into the Music Centre. Within a few minutes they managed to kick over all the bins, pull the fire extinguisher off the wall and shout offensive and obscene language at the choir girls. I know I can be quite scary and authoritative if I have to, but I can't say they were very impressed. Between the two of us Mrs Y and I managed to persuade them to leave, but not before they'd caused a lot of damage and a real fright with the girls of the choir.
Now, I'm pretty sure not one of these boys was older than ten. I'd say they were closer to eight or nine years old.
Which means that, technically, they would be allowed to go into that playground.
So where's the sense in that? What's age got to do with it in the first place?
IF, and I say if there has to be a sign, couldn't it say something about behaviour and respect for other people / children and the equipment?

I'm sure people who know me have heard me sing this song before, but I'm convinced that our (adult) expectations determine a large part of the behaviour of young people. I'm aware of the fact that children within the home ed community often have a more positive picture projected onto them. And I'm also aware of the fact that the school system makes it more difficult for children to be different to what they're expected to be. But signs like this certainly don't help bring about a change in attitude. They make teenagers feel excluded. They send out this message that when you're past the age of twelve you do not play and have fun anymore. Instead, you're expected to display bad and destructive behaviour, which makes you a potential danger to younger children.
Okay, end of rant. I'm preaching to the converted here.

I might set up a good old English picket line outside that playground with over twelves carrying signs: "We want to play, too!" or "I am nice, trust me!" (although then 'they' might think these teenagers are juvenile paedophiles...) or "Socializing doesn't stop at twelve" or...

The horrible thing is that Myrna - my law abiding daughter - feels that if she goes to that playground with her over twelve friends, she is breaking the law. And that she can't go anymore once she's thirteen. We've talked about it, but she's still hesitant. She's convinced she'll get into trouble when the park wardens see her. So, I'm back to taking my child to the playground. To make sure that she's safe. And happy.
What a strange world we live in.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Pictorial catch-up

Myrna (and finally, for the seventh picture, she didn't press her lips together)

Owen, in his comfort zone and on WOW

Me (no, honest, I'm not gardening! Just pretending!)

Ken, (my dear, dear husband ;)

Our open plan living room, seen from back to front (Bobby dog in basket)

Same living room, now from front to back (with new book shelves!)

Stairs, door to Harry Potter room (left) and communal computer corner (right)

Da whole house, with faithful transport in the back

The kitchen (and new book shelves again!)

Our beautiful front door with beautiful Icelandic dog Lagsi

That's enough for one day, I would think.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Easter Asha

Finally figured out how to upload pics onto my laptop and now trying out if I still know how to get them onto a blog.
While others - dear blogfriends - are miles ahead of me and creating marvelous blog hubs with equally marvelous art work I am happy as Larry if I can make this work...

But if I do get this to work I can inundate you with piccies of everything that's dear to me! Ahh, isn't our Lady Asha just the loveliest Easter Pussy?

Let's see if I can import the fabulous piece of work the boys did the other day. It's made of so called Kapla, a Dutch (of course!) invention. All similar little bits of wood, planks, where height : width : length = 1 : 3 : 5. They first built this:

then pushed it over - as boys do - and built a copy of London Bridge! Of which I only have a picture on my mobile telephone and I haven't yet figured out how to get them onto here. But even though the building was amazing, the more amazing thing was that, instead of demolishing it with a big bang - as with the previous construction - they took it down one Kapla by one Kapla, trying to figure out which ones could be removed without collapsing it! At a certain moment there were five of us sitting around, taking turns, discussing which plank should be taken out. Great fun! And one of these moments that would tick a lot of the boxes on the educational list.
Okay then, just for the heck of it, a few: maths, engineering, architecture, history, social interaction and working together, a lot of drama and of course tidying up afterwards. Ah, tidying up is not one of the boxes? Explains a lot, doesn't it?

Right then, get ready for more piccies in the near future. I'm learning and liking this!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ostara and new foundations

Thank you so much to everybody out there who's supported me with their thoughts, prayers and good wishes while I was in hospital. At times I literally felt it and it worked like magic, because it all went very well and I'm on the mend.
Will have to take things easy, can't drive for at least two or three weeks, no hoovering, no digging in the garden, no lifting heavy things, and all that. But I'm sure I'll manage that without too much trouble.

If ever I had a lesson in letting go and trusting the process I had it in the past week. On the day I was admitted my sister in Holland was taken to hospital, too. Not planned.
And then the next day, when I came out of surgery, Ken told me that apparently my mother had had some sort of a heart attack and was in hospital, in the special care unit.
Now, in any other circumstances I would have been on the first plane out. But that was just no option. At all.

All I could do was lie there and practise radical acceptance.
In an attempt to do so I dipped deep into the healing energy that was being sent to me by so many friends, and I dipped deep into my own strength. And I cried and cried for hours. The nursing staff was so good about it. I explained briefly what I was trying to deal with and that I would really like them to draw the curtains around me and just leave me in my own 'private bubble', as Owen calls it. And they did.
I wish I could say I've got it all sussed now and that everything's under control, but I would be lying. Well, who wants to be in control, anyway.
I suppose lying in a hospital bed with needles and tubes in your body makes it kind of easy to accept you really can't go anywhere. That wasn't the hardest part.
No, there were other issues that, strangely enough (?) I'd been trying to get a grip on in the weeks before I went in, that were a lot tougher. Issues like what happens with me when my Mum takes ill or feels bad, the mechanisms I then fall into, the denial of my own needs and cravings. Issues about unconditional and conditional love. The different feelings I had about my sister and my Mum. The guilt trip I go on about these feelings... etcetera etcetera.

I was so happy to come home and to be able to speak on the phone with both my sister and my Mum. It was good to know that one of my other sisters (I have three) is looking after my Mum. She knows all the medical stuff, she professionally deals with doctors every day and she'll make sure my Mum gets everything she needs. It gives me space to let go of that terribly twisted feeling of responsibility, which in actual fact has more to do with guilt and therefore creates anger...
My sister came out of hospital yesterday. Talking to her, heart to heart, soul to soul, even for a few minutes the first time, I immediately felt the flow of unconditional love and I also felt it was okay, okay to need each other, okay to be connected. Because the way we are connected we exchange, we share, but we do not absorb each other. I do not need to feel responsible for her in any other way than to give her who and what I truly am.
And I am - in every sense of the word - her Sister.

I am really tired now. The days seem to last twice as long as normally, I have lost my sense of time and even place every now and then. I have tried to help cook a special meal today, but I couldn't stay on my feet for very long.
I did feel a bit sorry for not having done anything about Ostara this year. But I suppose this year I am celebrating Ostara by living it. The time for new beginnings, rebirth and balance.
This year at Ostara I've had the foundations under my motherhood strengthened.
Under a practically full moon.
Slowly but surely the picture is getting clearer, the bits of the jigsaw are falling into place.

This all probably looks like the ramblings of a recovering mind, making not much sense. And I'll stop writing, because the thoughts that are now entering my head haven't found words yet. And certainly not in English ;). But my body is a lot more relaxed now than when I started writing this post.
I'm going to close my eyes and ponder about Ostara and the time of radical changes it brings along.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Headed for Hospital

I will be going into hospital on Tuesday.
The blood tests came back okay, no reason to postpone the operation.
So it's going ahead as planned.
I asked the consultant - a very nice and straightforward Indian lady - to help me find the correct English words to explain to people what kind of operation I was having, without having to go into too much gruesome details and she said: "Just say you're going to have some major pelvic floor repair done and they won't ask any further questions."
So, now you know. :)

I'll be in for at least two, maybe three or four days, depending on how the operation goes and obviously how quickly I recover.
Ken's bought me a portable DVD-player and we're now filling a folder with films I've been wanting to watch for ages, and my favourite music CD's. Considering that and the books that are piling up to go in my suitcase I may have to ask them to keep me in a bit longer.
Just kidding!!

I find that I'm preparing as if I'm going on holiday and leaving Ken and the kids at home. And having similar ambiguous feelings about it.
I'm trying not to make too many lists and instructions, but the control freak in me is having a hard time. Also, I'm not wanting to upset or worry anybody, and after all it's quite a routine operation and all that, but it IS an operation and I am going to have full anaesthesia. So control freak me is having a hard time not to say farewell to the children, just in case... Or is that the drama me?
When I mention even the slightest of this kind of worries to Ken his eyes just go blank in the same way they did when I was giving birth. He just shuts himself off and I know that anything I say will not be remembered or used.

Which is good, probably. Because it leaves me with no alternative than to trust and surrender. From the moment she walked into the consultation room I've had a very positive feeling about this consultant. I could immediately relate to her and within a few minutes we were joking and at the same time discussing in depth the options I had. I explained in a few words why I didn't want a hysterectomy. Unlike my GP she didn't start summing up all the pro's, but she nodded and said: "I see you've done a lot of thinking and researching. Are you satisfied you know enough? Have you any questions left?"
She definitely gave me the feeling that I'm in charge of what's happening with me, with my body.

I knew I'd go on a waiting list and it would be end of April before I could go in. And then I got this phone call a few weeks ago. The hospital, offering me a place in a private hospital in Lancaster, they'd pay for it, and I'd be guaranteed a place in the first half of March!
Not for me. Because it would mean a different consultant and long journeys.
So to their apparent amazement I declined.

Only two weeks later I got a call that I was expected to go in on March 18. Well, yes, okay, that's not the first half of March...
I'm thanking all the people that have taken up the offer to go private, because it has obviously shortened the waiting list!

Anyway, think of me please, while I'm in there. And think of my poor family who'll have to manage without me :)).

Edit: I just read this post again and realised that I've repeated some of the things I said in the previous post. Must be stress showing, after all. At least you can't say I didn't tell you. I'll shut up now, nothing coherent is going to come out anymore.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Silly Cow

That's me.
I'm forever nagging my children about listening to what their body tells them, exercise, fresh air, healthy mind in healthy body, and all those pearls of wisdom, but what do I do to lead by example? Zilch. Nothing. Well, very little, anyway.
Ever since we moved here I've hardly been out and about. Even though there's this lovely path by the river where the dogs can run off the lead, I hardly ever take them there. Ken does practically all the dog walking at the moment. My excuse is that I'm working hard and need to get my translation and stories done, but it's a lame excuse.
For a while now I've been saying to Ken how I really need to get fit, because I'm beginning to get circulation problems, I'm short of breath even after a short walk to the shops, and there's all sorts of other signs, that - would I see them in one of my clan - would get me on my soapbox about healthy living.

So, now I'm getting what I deserve.
Coz that's how things work.
I'm waiting for this operation to have some 'major pelvic floor repairs' done. First it was going to take place end of April, but they've brought it forward to March 18, which I was quite pleased about.
Last Tuesday I had to go in for a pre-operative assessment and it turned out that I had glucose in my urine and then when they did the diabetes test, that showed a too high BM. So then I had to go back the next day for a full fasting test.
Now I'm waiting for the results of that to come back. If I do have a glucose intolerance or a form of diabetes, the operation will be postponed.
Not that I was looking forward to the operation, but I was looking forward to get it over and done with, iyswim.

Now I know for a fact that if I'd done what my body had told me and got fit when I felt I should, I wouldn't have had the high glucose. And I would've just gone in next Tuesday, without a problem.

I'm just so utterly annoyed with myself and can't think of anyone else to blame but me. Me me me. Is this enough of a meme, EF?

As Myrna and Owen are in the middle of learning everything about the digestive system and blood circulation, and were only last week discussing the workings of insuline with their tutor, there is no escaping the facts. When Mr R came this morning they - obviously - wanted to go over it again, and I got everything I've said to them in the past about healthy living and the need of exercising thrown back at me...

Now every member of this family is eager to help me get fit as soon as possible. So, where I used to sneak upstairs and do some work while they went out for a walk or whatever, I don't get the chance to do that anymore. There's no more escaping my own good council.
"Exercise and fresh air keep us healthy and wise."

I hope somebody is feeling sorry for me, coz I get no sympathy here...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Choosing in the Moment

Life is all about making choices.
That's easily said.
But how do you make them?
And as a parent, in how far can you make choices for your children?
I had a very important talk with my no. 1 birth daughter the other day. In the car. Where we usually have our important talks. When there's nobody and nothing to distract us from each other. No getting away. And we don't have to look at each other.

She has always been unhappy with our decision to move to England. She was thirteen when we moved. It was a major uproot for all of us, but at the age of thirteen - and especially in her case - it was terrible.
She didn't like the house we moved to. She didn't want to participate in anything we did. We tried and tried - maybe too hard - to cheer her up, but she was mainly unhappy.
Although I knew, both in my heart and in my mind, that we'd made the right choice, for her too, I still felt if not guilty then responsible for her unhappiness. And I did my best to accommodate her, to acknowledge her, to listen to her and to support her.
After about two years we reached an all time low. She was blaming us for 'having no life', for missing her friends in Holland, for being stuck in the 'back of beyond'. She did some really dire things to express her feelings - and hurt others in the process - and I felt extremely inadequate and powerless.
It came to a point where, when a very dear friend in Holland magnanimously offered AL could come and stay with her for a while, we accepted. AL was over the moon, happy to get away, happy to go to Holland. She could go to the private school that M had just set up. A school for child-led learning. I cried many, many tears about her leaving like that, it felt as if my heart was torn out of my body. But I let her go. Fifteen, she was. When I returned home after taking her to Holland it felt totally appropriate that the biggest storm ever was raging over the North West and Carlisle was flooded.

After about six months she came back to England. It wasn't entirely her own choice - again - but for many, many reasons it was what needed to happen at that particular time.
She didn't want to stay at home fulltime anymore, and she chose to go to college and do First and National Diploma Horse Care and Horse Management. Something she'd always wanted to do. College life was wild and wonderful. Within no time she had loads of friends and a very busy social life. The first year of the course was relatively easy and when she turned sixteen she wanted to move to campus. But then the whole learning experience started to get more complicated, more difficult. And her response to every challenge would be to say she wanted to go back to Holland. And she did go, she spent most of her holidays there.
After her second year she decided she wouldn't do the third year anymore. She wanted to go back to Holland, find a job and a nice place to live and stay there. Her clan-sister had said she could stay with her for a few months, until September, to start herself up from there. This time it was different to let her go. Still, I did set a unilateral limit. If she wouldn't have a steady income and her own place to live come September, she'd have to come back to England, back to us.

And then we heard we'd have to leave the Vicarage. So when AL left for Holland she had no idea of what she'd be coming back to, if she'd come back in September. Weird. Very unstable. She had a great summer in Holland, a lot of partying and socializing and at one moment she held three jobs at the same time. But it didn't last and she didn't find an affordable place to live. So in September she came back to England. Again. Determined to be back in Holland for her 18th birthday and celebrate it over there.
But then she found a job, some really nice friends, and she found herself liking living in our new house in town and she was thrilled when she was given the chance to live in the temporary house when we moved to where we are now (just over the road). After her fabulous birthday party she confessed to me that before she'd found it really hard to make friends in England, because she was afraid of having to say goodbye to them when going back to Holland. Goodbyes are just so hard, especially when you feel you have no choice in the matter...
Her other insight was that she'd come to idolize Holland, her Dutch friends and the Dutch way of life.

A few weeks later she was going through some hard times at work and generally feeling tired and down. So that one morning when I took her into work she started about how she still wasn't sure where she wanted to live and did I realise how hard we'd made life for her by moving to England, how much she missed her friends in Holland... The whole old song was sang. First I was inclined to do my usual "I understand how hard it must have been for you" and all that. But then I somehow got this urge to stop treating her like the eternal victim in this matter. I wasn't doing her any favours there and I just know that in essence she is one very strong person.
So I took a deep breath and confronted the problem. What I said boiled down to this:

There is no way of telling what would have happened if we'd have stayed in Holland.
Maybe, if we'd stayed in Holland you'd now be on drugs, like a few of the friends you used to hang out with then. Or maybe not, maybe you'd be a prize winning show jumper by now.
Maybe, we'd have lost the next court case for exemption, because of a new judge. Or maybe the laws on education would have changed and home ed was legal now.
Maybe, your Dad's burn out would have turned into more serious health problems or we would have gotten a divorce. Or maybe he'd extended his business and made loads of money and maybe I'd written a bestseller.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
The point is, you never know what would have happened if we'd made a different choice.
Fact is, we did choose to move away from Holland, to live in England. Because at that particular moment it was the best choice for us.
We can't undo that choice, we can't undo the past.
But with every new day we can make new choices.
You have the choice to remain bitter about the move to England and keep blaming everything that goes wrong on us, or to take responsibility for your own personal feelings and situation and make sure you get the most out of your life, for yourself.

We talked about how to choose, how to feel which choice would go best with your flow in life. And how the most difficult thing about choosing is that if you choose to go down one route, it often means you can't go down another one. We talked about what real friendship means and how much work it takes to keep a friendship going when you're in different countries. And we talked about how pain and sorrow are inescapable, and how important it was to accept and try and live through it.
It was a very special drive down to work. And then we arrived. With the typical flexibility of an eighteen year old she checked her make-up in the mirror, gave me a quick kiss and hopped out the car. "Don't forget to pick me up tonight at seven! Oh, and can L and I have something to eat at ours before we go into town? And do you think Daddy will drive us there?"

She'll be fine.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Love

From: The Dawn Horse Treatment, by Adi Da

"Love does not fail for you when you are rejected or betrayed or apparently not loved.
Love fails for you when you reject, betray, and do not love. Therefore, if you listen to me, and also if you hear me, and also if you see me, do not stand off from relationship. Be vulnerable. Be wounded when necessary, and endure that wound or hurt. Do not punish the other in love. Communicate to one another, even discipline one another, but do no dissociate from one another or fail to grant one another the knowledge of love. Realize that each one wants to love and to be loved by the other in love. Therefore, love. Do this rather than make any effort to get rid of the feeling of being rejected. To feel rejected is to feel the hurt of not being loved. Allow that hurt, but do not let it become the feeling of lovelessness. Be vulnerable and thus not insulted. If you are merely hurt, you will still know the necessity (or the heart's requirement) of love, and you will still know the necessity (or the heart's requirement) to love."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Full House

Since the moment we moved into this house it has been full with people.
Of course my Mum, my clan-children and their partners came over to stay, but apart from them there have been guests practically every night.
I can remember thinking, after we first had a look inside this house, ah well, it's not as if we still have loads and loads of people staying over all the time, like in the 'old times'. We did get ourselves a caravan, just in case we had people coming over in summer. And we thought we'd manage with just the three bedrooms, because AL had made it quite clear that she definitely didn't want to move back in with us.
And here we are, not even two months after moving in. Not only have both Owen and Myrna had friends sleeping over constantly, but AL has decided she doesn't want to find a place of her own yet, so she is moving back in with us when the contract on the temporary house runs out.
Which is fine, of course. Well, in a way. I am very much aware of how her present lifestyle has kind of moved away from our family way of living. So it'll take a bit of adapting on both sides. But mostly on hers, I'm afraid.
I can vividly remember coming back to live in the parental home after having moved out when I was sixteen (and went to live in Spain). It wasn't easy and it must have been hell on my parents, because I wasn't trying to make it easy either. I guess it's pay back time, then ;).
The other thing is that our family seems to have expanded in a more or less organic way. It happens in this household, every now and then. Not only has a third cat - a lovely big ginger named Mr. Mushu - joined our ranks, but there's this young boy, 12 years of age, - let's call him Remi - who has crossed our path and conquered a place in our hearts and home. His is a bit of a complicated story, but let's just say that he was very much in need of some mothering energy and a homely environment, and we have an abundance of that. So he came here with his little rucksack a couple of weeks ago and now lives in the conservatory. Every once in a while he goes back home for one or two nights, but then he phones to ask if he can come back to us.
The challenge is that we'd planned to put AL up in the conservatory. She panicked slightly when she found Remi had taken that space. But I reassured her that there would be a place for both of them. How, I don't know yet. As usual, I'm relying on CSC for the right solution at the right time and meanwhile I'm doing some serious thinking.
Weird, isn't it, that the moment we think it's not a problem to live in a smaller house because surely we're past the stage where we need a huge house with many rooms, these things happen. I wonder what lesson is in it. It's obviously got to do with choice. But then, everything in life is about choosing.
The point is that I am truly truly enjoying this Full House here. I love to be able to give Remi a feeling of being appreciated, wanted, loved and I also love the fact that my children's teenager friends feel at home here. Including the not so teenager anymore friends of AL.
A few years ago one of my clan-children nicknamed me MOM, which is an abbreviation for Mother Of Many. I consider it an honorary title and am very, very proud of it. And in spite of all the mess and noise, in spite of regularly cooking for eight to twelve people, in spite of not being able to find the time - let alone the space - to do my work, in spite of feeling very old and tired at the end of one of those hectic days, in spite of all that I still feel so incredibly happy being a MOM.
I suppose it just suits me down to the ground.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Onwards... forwards...

We didn't do Christmas or New Year cards this year. Not only the money, but also the time and energy I usually spend on cards went to the most important charity I can think of: my home and my family.
Nevertheless it feels a bit strange not having sent good wishes to friends and family, so Myrna and I are busy thinking up a worthwhile alternative. One we can work on without the pressure of the annual madness that seems to surround Christmas and New Year.
The fact that we've all been ill made for a reasonably quiet and low key Midwinter Time. For myself, this time is all about celebrating the birth of Light and respecting the stillness in Nature. I like to surround myself with candles and to stay at home as much as possible.
There was a time when the children were happy just staying at home, playing games, lighting a fire and candles, and those kind of things. But nowadays they want a bit more action, more socializing.
Living on her own, AL just makes her own plans nowadays. She was out most nights and only joined us for diner on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.
Owen is happy staying at home, as long as he can watch some films and set off his fireworks at the New Year.
Myrna was extremely bored this year. We did some games with her and we watched a film together - Vin Diesel in The Pacifier, wow! - but it just wasn't enough for her. Next year we'll have to organise something she really enjoys.

My clan-daughter came over from Holland with her new boyfriend. They arrived the day after Christmas and left on Monday morning to spend New Year's Eve in London. It was absolutely lovely to see them and we had a great time. The boyfriend is really, really nice and it was so good to see her happy.
Although there is no blood relationship, it is amazing to see how much she and my birth-daughters look alike. And it's even more amazing how much she and Myrna are alike, despite the 18 year difference in age. Not only in looks, but in every other way, too. They are both perfectionists, outgoing, gregarious, stubborn, self-confident, etcetera. But they're even alike in their way of walking and in little gestures. For instance, both of them when they're reading and have to stop, they put a bookmark in (never fold a page!), close the book and hold it up in front of them to see how far in the book they are. They even have similar handwritings.

On Friday another one of my clan-children arrives from Holland, with his girlfriend. To have my clan-children with me in this holiday time means more than all the nice food and fireworks in the whole world. Even though they're all grown up and lead their own lives, leaving them 'behind' in Holland was one of the hardest things about moving countries. Of course we keep in touch, through MSN, email and telephone. But there is no replacing the physical contact, the hugs, the looking each other in the eyes and being able to communicate without the words. As an observer I always get just as much - or with some of them even more! - information out of watching my children as I do from talking with them.

My clan-daughter has been with her new boyfriend for a while now and she'd told me lots about him. I'd seen pictures of him and even of his work (he's an artist). So I had quite a bit of information. But now that I've seen him and I've seen them together, now that I've actually felt their energy together, I feel my impression is more accurate, more complete.
She comes to England as often as she can, and obviously when I go to Holland I go and see her. Up to now, every goodbye has been really difficult for me. I was always left with this heart tearing feeling for a few days. But this time it was different. I still cried after she'd left, because I'm going to miss her. And I know that she is going to miss us. But to know that now she's got someone she's really happy with and who loves and respects her for who she is, that makes a huge difference.

There was a lot of synchronicity in her search for a new relationship and our search for a new home. The process we went through, the lessons we've learned. The choices we made, the pains we suffered, the gratitude we felt.
I share that very special feeling of interconnectedness with her, with my sister and with my best friends. It makes distances disappear and time irrelevant.
It makes life magical.