Friday, 4 September 2015

What shall we learn this year?

So often in the home educating community I hear parents (particularly those new to home educating) worrying that they don't know what to'teach' their children or where to find resources.They don't want to fail their children and worry when their children are unable to read or do maths . Nowhere is this more poignant where children have special needs.

The first thing I often point out to worried parents is whether the child would be learning those things at school? So many parents (like me) took their children out of school because it was failing them.The turning point for me was when I realised that when Google went into melt down when I tried to encourage him to do a simple sum and an hour later he was still sitting there vacantly looking at it ( or worse still, yelling and swearing at me and punching the furniture) was that he would have been so much worse at school surrounded by noise and being told off by teachers who thought he was doing it deliberately.

Roll on  seven years and we no longer do formal maths or english, or anything formal at all for that matter and he's thriving.Google learns what he wants to learn and I don't know many school children his age who are clued up about the Syrian refugee crisis,the current austerity measures and their impact on society in Britain and who is capable of programming in C+ and doing higher maths when necessary.

Home education has you see, taught him to think for himself and know where to look when he wants to learn something . He uses You tube, Khan academy, Wikipedia, books, videos, DVD's and documentatries and to be honest, academic learning isn't a problem at all.

At an age when his twin sister will be focussing on her GCSE's this year we will be concentrating on what is really important in life.Things like being able to make yourself a simple meal ,being able to leave the house, thinking of ways in which we can build on his skills to create an independent income (because the way things are going he is unlikely to be able to rely on the state for support)- not that we want that, but unfortunately we have seen far too many autistic adults fall through the net as the powers that be don't recognise the extreme challenges  they face with changes of routine and  in Google's  case, lack of sleep.

One criticism of mainstream school is that it doesn't teach life skills.The same can't be said for home education.I just hope when it comes to it that my son is better prepared than many autistic teenagers when it gets to the stage of living in the big wide world.Only time will tell!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Growing up and Autism-and the benefits of Home education

Google has just been with us on a family holiday.He went aged fourteen and came back fifteen.

As always, holidays give us  the time to reflect on how he has matured.Long gone are the physical outbursts of anger, the kicking of doors and throwing of chairs.What we have now is a very tall, handsome teenager whose voice has dropped to  deep base and who has a  sense of  identity and a conviction about  his own strong views and opinions.

He couldn't give a fig if  people think his views or actions are 'strange'.He is just who he is and he's happy with that.

School doesn't prepare you for life.I read this week about a study that confirmed it. Dr. Gerard Hoefling, of the autism support program, Drexel University, Philadelphia:has said,

"We make the erroneous assumption that high schools are getting students ready for college, and they're not really.

That's not their primary task. High schools do a wonderful job
of getting students ready to graduate from high school."

I firmly believe that. How many children know how bank rates work, how to use a credit card, about the electoral system and democracy and communism and dictatorships for example?

As I watched my son I realised that he wasn't wearing his ear defenders, he checked out a menu on-line before going to a restaurant so he could choose his meal in advance without being overwhelmed by the choice. He paid for a DVD over the counter without support. Suggested to his sister that they go to the local park on holiday,then went out the door and set off to the park with her struggling to get her shoes on and follow him.Despite having no wifi on holiday he happily joined in family discussions and played board games ( with only the slightest mutter about the benefits of digital technology) He went to bed at a fairly reasonable time for him (and slept!) and he even managed a trip to the Metro centre in Newcastle where we had a Chinese buffet and then a short shop for his sister to buy a birthday present.Whilst he indicated that he did find that uncomfortable, he patiently sat it out without a meltdown and I realised that he had grown up substantially.

He is able to communicate his needs far better now.When he had blisters from walking, he told me that so I could offer thicker socks to cushion them.He told me he gets a bad back from sitting at the computer so long (something which I suspected but he has never told me) so we have discussed the benefits of more fresh air and exercise and a better computer desk and chair.

Now that he is 15 I have suggested that our aim for the year is to enable him to support himself more by making meals ( and ensuring he doesn't forget to eat) and also we need to start looking at ways he can start to learn to bring in an income (possibly a computer based income which would make complete sense for someone with autism)

Who knows where we will be this time next year? We will just have to see!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

My Life in books!

At the moment I'm reading My Natural Life by Simon Barnes. It's the story of how the love of nature helped to shape the author's life and it came to me that there are many things that shape the direction of our path as we go through life. For me books have always been a passion.They accumulate dust in a pile under the bed of those I've yet to read and they have been a major part of our home education journey.In fact I'm only reading this book now because of Ross Mountney's blog the other day about How to be Wild by the same author.

As I look around our house I see that Google has a pile of books:


The Military History Book

Java for Dummies

History of the Second World War

and Into the Unknown

My pile on the other hand contains

Short walks in the Southern Lake District

Map of the Cumbria Coastal way

Wainwright The Biography

A Child in the Forest

A walk in the Woods

The English Lakes- Memories of times past

Surviving the Iron age

What do your books say about you?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Making the grade (or not!)

"Parenthood is a perpetual compromise between neglect and pushing.The last thing you want to do with anything that matters to you-art, books, wildlife-is to ram it down their throats."

My Natural History by Simon Barnes

I'm forever coming across parents (and teachers for that matter) who are convinced that without good GCSE's their children are doomed to a life of drudgery and low pay.The government perpetuates the myth and I cringe when time and time again I come across children who are re doing  their A levels because they failed them first time round and couldn't get a place at university.

I remember my son asking me if he would have to go back to school to redo his GCSE's if he didn't do very well.The answer was no.It turned out that was the right decision.Without parental pressure to suceed, he set himself his own goals and achieved the grades he needed to climb the next step on the ladder towards his goal.That's how we work in our house.You set yourself an immediate goal and then find out what you need to get there, we have found that intrinsic motivation is what matters, not extrinsic influences.

If you become bogged down with what you think your child should be doing, you set up problems for yourself later on.How many people have followed their father's footsteps into the family firm only to discover that they hate it.It was never their goal you see, but their parents.
In his book  "My Natural History " Simon Barnes describes his mother's expectations of him:

"Education and subsequent high achievement was never my goal.Rather it was my duty...So I  not only had to follow that tradition, I also had to make good the wrongs of the past."

It is interesting that, later on in the book he explains how he himself home educated his own son.Perhaps out of realisation that education isn't about grades or degrees, it's about wanting to learn about things as and when they are relevant to you.

Just as we have to grieve when we have a disabled child (and Simon describes this too in a chapter about his Downe syndrome son Eddie),, so too we need to give up our expectation for our children to let them live and grow as independent human beings . They are not 'mini mes", they are individual human beings with their own minds and interests.

We will only learn if our instincts are correct when we look back on our children and hopefully find well rounded and balanced individuals.For now, number one son, loves his job and is doing well, my daughter has her goal and is working step by step to becoming a dancer and Google has yet to identify what he will do to bring inan income but I am confident that that will come

So next time you worry about your child and their grades, stop and look at their life skills.Are they confident, happy and mature, if so they will be fine.If not, build on their life skills, it is those, not grades that will get them where they want to be.Grades are just a by product of that.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Power of Nature

Yesterday I walked round the garden. It's 1.5 acres and fairly overgrown so it's often difficult to appreciate the work I've done this year. I've read so many articles recently on the benefits of being at one with nature and it's true.Whenever I spend time in the garden or go walking in the Lakes I feel so much better and more creative afterwards.

This year I have bought packets of bulbs and seeds when they have passed their planting date and the shops are trying to get rid of them.Not everything has worked but I've taken the view that at the price I've paid for them, it doesn't matter I'll just pop them in and see.

The roses have been fabulous this year.My David Austin old English rose in the front garden, has, for the first time, been covered with flowers.Only yesterday my wild candy stripe rose suddenly came into bloom and a birthday present I bought this year, a pale peach climber  called Wollaton Old Hall Climbing Rose ,has finally come into flower too,

I've had huge successes with Borage .I do so love the piercing blue star like flowers, white phlox, which I bought for mere pennies has provided three small plants, and a pink Astrantia which I bought for £2.00 in a car boot sale looks perfect next to the pink Astilbe outside my kitchen door.


Wild honeysuckle (or woodbine) is everywhere. I love the smell when I go to feed the hens and I keep  popping strawberries into my mouth as I wander past the rather overgrown strawberry patch which this year has been a mass of fruit.

Wild strawberries

I also have a new lace cap hydrangea for £5, a real bargain! It is huge!I thought it was white but its turned out to be a pale blue, at least at the moment until we see if the soil changes it's shade. It should be fine in the woodland area.But for now it stands proud in its tub waiting for planting.

Lillies in the village

I've learned this year the pleasure of being able to give plants away as gifts so, bulbs have been planted in pots when I buy them and spare ones gave made a very cheap and lovely present.

Wild flowers were planted too.Some in the village and some in the garden and the results bring a huge feeling of satisfaction and a lot of pleasure . I will certainly be planting more next year!

Poppies and chamomile


I appreciate that I am very lucky to live in such a beautiful area where we have wild life and flowers in abundance but if  nature is available to all of us if we search it out.Here is a great place to start from your armchair!  

Saturday, 25 July 2015

How do you remind your Autistic child to eat?

We went out for a meal on Thursday, Google, myself, my husband, his siblings, his grandparents and his aunt, that is.Google was excited.He'd known about it for weeks and accepted that a hair cut and a bath would be necessary the day before, without hesitation.Once again it was evident that these activities were neither stressful or painful when the need was there.

As he grows older Google is teaching me such a lot about Autism (his autism that is) I asked him the other day, why, when I go out,  he doesn't make himself anything to eat.I used to think it was laziness (and yes that does come into it if his sister offers to make him some toast or his older brother is making cheese and ham toasties in the kitchen) but yesterday when I dropped his sister off at Peak Camp I picked up a BLT sandwich as promised .I got home late, imagining he would be famished but, to my surprise he said he had forgotten all about it as he was so engrossed in his computer programming.

I think that's half the problem.It doesn't even occur to him that he's hungry if he's engrossed in something ,so he has to be prompted to eat otherwise he would forget.That's a problem we will need to deal with for the future.Perhaps an alarm system will do the trick or a picture system.Any ideas from those further ahead of us would be gratefully received.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Seven weeks of Freedom!

Life is so unpredictable.As I drove home today I passed two highland cows walking along the grass verge,I did a double take and smiled.It's moments like this that you realise that it's the little things that make you happy.

It's been a tiring week. My daughter broke up today and we have had end of term itus for the last couple of weeks.Mental gymnastics are required to keep up with where you have to  be and when.Monday was school rewards trip in Blackpool.Tuesday and Wednesday Duke of Edinburgh reward from Beetham to Silverdale and back. Thursday was School picnic at Tarn Hows and today after school finished at 1pm Year ten went down to Coniston water to swim and are now as I write,are erecting tents in Guards wood for a sleepover! It's what memories are made of but it doesn't account for parental exhaustion.

So next week my plans are minimal.I intend to wake up each morning,with no alarm and ask myself what I plan to do that day.No advance commitments in case something better comes up unexpectedly and I want to do it! School gets in the way of such things and I can't wait for my daughter to leave the 'system' and be able to do her own thing

I've never liked being tied down by the education system and its petty rules and regulations ,when my now eighteen year old started school it was a shock to the system but things are definitely getting worse and if I was starting again from scratch now,knowing what I do about home education I would definitely not hesitate to home educate all my children.

 But one has moved on and is very happy and thriving in his apprenticeship, one is working steadily towards her goal of being a dancer and one is happily following the path of self led learning so I suppose for now and just need to go with the flow and rebel where I can! Happy holidays everyone!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Living peacefully with Autism.

So often I hear of parents, battling with the Education system,the NHS or the Welfare benefits system to get the right provision for their child. It really is a struggle, an exhausting one, which,in the most extreme circumstances can break up families or cause extreme stress and mental health difficulties both for the parents and their Autistic child. It can be a very hard existence,the world hasn't yet caught up with what it means to be autistic. Parents like me are still educating them!

Nevertheless, autism is  common, I see it about me all the time.Any parents of an Autistic child can spot it a mile off and so often it has been undiagnosed for years.Only now are some parents beginning to recognise autism in themselves of their partners,following the diagnosis of their child.

There is a poem about coming to terms with your grief following the realisation that your child is disabled. It has a very clear message that the journey you will find yourself on will be no less joyous.Yes it will have its struggles, all journeys do, but it will have its exhilarating points too.

I've learned that the key to living with autism peacefully and with acceptance is to change yourself.Change your own perceptions of what is normal and suddenly life gets a whole lot easier and richer

So what if your child doesn't sleep in the day,doesn't do their teeth, only eats mars bars and rarely bathes?None of these are life threatening.I would much rather have that than watch my child die from a terminal illness before me,being unable to do anything about it.

I want my children to have happy and fulfilled lives, and whilst for two of them that might mean being out everyday with friends challenging and stretching themselves continuously,for Google things move much more slowly.

I have no expectations that he will be ready to leave home at 18 or go to work, or drive  but I won't be putting pressure on him to do those things until he is ready! That doesn't mean that I think him incapable of doing great things.I know that he has the capacity to do whatever he sets his mind to!He amazes me with his intelligence and eloquence.

With transition to adulthood come further battles to get ESA or independent living or support-after all it's not the responsability of the parent anymore ,or is it?

Fighting a broken system causes heart ache and stress.Once we as a family took back control and stopped relying on the 'support' offered by the system, a weight was lifted off us.

My role I think will be to continue to facilitate my son,to stretch him without pushing the boundaries so that he suffers from mental health, to offer opportunities and to put people in his path who can offer support if he needs it.

Life will not all be roses but if you concentrate on the now then the worry of what lies ahead disappears.Similarly any guilt for what may have happened in the past,goes away. You did what you thought was best for your child at the time.

I read this article this week ,very wise words from a parent who has reached the same part of the journey as me.It's worth a read!

We only have one life,it's our choice how we choose to live it!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Dumbing down the Duke of Edinburgh?

My daughter is taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh award ,like her brother before her.The only difference- he did his through scouts, my daughter is doing hers through school.

Having been first a brownie, then a guide, then a scout and now an active member of Explorer scouts she has eight years of scouting under her belt.During that time she has undertaken various camps and expeditions, qualified in first aid, learned to cook on a camp fire, survive in the wild and kayak to Piel island, home of Swallows and Amazons.

Piel Island (Wildcat Island in Swallows and Amazons)

Her experience of doing D of E through school has been frustrating to say the least. There have been a series of tick boxes and hurdles to jump over so that the teacher running the course can satisfy the powers that be that everything necessary has been done to ensure they are safe .

Obviously there is nothing wrong with that, but when teachers insist that all participants attend  after school meetings to:

a) Practice putting up at tent
b)Light a Trangia
c)Do basic first aid
when you have been doing it for years, and a simple request to see the appropriate first aid certificate and a letter of competency from a scout leader, would presumably have done the job.You have to ask yourself whether this is really no more than a glorified lesson?

It seems  as though the more experienced participants  are not being given credit for their ability to use their initiative and think for themselves.

It's a bit like school itself really,those that are academic and bright are often held back by the least able pupils in the class which is why I'm such an advocate of home education where everyone is an individual.

Anyway to get to the point.In scouts, my son's group had to devise their own route, plot the ordnance survey points,decide on a place to camp and, subject to appropriate risk assessments by the leaders and being provided with the obvious emergency numbers off they went.

Having a laugh on one of their scout expeditions!

In contrast ,whist my daughter was eager to wild camp, her teacher insisted on a campsite with showers (in case they wanted to wash) and, whilst my daughter sensibly decided to take money to buy milk for her cereal rather than carry it in hot sunshine,the camp shop was out of bounds because it was a 'survival weekend'.It's a lucky man that survives on a desert island with hot showers methinks!

My main concern about all this is that my son and most of his scouting friends have all got apprenticeships and I'm convinced it was down to their diversity of outside interests (particularly D of E) rather than their academic achievements.

 Employers recognise that often students who have done D of E have more life skills, are confident and sociable and adapt better to the workplace.

Teachers recognise this too, but by introducing it into the school day they are inadvertently drawing it into the 'national curriculum' and if we are not careful it will be no more than a piece of paper that most school pupils have to add an extra dimension to their C.V. ,which after all is what it is all about (it even says that on my daughter's school letter!)

Making memories

I hope that won't happen, Duke of Edinburgh awards are a wonderful experience and a great opportunity for any young person seeking to continually improve themselves throughout life.Through them you make new friends,visit new places and gain new experiences.

With any luck there will be a drop as the challenges get harder with each new award and the participants find they  "have to get on with it." It will leave behind only those who really do have a passion for life and a keenness to try new things. (If the glut of Trangia's for sale on Ebay ,which have only been used once, is anything to go by,it would certainly seem so!)

Then employers will be able to judge for themselves the candidates who are up to the job!

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Peace and Tranquility

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of family life we just need peace.
Yesterday after a very hectic week of college taster days and various "almost the end of term events" I ran away for a few hours and sat and ate my lunch at Holme  ground tarn. A beautiful spot away from the tourists and the crowds of Coniston where I had time to breathe......

 Summit of Holme Fell

Reminicent of "The Titanic"

What estate agents particulars are made of!

Hodge close quarry.

Reminders of Pooh

   Slaters Bridge Little Langdale

Friday, 19 June 2015

Education is an Onion

Yesterday my daughter had a dance audition in Lancaster. It is something she passionately wants to do and she was very excited.Once again it occured to me that here was my daughter (despite it being  a Saturday) choosing to educate herself and challenge her abilities beyond the scope of school . She was missing a voluntary school dance  session to take part and had been challenged on her commitment by her school teacher who knew nothing about her audition, when in fact my daughter was choosing to pit her chances against dancers far older and more experienced than her and with  dance teachers with a varied and professional history of dance.The injustice of it all only makes my daughter more determined to succeed.Somewhere along the way she outgrew her school teacher and realised that there was knowledge and information which she wasn't learning in the classroom .

Dance wasn't the only thing she learned.There were  the life skills of reading a train timetable, travelling to a strange town and navigating her way to the dance studio.This time ,at her request, I went with her. but she felt that she would be confident enough to do it herself next time.

As a by-product of  the trip to her audition I decided to find out a little bit about the history of Lancaster as I hadn't been into the city for years.I visited Lancaster museum where there was an exhibition about the  agricultural history of the area which has some of the most fertile land for vegetable growing in the UK.

Upstairs were the permanent displays about the city of Lancaster from roman times to the present day, including the famous medeival castle dating from the 1300's and famous for its witch trials . The Kings Own Royal Regiment also had their military displays there and  I picked up leaflets and took photos for Google who has a passion for all things military.

I also popped into the Assembly rooms and visited the little chapel of the almshouses next door, a very peaceful refuge from the busy city traffic.

My trip really only glossed over the surface of what Lancaster has to offer but I realised that the lessons learned today had been threefold.My daughter's passion had led us up a new road of adventure.I had begun to learn about the history and architecture of the city and been able to pass on some of what I'd learned to Google when I got home.A bit like the layers of an onion really.The outside layer is only the beginning.If you peel away the outside layer you find out even more inside !All you need is an enquiring mind.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Learn what you want to learn, when you want to learn it.

Today I recommended this book to a couple of parents after I read this article. It is one of the books which has most influenced the way I educate my children.Having home educated Google since he was eight I felt guilty at failing to home educate the other two ( there was a spell when I home educated my eldest with Google for a year) but Google's needs were too great at that time and that year gave my eldest the space and time he needed to  grow and make his own choices about his education.

What this book taught me was that by sending my children to school I wasn't handing over their education to the government with it's narrow curriculum and  inflexibility towards the individual needs of each and every pupil but I  was choosing to primarily offer them the education opportunities they wanted to do such as dance,play the drums,sing,go camping and kayaking and walking, at home. Similarly life skills, morals and responsability and  consideration for others were the domain of our family  whilst school was a place where my social children could choose to socialise and spend time with their friends. 

There have been occasions when teachers have questioned my daughter's choice not to participate in after school activities- they seem to think that if you don't take part at school you're not doing anything at all.

I've had to explain she's  far too busy choosing what she wants to do outside of school with different teachers, teachers who want to share their passions with no other motive than to see others share their enjoyment where their enthusiasm shines through.Where   there are no tests  to pass unless you choose to take them.

It's a concept that some of them find hard to understand.Apparently most kids don't want to 'learn' when they're not at school.I wonder why? Perhaps they're being put off by what they are being taught at school? 

Monday, 1 June 2015

Just leave them be!

Now I haven't posted about Google in a bit, that usually means that things are going along smoothly ,it certainly doesn't mean his autism is cured.

That message was brought forcefully home the other day when I read a blog post written by a usually humorous and  lighted hearted father of an autistic boy . He is currently going through one of those 'dips' that we all come across with our children every now and again.

I've being dealing with autism long enough now to know that you get through them but I also know how draining it can be for all those involved at the deepest point.

We are at the stage with Google where we have learned to leave him to his own devices most of the time. He is happiest that way.Every so often he will come downstairs to sit with the family to watch television or to eat tea but generally he is at his happiest sat upstairs in his bedroom playing on the Xbox or the computer or reading books.

It wouldn't be my choice for him.I would much rather he spent his days camping or playing sport like his siblings but that's just not what he wants to do.

The other day we decided that we would take the train up the west coast of Cumbria to Carlisle. On a sunny day it's a beautiful ,if somewhat lengthy journey up the coast following the coast line of the North Sea through Ravensglass (famed for its miniature railway) the georgian town of Whitehaven and St Bees

Google was invited to come with us and , after weighing up the alternatives, decided he would come. With one hour to spare he changed his mind. Part of me was relieved as I had visions of him refusing to get on the train when it arrived on the platform, leaving my daughter and myself stranded ,unable to go. Another part of me was sad that he couldn't handle the change and challenge of the unknown.
If his dad had been with us he could have handled it but he doesn't feel secure unless we are all there and that wasn't possible.

It was interesting what I noticed as we travelled north. The train had incredibly squeaky brakes as we came into stations. In fact the noise hurt our ears, the passengers wore really strong perfume which made my daughter and I cough and sneeze as we suffer from asthma,and when we arrived in Carlisle the shops were busy and crowded and it was windy.All these things would have made the day out unbearable for my son and we would have had to deal with the consequences.

Home education has lessened all the sensory issues which he would have had to deal with from day to day but they are still there. Fortunately we can introduce Google to them gradually rather than force them on him before he is ready. Hopefully that will make his life easier and lessen the likelihood of depression or mental illness which so many of our Autistic children face. I hope so.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Where the Wild things are!

Tomorrow marks the start of June and the beginning of my Thirty days wild challenge .I've decided to keep a record on my other blog Rural ramblings of the wild things I do over the next month.Thankfully, living in the country it shouldn't be too hard to find things to do in the wild.Time will tell!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Living your dream

ALICE laughed "There's no use trying", she said, "One can't believe impossible things"
"I daresay you haven't had much practice" said the Queen.
When I was your age I always did it for half an hour a day "why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast"

Lewis Carroll
Through the looking glass

It's too easy to put children down.A teacher unwittingly did it to my daughter recently when my daughter said she wanted to audition for a county dance group.She did in to lessen the blow in case my daughter didn't succeed. She did my daughter a favour .It made her angry and more determined to succeed

For many children however it would have knocked their confidence and planted a seed that maybe they weren't good enough.In fact the outcome isn't the be all and end all, it's how we handle it that counts.Win or lose my daughter will gain from her experience and move on.

In fact my daughter completed an application form and was invited to audition.It was tough and despite being shortlisted she didn't get a place this year.

That didn't stop her.We got feedback, made new contacts and found another dance group.She has applied again and has been accepted for audition in two weeks.

Meanwhile she auditioned with that same group for a choreography grant last week and we heard yesterday she had been accepted.So little by little she is reaching her goal.

Never under estimate the abilities of your children.Trust their instincts, they'll only doubt themselves when you think they can't do something.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Never a dull moment!

I think I'm becoming a bit of a geek.It's rather sad isn't it when you're excited at the prospect of the  arrival of light weight tent pegs! When they arrived I was rather surprised that they resembled  overgrown hair pins.I'm not sure what sort of wind they have down south , obviously not the blustery kind that we have on the hills in the Lake District.Nevermind they will do to keep the tent flap open on hot, sunny days!

My flirtation with the thought of wild camping meant that I had to go shopping for meths.I didn't know where to start.Did they sell it behind the counter in little dark shops on street corners?.My best friend thought it was hilarious as I explained defensively that it was for my new trangia cooking stove rather than for our local rave!

As usual we have had  a busy and varied week in our house. In an effort to keep on top of our one acre garden I have been trying, between showers, to spend at least half an hour a day pulling up nettles and cutting back brambles before they get out of hand. We have a man with a digger coming on Thursday so we spent yesterday recycling what we could from a huge pile of wood and slate piled up in the space where the digger will dig.My daughter smashed old slates and made a mulch for the garden path I have created and sawn up logs which were piled up into a bug hotel.The hotel sign is still to be made!


I've planted wild flowers around the village as part of our Grow Wild project and sprinkled a couple of packets of wild meadow seeds and butterfly attracting seeds on barren areas in the garden just to see what they do! I noticed too that a friend in the village had mown the track alongside Soutergate beck  and yet another had weeded the top of a wall so that I could plant a few seeds there.Community spirit is contagious.

We will have to wait and see what emerges and I will post some photos on the blog later in the summer.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

If you don't go, you'll never know!

Well how things have moved on since last week's auditions .Cumbria Youth Dance sent an email with details of other pending dance auditions and my daughter immediately filled in and sent off her  application.

Meanwhile she received notification that she had been selected to audition for a choreography grant in Lancaster.Quite a tall order considering she has never done choreography before! Thank goodness for the internet!

We googled, and googled again, hoping for a clue about where to start. It appeared that the choice of music was key.The theme was bullying so we googled  "bullying music" and this Coilbie Caillat song was recommended.My daughter loved it!

Her dance teacher offered to spend Sunday morning with her and a fellow student and it was lovely to see her enthusiasm as she practised her moves over and over again in  the room above our garage.A recreational space away from the house where my son can drum to his heart's content without disturbing the neighbours and my daughter can dance freely away from the prying  eyes of Google.

My daughter learned so much on that Sunday morning.Her dance teacher had arranged for some fellow students to dance the prepared dances.They were older than my daughter but offered plenty of help and advice based on their experience.She came home with pages of ideas which she scribbled down as fast as she could in a little notebook about timelines and rythmns and learning styles.

 Her enthusiasm was contagious! Once again I was witnessing an example how self motivation is the best key to learning.The competition is for fourteen to nineteen year olds.My daughter is just fourteen.Whatever happens, by surrounding herself with older and more experienced dancers and choreographers she will be challenged and stretched.I firmly believe that if you surround yourself with successful people (whatever your definition of success) then you will be confident and successful yourself!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

There may be trouble ahead! But let's face the music and dance!

What a weekend! For months we have been preparing for the Keswick/Coniston to Barrow Walk (or at least I have) and then three days before my daughter is due to walk forty miles it's announced that they are doing auditions for Cumbria Youth Dance the day after.Something which my daughter has been waiting to do for over a year now.

Apart from the fact that it was highly likely that she would be unable to walk, let alone dance, and that the venue was one and a half hours away, accessible only by car (as there is no public transport on a Sunday) she was determined to attend.The auditions which are advertised as being open to all talented dancers in Cumbria are it seems, quite the opposite, there is only one audition and one location.If you don't make the audition, you don't get a place!

Quite apart from my own feelings on the fairness of it all this is obviously our introduction to the 'world of dance' and my daughter wasn't going to let this chance pass her by.

She finished her walk on a high,running over the finishing line in ten hours fifty eight minutes - a pretty good time for a first timer ,and she was smiling!

And so we were up next morning for her auditions near Penrith. We found the venue without too much trouble and,after signing in I left her to it!

I went to Rheghed for a coffee and a cookie and bought some lovely presents from the gift shops. Helen Skelton was due to do a book signing of her new book in the afternoon so,having browsed the entrants of the Cumbria Art festival and voted for my favourite with a yellow sticky dot planted securely beneath the artist's name. I set off for Penrith and had a browse round the town taking pictures.

Then I went back to Newbiggin where the auditions were taking  place and discovered the village well and water source which had been renovated. Apparently the village lay on layers of limestone with sandstone underneath. The water seeped through the limestone to the impervious sandstone and formed springs which had been used as watering holes for drovers taking cattle from Scotland to England.

At the end of the day I went to see how my daughter had fared. She had been selected to dance before the judges again but hadn't been allocated a place.Whilst disappointed ,she learned how tough it was going to be to attain her goal amongst youngsters who are dancing two or three times a week and travelling down to Warrington for lessons each month but she also got a taste of what was required and is now working on a fitness regime so she can audition again next year, and the next and the next until she gets her place! That's my girl!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

It's not every week you meet your MP!

I'm never happier than when I'm free from the constraints of 'school'. This week has been one of those weeks. My daughter has been doing work experience and my eldest son is in Milton Keynes on a training course. Google meanwhile is happy in his normal routine,away from the unexpected!

Work experience has taken the form of volunteering in one of our very important community hubs Ford Park. My daughter has worked in the cafe,planted in the walled garden with the volunteers (some of whom are unable to work due to mental health problems or learning disabilities) and learned about the benefits of companion planting , sat in on a level 1 Horticultural course, picked fresh vegetables for the kitchen,spruced up the nature walk, met our local labour MP John Woodcock who popped in for a coffee, experienced the anxiety of a staff member who's family live in Katmadu where there was an earth quake on 23rd April.Thankfully news came through that they were OK.

What a vast array of learning and the week isn't even over yet! When I dropped her off this morning,the local yoga class was about to begin and a group of walkers were gathering for the Ulverston Walkfest.It's obvious walking around town that it has been the Flag festival this week too!I managed to take some photos of the Gill on one of the practice walks I've been doing in preparation for the C2B next week.

I finally managed for the first time yesterday to walk up Hoad without stopping! I have been walking in  Newlands Bottom a hidden away spot just outside of town .The bluebells are finally out, and although unfurled this morning, so are the wood anemones! I even spotted two Jays, the first time I've ever seen them in the wild.

What a lovely week! Now that's my sort of Education!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Reach for the stars!

The other evening, as I sat watching television, Google came downstairs carrying his telescope case.When I asked him what he was doing he didn't respond (which we are totally used to by now) but he walked into the kitchen and I heard the latch of the kitchen door as he opened and closed it.
Later when I went to shut in   the hens I found Google, in the middle of the garden, sitting on a green plastic chair with his telescope trained towards the moon and his ipad on his knee .He was studying his  Stargazer app.I followed the line of his telescope and saw that the moon was an extremely narrow crescent that night .Above in the North east was a very bright planet which Google told me was Venus.

The thing that struck me was that Google hasn't touched his telescope for months . In fact I was thinking of sending it to the charity shop.He had obviously been reading about the position of Venus and gone out to investigate. Sure enough when I did  my own investigations this is what I come up with!

Once again I've seen evidence of him learning through his own interests and motivation. For many years Google has shown an interest in the space and the planets. He discovered Kerbal Space programme . Created space rockets and space modules,watched Professor Brian Cox.All of this has been self motivated.Not bad for the little boy who didn't want to learn!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Singing Softly,Wonderfully well

Last night The Ghyll singers were invited to sing at a concert in St Martins church in Bowness on Windermere.

Living in such a beautiful area of the world we get to sing in some lovely spots. As we drove along the shores of Windermere the trees were just coming into bud and the blossom trees and rhododendrons were in flower,not forgetting of course the many thousands of daffodils made so famous by Wordsworth.

As guest singers to a wind band from Kendal we were able to sit back and enjoy most of the concert .We sang the pieces which had won us the South Lakes music competition and were congratulated in particular on our ability to sing quietly.

 I realised that slowly over the four years we had had our current conductor we had learned how to control our singing by pulling in our tummies,could sing the higher notes by  using our faces and smiling and had generally become more disciplined as a choir by listening to the other parts as we sang our own.That's the wonderful thing about learning, you just never stop.

Google for example has been reading up about politics.For the first time this year his older brother is eligible to vote and there have been discussions in our family about whether we actually agree with the current system. The conservatives and liberal democrats are currently joined by a coalition but never have I known the general public to be so disillusioned and mistrustful of MP's. A friend introduced me to an app designed to help new voters decide who to vote for. Bite the Ballot posed a series of questions and then suggested the parties as close as possible to the views of the voter.Vote for Policies was another site.It just shows how technology is changing the way we do things!

And as for progress with the C2B, only twenty days to go now and we went up Beacon Fell the other day. A super clear day and hardly a soul in sight, a fantastic place to live.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

A Black sheep in the family

In the field over the road from our cottage are the newly born lambs.The field is full of jumping, skipping creatures with  frantically wiggling tails as they drink their mothers milk.If you look closely however, you will suddenly see, from amongst the sheep a little black head, followed by a little black body - the cutest little black, indeed the only black lamb in the flock!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Five tarns in Lakeland

The weather has been beautiful over the past few days.Today my daughter was meeting up with scouting friends she'd met  at Winter camp earlier in the year.They were spending the day at Fell Foot so I arranged to leave her and spend a day walking with my friend as part of our practice for the C2B

I found a walk at the south eastern tip of Windermere which I reckoned would be out of the tourist radar.  I was right.Even at 11am there were plenty of parking spaces at Chapel House Wood at Staveley-in -Cartmel.

If we had had more time I would have liked to take a short walk round Staveley, a small but very pretty hamlet famed for it's house with a miniature railway running through the garden which is often opened to raise money for charity.

Our walk took us up a forest road and across boardwalks onto woodland paths.Through the trees to the right we could see the glimmer of water which turned out to be Simpson Ground resevoir where we stopped for a moment to take in the view and the silence.

After a slight unintenioned detour we found ourselves back on our intended path in synch with our walking book and carried on through the wood to a wall where we walked out of  woodland into the open countryside with clear blue skies and green fields broken by rocky outcrops and ant hills dotted here and there so your line of sight ahead was broken until you walked round each one.

 .We could see the limestone escarpment known as Whitbarrow scar on the skyline and, as we walked over the open fields  we  rounded a rocky knoll to see Sow How farm beyond which was  a second tarn with  two swans swimming on it and a solitary boathouse at one end.

From there we crossed sloping fields into deciduous woodland and found yet other tarn, this time it was cool and still.We could see the reflection of the  reeds on its still surface. This tarn differed from Sow How Tarn.It was enclosed by woodland and surrounded by rhododendron bushes  which had yet to come into flower and felt as though it was the relic of some wealthy estate.

We walked down past an old barn (which I later learned was called Heights) which had apparently been a Quaker meeting house until the 1920's (and which we commented would have made a good walkers accommodation in its isolation) and then down through more woodland and on to open countryside where we ascended to the cairn at Ravensbarrow.

 The cairn was in fact a seat and we sat whilst I  ate my sandwiches and surveyed the valley below us. The only evidence of people in the valley was a farmer on his tractor feeding his sheep and a couple of walkers ahead of us below. 

We descended towards the road but took a path to the right before reaching a stile over a dry stone wall and into deciduous woodland.It was lovely to see the odd wild daffodil here and there and some primroses on a grassy bank although I was surprised there were not more as the daffodils are in full flower now. After the wood we passed through agate onto a country road and turned left to a crossroads,never seeing a car as we sauntered along the route.We then turned left to a crossroad and right to The Ashes. Passing the farm and a chap doing a fine job of landscaping the garden with a fine slate wall, we walked down a farm track, over a little bridge spanning a stream and right onto a footpath over fields again which passed a typical lakeland cottage to our left with a red telephone box in the garden.

Over a stile into more woodland and past a converted barn which is now used as a holiday let onto the road where   Thorphinsty hall, a very fine house, lay ahead of us.

We passed the hall discussing the likely pronunciation of its name and up the road to a path on the leftt which took us through woodland up the hillside through recently planted plantations to the road further along.By this time the sun was hot and it was heavy going.Our hearts sank at the next path which rose steeply up a slope to a telephone mast. We scrambled up (me a bit at a time) and stopped to catch our breath at the top) Once there it was much easier. We followed the pylon lines onto moorland, over a couple of stiles and through a gate which had no bars allowing the sheep and lambs to move freely from one field to another.A lone lamb was calling to its mother having obviously gone in search of some adventure. Passing into newly planted woodland we followed a well worn path  until it reached a forest track. From there we walked parallel with the track until we reached the car.

It was a lovely and varied walk and there are  several things I would like to go back and investigate such as St Anthonys church on Cartmel fell and the  church at Staveley.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Banishhead - the day of the partial Eclipse

I'm catching up, not having immediate access to a computer means that down loading photos can be a pain at the moment.I continue to take them and then have a mountain of photos to download.But a blog wouldn't be a blog without some photos so I've saved this one till now.

I've been meaning to walk up to Banishead quarry for a while now. I saw a photo of it on a favourite facebook page of mine called "I love the Lake District" last year and it was added to my bucket list.

It was the day of the partial eclipse, a grey and dreary day,but I had to take my daughter to the optician and return her to school in Coniston mid morning so I figured that I'd stop off in Torver on my return. The signs weren't good,drizzle, cloud,not good for the photography at all.

Anyway I have a C2B to practice for so I parked the car next to Torver church,dropped a donation in the honesty box and set off along the road and across to a bend from where a track took me up the hill side, past a farm and several holiday cottages and small caravan sites and then up a walled track into open woodland.

As I came out of the trees the sun began to shine and I was alone ,not a person in sight!

I could see old slate quarries ahead and I walked along the well made track towards them, taking photos as I went.

As I reached the banks of slate a rough path took me up between them

and this was my reward.Totally out the blue!  A deep  quarry surrounded by fencing and a still deep pool below, It made up totally for the failure of the eclipse to appear in our darkened skies!

Definitely worth the walk and next time I will be venturing further to Coniston

My dad says he used to fish up there as I child. I don't think this was written by him but you never know!