Category Archives: Random Ramblings

A process to feel better about Christmas (or anything)

This has never been my favourite time of year.  I don’t have especially happy memories of childhood Christmases, and my favourite ones as a grown-up have been the ones I’ve spent abroad.  Like many people, I have a tendency to let deferred-gratification and perfectionism take over, but a bad-feeling journey can never lead to a good-feeling destination! Big J has good memories of childhood Christmases spent with his extended family, though, and I would love for C and J to have a similar experience, so going away every year isn’t an option.

The other day I found myself sounding downright Scrooge-like while talking with Big J about my Christmas present for him (or lack of!) and I decided it was time to make a change! I’d really love to create a tradition of wonderful Christmases for my children.  But for now I’ll settle for feeling good about this one. 🙂

Focus Wheel

Feeling good has to come before action, so I decided to use an Abraham-Hicks process (from the book Ask and It Is Given) to help me get to a better-feeling place about Christmas.

A focus wheel is laid out like a clock.  In the centre you write what you’d like to feel or believe by the end of the process, even though you don’t really feel or believe it at the start when you write it. Around the edges you leave room to write twelve statements which will help guide you gradually towards the centre.

Getting Onto the Wheel

Getting onto the focus wheel  is a bit like getting onto a moving roundabout in a children’s playground – you have to slow it down to get on;  you can’t just jump right onto the middle – there’s too much of a gap between where you currently are and what’s written there.

Instead, look for a statement in the right direction (“downstream”, as Abraham-Hicks say), that you do believe.  Write that down in position 1.

Now you’re on the wheel, and you should be feeling a little better than when you started.  Next, look for a statement to write down in position 2.  Again, be careful it’s not too much of a leap or you’ll be thrown off the wheel.

After you’ve filled in a few positions you’ll be on a roll.  Use this good-feeling momentum to fill in the remaining positions.  By the time you get to 12 you should be able to authentically relate to what you’ve written in the centre!

Focus Wheels on the iPad

In the past I’ve used pen and paper to do focus wheels, but I’ve recently started using the free iPad app Simple Mind to create mind maps, which lends itself perfectly to the focus wheel process.

Did It Work?

As I write this I’m feeling contented and peaceful and – dare I say it? – distinctly Christmassy!  Presents are wrapped under the tree, and I’m actually rather looking forward to a little Christmas party later this afternoon.  There may be more focus wheels over the next few days, but for now the magic is working.  🙂

Further Resources

Since writing this post I came across this great YouTube clip which takes you through the Focus Wheel process.

What I Got From Nanowrimo

I’ve written approximately 1,700 words each day for the last thirty days.  I’ve written beside tennis courts, in Starbucks, on park benches, in sports halls, in the car, and in bed at 6:30 am every day.  The reason –  I’ve been taking part in Nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month.

Most people who participate in Nanowrimo aim to write novels, but there is a growing minority of “Nano Rebels” who instead use November to write in their own chosen genre, be it short stories, a non-fiction book or even blog posts.  There’s even a dedicated section of the Nanowrimo website for rebels.  For this, my first, Nanowrimo I chose to write blog posts.

The rules are straightforward: write 50,000 words in your chosen genre in November. If you succeed, you get one of these:

And a lot more besides.

Why I Did Nanowrimo

1.      To practise writing

Would-be writers are usually inspired by other people’s great writing.  We’ve read enough to recognise good writing when we see it, and we also know bad writing when we see it.  Unfortunately this means we are only too aware of our own bad writing! This is the point when many quit.

What we need to remember is that most of those good writers we so admire had to do their own time writing badly while they honed their skill.  The more we write, the better we get, and gradually, over time, we begin to close the gap between our own writing and writing we admire.

2.      To find my voice

In the year since I started blogging I’ve often held myself back from writing about particular topics for fear of what other people might think.  This army of imaginary critics – friends, family and (highly imaginary) multitudes of anonymous readers had me in a creative straightjacket at times.

I relished the opportunity Nanowrimo gave me to write completely for my own pleasure, unfettered by any concerns about the army of critics looking over my shoulder.

3.      For the challenge

Because it was there. (And unlike climbing Everest, I could incorporate it into our homeschooling lifestyle.  Just about.)

What I got out of Nanowrimo

1.      The Satisfaction Of Achieving A Goal

Many people have goals but most – me included – rarely take the time to define a goal so clearly that it’s obvious when we have achieved it, or to allow ourselves to bask in the satisfaction we are owed.

Nanowrimo provides a perfect framework for doing that.  It was great doing something just for me.

Did I mention how much I love my winner’s badge? 🙂

2.      A Good Example

This may sound contradictory on the heels of the last paragraph, but  I liked knowing I was modelling some pretty good behaviours for the children:  goal-setting, commitment, and writing both for pleasure and to achieve an end.

3.      The “Squash And A Squeeze” Effect

In the children’s book A Squash And A Squeeze , a woman who complains that her house is too small is advised to take in one more of her animals each day.  Of course she soon finds herself more squashed than ever, and she begins to doubt the wisdom of the advice.  At this point she is told to turn out all the animals, whereupon – lo and behold – her house feels wonderfully spacious and the woman complains no more.  Finding the time to write 1,700 words a day has had a similar effect on my time management!

Writing took up a large proportion of the time we weren’t doing school and I wasn’t doing housework (or organising C’s birthday!). I began to make lists of things I would do when November was over, in the way I did at school when I was revising for exams!

It feels great to be beginning the busy month of December with a wonderful feeling of abundance of  time.

4.      Clarity about why I am blogging

I’ve always known that my primary inspiration for blogging is for me and my family to have a record of our homeschooling days.  But as an avid reader of other people’s blogs I knew I also wanted to offer something to others.  I just wasn’t quite sure who those others were.

Nanowrimo gave me the chance to find out what I’m inspired to write about when I’m doing it only to please myself.  I found that I love to write about our homeschooling and some of the day-to-day issues that accompany this lifestyle.   I also realised that I find it a great help to journal about personal concerns, and I’m going to keep this up outside of the blog.

Nanowrimo  begins again on 1 November 2012.  Why not give it a go?

In Balance

This is our fourth week of the homeschooling year and we seem to be settling nicely into a routine that strikes just the right balance between structure and flexibility.

I had fun over the summer playing with various homeschool planning systems but when it comes to real life simplicity works best for me, so my weekly planning at the moment consists of fifteen minutes on a Sunday night, writing what I want to cover on a big whiteboard.  I include the subjects I want us to do, craft activities I’ve got planned and books I want us to read.  This acts as a focusing checklist for me and means the children know what to expect (and, in many cases I hope, look forward to!)  Thanks to the maths, history and science curricula we’re following, I don’t feel like I’ve got to reinvent the wheel every week – unless I want to of course 😉

Up until now I’ve been strewing books on the kitchen table, and I’ll continue to do this – C reads almost everything she finds there – but the table’s been getting rather cluttered! – so after hunting around for another surface to colonise for our homeschool – I’ve started laying out books on the lid of the dressing up box!

We start each day at about 830am with a “Morning Meeting” which usually includes a fun activity like drawing for Sketch Tuesday or watching a YouTube clip related to our current composer.  Today we celebrated the beginning of October by making acrostic poems on autumnal paper.

After the Morning Meeting we take a look at the whiteboard and decide together what we want to focus on each day – which one day might be a little bit of everything, another mostly history, mostly science (or mostly swimming!). Maths I try to do every day.  Thanks to the whiteboard checklist, I know everything will get covered by the end of the week 🙂

Another balance that seems to be working pretty well is that between curricula and autonomy.  So while today we did maths, spelling, history and science from the whiteboard, C and J also spent time with a Klutz magnets book they pulled off the shelf (following which C made an “invention” out of one of the magnets, a piece of string, a paper fastener and a cardboard box), they spent fifteen minutes together playing Stack the Countries geography-quiz on the iPad, created  characters, scenes and a story using another iPad app, PlayTime, and made dozens of play-doh pyramids!

C spent some time online researching how to make a quill after one of the kittens brought in a particularly unusual feather.  And of course, there was time to make the most of the 25 C and sunshine and have a paddle  … surely the last time this year?!!

The Joy Of Home Education # 32

I am SO in love with home educating right now!  Not only are we cruising through maths, English and our other subjects, but we are REALLY making the most of the flexibility our lifestyle brings.

I love being able to take holidays when it’s cheap and uncrowded.

(Still waiting to be tall enough...)

Like last week  at Centerparcs where we swam, biked, climbed, bowled, crazy-golfed, pampered ourselves at the spa (the big ones) and attended wizard training academy (the little ones).

C and J Potter, wizards

I love that Sunday evenings are not over-shadowed by back-to-school pressures.

Last Sunday after C’s rugby and my lovely nephew’s Christening …

C scrubbed up well after rugby!

we were still able to celebrate Big J’s birthday as a family…

by going to see our local ice hockey team play, without having to worry about getting up early for school in the morning 🙂

And … I love that when temperatures hit an unseasonal 27 degrees (80 F) in the last week of September we can close our books for the day and spend the day playing at an open air swimming pool – YAY!


Wow, this week certainly has been a change of pace!  I can see now why experienced homeschoolers recommend starting only one new subject per week!  I realised today that this week I have taken on rather more than I can comfortably chew, but hey – there’s nothing can’t be helped with a good night’s sleep 🙂

And it’s worth it.  If C and J were at school they still would have done maths and history and French and English today, or something very similar.  They still would have joined with other children playing tennis (J) and doing drama (C) “after school”.

But we probably wouldn’t have had the pleasure of picking apples from the garden together this afternoon.  I wouldn’t have looked on as they grappled awkwardly but determinedly with vegetable peelers as they made their first apple and blackberry crumbles (one to eat, one for the freezer),

or seen them happily engage in a game of Battleships while I cooked lunch (ok, happily engage in the first half of a game of Battleships…!),

or shared a moment of appreciation with my daughter as we studied Renoir’s “A Girl With A Watering Can” together over an unhurried breakfast.  These are the experiences I focus on whenever I find myself craving  introvert space.  I wouldn’t give them up for the world. And there’s always a mummy reboot 🙂

First Day Of Homeschool

And we’re off!!  After months of daydreaming, planning and choosing resources for this homeschooling term, today we actually started using them!

Taking the advice of experienced homeschoolers (I love homeschool blogs!), we are easing back in gently, so just a bit of maths and history today.

And I got to play with my new whiteboard! 🙂 Which will hopefully help me strike a balance between complete freewheeling and having a bit of structure to our days.  As C very perceptively put it , “if we don’t know what’s planned, we make our own plans”.  Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing –  I want C and J to have LOTS of free time to find and explore their own interests and passions – but I also want to provide some signposts to point the way to things I think they might enjoy and find useful.  A few ready-made curricula and a modicum of planning should help with that intention, and keep me accountable!

I also like knowing when the pro-active part of my role is “done for the day”.  Of course I’m still available to the children after we’ve ticked off the day’s scheduled “subjects”, but without any kind of plan I have a tendency to spend the whole day in a state of mild anxiety, offering “suggestions” from that place – which never ends well!

I’m not sure who graffitti’d my whiteboard (in red) this evening, but I’m not complaining.  I think it was probably C, who exclaimed several times this morning, “this is SO much better than school!” As she only left school last December, and we recently turned down a place for her at a local “outstanding” junior school (where she would have started today), this was very nice to hear.  🙂

(in case you're wondering in what way this is a "schedule" - it's actually on the pinboard below the whiteboard!)

A Change Of Season

Today we leave our summer home to begin a new season of learning, laughing and loving with a different set of friends in a different yet very familiar place.

We will say goodbye for now to daily dips in the sea, and to lazy mornings and evenings, and hello to a new homeschooling “term”.

Goodbye for now to scooter races, and hello to our lovely green garden and fun activities with homeschool and other friends.

Goodbye to sunset drinks on the balcony and beach, and hello to cosy evenings on the sofa.

C has become a ripstik pro (me, not so much - have you seen how many wheels that thing has? Just two!!)

We’ve all expanded in so many ways, making new friends, developing new skills, learning new things.

It’s been a glorious summer and I am filled to overflowing with appreciation for our home here, the magnificent beach, our friends and my lovely family for every single wonderful experience since we started coming down regularly in April.

Today marks the start of rugby season so C and Big J have already gone, and J, kittens Ellie & Fliss and I are packing up to leave soon.   It helps that after a week of hot sun, today it’s pouring with rain and blowing a gale! There are still a couple more September weekends here to enjoy, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to jumping back into a new routine.  I’m ready to go home.

Rebooting Mummy (The Joy Of Meditation)

Tonight's Sunset (well it's kind of meditative)

When I think of meditation, a part of my mind conjures up images of kaftan-wearing hippies sitting cross-legged, fingers making little “o”s in the air, chanting “om”.  Another part of my mind says “BORING!!”  Which is odd, given that I’ve been enjoying meditating for many years and been interested in altered states of consciousness my whole life!  I guess my default images are a testament to how the practice of meditation has generally been regarded in our society.

As a child of eleven or so I borrowed library books on hypnosis (which I tried out on my little sister; according to one book, as a sleep-talker she made a good subject).  At fifteen I would sit cross-legged in my bedroom facing the wall, chanting “nam eh oh oh ren geh key oh” (I got the words from an article in teen magazine “Just Seventeen”) – this was maybe the closest I’ve ever come to the stereotype; my mother and siblings still giggle about it.   But object of ridicule or not, it worked for me – I would focus on my latest crush being at the pub that night, and there he would be! 😉

In my twenties I briefly toyed with “watching the breath” as recommended by a Buddhist friend in Spain – that one was NOT for me! – before I discovered the joy of guided meditation, beginning with Shakti Gawain’s classic Creative Visualisation (on cassette!).

It wasn’t until I trained in neuro-linguistic programming and hypnosis, in my mid-thirties, that I began to understand the science behind these altered states. When we meditate, our brains are flooded with theta and alpha brainwaves, precipitating a state of profound body and mind relaxation in which the parts of of brain responsible for creativity, clarity, memory, insight and calm are stimulated. (See Resources below for a fuller explanation of the science.)

Meditation is now a key part of my life, all the more so since we’ve been a homeschooling, and my family accept my daily 15 minute mini-retreats as part of who I am.  In fact my children have been known to tactfully suggest “why don’t you go and meditate, mummy” when things are a little fraught  😀   I sometimes think they see meditation as a “Mummy reboot” button.  They’re probably spot on!


At the moment I love Esther and Jerry Hicks’ Abraham meditations CD, which contains four 15 minute meditations focusing on general wellbeing, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing and relationships respectively. I just pop in my earphones, breathe, and let the soothing words and music wash over me – bliss!

Brainsync produce both guided meditations and music only products, available on CD or as MP3s. Kelly Howell has a deliciously soothing voice, and the music is specially created to induce beneficial brainwave states.  I’ve enjoyed using Brainsync recordings for a long time.

This short article  explains more of the science.

Things That Help Me Have A Better Day

There are some things that, no matter what else is going on in my life, when I do them, I seem to have a better day.

(Kittens Don't Need Lists)

Here are a few of the things on my list:

  1. Meditating for 15 minutes
  2. Exercising – doing something that gets my heart rate up for at least 10 (ideally 20) minutes
  3. Writing a blog post
  4. Decluttering an area of my house
  5. Spending time outside
  6. Connecting with my friend Sarah
No matter what else is going on in my life, I almost always feel better when I do any or all of these things. (And there are more that I can’t think of right now.)

Having them on this list helps remind me to do them, because they’re not necessarily things I “feel like” doing in the moment.  I don’t wake up in the morning gagging to go for a run or sort out the hall cupboard; when the phone rings, my automatic (introvert) reaction is to recoil, even when I see my best friend’s name come up on the display; and in the depths of winter (or autumn, or early spring…oh ok anytime the sun’s not shining) I really do have to generate myself to leave the comfort of home!   I can even find myself putting off meditating, which I LOVE!  Come to think of it, however much I may procrastinate about doing any of the things on my list, something they all have in common is that I almost always enjoy actually doing them (yes, even sorting out the hall cupboard.  Weird, I know).

I’ve done this exercise (which I learned from Michael Neill; I think he writes about it in his great book You Can Have What You Want) with coaching clients and I’ve noticed that everyone’s list is different.  Lists might include going for a walk in the woods, taking 30  minutes to read over a cappuccino in Starbucks, writing in a journal, meeting up with a group of friends, doing an exercise class, or taking special time out to play with a child or cuddle up with a pet.

What’s on your list?

Last Days Of Summer

Yay, the sun came back!  Poor old Big J had to go into work today (bank holiday Monday) but the children and I enjoyed the welcome return of summer at the start of our last full week here before schools start back.  As homeschoolers we can, in theory, stay down here at the coast for as long as we want, so you’ll know where to find us should we find ourselves basking in an Indian summer…

But as so much of the appeal down here lies in the community, it will probably suit us to head back inland this weekend and start our own “term” with the rest.  (Not to mention Beavers, home ed group, swimming, drama classes, music, French… just typing that list makes me feel slightly anxious 😐  I’m sure I’ll embrace the change of pace once it’s upon me…!)

Beach Bonfire Tonight
Pebble Surfing (apparently!!)
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