The boys’ illnesses have dragged on and even now my eldest is still fighting an ear infection. Instead of swimming today, we decided to wrap up and head to our local park. The boys weave down the canal path, racing each other and doubling back to do it over and over. Our bag is filled with blackberries, mince pies and coffee. Little hands in mittens find mine and the face of my youngest looks up at me with such pleasure it melts me every time.

We trail around the park and find a path leading to the back of a housing estate I never knew existed. There’s another play area here, with a clear view of the train tracks – which may or may not sound exciting, but it’s sheer bliss when you’re four years old. I sit on a old log, bark flaking, as they climb to the highest point they can to watch the carriages whistle by.

Returning to the original park, I seek out berberis. While numerous people consider these spiky plants essentially a weed, I love them. It was the first plant I sought out a name for and over the years I’ve come to love too many varieties to count. Our park is home to many of them, and this berberis darwinii (above) is one I really must buy for my garden now we’re at the planting stage. The fiery but dainty tassels are stunning. My youngest sees me seeking out the flowers and he says, ‘oooh, those are beautiful’

Our nature curriculum suggests choosing a tree to study through the seasons and this elegant skeleton above is the one we’ve chosen. I’ve not yet identified it, due to the fact it’s not got a single leaf left on it and the wind has tumbled a muddle of leaves onto the ground below it.

Heading to the library we pick up a book on tree identification with clear pictures of trees in winter. We’ll take it with us next time we go and hopefully become a little wiser.

The boys stack up library books as if we don’t have a bookcase with bowing shelves upstairs. My middle boy picks a poetry book and it’s all I can do not to shout out in excitement. Poetry! My favourite! I’m trying to play it down, but he’s knows he’s picked a good one.

It’s Tuesday, and the days are short and bleak. The sun stubbornly refuses to grace us with its presence today and there is a metallic, industrial feeling to the day. It’s inhospitable, cold, lacking charm. But the berberis surrounding the play area, with its glossy red berries lends a much needed warmth. Sometimes you just need to remind yourself of that goodness and warmth, holding your children close as a headache pounds behind your eyes, gaining strength ready to hit you with a violent crescendo. Sometimes you’ve just got to admit it’s not the best of days but it’s the best you’re going to get today.

And I’m okay with that.

A Month of Links

A month of links that have inspired me over the last few weeks.

Why We Need Children to Get Outdoors – Raised Good

This article is so beautifully written, it’s got to be top of the list.

“Childhood reminds me of anticipating cherry tomatoes ripening in the conservatory, of snow peas filling their shells in the garden and craving the comforting smell of fresh bread in the kitchen.”

(Dance With Me in the Heart)

Icelandic Christmas Eve Tradition – a gorgeous article on giving books on Christmas Eve.

(Creative Child Magazine)

The Bond of Brothers – The Guardian

“What would you say if you had an hour, and no more, with someone you love and have lost? And, why don’t I have an answer? The reason is, I have already had my hour with my dead brother. I had it when he was still my brave, beautiful, dignified, dying brother.”

Is Your Child’s Worst Enemy Your Smart Phone? – I am so guilty of this. I’m reminding myself of my break from technology last December that I enjoyed so much and setting myself some limits on my usage.

On Reading Readiness – Frontier Dreams

When you really think about it, childhood is short enough as it is – why should we try to rush it even more?! Everything has its time and season. We need to slow down and enjoy it. Let the children be wild and free as long as they can. They have the rest of their lives to be adults with all the worries and cares that come with it.”

A Message from the Crone

“Child, they will never stop telling you to act your age, they do it to me often.

And my reply has always been the same: I will act the age my soul sees fit.

If you take issue with that, then I suggest you turn away and take your leave, because I’m not going to betray my heart and sacrifice myself on the fires of your expectation.”

~ C. Ara Campbell

(Photo by Natalie Grono)

8 Things to Remember Before Gathering with Family at ChristmasHappiness is Here

Christmas generally brings gatherings with family members that don’t understand home education and will do their level best to make their criticisms known. Here’s eight reminders of how to be graceful around such people.

Criticism about my parenting is not about me. I am comfortable with my choices. I am open to listening to others concerns, expressed respectfully, but my choices are not up for debate. Nor are my child’s rights. If people have a problem with that, it is about them, not me. I have a right to enforce my personal boundaries.”

(Dance With Me in the Heart)

How America’s Culture of Shame is a Killer for Boys – The Good Men Project

“Once we have been trained to be ashamed of ourselves, we don’t need active confirmation from others. We assume they are disappointed in us, even contemptuous of us. We fill in the blanks with the most damaging possible messages.”