Monday, February 27, 2012

British History: From William Rufus to the Magna Carta

So the political intrigue of royal life in England continue after the death of William the Conqueror. Our notebooking pages and resources on William and The Battle of Hastings can be found in this post. Below is a quick overview of the highlights up to King John and the Magna Carta with some resources. I highly recommend An Island Story by HE Marshall and The Story of Britain by Patrick Dillon as an appealing way to introduce the various twists and turns of succession.

The Norman Kings:

William Rufus
Click on the image to listen to a Librivox recording of his story from Our Island Story by HE Marshall.
Upon the death of William the conqueror, William Rufus becomes ruler of England while his older brother Robert ruled Normandy after rebelling against his father. However, Rufus eventually re-asserted control over Normandy. He was deeply unpopular with the church as he would raid the monasteries to fund his wars. Death comes in the form of a stray arrow that kills Rufus in a hunting accident in the New Forest, undoubtedly there were suspicions of foul play and many thought his younger brother Henry had planned it all. While many expected Robert to take control of England, Henry outmaneuvered jis brother by acting swiftly and gaining control of the treasury. He eventually made a deal with Robert and with the support of the Clare family - he was crowned king on August 5th 1100.

William Rufus Resources:
  • You can download a powerpoint focusing on the question "Was William Rufus Murdered?" from here.
  • Notebooking and colouring pages can be found at Activity Village.
Henry I

Click on the picture to hear the story of The White Ship from the Librivox recording of HE Marshall's Our Island Story
Henry I is crowned King and sets about expanding his political power and establishing laws for the more efficient administration of Englad. He made peace with the church and with his marriage to an Anglo-Saxon princess (a descendant of Edmund Ironside), he began to heal the divisions between the Normans and Anglo-Saxons and break down the differences. It was a period of peace and prosperity for England. He had two legitimate children in William and Matilda. William drowns in The White Ship, leaving Matilda (married to Geoffrey Plantagenet) as his only legitimate child.

Henry I Resources:
Empress Matilda and King Stephen

Click on the picture to hear the story of King Stephen from the Librivox  recording of  Our Island Story by HE Marshall

Henry I extracts promises from the nobles that they will recognise Matilda as Queen of England upon his death but unsurprisingly, they balked at the idea of a woman ruling and turned to her cousin, Stephen of Blois and crowned him king. Thus starting a vicious 18 year civil war often called the Anarchy. Matilda ruled for a few months before the throne was seized from her but was never crowned and hence is rarely included in the list of Kings and Queens of England. Exhausted by years of war, they eventually made an agreement that Henry II would inherit the throne upon Stephen's death.

Empress Matilda and King Stephen Resources:
The Plantagenet Kings:

Henry II

Click on this picture to hear the story of Thomas Beckett from the Librivox recording of Our Island Story by HE Marshall
Henry II turned out to be a strong ruler with a temperament for war and a fiery temper. He expanded and conquered almost all the French lands, laid the foundation for the English jury system and raised taxes to pay for a personal militia force. He was ruthless with the nobles but said to be kind to his defeated enemies. Immensely intelligent and hardworking, he made sure he undermined the power base of his noble enemies by tearing down their castles and deported their 'foreign mercenaries'. He famously quarreled with Thomas Beckett (his closest companion whom he had appointed Archbishop of Canterbury as a way of controlling the church) and was blamed for Becket's murder. There was no peace in his old age as his son's turned against him and rebelled in an attempt to de-throne him. His sons included Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland.

Henry II resources:
Richard I
Click on the picture to hear the story of Richard I  from the Librivox recording  of Our Island Story by HE Marshall
The third son of Henry II, he was crowned upon his father's death. He spent no more than six months in England, preferring to be out  leading his armies out in battle.  He was the leader of the third crusade to Jerusalem. After many years of war, on his journey back to England, he was captured, imprisoned and held for ransom. A massive burden of taxation was placed on the people of England to pay for his ransom. Although often depicted as a hero of England, he actually had very little affection for England and the people, using the kingdom to finance his military exploits and in fact, he had spent very little time in England and did not speak the language. His brother John came close to seizing the throne from Richard but he was eventually forgiven and even named as his heir.

Richard I Resources:

click on the picture to hear the story of the Magna Carta from the Librivox  recording of  Our Island Story by HE Marshall.
Vilified in film and in folktales -  evidence seems to show that John Lackland was a better king than he is given credit - he was an able general and administrator but unfortunately was hindered by a cruel, spiteful and petty personality. He lost much of his French lands and subsequent battles against France and the Pope were expensive losses for him. The barons grew tired and rebellious and they marched on London forcing him to sign what became known as the Magna Carta. This document laid out the responsibilities of the King (limiting his power to obedience to the law) and protected the rights of the barons and the common people as well as the liberty of the church. John signed this under duress and immediately tried to rescind the document. However, the die was cast, and the signing of the Magna Carta paved the way for the eventual formation of parliament and the idea of representation by the people.

Podcast video about King John and the Magna Carta

King John and Magna Carta resources:
Our approach as we learned about these kings was to read about them in our books, watch the documentaries and I made use of some of the posted resources. I then assigned them time to make notebook pages on the Kings or make a PowerPoint presentation on them. I will post them at a later date when they are complete.

Monday, February 20, 2012

British History: Geography and Mapwork

This is being posted a little out of order but eventually I should have a good series of posts on British History from Pre-history to Modern times. This was how we started our studies on the history of the British Isles:


I always like starting our studies with mapwork so the kids can visualise where the events take place. I chose to have them look at a number of different maps (physical and political), identify the different countries that make up the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and locate the major cities in each of these countries. They then proceeded to make a salt dough map which I love doing because they have fun with it and I think it really solidifies their learning.

They identified the following cities and islands:

Orkney islands
Outer and Inner Hebrides
Isle of Mann

And then they identified the following rivers, mountains and seas:

River Thames
Grampian Mountains
Cambrian Mountains
Southern Uplands
Northwest Highlands
Celtic sea
Irish sea
Atlantic Ocean
English Channel
Straits of Dover
North Sea

Freeworldmaps provides some very helpful maps to work from. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thoughts on Discipline and Passion

God sells us all things at the price of labour."
-Leonardo da Vinci

Discipline and Passion.

Something I've been thinking about lately.

They are the two things that I personally want my children to grasp hold of as we make our way through our homeschool odyssey.

My personal educational journey was certainly a model of discipline, self-motivation and success - in terms of academic achievement and  gaining a good degree. Yet I do not necessarily claim to have learnt very much in all those years.

Let me explain:

I was lazy - so I was told all through my primary school years. Now, I honestly don't recall that to be the case but I guess my report card attests to that fact: "Satisfactory work",  "Could do better", "Try harder"; words transcribed in ink, a constant reminder that I didn't quite measure up - not up to the other girls in my class at least. Our report cards would give our position in the class and each year I would be marked 36th or 38th (or thereabouts) out of 40 girls, much to my dismay. In those days, (scarily,  I'm now of the age where I can legitimately say that) -  kids were streamed by ability into different classes. It was a smallish school at the time so it was Class A and Class B. I'd comfort myself with the thought that at least I was in the "A" Class and so I must still be cleverer than those girls in the "B" class. It really was a mentality that was drummed into us, that what counted was being clever and passing your exams well.

At age 11, we had to sit national exams which decided if you got into the secondary school of your choice. Classes here were also ranked according to ability - A for the top and F was the worst. Sitting in groups in the large airless hall, the teachers marched in to announce the classes that we would be put in. First, they read out the names of the students that made it to the coveted top class - I was not on that list. In envy and dismay - I watched the girls file out to their new elite class. Well, I thought to myself, if I make it to either the B or C class, that would be respectable. Names were read, girls filed out and I was still sitting there. It began to sink in that I was going to be in one of the classes for the"not-so-bright" and with that came all the baggage of not being quite as good as the others, being lower down in the chain of popularity, being looked upon with pity and even looked down on. My heart sank as my name was announced for Class E. None of my friends from my previous class were with me and I was now one of those girls who were seen as either lazy or unintelligent.

It was there and then that I decided that I had something to prove. If I had not been motivated before to study for my exams and work hard, now I was. I was going to show everyone that I was not stupid and I was going to make something of myself. I did what years of nagging from my parents couldn't do - I motivated myself. My pride had taken a serious fall and I was going to do something about it. I wanted to be successful academically and I worked for it - hard, really hard. And for me it paid off: I started to do well - topping the year in History, Geography, Bible Knowledge, Literature, English - winning book prizes and coming in near the top out of over 200 girls for the next four years.

I was motivated, disciplined and I had a goal - to do as well as I could academically. I eventually did well enough to get into Oxford to read law. I did not enjoy the course and seriously regretted my choice of subject but despite that fact -  I did really well. To my complete surprise - I emerged with a first class honours from Oxford University. I had expected to do well enough considering all the effort and work I put in but it blew me away when I got my results.  I had employed all my discipline and work ethic towards a course that I found for most part uninteresting and if I were honest,  I don't think I learnt or retained a huge amount from those years. My success can only be attributed to the fact that I was well versed in how to sit exams, worked extremely hard and not a small amount of prayer!

Discipline can get you far - my personal experience tells me that. It is undeniably a lynch-pin to succeeding in whatever endeavour we undertake. But how I wish I had chosen to do something I was passionate about, something that excited me and inspired me rather than something that seemed like a good career move. I wish I had chosen to follow my heart - because what would have happened if I had thrown passion into the  mix with all that discipline and hard work? Oh how I wish....

I think when discipline and passion come together - the magic happens. There is nothing like a motivation and a desire that is born inside of you. People can cajole, nag, push and even force you towards success in any area and with immense discipline and self-sacrifice - one can, I feel, achieve great things. However, when you want it as much as someone else wants it for you - that's when it really changes everything.

My personal motivation to prove myself was totally self-serving but it taught me a lesson about the importance of self-motivation; it is the most powerful factor for personal success. This is something I really want my kids to understand. I can encourage them, set schedules, impose discipline and lay a banquet of learning and discovery before them but it is really only when they want it themselves, when it becomes a passion for them - then they will excel and find real satisfaction in their pursuits be they academic, vocational, relational or spiritual.

I believe strongly in discipline - the type of discipline that gets you up at 6am in the morning to read your bible when you would rather snuggle up in bed for an extra few hours. I believe in the discipline of setting aside regular time to exercise or drawing boundaries around your time and work in order to be with your family. I believe in the discipline of working hard, working well, and being on time. I believe in the discipline of generous regular giving and of simplicity. I think teaching our kids to persevere when it gets hard or isn't necessarily fun is important because the hard work required to get to one's goal - be it to be a top tennis player, a competent musician, to lose weight, to get a degree or learn how to sew - is very often challenging, hard-going and not always fun, but the reward  is the pleasure of achieving our goals.

Discipline is a skill that needs to be modelled and taught to our kids but ultimately, for it to really bear fruit, they need to get hold of the goal and run with it with a motivation that comes from their own hearts. For example, in our family, we believe in the importance of spending time each morning with God - through reading the bible and through prayer and worship. So when we started homeschooling, we always started the day with a family devotion. We didn't push them to get up early and spend time on their own having quiet times with the Lord but through encouragement to read scripture daily and to take the time to write things down, somehow, they caught a sense of its importance in setting the tone for the day and they started to wonder how to create a space in their lives to enable this. We talked about taking time out before breakfast, after lunch, before bed, and then they just made up their minds that they would do it. Since then, to my amazement, with no pushing from us - they set the clock early and rise up to do their personal devotions first thing in the morning. In fact, when I went through a season of real struggle and was finding it hard to muster the strength to discipline myself to rise early - it was their example that fired me up. The kids were teaching their mum! This experience convinces me how important it is to model behaviour to our kids, because there really is nothing more powerful than seeing someone live out what they believe. It is the kindling that starts the fire in our hearts.

I recently came across this quote from Elizabeth George's book Write Away and her observation about writing and being published:

"You will be published if you posses three qualities: talent, passion and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination--either talent and discipline or, passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline. But, if all you possess is talent or passion, if all you possess is talent and passion, you will not be published."

Discipline will get us far but discipline with passion can take us to the moon. That's why I love it when I see my kids passionate about something whether it is photography or writing. When the interest takes hold, they'll go out of their way to learn everything they can and are constantly looking for opportunities to grow.

I think, as parents, if we can impart discipline and release passion - our children will find their way and not only have real satisfaction in their work but they will pursue it with an excellence. Sometimes, it can take a while to find your passion (some of us are still trying to work this out as adults) and I hope my role as parent and teacher will be not to impose my desires and ambitions on them but to help my children discover who they are, what they are capable of, what their talents and passions are and in doing so, I will give them wings to fly.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Pulling Together An Education On The Road

Ok, admittedly, we are not on the road but after so many weeks of being unsettled and travelling up and down the north and south of England, it is a luxury to be staying put for even four weeks. Four weeks is a long time.....enough time for some routine, enough to make plans for work, as such I am grabbing the opportunity with both hands and we're making every effort to get back into our work routine.

So what are we doing? Not having any of my usual curriculum, books and supplies has meant that I have had to improvise. This is the part in which I could wax lyrical about  the beauty of internet access! 

Below is a look at how we are doing school:


We are carrying on with our daily devotions and I am using the character studies from Confessions of a Homeschooler as the basis of our short morning devotions. It has been very helpful for all of us. These last two weeks, we have focused on Arguing (dealing with it rather than actually arguing!) and Peacemaking. We  have all found it very helpful and I have to say that I have noticed a calmer atmosphere at home which is a blessing!  Last week we memorised:

1 Peter 3:8 " Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, live as brothers, be compassionate and humble."

(I made up some silly actions to go with it as it helps my four year old remember it better and I have to say it works a treat!)

Some of my personal favourite verses were from Proverbs:

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1 

"Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop a matter before a dispute breaks out." Proverbs 17:14

So the week was spent declaring to each other whenever an argument threatened to break out - " Don't breach the dam!" and "Be a Peacemaker!" And it worked (mostly) LOL.


I was using a combination of MEP math and Singapore Math before we moved but I don't have my workbooks with me and while MEP is available online - I didn't fancy  printing out the materials again and to be honest, it was too time-intensive during our period of family crisis. 

I discovered ConquerMath after joining some UK homeschooling forums. It is a programme that follows the British system right up to the GCSEs and you can buy the CD or subscribe for online access - no books to cart about. It works brilliantly for us as each subject starts with a video of a short 5-10 minute tutorial which is clear and concise afterwhich the kids go on to do a series of exercises online - all independently. Records are kept of their progress and they can go back anytime and do more exercises. This is such a help as it frees me up and they have someone else other than slow-at-math-mum teaching them.


As my girls are at different grades - I am focusing on different things for them.

My elder daughter signed up to do two literary analysis courses with Brave Writer (The Hobbit and Anne Of Green Gables) over the last 4 months. I've said it before and I'll say it again - we love Brave Writer classes. She learnt a lot and enjoyed the classes immensely. She has really come along in terms of thinking about and analysing a text. She is now doing some work towards preparing for the IGCSEs with a UK based tutor called Catherine Mooney. She offers exam support, tutoring and marking of assignments. While I have no immediate plans for my 12 year old to take the IGCSEs just yet - she is certainly ready for the work. So we are using Catherine's course as a way to work through the concepts she will need to know for her understanding. It is written in an engaging and interesting way, so my daughter has been enjoying it so far. I am also thinking about using Susan Wise Bauer's Writing With Skill to work on her writing skills - I've downloaded some sample chapters for her to work through and we will see if it works out well. We are also continuing with copywork using Brave Writer's Arrows and Boomerang programmes as well as quotes I am pulling off the internet and books we are reading.

My younger daughter is working on building up fluency with her reading, writing and spelling. A friend recommended Units of Sound ( a programme designed to help dyslexic kids build a firm foundation in spelling, reading, memory and dictation). While my younger daughter is not diagnosed as dyslexic - she does have some issues. So in the period where I haven't had time to sit with her for spelling and copywork - I decided to give the programme a try. She says it is helpful especially the dictation and memory sections. We are also throwing in handwriting practice and more recently, we have started copywork again using our Arrows monthly publication.(I bought a number of different back issues at 50% off during an offer with the Homeschool Buyers Co-op - very happy about that!). She has recently started Catherine Mooney's Word Weavers course which should help her with establishing her grammar and writing skills. It comes with an audio CD which is an extra help. I also purchased in downloadable PDF format Susan Wise Bauer's Writing With Ease Level 3 as I think she could do with building up her narration and comprehension skills and with that book I don't have to think - I just print it out and go.

Outsourcing help and using online programmes or computer software has been the key to keeping homeschooling on the road during our time of uncertainty.


As we are in the UK and all our Tapestry of Grace books and curriculum are in storage - I had to pull together a plan for our history studies. Being in England - studying British History seemed to make the most sense. 

As the spine of our lessons, I am using The Story of Britain by Patrick Dillon which I stumbled across in the bookshops. It is an engaging and well-written overview of the stories of british history written in chronological order for children - a little like a modern version of An Island Story by H.M. Marshall (also in storage!) I started reading this aloud and I also purchased from Audible the audio book of An Island Story. Both books give a helpful introduction into Britain's history. We have been reading it through but these few weeks we have gone back to the beginning to solidfy their understanding with more in-depth work.

I did a quick review of early British history including the Celts, Roman invasion, invasions of the Vikings (Danes), the Angles and the Saxons - ending with the death of Edward the Confessor. The girls made a notebooking page on an introduction to Ancient Britain. Click here for the Early British History notebooking page

Then we took up our story with the Battle of Hastings and conquest by Duke William of Normandy in 1066 - a crucial turning point for British History.

I found some excellent resources and made some notebook pages:

I used this powerpoint entitled "Who Should Be King?" from this useful website to introduce the different claimants for the throne upon the death of Edward the Confessor. We then made a notebook page on Who Should Rule England?
The Battle of Hastings - I used this excellent website to tell the story of the battle using the Bayeux tapestry and this helpful powerpoint on The Battle of Hastings to go through the events of the battle. The BBC have produced wonderful hands-on resources on the Normans - using their lesson ideas,  I told the girls to pretend to be news journalists in the midst of the battle - one was reporting for the Normans and the other for the Anglo-Saxons. They had notes and then made short reports on the battle as it progressed. It was great fun role-playing newscasters and it really helped solidify their knowledge of the actual events of the battle. Finally, they finished off the lesson by making a newspaper front page on the battle. They used this template . It was definitely one of their favourite things to do.

Other resources:

Perfect for Co-ops - a Battle of Hastings game (the ultimate in hands-on learning) 

We shall be continuing a more in-depth look at British history as we go on and I will post more on the resources we use.

I have to mention our favourite show - CBBC's Horrible Histories which is available on Youtube. We all love it. It is very silly and funny (british humour) but it is amazing the little facts that stick through all the silliness. The girls have learnt the sequence of the Kings and Queens of England from this skit. Even my 4 year old is singing it! We love love love the Horrible Histories TV show. Go on Youtube and watch it - I guarantee you'll find it impossible to tear your kids or yourself away from watching.

The Kings and Queens of England Video

Another video on the War of The Roses (just for fun!)

And one more, just because I love it! About the Domesday book. Enjoy!


Science was hard for me to do consistently without my books.We read a variety science books picked up from the bookstore and started using a borrowed Apologia General Science book - however, I needed something they could work on independently and provided some hands-on work and experiments for them to do. I heard about Exploration Education's Physical Science programme from a friend's blog and liked the sound of it. It allows them to learn independently through interactive text on the computer and it comes with box of experiments and hands-on learning. The programme takes them step by step through a variety of projects such as building a car, a circuit board and a motor and using those things to carry out experiments. The experiments come in organised, well-labelled bags and it practically has everything you need. They managed 3 lessons to date and then got stalled because we didn't have a glue gun! That has now been ordered and we are looking forward to getting on with it! The girls like it and enjoy putting together the projects. We are also reading through The Story Book Of Science by Jean Henri Fabre which is a lovely read-aloud book that centres on the conversations between three children and their very knowledgeable uncle who takes them on journeys of discovery through story about nature and the world in general from ants milking "cows", spiders building suspension bridges, how we make cloth from wool, flax, hemp and cotton, volcanoes and earthquakes.

 Art Appreciation:

We are using The Story of the World's Greatest Paintings by Charlie Ayres which I picked up from the bookstore. It is an easy no-fuss way to accomplish art studies at the moment. It works well as a jumping off point for learning more about the artist and his work. I also use the SmartHistory videos for a more in-depth analysis of an artwork or artist. 

Poetry and memorisation:

I am trying to get back to encouraging the kids to memorise bible verses and poems. So we have a bible verse to learn each week and I am printing out poems for them to read and memorise once a week. I am also trying to incorporate poetry reading during our tea-times. Winter is a lovely time for hot chocolate, muffins and poetry!

Music Appreciation:

Another no-fuss solution to incorporating music appreciation in our week for now - I found this book My First Classical Music Book  which comes with a CD and an introduction to instruments and an orchestra. Although it is aimed more at my four-year old - we spend 15 minutes going through a chapter a day and listening (and dancing!) to the music. It is a nice way to keep up with some music appreciation without too much effort.  

Nature Studies:

You may have read in an earlier post that we do not enjoy the climate of the tropics at all and while we were living in Singapore - nature studies always had to be deliberately planned. It is so much more fun in temperate climates - you just want to be outdoors (admittedly less so in the winter). Nature studies have just happened naturally as the girls have taken an interest in the world outside. They have really got into birdwatching after we put a feeder in their grandparent's garden - they are taking pictures, using the field guides to identify the birds and checking out their tracks in the snow. Their experience was further enhanced when I bought this DVD - Beginning Watercolor Journalling. I bought it after reading about it in this inspiring post at Pondered in my heart. It has paid off and the girls have been completely inspired  by what they've watched and started to journal and paint more regularly. These are some early efforts. 


I found a lovely lady who comes twice a week to teach all three kids. She does a great job engaging them using stories and fun games. I have asked her to start the girls on more serious grammar as they have progressed quite nicely. She recommended languages online as a good website for practice.

My Rosetta Stone software is in storage so I'm not getting much use out of that at the moment although I suspect that they are going to be able to progress much quicker with it after these lessons. I've heard about Galore Park French and have been looking into using this - possibly since we may not be in our current accomodation for long and will move to another part of the UK and lose our lovely french teacher!


Being active is a total challenge in winter and not being in a place for more than a month or two makes it hard to join any organised activities. So I am literally trying to make sure we get off our bottoms for 20 minutes each day at least to exercise . It's too cold to go outside for too long so I've devised indoor games (like an active Simon Says) or exercises like circuit training. We might start off with some stretches and then on some days, I'll have them pick 5 exercises from a pile of cards - it might say something like 10 sit ups, run up and down the stairs 2 times, 20 jumping jacks etc. On On other days I will lead the exercises myself. I'd love to play more silly run around games (we used to play dodge ball with a soft squishy ball and have obstacle course races in our old home) but there just isn't enough kid-friendly space for that kind of play indoors.

So that's us at the moment, for the next few weeks at least - who knows what the next month will bring for us but I'll take what we can get.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Prayer for Today

Each day a conscious decision to follow, to surrender, to give thanks, to give words to heart-cries.

                                                               A Prayer for Today:

   Lord, may prayer become again a conscious, living, 

                                                                            daily natural rhythm in my life.

                             May that prayer infuse home, marriage, thought and action.

                                                                  May it be living 

                                                                   and infectious......

                 May my children breathe it in like air and catch it.

                                                                   May it be sacred and precious

                                                                   Yet routine, set in stone, unchanging.

                Like breathing, let it come.

                                                                  May it be deep,



                May it be born out of a listening heart.

May your morning be filled with the expectation of good things and the experience of His unrelenting grace.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

When The Year Doesn't Turn Out The Way You Expected

Forgive the silence. 

It's been awhile.

It has taken sometime to find the words to make sense of the emotional roller-coaster that we as a family have experienced in the last year.

A post at the start of the new year seems fitting: a marker for myself; a symbolic statement that I am ready to engage again.

It has been over five years since I've experienced a northern hemisphere winter. Christmas' have been tropical affairs for us these last few years - barbecues, outdoor dining, shorts and T-shirts, and air-conditioning. It has been lovely to breathe in the frosty air and toast our toes by open fires for a change. I love the turning of the seasons and find it always speaks to me profoundly. 

I am a fascinated observer, watching as Winter strips the trees bare-naked, sharp twigs piercing blue-grey overcast skies, branches twisting and turning as bitter winds force them to bend and bow. I marvel as they remain unbroken, flexible, strong despite the unrelenting brute force of the windy gales. Occasionally, the skies break and rays of luminous light warm the cold; the sunlight painting landscapes in glittering shades of copper bronze and yellow gold - lifting spirits and turning the drab and dull into moments of eye-watering beauty. 

I find this a particularly apt symbol of my life as we leave 2011 behind and turn our eyes to a new year. I wish I could say that I have embraced the coming year full and excited at all that lies ahead. The truth is the rapid approach of the close of the year filled me with a dread that the no-man's land of  uncertainty we were in was no more likely to change as a new year began. I felt stripped bare - bereft of faith, of certainty and strength; I felt buffeted by the winds of circumstance with no clear compass or road map of what God was doing. I felt bent over and bowed down. But even in my frustration - I knew inside that I should be grateful, thankful for my many blessings; I should be thankful for the deep unshakeable knowledge that God is in control. Like the light that breaks in the midst of the grey and momentarily reminds us of the glory of nature - that felt knowledge of His unchanging nature  and the beauty of His perfect plan kept me and still keeps me going. I do believe the exquisite perfection of His timing and His purpose will eventually be revealed - but I must bend willingly and not fight and resist what He is doing.

2011 started with a decision to move countries - the timing was right and decisions were made. Our certainty and plans vanished when family illness forced us - almost immediately after our upheaval to a new country  - to abandon our plans and head to the UK for medical treatment. We left most of our personal possessions in storage because we didn't know where we'd be and for how long. All those shiny new homeschooling books I bought waiting to be unpacked, the kids bikes and scooters, the crates of gluten-free flours and products (bought because they were not easily available where we were settling), computers and precious photos....left behind. We had just what we could fit in a suitcase. To be honest, we didn't think we'd be gone this long - 4 months and counting with no definite idea of the whens and wheres. Had we heard wrong? What was God doing? How do we cope with this?

I'll have to admit to patchy sporadic bouts of homeschooling - with moving countries and medical emergencies, it was hard to carry on as normal. All this would, ever so occasionally, give rise to nights of panic and tears. Will my husband get better? How can I school my kids under these circumstances with no books, no fixed abode, constant displacement? Where are we supposed to settle now with no home of our own in any country? What is God's plan?

I'd love to say I met all this with serene grace and perfect trust in God's purpose and plan and to some extent, I think I can look back and say "Yes, I did meet every crazy twist and turn with equanimity and I did trust that all this will come to some greater purpose that would become clear to me - eventually."  But there were moments, no, more than moments, stretches of despondency, frustration and disappointment. Questions rising up ceaselessly - how long Lord?  All our plans put aside - for how long? The children's disrupted education - for how long? My husband's illness - how much longer? Living in a home that is not ours - for how long Lord? 

It was clear we wanted to make decisions that were wise and led by God but it was hard to hear and hard to be sure. Nothing seemed clear and clarity has not come with time - not yet. It seems that one-day-at a-time and trust are the themes of our new year. It is, I realise, the first year ever, where I literally have no plan for the year to come. No schedule for school, no plans for ministry, no important dates and appointments, no classes, nothing. This is because we can't plan - decisions have to be made around ever-changing health issues and we have no idea for now where the Lord wants us to be based in the medium term, let alone the long term.  We pray, answers tarry.

As I wake in the new year, it occurs to me - there is a lesson to be learnt. For the first time in my life, I can pray "Lord I have no plan (really) so show me yours." I have never ever been in this place - without an agenda. As a child - each school year was mapped out, maybe with vacations to look forward to, then came the years of work, weddings, marriage, children. When have I ever had a year where I had no plan?  This is not to say I have no desires. I have desires aplenty.

I want my husband well. I want him to be free of pain and strong.

I want a home, I want to be settled.
I want my stuff in storage.  
I want to homeschool.
I want to know EXACTLY where we are supposed to live and what we are supposed to do.
I want you to tell me straight Lord. I want certainty.

However, the
"I wants" fall to the ground as easily as autumn leaves are snatched off their boughs and tumble to the soil. 

The "
I wants" have nothing to hold onto. There is no certainty without Christ and I don't want to make mistakes by going my own way. I've spent so much of the last few months stating my "I wants" to God and finding myself crushed under the weight of my frustration and disappointment. I know He has a plan and a good purpose and maybe my "I wants" don't fit into those plans - not yet anyway. By His grace, He answered my feeble pleas to rescue me from my despondency and disappointment because I awoke to the new year with a desire to lay it all down and just seek Him. I know that desire comes only by His grace and not from me. I woke to the realisation that I was blessed - to enter this year unencumbered by expectation and plans and freed to choose Him. To choose the way of trust. What more did I have? But I saw I was blessed.  I would lay down my 'wants' and listen.

So begins the year of listening. The year of laying down. The year that I learn truly to trust. 

I would dearly love to go back to blogging about our homeschool adventures but it seems this pilgrim has another journey to make for now. 

The bible exhorts us in all things "GIve thanks." so I will give thanks, grateful for my many blessings of the last year:

1. for improvements in my husband's health 

2. prayers prayed to uphold us in our trials
3. for help from unexpected quarters
4. for financial stability
5. for cold weather to enjoy Christmas in
6. the joy of watching my children's faces as they saw snow for the first time
7. our first real bonfire in the garden
8. for family and opportunities to spend time with loved ones
9. for being together at Christmas 
10. friends made in the countries we have moved around in11. for a roof over our heads
12. for my favourite English desserts! and Custard!
13. for nature walks in autumnal weather
14. for the knowledge that God - you never let go of us.

Colossians 3:1-2 (The Message)

So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. 

Pursue the things over which Christ presides. 

Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you.

Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. 

See things from his perspective.


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