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Thursday, 29 December 2016

Making an annual wish list

We all know that writing New Year's Resolutions doesn't work.  We just don't stick to them, we fall off the band-wagon and then very quickly give up and forget about them.

This time I've followed the lead of somebody I know from the Vasculitis UK Support Group on Facebook.  She writes an annual "Wish List" and refers back to it through the year.

I like this - it's more like a Development Plan... firstly I can frame it and put it somewhere prominent to remind me of my plans and ideas (and let others know what I am wishing for), at the end of the year I can write another one for 2018, transferring some things across and developing new priorities.

Here's mine:
What are your plans for 2017?  Please share...




Monday, 26 December 2016

Family fun in... London

 In October half-term we spent a few days exploring London.  We took them a couple of years ago, and decided it was time for another trip following our successful city-break to Venice at Easter.  Here are my suggestions for great things to do as a family in London, based on our trip and trips in the past.



Accommodation
Depending on your budget there are lots of options for accommodation.  Last time we went to London we took the caravan and stayed in an excellent site near Maidenhead (Hurley Riverside Park) from where we could visit Windsor and Legoland as well as catch trains into London for daytrips.  The time we went to London before that we stayed at YHA London Thameside at Rotherhithe, which offered an en-suite family room at a very reasonably budget.  This time around we chose a serviced apartment on Commercial Road.  This allowed us a good base to stay with the children, allowing them some space and freedom, us the option to self-cater and space to sit up and chat later into the evening which we wouldn't have if we were all sharing a hotel or hostel room.

 Activities
Here are just some of the activities that we've got up to on our trips:

  • Bus trips - lots of them!  We've previously done one of the open-topped hop-on, hop-off bus trips, but found that the children weren't really in to listening to the tour guide, so it's a bit of a waste of money.  Instead we found the Number 15 bus from just outside our apartment on Commercial Road went right past Tower Hill, and St Pauls Cathedral to Trafalgar Square.
  • Boat trip - we went on a boat trip on the Thames from Tower Hill to the London Eye, which was pretty awesome!
  • The Emirates Airline Sky Ride over the Thames was also a great addition to our day.  We had been to Greenwich so it was a short hop to the sky-ride and then back on the DLR to Shadwell to get back to our apartment.
  • The London Eye is a favourite for our two.  Over three trips to London we have been during daylight, in the dark, and this time at twilight.  It's nice to get a broad overview of London.  I'm convinced that C and Bug spend more time looking at the touch-screen interpretation computer thingy than actually looking out of the window, but I quite enjoy the space to admire London from above.
  • Museums and Galleries - we have been to: the Natural History Museum - great for budding geologists and naturalists, and of course dinosaur and fossil enthusiasts.  We went on our last trip, but not this time, which was a disappointment for C who has been studying Mary Anning at school and was keen to see the Icthyosaur fossil that she unearthed on the Dorset coast; the Science Museum - we went here for a good look at the Space stuff and enjoyed an IMAX show about the view from the Space Station, and a moving theatre experience about the shuttle trip to the moon.  Disappointingly you have to pay extra to get into the interactive exhibits and the queue was phenomenal; the British Museum - it's such a huge place that it's a good idea to have a specific theme in mind.  We aimed for the areas that we knew would fit into the History Topics that C will be studying this year - namely Stone and Iron Age and the Ancient Egyptians.  The Audioguide picks out highlights and explains them; I visited the Horniman Museum when C and I were much smaller, there's an interesting collection of artefacts, and a small aquarium in the basement; the Docklands Museum - another one we did when they were toddlers, quite an interesting look at the history of this part of London with a great interactive gallery for the kids with plenty of things to play with; the National Gallery - we didn't spend long in here, having already been to St Pauls and the British Museum on this day, but we again had a specific plan - Bug wanted to see Picasso and C wanted to see Van Gogh.  We went for those areas, admired a few other paintings on the way in and out and then left.  The AMAZING thing about all these museums and galleries so far mentioned is that they are all FREE ENTRY - only asking for a donation.  Of course, they won't be able to stay free unless people donate - so please do.  Finally, Greenwich Observatory, where we went on this occasion with cousin Rachel - a great place to learn about clocks, navigation, longitude and latitude etc.  I don't think the kids got it all that much, but there were just about enough interactive bits to keep them busy while the grown-ups did some learning.
  • Other great buildings - St Paul's Cathedral - You'd think that a Cathedral wouldn't be a great place to go with children, but ours quite like the huge soaring spaces, the paintings and statues and especially the audio guide.  They were very taken with the crypts, where Bug was delighted to find the memorial to Edwin Landseer who sculpted the lions in Trafalgar Square where she had been sitting the previous day.
  • Camden Market, Covent Garden Market, Portabello Market, Spittalfields Market - Portabello Market is great for antiques but not for children, only go if you don't have them in tow.  Spittalfields Market and Covent Garden Market also not that great for little ones, though there are plenty of places to stop for coffee and cake.  Camden Market on the other hand is a wonderful place to lose track of time and spend lots of money.  I particularly like the clothes on sale here, and C and Bug both managed to spend a large proportion of their pocket money.
  • Other spots - we didn't go into the Cutty Sark, but walked around it admiring from the outside; Trafalgar Square - a place to climb on the lions of course!  I love the signs - not forbidding you to climb, but warning you not to fall off!
  • A Show!  This time around we thought that the children would be old enough to see a show,  We looked into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion King and Matilda, and eventually settled on The Railway Children at Kings Cross Theatre.  It was wonderful, with a real steam train playing a leading role and chuffing into the stage at several points in the performance.





Monday, 19 December 2016

Crafty Mum - crochet pyjama cases

I've been teaching myself crochet for two or three years now, and this has been my most ambitions project yet.

In the Bumper Book of Crochet (from Dorling Kindersley - no affiliation) they have a pattern for a turtle back pack.  A couple of years ago my big sis (Seaside Belle blogs here) mentioned that her children might like a hand-made pyjama case for Christmas, but at the time I had a backlog of craft projects and not enough time.  I did remember though, so this year started to make the turtles,  I just left off the straps to make them pyjama cases and not backpacks.

I have to confess that this has taken me a very long time.  To begin with I started learning to make the first hexagons for the turtles back when I was on a pretty high dose of steroids, so I had terrible cramps in my hands and found any kind of craft work hard-going.  I decided to make one in fresh jungle type colours for my nephew (age 4), and one in Frozen colours (turquoise, pinks and purples) for my niece (age 6).  
I was making pretty good progress with the Frozen one, and had made the front of the turtle, the head, tail and all the legs, but somehow they didn't seem right.  It was only as I looked much more closely at the individual stitch instructions while completing the back of the turtle around the edge of the hexagons (away on holiday in August) that I realised I'd been using entirely the wrong stitch for all the other pieces - doing them in treble instead of double.  That was why they looked like cones instead of disks!  Once I realised this it didn't take me long to undo them and re-use the wool to crochet correctly.  I then had a plan to get them completed by the end of October, but failed because I hadn't ordered the zips.  I wasn't far behind though, and I think I can safely reveal them before I pop some pyjamas in them and wrap them up for Christmas ready for niece and nephew.
What's your latest project?  What's your next one?

My next one is to put some scenery on C's model railway which is looking sadly unloved and empty.  I've set myself an ambitious deadline of Christmas (ahem, that's not very far away!) to create a hillside, cliff, railway tunnel, cave for the dragon, and ruined castle.  I'll post again on here very soon and let you know how I'm getting on with that!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

My Bake Off Challenge - Week 2 - Biscuit Week

 Everybody loves the wonderful Great British Bake Off, right?  I do, and I had a plan to spend ten weeks setting myself my own Bake-Off challenges based loosely on the challenges set in the marquee.  Week One was cake week.  Of course, I then immediately failed, because by setting myself a one per week timetable, I didn't stick to it.  Even if I did bake every week, I certainly didn't post about it!

So here we are with Week 2 (two months later).
I love the idea of cookies, particularly since one day an American pupil gave me a gift of hand-made cookies, including a recipe, for Christmas.  What a lovely gift!  I've occasionally repeated the gesture, and given cookies and a recipe, since then.

Anyway, here's this gloriously simple recipe:

1) Preheat the oven to 190C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
2) Beat 150g of softened butter with 80g light brown sugar and 80g granulated sugar until soft and creamy.
3) Beat in 1 egg and 2 tsp of vanilla extract.
4) Sift in 225g of plain flour, 1/2 tsp of bicarb of soda and a pinch of salt and then mix with a wooden spoon.
5) Stir in 200g of plain chocolate chips.
6) Put teaspoon sized blobs on the baking tray (leave plenty of space between them as they spread!)
7)  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes - they'll be golden brown but still soft in the middle.
8)  Leave on the tray for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Yum yum, they don't last long!

What's your favourite biscuit recipe?

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Swimming Lesson parents


When you become a parent you discover new places and situations that probably never entered your head before you welcomed your baby into the world.  

First there are the ante-natal classes, where you meet other bumps and their parents (we didn't bother with this one)

Next you've got the Doctor's Waiting Room on Health Visitor Clinic days... how's your little one?  Is he sleeping all night yet?  Have you not started him on solids yet?  Really?  Mine's been sleeping through since he was seven days old and is already humming along to Mozart.

You then brave the minefield otherwise known as Toddler Groups.  Some mum's love this and attend different toddler groups every day of the week - from story telling at the library to the one in this village and the next, and the breast-feeding support group and the rest.  My first experience of toddler group was terrible for various reasons, but I braved going back (eventually) and ended up running the one in our village.

Later you've got the school gate - many parents get stuck right in, joining one of the cliques, others will flit among a few groups, and still others will always be on the side-lines.  I don't need to write any more about this, because this article on netmums says it all.  

The soft-play and the playpark deserve special mention all of their own.  There are three possibilities - you either helicopter on your own children (depending on their age), playing with them, checking they are okay, or nursing their insecurity on your knee; or you go with a pal or few, you spend the time sipping coffee and chatting and occasionally check to make sure your children are not terrorising anybody else; or you go on your own, settle on a bench with a magazine or book and a hot chocolate and relish in some time all to yourself, looking up to make eye contact with your children in between pages.

The situation I've recently encountered is another category again.  Its the extra-curricular activity, and it seems to be a middle-class thing.  Some parents will never take their children to a ballet lesson or to Brownies, they just get them home from school and then playing out with their mates.  To other parents there is no such thing as an empty hour after school, as children are taxied to football, swimming lessons, Cubs and tae-kwon-do.  Asking for a playdate with these parents involves a frantic flick through the diary to find an empty slot.  My children currently both attend swimming lessons, and C is a Beaver Scout, and Hubby and I both also volunteer with the Scout Group.  Sitting in the humidity of the viewing area to the side of the swimming pool I glance around at the other parents and listen in on conversations.  Some are entertaining smaller children and using food to distract them from their boredom or the lure of climbing all over the crowded seats.  Others drape themselves over several rows of chairs, chatting about the latest school trip, the merits of the swimming teachers or their latest holidays.  It seems we've outgrown comparing our children and their skills and stages of development, and we are now on extended small-talk and complaining about school or social activities.  Others snatch the half-hour to catch up on Facebook, blogs or reading.  

I'm not sure where I sit in this mixture.  I don't do a lot of these activities, and at the swimming pool I'd say that I'm in the catching up with reading team usually.  But I am a social beast and I don't think that we are designed to sit in isolation in a crowded place.  I've tried joining in a conversation with the loud chatters, but was pretty quickly frozen out - I was clearly not in the clique!  

Since unfortunately, with the plethora of extra-curricular options, its unlikely that your schedule of taxi-worthy activities will match up with those of the friends you've built up on the parenting circuit, wouldn't it be great if we could  view these activities as opportunities to meet new potential friends for you and your children.  Why don't we put down the phones, look around, make eye contact, and introduce ourselves to new people.  Why don't we have real and fulfilling conversations while our little darlings are bobbing in the pool, learning how to kick box or pirouette?  I for one, would like to have actual social interactions much better than scanning my social media for some fragment of my friends' lives.

Who's with me?  Who would like to look up, smile and make conversation?

Thursday, 6 October 2016

My Bake-Off Challenge - Week One - Cake Week

Everybody loves the Great British Bake Off, right?

And, always up for a challenge, I'm going to endeavour, over the next ten weeks, to post my own Bake-Off Challenges based loosely on the challenges set in the Bake-off marquee.

Week One was cake week.

I was thinking about starting this challenge, and wondering what cake to make for my first challenge.  C helped me out:  "Mummy, there's not much in the sweet treat box" (they can have something from the sweet treat box in their packed lunch each day).  "No, I was thinking of making a cake in the next day or two."  Without a moment's hesitation he replied, "Yes, a pineapple upside-down cake please.  I've seen a tin of pineapple in the cupboard."  I couldn't argue with that now, could I?

Here's my recipe:

Set the oven at 180C.

Beat 50g butter and 50g soft brown sugar together and spread over the bottom and up the sides of the tin.

Lay out your pineapple slices over the bottom of the tin, filling any gaps with smaller pieces of pineapple or some glace cherries if you prefer.

Beat together 100g butter, 100g caster sugar, 100g self-raising flour, 2tbsp baking powder, 2 eggs, 1tsp vanilla extract, and 2 tbsp pineapple juice or syrup from the tin.  Spread this mixture evenly over the pineapples in the tin.  

Bake for 35 minutes.

Notes - if you have an awful oven (that heats from top and bottom rather than sides) then be prepared with some foil to cover the top once golden brown to prevent it burning.  Don't use a loose-bottomed tin as the sugar/butter topping will seep out.

Friday, 5 August 2016

When tenants don't pay rent - a cautionary tale.

We never intended to become landlords.  When we decided to move from Clackmannanshire in Scotland down to middle England so that we could be closer to family as our children grew up, we thought that we'd just sell the house, buy another one and move.  To make the overlap easier to manage, and to allow us to get C started at school at the beginning of the school year, we decided to rent for six months.


As it happened, the house sale never materialised.  We're not sure why, as it's a fantastic home in a lovely location, and people who have viewed have generally loved it - it just never translated into a sale.  At first the market was stagnant, then it was winter and "sales always slow down at this time of year", then it was the run up to the Scottish Referendum and nobody was buying, then it was winter again.  The first estate agents were not impressive, but we are confident the second lot we used were working hard for us... but still no sale. 

As the second winter approached and the house started to take on that empty house smell, and we were also paying 200% Council Tax for the privilege of having an empty house, we decided to try renting it out.  If it went well, then we'd look at getting a second mortgage to buy down in Herefordshire.  If it went very well, maybe the tenants would love the house so much they would want to buy it (I've seen this happen to two other houses in the village already!).  

In the meantime, we were (and still are) renting in Herefordshire.  The house is fine, but it's not in the location we wanted, and because it was always meant to be a short-term rental, we have never made it home.

We were delighted to get tenants moving into our house in February.  Even better, they seemed ideal, a young family with children the same ages as our own who attended the local primary school.  And as they had pets, their options for renting would have been fairly limited.  Ideal - they would love the house and would be anticipating staying.
Sadly, that's not how it has worked out.  For the first couple of months things were great.  They called the agency a few times as there were a couple of niggly issues from the house having been empty (dishwasher not working etc), which we promptly had fixed, and they paid the rent.  The last time that happened was back in March.  They even phoned and asked for permission to film "Couples Come Dine with Me" in the house (which we granted, not sure when it's on, sometime soon I think).  But then they  stopped paying rent.  We have had two communications since then.  The first one they came up with some story about the bank freezing their account but they'd pay next week - this didn't happen.  The second was when the agency wrote to tell them that we'd be terminating the rental at the end of the six month tenancy - they phoned to ask if we'd reconsider.  Hubby was incredulous - "but you haven't paid your rent!?".  Nothing has been heard from them since.  NO RENT - NOTHING.  The agency has phoned and written to them, but they don't respond.  The agency has carried out an inspection, but there was nobody home except the dog.  I hear that they've had a holiday in Venice since March, and I understand they keep horses - so they must have money from somewhere, but clearly paying their rent is not a priority.

So far I've kept this private.  I didn't want to spread their financial issues on social media - but as the time comes nearer for the end of their tenancy, Hubby and I are getting more and more anxious and angry that we have been so taken advantage of.  We entered into this rental in good faith and have done everything possible to look after our tenants.  They have not extended us the same courtesy and owe us nearly four thousand pounds. 

We are just hopeful now that they leave the house without any difficulty, and that they leave it in the same lovely condition that it was in when they  moved in.  Then we'll put it back on the market and hope against hope that this time somebody comes along, falls in love with it and snaps it up so they can love living there as much as we have done.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

What to do when you lose your wedding ring...

I lost my wedding ring last week.  I was swimming in the sea at Durdle Door in Dorset, where the undertow was strong, the water chilly and the pebbles unforgiving on the feet.  In between checking that the kids were okay in the breakers, swimming, and trying to find the dog's ball for her (floating just beneath the surface), I felt the change and looked down at my hand.  Cold, weight loss (mine) and moving water had combined, and the ring had just slipped off my finger.  I had to stop wearing my engagement ring a year and a half ago when the diamond went missing from it's setting - so now my left hand is naked.

So what do you do when you lose your wedding ring?


  1. Look for it - Search the area.  If you are indoors, search methodically EVERYWHERE.  These rings can roll and can travel a lot further than you could imagine.  If possible, enlist help, the more people looking the better.  In fact I've lost a wedding ring before, and had about fifty people combing the activity field at a Scout Campsite - but we did find it!  In this case, I dived under the waves numerous times, scanning the gravelly pebbles on the sea-bed for a glint of gold.  On a sandy beach you could mark the spot and come back with a metal detector.
  2. Reassure your 7 year old son that despite not wearing your wedding ring, you are in fact still married to daddy.  Check with husband that this is definitely the case.  Reassure yourself of same.
  3. Give up - At some point you need to leave the beach and go home.  Accept that the ring is gone.
  4. Hope - You can still post a plea to social media, tagging the location where you lost it and making your post public.  If somebody does come across a gold ring at Durdle Door, they may just scan through the Durdle Door posts to see if anybody has lost one... and they may just find my post... and ...
  5. Hint - maybe at some point in the future, maybe an anniversary of some type, we can replace the ring... both rings even...and re-pledge our love and all that.  He's still putting up with me eight years on, despite me being me... and losing one diamond and one ring, so I reckon he still loves me.
Have you lost something very precious to you?  What did you do?

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Interview with Bug - aged 5 1/2

Two years ago I interviewed my children C (almost 5) and Bug (3 1/2) for this blog.  Their answers were both entertaining and enlightening, so last week I repeated the interviews, and this year filmed them.  Last week I posted C's interview (aged almost 7), this week is the turn of his little sister, Bug.


I had no difficulty getting Bug to sit in front of the camera - she loves the lens!

Here we go:

Hello Isobel.
Hello.  
I'm going to do an interview with you, is that all right?
Yes
How old are you?
Five
Tell me about your school.
Well, it's fun, and we're just coming up to our school play.
Wow.  What are you doing in the school play?
I'm doing the girls' song, the whole song, and our class song.
And what do you have to wear?
You have to wear a red skirt, a white shirt and a blue headscarf for the class song, the girls do.  And the boys have to wear blue trousers, and I don't know what the other colour for the top is, I think it might be a red top.  And... and the girls have to wear a black for the girls song.  The boys have to wear... I can't remember what the boys have to wear.
That's all right.  Can you tell me about your friends at school?
Well, I want to tell you about the clothes we wear in the whole school song.
Go on, you tell me about those then.
We need to wear colourful clothes for that, and I wear my orange, green and blue shorts, and my blue Mickey Mouse top.
And what about your friends then.  What can you tell me about your friends?
My friend Sally is really kind to me, and my friend Lucy - she is really kind to me.  Sally and me sometimes pretend we're having holidays.  
That's nice.
And we dress up with the dressing up.  And as well we play in the aeroplane when we're pretending to go on holiday. 
That sounds fun.  What's your favourite thing to do at school?
My favourite thing to do at school is playing in the workshop area.
Are you looking forward to going into Year One?
Yes
Why.
Because Year One will be doing a little bit of playing.
Do you like it outside?
Yes.
What do you like to do outside?
I like to play outside in Year One to find fossils in the chalky stuff.
What do you like to do at home.  What's your favourite thing to do at home?
My favourite thing to do at home is to play with my toys and play outside.
Tell me what you think about your brother.
He's quite nice and only sometimes he hurts me.  
Does he hurt you?
Sometimes.
Do you hurt him?
No.
Are you sure?
I do sometimes.
What about the rest of the family?
Well, I love you.  And I love Daddy.
Thank you.  Do you love Charlie?
Yeah.
That's good.  What about Nana and Grandad and Grandma and Grandad?
I like them as well.
That's good.  Are you ready for some quick questions?  Favourite colour?
Pink
Favourite toy?  Unicorns and Barbies.
What about Teddy?
Oh yes and Teddy.  Just Teddy.
Favourite clothes. 
The clothes that I'm wearing. (shows)
Favourite story or book.  
My favourite story is Black Beauty.
Favourite thing on TV?
CBeebies and Blue Peter.
Favourite film?
The BFG and Peter Pan and The Lion King, and Matilda and Frozen and The Little Mermaid.
Wow!
Favourite food.
Spicy chicken, chorizo, chocolate and ice cream and even sweets.
And curry?  Yes curry and paella.
What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to be a hotel owner. 
Wow.  Why?
So I can look after you when you're old.
Oh thanks!
Thankyou for being in my interview.  Have you got any questions for me?
Yes.  What's your favourite food.
That's a tricky one.  I think it has to be jelly.  Jelly still.
What's your favourite colour.
Green
I think yellow as well.  
Yes I do like yellow as well.
And, um...  what's your favourite clothes?
My rainbow coloured woollen jacket jumper thing.
I know where that is.  It's under my bed. 
No, that's another one.  It's on my hanging rail.
Thank you, are you ready to pop down?  Thank you very much.  See you later.

And that's where we are with her!  Bug in a large nutshell.  Loving my kids.


Sunday, 3 July 2016

Interview with C - aged almost 7.

Two years ago I wrote two blog posts where I interviewed C and Bug.  Their answers were both entertaining and enlightening and told me a bit about them as little people.  Two years on I repeated the interviews to see how their answers had changed, and this time I recorded them!  Here is C's interview this time around:



First of all, it's worth noting that this was my third attempt at getting C to come and talk to me in front of the webcam.  In the end I told him that I gave up and would get his sister to do her interview first, and that seemed to prompt him to get on and give it a go!

Hello C.
Hello.
How are you?
Nice
How old are you?
6
When's your birthday?
seventeen days.
Tell me about your school.
My teacher is called Miss Dawson.
Do you like school?
Yes
What do you like at school.  What's your favourite thing?
RE
What's your favourite thing at playtime?
Playing.
Uh huh!  Who with, and what with?  Who do you play with?
Faith
What do you play?
Skipping.
And why is RE your favourite subject.
'Cos I like all the gods in the stories.
What's your favourite thing to do at home?  Think about all your toys.  What's your favourite ones?  ... model railway? Lego? 
 Lego.
Do you like it outside?  
Yes
Why?
Because I like riding on my bike.

Tell me what you think about your sister.   
She's funny.  
Why?  
Because she tells me jokes.  Does she?  Are you sure?  She is funny.
What about the rest of your family?  
They're nice.
And now some quick questions:
Favourite colour?  Purple
Favourite toy?  My Lego.
Favourite clothes?  What does that mean?  Which ones are your favourite clothes, what do you like wearing the most?  Beaver Uniform?  Shorts and T-shirt?  All of them.
Favourite toy?
My Lego.
Favourite story or book?  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and my favourite author is Roald Dahl.
Favourite song?  My Old Man's a Dustman.
Favourite thing on TV?  Top Gear.
Thank you very much C, do you have any questions for me?  Umm no.  Thank you for doing this interview.
Ta Ra.  
Do pop back in the next week or so to see the interview with Bug.  She's a very different character, as you'll see very clearly from her answers and her confidence in front of the camera.  For a start it will take me about three times as long to type up the transcript of her interview because she talks a lot more than C!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Crafty mum - seed bead jewellery

I first got inspired to try making seed-bead jewellery after a trip to Tanzania back in 2006.  The Masai women that we saw created and sold some incredible decorative jewellery.  As usual I wondered if I would be able to make something, and on the plane ride home started thinking about how it could work.
Photo from www.maasai-asssociation.org 
Seed beads are very inexpensive, and the materials and tools you need to make the jewellery is minimal.  Choose the colours you want, and get started.  I used my own designs and experimented with different techniques, which haven't all been successful, but I've just had a glance on Google and found loads of awesome designs and tutorials on the web if you prefer to have a go at something that's been tried and tested.

Over the last decade I've occasionally dipped into my seed-bead box to have a go at something new, or to make a personal gift for somebody, but I've got so many crafts on the go that I've not really dedicated much time to learning the art properly.

The example above is a poor one.  I made a bracelet and a necklace for my daughter and my two nieces for Christmas, and also painted a little jewel box to present them in.  Unfortunately, one of my nieces, aged 6, broke hers just minutes after she opened it.  I'd fastened it on for her, demonstrating the barrel clasp, but she immediately tugged it to take it off, assuming it was elastic, and it snapped.  I took it back from her, promising to fix it and send it back,  I finally got around to it two weeks ago, reworking it with double thread to make it a bit more robust.  It proves impossible to get four threads through some of the beads though, so the result is a little scruffier than it was before.

Have you made any seed bead creations?  Fancy sharing a link or a picture?

"You're looking great!" - the reality of life with microscopic polyangiitis

I'm told that I have a disease called microscopic polyangiitis, a type of vasculitis where the immune system starts attacking the cells lining the small blood vessels, mostly in the kidneys.  Nobody knows the cause of the disease, few people have heard of it, and (in my case anyway) it presents with few, if any, visible signs that anything is wrong.

Here's how I'm feeling at the moment:

Lots of minor symptoms which don't amount to much on their own, which many people experience and often consider normal.  Added together they make me feel horrible and poorly.  At the moment these include: lost appetite (which has led to speedy weight loss), nausea, tiredness, aches, random unexpected and very long period, muscle cramps, itchy and sore eyes and itchy skin which comes up in a sort of rash which comes and goes.  Quite a lot of this has just developed in the last few weeks after my having been fine for ages since I started treatment.

Sometimes I feel a awful and get home and do a lot of nothing.  

Mostly it's minor.  I'm still working full time teaching a class of four and five-year-old's and doing all the planning, preparation and assessment that goes with that.  I'm still out walking the dog at 6.15 every morning.  I'm still (mostly - sometimes I can't be bothered) doing the groceries, making sure the children do their homework, cooking, doing laundry and housework, going on holiday and even applying for (and getting!) a new job.  

Sometimes I feel completely normal and fine.

Mostly, how I feel can vary from hour to hour.

Here's what the doctors are telling me:

  • my blood pressure is too high
  • I still have blood and protein in my urine which indicates that my kidneys aren't functioning properly.
  • My blood results (about which I'm still woefully clueless) are not showing enough improvement.
  • I need another kidney biopsy to see what's going on and what to do next about the treatment.  (Had this earlier this week)
Here's what other people are telling me:
  • "You're loads better than you were in January/February" (before diagnosis and treatment)
  • "You're looking great!"
  • If I'm feeling a bit rubbish then it's, "That's probably from the steroids / treatment / medication."  or "it's just because you've got a cold though, isn't it?"
Which basically leaves me...

Completely confused and unsure, unwilling to trust what I'm feeling at all.  I don't feel right, but I'm not actually poorly (not compared to others I hear about with this and other illnesses).  Maybe this has all been some horrible mistake and there's nothing wrong with me at all?  Perhaps I'm imagining some of these symptoms?

When people ask, "how are you?", I'm answering quite truthfully, "I really don't know,"

That's what life is like for me with this disease at the moment.  I have absolutely no clue whether anything I'm feeling is real, whether it is connected to the disease or completely unrelated, whether its a side-effect of the cocktail of medicines I'm taking, or even just normal.  I'm hoping that after my next clinic appointment next week I might have a bit more idea what's going on.

Just venting really.  Tired of it all.  Fed up and wish it would go away.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Crafty mum - embroidered shorts

I don't know where I got this idea from, but since I have a daughter who likes to combine her love of all things girlie with a propensity to wallow in mud and climb trees, we have to have clothes that will stand up to a certain amount of rough treatment.
 I took a pair of her brother's outgrown shorts and decided to prettify them.
It's taken me over a year, as they've languished at the bottom of my sewing basket and been occasionally worked on in between other projects, and I was dreading her trying them on in case after all that effort they no longer fit her.  
Here they are... some proper tough shorts for adventures, with pretty butterflies and flowers embroidered all over them.  I've now been commissioned by son to sew some bits and pieces on to his clothes too.
I know that you can buy clothes, both pretty and tough, for next to nothing at Primark or the supermarket, so it really doesn't matter if they get torn halfway up a tree, but I like to do things differently, and if that means spending hours embroidering shorts that will only be worn for a few months, then that's what I'll do! ... in any case, I have plans to cut out the embroidered bits and incorporate them into a cushion once they're outgrown, so it won't be thrown out.

What crafty projects have you been working on lately?  Fancy some embroidery?

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

6 steps to prepare for a teaching job interview

Competition in the teaching job market seems to be as fierce as ever, with sometimes many tens of applicants chasing one vacancy, particularly the prized permanent positions which offer so much more security and scope for career progression.  If you've made it as far as the short-list then your application form must be pretty good, so the next hurdle is the interview.  How to demonstrate to this school that you are the best person to fill their vacancy.

Confessions of a Teacher: Teacher Interview questions and answers:
  1. Find out about the school - you'll most likely already have done a lot of homework about the school, including a visit and tour before you completed your application form.  Now is the time to consolidate that research.  Revisit the school website; read key policies; read any school newsletters; have a look at the most recent OfSted Inspection Report.  Being able to comment at interview on something that the school does and how you can contribute or add to it will help the panel to see you as the missing piece of their school jigsaw.
  2. Plan your answers - When I've had feedback from unsuccessful interviews, particularly where the headteacher knows me, I've been told that I don't say enough at interview.  Even though the headteacher knows that I do something or know about something, when the opportunity to say so comes up in the interview, I miss it.  I've now made myself a set of Key Interview Answer index cards.  Each card has a potential topic on, and a brief note of the key items I must get across when I answer a question on that topic.  So I have cards on Safeguarding, Outstanding Lessons, the Curriculum, Behaviour Management, and Assessment.  I've also made a note of specific examples from my own practice that I can talk about in each area.  Before the interview I am looking at these cards daily, and I'll take them with me to look at as a refresher just before the interview.  Hopefully when the questions come up I'll remember to cram in every point and not miss the chance to show what I know and can do.
  3. Update your knowledge - Make sure that you are up to date with changes to the curriculum or assessment.  If there have been changes then they will almost certainly ask about what you think about them in your interview.
  4. Prepare your lesson - Almost all teaching interviews now include an observed lesson to give the panel the opportunity to see how you really interact with children, and how you operate in the classroom.  This is another area I've had feedback on from unsuccessful interviews.  Each time I've been told that while I clearly know my stuff and have a great rapport with the children, my lessons are too complex and busy.  So the first rule here is to Keep It Simple.  Have a very clear idea of what you want the children to learn from the lesson, and work on how you are going to achieve that.  If possible, get in touch with the Class Teacher beforehand to find out what topic or area of work the class are currently covering so that you can fit in with or refer to it.  The teacher should also be able to give you information on class groupings and abilities and whether there will be a Teaching Assistant in the room, so that you can plan accordingly.  The panel don't want to see the top of 30 heads working in their books, they want to see you interacting and teaching, so the more interaction in the lesson the better.  Don't be scared to use practical activities and games - yes, the children will get excited and the noise level may rise, but as long as you are on top of this and the children are engaged then some good learning will be happening.  Be wary of relying on technology - finding out that the interactive whiteboard is different from the one you are used to, or that the computer won't read your memory stick minutes before your lesson just adds an extra layer of stress that you don't need.  There's plenty of time in the interview to talk about how you use technology in the classroom, for your observed lesson aim to do without (unless its a Computing lesson!).
  5. Practice - Practice answering possible interview questions (back to those index cards), and if possible practice your observed lesson.  While every class will respond differently to any lesson, by running through it you'll at least have a clear idea of potential pitfalls, time-scales and the resources that you need, as well as feeling more confident when it comes to actually delivering the lesson.
  6. Plan your day - we're now on the logistics side of the interview.  What time do you need to arrive?  How will you get there and how long will it take?  Where will you park?  Do you need to take a packed lunch?  What time will you expect to finish?  What will you wear?  What will you do afterwards?  (Usually the Headteacher or Chair of Governors will phone later the same day to let you know the outcome of the interview, so you can either be driving home, pacing nervously up and down your sitting room, taking your kids to their swimming lesson and sitting in a noisy swimming pool, relaxing with a book in your favourite cafe, or out for a nice walk with the dog - whatever you will be doing, make sure that you can hear your phone and will be available to take that call.
Good Luck!

I've written this post because I'm in the middle of making all these preparations.  I have a job interview on Thursday for a part-time post starting in September teaching Key Stage Two.  I had applied for a couple of permanent and full-time posts, for which I wasn't short-listed (boo).  But with all the issues with my health at the moment (which seem to be getting more rather than less complex), I think part-time or even Supply Teaching is probably the best option for me for the moment.  I'll let you know how I get on.


Saturday, 21 May 2016

An ethical life - do meat and fish have a place?

I'm writing a series of posts on living more ethically.  Having tackled ethical shopping for fruit and vegetables here.  It's time to have a look at meat and fish.

In the UK some 860 million animals are reared every year for the food industry.  It's our favourite source of protein.  The average meat-eater will consume 760 chickens, 20 pigs, 29 sheep, 5 cows and half a trawler net full of fish in their lifetime.  
image from theguardian.com
What are the ethics involved in meat-eating?

There are a couple of ethical issues to consider.  Meat production has become more intensive, which means that on the plus side, meat has come down in price, but on the negative side, means that animals are often suffering as a result, either through over-crowding, lack of proper attention to health and well being and lengthy transportation of live animals.  In addition, in order to farm intensively, animals are often kept in unnatural environments, given hormones to reproduce more than they would naturally, given antibiotics to prevent illness rather than treat it.  Intensive meat farming where far more animals are stocked in a smaller area can also lead to agricultural pollution as waste runs off the farm and into water courses.  Reliance on commercial feed rather than grass to feed this large number of animals also leads to environmental and social problems elsewhere, with land used to grow food for animals, consuming both land and water that could have been used to grow food for humans - it takes 900 litres of water to grow 1kg of wheat, but 100,000 litres of water to raise 1kg of beef.  A real strain on resources in a world where resources are far too scarce and too many people are dying through lack of food and water.  The end product is often over packaged and is routinely injected with water (to increase the weight and price) and preservatives.

As an extra issue, meat is also high in saturated fat, so too much of it could be placing a strain on our bodies and therefore on our health services.
And fish?

Fish stocks are in serious trouble.  We are taking too many fish out and not leaving enough for them to be able to reproduce quickly enough to replenish their stocks.  When we fish on a large scale, we also employ techniques which regularly decimate entire ecosystems, or inadvertently kill other species.  To counter the over-fishing problem fishing quotas have been in place for years, which means that to feed the desire for fish (and for our own health we are being told that we should be eating more fish, aiming for at least two portions per week), we are increasingly turning to fish farms.  Fish farms have their own ethical problems, as they routinely treat the fish with antibiotics, anti-parasite chemicals etc.  Prawns are usually farmed in developing countries which often employ child or very cheap labour, coupled with dangerous working conditions using a range of toxic chemicals which are then routinely dumped in the sea.
Vegetables
image from the Vegetarian Society of Ireland
What would the ethical choices be?

The most obvious ethical choice would be becoming vegetarian, or better still vegan, avoiding propping up the meat industry entirely.  Alternative sources of protein include quorn (a synthetic fungal protein) and soya or tofu (which has its own ethical issues such as deforestation to grow soya, and the use of genetically modified soya).

If giving up meat entirely is a step too far, then you could consider reserving meat for the weekends and special occasions.  This would make it easier too to make other ethical choices (which may cost more) about the meat that we do consume:

  • when buying any meat, opt for organic and free-range as it means that the animal will have been treated better, with lower stocking densities, access to feed outdoors etc.  Look for the organic and RSPCA Freedom Food logos.
  • buy meat from a local butcher who should be able to tell you the source and provenance of their product.  It's also unlikely to be injected or tampered with (especially if you can see the butchery with your own eyes!) and over-packaged;
  • buy lamb in the Summer.  Lambs are born in the spring, so should be big enough to eat by early Summer.  In order to have "Spring lamb" in the supermarkets in February the poor ewe is being given hormone treatments and often forced to give birth as many as three times during the year, or live lambs are being transported across the continent in dreadful conditions between where they were farmed and where they will be slaughtered, so they can be delivered to supermarkets as fresh as possible.
  • Opt for line-caught or organic fish;
  • choose pollock, or plentiful haddock, instead of cod.  Check the Good Fish Guide, from the Marine Conservation Society, for a list of sustainable fish.
  • Choose smaller cold-water Atlantic prawns rather than larger Tiger or King prawns (the ones farmed in developing countries).

And the Ink Spots household?

I'll be honest here.  I like eating meat.  I was a vegetarian for a while, as I didn't think I'd be able to kill an animal, and if I couldn't kill one myself, then it wasn't right to eat them.  My husband (before he was my husband) defeated me with the logical argument: "well you can't do your own colonoscopy either, but if you needed one doing you'd get somebody else to do it for you."  I started eating meat again with only a little guilt.  I'm a sucker for a lovely bit of roast and a bacon sandwich.

However, for all the reasons above, I am trying to cut down on the meat a bit.  I don't think that we'll be able to reserve it for the weekends, "you forgot to put any meat on my plate!", but I have been able to swap a meaty mid-week meal or few to things like jacket potato with cheese and beans or tuna, omelette, or pasta with a vegetable sauce.  I'll keep gradually making these swaps until it becomes more of a habit for all of us.  
I only buy free-range chicken, but need to make more of an effort to buy organic and free-range meat all the time, and use local butchers... which becomes easier and more affordable the less meat we eat.

I only buy pole and line caught tuna,  but I do need to be more selective about the prawns I buy (I just love those juicy big ones - now I'm not so sure!) and make sure that I buy a range of fish from the sustainable list.

I guess the answer here is that while with fruit and veg I was doing okay but still had more to do, with meat and fish I am a long way from making the kind of ethically sound choices that I would wish for.  Still, as I mentioned in my first post about ethical living, the choices we make towards an ethical life have to be made one at a time, small steps towards better habits.  We're taking those steps, and knowing that we need to is a good start.  I'll review how we're getting on as time goes by.

What about you?  Do you buy sustainable fish?  Organic meat?  Have meat-free Mondays?  Are you a vegetarian or vegan and wonder how I could touch a bacon sandwich?  Are you trying to cut meat down in the diet of a carnivorous family member?