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Thursday, 28 September 2017

Upcycling - wooden drawers




Hubby had these drawers (a lot of them!) to house his cassette tape collection.  Younger readers hop on to Wikipedia for an explanation of what cassette tapes are.  He got rid of his cassette tapes when we moved from Scotland three years ago, and the drawers found new homes in his garage (for screws and stuff) and in the children's bedrooms (for bits-and-bobs).  Ever since, I've been promising the children that I would give them a lick of paint to go nicely in their bedrooms, and label them so they knew what was inside each one.

Bug had done her best to label hers herself.  Inside she keeps all her stationery, badges, fossils, beads, bracelets, shells, marbles, Kinder egg toys and so on.

My first decision needed to be about paint.  I stood in the diy shop deliberating for a while.  I liked the idea of the chalky furniture paints, but they didn't have the range of colours that I was looking for and were pretty pricy.  In then end I plumped for acrylics from the craft aisle.  I've used acrylic paint before to paint my fence decorations, so I know they apply well to wood, the colour range is outstanding, and they are pretty affordable.  I bought four spring-time colours for Bug's drawers, and some dark blue for when I do Bear's.

Next, paint!  So that I wouldn't have difficulty with drawers sticking, I only painted the front of each drawer.  I had three sets of drawers to do, so I did each case in a different colour, then I did six pink drawers, and four each in purple, green and blue.  

Acrylic dries pretty quickly, so by the time I'd finished doing all the first coats, I was able to start again and get the second coat on.  

An hour or so later I came back, arranged all the drawers in a decent pattern of colours, rearranged the contents so they were in a logical order, and used a permanent marker and neat handwriting to label each drawer with its contents.

I had started the whole project at 7.30pm when Bug went to bed, I completed it by sneaking back into her bedroom and replacing the drawers at about 11pm.

She is delighted with the result, as not only are the colours pretty, but she can also find things more easily and is even more inclined to put them away since she can see straight away where they belong.  We are planning to buy some butterfly stickers to add to the drawers and make them even prettier.  I'm going to get Bear's drawers next (later this week I hope) and paint them in blues, purples and greens.

 What crafty / upcycling project are you doing this week?

A great week!

We're in our new home (and we love it!), we're three weeks into the Autumn term at school and we are busy busy busy!

Here are just a few of the things we've been up to this week:

  • had some friends over for coffee on Thursday morning, and made some spiced apple muffins;
  • trip to the hospital in Birmingham to see the Vasculitis specialists;
  • a meeting about District Scout Christmas Post;
  • housework;
  • marking;
  • planning for next week;
  • Bug has been painting flowers;
  • Bug and I worked as a team to decoupage some animals that she bought me as a get well present a year and a half ago;
  • Hubby and Bear lifted the old railway tracks off their board, and constructed a new board in the loft ready to lay the tracks;
  • the children and I made some junk modelling houses to act as some "Here's one I made earlier!" for my model-making club;
  • I painted some small wooden drawers for Bug's bedroom - something I've been promising her I'll do for at least a year!  More on those in the next blog post.
All in all a great week where I've finally ticked off some items from my to-do list which have been hovering there for quite a long time.  I love it when you get to do that, it feels very productive.



Sunday, 13 August 2017

Packing to move house

Moving house is fun.

Ummm.... I'm not sure that's right.  I've heard that its one of the most stressful experiences in life.  It is a bit exciting though.
piles of boxes
I'm currently at the stage where I am surrounded by half-filled boxes.  We've ten days until moving day, and while I'm confident that we'll get it all done, the task is looking slightly daunting.  My six year old asked me to buy some oranges so she could make her own orange juice - and my voice may have gone up a couple of octaves as I very slowly and reasonably explained that we are trying to get rid of mess - not make more!

ready for the charity shop
Having a clear out:  I'm being quite brutal at getting rid of things that we don't love any more.  Our new house is a bit smaller than our current rented house, and definitely smaller than the house we sold in Scotland.  As we move from room to room I have four categories: recycle centre, charity shop, sell and pack.  Items for the first three groups are put into piles in the kitchen.  I'm taking photos of items to sell or to try and free-cycle and getting them straight on to the local car-boot type Facebook groups.  If nobody wants them in a day or two they transfer to the charity-shop or recycle centre piles.  When the charity shop and recycle centre piles in the kitchen are large enough - off they go!  Only things that we love or definitely use are making it into the packing boxes.
not even started on this room yet!
I've read that it's best to pack one room at a time.  That's not what we're doing.  We have boxes in every room and seem to be working on them all simultaneously, packing first those things which are non-essentials, for example warm coats and winter shoes, books, toys and games, DVDs etc.

Working hard not to pack those things we'll need over the next couple of weeks, for example things the kids will need for Beaver Sleepover, things I'll need for school work etc!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

10 top tips to keep kids happy in the holidays.

I saw a very amusing post from the hilarious Hurrah for Gin.  Its about the six stages/weeks of the Summer Holiday, starting at positive and excited and descending through shouty and sweary and finishing with "rocking in the corner".  The replies to this post were all in agreement.  Many parents find the long stretch of the summer holiday quite hard work.  For some it's all about juggling paid and unpaid holiday from work with finding kind-hearted relatives or friends, or paying for holiday activities.  For others it's just not knowing what to do with these pint-sized people for all that time and feeling a vague sense of guilt whenever they are glued to a screen.

As you'll know from my post here on the 9th July, while I'm enjoying my long teacher school holiday I am also aiming to get a good head start on all my planning for next year as well as getting the classroom ready and organised.  To add further spice to the holiday we are also intending to move house during the final two weeks of the break, so there's an awful lot of clearing, sorting and packing to get done too.

Here are my ten top tips to keep the children happy in the holidays:
  1. Plan a few special "extras" - new things or places to go.  We've cancelled our proper holiday in order to move house, but are going away for a long weekend to a Folk Festival, and I've booked them on a climbing activity and in for a snorkelling lesson at the local swimming pool.
  2. Go out every day.  This doesn't need to cost much or indeed anything, and doesn't need to be a full day outing, but just breaks up the day into more managable chunks.  Examples are: go swimming, playdates, bike ride, grocery shopping, walk in the woods, geocaching, meet friends at the park, soft play, pick-your-own, skate park, play dates, free workshops at local nature reserves, libraries and museums.  Speaking of museums, use your holiday to be a tourist in your own back yard and check out your local cathedral, museums or walking tours.
  3. Spend time doing something with your children at home every day.  Even if you are busy trying to pack your house, paint the walls, clear out detritus from kitchen cupboards, plan literacy lessons and create exercise book labels, weed the garden and do the ironing (all simultaneously if you are anything like me), make sure to set aside some time to be with your children, or be prepared to stop what you are doing every now and then if they ask you to.  We're not talking about lots of fancy "Pinterest ready" crafts here, we're talking about your time.  Things like: face-painting your daughter, helping them make cardboard puppets for a show and then watching the resulting show, baking cookies, cooking dinner, making jam (with the fruit you got from the Pick-your-own), reading together, playing a board game, doing that craft kit they've had in the cupboard since Christmas, having a water fight, making stuff from Lego, making bracelets with beads, collecting unsuspecting mini-beasts.
  4. Involve them in your activities.  Yes, they can in fact help clear out the cupboards, they could even decoupage the pencil pots for your classroom, stick labels on exercise books and paint the walls.  They can't do everything, but often they'll be pleased to join in.
  5. Get them helping with housework.  It takes time to teach little people to do new things.  They don't know how to polish a table, wash dishes, cook, work the vacuum, clean shoes or hang laundry.  That's not to say that they shouldn't be expected to do these things at Primary School age, it's just that it takes time to teach them.  During term-time schedules are often very hectic and its easier just to get the job done than to spend the required time with an apprentice.  Take the opportunity over the holiday to tutor your child in a couple of new tasks.  By the time you get to September hopefully they'll have mastered it and be able to get on with it with minimal supervision and time investment and it can become a new responsibility for them.  I'm also working on getting them to take a bit more responsibility around the whole house.  I find the "tidy up" thing can be a bit overwhelming, particularly for my scatter-monster six-year-old.  Instead this last couple of weeks I've gone for a fifteen-minute-hammer approach.  I set the timer, we all clean and tidy like crazy in our allocated room for fifteen minutes, and then the timer goes off and we stop and all inspect one another's progress.  One day we spend the fifteen minutes in the bedrooms, the next day each person selects a folded slip of paper with one of the communal rooms written on.  If, at inspection, it's clear that the tidier hasn't spent their fifteen minutes very productively, then they must do another 15.  I try to do this just before dinner time so that the house is relatively tidy for the evening.
  6. Make them play outdoors.  Outdoor play is good.  It allows kids to socialise, connect with nature and get physically active.  Whether it's your garden, the street, the park, the woods or the beach.  Insist that your kids spend some time outside every day, even if it's raining (they won't dissolve!).  Sometimes this requires me to lead the way with a suggested (or instructed) walk, bike-ride or fruit picking expedition, other times they are out in the yard on their bikes before they've even had breakfast.  We're very lucky in that we are currently in the countryside with a large yard and field with safe access behind the house, I'm not sure how easy this will be when we move into a city, but even with a small yard you can set up swing-ball or a paddling pool, or encourage them to find a sunny spot to read or play outside rather than in their bedroom.
  7. Guilt-free screen time - Don't feel guilty about letting the kids watch the TV.  Most of us watched the box during the holidays when we were growing up and we seem to have turned out okay.  My eight-year-old has a tablet with parental controls, and we have set him a time limit of 2 and a half hours per day for the holidays, a large portion of which is used up before breakfast.  This may seem like quite a lot of time, but as he is still making stuff, reading books, playing on his bike and being sociable the rest of the time I'm okay with it.  They'll occasionally put a film on or watch a bit of TV late in the afternoon too, and since they've usually done something with me, been out, played outside and done some housework by then, this seems absolutely fine to me.
  8. Bicker-free zone.  Kids will be kids and if you have more than one, then it's almost certain that bickering will ensue at some point.  To keep this at bay try adding more children to the mix as often as possible.  They will get bored with each other's company, so arrange some play-dates with other children.  Also, don't be afraid to separate them.  If they are bored they will often gravitate towards one another, even if it's just to be annoying.  If you keep hearing bickering, insist that one plays outside while the other plays inside or has some 1:1 time with you.  The space may well spark some creativity and the time away from one another may provide new ideas for games or things to talk about.  Even if you are busy, I also find that the best way to diffuse an argumentative situation is to give some attention, so that's often the time I realise that I haven't been following my own advice numbered 2, 3 or 4 above, and quickly suggest a bike ride or trip to the swimming pool and then we all feel better.  If all else fails, put the TV on or plug them into a tablet!
  9. Give them time - despite what I've just said about bickering happening when children require attention, I do think that children need time to just BE.  Running them from activity to activity and planning a full timetable through the holidays is both unnecessary and expensive.  They should be allowed to make their own fun and learn to direct their own time.  Creativity and imagination flourish when the mind wanders.
  10. Keep it fun!  When you think back to the summer holidays when you were a child, what do you remember?  Do you have fond memories of the long holidays or were they an ordeal?  I have great memories of playing with my sisters, blackberry picking, playing outside in the street, doing a jigsaw with my mum, mum teaching me to make friendship bracelets, getting to go to work with my dad, chatting to the next-door neighbour over the fence... and I'm sure quite a bit of bickering with my sisters in between!  The point is that I remember the holiday time as being active but largely self-directed, fun and relaxing.
What do your kids get up to in the holidays?

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Cross-back apron crafty project

Check out this beautiful cross-back apron that my Bug made.
 The pattern and a tutorial can be found here
 She chose the fabric herself and used my sewing machine.
It looks so gorgeous on her and check out how proud she is of herself.  I love it so much that we've chosen fabric for each of my two nieces and I'm making one each for their birthdays.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

LEGO WeDo 2.0

Image result for Lego Wedo 2.0
I spent this morning playing with Lego.  I have to confess, it's not my first time.  I love playing Lego with my children, and often continue building happily long after they've moved on to something else.  Today is the first time I got paid for it though!
Image result for Lego Wedo 2.0
I attended a Lego WeDo 2.0 workshop for teachers.  Maybe your children have come home talking about building Lego models and coding on the computers to make them do something and you have no idea what they are talking about - it's Lego WeDo and hopefully all will become clear.
Image result for Lego Wedo 2.0
The "new" curriculum dropped ICT in 2015 and replaced it with Computing.  Children at Key Stage Two are expected, among other things, to design, write and debug computer programmes using coding.  There are a few great programs available to support Coding.  I've used Tynker, Espresso and Scratch myself.  The problem with them is that while the coding and debugging are fun and you can create some brilliant visuals, games and animations using the coding, you can't touch it.  Lego changes that.  Lego is something that most children have experience and confidence with, making the whole thing more accessible.  How it works is that the children build a model, and then write a program to make it do something.  On the original WeDo, they wrote the program on Scratch software, and connected to the computer.  The new WeDo 2.0 is run via an app on the i-pad.

As a teacher I have options depending on the age and experience of my class, and the topics that we are covering.  
1)  The Lego WeDo app (free to download) has a few Guided Projects that support the children through a whole lesson.  They provide a scenario, with a little Lego video to introduce it, for the children to watch.  They are then guided step-by-step to build a model that does something, and then to write a code to make it do it.  The example we followed this morning was Robust Structures.  A video explained the scenario that buildings in earthquake zones need to be earthquake proof, and that building designs need to be tested for robustness.  We were then guided step-by-step (proper Lego instructions) how to build a machine that would test this.  The Lego WeDo kit includes a hub that connects wirelessly to your i-pad, a motor, a tilt sensor and a proximity sensor.  The machine we made uses the motor to shake a second base plate, on which you place your model houses:
Image result for Lego Wedo 2 robust structures
We were then given an example code to copy or modify to make our machine operate.  We did it so that the shaking would repeat 10 times, increasing in intensity each time.  We tested the house structures using this to see which number on the "Lego Richter Scale" the house fell down at.

2) The second option is to use an Open Project, there are a few suggested ones on the App, but you can also make up your own.  For this, you use a bit more creativity, either giving them a scenario to test (great links to Science) and allowing them to decide themselves on the model to make, and the program to code, or giving them scaffolded guidance depending on their age and stage.  We had a go at creating our own lesson plan for a Year One class looking at Life Cycles in Science.  We decided that the first thing we'd do is get the children playing with Lego, building a bird or an insect from Lego and describing the features of each.  Next we'd give children pictures from the life cycle of an insect and a bird and get them to sort them correctly and put them in order.  We'd then show them the "Firefly" model from the Lego WeDo 2.0 design library, which are all models that can be made using the WeDo 2.0 kit, and allow them to make it.  We would give them an example code to build or innovate from that makes the light on the model change colour as it moves on its stand.

Image result for Lego Wedo 2.0
I think this kit is BRILLIANT!  It has great potential for linking Science, Literacy and Computing.  I will definitely be planning to use it in my classroom during the next year.  Many schools won't be able to afford enough sets for a class (they aren't cheap) but club together to buy them and share them around, so I'll need to get it planned and booked in early!  

If your child has been raving about Lego WeDo and you think you'd like to get them a set to experiment with at home, it costs £120-£150 for the full kit, but would be great for budding computer programmers, engineers or inventors if you do happen to have a bit of cash.

Just to be very clear - all the opinions in this post are entirely my own.  I am not in any way connected to or receiving any benefits from LEGO for this post.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

How to work a 40 hour week as a teacher.


You'll probably have some view on this.  Maybe you think that teachers get really long school holidays and should stop moaning about their workload.  Maybe you know a teacher, and you appreciate how much work they put in over and above the time the children are in school, both during term-time and holidays.  Heavy workload is unmistakably an issue in the teaching profession, which is also comparatively low-paid.  In this article from the Guardian, teachers health and mental-health is said to be at risk from a working week often between 49 and 65 hours per week.
image from www.schoolsweek.co.uk


On a personal level, I am on a 0.55 contract, which means that I have two and a half days teaching, and quarter of a day paid non-contact (PPA) time (a total of 22 hours).  In reality, my week looks like this:  Monday I arrive by 8.15pm and leave at 5.15pm (with a 30min break for lunch in the staffroom), I then work a further 2-3 hours in the evening marking.  Tuesday I work the same hours and do the same amount of marking in the evening.  On a Wednesday I'm usually in work by 11am, and stay until 5.15pm.  I would estimate that I spend AT LEAST two further hours per day on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  This puts my working week at a minimum of 35 hours.  It's hard not to do this, and I'll give my headteacher credit here because she has told me that I shouldn't be in at work as often as I am.  However, when the job needs doing and you want to do it well to give the kids the best experience possible, and also meet all the requirements for evidence required by the school and the lovely OfSted, you just get on with it.

I do think that reducing the working week is something worth doing, and I also think its possible.  I haven't tried this advice yet, but I will be in the coming year.  My part-time contract this coming year is 0.66 which is 26.4 hours.  I'm going to aim not to work at all past 5.30 in the evening, and no more than six hours outside of my three teaching days - a total of 31.5 hours.  For full-time teachers, I think you'd be aiming for your four and a half days contact time, your half a day PPA, leave by 5.30pm and work no more than six hours outside of this time, in your evenings or on your weekend.  Make sure that you get a half-hour for break.  This would be a total of 48.5 hours.  Once we're achieving this, we can aim to shave back those hours of working at home.

Here's my plan:

  1. Make use of the school holidays.  I know, teachers already work during their holidays, particularly the May half term which you almost certainly spend writing reports, and the last week of the Summer holiday which is nearly always spent setting up your classroom.  What I'm suggesting is more structured use of time.  If you want a 40 hour working week like those in a 'regular' job, then you'll need to take only 6 weeks of holiday like those in a 'regular' job.  If you want to chill out all through your 13 weeks school holidays, then accept that those extra weeks (7 weeks x 40 hours = 280 hours) will be added on your your working week during term time (just over 7 hours per week).  So take one week of holiday at Christmas and Easter and two weeks in the Summer, plus extra days to make up the other two weeks during half terms and holidays, and the rest of the time work an eight hour day.  For some people I appreciate that this may involve paying for childcare, as your kids will also be on holiday, but you need to balance this against the likelihood of having more time to see them on weekends during term time.  I'm lucky enough that mine will entertain themselves some of the time, and I will spread my working hours between early morning and evening as much as possible so I can do things with the children in between.  During your holiday: get as much planning done as possible for all areas of teaching; Prepare your schemes of work and your interactive whiteboard flipcharts; prepare your assessment sheets; get displays ready to go up for each topic as you reach it in the school year; prepare templates for PLPs, get classroom ready - drawer labels and labels for books etc.
  2. Image result for teacher marking
    wordle from https://educatingmatters.wordpress.com/effective-marking-2/ 
  3. Be more organised - folders all ready and prepared with all the resources needed for those schemes of work prepared during the holiday.  Next year I have a pupil with quite complex needs in my class.  In order to provide the best scaffolding for her to develop more independence in her work, the TAs need to be able to adapt the resources or scan them into her computer ahead of time.  This will be much smoother for everybody if they are there and easily accessible.  Also plan ahead for things like assemblies, Christmas craft projects, report writing and parents evening as much as possible.  You know these things are going to crop up, so being prepared for them will save a weekend of panic before each one.
  4. Marking during the working week - Marking is probably your most time-consuming daily activity (apart from teaching!).  Assume that four pieces of work per child require marking every day.  Even a cursory glance and a quick comment will probably take at least one minute per book - that's a minimum of half an hour for a class set of books, multiplied by four.  In reality, when you're marking English books and the children have written a page of text, which you have to read, highlight and comment on errors, and provide positive constructive feedback and next steps, each book will take at least five minutes - a total of 2.5 hours for the set!  I can very easily do four or more hours marking from one teaching day, and I know I'm not alone.  So, plan more thoughtfully to reduce marking load.  Plan more time in to lessons for children to self-assess and peer-assess, and teach them the skills to do this; or plan for you to go through and mark the work with the children.  This isn't a cop-out for the teacher, and it won't lessen the expectations on the children.  According to the Education Endowment Foundation, little research has actually taken place into the effectiveness of written marking, which is bizarre considering that schools place such emphasis on it, and teachers spend so much time on it, but it seems that the most effective marking gives early, specific feedback to the children, with clear targets for next steps, and the opportunity to respond, either extending understanding or clarifying misunderstanding.  If this can be done effectively with the children, then it is worth looking into, and could take hours off your evening.
  5. Labels - If you find yourself writing the same comment over and over again on your marking, or you have several children who you know will require the same constructive feedback / next step, then consider using printed sticky labels.  I will definitely have some labels marked: please underline, DUMTUMS for date and Next Step please, remember to join your handwriting for those basic presentation issues which our OfSted consultant has suggested we need to pick up in our marking as part of having "high expectations".
  6. Image result for teacher marking
    image from www.teachertoolkit.co.uk  
  7. Use technology - We have i-pads in the classroom, and I don't use them enough.  There's a useful platform called Google Classrooms - it will take time to set it up for the class and train them to use it, but in the end this will pay dividends.  Rather than printing off and trimming worksheets, I can set them as an 'Assignment' in the app, and they can just read off the i-pad.  If they are working with practical activities, I can set this as an assignment, and they can photograph it with the i-pad and it will upload into a folder in the app.  I can even comment on it (providing feedback) there and then in the app.  To provide evidence for their exercise books, they write the date and objective, and I print them a sticky label with a brief explanation and a QR code linking to the folder.
I look forward to trying out my own advice, and will get back to you with feedback next term on how its going and whether I am restoring some of my work-life balance (if I am you'll probably see more posts on here, and a bit more craft going on!)  I think the basic rules that I'm applying are: less written work for me and the children but higher quality and more effective.  Fewer hours working for me.

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Missing Blogger

This blogger has been decidedly absent.  I have good intentions.  Writing on the blog has been on my "to do" list for a long time.  I like blogging.  I love to write and this blog has been a creative endeavour since 2010, when my almost-eight year old was tiny.  

Life, however, has me spinning many plates, and inevitably one or two get dropped.  

Tonight I set aside the marking, though I may get back to that later as I'm quite enjoying marking beginning attempts at poetry.  I ignored my list and went straight for the blog.

Here's a quick summary of what's going on in my life:

  • Home - I'm a bit on edge at the moment about my home.  We've been in Herefordshire now for almost three years, hoping to sell our lovely house in Scotland so we can put down roots here.  I've been getting a bit pot-bound in this rented house that was always supposed to be a temporary situation.  We finally had an offer on the house, and accepted.  In Scotland, once the missives are exchanged, which usually happens very early in the process, the deal is legally binding.  We went ahead and started looking at houses, an found one that we absolutely love, went ahead and made and offer and were accepted!  Now we're just waiting for everything to be finalised.  The missives in Scotland have NOT been exchanged yet, our buyers have their loan agreement, but are waiting for their buyers to get their loan agreement through (this week we've been told) so that they can exchange missives with them, and then with us.  Our buyers are hoping to move in July, so I'm very much hoping that this will be a simple process and then we can start asking about a completion date for our house - we have our loan agreed, and hopefully move in late August.  In the meantime, I'm thinking about starting to re-paint the magnolia walls here.  We carefully didn't put any pictures up to avoid having to repaint when we moved out, but after three years, two children and a dog, the walls need repainting, and in some cases a bit of polyfilla, so the sooner I get started on that (and then keep everybody away from the paintwork!) the sooner it's done.  I'm actually finally getting happier with how the garden is looking.  This year I decided it was time to stop waiting and to just plant stuff, so I bought a lot of cheap tubs and planters and ordered bulbs and perennial plants and just chucked everything in, and now I actually have flowers growing on my large patch of gravel.  I'm planning to make the most of this Summer of countryside living with some wild foraging, and lots of time outdoors for the children, as our new house will be in the city.  Yes, you read right.  From seven years living in a small village (lovely community) to three years living in the middle of nowhere (not even a pub to walk to!) to a house where you can walk or cycle all over the place and a top-up pint of milk is very literally just around the corner.  I can't wait! 
  • teaching - I'm very much enjoying my teaching job.  I love teaching. The lady I'm job-sharing with is lovely and I think we work very well together. The class we're with at the moment are quite chatty and VERY untidy, but I think that's partly because I didn't set up expectations on that front very well in the first few weeks of the year.  We seem to be constantly chasing our tails just to keep up with the marking and planning, let alone getting the displays and things sorted out.  Next year I'm delighted to be in Year 4 again - The planning for all the topics and units is there, so I just need to rework it to make it work for me and the new class.  I'm going up to three days per week, and will probably have a different teacher working with me (to be appointed this week).  I'm looking already at what I can do during the Summer to get the classroom looking nicer.  
  • Campervan - that's right.  We got ourselves a campervan.  We are beginning to get the hang of just jumping in for a weekend away, and are planning lots of trips around the place with it, and are working out the best way to store things.  It's a VW T6.
  • Health - So I've still got microscopic polyangiitis.  Apparently Vasculitis doesn't go away.  I'll be on the immune suppressants and steroids and blood pressure meds for a long time.  Kidney function has stabilised at 50% which is good, and the Drs are quite happy to tell me how well I look, check my bloods and send me on my way again.  Apparently all the weird little oddities my body has come up with are nothing to worry about, so I'm just trying to ignore them and take them in my stride as long as the blood results are okay and nothing drastic happens.
  • The family - The husband and kids are still gorgeous.  The kids of course drive me absolutely bonkers, and I occasionally have a crises of confidence that they aren't being very kind to one another, or are becoming selfish.  I am reassured by everybody else telling me how lovely they are, and wonder whether they just save it all for me.  Sadly, I am no longer wearing a wedding ring but it's not as bad as it sounds - Hubby is still putting up with me despite my careless ways, I just no longer have the rings!  A couple of years ago the diamond fell out of my engagement ring while I was doing housework, and I never found it.  Last Summer the sea at Durdle Door in Dorset sucked my wedding ring off (I've lost a bit of weight, and I think it must all have been on my fingers!) and that disappeared into the blue.  I was wearing a stand-in as I really wanted to be wearing a wedding ring still, but took it off the other day while making pizza dough.  One minute it was beside me on the counter, the next it wasn't.  I told everybody to look out for it in their pizza, but nobody found it.  I'm hoping to get a replacement at some point, but it's not really the kind of thing you are supposed to buy for yourself, is it?  We're also sad to have lost our dog Tara three weeks ago.  She was such a wonderful warm and loving pet, and we had her for nine years, so it's a bit strange to get home and not see her wagging tail in the back door, not to get up early and take her out for a walk, and not to have her warmth spread across my lap on the sofa or my feet under the table.
  • Scouting - Having done a LOT of Scouting in the past, things are pretty quiet since we moved to Herefordshire.  We've both got lots of skills and experience, but nobody here seems very interested in what we have to offer.  This is probably a good thing since I was poorly last year, as I was able to give myself a bit of a break.  Now we're both working with the Group where Bear and Bug are Beaver Scouts, and hoping to help it grow and develop.
  • Crafting and Writing - This will be a very short paragraph.  It's just not been happening.  Too tired.  Too busy.  Bug got a mini-sewing machine for her birthday in February, and I confess I only just got it out with her this weekend (and can't make it sew properly so need to take it to Hobbycraft for instructions) so that she can sew her own apron - I'll try to post about that in the next couple of weeks when we complete it!
So there we go.  A whistle stop update of where I am and what I'm doing and a promise that I'll try to blog again at least once a week.

What have you all been up to?  Anything exciting?  Do comment below.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

A Mediterranean Diet


Turn on the news these days and nearly every week you'll find some advice on what you should or should not eat - much of it contradictory.  Fad diets - 5:2, superjuice, "you are what you eat" (I know a brilliant joke about that one),carb free, gluten free, red and green days and all the rest make me want to go and stick my head in an oven.  I really like food - tasty and delicious food.  Some foods I like are healthy, some are very unhealthy (chip shop chips, blackforest gateaux etc.).  

I don't want to feel guilty about any food.  I want to nosh it down whenever I feel like it... within reason.  

I also want to be healthy.  

I accidentally lost quite a bit of weight between the Summer and Christmas.  I just lost my appetite through some combination of Vasculitis or the drugs I'm on to treat it, and managed to shift some weight that I've been trying to get rid of for about ten years.  Now that the appetite has come back, I'm keen not to pile the weight all back on if possible.  Hubby is also conscious that he's approaching half a century at the end of this year, and is anxious to lose some weight and live a healthier lifestyle.

One type of eating that we keep hearing about in a positive light is the "Mediterranean Diet".  Nobody is quite sure what it is about this diet that appears to have health benefits and support longevity - whether it's the red wine, the olive oil, the abundance of tomatoes, fruits and vegetables, the sea food, the cheese, the nuts and pulses, the convivial shared eating experience of "picking at" dishes or whether its some combination of all the above (or more sunshine), we just don't know.  What we do agree on is that both Hubby (and usually the children) love the flavours.  Spanish, Provencal, Greek, Turkish, Moroccan, Italian - all are food cultures that we thoroughly enjoy. 

This January I've heard Hubby harping on about extolling the virtues of both smaller portion sizes and "a more Mediterranean diet" a lot so on a trip to Waterstones decided to see if I could find a suitable new cook book to support the crusade.

Enter...

It's always a good sign when reading the cookbook makes your mouth water and you can't wait to get to the shops and buy in some of the ingredients you need to get started.  In this family there will always be room for Pie and chips or Staffordshire Oatcakes, but maybe we'll insert a bit more pitta with houmous, prawns dripping with garlic and chilli, olives and delicious salads in between and just possibly be a little healthier for it.  Or we'll have friends queueing up to partake of a bit of convivial red wine, cheese and garlic, and we won't care how healthy we are!

What's your latest new cookbook and what will you be cooking from it?