Tuesday, December 31, 2013


My friend Faith wrote this post on her Household Diary blog listing ten things for which she is grateful. It inspired me to do the same. I'm taking gratitude for my family as a given and here, in no particular order, are ten more things for which I am grateful:

1. Our neighbours, who have been a tremendous blessing in our lives. We have four sets of neighbours (two on either side) who all lovely people. We socialise and have fun together, the kids have built in playmates, and most importantly we are a support network for each other. In an emergency we each use each other as our first port of call for help, whether it is babysitting in the middle of the night because someone has to make an emergency trip to hospital, running a load of laundry because a washing machine has broken down, collecting a child from school, or borrowing a pint of milk.

2. My colleagues. I work with a group of extraordinary, quirky and very individual people. Sometimes they can be exasperating and it is like being part of a disfunctional family, but there isn't a single one I would want to be without and some have become dear friends.

3. My car buddy, whose company makes travelling to and from work far more enjoyable. I have discovered that under what can be a prickly and pessimistic exterior there is a kindred spirit - a fellow history geek (ancient history in his case) who also loves classical music and with whom I have a huge amount in common. Special thanks to him for introducing me to Horace, ancient Rome and Shostakovich's Jazz Suites, for entertaining conversation about a huge range of subjects, and for a lot of laughter.

4. My bedroom, which is the one place I can (sometimes) find some time alone. It is my happy space.

5. Hot showers. I am a shower person rather than a bath person. My morning shower wakes me up and makes it possible to face the day (I am not a morning person!).

6. Good health. Apart from occasionally succumbing to asthma related chest infections I am lucky enough to enjoy very good health. So generally speaking do my family - even the scoliosis Tevye has had since he was a child does not cause too much of a problem and does not affect his quality of life. We are very lucky.

7. English countryside. Almost every day when I drive to work I will be treated to a wonderful view - a beautiful sunrise over the fields, or a row of stone houses in a picturesque village.

8. Transport. The ability to hop in the car or onto a train and go more or less anywhere I want to go. After many years when Tevye and I shared a single car the ease of having a vehicle accessible whenever I need one is something I don't take for granted.

9. Music, both to listen to and to play. I am so lucky that I had an aptitude for music and was able to take lessons as a child. Playing in bands and orchestras is a wonderful way of relaxing if I feel stressed, is fun and sociable. I can't imagine a life without music.

10. Technology. I love my iPad, my phone, my Kindle, the internet, Spotify, blogs, Facebook - all these things that allow me to connect with friends (some I know in real life, some I don't), and that both entertain and inform me.

I think this year I am going to try to focus on gratitude and write down every day three things - however small - for which I am grateful. If I could keep it up for the entire year that would be over 1000 things. I doubt I will manage that, but I am going to give it a try.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Update Number 3: Marie

Marie is now part way through her GCSE exam year at school (exams taken at the end of what in the US would be the sophomore year of high school) and working very hard. She has become quite ambitious academically and is determined to get the best grades she can. She has decided that she wants to change schools next year for Sixth Form (for historical reasons years 12 and 13 are often known as Sixth Form even though it now makes no logical sense whatsoever). The adjacent county still has a selective education system, in which children take an exam at age 11 and the brightest go to very academic grammar schools. The town where Helen works has three grammar schools - one for boys only, one for girls only (both of these very highly performing academically) and a third mixed school which is slightly more relaxed. Marie has been saying for a while that she would like to go to the girls only school to take her A levels (the usual next step after GCSEs in the UK examination system). However before the open evening for this school she made a last minute decision to go to the Sixth Form open evening for the mixed grammar school, thinking it might be a back-up option. She came out convinced that it was the right school for her and we have now applied for her to go there next year to study for the International Baccalaureate (that merits a post of its own, so I won't say any more about it now). Whether she gets a place there will depend on both her predicted and actual GCSE results, but based on how she is doing now it should not be a problem. In the end she never even bothered to look at the school she originally thought she wanted to go to.

As well as working hard in school Marie keeps busy outside. She has found a part time job and works as a waitress in a cafe on Saturdays. She joined A-Next-Door's gym and goes there regularly. She also likes running (though not so much in the winter!) and says she eventually wants to run a 10K or a half marathon. She is hoping to go to Bulgaria again, possibly in May, which will mean another spell of fund raising. She still loves her art and intends to continue with it next year. The picture below is a silk screen printed, African art inspired cushion cover she made for her mock GCSE exam (someone more experienced with a sewing machine did the making up - the exam was only testing the art part, not sewing ability!).

Friday, December 27, 2013

7 Quick Takes: 27th December 2013

1. We have had a relaxed family Christmas. Tevye, Helen and myself don't go back to work until January so we are getting a long break and have quite a bit of fun stuff still to come. We have Tevye's family coming to visit on Sunday, social things planned for New Year's Eve and New Year, and Helen and I are planning to go to see the Hobbit on Monday.

2. We had a slight technical hitch with the Christmas Dinner. Tevye read the weight per kg of the turkey instead of the actual weight. Dinner was a little late!

3. I bought a Playmobil school for Rose for Christmas for a bargain price. I thought the Playmobil castle was long-winded to assemble. The school is worse. I think it took me about an hour and a half on Christmas morning!

4. Tevye's Christmas gift highlight was a T shirt with the slogan "I don't need Google, my wife knows everything". He finds this highly amusing!

5. I bit the bullet and joined a gym last week. A-Next-Door works there as a receptionist and was able to get me a "Friends and Family" discount. The gym closed for two weeks for a refurb the next day and the price will go up from January so I decided to jump in while I could still get cheap membership. Meanwhile I can use a sister gym a couple of miles away - this one is also being refurbished, but has a swimming pool and spa which is still open.

6. As you can probably guess from number four, getting more exercise is going to be one of my New Year's resolutions. I am not sure what the rest will be, but think they will need to involve both decluttering and prayer.

7. The final stages of the reshuffle at work have played themselves out over the past ten days and almost everyone now knows whether or not they get to stay and in what role. The senior posts did not go as most of us would have expected, but on the whole I think things are going to work out and it could have turned out a lot worse. Some unexpected positive things have also come out of the whole muddle.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Update Number 2: Helen

I posted back in the summer about Helen being offered an apprenticeship. It seemed an exciting opportunity but in the end it never came to anything. She was offered a work placement she didn't like the sound of (it was in a high end fashion company, really not her thing!) and although she was told it was fine to refuse it and wait for another, nothing else materialised so she started applying for other jobs.

She eventually started work at the beginning of October as a marketing apprentice with a recruitment consultancy in a nearby town. She works four days a week and spends the fifth at college doing a business administration course. So far she absolutely loves her job. Recruitment consultancy is something none of us had any clue about. It turns out that it is a fast paced, exciting business, at least at the international level that this particular company works at. It is also well rewarded. While Helen is on a lower salary as an apprentice, it is still well above the minimum that many apprentices receive. She also gets a whole array of side benefits, ranging from free fruit on the desks (it is a "healthy eating" office) to a day off for her birthday as a bonus on top of her normal holiday entitlement. Yesterday I got sent a picture of the Christmas hamper she had just been given! The work she is doing seems to be quite varied, ranging from working with social media to helping arrange events. She says the days go past quickly and the office is very friendly and sociable. Her apprenticeship is for eighteen months, but as the company is expanding and has a track record of keeping its apprentices her longer term prospects look pretty good. So far she has absolutely no regrets about choosing work over university - quite the opposite.

All in all, she is having a wonderful time. Not only is work going well, but as soon as she knew for certain she had a job she bought her own car so she has a new level of independence. Seeing her drive off in the morning all dressed up in her office clothes is both a source of pride and makes me feel slightly old!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Update Number 1

I think it will take a post each to fill in the gaps since I last blogged for myself and the girls (not so much has been going on with Tevye). I'll go in age order, so starting with me ...

It hasn't been an easy three months. My oldest friend died of cancer in November. We had been friends since our school days, and although we rarely saw each other in recent years as she lived some distance away she was the closest I will ever have to a sister. She had been ill - very ill - for six months. Fortunately I was able to visit her in September, which we both knew was goodbye. Her funeral was hard and my heart aches for her husband and her son. I will miss her.

Work has been hard too. I still love my job, but our department is undergoing a reshuffle which means many of my colleagues have been living with uncertainty since the beginning of September. Some people's jobs will change, some will get demoted, others promoted, and at least two will lose their jobs completely. Communication from above has been bad which has added to everyone's stress. The end game is going to play out over the next couple of weeks, so in the new year at least everyone will know where they stand. Some people will not be having a happy Christmas though. The decisions that are about to be taken on who gets which job will also have a direct effect on me as certain permutations will make my working life much more pleasant than others. Result: anxiety. On the positive side, I am now officially qualified as an archivist, with the piece of paper to prove it.

So much for my update - not a very happy one I'm afraid. At least I am optimistic that the next three months will be much less stressful. Fortunately the updates for the girls will be much more upbeat!

Monday, December 09, 2013

This Week: 9th December 2013

The weather ... average December weather. Not too cold, sometimes damp and grey, sometimes not. There were a couple of very wet, windy and cold days last week, but nothing out of the ordinary is in this week's forecast.

I am wearing ... warm, fleecy pyjamas.

I am reading ... a book about the effect of First World War casualties on the families left behind. Can't remember the title offhand but it was a Kindle Daily Deal I picked up a while ago.

I am creating ... socks for Christmas presents.

I am listening ... Christmas carols by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band. English folk music, with lots of traditional carols.

I am watching ... not much. I watched a documentary on the life of C.S.Lewis last night. Mostly life is busy and TV tends to be low on my list of ways to spend my spare time.

I am enjoying ... playing Christmas music. One busy band weekend done, two more to go. The brass band concert I played in on Saturday was particularly good and kicked off the Advent / Christmas musical season in style.

From the learning rooms ... I officially passed my archive course and now have the certificate to prove it.

On the menu ... everything is too chaotic with too many people doing too much stuff out of the house to be worth menu planning in the run up to Christmas.

On the calendar ...
Tuesday: Marie gets her braces off! She has been counting the days. Rose has school Christmas play performances Tuesday and Wednesday, but maternal incompetence meant the form asking for tickets didn't get handed in on time and the only performance we could have watched is full. Bad mummy!
Wednesday: band practice.
Thursday: office Christmas lunch for me.
Friday: Christmas meal in the evening with Michael's colleagues.
Saturday: playing carols at a local shopping centre (mall) in the morning then going out for a Christmas meal with our neighbours in the evening. Apparently meals out are like buses. You wait ages for one and then three come at once.
Sunday: possible playing more Christmas carols in the evening, but as there are enough other trombonists going I think I may take a break and skip out on that one.

A picture from last week ... a seasonally attired tuba from Saturday's Christmas concert.

Friday, December 06, 2013

7 Quick Takes: 6th December 2013

I will write some proper catch up posts later, but for now a few snippets ...

1. Marie and I have been doing pre-Christmas things. We went to a Christmas Gift Fair and the German Christmas Market in Birmingham, then followed that up with a day in London which ended up at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Here is an ice squirrel from the Magical Ice Kingdom there.

2. Yet again the pre-Christmas season means lots of trombone playing. This year I have also added in a bit of flute playing. The theory was that playing flute in a local concert band would fit into my week more comfortably than playing violin with my usual orchestra. Not sure yet how the theory will work out in practice, but I am enjoying playing something different.

3. At seven Rose has finally started losing teeth. She was getting very disgruntled as everyone else in her class had already had multiple visits from the tooth fairy. Her second came out on the way home from school this week, leaving her bloody but triumphant. Whereas with her sisters the tooth fairy just left money in exchange for a tooth the tooth fairy now also leaves a note. The tooth fairy could live to regret this.

4. We are now well into the season of dark mornings and evenings. I hate that it is dark when I drive home from work, but there are a couple of silver linings. Driving to work in the morning I often see the most beautiful blue and pink sunrise, and coming home in the evening there is a startlingly bright "star" low in the sky - Venus, maybe?

5. I have decided I should have been a hobbit. I have realised that to function properly in the mornings I need breakfast, second breakfast and elevenses!

6. Talking of hobbits, I'm looking forward to seeing the second Hobbit movie though I think I will probably have to wait until the Christmas / New Year break. Hoping I can find a daughter who would like to see it with me as it really isn't Tevye's thing. I liked the way the wove the background to Lord of the Rings into the plot of the Hobbit in the first movie, though the darker, epic feel is very different to the book. Not sure what Tolkien would have made of it.

7. Must get up! I have half an hour to get showered, dressed, wake up school-going daughters, make them breakfast, make myself lunch, and get out of the door. It can be done, but only just!

Thursday, December 05, 2013


Yes, I am still alive.

No, I have not forgotten about my blog.

Yes, I do still want to keep blogging, I just somehow got out of the habit.

The longer I go without writing the harder I find it to get started again. This is a "just do it!" post to get myself unjammed. More soon, I promise. Of course, it would serve me right if by this time I am simply talking to myself!