Thursday, May 29, 2014

Moving House

Not in the literal, bricks and mortar sense, but I am moving in to a new home on the internet. I have been blogging here for over eight years but over the last couple of years I have posted less and less. Much has changed in my life since I first started this blog. Then I was a full time homeschooling mother; Helen was 10, Marie was 7 and I was pregnant with Rose. That was reflected in the focus of the blog, which was homeschooling, parenting and books (particularly children's books). Now my life is in a very different stage. The girls are 19, 15 and almost 8. It is several years since we stopped homeschooling and Helen has finished school. I am working full time and have rediscovered old historical interests and found new ones - I am spending a lot of time at work these days immersed in the First World War. Mothering looks very different when the children become teens and young adults. Music was always there as a background to my life but has become a bigger thing. I have got serious about eating well, exercising and generally living a healthier lifestyle. Although I still love books I read far less due to lack of time and after-work fuzz brain, and the girls all now read to themselves rather than me reading to them.

After drifting for a long time, reluctant to let go of a space I had loved, it suddenly feels time to move on. My hope is that a new start in a new blogging home will inspire me to write again. I have called the new blog Crazy Paving. The title jumped into my mind and when I looked for a definition I found this - "a form of paving, as for a path, made of slabs of stone of irregular shape fitted together". It seems a good fit for a life that is a mix of random enthusiasms and interests, constantly changing in the patterns they make with each other. Life is busy and often chaotic and I may not be able to post as often as I would like, but I intend to try to write regularly.

I have also decided to let go of the Bookworm name, because while it made sense as a pseudonym at the time I adopted it, I have lost my book habit. I am sad about it and hope I will be a bookworm again in the future, but for now a more realistic pseudonym would be Frazzled Mum, or Trombone Woman, or Manic Archivist, or ... on the whole, I think the best option is just to drop the pseudonym. As I am going to be posting on the new blog under my own name I am not going to link back here, mainly to protect the girls' privacy. Please do come and visit me at Crazy Paving. I would hate to leave my old friends behind in the house move.

Friday, February 28, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Cars

1. During my blogging break in October we traded in our family car. We had had our Vauxhall Zafira for seven years and it had nearly reached 100,000 miles. Given that we are both reliant on a car to get to work we decided to take the plunge and trade it in. We ended up with one of these:

2. We decided a while ago that our next car would be a Ford C Max. We had a Ford S Max as a courtesy car a few years ago and loved it, but the S Max is both larger than we need and out of our price range so we thought the smaller C Max would be ideal. Although the Zafira was a seven seater (five fixed seats with two more folding seat at the back) and really we rarely need more than five now, so a smaller car made sense.

3. We test drove a C Max ... and decided it was too small. The back didn't seem to have much more leg room than our little Renault Clio - not ideal for driving teenagers around. We went back to the drawing board and went for the in-between sized car, the Grand C Max. It has the two extra folding seats like the Zafira - though these are simpler to put up and down - and more leg room in the back. It also has sliding rear doors and a folding middle seat which gives the other two back passenger seats more space.

4. The Grand C Max, rather to our surprise, is apparently a cool car! It gets an astonishing number of complimentary comments from Marie's friends. I think it may be the novelty of the sliding doors that does it. The cool effect is also helped by a sound system that allows us not only to play music from our phones via bluetooth, but also to make voice controlled phone calls - tell it to "phone home" and it does. Eat your heart out ET!

5. We stuck with our usual rule of thumb for buying cars and went for nearly new - 3000 miles on the clock reduced the price to £7000 under the list price for a brand new one. Crazy!

6. Helen is still thrilled with her little car, which she bought as soon as she knew she had got a full time job. It is a ten year old Nissan Micra. Judging by the number of old Micras I see on the road they are pretty reliable. She did have to have the starter motor replaced (under warranty) and had to use her breakdown cover for a second time after she left the lights on, but generally it is running well.

7. Another plus for her car is that it is, as she put it, "dirt coloured", which avoids the need to wash it!

Monday, February 24, 2014

This Week: 24th February 2014

The weather ... wet again. I am so over all this rain!

I am wearing ... my comfy snowflake pyjamas.

I am reading ... A Country in the Moon (see previous post!)

I am creating ... a supersoft pink lap blanket for Rose. I succumbed to pester power in the wool shop on Saturday. I only went in for a circular sock needle to replace my nice Knitpro one that Tevye sat on and snapped, and came out with three balls of this James C Brett Flutterby in pale pink. It is only polyester but ridiculously soft.

I am listening ... to Marie getting a shower.

I am watching ... new series of Outnumbered and Call the Midwife. I also watched a short series (documentary) on the Great War which finished last week.

I am enjoying ... having a central heating system that works properly. The house had seemed a bit cold all winter - odd, as it hasn't been cold weather, just wet. Then the boiler stopped working and it turned out there was a blockage in the system that must have been causing it to under perform for some time. It is all fixed now and the temperature is back to normal.

From the learning rooms ... not much to report as last term was half term week.

On the menu ...
Monday: I forgot to defrost anything so we ended up with pasta with a couple of jars of tomato and chilli sauce and breaded chicken steaks sliced on top.
Tuesday: Think I am going to try making pizza with some frozen wholemeal pizza dough I bought to test out. Will have to come up with something else for Tevye who doesn't eat cheese.
Wednesday: Cod in breadcrumbs, green veggies, chips or potato wedges
Thursday: Chicken breasts, roasted veggies
Friday: Maybe vegetarian chilli?
Saturday: Minestrone soup; omelettes
Sunday: Roast chicken

On the calendar ...
Very little on the calendar this week. Marie had a routine hospital check up today (no issues, back again in one year). I am going on a Girls' Night Out with a friend on Saturday. We are planning on cocktails!

A picture from last week ...
My poor attempt at copying a Goldwasser coffee I tried in Gdansk.

The original looked like this. I have no idea how to get the coffee floating on the Goldwasser instead of all mixed together.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gdansk: Part 1

Tevye and I spent last weekend exploring Gdansk, on the Baltic coast of Poland. His father was born there in 1917 and lived until 1939 in what was then the Free City of Danzig (a post-World War I compromise to avoid incorporating the city in either Germany or Poland). Tevye had been before, in 2007, but went with his nephew as Rose was still tiny and I wasn't able to go. He wanted to visit again with me, so when we found cheap flights we took advantage of our neighbour's Rose-sitting offer and went for two nights. I fell in love with the city, despite rather cold and dull weather for most of the time we were there, and would love to go back. I have quite a few photos to share, so will split the into three or four posts.

This late medieval crane overhanging the river is one of the iconic - though not very pretty! - buildings of Gdansk. Looking up from underneath you can see the two large treadmill wheels that powered it and the hook used to load and unload boats. Our hotel was on the river, just the other side of the crane.

The crane is now part of the Gdansk Maritime Museum next door, which also had buildings on the opposite bank of the river.

Running westwards from the river is Dlugi Targ (which I think means Golden Market), then main square of the old city.

Underneath the building with the tower - now the historical museum - is the Neptune Fountain

And at the far end of the street is the Golden Gate (with no obvious gold that I could see!)

An oddity we stumbled across as we explored was this bridge, where lovers have placed padlocks with their names either written or engraved on them.

Here is a close up ...

Friday, February 21, 2014

Immediate Book Meme

(Oh dear? Where did the last month go?)

I saw this on Faith's blog and I am long overdue a book post.

1. What book are you reading now?

A Country in the Moon - Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland, by Michael Moran. Partly because I am trying to read books set in different European countries - I saw a European Book Challenge somewhere at the beginning of the year, thought "must do that", bought some cheap Kindle books in Amazon's New Year sale, then forgot what the challenge was - and partly because we have just been to Poland (more about that in another post). Moran worked in Poland for a time soon after the fall of the communist regime and the book is part slice of life, part travelogue.

2. What book did you just finish?

Hot Flushes, Cold Science: a History of the Modern Menopause, by Louise Foxcroft. Because I am That Age, and the title therefore caught my eye in the same Amazon sale. The book traced attitudes of both society and the medical community to the menopause and to menopausal and post-menopausal women, and the way in which the menopause became increasingly medicalised and seen as a "disease" which must be treated (and some of those treatments were NOT pleasant - application of leeches to the cervix, anyone?).

3. What do you plan to read next

Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet, by Harry Eyres. This is a mix of memoir and paean to the Roman poet which I put on my Christmas
wish list after my Car Buddy's enthusiasm for Horace piqued my interest. A proper hard cover book rather than an ebook for a change.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

I can't think of one. If I don't make it through a book at the first attempt, chances are I didn't like it enough to want to go back to it.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

The Hunger Games. I feel I ought to read it and so many people (daughters included) recommend it, but somehow I am unsure about it and it never makes it to the top of my list.

6. What is your current reading trend?

I suppose it would be "European" - see number one above. I have two or three more books that would fit that theme sitting in my Kindle "to be read" folder and recently finished a book about life in Venice. Occasional healthy eating and fitness books seem to be sneaking in too.

Monday, January 20, 2014

This Week: 20th January 2014

The weather ... much the same as last week. January.

I am wearing ... supersoft grey pyjamas with a snowflake pattern

I am reading ... Body by Science by Doug McGuff and John Little (finished yesterday). A colleague lent me this book after we were discussing gym membership and exercise. The premise is that twelve minutes a week of high intensity exercise with weights is the optimum for increasing fitness. Long spells of repetitive low intensity cardio exercise, on the other hand, are more or less useless except for training you to do long spells of repetitive low intensity cardio. As I much prefer resistance exercise and interval training to slogging away on cardio machines (outdoor walking is a different matter) I am inclined in this direction, though I thought there were some flaws in the authors' argument.

I am creating ... still the gloves. Up to the fingers on glove number two now.

I am listening ... to an odd mix of Granville Bantock (no, I had never heard of him either, he was a contemporary of Elgar who wrote some quite listenable music) and FUN.

I am watching ... Sherlock. Two episodes down, just the third of the third series to go then I can go back and watch the first two series.

I am enjoying ... making time to spend time with friends.

From the learning rooms ... back to the normal term time routine. Marie is still very happy she plucked up the courage to take part in the public speaking competition last week.

On the menu ...
Monday: fish cakes, potato wedges, veggies
Tuesday: salmon with roasted veggies
Wednesday: lamb steaks with sweet potato and green veg
Thursday: honey mustard chicken pasta
Friday: something from the freezer!
Saturday: vegetable soup
Sunday: roast dinner with last of the leftover Christmas turkey

On the calendar ...
Monday: I have to work late (I usually have to cover our late opening evening about once a month)
Tuesday: getting my hair cut, then a personal training session at the gym. Eek!
Wednesday: band practice for myself and Rose
Thursday: parent-teacher consultation evening for Marie
Friday: going out for pizza with a friend
Saturday: no specific plans for the weekend, which as the week is so busy is a good thing!
Sunday: wind band practice in the evening

A picture from last week ... the river at Stratford-upon-Avon, taken when we went to see Wendy and Peter Pan at the theatre there yesterday (wonderful!)

Friday, January 17, 2014

7 Quick Takes: 17th January 2014

1. I started watching Sherlock after hearing lots of recommendations. After a false start when BBC iPlayer kept cutting out on me I made it through the first episode of Series 3. I think it would have been confusing even if I had seen the first two series but despite my confusion it was gripping and I'm hooked. Tevye, on the other hand, decided it was not his thing.

2. Marie is happy. She was part of a team of three who entered a public speaking competition for schools. Her team won their heat on Wednesday and now go on to regional finals (or semi-finals? she is not sure). Not only did her team win but teams from her school came second and third. I am hugely impressed as she has never done public speaking before and it is not something I would have expected her to volunteer for.

3. In the early days of county record offices in the UK they collected a lot of old (pre-1600) material, but it is now relatively uncommon to acquire new "old" stuff. This week we had a document sent to us which had turned up on the other side of the country. It is a list of tenants holding property in the county town, which dates from the late sixteenth century and is a hundred years older than the earliest one we already had in our collection. The plan is to transcribe it, though it will not be an easy job as parts of it are quite faded.

4. I went in to town during my lunch break on Wednesday to change some shoes. I came home with these. I blame the colleague who persuaded me that pink stilettos were essential!

5. As part of my gym membership I get an initial series of six consultations with a fitness instructor to go through my goals, get an exercise plan, do some personal training and so on. This week it was a diet consultation. He looked at my food diary and agreed that my diet was excellent and there was nothing I need to tweak! He also told me that it is very rare to see someone with such a "clean" diet. That doesn't mean that I eat perfectly - there was a caramel cheesecake in there, for example - but the overall balance of lots of healthy stuff to occasional treats is good. Part of me still can't believe that I have managed to get to a point where eating well is second nature.

6. My new year's resolutions are sort of happening but in a rather patchy way. Time is an issue but I think I also need to be more motivated, particularly with the decluttering.

7. On that note, if any kind reader has found a decluttering plan or way of motivating themselves to declutter that works, please share! Moving house would do it, but is not on the agenda.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The weather ... finally more normal winter weather, colder and less stormy, with some frosty mornings. Still raining off and on though.

I am wearing ... fleecy winter pyjamas that say "I Love My Bed". How true!

I am reading ... still The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles. I have stalled on reading over the last week. Must get started again.

I am creating ... gloves. First glove completed, second glove started.

I am listening ... to a Coldplay playlist I found on Spotify.

I am watching ... Sherlock! One third of the way through the first episode of the current series. I'm enjoying it and would have watched to the end, but iPlayer kept crashing on me and I got frustrated and gave up. I will try to watch the rest tonight.

I am enjoying ... going to the gym. My exercise routine is a mix of interval training on an adaptive motion trainer (kind of a cross between a stepper and a cross-trainer) and the rowing machine, and resistance work with weights.

From the learning rooms ... Marie was very happy with her exam results (three A*s, three As and two Bs), which should be more than enough for her to get offered a place at the school she wants to go to. It also makes her target of getting all As and A*s in her exams in May and June look achievable.

On the menu ...
Monday: everyone else had fish or beanburgers with potato rosti and sweetcorn. I made my own dinner later after I got back from the gym and had pan fried cod with parsley and white wine, green beans, sauteed cabbage and a poached egg.
Tuesday: chicken steaks and chips
Wednesday: pasta with tomato and chilli sauce and meatballs
Thursday: baked chicken breasts with braised root veggies
Friday: vegetarian chilli (never got round to making it last week
Saturday: baked potatoes and cauliflower cheese
Sunday: Marie, Rose and I will be out - not sure what Tevye and Helen will eat!

On the calendar ...
Not so much this week. I am planning to go out for pizza with a friend on Friday, then on Sunday I am taking Marie and Rose to Stratford to see the Royal Shakespeare Company version of Peter Pan. Really looking forward to that!

A picture from last week ... one of the golden cocktails from Saturday night (which was a lot of fun!)

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Few of My Favourite Things

I am trying to put my new year's resolutions into action (mixed success and failure so far) but I am doing well with one other small resolution which I forgot to add to my list of goals for the year. I am keeping a gratitude log, writing down three things a day for which I am grateful. I won't post all of them, but here are a few highlights from the first week:

- a pair of new skinny jeans that fit perfectly, bought in the sale for less than half price

- omelette with spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms (healthy and tasty)

- Soap and Glory shower cream (apart from the day I accidentally used it as shampoo while half asleep. It is good on bodies but not on hair!)

- no longer being overweight

- Marie's sense of humour

- a new colleague at work who is fast becoming a new friend

- a traffic free journey to work

- soft, comfy winter pyjamas

- realising chopped dates work well in porridge

- coffee with a friend after Mass

Monday, January 06, 2014

This Week: 6th January 2014

The weather ... awful. Wet, windy, stormy weather which has been a feature for the past month. There are days of cooler, calmer respite, but then the nasty grey, unsettled stuff comes back. It is unseasonably warm (15deg C / 50deg F today) but feels much colder because of the wind and rain.

I am wearing ... new dark skinny jeans and a new long red, v-neck sweater, both bargains in the Next online sale, with stripy hand knitted socks and a cream, blue and reddish-pink snood.

I am reading ... The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles, about a year spent in her husband's city with their four English-bred children. Interesting. This is one of a number of 12 Days of Christmas sale purchases for my Kindle.

I am creating ... gloves for myself, knitted in Sirdar Snuggly 4-ply (fingering). They are knitting up into a soft, almost suede like fabric and I think will be wonderful to wear. Gloves are fiddly though. Too many fingers!

I am listening ... to Malcolm Arnold's English Dances from this CD (though I am listening through Spotify). Another classical music find from my car buddy (who probably needs a blog name, but I can't think of one).

I am watching ... so far I am not, but people keep telling me I should be watching Sherlock. Think I am going to have to give it a try.

I am enjoying ... a slightly more relaxed atmosphere at work as the dust settles from the dreadful reshuffle. Still a way to go, but at least thing now seem to be getting better rather than worse.

From the learning rooms ... Rose went back to school today; Marie goes back tomorrow, and is waiting with some trepidation for the results of her GCSE mock exams (practice run at GCSEs) on Friday.

On the menu ...
Monday: chips, seasoned sole fillets, sweetcorn
Tuesday: baked white fish, roast veggies
Wednesday: chicken stir fry
Thursday: pasta with red pepper and almond pesto and creme fraiche
Friday: breaded cod with mushrooms and sweet potato
Saturday: baked potatoes with vegetarian chilli (or baked beans for those who don't like chilli)
Sunday: roast chicken

On the calendar ...
Monday: gym induction session to go through goals, get weighed and measured and so on
Tuesday: another gym induction session to be given an exercise regime
Wednesday: back to brass band after the Christmas / New Year break
Saturday: a gold-themed cocktail evening with our neighbours. We all wanted to sample cinnamon-flavoured vodka with gold leaf flakes we found in Costco and have kind of run with the theme
Sunday: Tevye and I are going out to Nandos (a Portugese restaurant chain which specialises in chicken) with Car Buddy and his wife.

A picture from last week ... I love this picture that Marie took of herself and Rose on Christmas Eve

Saturday, January 04, 2014

International Baccalaureate

In the UK young people aged 16 to 18 usually have three options - to stay at school and study for A (Advanced) level exams, to go to college to take a more vocational course, or to go into an apprenticeship where they work for an employer while also taking a part time college course. Until this year it was legal to leave the school and college system completely at age 16, but it is now compulsory to stay in some form of education for at least one more year. For those wanting to go on to study at university A levels or some higher-level college courses are the normal route, with universities selecting students according to their A level grades. Students typically take four subjects in the first year of Sixth Form (AS level), dropping down to three at a more advanced level (A2) for the second year - this means that students the UK system study less subjects in more depth than I understand is typical in the US, a pattern that is continued at university where most degrees are focused on just one or two subjects.

The international baccalaureate (IB) is an alternative to A levels which can be taken anywhere in the world and is widely recognised as a good preparation for university. In the UK about 200 schools offer the IB, half of them private (fee paying) schools and the rest state (public) schools. The school Marie hopes to go to is the only state school within a manageable distance to offer the IB as an option. As it is relatively uncommon we knew pretty much nothing about it before we visited the school, but came away feeling it was a very good fit for Marie. She hopes to go to university to study languages (she is thinking French and Russian) and the more international scope of the IB goes well with this. She also loves art, but was concerned that by continuing with art as an A level she would have to drop another more academic subject which might reduce her chances of getting into one of the better universities. The IB offers more breadth as students have to study six subjects rather than the typical four for A level, one from each of six specific groups.

The IB syllabus requirements are:

(1) One subject from each of six groups, three to be taken at higher level and three at standard level
- native language
- second language
- humanities
- mathematics
- science
- arts, or a second subject from one of the other five groups
Marie is planning to take English (mostly English literature, but including some foreign language works in translation), French and visual arts as higher level subjects, and maths, history and biology at standard level.

(2) An extended essay on a topic of the student's choice

(3) Theory of Knowledge - a critical thinking course intended to help students make connections between different areas of knowledge

(4) CAS - creativity, action and service projects, spending about 50 hours on each

Overall this is much broader, and I suspect much harder work, than the A level option would be. It also sounds more interesting and challenging. Only a small proportion of the students at the school choose the IB, with about 20 to 30 taking it in any one year. This means that it is a self-selecting academically interested group with quite small class sizes, which I think will be good for Marie. Now she just has to do well enough in her GCSEs to get a place!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Goals for 2014

I need focus!

2013 was a clinging on by the fingertips sort of year. Half the year was spent trying to juggle studying with full time work and family and there was just no leeway for anything else. Then when the studying was finished life went into a stressful tailspin and I never managed to pick up on any sort of proper domestic routine. Menu planning went by the wayside; the basics of cleaning were only kept under control by Tevye; the clutter mountain remains unconquered. My head has been as messy as my home, flitting from one thing to another and never really focusing on anything. Now the external stresses are easing I know that I need to use this new year as the stimulus to get various aspects of my life back on track.

These are my GOALS FOR 2014 and how I hope to tackle them.

This is a big one. Our overloaded home makes it difficult to keep it clean and tidy because wherever we turn there is stuff. It isn't horrendous as we are not pack rats, but the cumulative effect of five people living in the same house for twenty years with limited storage space has taken a toll. It stresses Tevye in particular, but because most of the stuff is not his he can't deal with it. I feel overwhelmed by the task and therefore do nothing, partly because I don't know where to start and partly because I am not self-disciplined enough to commit to what I know is going to be a long and often tedious task. So, my goal here is to declutter the house in a year. I need to commit to it as a serious project and follow through, not just do a few hours and then fizzle out. I need a plan and something to keep me on track, so I have downloaded this Home Routines app. I am hoping that this will let me break the decluttering down into small steps that seem more manageable. I can also use the app to develop other routines and keep myself on track.

I have exercised sporadically over the past year, mostly doing yoga at home using DVDs and occasionally 7 minute HIIT routines. My eating habits are still good - three clothes sizes lost in 28 months and now maintaining my weight easily, or even still going very slightly down - and if I can get into a regular exercise routine I will feel I have nailed a pretty healthy lifestyle. My target is to go to the gym an average of twice a week, either to work out or to take an exercise class, and to do a couple of yoga sessions at home in between. I am hoping that paying for gym membership will be enough of an incentive to get me there!

Another thing that has gone by the wayside. Along with all the stresses recently I have been struggling spiritually and to say that my prayer life needs rebooting is an understatement. One small step. I am going to commit to getting back to saying evening prayer daily.

Menu Planning
Usually I am pretty good at menu planning, but even this has slipped over the last few months. I used to have a four week rolling plan which I would tweak as necessary, but this had turned into ad hoc week-at-a-time planning. One of today's tasks is to draw up a new four week plan which I can then adjust as needed when I order groceries each week.

I love to read and yet I go through seasons where I read very few books. I have a hunch that this may be a reflection of my life and my state of mind. When I am over busy or stressed it is so much easier to flit around on the iPad reading a bit of this and a bit of that. I am now wondering if it would work in reverse - that a little bit of self discipline in focusing on proper books rather than internet snippets (blogs, articles, or whatever) would make me feel calmer and less rushed. I have quite a few books stacked up, both on the Kindle and in a to-be-read pile next to my bed. I am not giving myself a specific target in terms of number of books to read, but think I will aim for at least 30 minutes of reading a book every day.

This looks a lot written down, but when knocked down to essentials it means:

  • Regular decluttering broken down into small, manageable steps

  • Exercise four times a week

  • Say evening prayer daily

  • Weekly menu plan tweaking and occasional menu overhaul

  • Read for 30 minutes daily

Possible? I hope so!

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!).