Sunday, 31 August 2014

Currently: End of August

Copied from Caroline at Mrs M's Meanderings

A Clash of Kings by George R R Martin. I read Game of Thrones while on holiday and have now moved on to the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I watched the first TV series on DVD after reading comments about the way it reflects 15th century medieval English politics (it isn't difficult to work out that Stark / Lannister was inspired by York / Lancaster). I prefer the books to the TV - the violence is less graphic and I like the way each chapter focuses on one individual character.

I am not listening to much music at the moment, but am enjoying Ed Sheeran on Spotify.

Great British Bake Off - this has been the week of the Great Bake Off Ice Cream Scandal. Really, how can a cookery show manage to create such a national controversy? Smallest daughter is also hooked and has watched each episode of the current series at least three times each on BBC iPlayer! Also watching the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? which has been the best I have seen for a while.

Not very exciting, but Boots Sun, Swim & Gym 3-in-one body wash and shampoo. It actually does a decent job on my hair and saves carrying multiple bottles in my gym bag for when I swim.

Exercise (I added this category)
I have started doing MAX Workouts by Shin Ohtake, which are essentially high intensity interval training alternating between cardio and weights. My preference is for short, intense bursts of exercise, so anything I can do in 30 minutes a day has to be good. The aim is to do weights three times a week, high intensity cardio twice, light exercise once and have one rest day. I kept up with it for the first week, but have slipped this weekend. Intend to get back into it next week though. I am trying to get into the habit of going to the gym on the way home from work.

Creativity (another addition of mine)
Autumn and winter are my knitting seasons - somehow I rarely feel like knitting in the summer. I have just started a pair of gloves for my 8 year old at her request. She only has mittens and wanted proper gloves with fingers. Nothing very exciting, just plain navy blue ones to go with her new school coat.

Frequently worn items
Skinny jeans. I don't wear jeans so much when the weather is warmer, but this last week or so has felt more like autumn than summer and my jeans are back in regular use. I usually wear them with an oversized shirt and t-shirt or with a long sweater. For work I sometimes wear a black pair with a tunic top or short dress.

Healthy home-made chocolate granola made from this recipe. I had it for breakfast this morning with almond milk and a sliced banana.

Black coffee. Sometimes I drink my coffee white and sometimes black, but it seems to go in phases. I have just moved back into a black phase.

Things that break and wear out. Currently one toilet flush is broken and only works thanks to a temporary fix with archive tape (I was using string but it kept breaking), and the lawnmower is on its last legs.

A new iPad Air. I sold some books through Amazon - mostly academic history books that realistically I am never likely to use again - and the money for the books plus what I could get for my old iPad 3 gave me nearly enough for the new iPad. As my iPad gets heavy use (I treat it as a laptop replacement) I thought it made sense to replace it with a new one before it started to wear out and get less reliable.

New staff starting at work. We have been running short staffed all summer and having extra bodies will be a relief, even though it will take a while for them to get up to speed.

A new sports bag. The one I have is old, tatty, and too small.

Random Thought
Why do piles of clutter seem to grow even though I don't remember adding to them?

Monday, 25 August 2014


I love my iPad and with the help of a bluetooth keyboard use it as an almost complete laptop substitute. 99% of the time I use a handful of the same apps, but occasionally I find a new one which joins my fairly small list of favourite must-have apps. Last week I went hunting for a menu planning app and discovered Paprika. I have been playing with it for a few days and so far I love it.

The app has four functions, which make up the main menu: recipes, browsing, shopping list, and calendar. Everything interlinks. You can browse the internet for a recipe (it has direct links to a lot of sites, including a number of UK specific places such as BBC Food and Waitrose), copy the recipe into Paprika in a couple of "clicks" and add categories. You can also add recipes manually. Recipes can be browsed by category or searched by ingredient. They can then be added to the calendar to build up a meal plan. A single touch will either bring the recipe details up in the calendar or add the ingredients to your shopping list. You can view the ingredients first to delete any you already have so that the list only has the items you actually need to buy. Within the calendar you can move and copy recipes between days and add notes for those meals which don't need a recipe.

There is one other feature which is giving me a disproportionate amount of pleasure - multiple timers! Not only does the app give you a timer facility on the recipe screen, it allows you to set several timers simultaneously. If you need to cook chicken for twenty minutes and pasta for ten and simmer something else for five, and they are all on slightly different schedules, you can set three separate times - you can also label them chicken / pasta / sauce or whatever to avoid confusion over which timer has finished.

The app cost me £2.99, though I had to pay twice for iPad and iPhone versions. Worth doing as it syncs automatically between the two and means that menu plans and shopping lists are readily available on whichever I happen to be using. I realise this reads like an advertisement, but I am hugely impressed. I have played around with various ways of storing recipes and menu planning in the past but none have quite worked for me - Evernote probably came closest. I think this is going to be The One.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Sleep ... How To Get Enough?

I haven't been sleeping enough. I keep seeing articles on the internet which talk about the importance of sleep for a healthy lifestyle and have slightly guiltily ignored them. However, getting the chance to catch up on sleep while we were away made me realise just how much consistently sleeping too little had affected me. I was tired and dragging, and my brain was in a perpetual fog. I assumed it was just overload, but no, I'm pretty sure now it was lack of sleep.

I have only myself to blame. I am no longer in the perpetually tired, nights interrupted by small children stage, where too little sleep is all but inevitable. These days the lack of sleep is because I simply don't go to sleep early enough, given that my alarm is usually set for 6.30. I am not too bad at going to bed - being married to an early bird helps there - but the temptation to take advantage of some quiet, uninterrupted time to stay awake reading or playing on the iPad is too great and often I don't settle down to go to sleep until midnight or later. And I have to admit it. Six to six and a half hours sleep is just not enough. I don't tend to catch up at weekends either as the small daughter typically wakes me up sometime between 6.30 and 8 (usually earlier rather than later!).

So, what to do? The consensus seems to be that most adults need 7 to 8 hours sleep a night. I can't see 8 being realistic for me - being asleep by 10.30 would seem like Not Enough Evening, plus my 16 year old is usually in bed by 11 but not 10.30, and as the shower is in the ensuite bathroom to our bedroom and bedtime is often her needy time (is this a typical teenage thing?), going to sleep before 11 is not likely to happen on a regular basis. I have decided to aim to settle down for sleep at 11, but with an absolute deadline of 11.30. I suspect it would be better if I stopped using the iPad at 10.30, but can't quite screw myself up to that.

One small tip I read somewhere last week which I have tried for the last couple of nights is not to look at the clock when I wake during the night. The clock / alarm / speaker-dock I have next to the bed has a facility to turn the display off, so I have been using this. It works! For example, I suspect - but didn't check, so couldn't be sure - that I woke sometime between 6 and 6.30 this morning. Usually I would go through the thought process of suspecting I would not get back to sleep, often followed by deciding it wasn't worth trying. This morning I dismissed any thoughts about the time, went back to sleep, and ended up sleeping until 9 (small person woke up but stayed in bed late. Joy!). Some nights I wake and end up clock watching, so I intend to keep going with this and see if it does make a difference longer term.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Great War

The project I have been working on to blog the First World War day by day as events happened one hundred years ago went live on the 4th of August, the centenary of the declaration of war between England and Germany. I am working ahead so have 1914 pretty much finished and will start on 1915 next month. If you want to follow along you can find my Home Front blog here and my colleague's Front Line diary here.

It is a long term project. The aim behind it is partly to provide an educational resource for local schools, partly to highlight the collections we have that relate to the First World War and partly to make their contents more accessible. It is also a project that matters a great deal to me on a personal level. The Great War has pulled on my heart strings since I watched the BBC's adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth as a teenager. My parents were teenagers themselves during the Second World War and it largely passed them by, whereas my grandfather fought and was gassed in the Great War. He survived, but I believe his health never fully recovered. And even without that personal connection seeing (and later reading about) the war from the perspective of Vera Brittain, an articulate young woman bereft of her beloved brother, her fiancée and their close friends, meant that I could never again see or hear about the carnage of the trenches without some understanding of just what was suffered and lost on the battlefields of France and elsewhere.

The First World War was not only a conflict on an unprecedented scale, it was the first to leave behind so many first person accounts and records that keep alive so many of the voices that were silenced. Blogging about the War is a chance to let some of those voices speak again. The young men whose names survive in long lists on village war memorials, cut down, many of them, before they even reached their prime - many just teenagers; the women and girls who served as nurses, or knitted socks and scarfs for unknown soldiers, or worked in munitions factories, and stayed home waiting for news of brothers and lovers, husbands and sons; the courageous men who fought through their fear; the youngsters who saw their army training as a kind of jolly Boy Scout camp before reality hit, often fatally, those who had the courage to refuse to fight (the Quakers have begun a project to put diaries of conscientious objectors online). So many voices. I hope I can manage to do even a small amount of justice to them. The dead, those young men butchered on an industrial scale in the cause of patriotism and duty, should not be forgotten. Many, many projects are underway across the country to make sure that they are not. I am proud to be part of one of them.

Monday, 18 August 2014


I am trying again with photos. These are from our first port of call, Lisbon in Portugal.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Summer Holiday

Two years ago we went on our first ever cruise to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. We loved it but expected it to be a one off. This year things came together in a way that meant we were able to go again - same ship (P and O's Azura), different itinerary (Western Mediterranean) and with just four of us instead of five (senior daughter had already been away twice under her own steam now she has her own income). Before our first cruise I wasn't sure it was for me, but the combination of rest, relaxation and entertainment geared to different tastes and ages with the chance to visit different ports worked incredibly well for our family. We enjoyed it just as much second time around. For various reasons this has been a tough year and I have come home feeling as though I am getting my equilibrium back. Hopefully my re-found mojo will survive hurtling back into reality.

I tried to include pictures in this post but they were crashing on the iPad and the computer wouldn't let me upload them. Frustrating! I am wondering whether there was some sort of issue with photostream.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Mother-Daughter Days

This summer is going past ridiculously fast. Small daughter finished school a week and a half ago. I was only able to take a couple of days off work in July (I truly hate having to work through the summer!) so I used them to take the two younger girls out for mother-daughter days. Two trips to London, both very different.

The first one was with my almost 16 year old. She wanted to start with a visit to Camden Market.

We decided on the train down that we would try to fit in a last minute theatre trip so we then headed for Leicester Square where there is a ticket office which sells on-the-day theatre seats, mostly quite well discounted. We tried for Wicked but there were only restricted view seats, so we ended up with tickets for Jersey Boys. Then we went to Foyles bookshop for coffee.

Next we puttered around Covent Garden and watched street theatre.

We tested out Zizzis - a chain of Italian restaurants - and ate chocolate pizza. It just had to be tried. It was good. Very good.

And then we went to the theatre where we enjoyed the show once I got over vertigo. Cheap seats meant high-up-in-the-gods seats, and I do not like heights! Once the show started and I had something to focus my eyes on it got a lot better.

For her mother-daughter day out the little person wanted to go to London Zoo. It was hot! One of the hottest days of the year I think. Fortunately the zoo has plenty of shade. We saw lots of animals, including her favourite - otters.

She practiced stalking like a tiger.

I found this statue of Winnie-the-Bear and the Canadian soldier who bought him over to England as his battalion mascot in 1914. He was left in London Zoo to be looked after, then given to the Zoo after the War. He was visited by A.A.Milne, and his name was passed on to a certain other Bear of Very Little Brain.

On the way home I paid homage to a certain Mr Holmes (in his Benedict Cumberbatch incarnation!).