Wednesday, 30 December 2015


Back in the summer I doodled a mind map to try to work out what was important to me and how I would like to spend my time once I reached a point where I had more flexibility in my life. I scattered words on the page (a digital page as I always lose paper!) and linked them all up to one or more headings - Time, Think, Do, Move, and People. When I had finished the mind map I looked at my words and highlighted the ones that felt most important. This week I looked again at the doodle to help me decide what I want to prioritise once I have more free time in the spring and found ten highlighted words. Here they are, in no particular order, with a few thoughts:

Margin - even when I have "free" time I tend to cram things into it. Allowing myself time and space to just "be" without having to "do" is important. Giving myself margin isn't something that comes naturally, so I will need to make a conscious effort to leave myself free time. 

Declutter - we have lived in this house for 23 years, most of them with children. We have accumulated stuff. A lot of that stuff needs to go. Along with the decluttering we need to do some major deep cleaning and redecorating. This is a big priority for M and something to which we need to dedicate regular chunks of time.

Family - working full time too often makes me feel like a part time wife and mother. I want my family to have more of my time when I am not tired at the end of a long day.

Friends - I want to see friends more regularly and catch up with those I haven't seen for a while. It won't happen without some effort and organisation.  

Music - music is my sanity saver. Even when life is crazy busy I manage to fit in playing in bands because the extra pressure on time is more than outweighed by the opportunity it gives me to switch off from any stresses and focus on something I love. When I have more time, I would like to play more. I would also like to take some lessons. 

Read - I love to read, but when I am over busy I don't have the time or focus to read much other than online articles. Reading books takes more effort and I find I have to make a conscious effort to get myself into the habit of reading. I never used to be like this. Is it an age thing? Or is it because there are too many competing distractions? I'm looking at you Facebook!

Create - creating things seems such a positive and satisfying way to spend time. I already knit and crochet, but I would like to do more baking. I also want to write. 

Yoga - when I do yoga regularly I feel better. I get stronger and more flexible, and my balance (usually terrible!) improves. I would like to take more classes, and to get into the habit of doing at least a short yoga session at home every day. I have reached an age where making the effort to get fit and stay that way has to be a priority.

Outdoors - I spend huge chunks of my life shut in an office with no fresh air (we have windows but they can't be opened). In the winter it feels as though I hardly see daylight. Again, I know that if I get outside for some time every day I feel better, but it won't happen unless I make it a habit and get used to going out whatever the weather. I want to walk in woods and fields and breathe fresh air. 

Breathe - just breathe! 

Monday, 28 December 2015

I'm back ... and planning to stay

I miss writing. The last few months have been tough - nothing awful, a mix of domestic stuff that needed to be dealt with, work / life balance getting out of whack, and work being stressful. Free time has been in short supply; I had to cut down a bit on my music, and writing (and reading) went by the board. It certainly hasn't all been negative. There have been some very positive changes and developments and, all being well, 2016 is when I will start to reap the benefits - including having much more free time. 

The first big change was that our all-grown-up eldest daughter moved out. She is now living in a flat (apartment) in a large town nearby, working hard at her job, and loving her independence. Soon after that M left the small company of which he was a co-founder and director, deciding that it had reached the end of its natural life. He is now semi-retired and doing freelance work part-time from home which, slightly to his surprise, he loves. He is very much happier and more relaxed, and feeling very positive about the future. Middle daughter took her AS exams, got the results she was hoping for, and has been going through the university application process. She has decided to study Italian and linguistics at one of the big northern universities, but under the (highly stressful!) UK system the place she has been offered is dependent on achieving specific grades in the A2 exams she will take in June. She won't know the results until mid-August, leaving very little time to organise a Plan B if she doesn't get what she is aiming for. Meanwhile smallest daughter moved up to middle school in September - our county has an odd system where kids go to middle school from age 9 to 13 - and has settled in very happily. 

While all this was going on I was dealing with extended family practical issues, including what turned into the on / off / on again / off again house sale from hell. Finally - and I still can't quite let myself believe it! - the house is under contract and will be gone in January, which will remove a major source of stress. I will also be reducing my working hours in the New Year. From January I will be working four days a week, then going down to just two days in April. I love what I do but really need to be doing less of it. I am also helping M with certain aspects of his freelance work, and have often ended up working 5 1/2 or 6 days a week, which is definitely not sustainable in the longer term. I have had no margin for too long - barely able to fit everything in, and finding it hard to leave work stresses behind at the end of the day. I am so very much looking forward to having more time and more head space. Writing is among the many things I now hope to have time to do, both here and elsewhere. Watch this space! 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Election Night

Yes, I know the general election was over a week ago and everyone in the UK is all electioned out but I'm going to talk about it anyway! Not about the politics but about the mechanics of polling. This year for the first time I worked on the poll count for the northern half of the county, for which the local authority which employs me was responsible, and I thought it might be interesting to report back on the experience. 

The count began when the polling stations closed at 10pm. Although it obviously took time for the ballot boxes to be delivered to the sports centre where the count took place - particularly those from the more distant villages - we were able to start on boxes of postal votes which had already been received. This year there was a complication in that there was an unusual number of simultaneous polls. In addition to the general parliamentary election, we also had to deal with ballot papers for mayoral, borough council, and town or parish council elections, and a local referendum. The slips for all four of these additional polls were placed in the same ballot box so there was a lot of sorting to be done. The first job was to sort and then to count the actual papers and verify that the numbers tallied with the numbers recorded on the box by the polling clerks. The parliamentary constituency I was counting for usually declares its result between 3 and 4am; this year it took until 5am for all the various ballot papers to be verified before we could even start to count them. Most of the parliamentary election votes were counted by 7am, but a bag of 5,000 or so had got mixed up with the local election papers and had to be located and counted after the rest were finished. In the end the result was finally declared at 9.20am and we were allowed to leave after an shift lasting over 11 hours and right through the night. 

Quite a number of us had also signed up to count the mayoral and borough election votes the following day. As this count required us to be back by 12.30pm we had only a three hour break - not time for any real sleep. I simply decided an hour or so of sleep would be worse than nothing and went to work for the morning. Fuelled by a cooked breakfast from the canteen and a brief doze at my desk I actually managed to get a small amount of work done before heading back for round two of the count. This second session finished at 6pm and I was finally able to go home. Fortunately I can cope with one bad (or in this case completely sleepless) night, so long as I get a good night's sleep to catch up. After twelve hours of sleep I was pretty much back to normal the following day. 

After the experience of taking part in a count I was hugely impressed at just how transparent the whole process is. The candidates and their agents were able to walk round the room watching the vote counters at all times. They could query anything at any time and could see the votes on the papers clearly. The sealed ballot boxes were all opened in full view of both the counters and of any of the political folks who wanted to watch. The verification of ballot paper numbers with the number supposed to be in a box - again in full public view - would make it next to impossible to hide or "lose" any papers. Where there was any question as to whether a ballot had been spoiled or any possible doubt over which candidate a voter had picked the agents of all the candidates were given the opportunity to challenge the ballot supervisor's decision. Any figures which did not tally were recounted as many times as necessary to get numbers which balanced, and were then double checked again. It was a time consuming process, but an extremely fair one. Very tiring, but an interesting night's work!

Friday, 24 April 2015

There And Back Again

I've been away! Only for a few days, not for the entire month since I last blogged, but it is at least a little bit of excuse for my absence. Small Girl, Teen Girl and myself went on a long anticipated trip to Disneyland. (I can now distinguish my middle daughter as Teen Girl as her elder sister turned twenty last month and is no longer a teenager. How did that happen?) Teen Girl is a huge Disney fan and Small Girl, who for the first seven years of her life was utterly petrified by even the smallest glimpse of a costumed character (those outsize heads were the issue, I think) had outgrown her fear and was longing to go. M did not come with us - we went once before, when the older girls were 8 and 5, he found it the most exhausting holiday of his life and said never again!

The week before we went the weather forecast looked great, with lots of sun. By the time we got there it had gone downhill. We had one wet day and the rest were cold and windy (near galeforce one night), but that didn't stop us enjoying ourselves. Small Girl is not the bravest when it comes to rides. We coaxed her onto one fairly tame rollercoaster, after which she announced emphatically "I'm not making that mistake again!", which meant Teen Girl and I had to miss out on the more adventurous stuff. It was still a lot of fun. Small Girl was on a mission to collect autographs from as many characters as possible; we watched the parade every night and the fireworks on our last night; we found favourite rides which we rode over and over. After three solid days of Disney we left early on the last day so we could spend a few hours in Paris before catching the Eurostar train home. 

We met Mickey!

And Donald Duck

Buzz Lightyear ride. She shot me!

The Castle by day ...

... and at night.



Friday, 13 March 2015

Apple Watch

I am an Apple geek. Several years ago my Apple geek neighbour convinced me to switch to a Mac and I haven't looked back. I coveted an iPhone from the day they were introduced until I was finally able to get an iPhone 4  in 2011. Before that I filled the gap with an iPod Touch. I was an early iPad adopter, getting one within a few months of its launch. Since Apple announced the Apple Watch last autumn I have been in no doubt that I would want one. My only question was when, not if. After a bit of thought, I've decided I will be at the front of the queue!

Why? What makes me think an Apple Watch will be worth the money to me? I have two particular things I would want to get soon, Apple Watch or no: (1) A timepiece. My current watch is a cheap and cheerful one which I like, but which has an annoyingly dodgy clasp which falls open randomly. It is only a matter of time before I lose it. (2) A fitness band. I usually carry my phone around to measure my steps, but if I don't want to carry my phone for some reason or I don't have a pocket it messes up my step count. I would like to take fitness tracking further and seriously considered getting a Fitbit or Jawbone UP band. In the end I decided to hang out for a Watch. 

Buying the cheapest Apple Watch will cost around double what I would pay for a replacement watch and a fitness band, but I think that extra money will be well worth spending for all the extra stuff I could do with a Watch. I have read a ton of reviews, which mostly seem positive but with an underlying refrain of "do we really need it?"  Well of course, in terms of real need the answer is no, and the answer to "is it going to be useful" seems to be that the only way to tell will be to use it. Looking at what it does and the apps likely to be available from launch or shortly after, I can see a number of things I think I would use frequently:

- Telling the time (bit obvious, that one!)

- Step counter, which I expect to have slicker integration with the iPhone than another fitness band would.

- The little fitness display with three concentric circles showing progress on daily activity targets.

- Taptic notificatons of texts and phone calls. I mostly keep my phone on silent and I'm terrible at noticing it vibrate even if it is in my pocket. If it is in my bag then I'm done for! An electronic tap on the wrist and a quick glance sounds a perfect way to pick up incoming calls or texts and decide whether to deal with them immediately or leave them until later.  

- Setting reminders through Siri. I am not a huge fan of Siri as I don't seem to communicate well with it (!), but it is a quick and easy way to set reminders and timers. The ability to lift my wrist and say "Set reminder to ..." the instant something flits into my overcrowded brain sounds a godsend for my middle-aged, menopausal memory.

- Ditto timers.

- Sending short texts without having to get my phone out, with its attendant risks of distraction. I think it should be possible to text to say I am on the way home from work, or that I have arrived to collect a daughter from somewhere, with a couple of touches.

- Directions through taptic notifications. I hate walking along peering at my phone trying to work out where I am going. I presume this will only work for Apple's own map app, not for Google Maps, which is a bit of a nuisance as I am not a fan of Apple's maps, but I think it will still be very useful. Citymapper is going to have a Watch app, which will be a bonus whenever I am in London. 

- Taptic reminders to drink water, and to get up from my desk and stretch my legs. I have tried doing this with my phone but it is too easy to miss or ignore.

Then I am sure there will be things which will be fun to play with for a while if not particularly useful, and lots of new apps will come along. All in all, I am pretty certain that I will get a lot of use out of it. 

I did think hard about waiting for a while before taking the plunge. The second Apple Watch, whenever it appears, will certainly be better. As the first of a new line there may well be glitches with the original Watch. If there are major glitches or faults, I trust Apple enough to presume they will fix them. Minor glitches I can live with. Apple products hold their value pretty well, so if I want to upgrade in a year or so to a newer, better model, the resale value of a used Watch should mean it will be affordable. Also I know from experience that even the 1st generation products have a good lifespan. My 1st generation iPod Touch continued merrily along until a daughter lost it. My 1st generation iPad is still in daily use by Small Girl. Diving into Apple Watch as soon as it is available doesn't seem too much of a risk. 

I just have one decision left to make. Do I settle for pre-ordering, or do I go and queue outside the Apple Store overnight? I am really not that impatient to get one, I just think it would be quite a fun thing to do. But then again, not the most comfortable way to spend a night and not conducive to sleep!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

To Sew Or Not To Sew?

I can knit. I can crochet. I can cross stitch. I can (more or less) embroder). I cannot use a sewing machines. In needlework classes at school they terrified me and I simply refused. Once or twice as an adult I have tried to learn but with no success. A few years ago I bought a machine when the two older girls were interested in learning to sew, but again we got nowhere. The last time one of the girls got it out she broke the needle. Two and a half years ago my kind blogging friend Linds posted instructions for changing the needle. It never got changed. 

Small N has been learning hand sewing at school and was desperate to go to the local fabric shop yesterday to get fabric to do some "fashion design" - she wanted to make doll-size clothes, but just as samples not fitted to actual dolls. She started off happily hand sewing, but I foolishly suggested we could try the sewing machine. Much excitement from N! I found Linds' blog post and unscrewed the wheel to the right of where I assumed the needle should go (whoever broke it had got as far as removing the old one). At this point things fell apart. Literally. This fell off:

When it comes to sewing machines my ignorance is profound. Linds, not unreasonably, had assumed I knew the front from the back of the sewing machine. Sadly not. Being right handed, I guessed (wrongly as it turns out) that the fabric would go on the right. If I had actually looked properly at the machine I may have worked out the the various buttons and dials would be on the front not the back, but no. I had the sewing machine back to front. Instead of undoing to the little wheel to the right of where the needle should go, I had undone the screw to the left (my "right") and what I eventually identified as the foot-holder thingy fell off. I now had a sewing machine, two baffling bits of metal (the foot had also fallen off), and no needle. 

At this point I sensibly turned to the instruction book. Or would have done. Unfortunately, it appears I have lost the instruction book. I contemplated sending Linds a panicky message in the hope she may be online and could talk me through this sewing machine disaster, but decided to try Google first. No online instruction book, but enough "how to" articles and videos to talk me through sewing machine basics. Half an hour later I was back to this: 

The foot thingy successfully reattached! Things went well for a while and I managed to get a new needle in and the foot back on its thingy. I had some difficulty finding the lever that makes the foot go up and down but discovered it lurking towards the back of the machine. We managed to get some blue thread onto a bobbin, or so we thought until I discovered that part of it was wrapped round the bobbin winder instead of the bobbin. We then cheated and switched to black thread as there was already some on a wound bobbin. We managed to thread everything up and were ready to go, or so we thought. Two seconds of sewing and the machine jammed. Another broken needle. We retraced our steps, threaded everything up again. Two more seconds. Another jam and another broken needle. I then dismantled the insides of the bobbin compartment, thinking that maybe there were bits of broken needle stuck somewhere inside. By the time I managed to get everything back together I had discovered that the bobbin thingy has to be pushed in until it clicked. I think this must have been the cause of the jams because after threading everything up for the third time, N and I managed to produce this: 

We sewed! Not the straightest lines ever, but thread attached itself to the fabric and stayed there. There were (almost) no bunches of black thread at the back and no needles broke. This magnificent sewing achievement took us two and a half hours. 

Today we are going to make something. 

Monday, 16 February 2015

This Week: Monday 16th February 2015

The weather ... a nasty, miserable, wet day today. The kind where all you want to do is huddle indoors. Though when I read about the amount of snow Melanie at The Wine Dark Sea is coping with I really have no right to complain! I love snow, but that quantity (they have had 84 inches in 3 weeks) simply boggles my mind. 

I am reading ... Common People: The History of an English Family by Alison Light.  I finally made it to the end of The Innovators

I am watching ... Call the Midwife and the quiz show Only Connect are my current regular TV choices. I have also started re-watching Downton Abbey from the beginning on DVD. I have had the first three series sitting around for an age, but got through the first three episodes over the weekend. Interesting watching again from the perspective of knowing the characters' future. 

I am listening ... The Fishing Fleet on Audible. Non-fiction about young women who went out to India in the first half of the 20th century "fishing" for marriagable men.   

This week's goals ...
Three exercise classes - body pump tonight, yoga tomorrow and circuit training on Friday.
Drinking more water.
Finish another book.

How I did last week ...
Pathetic. In fact I didn't even manage to come up with any goals.

Coming up this week ...
Half term for the two younger daughters and I have Monday and Friday off work to look after the small one.
Appointments with builders, decorators, flooring / carpet companies - trying to get my house project ducks in a row. 
A trip to a local children's farm on Friday with small daughter and her friend.
Orthodontist appointment for middle daughter on Tuesday - possibly her last retainer check? That will be two daughters out of three done with orthodontists. 

Highlights of last week ....
A good school progress report for middle daughter with encouraging predicted A level grades.
Hmm ... I don't think much happened last week! I'm struggling to think of anything else!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A New Project

I have an unexpected project. For complicated family reasons I have to deal with a house sale. It is a tiny one bedroomed house - I just calculated square footage American style and I think it would be about 400 square feet (in the UK we are less precise about house size and use sligthly vague descriptions like "tiny one bedroom house"). The house is late Victorian / Edwardian, essentially sound, but looks a mess as nothing has been done to it for some time and someone began a decorating project that never got very far. I looked round it with an estate agent yesterday and he confirmed what I suspected - a bit of money spent on it now should result in a significant increase in the sale value, so I have a refurbishing project on my hands!

The estate agent was incredibly helpful in telling me what would be worth doing and what features would appeal to buyers. My "to do" list looks something like this:

- Strip off remaining wallpaper, replaster one small section of wall, redecorate with lining paper and paint everything!
- Put down laminate flooring downstairs and carpet upstairs (stairs themselves to be painted, which is apparently popular though it sounds rather impractical to me!)
- Replace part of the kitchen ceiling where there has been a leak
- Replace cracked kitchen sink and warped work surface
- Sand down outdated wooden kitchen cupboard doors and paint
- Sweep chimney and check (and fix?) condition of grate and flue (it seems a working open fireplace is a big selling point)
- Some regrouting / retiling in kitchen and bathroom

I don't intend to do any of the work myself - no time! - but it is going to take quite a lot of coordinating decorators, plumbers, chimney sweeps and assorted other tradesmen. Ideally I would like to get it done by April. Definitely going to be a challenge!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

101 Things in 1001 Days: #12 Keep a Food Diary

Number 12 on my 101 Things list was to keep a food diary for a month. I managed to keep it up for the whole of January, so I am counting this as done even though I skipped the four days we were away, which would just have been a case of trying to remember menu descriptions and guesstimating large numbers of calories. It has been a useful exercise from which I have come to the following conclusions:

- Keeping a food diary occasionally is a useful check on how well (or badly) I am eating, but it is definitely not something I would want to do all the time. Too much focus on calorie intake could make my diet worse rather than better, I think, as I might become inclined to avoid some healthy but higher calorie foods, and be more likely to slip in more junk if it didn't add too many calories. For me eating well should be about eating healthily, not about counting calories. I suppose I could keep a food diary without counting calories but...

- MyFitnessPal is genius! It makes keeping a food diary very quick and easy as so many foods, including branded packaged foods, are in its database. Crowdsourcing is a wonderful thing! As well as recording calories in and extra calories used in exercise it gives a nutritional breakdown of each food which makes it easy to keep track of the amount of protein, fat, sugar etc. consumed. Data syncs between PC or laptop, iPad and iPhone so diary entries can be made anywhere, anytime. 

- I need to eat more protein. I tend to get hungry and snack too much between meals. Even when I have healthy snacks to hand it is easy to rack up quite a lot of snack calories in a day. I noticed that when I ate eggs for breakfast a couple of days last week I was less hungry. I think if I can get into the habit of eating more protein-heavy, easy breakfasts and snacks with a decent amount of protein I will naturally snack less.

- Chocolate is my vice, unless I stick to dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa. I can easily stop after just a couple of squares of dark chocolate, but if I start eating sweeter, milk chocolate I find it much harder. The same applies to biscuits and cakes. One chocolate or biscuit (cookie) will lead to four. I can resist the first far more easily than I can resist the second and third. I need to get back into the habit of having two squares of dark chocolate every day and being intentional about eating other sweet treats - if I will truly enjoy a piece of cake or a couple of biscuits, then I will eat it, but I need to get out of the "see cake and eat it" habit (my office has a cake culture!), and to stop taking that first biscuit or chocolate just because it is there. 

- I don't drink enough water. Finding regular points in the day to drink a glass shouldn't be difficult, but I need to get into the habit of drinking more. 

So ... time to stop keeping my food diary, and to start eating more protein, more "good" chocolate and less bad sweet stuff, and to drink more water.  

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Questions That Will Free Your Mind #2

What is worse, failing or never trying?

Never trying. Absolutely. I am probably fortunate in that I have very little fear of failure. My natural inclination is to charge into things hoping for the best but without any particular expectation of success. That way success surprises and delights me and failure does not worry me. I totally agree with G. K. Chesterton's statement that "if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly", which I read not as a justification for making a half-hearted effort resulting in a poor outcome, but as an encouragement to try even when something is difficult and not to let fear of failure, inadequacy or lack of ability sidetrack me from attempting something worthwhile. I know that if I reach old age I will not want to look back and regret the things I never had the courage to try. Will I look back and regret the times I tried something and failed? I don't think so.

I found a few quotes about failure to share (this is partly because I like the quotes, and partly because I want to play with the Pushbullet app which allows me to copy on one device and paste on another. Assuming it doesn't fail!)

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." -- Theodore Roosevelt, 1858

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” - Winston Churchill

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” - C.S. Lewis

“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” - J.M. Barrie

And no, Pushbullet didn't work! Back to the drawing board on that one. It did nicely zap a link from phone to iPad, though for some inexplicable rreason it did it in French. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

This Week: Monday 26th January

The weather ... supposed to be a bit warmer today after a wintry couple of weeks.

I am reading ... still The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. Enjoying it but still only half way through.

I am watching ... enjoyed watching The Importance of Being Ernest on Netflix. A 2002 (or thereabouts) version with Colin Firth, Rupert Everest and Judi Dench. 

I am listening ... to How The Girl Guides Won The War on Audible (non-fiction) and still listening to Sibelius.

This week's goals ...
Drink more water (again)
Read for 1/2 hour every day (again)
Sort out baking trays and cake tins, also box of pasta, rice etc. which is rather a mess

How I did last week ...
Badly! Although I did manage to read most days.

Coming up this week ...
A speeding ticket :(. M had a letter on Saturday saying our car had been caught averaging more than 50mph through a section of roadworks on the M1 motorway. I was the culprit. 
A pub quiz night with friends from work.
A meal at Pizza Express with a friend. 
Seth Lakeman in concert at The Stables, Milton Keynes next week (folk / rock / fiddle).
(At least I have nice stuff to look forward to to outweigh the speeding ticket!

Highlights of last week ....
The internet is fixed!!!!
Our broken car wing mirror and senior daughter's broken windscreen wipers are also fixed.
(The shower on / off switch is, unfortunately, not fixed, and we have to rush round to the airing cupboard after a shower to turn it off at the plug).
An orchestral workshop day yesterday. 

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Experiment Gone Wrong

I spent today at an orchestral workshop, playing through, briefly rehearsing and then performing Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. While I was out I left M in charge of small daughter. No need to ask how things went. This Facebook update (quoted with his permission) said it all!

"My peaceful Sunday afternoon was shattered by N's cry from upstairs. "Help! I'm having trouble with my experiment." Turned out she was tring to put loads of tops on to see how hot she could get. Having got to the 11th layer her thermostat hit overload. Trouble was, by then they were so tightly packed on her torso she couldn't get any of them off and panicked. Dad to the rescue!"

He was relieved that the experiment only involved clothing and not chemicals.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Reading, Drinking, Tidying (not so much)

I'm still keeping up with trying to do more reading, rebooting my eating and drinking habits and (sort of, just about) tidying the kitchen. I am managing to read a bit of my current book (The Innovators by Walter Isaacson) most days, though it is taking a while to get through. Non-fiction usually takes me longer than fiction and it is a 500 page book. I'm hoping to finish it before the end of the month. 

Our long weekend away inevitably threw my attempts to eat better out of the window, so last week I was back to trying to keep an eye on what I am eating and drinking. I have used the My Fitness Pal app as a food and exercise diary for a while, but only tend to use it sporadically as a check on how well I am eating. This year I would like to get into the habit of using it more regularly. It doesn't stop me eating when I am hungry, but I do find that making myself record the biscuits or slice of cake sneaked from the communal supply at work makes me more inclined to assess whether I really want them. I realised in my first week of this attempt to keep a food diary that I had got into the habit of eating too much sweet, junky stuff, and have found it surprisingly easy to cut it out. I have also realised how little water I have been drinking and I am now making a conscious effort to drink more. My Fitness Pal recommends 8 glasses a day, but for now I am aiming for 6. 

I am trying to keep up with the 52 Weeks to an Organised Home challenge, even if I only manage one tiny thing each week. Anything must be better than nothing! Last week I cleared out a kitchen drawer full of tea-towels, aprons and junk. This week I am planning to tackle the baking trays and cake tins that are stuffed into a drawer in a muddle. The challenge for the week is supposed to be food organisation but on the whole that is not too bad. I only have limited space so it has to be reasonably tidy and organised to fit everything in. 

Book Review #1: Excellent Women (Barbara Pym)

This has been on my list of books to read for a while. I had never read anything by Barbara Pym but had seen good reviews and thought this would be a good place to start. She writes with wry observation about small things happening in small lives - I think I remember seeing her compared to Jane Austen for this reason. The book is written from the perspective of an "excellent woman" in post-war London - single, daughter of a vicar, works for a charity helping distressed gentlewomen, pillar of the local church and friend of the vicar and his sister. She is sharper and sparkier than this implies - perhaps all excellent women are? As a result she becomes caught up in the lives of those around her as confidante and support: the vicar, infatuated with a new parishioner; a female anthropologist in love with a fellow anthropologist and neglecting her army officer husband; the vicar's rather drippy sister; the parishioners who imagine her to be distraught that she is not the object of the vicar's affections; an old school friend and his bird loving brother. All the characters are well drawn and Pym is one of those author's who can convey a lot in a few words. I found it an enjoyable and easy read.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Snowy Weekend In Cumbria

Once a year we usually manage a weekend away without the girls - much as we love them, a bit of time out from busy lives to spend time with each other is wonderful. Our neighbours look after our eight year old, and the teenagers now look after themselves. More often than not we use our weekend to visit our all time favourite hotel in Cumbria. This year we timed it so that the weather was fine to drive there and back but snowy while we were there. As a snow lover this to me is perfect! The Lake District in the snow is stunningly beautiful. 

On Saturday we did a Treasure Trail in Penrith - essentially a guided walk with things to spot!

Loved this quirky house with its mock Latin inscription (translation "never let the bastard grind you down") slightly at odds with its green and pink decor.

This old fashioned grocer's shop and deli was beyond mouthwatering.

On Sunday we visited Keswick and Derwentwater. More quirkiness with this giraffe statue.

The views of the snow-covered fells were stunning.

We walked down to the wintry looking lake.

It wasn't all white and grey!

Back to our hotel and more snow.




Monday, 12 January 2015

This Week: 12th January 2015

Yesterday I decided I would do one of these "start of the week" posts, but it seems I can only write half a post in the small amount of time between waking up and having to get out bed. It takes a while to come round sufficiently to think and type. I am not a morning person.

The weather ...
nasty. Wet and windy.

I am reading ... The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. A history of the inventors of computing from Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace through to the whizzes of the World Wild Web.

I am watching ... DVDs of Miranda. I binged on the entire first series yesterday. 

I am listening ... to The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris on Audible; podcast of Composer of the Week on Sibelius; Sibelius 6th Symphony. I went to an orchestra rehearsal last week for the first time in a year and that is one of the pieces on the programme for the next concert. One of my 101 things to do is to listen to music by unfamiliar composers so decided to make a start with Sibelius. 

This week's goals ...
Drink more water
Read for 1/2 hour every day
Sort out one kitchen cupboard and one drawer

How I did last week ...
Average 9 portions of fruit and vegetables daily - I averaged 7. I am keeping a food diary so should be able to see how to add in an extra couple of portions into my day. 
Finish a book - done!
Clear kitchen surfaces - I tidied the windowsill, which was the messiest surface. I am taking the view that anything I do is progress, and progress is good. 

Coming up this week ...
Engineers! Three of them. One to lay a new phone line between the junction box(?) and the house which will RESTORE OUR INTERNET!!! I hope. One to fix the dishwasher which appears to be the culprit which blew out the fuse on the plug socket circuit twice. And one to do a chemical flush of the heating system. 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind #1

One of items on my 101 things in 1001 days list is to answer these 50 questions that will free your mind which I stumbled across on the Day Zero website. I added it to the list thinking the varied questions might be interesting fodder for blog posts. So, here goes with question number one:

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?

Younger than I am! I wonder if everyone into middle age or older would say that? I presume this question is a slightly roundabout way of asking how old I feel, and I definitely don't feel my age, which is 54. I am thinner, fitter and healthier than I was in my late 40s, when I spent about three years feeling permanently run down, low on energy and lurching from one chest infection to another. As a result I feel considerably younger than I did five years ago, which is a rather nice place to be in. Most of my friends are in their 30s and 40s, not through conscious choice but simply due to office demographics and having had my children in my later 30s and 40s; I rarely remember that I am older than they are. I am also told that I look younger than my age, which I think is not just flattery as I have seen too much genuine surprise from people when I tell them how old I am. I guess this is genetic as I don't make any effort to try to stay looking "young" and my father always looked much younger than his age. 

I am also lucky in that I still feel a childlike excitement in new and small things. Mostly I manage not to act inappropriately, and have so far resisted the urge to slide down my friend's spiral bannisters (she worries her landlord might not like the results if I did!). I still enjoy rollercoasters, fairy lights, snow, playing in leaves, and would still enjoy freewheeling on a bike if I had one. Having an eight year old also helps to keep me young and active. Yes, there are times when I do feel my age physically. If I don't exercise I get stiffer and have less energy; if I do exercise I ache! My knee joints aren't what they were and although I am having a pretty easy menopause there are times when I "glow". If I tried to pack in the amount my teenage daughters do I would be exhausted, but I mostly I manage to keep one step ahead of exhaustion despite leading a very busy life. Age has its good sides to; I appreciate the more balanced perspective that comes with knowledge and experience. 

So how old would I be if I didn't know how old I was? I think I'll settle for 44 with a dash of 8!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Goals for This Week

The three goals I gave myself for this week are:

* Average 9 portions of fruit and veg a day. I am usually very good at eating lots of fruit and veg, but tend to slip a bit in the winter as I eat less salads. I haven't quite made it - 7 or 8 portions each day so far - but I am working on it.  I am also keeping a food diary.

* Finish at least one book. Done! I finished Excellent Women by Barbara Pym.

* Clear the kitchen surfaces - this is the first 52 Weeks to an Organised Home challenge. So far I have done nothing. 

I am counting my weeks as Monday to Sunday to tie in with the 52 Weeks challenge. Realistically not much will happen during the working week, certainly in the home organising and probably also the reading. Between Monday and Friday I seem to barely come up for air. At weekends I have more time to think about decluttering and sitting down with a book. I'm not going to expect too much of myself. Anything I manage is a good thing, right? 

In other news, still no internet. Groan. An engineer is supposed to be coming to look at the line imminently.  

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Ups and Downs of 2015

Yes, already! The downs ... I sincerely hope that 2015 is not going to continue as it has started in terms of practical hiccups. So far senior daughter has had her windscreen wipers broken by the wind while driving down the M1. Thanks to the RAC's wizardry with a piece of string she managed to get home but is still trying to get it fixed as it broke the fixing mechanism (?) and needs a part. At home the list of minor catastrophes reads as followss:

* The off button for the shower has become very erratic. Sometimes it works, sometimes one has to run round from the shower to the airing cupboard and switch it off at the plug socket. If the last person to use the shower forgets to switch the plug back on again the next showerer finds it doesn't work at all!

* The electric socket circuit fuse blew. Fortunately nothing major, but required an expedition into the dark and cold garage to flip the switch on the fuse box. (How glad I am that we no longer have those old fashioned fuses which meant changing fuse wire!)

* The shower room door became unhinged and my lovely but non-technical husband (M) got stuck holding it up and had to be rescued.

* The internet broke. Really broke. There is something wrong with the line and we are now waiting for TalkTalk's engineers to get in touch to arrange to fix it. Oh joy! Fortunately with a combination of hotspots, helpful neighbours, and all-you-can-eat mobile phone data plans we are surviving without too much trauma. I have a horrible feeling this one could be a long-running saga. 

Fortunately there have also been ups! Relaxing down time with most of the family off work most of the time. As M put it on Facebook New Year's Day was a day of "seriously planned and well executed intense inactivity". We don't have many completely chilled, lazy days like that, and there has been a fair bit more lazing since. Then on Saturday I enjoyed an evening out with senior daughter, with dinner at Wagamama's (a UK noodle bar chain) followed by the final Hobbit film. I have enjoyed the Hobbit movies for what they are - very different in style (and at times in plot) from the book, but great cinematic action and drama. 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Three Outcomes for the Year.

I am feeling inordinately pleased with myself for coming up with a system to organise myself for the year. Actually putting it into practice will be a whole different ballgame, but hopefully it will at least give me a push in the right direction. I pondered the Rule of 3 and came up with three outcomes I would like to see at the end of the year:

1. Be thinner and fitter - really I am more concerned with fitter than thinner. I lost about 30lbs over the course of a couple of years by changing my eating habits and ideally would like to lose another 7 to 10lbs (plus the small amount I put on over Christmas and the New Year, though I know that will go easily enough). That would take me officially into the healthy BMI range, although I am not sure I am truly overweight despite having a BMI of 26. I wear size 10 to 12 (UK) clothes - one reason I would like to lose a few pounds is to be a comfortable size 10, rather than sometimes finding I fall in between sizes. I did pretty well with exercise last year, mostly doing either circuit training or weights at the gym and yoga at home (though I now try to do a class at the gym most weeks). It did slip over the last couple of months though, and I need to get back into a good routine. 

2. Be enjoying more productive leisure time - lots more reading, listening to music, watching more films and TV (I typically watch very little, maybe 1 or 2 hours a week, and end up missing things I would like to see), spending time with my daughters, doing things that leave me feeling calmer and more relaxed.

3. Have a cleaner, less cluttered house. Badly needed! Living in the same house for 22 years and raising three children here has meant more and more stuff has accumulated. Getting it all truly under control is more than I can manage in the short term, but if I can at least turn things around so that they are getting better rather than worse I shall be happy. My plan is to try this 52 Weeks to an Organised Home challenge. 

For the first month I came up with the following three goals, one for each longer term outcome I am aiming for:

1. Get my eating habits under control - getting back to exercise too, but healthy eating is going to be my main focus for January.

2. Develop the habit of reading regularly - because I have got out of my reading groove.

3. Get kitchen and food storage organised - the first four weeks of the 52 Weeks to an Organised Home challenge focus on the kitchen.

More about how these break down into smaller steps later. Time to go and do some yoga!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Testing Out BlogGo

Thank you for all the helpful comments about blogging on an iPad. I am baffled as to why BlogPress has suddenly let me down by refusing to load pictures. I have a WordPress account and almost set this blog up there, but at the last minute defaulted to Blogger. I have been using the Blogger platform for years - when I first started I think it was the only reasonable free option - and decided to stick with the format I was familiar with. If I can't find a good solution to iPad blogging on Blogger than I may have to bite the bullet and switch, but if I can I would rather stay put here. 

I did a bit of rooting around on the App Store and came up with what looks to be a fairly new and little used app for writing and editing Blogger posts, BlogGo. At 69 pence it seemed worth giving it a try. This is my second ost written in BlogGo. Formatting and links seem to be working fine and it is quite easy to use. It allows me to schedule posts for future posting, to see and edit existing posts, to read and reply to comments, and also links to my Feedly feed, which is where I normally read blogs. I have yet to test out posting photos. The only glitch I have noticed so far is that it defaults to portrait orientation and seems a bit reluctant to swing round to landscape which is what I prefer. 

For the sake of research here is a picture of my small scientist at work.

That was nice and easy! It gave me the option to use any of the standard Blogger sizes for the picture and it was simple to centre the photograph. I'm optimistic BlogGo may be just what I need.

New Year, New Start

Happy New Year! 

I have the sort of brain that likes tidy numbers and tidy dates, so can never resist thinking of a new year as an opportunity for a new start. Often I set myself up with a list of New Year Resolutions which I then proceed to ignore. Probably coming up with the list is the important thing as it gives me an opportunity to take stock of where I am and what I would like to change. This year I have a single thought and a single "resolution". 

The thought is that I start 2015 in a much better place than I started 2014. A year ago I was in the eye of a stressful storm: an old and dear friend had recently died, far too young; things were going on in my extended family which caused a lot of pain and heartache; and restructuring at work had turned into a long-running nightmare. Not all the problems have resolved, but things have improved in a number of ways and I have got much better at dealing with the residual messes. A couple of months ago I noticed that for the first time in a long while my shoulders felt relaxed - funny how sometimes you only notice tension when it disappears. I am going into 2015 feeling positive and looking forward to the new year, which is a good place to be. As a naturally positive, glass-two-thirds-full person that is my default setting, and it is wonderful to feel back to my normal self. 

The resolution is simply to make better use of my time. I want to be more intentional about what I do and to stop frittering away too many hours on mindless iPad puttering (yes Facebook, I'm looking at you!), leaving myself feeling guilty about the things I should have done but haven't and regretting that I haven't made time for the things I truly enjoy. I am never very good at translating good intentions into actions. My lack of self-discipline means I need some sort of plan or method to have any chance of keeping myself on track. I also know from experience that my best chance of success is to keep it simple. In the course of writing this post I had an "Aha!" moment and think I may have hit on my plan! I half-remembered reading something recently about the Rule of 3. I found the link to the article, read through it, and think this is exactly what I need. The idea is to manage your time by nailing down: 

     * 3 outcomes for the day
     * 3 outcomes for the week
     * 3 outcomes for the month
     * 3 outcomes for the year

Sounds simple enough! Pin down what I am aiming for and then gradually break it down into smaller, manageable steps - what do I need to do today to make progress towards where I want to be at the end of the year? Now I need to put my thinking cap on and decide what my outcomes should be.

And finally ... best wishes for 2015 to everyone reading this. I hope it will be a good year for you all.