Sunday, 29 March 2015

M is for....March, Mindfulness, Minimalism and... Mountain

M is for Mountain: Moel Famau in North Wales

March is nearly over but just time for a brief post to summarise my current preoccupations, many of which begin with the letter M...

M is for Mummies.  This week I had a night out, a pub meal and rather too much red wine with the friends I made when we moved to our village.  My daughter was a 20 months and I'd left my job and all my social circle in Norfolk - I was afraid I'd be lonely.  But then I discovered Toddler group in the village hall: she found friends and so did I.  We spent the next few years going on outings as a group: Chester Zoo, the Ice Cream Factory, the little train in Grosvenor Park; it was a very happy time. The children don't see so much of each other now, but the mummies keep in touch and I enjoyed catching up.

M is for Marie Kondo. I've just bought this book which I've read about on other blogs.  My husband thinks it is hilarious that I'm buying a book about tidying up.  I'm hoping it will help me in my constant quest to create order at home and deal with clutter, something I find nearly impossible to do.
One of my mummy friends has a home which is perfectly clean and tidy at all times.  We make fun of her obsession with order, but there is a part of me that is envious

M is for Minimalism. I've been reading Clare's blog Just a Little Less for a few years now and like her pragmatic approach to living with less.  Her recent advice on how to involve partners is helpful though it's not going to be easy as my husband is a bit of a shopaholic, forever ordering online cycling clothing, accessories and all sorts of other stuff he doesn't really need.

M is for Mindfulness.  Along with minimalism goes mindfulness.  I need to tidy my mind of clutter too: stopping overthinking and worrying about past failings or future scenarios that may never actually occur.  And, again, I've acquired a book to help me, borrowing this one which offers an eight week course and a CD to help.  I'm starting this week. Let's hope no one else reserves the book before I complete it!

M is for Meditation. I've never had much success with meditation, a key part of  mindfulness. One evening, in a yoga class I attending. we were asked to sit as a group in the dark around a candle and meditate.  I just found it embarrassing and wanted to giggle.  But I'll give it a go if it helps.

M is for Mountain.  One psychological technique I am good at is visualising.  Except instead of visualising my future successes, I tend to vividly imagine bad things that might happen or things that did happen to others. I've blogged about this before here.  This week I was deeply shocked by the plane crash in the Alps, feeling particular empathy for the parents of those children who were returning from a school trip. I found myself creating a mental film reel of the horror inside the plane as it headed for the mountain.  Does anyone else do this?  It benefits no one and makes me sad, but I cannot stop myself.

M is for Moel Famau, a mountain in North Wales, not too far from here.  I'm planning to climb it this week with my neighbour and the dog.  I might even manage to drag the teenager along if the weather is good. Nothing like a bit of mountain climbing to get things into perspective and turn off my busy mind.

The last time we climbed Moel Famau was with some friends in 2009.  The Mr Grumpy T shirt is still being worn....

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Just another Manic Monday..

Routine day. That's what many of the entries in my one-line-a-day diary have said recently.  Our lives are dominated by routine and a secondary classroom teacher's routine is dominated by the timetable which establishes a very strict routine. The weeks pass by and all the Mondays begin with an A level class and end with a double lesson of year 9, which has been hard work recently as we are all weary and ready for a holiday.  And all the Tuesdays... So I feel recently that I have been a work-induced coma. (Thanks to Angel Jem's City Cottage for that phrase which describes exactly my present mood.)  I'm keeping going: turning up; teaching lessons; marking books. It's hard work at this time of the year - lots of dull examination paper practice, which isn't much fun for anyone.  And then there's the self-imposed tyranny of my routines at home: dog walking; washing machine filling; sock-pairing; healthy meal cooking.... There have been a few days recently when I've just wanted to crawl under the duvet and stay there.

Now I suppose routine is good: there is, at present, no major trauma in our lives to disrupt things; I should be thankful for what I've got etc.  But I don't seem to have the energy for anything else but routine obligations.  I've been wanting to see the latest 'Marigold Hotel' film but I reckon I'd fall asleep if I went out after work. I'm not even reading much.  Or writing this very often.  And I've had a range of minor ailments: sore infected eyes, a blocked ear and a nagging pain in my neck and shoulders which is aggravated by being on the laptop or reading.  So I'm feeling sorry for myself.

This morning the sun is shining and I'm determined to pull myself together.  I'm taking a break from the marking routine this weekend and am going to do some things to lift my mood.  First I am going to clean the house properly and tidy up - clutter is getting to me.  And I'm going to get out in the garden, do some digging and plant some seeds.  At least spring is well on its way now.  I might even get round to seeing that film.

And there's one routine thing I do for myself.  On Monday evenings, I go to choir practice.  This week we've learnt The Bangles 80's song 'Just another Manic Monday' which I've been singing in my head all week.  Very appropriate.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

A Glimpse of Spring

I eventually got out in the garden this weekend to do a bit of much needed tidying up, pruning and lawn mowing.  Saturday was beautiful and I hoped more warmish days would follow. Today is damp and cold again though so I haven't got any further. I have enjoyed watching spring from my kitchen window though.  In the tall trees on the farmland behind our garden, lives a colony of crows. What is the collective noun for crows? A congregation? A caw? (Just googled and one of the alternatives is 'a murder of crows'.)  They have been nest-building and I have enjoyed watching them carrying twigs, twice the length of their body, which they are using to create huge structures high in the branches.  Not everyone likes the crows: they are noisy and the farmer occasionally shoots at them with an air rifle like my dad used to.  But they fascinate me and the noise is not that unpleasant.

I've also bought a new birdfeeder in the hope of attracting more small birds.  I filled it with niger seed which promises to attract a 'charm' of goldfinches.  Or 'a troubling', which is an alternative collective noun for them, though I prefer charm as I love theses colourful little birds.  Perhaps the crows are scaring the smaller birds away.  Is that where the name, 'a murder of crows', comes from, I wonder?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Let there be Light

Image result for images muna alfrink lightLast week I spent my half term break with a colleague and a group of students, including my daughter, at MUNA, a Model United Nations conference, at Alfrink College in the Netherlands.  The poster above introduces the theme and slogan of the conference which aims to open the minds of the students to issues in the world around them. This is the second year I have been on this visit and, yet again, it was a fantastic experience.  There were 375 students involved, many from local schools, but others had travelled from the UK, Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, India and China so it was truly an international conference.  We stayed with host families and, once again, I was welcomed by Annett, an English teacher at the college, and her family.  I had a lovely time there, enjoying her hospitality and friendship. We also met and shared a meal with the staff from the other schools.  Our students also enjoyed the social side of the trip, including the very loud MUNA party which was a less pleasurable event for the staff.

The main aim of the week was to introduce students to the work of the UN.  Each student represented a country and they then research issues, draft resolutions and participate in debates.  My daughter Kate represented Canada and debated human rights issues such as Child Forced Marriage.  She was a bit reluctant to speak up at first and rather overwhelmed by the older more confident students but did learn a lot from the experience.

We also visited Amsterdam and took students to the Anne Frank house, a very moving experience.What I found most poignant were the pencil marks on the walls showing how Anne and her sister Margot had grown during their time in the annexe.  I was very proud of our students who didn't rush through the house as they usually do on museum trips, but absorbed it all quietly and respectfully.

I'm hoping to return to blogging more regularly now spring is on its way.  It's lighter now in the mornings so I'm starting to emerge from my winter hibernation and am rising earlier.  I love light mornings and enjoy that quiet time before others emerge.  It's my favourite writing time,

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Year in Books: How do you read me? Let me count the ways...

I've been neglecting the blog recently, though I've been on Blogger fairly regularly checking out and reading other blogs.  And I've been thinking about how I read online. It's a different kind of reading for me than reading print.  An e-book is different again.  There are some posts I read all the way through properly; some I look at the pictures; others I skim or just read the entry on the home page.  And you are probably the same.  I tend to write fairly long posts not very often and so it's fairly likely that you are skim reading this post.  I doubt very much if all the 16000 + people who have come across me online have actually read a whole post. But you never know, perhaps you have time today...

Anyway here I am again with the only regular post I manage , the Year in Books link up with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees.  My January read was 'The Miniaturist' by Jessie Burton, which I received as  Christmas present.  I haven't quite finished it yet, one reason for my late link up.  I've enjoyed it. Beautifully written, it is one of those books that brings the characters and place to life.  It's full of detail about 17th century Amsterdam, obviously well researched.  I like the evocative descriptions of taste of the sugar and delicacies made from it, which reminded me of  Joanne Harris's 'Chocolat'. The plot, and its link to the dolls' house, is intriguing rather than gripping though, which explains why I've read it slowly.  It's a book to savour and one which will stay with me a long time.

But now I want a pacy, pointless, plot type novel to read over half term. A fast food kind of book, to read and forget - not good for me but enjoyable all the same. I haven't found it yet - considering the new S J Watson as I liked 'Before I go To Sleep'.  Any suggestions out there?

My February books, which I have already dipped into, are both non-fiction.  I've borrowed Steven Pinker's 'The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century' from the library.  It's  not one I'll read all the way through, but it looks interesting and I did enjoy his book 'The Language Instinct'.  I am also teaching Carol Ann Duffy's poetry at present and so am reading 'Rapture'.  Again one to read slowly.  I read the title poem yesterday and this line
stayed with me all day:
 'How does it happen that our lives can drift
far from our selves, while we stay trapped in time,
queuing for death?'

Another question.  Is it always better to read more, to get through as many books as possible?   Or am I alone in my occasional preference for some slow reading?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Pointless TV

Do you watch 'Pointless', the ironically named teatime quiz show?  We do.  I'm usually chopping onions or peeling spuds at the same time but I do find it mildly entertaining.  It's the opposite of Blanketty-Blank, the show where you used to gain points by guessing the answers that most of the 100 people asked to a simple question.  So divergent thinkers failed.  In Pointless, however, you get points for coming up with correct answers which no one else of the 100 asked has said.  So people like my husband who mind is full of trivial facts about sport and old films get to feel smart. The topics are varied and appeal to all ages.  This week we have had a picture round where you had to recognise leaders of foreign countries, a round on GCSE Science, Doris Day Films; and a round I liked where you had to supply the adjectives in novel titles.  (The _____ Curiosity Shop which the student studying English at university didn't know.)  All this is presided over by Alexander Armstrong, or Xander as he calls himself, and the unfeasibly tall Richard Osman,  The banter (or bants, a current favourite word among teens) between them and with the contestants is also entertaining though Xander is a bit annoying when he smugly gives the answers the contestants missed.

My point is that I watch this stuff and like it. And it is indeed.....pointless.  I used to listen to Radio 4 as I cooked tea. What is happening to me?

In our house we have two TVs, one in the lounge and the other in what is called 'the snug' by estate agents ie a space off the kitchen where the dog hangs out.  Often in the evening we hang out there with him; more often than not, the TV is on.  And, because it's January and we've not been out much recently, we seemed to have watched an awful lot of TV.

So there are three of us and two TVs and we all have different tastes, but, as I don't watch much television, it doesn't matter. Here's how it goes: 

Husband: Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Sport, Silent Witness, Holby City, black and white classic films, incomprehensible Swedish/Danish crime/political drama, Andrew Marr, Saturday Kitchen.

Daughter: Coronation Street, Emmerdale, reality TV shows, currently The Voice, Celebrity Big Brother, Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, the dating show, Take me Out,  Keith Lemon (shocking programme), reruns of Outnumbered on Netflix, (While possibly finishing homework at the same time)

Me: Loose Women, if I'm home in the day (I love Janet Street Porter and Gloria Hunniford reminds me of home); one-off dramas (I loved EsioTrot at Christmas) and series like Last Tango in Halifax. Not much else.

So, in theory, while they are wasting their time, at least, I'm off doing something purposeful, like marking or preparing lessons or mind-improving, like reading, or creative, like writing.  In theory.  In reality, I often join one or the other to snuggle up on the sofa and watch the least offensive of the choices on offer. (I draw the line at Celebrity Big Brother and cover my eyes at gruesome bits of Silent Witness)

Occasionally, I assert my right to the remote.  On Wednesday night the first episode of Wolf Hall was screened, I gave advance warning of this and my husband joined me to watch it at first, but gave up fairly soon.  I quite enjoyed it - Jonathan Pryce was good as Cardinal Wolsley but I wasn't that impressed by Mark Rylance, who is supposed to be the actor of this generation: he spent a lot of time looking miserable and saying little, though what he did say impressed everyone. That's probably the character though - I never did finish the book. I found myself nodding off at one point, and kind of wanted to be in the kitchen with the rest of the family, who were hooting with laughter at the large black lady's acceptance speech on receiving an award for Googlebox at the National TV Awards.

So what I'm saying, is that it doesn't matter if the TV we are watching is a bit pointless; at least we are watching together.  You'll notice that both Kate and her Dad watch Coronation Street and Emmerdale.  I usually join them.  We don't watch passively, and often talk back to the telly or to each other just like they do on Googlebox.  I don't see why I should apologise for enjoying a bit of purposeless popular culture with the rest of the family if I want to. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

New Year in Books

We're half way through January and I'm only just getting to my monthly book post. This is because I haven't finished my December book, 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'.  I am quite enjoying it and love the character of Owen and the child narrator - he reminds me a little of Scout in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. But it's a long book and somehow over Christmas the slow afternoons I'd envisaged reading by the fire just didn't happen.  So I'll be finishing that this month along with my January book, a Christmas present from a friend who usually makes good choices. It's 'The Miniaturist', by Jessie Burton.  I see it's been a Sunday Times bestseller so I've broken my resolve not to read these.  It's nice to have a real book too, especially one with such a pretty cover.  I've started it already as I tend to pick up real books more readily than the Kindle.  It's set in Amsterdam which appeals to me as I'll be visiting the Netherlands next month on a school trip so reading this will get me in the mood.

I also finished 'Happiness by Design' by Paul Dolan which is another one of those self-help my husband laughs at me for reading.  The writer is an economist and some sections were a bit statistic- heavy for my taste but there was some sensible advice, the main, rather obvious point being that we are happier when choose activities which give us a balance of both pleasure and purpose..  So if I record my day so far (I have most of Wednesday off), according to his chart it would look like this:

1. Drove daughter to school while listening to her sing along to Now Disney CD 20 mins
Pleasure 7 Purpose 10 (Essential journey more fun than usual)
2. Tidied upstairs, including decluttering wardrobe, putting on washing etc.  (Alone, listening to Women's Hour) 2 hr  Pleasure 5 Purpose 7 (Can find something to wear in morning)
3. Walked dog on usual route with neighbour catching up on news 1hr
Pleasure 9 Purpose 8 (Exercise for dog and me)
4. Made healthy Lentil and Bacon and Carrot and Coriander soup while watching 'Loose Women' (Alone 1 - 2 hrs including eating lunch)
 Pleasure 6 Purpose 7 (Healthy,if possibly not very nice, meal for family - looks unappetising, especially lentil)
5. Wrote this post on Blogger Alone 30 mins Pleasure 7 Purpose 5

And now because I have chosen to write this I haven't really got time for the other thing I intended to do before work at 4 pm which is go into town and return some clothes I bought to M&S,  But writing this gave me more pleasure than a trip to town which can wait until the weekend.  That's his other piece of advice: pay attention to the choices you make and do things which make you happy.  Which is why I am here rather than in M&S.  Now time for a quick cup of tea, before selecting something to wear from my newly organised wardrobe for work- dog walking clothes won't do.