Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Between the Storms...

... Mum, Dad, M-I-L, Mark and I visited the lovely National Trust moated manor house at Badesley Clinton.  We were really lucky to see just a hint of blue skies on Boxing Day afternoon.
I first visited this house when I was a student at Birmingham university in the mid-80s.
In those days NT properties were always closed through most of the winter months.
I love the way many of the properties now stay open and have been specially 'dressed' for the Christmas period.

This year Badesley Clinton was full of natural and traditional decorations.
This was the wreath on the ancient door below the gate-house..

This is a little detail from the dining room table.
(I'm a huge fan of blue and white and would love to be able to replicate this on our own Christmas table!!)

The whole house was full of dried fruit, berries and evergreens.
This is a detail from the library window..

Here's our Christmas table, just before everyone sat down for our main meal on Christmas Day.  You can see my beloved blue and white china (Royal Worcester clearance in the mid-90s) but I've got a long way to go before my presentation looks anywhere near as glamorous!

Happy New Year to everyone who reads this post
and sincere Best Wishes for 2016 to regular readers who have become my 'bloggy friends'

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Happy Harpy Christmas!!

I think I was a bit grumpy in my last post about teaching - 
thank you to everyone who took the time to comment.
This post is far more festive...
Last Thursday I played a harp duet with my harp pupil in the gorgeous 15th Century Malvern Priory.
I arranged a traditional lullaby called 'Suantrai' for us and we performed it in her school's Christmas Carol Service.  Her father recorded it.  If you click here you should be able to see a photo of us in front of the altar and hear our performance.
Happy Harpy Christmas!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Do you know a happy teacher?

I don't mean the masses of teachers out there who remain professional and wear enormous smiles for their pupils every day.  I'm thinking of some-one who is still deeply happy in the job and wouldn't want to be anywhere else but the classroom.
Five years ago, I was deeply happy in my job.  I used to say jokingly (but it was actually serious) that I'd stay in the classroom even if I won the lottery.  I'd just take some of my winnings and build a bit of an extension on my Music block to give myself a nicer working day.
When you're happy, nothing seems like too much trouble.  I gave up hours of extra time for all sorts of regular enhancements activities.  We'd have weekends away with small groups of kids to cover allsorts of extra support.  One of my favourite sets of memories is from a composition weekend for Year 10 and Year 11 pupils in the Welsh borders (staying at a quirky, but perfect) residential centre.  Really, really nice times....
Then things started to go 'awry'.....
Firstly the government put my retirement date back by 6 years and 8 months (it was the pettiness of the months that always irritated me).  Now - when you have an aggressive degenerative illness like Huntington's Disease rampaging through your family - you really start to question the loss of those 7 years of 'active retirement'.
Then the whole job became high-jacked by paperwork.  I even had to provide detailed written analyses of the effectiveness of my voluntary enhancement activities......(!!)
I used to say that I did all the extended curriculum work because I didn't have the punishing marking schedule of my colleagues in other departments.  Then 'marking' came to Music too....
After 3 years of struggling with an impossible work life balance, I decided to leave the profession.
I decided that quality time with my family had to come first.  My Mum has HD so it's not practical to put things off with her.  If she feels that she can do it... then we do it.  (There isn't a place for endless paperwork in this situation.)
But it's clear that I'm part of a flood of professionals that are leaving the classroom at the moment.  A few days ago it made the national news that there was a developing crisis.  One of my friends, who I've known for about 20 years, is moving on at the end of this week.  Over the years she's organised regional dance festivals and done an immense amount of 'additional work' for the love of it.  Another friend, again an established and experienced teacher with an intelligent interest in the job, is going at Easter.  Another, younger, teaching friend cannot see herself working in the profession for much longer...  I hope - for the pupils as well as the profession - that there are still some genuinely enthusiastic and vocational teachers out there.
I'm sorry that this isn't particularly seasonal nor cheerful....
For those of you who are still 'at the chalk face' - I hope that the last few days of term are memorable for the right reasons and that you have a good Christmas break.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

A House-Warming Gift in Patchwork

This week my B-in-L and his partner are (finally!!) moving into their first home together.
I get on extremely well with his partner, so I wanted to make them a little gift that used some of my new skills.  The colours aren't great in this first photo but you can get an idea of how the finished cushion looks...
I used the 'quilt as you go' method
- so the whole design is based on strips of material 2 1/2" wide...

I cut a piece of backing 17" square, worked the centre panel,
then added the fanned out corners...

I then trimmed it to a 16 1/2" square and used some dark grey cotton to make the rest of the cushion cover.  The colours in the WIP photos give you a much better idea of how the cushion really looks - but the pale stripes are actually grey with a small star design (which you can actually see clearly in the original photo....)

My sister gave me a book about the 'quilt as you go' technique for my birthday.  It's a great way to create quite dramatic pieces of quilting extremely quickly... but I still love the traditional patterns too.
Once I've finished all my Christmas crafting commitments I'm going to settle down and explore more of the projects.  Over the autumn I've collected some really pretty material - from clearance bins, charity shops, 'hand me downs' from other people's stashes and some lovely fabric for my birthday.  It's all sat there..... just waiting for my M-in-L to go home on the 27th December!!
We're going to visit the new house next weekend when we do the usual 'pre-Christmas meal' in Oxford.  (Marks parents separated over 20 years ago so his Mum has always 'mucked in' with our festivities in Worcester while the rest of his family have done their own thing on 'the big day').  I'm delighted that Mark's brother is building a future with such a lovely person.. and I hope that she likes my little bit of house-warming patchwork.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Finally.... it's sorted!

After months of internet frustrations (which I won't bore you with).... I'm back!
The only good thing about thing about this enforced absence from the blogosphere is that I've had all the time in the world to craft for Christmas.  I've set my 'vintage' Singer up on the dining room table and almost every member of the family is getting a fabric gift of some sort on the big day...

I made the 16" cushion on the left for a raffle in October and Mum won it.  The colours are perfect in her lounge so I've made the 18" cushion on the right as her main Christmas present.  I'm delighted with the effect of the diagonal stripes and the smaller floral squares..

I've also made loads of fabric bags - which have cost me very little more than time.  (The Owl fabric was a massive bargain from Dunelm because I got 1/2 a metre for £1.50 when the sales assistant didn't cut quite straight, and the pink and beige stripes were a clearance piece from a fabric shop in France).  Even little pieces have found their way into coasters as stocking fillers...
So, I've got another cushion to finish (which is a combined house-warming and Christmas present for my B-in-L's partner) and three more bags to make.   After that, the 'fabric element' of Christmas will be just about complete!!  To be honest, I had some gorgeous fabrics for my birthday (a couple of weeks ago) and I can't wait to start doing some projects for my own home...
As for my 'no longer working' status..... I did wonder if I'd struggle when the days got shorter, wetter and cooler.  There's no worries on that front - I'm fine!  Over the last five or six weeks I've started to develop proper routines. Now I have regular coffee dates with loads of people;  I meet up with my crafting friend/neighbour;  I see my family most days and I can pour loads of energy and focus into the small amount of private teaching that I do.  It's great!!!!
We've also had the flexibility to have a couple of long weekends in November.  We spent the first one at the Classic Car Show at the NEC. (Probably not everyone's idea of fun, but Mark's silver car was on the Marcos stand and we both love standing around and chatting to the public about the process of building her...)
The second weekend was a romantic four night break in South Devon for my birthday.  This was the 'view from my pillow' at our B+B... the lovely 'Stoke Gabriel Lodgings' (in the village of Stoke Gabriel on the river Dart, near Totnes)
This post has ended up being something of a garbled set of 'November highlights'. 
It's going to take me a little time to catch up with all your news... but I'm so glad to be back!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Taking a little break....

I'm having some problems with the internet at the moment, which makes it very difficult to read your posts, comment and share my news.  It's getting very frustrating and makes doing anything on the internet a real chore, so I'm going to take a little break for a couple of weeks.
While I'm away...
"Happy Holidays" to all of you who work in education and have just reached the halfway point.
"All the best," to everyone who pops by regularly.
I WILL be back properly once this is sorted.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Very, very wierd...

Earlier in the year my 'fantasy retirements mornings' were filled with harp practice, walking, regular blogging and keeping on top of the housework.  The afternoons were going to be more sociable - meeting friends, crafting, clubs, and my working with my instrumental pupils. 

Hmmmm...... at the moment I have absolutely no routine whatsoever.  Don't get me wrong - I'm having masses of fun and I'm loving every moment of it - but I've spent my whole life following rigid timetables so this feels very, very weird.  Even as a teenager, my life was completely regimented by a programme of practice, homework, orchestras and clubs.  My 'Fly Paper Memory' (everything sticks to it!) means that I could probably still work out what I was doing at 4.30 pm on a Tuesday in February 1984.  I have 26 years of teaching timetables stuck in my memory archives too.

At the moment I'm trying to bring a small sense of 'order' to this apparent free-flow.  Each morning I write a little list of tasks for the day, then each week I write a more general and aspirational lists.  I must confess that I feel better when I've started to tick these tasks as completed.  (Old teaching habits die very hard.....!)

However I can see that the benefits of all this flexibility and I'm trying not to beat myself up if I my lists remain un-ticked for a few days.  Last Friday afternoon my piano pupil cancelled, so Mark and I took the chance to enjoy a walk in the sunshine through Worcester.  I'm so glad that I had my camera with me because the colours were amazing...

The river was really still, which gave some great reflections...

On Saturday I had plenty of time to prepare H's celebration meal
(H is next to her Dad at the top of the table)

...and on Tuesday morning I spent a couple of hours making a fabric bag for H's charity raffle at the beginning of November.  (This is another 'stash-busting' project - using some 1990s Dorma fabric from my Mum's hoard and some pretty pink/white lining.  The Raffle is going to raise money for Breast Cancer so I thought the pink was appropriate.)

And today....
This morning I'm collecting Mum from church in an hour or so then we're driving over to the Cotswolds to collect some specialist car parts for Mark.  It's about 2 hours driving through a lovely part of the world, so Mum's coming along for a natter and lunch.  We will probably get back around mid-afternoon.  After that I've got harp practice to do (and I'd like to start cutting out an apron).  At 5.15 I'm leaving the house again and walking down to my sisters for a catch up chat.  She lives two miles away so that walk covers my daily exercise regime.  Once I get home again it will be time to make dinner, catch up with Mark, maybe make up the apron, then bath and bed!
SO MUCH NICER than school politics and marking!
(This week a number of former colleagues have contacted me for the first time.  It seems that things are seriously 'sour' and everyone seems to be trying to second guess the intentions of the SMT.  Ugly rumours about restructuring, cost cutting etc are rife... I hate to see my friends under so much pressure - but it also makes me feel even more content with the path I've chosen.)
I hope that you are having a good week.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Presents and Plans

I'm definitely "time rich and cash poor" at the moment, so I'm digging deep into my crafting skills to make as many presents as possible.  I made this bag on Tuesday afternoon (when it was pelting down with rain here in Worcestershire).
Then I made a second bag in a different colour-way yesterday afternoon.  (I am in a group of three friends who all have birthdays in November - so we always meet up for a joint celebration and swap presents at some stage in the month.)

The material is a really lovely quality with attractive details in the leaves.   I bought it from a clearance bin in a interior design shop in Hereford.  Each piece of material was about 34 inches long and 16 inches wide, so I've got some useful pieces left over from these projects.  I think I paid about £8.00 for five pieces - so the bags have cost me less than £2.00 each (plus lots of love, time and cursing over pricked fingers!!!!)

With the benefit of hind-sight I wish that I'd picked up more pieces... but I was in the early days of developing my fabric stash and didn't recognise the potential.  However, I've got the same design in a pretty blue colour-way which may be nice for my Mum for Mother's Day.  The other two pieces are a kind of bold stripy deck chair design.
Thank you for all your suggestions for Saturday night. 
You really kick-started my creative juices and I'm now having loads of fun with my plans.
Here's the provisional menu...
Golden Peach Cocktails
Glowing golden autumn vegetable soup
Cold Roast meats
and a selection of hot and cold 'sides' including
Roast Veg with Double Gloucester Cheese
Lightly curried potato salad etc
"Climb Every Mountain" dessert (a profiterole pyramid)
Golden fruit pie
A lemon syllabub
a 'Golden' cheeseboard
I've got loads of autumnal coloured tea light holders to dress the table and a vase for some yellow flowers.  I've also decided to develop the expedition aspect of the award by giving each guest a placemat that's personalised with a section of OS map of significance to them.  H. will get a map of the area that she walked in; I. will get a map of the area of north wales where her best friend lives; B-in-Law will get a map of an area of the Lake District where he went open water swimming for the first time this summer... and so on!  Hopefully it will work...
Fortunately I've only got a couple of pupils in the next few days so I should be able to organise this in a 'calm and measured manner'!
What are your plans for the weekend?

Monday, 5 October 2015

She did it!!!

Tomorrow my eldest niece H.  is going to receive her Gold Duke of Edinburgh award at St James Palace.  H., my sister and B-in-L are travelling down to London this evening.  Sadly my sister will have to wait outside while the ceremony is taking place because tickets are limited to one per family.  Fortunately she attended the ceremony a few years ago with one of her students - so she says that she will be able to imagine everything again as H. receives her certificate.
I think I've mentioned previously that H's sixth form years have been 'difficult' for a whole host of reasons.  There were times when she didn't look as if she was going to be well enough to complete at least one of the expeditions - and she has always been very loyal volunteer at a local respite centre for very handicapped youngsters.  As a result, I'm a very proud Auntie!!
Next Saturday evening all the family are coming here for a celebratory meal.  I'm planning plenty of gold decorations but it's harder to come up with 'gold- themed' food.
All suggestions welcomed!!!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Back from our Travels

My 'bucket list' for life outside the classroom is relatively modest - quality time with the people I love, time to learn new crafts..... and a September holiday!  We've just got back from two weeks holiday in France and it's been GREAT!

We took the overnight ferry from Portmouth to St Malo, then headed to the Gironde estuary for six nights.  This area is clearly a popular summer resort for French families and foreign visitors but it was blissfully tranquil out of season.  We stayed in gorgeous apartment overlooking the port at Mortagne.  It was a top floor studio apartment so the views were stunning and the sunsets were superb...

We've never been to this part of France before so we made sure that we visited all the main 'sights'.
Talmont - with it's dramatic medieval church by the estuary -

Pons - with the enormous castle keep in the main square -

and it's medieval pilgrim hospital on the road to Compostella -

and Saintes - with it's ancient churches and 2000 year old roman amphitheatre -

We also made time to 'seriously chill'.  We ignored the news, switched off Mark's work mobile, ate nice meals and drank lots of local wine (Bordeaux - the 'Haut Medoc' was especially good!)
At the end of the week we drove inland to Angouleme for the second stage of the holiday.  This was three nights in a small city centre studio apartment - so that we could attend this year's 'Circuit Des Remparts'.  Many years ago we promised ourselves that we would celebrate the first September of my retirement by watching this race.  As a result the whole weekend felt slightly surreal - but it was great fun.  The town centre is completely taken over by the event.  The cars were quirky and beautiful, and the atmosphere was lovely.

I'll certainly never forget the excitement of walking up to the old town at 7.15 am on the Sunday (in the dark), making our way into the circuit, listening to the cathedral bells chime 8.00 in the rising sun then watching the first cars make their way out onto the circuit for the first qualifying laps.  Fabulous!

On Monday we drove back up to the north coast of Brittany for the final phase of the holiday.  We spent the last four nights in a small hotel right on the sea front at St Malo.  This was the view from my pillow -
We walked for miles and miles along 'Grand Route 34' - which is a long distance footpath covering the Rance estuary and the part of the Breton coast line -
One day we started walking from the port at the bottom of the lovely 'Rue du Jerzual' in Dinan -
Another day we explored the headland to the north east of St Malo -
And on our final day we walked the coastal path from the Rance 'Barrage' to Dinard and beyond -

We ended the holiday with a day on the ferry from St Malo to Portmouth.  This was when we really noticed that we were travelling 'out of school holidays'.  The ferry was practically deserted and really quiet.  It was a lovely sunny day and the sea was really calm - a complete bonus at the end of September.

It's taken a few days to get back into routine.  Mark asked me to write an article for the Marcos Club Magazine about our trip to the 'Circuit'...which took up lots of potential blogging time.  I've also tacked the 'post holiday washing and ironing mountain'.  However don't feel too sorry for me because I've also been making the most of being able to read/craft in the garden in the afternoon sun...!  Hopefully we can hold onto the blue skies for a little longer.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

More Good Things...

It's been another weekend of celebrations here in Worcester..
On Sunday we drove down to Oxford to take my Father in Law out for his birthday.
He was delighted with a 'Jan Original' patchwork cushion
(in colours to match his conservatory furniture...)
Mark and his Dad share a passion for sweets and puddings - especially ice-cream sundaes.

Yesterday I took my parents out to celebrate BOTH their birthdays
(Dad is exactly four years older than Mum)
We went to Upton House - the lovely National Trust Property near Banbury.
After days of gloom and dampness, we were so lucky with the weather...

The gardens looked fabulous, with just a hint of early Autumn colour..

My parents love gardens and enjoyed exploring each of the terraces..

The borders were really pretty..

After lunch we went into the house.
Normally it's presented with a '1930s House Party Theme'.
This year it's been completely transformed to tell the story of it's life during WW2.
The owners were a rich banking family and they decided to move the bank from London to their home pretty much as war broke out.  The rooms now capture the bizarre combination of beautiful art and functional wartime food, furniture and crockery.  It's really well done...
Everything is designed to prompt memories...
Internal mail envelopes have a drab 1940s colour and
children are encouraged to use the type-writers to create memos..
One of the upstairs bedrooms is given over to a display about Ladies fashions and 'Make Do and Mend'.  Then the next room is presented as the Ladies dormitory, with everything from this little Singer sewing machine to reproduction 1940s WC roll.

All the clothes in the wardrobe were made from war time patterns by the volunteers.

It's clear that everyone involved in the house has put an immense amount of energy into this wartime project.  It's been carried out with a tremendous eye for detail and I'd really recommend a visit to anyone who's in the area.
Today things are a bit more 'normal' again...
Walking, harp, housework and preparation for our approaching holiday...
I'm popping round to help Mum with Facebook this afternoon..
We're out with friends from the car club this evening..
Can't think how I managed to find time to work!!!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Rainy Days and Patchwork

The last few days have been wet and miserable over here - the perfect excuse to immerse myself in another patchwork project...  I saw some seaside-themed fabric in Dunelm and guessed that it would pull together all the stripy denim and checks from my fabric samples pile.  I must confess that it took me ages to work out the width of the repeat in the pattern, and how I was going to create the patches.
I've never made a bag before in my life - and I didn't have a pattern - so it also took me ages to work out all the sizes and dimensions from another soft fabric bag.  The final challenge was to work out how to fix the handles and lining.  It took quite a lot of creative thinking during last Tuesday's thunder storm before I worked out that I had to stitch the first seam at the top of the bag THEN turn it inside out to finish off the top stitching!

This bag has excellent frugal credentials....
I've only used a third of the material I bought at Dunelm (about £1.50's worth)
This is the fourth project I've made out of the £10.00 pile of clearance fabric.  There's still masses left so I'm guessing that these pieces are worth about £1.00.
The lining is inherited from my Great-Aunt's fabric stash.
The handles are made out of the back of an XL Denim shirt (M+S Blue Harbour - £1.00 clearance from a local charity shop.   There's still loads of useful material left from this shirt so I'd guess that the handles cost me 50p)
I've done all my patchwork so far on an ancient Singer sewing machine that we inherited from Mark's Grandma.  (I call her 'Sissy the Singer' because she's a sweet old lady who doesn't mind machining at my slow speeds!)
This bag is going on holiday with me shortly.
(I'm very excited about the prospect of a September holiday.  Currently the weather in the area we're going to visit is a very pleasant 20-25 degrees, with sunshine and light cloud.   I'm hoping that it's going to stay like that... I'm not looking for a heat-wave but some blue skies would be nice!)
To all the teachers out there... I hope that the start of the new school year is going well for you.
All the best,

Sunday, 30 August 2015

100 Years of Marriage!

A special family celebration last night... 100 Years of Marriage between us!
Mum and Dad - 52 years (21st September)
Mark and I - 25 Years (18th August)
Sister and B-in-L - 23 Years (8th August)
The Mathematicians in the family worked out that last night was the closest we were going to get to an exact 100 years ....and it was a nice way to spend a Bank Holiday Saturday anyway!
(Photo taken in Sister's garden before we sat down to our celebration dinner.)