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!