Sunday, 5 June 2016

Back on The Road Outside

It's funny how time passes and seasons change.  My life has been so busy for the last few years - partly because I've returned to work, but for so many other reasons too - that I haven't really considered blogging my thoughts.  In the past I blogged because I needed that connection with the world, feeling that people were interested in what I had to say.  But going through some old posts I realised that it really is rather wonderful to have somewhere that I've recorded events and thoughts regardless of whether anyone else is interested.  Of course, I could just write a diary, but it is so useful to have the discipline of a potential audience to make me formulate my thoughts properly.

So, welcome back to the road outside.  Time to do some exploring...

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Fireworks & Terrorism

As I saw the first flashes of fireworks in the night sky tonight I smiled to myself, as I often do at this time of year, that we Brits celebrate the fact that someone failed to overthrow our government with the kind of displays that other nations use to celebrate their independence - or a successful removal of government!

Then it struck me.  We're celebrating that we didn't give in to terrorism.  That was a startling thought.

Surely in these days where so much of our society is affected by fear of terrorism - extra security checks at airports to name just one area - we need to take these moments to remember that we have overcome terrorism many times before.  The methods these days may seem to be different and more personally threatening to us as individuals than an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, but it comes from the same attitude that says "I don't care who I hurt, I am right and I am going to make you do as I say".

I find myself wondering what the ordinary people thought when Guy Falkes and his group made their attempt.  Did the annual celebration that has survived through the centuries reflect their relief at the continuation of government and their way of life?  I wonder how much they knew about what had happened but I'm sure what they did know would have frightened them.  With real & hyped stories of terror threats and acts filling our screens and newspapers fear becomes inevitable.  Some people will never be directly affected by this current campaign of terrorism and yet the fear is there for many whether they are or not, and the changes to our way of life are becoming harder to ignore.  I happened to be out of London on the day of the 7/7 attacks on the London Underground, but I remember the fear in the streets two weeks later when the failed attacks closed down much of the transport system (Warren Street was visible from my office window) and how many people I worked with stopped using public transport in the centre of the city.

I know there are lots of people who do not watch the news any more because they do not want to be made to be afraid and I sympathise with that perspective to a degree.  However, I don't believe that either changing the way we live our lives because of fear or ignoring the very real dangers are helpful responses.  I want to be both aware and uncowed.  It may not change the world outside me, but it will make my own experience of life better and give me the power to act when I can to make a difference.

I'm not naive enough to think that positive thinking will see an end to the kind of hatred that leads people to kill each other - either in war or in terrorism - but I do believe that celebration of life is very important to continuing to truly live.  So from now on I'm going to take the opportunity of Fireworks Night - Guy Falkes Night - to celebrate every time terrorism has been thwarted day by day and to pray... and continue to pray with all my heart and strength... that we will see an end to all hatred, all terrorism, all war.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful - Work and Holidays

Well, it's been a goodly while since I wrote anything on my blog, and even longer since I linked up with Reasons to Be Cheerful - so it's high time I did some pondering, I think.

Reason One: Last week we went to Disneyland Paris, and - taking into account the stress of managing five small children in such an intense atmosphere - it was definitely a reason to be cheerful!  We are so grateful to Grandma for giving the children the opportunity for such a memorable holiday.  So many things to remember, but I think for me the lasting impressions were:
* Miss I's sheer delight in Rollercoasters (being the eldest she got to go on most things and revels in speed).
* Mr J overcoming his fear of unexpected drops to enjoy the runaway train (although he REALLY doesn't like the Tower of Terror - not that I blame him, I wouldn't go on it).
* Miss A saying as they dropped in the Tower of Terror "That was brilliant, can we do it again?" when both her older siblings hated it.
* Miss C on the Sausage Dog kiddy roller coaster laughing with excitement with every bump.
* Mr M, just weeks over the one year that allowed him on, sitting next to me on the Buzz Lightyear ride staring around in wonder while I shot at the targets on his behalf.

Reason Two: Husband's broken foot is much better - after a week of walking around Disneyland, I was seriously worried about it.  A couple of days of good rest and he is in much less pain.  Hopefully a sign that he didn't do any further damage when a boy jumped on it while he was waiting in a queue for a ride!

Reason Three: With the Husband off work with his broken foot, I've had the chance to take up work again.  I've been volunteering with a small Welsh publishers and really having such a wonderful time I selfishly don't want him to go back to work!  We'll have to come up with a solution that works for all of us, because they've offered to pay me for a few days a week.  I suspect we may have to turn the 'Library' into a home office!  It's so great to be back in the work place, to enjoy a different kind of challenge and put all my varied experiences and skills to work.  I feel a bit sad in the mornings when I leave the children, but by the time I've driven the thirty miles through beautiful Welsh countryside, I am happily in work mode.  Then the drive back gets me ready for being back home to cuddle all the children, and put them all to bed.

Reason Four: Easter!  As a Christian, Easter is always very important to me - although in my understanding Easter is every day, not just this one time of the year.  This Easter, however, I was really very tired!  After a week walking around Disney with very little sleep and far too much excitement, I just needed to rest.  Over Easter weekend we were staying with my parents and on Sunday we went to their church - what I still consider to be my home church.  I was very inspired by the sermon about Reality and Truth, but hadn't really the energy to summon up any kind of response or really to celebrate the glorious truth of the resurrection as I would normally.  During the prayers after the sermon, I was falling asleep in my chair taking advantage of having my eyes closed (the children being occupied elsewhere).  Suddenly I felt as though a light was shining on me, and my head lifted up.  At that moment I felt such a warmth, such a peace, such a re-energising love, I began to cry.  I won't cheapen the experience by trying to explain further, but I feel so blessed to have had an encounter with Jesus at a time when I really had nothing of myself to give back!

Happy Easter everyone!  What are your reasons to be cheerful this week?

Ojos World

Friday, 28 February 2014

Time for Glasses

When Miss C was four months old I noticed a movement in her eyes that didn't settle.  That began a journey of several thousand miles (back from the Falkland Islands) for specialist eye tests and the diagnosis of Nystagmus as a result of Albinism.  Glasses became a part of Miss C's life.

When we moved to Wales we went to the opticians to get Miss C's glasses fitted and they advised that we have eye tests for the other three.  It had never occurred to me to have the children's eyes tested.  They had never had any problems seeing things as far as I was aware.  Vaguely I remember having eye tests at school, but it's not something that seems to happen anymore.

I was very glad we agreed to the eye tests - since they were free it seemed silly not to.  As a result of the eye tests we discovered that while Miss A has perfect vision in one eye the other was limited.  We would probably not have realised, since the perfect eye compensated for the lack in the other.  However, by catching the problem when she was small we have a good chance of strengthening her vision.  Apparently if you begin treatment before a child reaches 7 there is a lot more they can do.

You may wonder how a child who can't read can have an eye test?  Well, it's different for a baby, obviously - you'd need to talk to an optician for a real explanation, but they uses lenses and lights and measure the reflections & reactions, I think.  For a child who can talk they use images in different places on a board to watch where the child looks and ask them what they can see.  For a more articulate child - Miss C aged 2 and a half was just able to do this recently - they use stylised pictures in the same way they use letters for adults: a boat, a flower, a house etc.  This final style of test is much more accurate, apparently.

Visits to the opticians have become a matter of routine for the entire family now.  Miss C has to see her specialists at the eye hospital every six months, while Miss I, Mr J and Miss A all have regular check ups at the optician in town.  A couple of weeks ago I managed to book the three of them in for their routine checks all together first thing on a Saturday.  This kind of scheduling is vital when you have a large family.  Leaving the two younger ones with Daddy, we trooped into the opticians at 9am just after they opened and one by one the children went through the tests - Miss I and Mr J with letters, Miss A with pictures.  Each of them had new photos taken of their eyes and Mr J was deeply fascinated with the optician's explanation of how the eye worked and what each part did.

Then came the analysis.  Miss A's eyes are continuing to improve steadily, which is great news, although her 3D vision is still pretty poor (she saw a man sliding down a hill rather than a car).  Miss I's vision remains fine, much to her relief.  Mr J, on the other hand, much to his utter delight, has be prescribed reading glasses to use when his eyes are tired.  I have never known a child to be quite so excited at the prospect of getting glasses.  He's rather disappointed that he doesn't have to wear them all the time, and was even more disappointed when he had to wait for the glasses to be made.  He's been desperate to take them into school, but as I only picked them up from the optician Friday before half term started he hasn't been able to yet.  Fortunately the novelty hasn't worn off.  He puts them on with an attitude of great importance and I expect on Monday morning when he goes back to school he will either be wearing them or will have them in the case ready to put on when he gets to class.  I guess he does look rather cool.

As a result of all of this, I have become a vocal advocate for children having eye tests.  As Mr J's reaction confirms, glasses aren't the trauma they were when I was growing up and if you can help to improve your child's vision by catching any problems early it has got to be worth doing.  I wonder, however, how many people are like me and never considered taking their child to see an optician.  Have you?


Thursday, 13 February 2014

My Fictional World Meme

As many people will know, I am a big fan of books.  In fact, at the moment I'm trying to ration my reading time a little until I'm on top of the housework.  However, that doesn't mean I can't take some time to write about my favourite books!  That's why I'm quite happy to take part in a Book Meme started by Reading Residence  What would you answer?

What were your favourite reads from your childhood?
I always loved St Clares and the Secret Seven, but my all time favourite stories were The Chronicles of Narnia.  I can't tell you how many times I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
There are always those books that defined your teen reads and stay with you – what were yours?
I discovered SF when I was a teenager when I picked up my dad's copy of Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery.  I never looked back.  Then I found David Eddings and my love of Fantasy books was rekindled.  I also learned to love Jane Austen from my mum.
Who are your favourite authors currently?
Elizabeth Moon and Jim Butcher are my absolute favourites.  I still enjoy a bit of Austen and McCaffery and have discovered Matthew Reilly thanks to my husband.
Which 3 genres do you gravitate towards most often?
SF, Fantasy and Chick Lit
Can you choose your top titles from each of those genres?
SF - Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series is brilliant (Girl's SF, my husband would say - although it's far from 'girlie' with plenty of death and mayhem)
Fantasy - Elizanth Moon's Paksenarrion series is my favourite, but Jim Butcher's Fury Series is excellent too.  Both full of power, sacrifice, honour and incredibly intricate plots.
Chick lit – Katie Fforde's Love Letters is very sweet.

And your least favourite genres?
I don't do horror at all, or what I call fake Fantasy (Vampires etc!)
Of the many, many fictional and fantastical worlds, where would you most like to visit?
I'd quite like to visit Anne McCaffrey's Pern.  I love the idea of modern dragons, fighting to protect humanity in a beautiful but hostile environment.
Everyone loves a villain, right?! Who would make your favourites list?
You know I don't think I do like any villains.
Share the books that have had you sobbing?
The book I always get a bit teary reading is called the Princess by American writer Lori Wick.  It's about a girl who agrees to an arranged marriage with a Prince who is still grieving his first wife.  Such a beautiful story about self-sacrifice and finding love when you'd given up hope.
And let’s end on a high! Which books leave a smile on your face, and maybe elicit a few laughs?!
I love Terry Prachett books.  My favourite is Snuff, which does often occasion a giggle or too while being pretty deep in  places.  Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is another one I can't resist frequent smiles while reading.

I shall tag Orli, Just Breathe and Awkward Ancestors to join in the fun!

So please share, grab the badge, tag a few more, and pop over to Reading Residence and link up so we can explore each other’s worlds.  If you don't have a blog then comment below on a couple of the questions if you like.

The Reading Residence

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Comfort Food on a Dismal Day

The winter days continue damp and dismal, the nights are dark and the wind howls down the chimney, stirring the fire to leaping flames  - and all thoughts of salad flee from my mind.  (To be honest they were never that deeply ingrained in my mind in the first place.)  As the snow falls - yes, it snows here because we're almost 1000 ft up -  it's time for some good homely hot food, preferably of the stewed and stodgy variety.  Chicken casserole with dumplings is my husband's current speciality and I am quite content when he suggests it for dinner.

However, when I was a child my favourite 'winter' meal was called Star Wars Stew - I'm pretty sure the idea comes from the Brownie Recipe Book of the time.  Basically it was just a sausage casserole, but made with whatever was available in the cupboards.  The thought being that when you got in late from the 'movies' and you could throw everything together in a matter of minutes from what you had to hand.  My husband recoils at the very idea of it but I have great hopes of winning the children over one day.  Actually I'm probably fooling myself since they won't eat most of the ingredients let alone a strange combination of them!

Here's the recipe - such as it is:

Ingredients (Apart from the sausages, it's all pretty much optional depending on what you have in your winter stores!)
8 large sausages - fried until browned
1 tin oxtail soup or a good quantity of gravy
1 tin of potatoes
1 tin baked beans
1 tin sweet corn
Onion - frozen or fresh
Any other tinned or frozen vegetables you fancy - peas, carrots etc.

Once you have browned off the sausages, chop into good sized chunks (quarters works well) and fry with the onion.  Add all the ingredients together into a big saucepan.  You may wish to quickly boil any frozen vegetables before adding.  Cook over a gentle heat for about ten minutes until simmering.

(You can even cook it on the top of the wood stove if you're suffering from a power cut like we did yesterday - assuming, of course, that you are blessed with such a device.)

Serve with bread and butter - a fresh crusty loaf is wonderful if you can manage it.

So, what do you think?  Am I as strange as my husband thinks for hankering after my childhood favourite or does it sound like a delicious warming meal after a busy day?

This post was inspired by a competition on the Co-operative Electrical website for winter warmer recipes and was written as an entry for the competition.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

A Weekend with a Weekend Box

This week I got the opportunity to try out a free "Weekend Box" to review.  I'm always looking for interesting things for the children to do on a winter weekend so I was very keen to see what they got out of it.

Before I get further into the review, if you fancy trying one for free with your family, you can go to and use the code NICOLA35 for a free Weekend Box with free delivery.  It's worth giving it a try.

I was very excited when our Weekend Box arrived, and was keen to have a poke at it before I let the children loose on it.  It's very attractively packaged, as you can see from my pictures, with the supplies for each activity individually wrapped and labelled.

The Weekend Box is a simple idea in many ways, but very effective.  There are four creative activities with pretty much everything you need to complete them in the box - Cook, Make, Explore & Green are the categories.  I think the only things we needed this time were scissors and potatoes.  Aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 8, they are designed to be creative and educational.  There are cards with clear instructions and a set of stickers to put on each card when the activity is completed.  The box itself has a certificate printed on the inside to use as a record for your child.  You've got everything you need for a quiet afternoon indoors - perfect for when the weather is as unpleasant as it has been lately!

I'd decided to start with the "3D Glasses" activity on Wednesday as a special treat to keep Mr J and Miss A occupied while Miss I was at Cookery Club.  They were very excited - as was Miss C - when they saw all the pieces in the box and the usual squabbling occurred.  On reflection it would have been better to just have Mr J and Daddy involved, but there was a passable level of co-operation with Mr J cutting out the cardboard frame for the glasses and Miss A cutting the coloured lenses to size and creating a lot of mess with the glue.  The children were a bit too impatient to wait for the glue to dry, so we ended up using sellotape to fix everything in place and they all enjoyed having a go looking at the sheet of 3D images.
So far so good.

It was a lot less tranquil on Saturday when we sat all the children down to have a go at the next two activities.  I'd decided that Miss I and Mr J should work on the Sand Art together, while Miss A and Miss C were closely supervised making the Bird Feeder.  A great plan...  Especially since they were required to tidy up the dining tables first to make room for the activities.

The three girls, who all strangely enjoy a bit of housework, were all very happy to help clear the tables of all the stuff that builds up during the week (toys, books, random bits of paper, the occasional shoe - you get the picture?).  There was a brief bout of tears from Miss A because she "didn't know what to do to help", swiftly solved by giving her a cloth to wipe down the tables.  Unfortunately, Mr J, who despises tidying up, got into a strop that resulted in him being banned from taking part in the activities until he could show me he was in a calm mood that wouldn't result in sand all over the room.

However, finally all were seated at their appropriate table with instruction card and supplies ready for Daddy to help them.  I, fondly, thought I would be able to leave them all to it and get on with the washing up.  Of course, I was wrong.

Miss A and Daddy started building the Bird Feeder together, but as there was nothing for Miss C to do I had to step in to engage her in counting the lolly sticks ready for the next stage.  The lolly stick base was carefully constructed by Daddy and Miss A and then, while Miss C was helping to build the sides, Miss A got on with the little colouring book that came in the box.  Actually, this colouring book has probably been her favourite part and she has spent the rest of the weekend carefully colouring each of the pictures with a focus that has surprised me.  The Bird Feeder was completed and left to dry.  We were going to put it out today with the Bird Seed provided but forgot, and Miss C is now sleeping with it clutched in her hand.

Meanwhile, Miss I was putting glue on the picture ready to add the sand and Mr J had calmed down enough to be permitted to join in but was having to just watch his sister at work.  This is where it first occurred to me that perhaps I had not thought things through properly.  I ended up letting him put all the sand on a plate ready for use.  When Miss I had finished getting the glue in the right places, Mr J was given the task of using the green sand.  Of course, he casually moved on to use the orange and red sand as well, leaving Miss I complaining that she hadn't had a go.  There is a second picture on the other side of the card, but we had to wait for the glue (which Miss I had over used) to dry before doing any more.  We have yet to complete the Sand Art activity!

We've left the fourth activity - Cooking Potato Boats - for the moment, as potatoes are not something we routinely have in the house, nor something the children very often eat except when disguised in a variant form (chips, mainly).  Perhaps, if I remember to buy some potatoes this week, we'll give it a go next weekend.

I love the idea of the Weekend Box.  I love the design and I love the activities themselves.  Unfortunately, though, I can't say the Weekend Box has been an unparallelled success for our family.  But that is more a result of the dynamics of having four children aged 2 to 8 than any fault on the part of the activities.  I hadn't considered how to make the best use of the activities for our three eldest, and hadn't fully taken into account the desire of Miss C, precocious 2 year old that she is, to join in.  I can imagine that in a family of one or two children they would have a wonderful time exploring all of the activities with their parents.  Our children did enjoy themselves, but there just wasn't enough to keep them all occupied.  I definitely think next time we would need to get a couple of boxes or simply make use of the activities in a different way - if we'd still had the 3D glasses to make it probably would have made a difference.

Remember, if you'd like to try it for yourself you can use the code NICOLA35 on the website to claim your free Weekend Box.  If you do, leave a comment below to let me know what you think!