60 Days of Summer: Week 5

60 days of summer logoThis past week has been crazily busy. When I went through my diary last Sunday, we had something scheduled in every single day, and all of those things were out-and-about things. So it’s been a really fun week.Sunday 10th

Sunday was our Godson, Sebastian’s, first birthday party and dedication. We are really good friends with Carina and Andre, his parents, and they are godparents to Ben. We were privileged to be asked to be his godparents, and we really enjoyed visiting our old church for his dedication. Tim and I prayed over him during the service, and Ben had a great time too.

His party was lovely – an animal themed party in the church hall. Carina made an amazing lion cake, which Ben thought was brilliant. It was lovely to meet so many of Carina and Andre’s friends too, many of whom I had heard about but never met. 

Monday 11th

On Monday, I met up with my Sister in Law, Pippa, and my Brother in Law, Si, and their three children. We went to the viewing park at Manchester Airport. The children really enjoyed the play area and running around through puddles, and I think Si probably enjoyed the plane-spotting most.

Tuesday 12th

Another place on my ‘Places to go before we leave Manchester’ list was Dunham Massey. We’ve been several times, but I really wanted to go around the house as it is currently being the ‘Stamford Military Hospital,’ as it was during WW1. We met Tim’s parents there, and they kindly looked after Ben while I toured the house, which was excellent. I’m hoping to do a separate blog post on it when I have the time, so I’ll leave you with this photo of a deer. The deer were the most settled, and the closest to the house, that I’ve ever seen them. 

Wednesday 13th

 

On Wednesday, we went to Reddish Vale Farm with some of our NCT friends. Ben had a new splash suit that he was very proud of, and spend more time playing in the soft play area than actually feeding the animals. But we got him and Ariana to share a bucket of carrots and pose from some photos. 

Thursday 14th

We did do exciting things on Thursday – swimming and a play date – but I didn’t take any photos. So I took a photo of our trusty car going over 185,000 miles on the clock. Let’s hope it lasts until we move house!

Friday 15th

On Friday, I took Ben to ‘Play and Cake’ at the Chill Factore, Manchester’s ski slope, with real snow. This is a session aimed at under 4s, and is a combination of soft play and snow play. Again, I’d like to do a blog post about this, but let’s just say it was really good fun. 

We went to the Trafford Centre after this. I was hoping Ben would fall asleep in his buggy; he didn’t. Instead, he played in the Barton Square Beach – a huge sandpit, where buckets and spades are provided. Fortunately, he was then so exhausted that he didn’t protest too much as I dragged him round the home shops.

Saturday 16th

On Saturday, we headed over to Liverpool to celebrate our nephew Luke’s 6th birthday. He was on holiday in South Africa for his actual birthday, so he had his cake in the shape and design of the South African flag. Ben loves seeing his cousins, and we had a great time with our family. 

Andre, Carina and Sebastian came over for dinner on Saturday evening, which was lovely. We now have only 5 days left (all being well) in this house, so packing is well underway.

I think I will be taking a break with 60 days of summer for a couple of weeks while we move, and until we get our broadband set up. Instead, I’ll leave you with a photo along the lines of the next week.

Boxes

 

 

 

60 Days of Summer: Week 4

60 days of summer logo

This has been a week of birthdays in our home. We went to a 2nd birthday party on Sunday, and Ben had an incredible time on the bouncy castle.

Sunday 3rd Aug

Ben also met up with some of his friends from his old nursery, which was hilarious as he remembered them. Thanks for inviting us to your party, Annabella!

On Monday, it was Ben’s 2nd birthday. We had three of his cousins, his grandparents and his Aunt and Uncle over for the morning and for lunch. He absolutely loved opening all his presents, and did recognise that his hurriedly-made cake was a dinosaur. I got to meet my newest nephew, Joseph, as well, so I enjoyed some baby-cuddles before my own son got too jealous.

Monday 4th Aug

 

On Tuesday, we took his new balance bike out to the park for a bit of a practice. Ben just loves pushing it along.

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We also visited the National Football Museum in Manchester, which was fun, and also heard that we have exchanged contracts on our new house, hooray!

On Wednesday, we had a quieter day and stayed at home. We did lots of painting and playing with glue and glitter.

Wednesday 6th AugOn Thursday, we went swimming and then went to the park in the afternoon. I went out for dinner with my NCT friends, and completely meant to take a photo of us for the blog. However, we were so engrossed in catching up that I completely forgot. So instead, here is a photo of Ben on the roundabout at the park.

Thursday 7th AugOn Friday, we went to a place I have been meaning to go to for ages, Brookside Garden Centre in Poynton, where they have a miniature railway. Ben is train-obsessed, and this place was perfect for him: a train-themed play area, a shop for all your Thomas the Tank Engine based requirements, and a really good miniature railway. Rides were a bit pricey at £1.80 for all over 2s (should have gone last week), but he absolutely loved it. It’s also a lovely garden centre, with lots of playhouses and a good aquatic centre where were spent a while watching the fish. I think we’ll try to go back before we go.

Friday 8th AugSaturday was the day before my birthday, so I arranged to go out for brunch with some of my best friends to The Ash Tea Rooms. If you haven’t been to The Ash, I highly recommend it: in a converted hotel, you will find a chocolatier, a cake-decorating business, and a gorgeous tea room. The food is excellent, and the cakes are divine.

Again, it was lovely to catch up with the girls, and really lovely to have some grown-up time – we actually managed to have whole, complete conversations, and the only distraction was the food.

Saturday 9th AugI hope you’ve all had a lovely week too. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.

 

 

 

 

 

60 Days of Summer: Week 3

 

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This week, we had our holiday in Northumberland. We went with my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and my parents’ dog, Petra.

I love Northumberland. Tim knows it really well, having studied there, and we went 3 years ago for a weekend celebrating our wedding anniversary. So when my parents suggested going for a week for our family holiday, we signed up straight away.

We live quite a long way from my parents, so having a holiday together for a week in the summer is a great way for them to spend lots of quality time with Ben. We had a great time in Essex last year, and a great time this year. UK holidays are excellent when you have a small child: you can take your car, you don’t have to worry about the heat, things are familiar enough for the child to be happy and it’s easy to arrange a doctor’s visit or a babysitter if necessary.

 

Sunday 27th July.jpgThe house we stayed at was in Warkworth, and part of Tidal Properties. It was right next to the river, so on the first day we hired a boat and rowed upstream. Ben hated the first five minutes but loved it as soon as he got to help row. We didn’t let the men row the whole time, but they were a bit more skilled than my mum and I! I should also point out that in the photo we had our coats on because of a very short shower; the rest of the day was beautifully sunny.

Monday 28th July.jpg

The one place everyone wanted to go to was Alnwick castle, so we planned this for Monday. Tim and I had been before as it was our main destination on our anniversary weekend. There was one reason for this, originally: some of the first two Harry Potter films were shot there. With me being a massive Harry Potter fan, we spend most of our time on that visit in the castle. This time, as it was a beautiful day and we had Ben with us, we only visited the gardens.

Alnwick gardens were surely designed with children in mind. These fantastic dumper trucks were occupied all day, and Ben was lucky to grab one as soon as we arrived. The children can scoop up water from the fountain and then redistribute it elsewhere. There was also a scheduled water fight, as well as loads of interactive water features. The rest of the gardens are both fascinating and beautiful.

We were lucky enough to grab a table at the Treehouse cafe for lunch, which was much more reasonably priced than I expected. We eventually left around 2.30pm, with Ben falling asleep in his pushchair on the way back to the car. I cannot remember the last time he just fell asleep in his buggy, so he must have been suitable exhausted.

Tuesday 29th July.jpg

With family holidays, we’ve found it works well to alternate busy days with quiet ones, so we spend Tuesday pottering on Warkworth beach. Northumberland beaches are beautifully sandy, and with hardly anyone there. This was really the first time Ben has spent much time on the beach, and in between building sandcastles, paddling, collecting shells and pebbles, running and flying a kite, he had the time of his life.

I love this photo of my sister – you can really see her baby bump!

Wednesday 30th July.jpg

On Wednesday, we went to The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which gets cut off from the main land at high tide. This is a really beautiful, dramatic place, with the ruins of a medieval priory and a castle in a stunning landscape.

Thursday 31st July.jpg

We had another day on the beach on Thursday. Ben also tried beach cricket with his Dad, Grandad and Uncle Simon. We also booked a babysitter and went out for a grown-ups only meal.

Friday 1st Aug.jpg

 

Friday was the only rainy day we had on holiday. After a morning trip to Craster and Seahouses, we had a little family party for Ben, who turned 2 on 4th August. Tim baked and decorated this cake, with a seaside theme. The party was complete with Pass the Parcel and ‘Hop Little Bunnies,’ and everyone joined in.

On Saturday we headed home after a lovely holiday. When I was putting Ben to bed, I realised I hadn’t taken a photo of him that day, so I snapped this quickly as he was brushing his teeth.

Saturday 4th Aug.jpg

 

I’m not very keen on the quality of my photos in WordPress at the moment. If anyone can give me any advice, please let me know!

 

 

60 Days of Summer: Week 2

60 days of summer logo This week has been crazily busy, and at times, frustratingly slow. We’ve got a date for moving house, and hopefully that will all go ahead as planned. So I’m starting to plan the move. Tim has been working serious overtime on a big project at work, and for 4 days this week, his car was in the garage, so he had to take mine. That had a bit of an impact on our days, but the weather has been incredible – I cannot remember another summer like this since moving to Manchester 10 years ago!

On Sunday, Ben woke up talking about “baby sharks.” We have no idea where he got this from, but Tim made him a little cardboard baby shark, and we took advantage of a 2 for 1 offer to go to Sealife Manchester at the Trafford Centre. Sunday 18th The lighting, as you can imagine, was quite low, but here is Ben staring at some huge fish. Although I’d heard that the Manchester Sealife Centre wasn’t very big, but it was just about perfect for Ben – he walked around everywhere, and was suitably impressed by the little sharks in the tank. I preferred the turtle.

On Monday, we had our friends Emily and Isaac over to play. Isaac is nearly a year older than Ben, although they’ll be in the same school year, and Ben thinks he’s wonderful. They played together really happily in the garden. Here they are, having a snack. SONY DSC On Tuesday, Ben and I caught a train and a bus to go to MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) in Manchester. This visit, he wanted to see the aeroplanes. Tuesday 21st MOSI is one of my favourite places to take Ben: it’s all really high quality exhibitions, never crowded, with loads of interactive stuff. Oh, and it’s all free.

We had a day at home on Wednesday, so we played with cars in the garden. SONY DSC On Thursday night, Tim and I had a real treat: a meal out in Manchester. As it will be one of our last opportunities to go for a date in Manchester, we opted for a meal at Sapporo Teppanyaki, where the food is cooked on a hot plate in front of you. I plan to do a review of this, but here’s a taster… Thursday 24th.jpgFriday was another hot day (hasn’t this summer been amazing?) so Ben and I improvised a paddling pool with his old baby bath in the garden. Later on, we also went to visit his cousin James, where he played in a real paddling pool.

Friday 25th

On Saturday, we set off on holiday. We broke up our journey by stopping at Leeds Armoury, where they currently have a ‘Dino Jaws’ exhibition. This was excellent, and brilliant for little boys who love dinosaurs. Here are Tim and Ben outside: Saturday 26th My photos from inside the exhibition were really dark, so I’ll save them! Hope you’re all enjoying the summer as much as us!

I apologise for the original paragraphing errors in the original version of this post – it’s one of my own pet hates, so I can’t think how it happened. Hopefully I’ve fixed them now.

60 Days of Summer: Week 1

It’s been a while (on the blog, that is) since I did anything as disciplined as A Month of Slow Cooking. To be honest, it took us all a while to get over that. However, as the summer holidays are almost upon us, I’m going to start a new series.

Introducing… 60 Days of Summer!

60 days of summer logo

The idea is inspired from Project 365, but, quite honestly, if I took a photo a day every day, some days you’d just end up looking at piles of exercise books. But during the summer, I’ve got time to have some fun. Seeing as one of the reasons I blog is to make memories, this seems like a really good way of doing that. Also, I want to take the blog more into this direction: sharing what our family is up to as we prepare to move away from Manchester.

I’m starting this on a Thursday, mostly because I don’t work on a Thursday at the moment, so Ben and I tend to have fun. So our first week is a it longer than 7 days long, but that’s ok.

Thursday.jpg

On Thursday, Ben and I got the train to Marple, where we had lunch in a lovely cafe, walked along the canal and went to a lovely play area. The train was definitely Ben’s highlight.

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When Ben napped on Friday (after a tantrum-filled morning), I went out into the garden and tidied up a bit. This hydrangea is looking beautiful.

Saturday

Tim got up early with Ben on Saturday morning and they went outside to play in the garden. They found a little frog, and so tried to make him a temporary pond in a bucket with some branches and leaves. The frog stay around for a good half an hour before leaping away. You can see it in the photo perched on the edge of the bucket.

Sunday 13th

On Sunday, we went to visit Tim’s parents in North Wales. Even though Manchester was in blazing sunshine, in North Wales it was too cold for a barbecue, so Tim and his dad barbecued outside and we ate inside. Ben loves his Grumps, especially doing ‘Half a pound of tuppenny rice,’ like in the photo.

MondayThis is a selfie taken after work. Ben’s current catchphrase is ‘What’s that?’ and that’s just what he’s asking.

Tuesday

Fun with Play Doh after nursery.

Team english.jpgThis is me with my English department. Kim (our lovely head of department) and I are both leaving this year, so we went out for a lovely meal in Gusto in Didsbury to mark the occasion.

Thursday 16thScooting in the park before it got too hot!

Friday 18thBefore going to my leaving staff meeting, Ben and I went to the Trafford Centre. He hasn’t really been there before, as I work so close, so if I needed to go in I would pop in after work. He loved the dolphin fountain!

Saturday 19thIt poured with rain all morning yesterday. So when it finally brightened up, Tim said, “I think we should all get some fresh air,” and we walked to the park. Ben had an amazing time splashing in puddles and got his shoes well and truly soaked.

That was our first 10 days of summer!

Leaving Work

chalk-592163-mYesterday was my last day at the school I have worked at for over 4 years. Despite qualifying 9 years ago, it is only the second school I have worked at. In those 4 years, I have seen 4 head teachers and 2 Ofsted visits, taken 3 GCSE classes and 2 A Level classes through their final exams and marked more exercise books than I care to think of.

I arrived at the school in May 2010 after an emotional farewell from my previous school. During that first week, I remember being struck by 2 things: the hard work of the teachers and the aggressive hostility of the pupils. In that first half term, students swore at me more times than in the whole of my career to date. It’s the only time in my career that I have been close to being physically assaulted by a pupil ( a girl threw a book at me).

In a bit of a contrast to my previous school, teachers worked really hard for every lesson. Differentiated resources and pacy, fun lessons seemed to be the norm. I quickly had to pick up my game.

In my first year there, I wasn’t allocated a classroom, and consequently taught in 10 different classrooms in a week. Not one was an English classroom. Some classes had a different classroom for every single English class. It was tough.

The observation process felt relentless. We would live in fear of getting our 2 day window notice. A bad observation could result in all kinds of “intervention.” There seemed to be another agenda too: I remember being told that I couldn’t achieve Outstanding as another colleague in my department had already been given that grade, and they couldn’t be seen to be favouring us.

After four months, the colleague who had been appointed with me resigned. She went back to her previous job, as she couldn’t cope with the behaviour. At that point, I seriously wanted to go with her.

Even so, I stayed. I complained enough about the rooming situation that by my second full year, I was given my own classroom. After a bit of soul-searching, I decided to focus on 2 things in my teaching: pace and marking. I took a course in co-operative learning and integrated that into my teaching. I was asked to mentor on the GTP programme. I started to enjoy my classes.

This was the year I got pregnant with Ben. When I told my classes that I wouldn’t be teaching them the following year as I was going to be on maternity leave, they were both supportive and curious. So many students asked me to name their child after them, while I was struggling to find a name that didn’t remind me of a student!

When I left in July 2012 to have Ben, I took so many presents home with me. He was probably dressed by staff and student gifts for the first 3 months of his life. I could not believe the generosity.

For the first 6 months of maternity leave, I barely thought about work. Then, when I started to get the hang of motherhood, I started looking forward to getting back. I planned, prepared and used all my KIT days. By the time September 2013 came around, I was really keen to get back.

I have loved working 3 days a week this year. I’ve thrived off it, and have been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it. However, it has been a more-than difficult year. A dip in results last year, a new head of department and a sudden change in leadership led to a lot of new initiatives, including an unforeseen early entry for Year 11. Redundancies were made. Combined with Mr Gove changing the goalposts every few weeks, it has been exhausting. Teachers 30+ years into their careers have said they’ve never known a year like it.

Yes, it’s been tough. Probably tougher on the staff than the kids, but they’ve had it tough too. I think we’ve probably all questioned over the course of the year why we’re doing this. Teaching part-time has had its challenges as well: every class is shared, and communication is vital. There’s also the fear that the students will compare you unfavourably to the other teacher. By Thursday, after 3 days of work, I’ve definitely felt the need to recover. Then you find yourself worrying that you’re missing out on something important.

Then there’s the work-life balance. That’s been a whole other battle, and one I definitely haven’t won yet.

But ultimately, each year, I’ve become a better teacher. This year, I’ve really focused on my differentiation. I’ve found ways to make it manageable without it limiting students’ achievement. I’ve become much more traditional than I first thought I would, understanding through experience the skills that really make a difference in terms of results.

I’m not as creative or as engaging as I’d like, but ultimately, I get good results. This is perhaps because of my teaching allocation: in the time I’ve been at the school, I’ve never had a top set. Instead, I’ve been placed firmly with students who are, or will be, at the D-C borderline. While I’m very skilled in this area, I’ve possibly become de-skilled at teaching Gifted and Talented students. This, then, is an area to work on in my new school.

Also, the culture around observation at the school has changed. All teachers were asked to wedge their doors open. Senior management spent their time wandering in and out of lessons, picking up on the good practice and where people needed supporting. When we were told that we were being graded on these observations, that was fine: we all felt that those making the gradings had seen a lot of our day-to-day teaching.

Despite a poor Ofsted rating (we are currently judged as ‘Serious Weaknesses’), it doesn’t feel like a failing school. It feels like a school that has been through the mill, and has had some difficult results to deal with. It feels like a school that is working hard, but perhaps doesn’t quite know the direction it’s going it. I’d argue that this is the result of 4 years of temporary or acting heads, some of whom have been put in to position at a moment’s notice. I’m looking forward to working a school where there is such a clear vision and direction.

In some ways, I’m really sad to leave my current school. I’m really sad to leave the English Team, who I’ve grown very close to. It’s even sadder because I think they are now quite vulnerable with a new Head of Department coming in, as the current Head of Department is also leaving. I’m sad not to see my Year 10s go through to Year 11 and beat all their GCSE predictions.

But I’m also really excited about this change, because it will be the first of many for us as a family. I’m moving jobs, but we’re also moving house and relocating into Lancashire. Moving jobs has meant having to go back into work full-time, which I’m kind of dreading, especially as I’ll have a heavy teaching commitment, but I’m also excited. I’ll be teaching a new A Level syllabus, and will have a top set year 9. I hope I’ll be a better teacher by the end of next year than I am this year.

Team english.jpg

Thoughts on joining a new church

psalms-1184199-mAt the very end of 2013, Tim and I decided to move on from the church we had been attending. In fact, we were fully signed-up members. We had met through the church, and got married there. Ben had been dedicated into that community. It wasn’t a decision we took lightly.

However, once we had made the decision, we did put it into action swiftly. We knew that we did want to start attending another church in Manchester, and we were aware that it may be a temporary thing. We were planning to try to move further North this Summer.

Now it is Summer, and the move is hopefully going ahead, although dates and times are still unknown. So again, we’re starting to think about attending, and perhaps officially joining, another church. This, as you may imagine, is easier said than done. We like familiarity, and it takes time to build relationships. In my experience, you don’t really feel part of a church until you feel that you are part of the community. That takes both time and effort. I firmly believe that what you put in, you will get out in these instances.

One ministry where I have been able to get a bit involved in our current church is with the Women’s Bible Study on a Thursday morning. This academic year, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work part-time, and Thursday is one of my days off. This has meant I could attend the Women’s Bible Study.

As a busy mum, it’s really hard to find time just to study the Bible. If you attend an evening Bible study, you tend to have to alternate with your husband so that someone is at home with the child. Then, when you do get there, you’re so exhausted you can barely focus. To be honest, most evenings this year, I have been planning or marking, so an evening Bible study wouldn’t suit me at all. During the day, even on my days off, I find I’m either cramming so much in or can’t take my eyes off Ben, that I get few chances for a quiet time alone.

The Women’s Bible Study, which meets on a Thursday morning, has a creche provided. Not only that, you pay a donation. The church employs a member of staff to run the creche weekly, with a rota of volunteers. I felt so much better about leaving Ben with the creche for an hour, knowing I had contributed financially to the sustainability of this.

So, with Ben looked after, and hopefully enough functioning brain cells to engage with the Bible at 10am, I sit down with my small group of ladies, one of 3 groups that all run at the same time. I have to say, I really appreciate all-women Bible study. I think I actually appreciate them more now I’m a mum, and hearing wisdom from other women who have been there, 1, 5, 10 or 45 years ago has been brilliant.

We’re a very mixed group – several mums on maternity leave, several who stay at home with small children. Some women who work part time, whose children have grown up, or who are at school. Some women who don’t have husbands or children but seem to have the most exotic and exciting holidays. Women from all four corners of the globe. Some women who have been attending for years, and some who only attend for a few months (like me). But I’m sure that every single woman who attends feels blessed to have been a part of it.

I haven’t been to many churches, and I haven’t come across something like this before, although I’m sure it’s not unique. I certainly hope it isn’t unique. But I’m incredibly grateful, both to God and to the ladies who run the Women’s Bible Study, that I’ve had the chance to be a part of it this year.