Introducing Life by Naomi

So I’ve finally taken the plunge and moved the blog over to www.lifebynaomi.com.

You’ll find all the posts from It’s a fine, fine life, including all those slow cooker recipes, tips for children and stories of our life in Manchester. I’ll continue blogging about our life now that we’ve moved to Lancashire.

Please update your bookmarks, re-subscribe and see you over the other side!

Ribble Valley Sundays: The Calf’s Head at Worston

Ribble Valley Sundays

This year, Tim and I are planning to make the most of the amazing pubs we have practically on our doorstep in the Ribble Valley. Having a toddler means that evening visits to pubs are generally out, but we thought a regular Sunday lunch slot would be a fair measure of working out the best and the worst. It also means that we’ll get to know lots of the villages around us. We’ll be visiting lots of Ribble Valley pubs to sample their Sunday Lunch menus – sounds like a good plan to me.

Last Sunday, we visited The Calf’s Head at Worston. Worston is a pretty little village, tucked under the imposing Pendle Hill. The pub (Country Restaurant, Hotel and Watering Hole actually, according to its slogan) is the biggest building in the village, and certainly doesn’t want for car parking. We visited on a wintry, windy day in January, and the setting was a bit bleak.

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At this time of the year, it sometimes feels as if it’ll never be summer. Looking out on Pendle Hill, winter was definitely in full force. So the roaring fire inside, with hot spiced apple for sale at the bar, were both very welcome.

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Although we had booked, we were asked to buy a drink at the bar and wait until our table became available. In fact, before I had even ordered the drinks, Tim was being taken to our table and had ordered our meals.

The dining areas are, I presume, extensions of the pub, and there seemed to be three different areas in use. This meant that, although it was very busy, it didn’t feel crowded in any way. This is certainly a popular location for Sunday Lunch, particularly with multi-generational parties – I think we were the only table with only two generations, rather than three, at the table.

Although the pub is very traditional, the dining areas are a bit more modern, although the decor did seem quite dated. It is a hotel, and it felt like a hotel dining room rather than a pub, if you get my meaning. Rather than being cosy and traditional, the dining areas felt a bit cold and unloved. However, the facilities for children – highchairs and changing rooms – were excellent, and the toilets were good too.

Sunday is carvery day at The Calf’s Head, and, having a slightly fractious toddler on our hands, we opted out of having a starter (I had already seen the dessert table). We were given a slightly odd plate of crudites to nibble, which kept Ben happy while Tim got our meals.

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The carvery offered quite a selection in terms of meat on offer: turkey, gammon, lamb and beef were on offer, and, as Tim got my meal, we both had all four. Tim, being a committed carnivore, thought this was excellent, and was particularly pleased with this. Ben devoured his Yorkshire pudding, and would have happily eaten ours too if we had let him. Personally, while the meat was fine and well-roasted, I would have liked a lot more vegetables. Mashed carrot and shredded cabbage just weren’t special enough for me, I’m afraid.

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The dessert table was a bit special. I’m a real sucker for dessert, and this one is clearly a draw for the Calf’s Head. It’s on display opposite the carvery, so you can’t miss it.

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There’s a fresh fruit salad right at the bottom end, so you do have a healthy option!

The choice of desserts fitted the traditional aspect of the pub: lemon meringue pie, black forest gateau, trifle, banoffee pie. We sampled both the lemon meringue and the banoffee, and both were fine, although I did wonder how much the menu varies from week to week.

As Ben had well and truly had enough by this time, we skipped coffee and headed home, our bill coming to just under £35. That wasn’t too bad, I thought, for a 2 course Sunday lunch for us, but I did think the whole experience was slightly like stepping back in time, in terms of the food and the decor. However, it is very popular, and we went based on a recommendation, so it definitely suits other people’s tastes.

Food: 7

Atmosphere: 5

Service: 6

Child-friendliness: 8

Overall: 6/10

I’d love to hear your Sunday lunch recommendations, so please comment below. Next week, we’re heading to the Aspinall Arms at Mitton.

4 months in…

Back in August, we moved into our new home. We had hardly any furniture, a surprisingly big garden and we couldn’t believe how blessed we were to have found this house. But, with my old flat in Manchester empty and on the market, we still had 2 mortgages to pay, and a car that was surely on its last miles. I was facing starting work at a new school, with the challenges of being full time with a maximum teaching timetable. Ben was starting a new nursery, full time. In addition, we were further away from our families and didn’t have any friends nearby. We tried to prepare ourselves for a tough few months.

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As I’ve blogged about before, our first couple of months were crazily busy, mostly with family commitments. Throughout November and December, we’ve were able to spend some quality weekends in our new home, and to finally purchase some furniture. We’re slowly getting to know the village and – very slowly – making connections.

Sofa

They finally bought a sofa for me!

The centre of Whalley is a 10 minute walk away, which is great. A library, a park, lots of lovely coffee shops, a florist, a hardware shop, an old Abbey and even a monthly farmers market – not to forget the wine shop and some lovely pubs (or so Tim tells me). The village really drew us to this area, and we’re really enjoying having all this loveliness in our doorstep. We’ve also enjoyed taking visitors, like Becca in the photo below, and her husband Jon Man, who took the photo, to the Whalley Wine Shop.

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Outside Whalley Wine Shop.

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Feeding the ducks… or eating their bread.

We’ve also found a church in Clitheroe. We’re getting involved in St James. It’s a year since we left Ivy in Manchester, and it’s great to be able to commit to a church community. Churches are sometimes, paradoxically, quite difficult to get into – it isn’t always obvious how you move from ‘visitor’ to ‘regular,’ and from ‘regular’ to ‘part of the community.’ When you have a toddler, we can spend much of the service involved in distraction techniques, so when the service ends, even if he’s been in the creche, you want to get out of there asap. It takes a real effort to spend some time having coffee and trying to have a chat. Mid-week small groups are definitely the way forward, although it was great to be part of the choir and to attend church on Christmas morning all together. 

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The evening carol service just before Christmas.

Our first Christmas in our new home was excellent, with my parents and Ben’s godparents and their little boy coming to visit. We were so glad of the extra space – rooms for people to sleep in, (just about) enough chairs for everyone to sit in. It was really good to cook Christmas dinner ourselves – Tim took responsibility for the potatoes.

Sleigh

This was a very classy Santa in a local garden centre.

We had a few days away for New Year, heading to Betws-y-coed in Wales for a few days with some friends. Tim’s parents had Ben to stay for a couple of nights, which was fantastic – we had a really fun time, and it was lovely to have some proper grown up time.

Garden

Tim gardening with my dad.

So now we’re back in Lancashire to settle in to 2015. I’m praying it’ll be a peaceful year, one of really establishing ourselves where we live. We’re hoping the flat will have sold and completed in a few weeks, and we’re coping with one car. I’m hoping to rediscover a bit of work-life balance by limiting myself to stopping work at 9pm each night (a New Years Resolution), and hopefully to blogging a lot more. While these “catch-up” posts are useful for looking back on what we’ve done and where we’ve come from, it’s not what I really want from the blog, so that’s something to work on. I’d love to hear what you’d like from the blog (if you read it), so please comment below, and a Happy New Year to you all.

Book Review: The Other Ida

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It’s been a while since I did a book review on the blog, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. In fact, I’m reading a lot at the moment, as we have a fantastic library in the village. It has a great library, and Ben and I walk down there most Saturday mornings. As well as a huge range of books for younger children, Ben has recently discovered the children’s DVD section. Borrowing a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD last week turned out to be a pound very well spent, as Ben is currently obsessed.

This means that I’ve been able to pick up the odd novel and also a few cookery books. The Great British Bake Off Christmas book is currently in my possession, and I’m tempted to renew it until the end of December. I’ve also joined a local book group run by the Library service. This is great, as it means I have to prioritise my reading – this is never really a chore.

So when I was asked to review a new novel which had won the Dundee International Book Prize, I was happy to agree.

The Other Ida, by Amy Mason, is a fast-paced, original novel, with a great main character. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d like Ida, the main character very much – she drinks too much, is hopelessly chaotic, and seems to be on a path to self-destruction. But actually, she is a really complex character, and her journey of self and family-discovery is a really good read.

One of the things I love so much about reading, and Literature in general, is that it can transport you into the shoes of another person. In Ida’s shoes, there is an element of discomfort. Her experience and history is so far removed from mine, and yet, I could really relate to her. In fact, it made me think back to my teenage self and made me realise how much we do change in those formative years in our teens and twenties.

Suffice to say, Ida’s own teenage years were chaotic, and traumatic at times. As an adult, she is experiencing the fallout from that, and hasn’t spoken to her alcoholic mother for years. When her mother, the writer Bridie Adair, dies, Ida has to return to the home of her teenage years to help arrange the funeral. Her relationship with her sister is fractured, to say the least, and the spiky dialogue between them is vivid and engaging.

I really enjoyed this book. It is the kind of book I would choose, but I have to say, I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would. The non-linear structure means that the pieces of the puzzle fall together for the reader in the same way they do for Ida. Each evening, I couldn’t wait to find out just that bit more. Its fast pace kept me interested, as well as my real hopes for Ida.

I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher, but all opinions here are my own.

A Christmas Preview

SONY DSCLast Wednesday was a wild, cold and blustery night up here in Lancashire. As much as I wanted to stay inside in the warm, I ventured out into Whalley to a Christmas Preview night by Food by Breda Muphy.

Food by Breda Murphy is a lovely eatery in Whalley, opposite the train station. Part restaurant, part deli and part gift shop, I have already been in several times to find gifts and to eat. It’s a really lovely place, just outside the main village. The food is really high quality, and truly delicious. Plus, it’s a family-run, independent business.

The preview night was an opportunity to view their Christmas range of decorations, gifts and food hampers.

SONY DSCI love this beautiful pale blue glass jar. A lot of the items on sale were in icy tones of white and blue, with lots of sparkling lights and glass. It looked both festive and elegant.

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I could definitely see this clock on our mantlepiece!

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These socks hanging on the wall would make fun present. There were also lots of snuggly blankets and throws – necessary for chilly Lancashire evenings.

SONY DSCThese hampers had some lovely components. There was a real range as well, in size and price. I may have my eye on one or two of these for gifts.

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I did buy one of these signs, and they seemed to be very popular on the evening – most people had one or two in their basket! I think it’ll look great in our hallway.

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Christmas definitely needs a little sparkle, and this glass tree is just beautiful.

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These baubles look so beautiful in a group like this. They were really unusual.

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Stags seem to be very fashionable in home decor this winter. I thought this guy was gorgeous. I just need some furniture to put him on.

Add in some canapes, a glass of Prosecco, and by the time I left, I was feeling really quite Christmassy… is it time to start singing carols yet?

60 Days of Summer: Week 4

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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