Tuesday, 30 November 2010

It's snowing!

Saturday was Open Day and we all arrived looking like Scott of the Antarctic ready to be allocated our setting up tasks. Mine was to do the signage with Navin and Micheal, which involved attempting to predict just how lost visitors could get finding their way round then pre-empting the possibility by strategic placement of signs and directional arrows.  On completion I took up my post fro the rest of the day with Team Reception and got buffeted by icy winds blowing in every time the doors opened. We looked after visitors, checking their registrations, directing them and handing out prospectuses (I still don’t know whether the plural is prospecti or not) and other information.  I was very impressed with the funny barcode thingy that you can scan with your smart phone to access these blogs and the uni twitter site.  I had to ask an especially tolerant visitor to do it for me so I could go ‘Wow!’  As you know, I have only just mastered my IPOD and my mobile was constructed in the Bronze Age!

Sunday was a day of buckling down to get really serious about my assignment due in on 15th December.  I am finding it really tough.  I gave up by 7pm and sat down to a yummy roast dinner cooked by he-who-knows-about -such-things.  He had also been shopping for all the ingredients for my Xmas cooking so I had a lovely evening preparing Christmas pudding, a Christmas cake and mincemeat for mince pies.  I found it a very therapeutic experience!

My friend came over yesterday for  help to make Christmas pressies for her children and family. While the Christmas puddings bubbled away merrily for 6 hours, the cake baked slowly for 4 and the mincemeat suffused in its yummy juices, we sat merrily occupied making froggie bean bags, mouse pin cushions and a half pinny all from old pattern books from the 1970s.  I find it very funny when people call that retro - I remember it from being there!

Froggie bean nags
Mr Mouse the pincushion

Now I have the onerous task of having to ‘feed the cake’ at regular intervals.  According to the fragrant Delia Smith every few days the cake needs to be unwrapped then poked all over with a darning needle.  Then I have to spoon teaspoons full of brandy over it and then rewrap it in two layers of wax proof paper and foil.
..a woman’s work is never done!

Today we woke to a magical scene of snowy loveliness.  I always get so excited when the snow comes (must be my Aussie blood!), but getting into Despatch was quite another matter!  I decided against risking my scooter but donned hiking boots and suitable waterproof garments and, armed with my trusty mountain trekking walking stick, set off for the wilds of Studgroom Cottage after parking the car on the main road.  The view from the window was absolutely beautiful – a true winter wonderland. 

Below are pictures of Studroom Cottage at its loveliest!

Cotton ball bush at Mansion Hill

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I am starting to get pretty anxious about my first assignment due in by 15th  December. As I have a personal tutorial today I thought I would deal with my anxiety by taking some time out to prepare for it by working out my main concerns and getting more organised. 

The assignment is called a professional log and it involves doing a sort of ‘mini research project’ based on a personal log we are meant to keep during the year.  We have to link the three aspects of our course: theory; skills practice from our ‘triad work – sort of like role playing but dealing with our real issues; our placement work with real clients; our personal development work experienced in our special group work; and insights gained from our compulsory personal counselling sessions.  All this has to become a coherent 3000 word piece that makes sense to the examiner and accords with his /her  experience of us as students.  We have to discuss about our strengths and weaknesses, learning gained from both successes and failures in our clinical work and our interactions with peers.  So you can see why I am pretty terrified – there is no hiding behind glossy words!  We have to be pretty open and robust.  The last time I submitted a written piece was May  at the end of my first year so my assignment writing muscle feels quite rusty. One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog was to exercise it a bit.

I do feel a bit better now I have read all the course handbooks (some bits for the first time), sorted out all my notes including downloading all the lecture notes from the tutors, and dug out my last assignment with the feedback from this tutor. One great advantage of reading the handbook  was finding extensive notes about the assignment. No wonder the tutors keep going on about reading them!  Now I ‘just’ need to make sure I cover all the bits required, and block in sufficient time slots to work on it without getting myself into a panic. I cannot stay up all night to write an essay – I need lots of thinking time and I always end up doing about five or six drafts.  I always have to set the deadline at least two days early so I don’t panic about the computer blowing up, the printer running out of ink and/or paper or me coming down with a deadly virus. I think that all goes back to the days of doing my first degree while on call for home births, and running a household as a single parent!

I have a busy rest of the week with rellies staying tonight and tomorrow and another university  open day on Saturday.  If you recall, at the last one I made between 5-600 cuppas so I wonder what Jess, the boss has in store for me this time – watch this space!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Very blowy week!

It’s been an odd week and I am feeling as blown around as the trees outside my window as I write.  Sometimes I feel that my life is very compartmentalised – at others I feel like my different worlds seem to tumble together  in quite an unsettling way.
Our second vehicle is a little 50cc scooter and with its tiny engine, and small wheels, I am very affected by road and weather conditions. Last Thursday morning I arrived at my counselling placement feeling really buffeted by wind, flying leaves and disgruntled car drivers.  I hope you, dear reader, are not one of those motorists who throw cigarette butts and other rubbish out of the car window straight in the face of some poor biker like me!
I try to arrive at my placement in time to strip off my leather jacket, padded trousers, and turn myself into a respectable looking professional.  Sorting out my ‘helmet hair’ is always difficult but after preparing the counselling room I sit quietly with a cup of tea, and the clients’ notes, refreshing my memory then preparing myself to listen as well as I can.  I have four clients booked but it is rare that all turn up.  Some report illness, conflicting schedules, childcare problems, or prearranged holidays.  The one’s that unsettle me the most are the ‘Did not Attends’ or DNA’s who just don’t turn up or stop their therapy with no warning or notification.  I had my first DNA last week.  Not knowing why leaves me with a sense of ‘untidiness’ and unfinished business.  Another client was stuck in traffic and 20 minutes late which meant we had a rushed shortened session leaving us both feeling dissatisfied. My other two clients arrived on time but both related unsettled weeks.  By the time I left, having completed my paperwork,  the wind had died down and I was able to ride back home in the lull before further gales set in that evening. I was looking forward to my stained glass class but I made a mess of my glass painting and felt like I hadn’t really achieved anything. I missed my after class drink with my Sister-Out- Law (we are ex’s of brothers)  because her dog was so poorly she couldn’t leave him.
The rest of the week was strange. My SOL made the decision to have her dog put down.  He had been her companion for twelve years and, being a dog person myself,  I understand how dreadfully she misses him. She is coping with her grief by submersing herself in a frenetic and totally uncharacteristic bout of house cleaning!  Another friend organising a dear friend’s funeral needed some support so I helped with the cooking and then joined her for the after- funeral meal.  It was strange being there with people grieving a person I did not know. We toasted his spirit, raising a glass to his portrait  - showing a kind, gentle man.
On Saturday my cousin celebrated her 80th birthday with a gathering of the clan for a meal. Our  present was the mobile phone she had requested.  We had great fun teaching her how to use it then all posed for a  group shot with our phones to our ears and our cousin sitting in the middle decorated with 6” badge declaring her to be ‘80 years young’!  I am so impressed that you can now buy a simple phone with no apps or camera, large text and very clear instructions.  She mastered it much more quickly than I had my IPOD!    Am I going backwards?  The more apps and complicated the  appliances get,  the simpler I want them.  I want my camera to take pictures, my phone to ring or text people, my computer to be a work tool not a games console.   I think it is old age!
On Tuesday I turned up for work in despatch looking like I’d just had a major dose of botox!   As  I was pulling the loft hatch down the night before,  it crashed down on my top lip and front teeth.  Alan my boss has already had to patch me up once after I tripped and fell really badly a couple of weeks ago while rushing back to work.  He thought bubble wrap might come in handy!  I told my son Jack that I looked like I’d just had botox.  He misheard me and began frantically reassuring me that I really didn’t want to get into all that stuff and I was just fine as I was! 
So after this strange blustery week full of quite disparate events, I have requested a quieter, calmer  next one  - but then again I have just checked my diary…

Monday, 8 November 2010

House Fairies, Fireworks and cheese on Toast!

We have three fairies living with us.  Ms Sock Fairy lives in the washing machine and only ever steals one of each pair.  I figure she is either one-legged or quirky enough to like wearing odd socks.  She must have moved here with me as he-who knows- about- such- things never had a problem before I arrived with my washing machine! Then there is Ms Plastic Lid Fairy.  No matter how many times we sort out our plastic container box you can guarantee within a month the occasion arises when I’ve just put the leftovers in a plastic container ready to go in to the fridge and the lid is missing – but of course only the lid for that container.  I’m convinced that this  fairy lives in a very snowy landscape and enjoys plastic lid sledging so much she needs to constantly replenish her supply. Our third fairy is particularly active at the moment. She is Ms  Procrastination Fairy and has been stealing my motivation for college work all week.  I decided to tell you about her in the hope that all the publicity would placate her enough to encourage her to go away and bug someone else for a while!

That naughty last fairy has sent me some lovely distractions this week. One of my favourites was  the fireworks display at Blackheath last night.  Every year we wrap up warmly and fuelled by large bowls of thick vegetable soup, walk the mile or so up to the Heath.  The crowds get thicker the closer we get. Normally I avoid such large gatherings but this one is always friendly and accommodating.  As we wait, children  play with sparklers and glow sticks, others  visit the stalls and food stands and everyone seems happy to chat to strangers around them. As the tinny music fades the countdown is announced.  The crowd roars out the numbers – 10….9…8..down to  ‘zero’ and  the first rocket explodes, showering the darkness with its brilliance. It is followed by 40 minutes of noise and colour assaulting the senses with pure delight.  The crowd is silent apart from the oohs and ahhs accompanying the many  spectacular moments.  As the last shower of sparks disappears the crowd breaks into applause.  With our visual appetites satisfied we begin the walk back, the smell of the chemicals lingering in the air  and the memory of such beauty still so fresh – a huge friendly crowd dispersing into the night. We walked back with three friends who stayed to share a late meal – rounding off a perfect autumnal celebration.

Now it’s time to banish that fairy and get on with my work …. but not until I share one of my favourite family cold weather foodie treats with you  - perfect for those study breaks- or dare I say it – when you need one more thing to stop you getting started!

Alice’s Family’s Welsh Rarebit  (or posh Cheese on toast)
For two people


Grated cheese – about a handful per person – I like strong cheddar – the stronger the better but just choose your fave*
Teaspoon of mustard – I like Strong English but use whatever you fancy*.
1 egg*
A little milk*
Pepper and salt and herb to taste*
Worcestershire sauce*
4 slices of bread*


Turn on the grill . While it is heating mix the * ingredients together with a fork. Use enough milk to make the mixture a little bit runny but not too sloppy or it will fall off the bread. Toast the bread and sprinkle it with Worcerstershire sauce.  Spread the mixture over the toast and grill it until it is browned on top and the mixture firms up.  Then – enjoy!!

Some variations:
Try sliced tomatoes under the cheesy mixture.
To make it spicier add paprika or cayenne – not too much though!!
Basil or parsley is yummy in the mix.

Why not try it then let me know what you think! If you have more ideas on variations I’d love to try them.  Now, no more excuses – time to get down and write that case discussion ready for next week – aaaahhhh!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

An interesting read...

My daughter Kate and I have been reading a book called ‘Why am I so disorganised? Sort out your stuff’ by Dr Marilyn Paul. Using an in depth psychological perspective and illustrating the work with her own deeply painful experiences, she writes about clutter, lateness, procrastination and disorganisation and the incredible negative effect these habits can have on one’s life and relationships.

I grew up with the strong messages of ‘waste not want not’ and ‘don’t throw it out as it will come in handy one day’. People who grow up with different messages and find it easy to tidy up and keep possessions to a minimum, find it difficult to understand messy people who surround themselves with clutter and vice versa.
When my children grew up and left home and I merged houses with my very tidy and organised partner, I found it extremely difficult to clear years of acquired possessions and move into my new life as a ‘post dependent children’ person. 

The words of William Morris became my mantra: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. Parting with unwanted gifts or never-loved heirlooms felt like betrayal but once I took those words to heart, I thought of it all as recycling as I offloaded via the tip, the Freecycle web-site and charity shops.  I found the hardest part was making the decision about what to get rid of – once it was gone I didn’t miss it and felt nothing but relief.
“Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement; a sanded floor and whitewashed walls and the green trees, and flowery meads, and living waters outside.” I haven’t quite managed the living waters outside unless you include the excuse for a  pond we made from sinking a large bucket into our tiny garden, however,  having pared my possessions right down the house is a pleasure to clean and tidy and it feels fresh and spacious. 

Marilyn explores the myths by which messy disorganised people live. These include ‘if you are neat you can’t be creative’. ‘Tidying up is boring’, ‘I don’t have time to do housework’, ‘I’m always late because I am so busy’. These were her myths and they affected every area of her life.  As she explored them, challenged them and began to change her habits her whole life changed.

She learnt the importance of allocating the correct amount of time for a task to include preparation and clearing up – it is an unfinished task without.  She found that by considering clearing as ‘a return to readiness’, she found it a posiitve experience rather than a time wasting procedure. She gave the example of washing up; by drying and putting the dishes away the kitchen is then in a state of readiness for the next meal preparation.  She stresses the importance of allowing transition time between tasks to have a break, say goodbye to the completed one and prepare yourself for the next.

Anyway I think it is a really interesting and informative book and has great relevance for me on many levels. I will mention two here:  Firstly, one of the ideas I am exploring for my research proposal is the topic of hoarding – why people do it, what is the thinking behind it, what keeps them in a state of such unhappiness surrounded by so much stuff that is neither useful or beautiful.

Secondly, I am determined to plan this year more carefully than the last to avoid major imbalance, unnecessary stress and feeling overwhelmed as deadlines approach.  By understanding and identifying underlying reasons and unhelpful thought patterns that lead to getting myself in such a tizz I hope to change bad habits and  improve my university and study experience. Maybe other students who struggle in similar ways will find this helpful – good luck and I’ll let you know how I get on!