Tuesday 30 November 2010

Service interrupted

Disaster! Our modem broke, so blogging from phone. Normal service will be resumed (with Malaysia tales) in 3 to 5 working days....

Can't believe I missed yesterday too, but I was in no fit state by the time I finally made it home. Still, I'll take 29 out of 30 as a very respectable InterBloPoMo score for this year.

I can't believe it's snowing here, and I've got a miserable cold. I almost miss the Malaysian heat, but not quite!

Sunday 28 November 2010

under the wire

Well. It is technically Monday in my time zone, and I'm in KL airport with a cinnamon bun and a java chip iced coffee, making use of Starbucks free WiFi. It's my first blogging opportunity since Friday - we spent a weekend at the paradise that is Pangkor island where the sun shined but the wireless wouldn't play.

The journey home is tough because I woke at 5am for the coach and will arrive in the UK at 4pm due to the time shift. So, after missing last Sunday, I have an extra long Monday instead. This does not seem a fair swap.

So much to share! It must wait until I'm home, though. This is just by way of a Sunday post, since it is still Sunday night at home. Hey, I make the rules for InternaBloPoMo!

Saturday 27 November 2010

Weeknote, 27/11

A beard. I knitted a Merlin beard for the students to use at the cultural performance on Friday night.

I also started my first ever pair of socks. Admittedly, I actually started knitting my first socks roughly this time last year, but since I never finished them, I don't think they count. I thought that pattern was far too dull for this beautiful sock yarn.

Going to:
Malaysia! And many places herein. See individual blog posts for more.
I'm not sure what will happen with this trip next year. If I agree to run it again, I am tied to my job for another year. Also there will be a new principal here and he will need to invite us, which he might not want to. But I'm worried that if I don't run it, it will not be as good. It's that "If I don't do it, no-one will" syndrome.

Mostly rice, and chicken, and vegetables. Also lots of coconut. Malaysians like coconut. And cake. And Milo.

About Berlusconi and the impact his premiership has had on women's rights in Italy. Some truly disturbing statistics in there.

Obsessed with:
Scheduling blog posts! Without 3G or reliable wireless, I have found it difficult to fit in blogging this week, which has led to a lot of scheduling (I am secretly writing this on Wednesday, though doubtless bits of it will change before you read the whole thing). I think I may have to skip Sunday, but I expect to be able to achieve my InternaBloPoMo goal to a greater degree than I did in 2009.

Entertained by:
Funny students. The D'Vali celebrations here at the College, which took place on Wednesday night. The outstanding cultural performance at the college feast on Friday night. And Inception, the film I picked for the plane.

Hot, but quite chilled out, in spite of this being quite a stressful experience. Actually, the students have made it a pleasure, and the ease of holding it in a remote college from which they cannot "escape" takes a lot more of the headache out of it.

Friday 26 November 2010


This week, Carmen picked the word LACUNA.

It is a good word for this week, meaning (at a very basic level) a gap, since this week has been a gap in my usual teaching schedule. There has been a Sally-shaped lacuna at school this week, and I have been in Malaysia, working hard with a bunch of bright and keen students to understand the culture and lifestyle of a population on the other side of the world.

For some of these students it's the first time they've ever been out of the UK, and so they find they also have a lacuna: in their understanding of other people's way of life, and particularly their religious beliefs. They might be the brightest and best of the school district I work in, but that district is still predominantly white European and most of them have no Muslim friends, let alone any understanding of what it is to live in a world where this religion is valued and respected by the majority. One, a student at a Catholic college, expressed her sadness that she felt unable to discuss religion with the Malaysian students because, if she were to discuss her own religious beliefs with other teenagers in the UK, she risked being teased and taunted for them. It is a sad state of affairs when we forget that people are entitled to choose their own beliefs, and to be proud of them.

On Tuesday, we were late back to college and one of the Malaysian students requested that we make a stop for the students to pray, even though we had only 15 minutes left of the journey. We duly pulled over at a motorway rest stop, which had a prayer room for both men and women, and the associated washing facilities, alongside the cafes and the swag shops we are used to seeing in the UK. My students were interested and fascinated by the ritual attached to prayer time, but nervous and keen not to be rude by asking too many questions or breaking protocol. In the end, they hovered outside the prayer room and peeked inside at what was going on before leaving to ensure they weren't getting in the way or being disrespectful.

I was pleased on many levels by this entire episode. Firstly, that there are places in the world where you can speak openly about your faith and make a request for others to honour your right to honour it without feeling that this is going to cause problems. Secondly, that my students were so keen to get a good understanding of what was going on. And finally, that, being the sort of clever and confident leaders we are trying so hard to foster, they will take their knowledge back and perhaps start to tackle the lacunae that exists in British understanding of other faiths, especially where they live. Islam is not best represented by what is reported in the news, in spite of this being the only representation many people will have of it, and I hope that none of these students will ever forget that.

If you want to play Weekword next week, head on over to Cathy's blog on Monday and leave a comment.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Some pictures from the Cameron Highlands

Tuesday was our trip day into the Cameron Highlands. It's a slightly cooler region of Malaysia, high up in the mountains, and we travelled there (by a very long road, which took hours longer than it should have done) to visit the Boh tea plantation and do a jungle walk, although in the end we only had time for the Plantation.

It was a joy to return to Boh. Last year we walked up on an overcast day, but on Tuesday the sun was shining brightly and that made the perpetual breeze at the top even more welcome. I sat in the cafe and enjoyed a cup of Palas Supreme, which brews to a bright orange colour.

I am not a tea drinker, I'll admit: I like white tea, fruit tea and the occasional green tea, but I almost never drink it as a preference. It's a bit different up there, though. The tea is as fresh as you can get and it tastes even better for drinking it surrounded by miles and miles of tea bushes on hills so steep it is difficult to imagine how they harvest them.

C commented, when I said I did drink tea, that neither did he, but that the feeling of the British Raj was so strong that he felt he ought to kick back with a cuppa while some peasants worked in the fields below and he waited for his elephant to come and transport him back down to the town. He actually said this in a far wittier and more humourous way than I can remember, but that was the gist of it. So we sat with our teapot (and I with a big slab of serious chocolate cake) and enjoyed the fragrant greeness of the place until it was time to wander down to Brinchang and shop for strawberry swag. I managed to get strawberry shaped key rings for my entire tutor group for under £4, but decided on this occasion to forego the strawberry slippers, doormats and ear muffs, amongst other things.

Another great thing about the Plantation is the flowers. They seem to go hand in hand with the tea; perhaps they are planted on purpose to encourage bees. From tall yellow irises to these beautiful hibiscus, painted across the fields in every conceivable colour, they added a bright splash to the sea of verdant green we were surrounded by.

It's been sunny here all week. Here are a couple of pictures from the college to finish up. I've taken a lot less pictures so far this year, but I'll put the whole lot up on Flickr when I get back.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Gadget of the Week: Kindle part 2

Last week, I reviewed my Kindle in a Gadget of the Week post. This week I'm away and so wanted to make a short post in further praise of the Kindle, and particularly how useful it was whilst travelling.

C, the other teacher, clocked it early on in the flight and came out with the usual stock comments about how it's nice to have a real book and something you can hold in your hands etc etc - but even he has to admit that the daily newspaper subscription is worthwhile. Yesterday's issue of the Daily Telegraph kept me amused for the 5 hour bus journey into the Cameron Highlands (don't ask...) and I read bits to him, which he appreciated. I was also able to point out that it was on a free trial, so not only is it downloading automatically every day, I don't even have to pay for it yet. When I explained it would usually cost £9.99 a month, he started to suggest it would be cheaper to buy the paper, until his brain caught up with the maths.

I have also been able to peruse all the books C talks about with the college principal and his wife, who are both English teachers by background. It makes me feel a little stupid, as somebody who can never seem to find the time for lots of reading (although I am getting better), until I remember that I am educated in other ways.

Finally, there have been a few articles which might prove useful for work, which I have "clipped" to my clippings folder and can now find easily, even when the papers are archived. Excellent stuff. Now I just need to figure out how to delete things from my clippings, something I could presumably accomplish if I bothered to read the instructions properly ;)

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Tuesday Ten

Ten thoughts I've had over the past few days

1. Yey for the Pope! Finally, there is a sensible and responsible attitude towards this issue.
2. Berlusconi looks an awful lot like the devil.
3. These Malaysian students are so motivated and keen.
4. How can I make my students this motivated and keen?
5. Wow, Inception is a really confusing film. (1 hour later) Oh, and it's really short too! (2 minutes later as the loop starts again) Ohhhh.....OK. Stupid plane entertainment system.
6. I wish they sold Milo in the UK. By which I mean - I wish Milo tasted as good in the UK as it does here. I like to at breakfast, where it is served hot and then cooled down to your choice of temperature with ice cubes. It sounds ridiculous, but it isn't. I also like the way the cafe serves it - in a plastic bagful of ice, with a straw.
7. I am really enjoying reading Scott Adams's blog. I should find more blogs to read.
8. I'm so glad I visited Jo Malone at Heathrow Airport. My credit card is not so glad.
9. How can I set up a meaningful idea exchange between A-level Physics students here and at my own school?
10. I think it should be the law that everywhere has free wireless so I can blog and Facebook and Tweet from my phone and not have to fret about passwords and the like. Wishful thinking, I fear.

Monday 22 November 2010

Malaysia: Day 1

Here I am, finally arrived at Malaysia and having done a whole day's work already, even though my body still thinks it's only 8am. I joked with my headteacher C, the other accompanying staff member, that, having completed my duties for the conference, I could have arranged for my classes to hang out in the teleconferencing suite at school and taught them from over here. His laugh didn't convince me he thought I was joking.

The flight over was pleasant, in that I managed to sleep for most of it, although C was sitting in front of me and titled his chair right back which made movie viewing difficult. I wasn't aware anybody actually did that anymore; perhaps I'm just always fortunate about who is seated in front of me.

It is sunny today, which makes a nice change from last year, when it rained torrentially every day. We're in student accommodation which is going to take some getting used to, and something in the night has bitten or stung me, as my left forearm is swollen and red, though there are no visible bites. I slept very fitfully thanks to the jet lag, and at one point dreamt that my whole forearm was a mess of stings and bites that I couldn't stop scratching, so it was quite a relief to wake up and find it wasn't as bad as I'd thought.

There is no wireless access at college at present, and since tomorrow is a day trip up to the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, I'm not convinced I will be able to blog every day. I might have to do some sneaky post-scheduling. I am hopeful that I'll be able to share some pictures on Wednesday, though; and my Kindle is faithfully delivering my newspaper every day. Hurrah!

Sunday 21 November 2010

My Rock Collection

Following on from Weekword....

The whole collection. There's no good light these days!

As I went through them, I realised there are lots in there that I can't remember picking up. To start with I was kind of sad that all these rocks had lost their memories but I know I only put them in the jar if they've come from somewhere special so that comforted me. There are also shells, marbles and a piece of coral, and Mr Z tells me there is a rock with a hole in it in there that he's had for 33 years. So, it's kind of a combined collection now. Here are some individual pictures....

This is a desert rose we got on holiday in Tunisia when I was 6. Sib and I both had one.

I picked this rock up in Death Valley, when I visited with both parents in 2001. That was a special time for me, because I had both parents together for a few days for the first time in over 10 years and I really enjoyed the luxury of it.
The rock is sort of disappointing to me, because I wanted the crystals to be actual rock; however, I realised quite quickly that they were crumbling off and were just salt. So, I treat it gently and it sits on top!

Last year when we went to Malaysia, I had just started my Geology course and I was so excited about it and insistent on finding a good rock to take back with me. C, the other teacher on the trip, picked this one up for me at the Boh tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands. It has metallic flecks in it which I like a lot.

This is the black spherical stone that I picked up on the beach in Hythe, Kent. My grandmother lived there and I went to stay with her every summer holiday. We'd spend lots of time on the beach.

Here's the big green crystal Father Hand dug out of a cave wall in New Mexico.

Finally - I can't remember where I picked this up, but it's very pretty!

Saturday 20 November 2010

Weeknote 20/11

Not a lot. Busy, busy, busy. I am going to cast on for these socks today, though. I've got the pattern on my Kindle, all ready to go!

Going to:
Dinner with Parpy Jo, the now married lady. We went to Grounded, which is our usual Sunday morning brunch haunt. I now know they also make awesome pizza. Duly noted!

I made oxtail soup this week. Unfortunately, I managed to break the ceramic bowl of my slow cooker last weekend by dropping a jar into it (jar remained intact, typically) - an event that led to a few tears because that slow cooker was a gift from a company I temped for 10 years ago and I had fond memories of them, which were always triggered when I used it.

I manned up eventually though, and made it in a saucepan over a low heat for a long time. It looked unpleasant and the taste was very mild, but my goodness, I have never had a soup as filling as this! I made toast to go with it on Monday, and by the time I got to the end of the meal I was very, very full.

I also ate a whole pineapple on Thursday, and suffered the sore mouth consequences. Doh.

Not much this week. There hasn't been much learning time. Boo.

Obsessed with:
Who is going to be my new head of year from Christmas, since mine is leaving then (yey!). I tried to weight it a little by sending the Head's powerpoint presentation on leadership to my favourite candidate, but unfortunately he didn't get it. I am pleased in a way because I don't think they job is going to be a very nice one, but it would have been pleasant to have him presiding over tutor meetings and assemblies and the like.

Entertained by:
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows.
It was absolutely beautifully shot: quite dark and dim, so it is good to see it in the cinema, as intended. There is also a point at which Hermione reads the story of 3 brothers, where the story is animated in an extremely creepy Tim Burton style. It was very elegant and fitted the story well, but - as I said - quite creepy.
It's been so long since I read the Deathly Hallows I had forgotten most of the story. Bring tissues. Luckily Kath, my HP buddy, brought enough for me too.

I don't know whether I'm imagining it, but I sort of feel like the main characters are able to bring more emotion to their parts because it's the end of a decade of their lives, so they're saying goodbye to characters they've grown up being, as well as each other. The story is quite sad and bleak anyway, so it fits well.

Relieved this week is over! I had a terrible incident with a kid on Wednesday that I really had better not go into here, but suffice to say he won't be back in my class and maybe not even school, so you get the idea. It left me feeling a bit shaken and sad, so when I woke up this morning and realised it was Saturday and the week was done, I was so happy!
Excited about flying to Malaysia this evening. Looking forward to some good movies on the plane and plenty of knitting and Kindle time.

Friday 19 November 2010


Simply Cool Stuff picked this week's weekword, and what a word it is! She picked ROCK which is one of my favourite things.

Some rocks I sneakily photographed in the museum at the top of Wenceslas Square in Prague. They have an absolutely dazzling selection which I could quite happily spend many hours examining.

Father Hand is a bit of a rockhound, and I attribute my obsession to him. As he has moved further west in the US, I have been treated to more and more drives punctuated with exclamations of, "Look at that mesa!" or "I think we've got time to go and see this disused mine...." and I have a number of rocks that he has unearthed, or that I have unearthed with him.

My rock collection is kept in a fishbowl downstairs. The winter darkness does not allow for good night time pictures but I will aim to take some tomorrow. It includes a salt crusted rock I picked up at Death Valley; a big green crystal Father Hand dug out of a cave wall in New Mexico (the same day I saw a centipede the length of my foot and screamed so loud he thought I'd been attacked by a bear); a perfectly spherical black stone I found on the beach in Hythe, whilst visiting my gran one summer; and a number of other memories. I have taken to fetching a rock home from every trip.

Unfortunately, sometimes the ones I want are too big to carry.

My interest in rocks has combined, this past year and a bit, with my love of learning, which is why I've been taking a Geology class after school on Fridays. It's great to be studying again and I find the history in it dizzying, due to the sheer scale of it. I now know the difference between andesitic and basaltic volcanoes; what an uncomformity is; how U and V shaped valleys were formed; and the different ways that metamorphic rocks are formed. I've also learnt quite a bit about fossils. Oh, and I get to go to Iceland in February.

Geology rocks. And that joke never gets old.

Pop on over to the Simply Cool Stuff blog to read the other weekworders this week, and look out for the new word on Carmen's blog from Monday.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Yarn Review: Araucania Azapa

I still remember the day Araucania Azapa arrived at Get Knitted, because I was instantly and powerlessly smitten with it and had to buy some immediately, though I had no purpose for it. It was an unusual purchase for me because, for once, I liked colours other than the blue more.

I liked the blue a lot too, but I could see the cream being more versatile. Plus, it feels a lot softer.

I heard this described as a thick and thin yarn, but it is not. I found it to be evenly spun, although it shed a LOT while I was knitting with it. I was working with it on the plane home from Malaysia last year and remember the other teacher getting up to leave the plane, seemingly unaware that his left leg (which had been nearest me) was covered in a fuzzy halo.

It is very soft, being made up of merino with a healthy slug of alpaca and silk in there. It knits to bulky weight and runs to 140 yards/100g, in spite of what the label might say.

This was an issue last year, which still has not been resolved. Some of my labels said 190 yards; some 140. I started a Rav thread about it and some kindly soul measured her skeins to see, finding it to be the shorter yardage. Get Knitted were excellent when I pointed it out: they contacted their suppliers, relabelled all their skeins and, when they put the price down to reflect the lower yardage, refunded me the difference for the skeins I'd already bought. Then I sort of forgot about it; but I just went back to look on Ravelry and someone has commented, a month ago, that this still has issues with labelling and some LYSs still don't know the skeins are much shorter than they claim.

This is a bit pants, you know. I mean, if I knew about it a year ago, wtf are the suppliers still doing? I know the whole universe does not use Ravelry but if I were a yarn supplier I would be stalking the pages for my brands and doing everything I could to get positive comments on there, because it is the largest online knit/crochet community going.

Anyway, rant over. Cheeky lying about yardage aside, this is a truly delicious yarn. I have, to date, made a hat from it, and a Versatility, and I have 3 skeins of the cream left (I think), and Rosee from knitting group gave me a skein of blue she didn't want so I have many more Azapa projects ahead of me.

But if you're going to use it - buy more skeins than you think you'll need.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Gadget of the Week

This week....my Kindle!

I've now had it for about a month and I love, love, love it. I can't believe I actually had to think twice about buying it. I have been so interested in reading from it that I haven't even finished Birds Without Wings, which I have been reading since August and was just in a can't-put-it-down phase with.

This is what the print looks like. It's a bit blurry because I took the picture without a flash to try and make it more true-to-life. It actually doesn't look like a real screen, it is so close to text. I don't really understand how it works, but it is really easy to read and the lack of backlight makes it comfortable on the eye as well. And, if I'm ever in a dark place where I need a backlit screen in order to be able to read, I can pick up where I left off on my phone, having installed Kindle for Android. AND IT KNOWS WHERE I STOPPED READING. Amazing.

The display is so clear that when Mr Z unpacked it from the box, he thought there was a printed sticker on the front. The picture of Mark Twain you see in the first shot is one of the screen-savers that cycle round when it is turned off. It doesn't actually turn off properly, and unless I manually disconnect it from wireless/3G, it will download in the background anytime. I bought that Obama biography before it was delivered, and it was waiting for me on the Kindle when it arrived.

The other thing I like about it is that I can buy a subcription to a newspaper on it. Now, I get most of my news online or via Jon Snow on C4, but when I am abroad - like in Malaysia next week, for example - news sources are thin on the ground and I don't like not knowing what's happening. Thanks to the 3G on Kindle, though, I can have a British newspaper delivered to me everyday while I am abroad (as long as their 3G coverage is as extensive as they claim).

Other positives - it is light enough to hold in one hand for lying-down reading, and it has a great battery life on it. I've only needed to charge it once so far. I haven't even figured out how to add notes to it yet, but I have just bought a new History text book on it so will be learning that on the plane, I should think.

Kindle hanging out with my HTC. I bought this new cover for it so it matches the one Mr Z bought for my Kindle. It also (not by accident) matches my Hobbs dress, which is part of my "I'm very professional" outfit.

I have used it to access Google Reader but it doesn't like it very much because of the pictures; however, I don't see how I can complain when the 3G is free. It's worth noting, though, that once a wireless connection is set up, it will automatically connect to that instead of the 3G unless you're out of range.

But, I have no complaints. This may do what sheer force of will has failed to achieve: it may actually get me reading again. And for that alone, it was worth buying.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Tuesday Ten

I have been scrabbling around trying to find a Tuesday ten topic that won't involve me sitting here for an hour, waxing lyrical about grand plans. I even scrabbled in Google Reader for inspiration and remembered that Sally SowandSew now does Tuesday Ten too, and her topic this week (which I am totally stealing, sorry Bella!) is...

Ten things I would rather be doing than working

1. Sleeping late and getting early nights
2. Learning to write Android Apps - I have many ideas but need time to get my head round the App Inventor software
3. Finishing Cherie Amour (I can't get myself started on the sleeves! And they'll be so quick!) and the blue seabreeze shawl
4. Watching True Blood season 3, which Father Hand sent me almost a month ago and has lain, untouched, by the TV ever since
5. ....and The Wire, seasons 4 and 5, which are similarly neglected
6. Contacting friends on a more regular basis. I think I'm becoming one of those people you always have to call/email if you want to speak to me
7. Making serious inroads into the stash of ebooks I have been accumulating on my Kindle
8. Going to Zumba every single week (I haven't had a free Tuesday night for this since, ooo, September)
9. Various housey projects, like redecorating downstairs and sorting out the garage roof
10. Writing long and interesting blog posts, full of pictures and fascinating things you look forward to reading...

Monday 15 November 2010

Twix: the great debate

The debate has been raging on a forum I frequent this week.
The humble Twix. Is it a chocolate bar, or a biscuit?

I have to admit, when I first heard this, I thought, "How on earth could anybody ever consider it a biscuit?!" but it seems there are a lot of people out there who do, in spite of it being sold on confectionary stands and being totally unsuitable for dunking (I speak from experience).

Admittedly it has content that is more biscuit than chocolate, but then I would argue than many chocolate bars share this: Mars, Crunchie, Boost etc.
I also submit that this is simply an inferior version of millionaire's shortbread, which is most definitely not a biscuit and actually more akin to a cake in my book.

It's fraught, I tell you. Do you have an opinion? Please share!

Sunday 14 November 2010

Cherie Amour progress

I promised some Cherie Amour pics and I joined the shoulders and back today so here they are. You'll have the excuse the bear print PJ bottoms and the indoor light - it was one of those grey, wet days when outside feels darker than inside, all day, so it was this or nothing.

It's actually very flattering....

...and extraordinarily warm. I am still wearing it, having just been photographed, and when it's got the sleeves on it's going to be a toasty treat. I think it will look better when it's blocked and the lacey fronts have opened out a little, but I love the shape and the colours, and the speed this has been worked up. If I'd been disposed to start the sleeves today, I think I would be almost done with it. My wrists ache a bit today, though.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Weeknote, 13/11

Cherie Amour. She fairly flies off the needles. I am 4 rows off completing the body and then will just need to do the sleeves. Chunky on a 7mm needle is definitely the way to go - and I'm not even concerned it will be too warm because it's lace, and therefore very open. Pictures tomorrow when it's daylight, promise.

I am also quite impressed with the yarn. It's James C. Brett Marble Chunky, and I knitted the body up to the end of the left front before I finished the first ball. So that leaves the right front, the back and the sleeves. I was cautiously estimating two and a bit balls, but I now think I may not even have to start a third. It is a bit annoying that it has had a few knots in it and the second ball is wound backwards, but it's not really bright enough colours to be noticable.

Going to:
Teachmeet. This was very exciting, because it was part of my Google thingy action plan to present at one. I set this one up at Mr Z's school. There were about 15 of us there, and another 18 people joined online. There were some really inspirational presentations from teachers as geeky as me and we actually went over our allotted time of 3 hours, which I didn't think we'd fill. Mr Z amused himself by making us work with the MAC OS which was almost more than some people could cope with; indeed, the representative from Microsoft insisted on plugging his own laptop into the whiteboard, much to the glee of his colleague, who kept me amused with his Twitter commentary. I quite like the whole back channel thing.

It was just what I needed to refresh my teaching font as the days darken and it's difficult to find enthusiasm.

I made pumpkin cheesecake from this recipe this week. It was an odd consistency: almost mousse like. I wasn't convinced it was cooked when I took it out, it was so wobbly. People at work were complimentary but unconvinced. I'm vain about my baking and require effusive praise for my efforts so I don't know that I'll make it again, to that recipe anyway.

I did, however, perfect the banoffee flapjack for Teachmeet on Wednesday. I cooked the caramel longer and spread chopped banana across the based instead of mixing it in. I also packed the flapjack tighter in the tin, so I had thinner, harder layers. Win!

  • About Livestream, Songsmith, Photosynth and this very cool technology where you overlay pictures and you can do extreme zoom. Yey for Teachmeet!
  • That I look under 25 - at least according to the checkout woman who ID'd me in Sainsbury's today. Hilarious. Not even on a good day!
  • About US Foreign Policy in the 1920s. As the sole teacher of the A-level coursework this year, and it being my second time teaching the course, I have been doing a lot more reading around and am finding it really interesting. Let me geek out by saying that, although widely considered to be an isolationist period in US FP, I have yet to find a single historian who thinks this. So where does the belief come from? Tis a mystery. OK, you can wake up now.
Obsessed with:
Malaysia. Packing for it, planning the activities, fielding parent queries, making arrangements with the college, organising a team-building meeting, trying to organise the Head who's coming with me....it's going to be a looooooong week until we go. Made worse by the fact that, after tomorrow, I don't have a day off work for 26 days. I think that might be against some kind of law. I pointed out to work folks that I do at least have a long plane flight for two of those days, and that, whilst in charge, I could hardly be expected to do much if anything went wrong. I also have the afternoon of Sunday 5th December off. SCORE.

Entertained by:
The return of Misfits! I was quite distressed by the ending of the first series and worried they might not make a second and I'd be wondering forever what happened to Nathan, so I was relieved to see it back on C4 this week.

Cautiously - that I am getting back on top of things. It has been a better week this week.
And excited about the new Harry Potter, and the trip.

Friday 12 November 2010


This week's weekword was picked by Carola, who has some absolutely beautiful pictures to go with her word: November.

Being of a certain age, the word instantly made me think of this song -

I think I remember this video being played hourly on The Box, which was included in our cable subscription when I was a kid and was such a revolutionary idea - a music video juke box! It was like taping music off the radio: I'd hover prone over the VCR waiting for my favourites to come on.

I gather a lot of men this month are participating in Movember, a charity event in which men grow moustaches to raise money for prostate cancer research. I think that's a great idea! And a fun way to pass a November, too. I feel a bit sorry for it (not as sorry as I feel for January, it must be said) because it's the month when the cold and dismal kicks in and, although there are fireworks, these are always at the start of the month which leaves nought but the countdown to Christmas. Christmas is still a long way away.

I like to blog every day in November, because it's too easy to crawl under the spare duvet in my comfy chair and hibernate; at least blogging keeps me sharp. I feel like I have to work hard to stay sharp; it's not just the weather, but work is always tough this time of year. So, on my commutes this week I have enjoyed reminiscing about my past Novembers.

2009 I was in Malaysia for the middle 10 days (as I will be for the last 10 days this year!)
2008 I went to Prague at the start, and tried to deal with crashed-car fall out for the rest
2007 was when I joined Ravelry, and my knitting obsession began to rage.
2006 was when I took the 4 day ski course at Calshot which was loads of fun.
2005 was when Mr Z proposed!
2004 was when I started hanging out regularly with my now closest Bristolian friends, Aliboo, Parpy Jo and Kath. Such wonderful ladies, I don't know what I did before I met them.
2003 was when Jen was living in our spare room, haing finally left London.
2002 was my first month as a legal driver.
2001 ... well, I was living in Mother Hand's flat, temping for Leonard Cheshire and spending every weekend with Mr Z in a long-distance style. And my stuff moved to Bristol from London.
2000 I was living in Vegas, so got to celebrate Thanksgiving properly for the first time; my grandparents came to stay; Mr Z and I realised (after 5 years) that our attraction was mutual. That was a big November!
1999 I went on holiday to CUBA! I paid for it with my student grant for that term, which I was extremely proud of at the time; I don't know why. And that was the first month of my blog.

Before that it's difficult to remember anything particular. I guess I ran out of commuting time reminiscing about the last 11 Novembers! Really, November has been a good month for me over the years. It has involved a few holidays and lots of parties and other fun things. Here's to many happy Novembers in the future.

Look out for next week's weekword; I don't know where it will be posted yet! I'll edit when I do.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Yarn Review: Artyarns Beaded Mohair & Silk

This yarn is a bonafide luxury. I picked up a skein last summer at Jimmy Beans when I visited the shop. I planned my trip so that I could go and browse, and then go back a couple of days later when I'd had a chance to think about it - but I couldn't leave without the Artyarns. I would have been heartbroken if it hadn't been there when I went back.

In spite of being so beautiful, it languished for nearly a year before I had some Jimmy Beans Bucks to spend and treated myself to skein number 2. This made a sizable hat, with enough left over for a little pair of wristlets or maybe a small, lacy neckwarmer.

(I know: I still haven't blogged about this hat as a FO. The light is so bad these days, though - I can't get a decent picture.)

It's 80% silk and 20% mohair and Ravelry list it as a worsted, but I think it's more of a DK. The yarn is spun with sequins and beads in one of the plies and it is extremely sparkly when knitted up: much sparklier than I anticipated, or could see in the skein. I picked silver but there are lots of colourways available with gold. These don't make it awkward to knit with. I was worried the sequins would dig into my hands but it really doesn't; the only issue is when there happens to be a sequin when you're pulling through a stitch but I got used to it really quickly.

I had to frog this hat twice and the yarn coped well with frogging. I had to take it very slowly, but no freezing was required and it didn't look too bedraggled at the end of it. The mohair takes away some of the heavy drape of the silk and gives it a pretty halo. My colourway was artfully dyed so that the brighter turquoise and green bits spiralled and then doubled back on itself. Bearing in mind the skeins were bought a year apart, the colour matching was very close and I couldn't see any difference in colour.

That's just as well because it's very dear! I don't know that I could bring myself to buy it in bulk. It was used for a pattern in Vogue Knitting this spring - a lacey, drapey cardigan, for which I would have needed 6 or 7 skeins. HOW MUCH?!

I won't deny I'm tempted, though. It would be absolutely stunning in a garment. Perhaps I should start saving....then I'd have to pick a colour though, and that would be almost as impossible as saving in the first place.

Anyway - I can heartily recommend it!

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Gadget of the Week

I totally forgot, in my lovin' it list from yesterday, that we have another new gadget in the house these days.

Mr Z bought a Wattson last week. I think I saw this on Click, the BBC News tech report, when they reviewed energy monitors and I loved the look of it. It is a cute little white box with a nice soft display and colour phasing lights to show how much energy is being used. The changing display means it goes really well with our 4-letter word generator, which was a wedding gift from Father Hand.

The thing that really sold it to me was that I can plug it into my PC and download our energy usage over time to it, which I think is really nifty. I haven't done this yet, but it seems we run at roughly £360/year when we're both out/sleeping. This must be all the standby things, the fridge, my alarm clock ... oh, and the 3+ computers we never switch off ;)

It was so easy to set up that when Mr Z gave it to me, he went outside to burn things (one of his most favourite pastimes) and by the time he came back in I had it all done*. Then came the obligatory running around the house, switching things on and off. The hall lights suck in quite a lot and so I am happier now about keeping them off most of the time. And I have turned my computer off overnight at least once since it arrived. I should be better at doing this, especially now I have the new PC and it boots up in less time than it takes me to go to the loo.

Anyway, I can definitely recommend it! Time will tell if it's effective in the long term, but I am hopeful that we'll see a small reduction in our energy bills.

* He doesn't know that I couldn't find a mini screwdriver and thus just sellotaped the battery cover back on over the batteries. Well, he does now.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Tuesday Ten

Ten things I am loving (at this time)

1. My new Kindle cover. Mr Z bought it for me and it arrived today. I LOVE it, especially the silky pink lining.
2. Banoffee flapjacks, perfected. I made a second batch tonight and totally solved the sloppy caramel problem. Win.
3. The fact that just about all the leaves have gone from the trees in two days, thanks to the very blustery weather.
4. The rain. I know, mental - but it's good proper weather and I appreciate that.
5. James C. Brett Marble Chunky yarn. My Cherie Amour is half finished already and I haven't even started the second ball.
6. This nail polish from Nubar. I am not very good at putting nail varnish on, but when I saw it reviewed on Georgie's blog I had to have it. It helps that the brand lacks all the nasties that put me off nail polish usually. I hope my love for it continues after it has arrived.
7. Pumpkin and sweetcorn soup. So easy, so filling.
8. My clever phone. At work yesterday the network went down, so I used my phone as a wifi hotspot, connected my laptop to it and did my register. It is DIZZYING how far technology has come in the past few years.
9. Planning my outfits for the trip. At the weekend, I felt fairly overcome by the weight of the work to do for Malaysia so I did the only sensible thing - I printed out the schedule and made outfits for each day, and then laid them all out in the spare room ready for packing. We don't leave until the 20th, but I found it very calming. I stopped short of photographing my outfits but that might be a task for this weekend.
10. Chocolate Weetabix. Especially with banana. Yum.

Now...back to work!

Monday 8 November 2010

Brain teaser

Can you spot 9 people in this picture?

Sunday 7 November 2010

Tales from the Animal Kingdom

...in which we learn how to stop a bear from climbing whatever you are stood in.

"Hey look! It's like a tree, only easier!"

Saturday 6 November 2010

Weeknote, 6/11

I have been working hard on Cherie Amour. I have finished the peplum and am into the ribbing. I have ignored the red waistcoat, until today at knitting group, when April made me feel bad for neglecting it, so I have put a couple of rows on it.

Temptation was great today at Get Knitted, and I bought a quantity of Lorna's Laces sock weight, along with some chunky wool for a pair of felted slippers (pattern on the ball band, awesome) and some Noro Silk garden in sock weight. I might actually knit some socks out of two skeins of the Lorna's, but the rest is earmarked for shawls.

Going to:
Calshot, for a ski bindings course. It is frustrating to have to make a 4 hour round trip for a 45 mintue refresher (I think I may already have said how frustrating it is...) especially since this conversation always happens...
Trainer: Hi! Sally! From M... School
Me: Yes
Trainer: Where is M... School?
Me: It's in Wiltshire
Trainer: Wow! You've come a long way....
Me: (if looks could kill, you'd be dead on the floor)

I wouldn't bother if they would just give us a tech for our dry slope sessions, but they say they can't. However, one of the other women on the course said they once turned up without a qualified tech and the centre provided one. Good to know ;)

Pumpkin Cake with chocolate glaze (adaptation by me)
4 large eggs
1 cup groundnut oil (or other flavorless oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups pure pumpkin (pumpkin puree)
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Chocolate Glaze
6 oz dark chocolate
2 oz butter
1 tbsp golden syrup

Pumpkin Cake: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Butter (or spray with a non stick vegetable spray) a 10 inch (25 cm) bundt pan. Beat the eggs, oil, vanilla extract, and sugar until well combined (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the pumpkin puree and beat until incorporated. Sift in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices and beat just until incorporated. Stir in the nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then invert and remove the cake from the pan. Cool completely before frosting.
Chocolate Glaze: Melt the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat, stir in the brandy, and let cool to room temperature. Pour the glaze over the top of the cooled bundt cake, letting the glaze flow down the sides.

This cake was such a triumph! It rose so big, I had to destroy the top to get it out of the oven - but luckily that was, of course, the bottom once the cake was turned out. It was very easy and tasted amazing.

It's important to add the salt though - I forgot and it really noticed, in my opinion. Also my pumpkin was not so much pureed as it was squished heartily by hand, since my blender goblet decided to give up part way through the pureeing. It didn't notice.

I also made an ate a quantity of pumpkin soup; I generally cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, sling it in the oven for an hour or two, peel off the skin, blend, add sweetborn and stock, et voila. It was a bit too chunky with unblended pumpkin, but very filling and tasty nonetheless.

  • That the way ski binding DIN settings are worked out has changed only a minimal amount since the last time I did the course, two years ago.
  • That I have too much work to do.
  • That bears can be scared away just by asking them what they're doing.
  • About Archeaopteryx - the first known feathered bird. I studied it for my Geology homework and found it very interesting. I like the historical bits of Geology because it's so different to the history I am used to - it's so old!
Obsessed with:
Trying to get through my to do list, and how scary the speedy passage of time is. This term will go mega quickly because I have the Malaysia trip and then the KS4 residential; next term will be superquick because I'm marking for the January modules, and going on a residential; then the 4th term will be quick because of the KS3 residential and skiing....you get the picture. This school year is going to be over before I know it.

Entertained by:
The Big Bang Theory, returned. I love it even more now that Blossom is Sheldon's girlfriend.
Little Women. I've never read the full version before and I think this will be my first book completed on the Kindle.

Just very, very tire - disturbingly so, for only one week back.

Friday 5 November 2010


This week....Abundance, from Silver Linings 4 Me

Magenta: I ask for nothing!....Master.
Frank-n-Furter: and you shall receive it. IN ABUNDANCE.

Tonight, there has been an abundance of fireworks.
Today, there has been an abundance of rain.
(NB: It's not been a great day to be a cat....just ask the Mitten, who is currently cowering under our bed)
This week, there has been an abundance of work, and other demands on my time.
I personally have an abundance of eye make up, knitting yarn, perfume and head hair, which likes to worm its way into food, down plugholes and everywhere else.

There has also been, of late, an abundance of beautiful autumn foliage. I am always tempted to pull over and take photographs when I see a particularly lovely tree, but they never look as spectacular as the real thing, to me; so enjoying the autumn foliage is a pleasure peculiar to this month. I had to drive to Southampton yesterday - a 4 hour round trip - and the beautiful golden and orange trees were the only saving grace about the entire affair. It's particularly nice when it's windy, and sunny, so that the leaves fly off the trees and get caught in shafts of sunlight. This also happens when the kids at work pick up enormous bundles of leaves and throw them at each other.

Another few days of bad weather and the whole thing will be over for another year; but for now I am enjoying it.

Head on over to Christine's blog to find out who'll be picking next week's word!

Thursday 4 November 2010


I don't often look at my blog stats, but it is sometimes interesting to peek at what search quesries led some of my visitors here.

Today, I discovered that if you search in Google for is there blood coming out of my ears, my blog is the the top hit! Win.

Yarn Review: Lorna's Laces Lion & Lamb

I thought it would be fun to write some reviews of yarns I have used, and that somebody might at some point find it useful. It is also going to be helpful with InternaBloPoMo....so, I thought I'd start with my favourite.

It's no surprise I should make a post about this yarn. Long-time blog readers, or members of my knitting group, will know I have a terrible weakness for it. In fact, the only reason I stopped buying it is because I realised that, while it may be luscious, it is way too warm for me to make a garment from. Sad face. There are only so many shawls a girl can have, you know.

Lion & Lamb is a 50/50 wool/silk blend in worsted weight. It comes in wide variety of colourways and has a lovely sheen to it, thanks to the silk. It's very soft and has great drape. To date, I have used it to knit a clapotis, a modular shawl, and a little mini shawl for a wedding. I find it very easy to knit with; it's comfortable on the hands, not splitty, and spit-splices well.

Of these projects, the modular shawl has had easily the most wear. Yet, it has not pilled, and has undergone machine washing on the handwash cycle without suffering any noticable wear and tear.

My only issue with it is the dyelots. I knitted the clapotis in the Tahoe colourway, which I bought from Jimmy Beans and got on back order. The colours are a lot more muted than the skein they had in Get Knitted at the time - or, indeed, as the colours are displayed on the website. I know there's going to be some variation, but it doesn't even look like the same colourway. I remain a bit gutted about this; but oh well.

I have multiple skeins in two colourways waiting for projects. I think one is going to become this modular shawl; not so sure about the other. I have four skeins (above) which would be enough for a modified Hey Teach; but as I said before, I might find it a bit too toasty to actually wear. So, it will have to languish in stashland for now.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

November Goals

  • Be on top of all marking before going on the Malaysia trip
  • Not get sunburn in Malaysia
  • Finish reading a book on my new Kindle...and get a newspaper subscription to try
  • Knit a pair of gloves/handwarmers
  • Complete a considerable portion of the chunky knit jumper I am working on
  • Successfully present at a TeachMeet
  • Lose 10lbs - I am noticing a huge difference in fitness since I started with my PT; now I want to see a difference in WEIGHT, too. This may mean less cake....
  • Update my blog every day!
  • ...and my work blog at least three times
  • Be proactive about doing little writing jobs. I think there may be some little writing jobs out there for me, but I must make an effort to find them
This month is already manic and we're only three days in. In fact, this morning, when I woke up and tried to cheer myself up by reminding myself it is Wednesday and therefore closer to the weekend than from it, it didn't make me feel better, because I have a gazillion things to do. I think I need to make sure I take on a bit less next year.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Tuesday Ten

Ten Things I'd Do If I Won Euromillions

1. Pay off the debts of my family & friends. I hope they would allow me to do this.
2. Sponsor a new build school (with a state of the art History block, naturally)
3. Set up a bursary to fund the ski trip for 40 pupils a year and offer the places as rewards for Getting It Right at school. Oh, and buy ski boots and skis for all the UNSC (our nickname for the teachers that go on the ski trip...this is a pact we made last year)
4. Buy a house in London and allow Sib to live in it and rent the rooms out to support himself through uni. And make the Parents Hand very comfortable, so they can retire when they choose.
5. Buy a big mansion on the Truckee River, California. Or buy a piece of land there and have a house built.
6. Fly first class every time, and always donate to offset the carbon emissions.
7. Have a tasting menu dinner at the Fat Duck.
8. Retain the services of a cobbler and have all kinds of fantastic shoes crafted just for me.
9. Give a very sizable donation to Cat's Protection League
10. Live in a sustainable house - solar panels, a soakaway, all that stuff.

I think I'd have to win some kind of mega rolled-over jackpot to achieve all of this, but you never know. I haven't mentioned Mr Z in this, by the way, because he would have access to the money as well under the "what's yours is mine" rule and could therefore do what he wanted with it.

This was actually quite a hard list to think of. Presumably I would leave work, though I like to think I'd stay, since I do actually enjoy my job, and I'd be getting a new workplace and everything; in which case I'd also get a car service to and from work daily, since I am, after 8 years, starting to find the commute a little wearing. Plus, my car could pick up all the other Bristol people at the same time and it would be a bit more eco friendly.

Monday 1 November 2010

October Goals Round-up

Complete Malaysia paperwork
Done. SO much easier second time around.

Call my gran
I am a bad grandaughter and did not do this. I am going to email her this evening, though. Nanny Hand is a very modern granny and is on Facebook and everything, so I've no excuse.

Cast on for a decent-sized knitting project
Yes, done. I have cast on for the Washington Square Vest. I was all angsty about it for ages; I spent ages picking the yarn, had to wait nearly a month for it on backorder and then I couldn't bloody get bloody gauge. I dropped three needle sizes and decided to give up and knit a smaller size at a larger gauge. Got myself some new 3.25mm metal Knitpicks tips...and voila, gauge appeared. Bizarrely, I had tried a 3.75mm, 3.5mm and 3mm tip previously, all of which had come out big; but they were wooden tips.
I'm knitting it in Debbie Bliss aran tweed, there's something about lurxury and Donegal in there too, I think. I am thus far unimpressed. When it goes thin, it goes very thin, and I have broken it a couple of times already. Luckily it spit splices back together with just a hard stare, so it would seem.
I have also cast on for a Cherie Amour, and put about 4 inches on it. It is preferable to the Vest, tbh. It seems that whenever I knit anything red, I have a problem finishing it....

Plan a week of decent assemblies for school
The word decent is relative, but I certainly did do this. I was down to do something about not hiding your light under a bushell, but was concerned about the religious overtones (I don't know what the rules are) so in the end I talked about why it's cooler to be David Beckham than it is to be famous mathemetician Carl Gauss, who was so good at his job he has a crater named after him on the moon. I also managed to squeeze in something about Amelia Earhart being a loner but not letting it put her off being good at science. It was tenuous, but went down quite well.
It was also Governors' week, so I had a grand total of 7 of them come in at some point; and because SLT wanted to make themselves more visible around the school to impress the governors (I suspect) I saw the head, both deputy heads and one assistant head over the week, too.
I quite like being a governor. They all love me, and I'm not scared of them.

Finish the sparkly hat
Done! I promised a blog post, I know; it is coming, when I remember to take some pictures outside.

Mark all five sets of KS3 assessments before half term
I didn't do bad, considering that amounts to the best part of 125 assessments. I had 10 left to do by the time I went to bed on the Friday night. I was kind of scuppered by a very restless night's sleep on Wednesday, so I couldn't work on Thursday night.

Wash the dining room and kitchen floors
I did do this, sort of. What prompted this was the ring of grime around the edge of the kitchen floor, and the ingrained grime in the doorway of the dining room. So I cleaned both of these, though stopped short of doing the whole floor.
(I really hate cleaning and begrudge the time I have to spend doing it, since time is such a sparse commodity).
For the dining room floor, I wanted some biological washing powder, since the How Clean Is Your House? gals recommend it and I used some last time. Unfortunately, I make my own washing powder, and don't like biological anyway, and couldn't think who to beg a cupful from. So, I made my own floor scourer, using the ingredients for my washing powder - borax and washing soda - plus some salt, mixed with enough water to make a paste. It worked an absolute treat, and apparently borax is good for wood floors. (I did find a recipe for this mixture online but I can't find it again now).
I should probably wear rubber gloves, next time, though. It dried my hands out something criminal.

It is November. I think it may be NaBloPoMo again, although I can't be in the Na bit, being not American. Maybe I'll call it InternaBloPoMo over here. Whatever - I'm going to try to post every day this month: even on the travelling days of the Malaysia trip; this should be easier now I have figured out how to schedule posts.
I managed 25 posts last November. Fingers crossed I can better that this month!