Monday 31 October 2016

Blue Monday

I still remember the shock and awe I experienced when we went on that field trip to Lulworth Cove in 2010.

I just had no idea that the sea in Britain could look so tropically blue. The English Channel never looked like this next to Portsmouth.

I vowed to go back at my earliest opportunity; I even found an adjacent campsite to visit with Mr Z. Therefore we have been back...never.

It's nice to know that there are plenty of beautiful places to visit in the UK for when I am being a ver important exam person and can't spend all summer abroad anymore.

And the obligatory Durdle Door one...revived from a post over six years old.

That feels like a long time ago, but prompted me to note that my blog is 17 years old today. I quietly retired the pre-blogger posts some time ago, but they still exist in their text-dense glory squirreled away on my computer and in various back ups. I do mainly keep this blog up for the pleasure of reading back over my past exploits, like a true narcissist. Well, that and trying to maintain 127 posts a year. Only 68 more to go this's going to be a busy November.

Half Term Baking

I haven't baked in a while. I made some pumpkin spice latte cupcakes for the Macmillan cake sale at work a few weeks ago but the less said about those, the better - did not realise that in America, espresso powder is actually instant coffee, not espresso; so the cakes were somewhat bitter. Oh well.

I was enabled with that recipe because I found tinned pumpkin for sale in Waitrose. This was some time ago; there was a big stall at the front of Waitrose festooned in stars and stripes with some sign-based encouragement to eat American-style: maple syrup, pancake mix, that sort of thing. It was incongruously timed, being roughly equidistant between July 4th and Thanksgiving. But I didn't stop to think about it too much.

I used my second tin of pumpkin to make this pumpkin loaf cake from SprinkleBakes. Now, technically there wasn't enough pumpkin in one tin for the recipe but I just went for it anyway and it worked out fine. Better than fine, in fact: I baked two loaves, intending to take one to the party last night, but I kept it for myself instead. It's so good, especially when smeared with mascarpone. I haven't eaten anything all day because Mr Z has had noro virus this weekend and I think I might have it too (significantly, I have no appetite), and am thinking the only way I can avoid the same suffering is by not consuming anything which can then be violently expelled from my person; but this pumpkin loaf has really tested my resolve.

I'm not sure that recommendation is as flattering as I mean it to be ("So good I nearly risked vomiting") but, there it is.

Heather warns that there is a lot of mixture. She's right. I just about squeezed it into two 1lb loaf tins, but one was of the silicone variety and I ended up with a fat loaf where the mould had bowed in the middle to accommodate the cake. Both loaves caught a little on top before they were fully baked, so dense was the batter. But it didn't matter. Next time I would stick some of the mixture into a few muffin cases, though.

I think Bake Off* might have inspired me because I also pulled out my Dan Lepard cake book and had a go at two new recipes from that: chocolate crumble marble cake and orange cassata cake. The latter made it to the party. The rest is here, taunting me.

Having looked up those recipes online I realise now that I mistakenly melted the chocolate for the marble cake instead of stirring it in, chocolate chip style. This explains why that bit of the cake is so dense. Je ne regrette rien.

* SOB. Now finished forever.

Sunday 30 October 2016

Weekend WIP

After it took me so long to finish the linen, I was worried that perhaps my interest in knitting was starting to wane.

Turns out, I just needed something new. This is my progress since Friday AND I was out last night at a party and didn't get home until lunchtime today. I am quite impressed with myself: according to my calculations I am about half way finished with the body. Knitting stripes is very addictive, I think, because I am always thinking, "Just two more rows and I can start the next colour". And also, this is aran weight on 5mm needles so it does grow quickly.

I've tried to be a bit strategic about the stripes. I have three skeins of the pink, two of the pale lilac and one each of the purple and the fawn. So, my stripe sequence is 10 stripes - three each in pink and lilac, two each in fawn and purple. I am crossing my fingers that I will have enough to complete the same sequence on the arms, with the extra pink skein to do the ribbing on the hem and cuffs, and the button band. We'll see. If necessary I could go with elbow length sleeves but this is a silk/merino blend so it's going to be too warm for the spring, I fear. Well. I'll cross the bridge if I come to it.

Thursday 27 October 2016

Westonbirt Arboretum

Mr Z and I have previously visited Westonbirt. It was very soon after we moved into our home, and we went in the spring to take pictures of magnolia and cherry blossom so we had something to put on our new walls (well, that was my plan, anyway). We borrowed Father Z's big old camera and spent a happy hour tramping around and snapping away. Then we realised, after we got home, that there was no film in it.

That should indicate how long it has been since we visited.

When we went on Sunday, we clearly had the same idea as half the rest of the surrounding area as we had to queue for 20 minutes to get into the car park; but the nice thing about the place is that its size means it doesn't feel especially crowded once you're through the initial scrum at the gate. We quite quickly turned off the main path and found ourselves almost alone.

Who needs Snapchat crowns?

There were too many pictures to choose from, but none of them quite do it justice. I thought it was quite spendy at £9 per person, but it was really beautiful.

Thursday Ten

A little late, since I have been busy doing all the things.

Ten Tales of Half Term

1. It started with coffee and breakfast with my friend Lizzy in Keynsham, on Saturday morning.

2. From there, it progressed to afternoon tea and some shopping at Cribbs with Tutt (most of my money seems to go on buying hot drinks out of the house these days).

3. On Sunday, Mr Z and I went to Westonbirt to get in on the autumn foliage action. Beautiful trees, even though there were masses of people.

4. On Monday, I met up with another teacher to discuss the new GCSE. She interviewed against me for my current job. It wasn't awkward, thankfully. I bought two fancy coffees. Well, I made the second one a simple black Americano because I'd already drunk a whole year's allocation of non-milk milk by this point.

5. Tuesday, I drove to Devizes where my friend Jen is glamping with her husband and daughters. I took the girls out to Avebury for the day with the help of Vikki who, helpfully, has two daughters close in age. There was a lot of puddle jumping and sheep bothering.

6. I stayed Tuesday night in the glamping paradise. Big fluffy bed, wood burner, sleeping bag. Lovely. Until I stuck my foot out the side of my sleeping bag at some point in the night, and then woke up unable to feel it. Hypochondriac's nightmare.

7. Breakfast in Devizes with old ski buddy Cara and old line manager Paul. I haven't seen Cara for nearly three years and she's now engaged to the man she had had one date with the last time we spoke. Where does the time go?
I drank two coffees with lacto-free milk. First time I'd tried it: nicer than soy.

8. Dinner and drinks with old colleagues Tom and Huw. We went to a bar in Bath that serves cider tasting boards, consisting of five one third pints of different ciders. Delightful. Then on to the Dark Horse, Bath's most mysterious cocktail (and other drinks) bar. Tom said he felt like he was in a Bond movie. I don't think the place can dislodge the gin place as my favourite bar, but it runs a close second.

9. I finished the linen top! Like, about half an hour ago, after spending the day doggedly knitting the collar and sleeves and weaving in all the ends, and catching up on all the television I haven't watched for the past month. Full linen love post to follow.

10. On Saturday we're off to Taunton for a Hallowe'en shin dig. That means I need to sort out fancy dress tomorrow. I think I might cop out, put on a work suit and go as an Ofsted inspector: terrifying, to a partyful of teachers.

I've fitted a lot in! Though there are still more people on the list of those I would like to have caught up with. Still, there's always Christmas.

Monday 24 October 2016

Blue Monday

A hazy blue today.

Something from the Grand Tetons, southwest of Yellowstone National Park.

Much less famous than their supervolcanic sexy neighbour, but breathtaking in their own way. We stopped to take these on our way to Yellowstone and I hope that next time we visit, we spend some time in this mountain range as well.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Weekend WIP

Linen: After the love has gone.

This picture is all dark at the top because I was looming over it like Trump over Hillary at that presidential debate. But you can see that I am FINALLY onto the last stripe. I was prevaricating because I didn't have enough yarn to get an even stripe of that dark blue at the bottom, which sent me into a sulk because I thought I had planned it so perfectly.

But, you can see from this picture of two weeks ago that I have made some progress:

This evening I was going to wind the yarn for my next project, but I doggedly stuck with this one. I reckon, if the yarn holds out, I am about 8 rows from finishing the body. I think the neckline and armholes will have to be in the sea green, as I don't have enough left of the others, but I don't think they will take long. Then I can get back to knitting something soft and warm and appropriate to the season.

Monday 17 October 2016

Blue Monday

Back to the Red Sea: thousands of acres of blue.

Can't believe this was nearly eight years ago.

That reminds me that it must be nearly time to buy a new mattress, since the same writing job paid for that and this trip.

And the underwater camera. I was having way too much fun with it, of course.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Scenes from the Classroom #24

It has been interesting to transition from a school where I worked for 13 years to a new school with a very different student demographic. Not as difficult as I had feared - I haven't needed to spend time (yet) establishing myself because I just behave as though I have always worked there and seem to get away with it.

An interesting difference is in the low-level disruption, and I think it is created by the fact the classroom is now all girls instead of mixed gender. Mixed gender low-level disruption looks like:
  • Swinging on chairs
  • Doing something non-specific with compass/calculator/other equipment
  • Bottle flipping (the latest craze)
  • Fiddling with uniform
  • Chatting
  • Yawning, sneezing or coughing loudly
  • Drumming on desk
Only the uniform continues to be an issue for me. Most of the chatting so far has been about the work (!!)

However, there is a whole new problem that I am going to call, excessive neatness. You may be familiar with the stereotypical girl: likes things to be neat so, like a medieval monk working on a biblical manuscript, starts again if she makes a mistake. I can report that this is more than just a stereotype. The desire to be neat and tidy must be responsible for more lost learning minutes in a day than any other behaviour. It manifests itself thus:
  • Painstakingly cutting, or tearing with the aid of a ruler, the edges off of worksheets and stick-ins until there is no white border and they fit perfectly (but then, paradoxically, sweeping the rubbish straight onto the floor)
  • Using several different colours, or..
  • Being unable to write because of not having the right shade of blue pen
  • Refusing to write down the 'copy and correct' starter until it has been corrected, thus making the starter twice as long as it should be
  • Being reluctant to let me mark the book
  • Tearing pages out and starting again
Thus, I had this conversation with a Y11 the other day...

Me: *turns around just in time to see D rip a page from her book*
Me: D, there was nothing wrong with that
D: It wasn't neat enough
Me: It was fine, and you've done about 10% of today's work - you muct finish it all or you won't have the right notes
D: I just want to write it out again so it is neat
Me: Please don't do that
D: But...
Me: If you want to write it out again, please do it at home. You must have these notes to revise from. It's more important that you have all the notes than that they look neat
D: But if they're not neat, I won't revise from them.

I do understand the extreme desire to be neat, but this is ridiculous.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Tuesday Ten

After many years of prompting us every Tuesday, Carole has decided to go monthly so I am trawling back through her old posts for this one.

Ten words that describe me, that begin with the first letter of my name 

1. Sarcastic. Beats out all other adjectives to describe me by miles, I think.

2. Sassy. As a synonym for bossy: a quality I embrace whole-heartedly.

3. Sensible. I try to always weigh my decisions; but this is relative. I don't think Mr Z would agree with this one, for example.

4. Smart. Really I just have a very good memory, which makes me look smarter than I am.

5. Strident. Hopefully not excessively so, but I do like to press my point, especially when I think I am right (99% of the time, even after a number of embarrassing climb downs have proved otherwise)

6. Strong. I can deadlift my own weight, which is considerable. The first time I did this, I was relieved that I would be able to pull myself out of a hole if necessary (don't point out that this uses different muscles...)

7. Sneezy, especially this time of year. It's like having hayfever several months too late. Apparently it's mould spores, but I now have a running joke with the Head of Geography that it is her I am allergic to.

8. Smiley. I am generally a cheerful person, I think.

9. Sociable. I do enjoy being around other people, although as I get older I find I am slightly less willing to put up with people.

10. Stoical. Something else I work quite hard at: not letting things over which I have no control worry me. It works sometimes.

Monday 10 October 2016

Blue Monday

I posted a couple of weeks ago about the blue tiled bench from the park in Hanoi. Here's the end of it: something that would be great to recreate in my back garden, albeit in a much miniaturised form.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Weekend WIP

In spite of the fact it is now properly chilly outside and a linen top won't be especially useful until next spring, I have been plugging away at the blue linen timetable I started way back in May.

I've got a bit of a problem, really: I need to set it aside to rest, partly because I'm not enjoying it (and therefore not knitting very much) and partly because I think I'm going to run out of the darkest blue yarn before my plan comes off. But it's chiefly for that second reason that I am doggedly continuing: if I run out I can make plans to buy another skein at Wonderwool next year.

Also, this represents 2000m of yarn towards this year's total and if I don't finish, I will have no hope of surpassing last year's total. This shouldn't be important but it is.

Half term is in two weeks. Traditionally, October half terms spent at home result in a finished sweater, due to the amount of hibernating and TV watching that needs to happen in that week; so I am going to give myself two weeks to get the body of this one done and then at half term I will cast on something fresh. Whether the linen is finished after that will depend on yarn remains and how much there is left to do.

Friday 7 October 2016

Scenes from the Classroom #23

I've been going on at my sixth formers about the importance of wider research on their A-level topics. So, today...

C: Miss, it's Tudor week on Bake Off next week
Me: Really? I didn't see it last night
C: Yes, well, it's Tudor week...if I watch it, can that count as my 'reading round' for next week?

I thought that was quite a clever idea. I should have said, only if you bake me something Tudor and bring it in.

On a tangential note, I am really going to miss Bake Off.

Thursday 6 October 2016

Scenes from the Classroom #22

Me: D, I need to write a note in your planner....
D: *looks worried*
Me: Nothing to worry about, it's just your dad has emailed me about sets
D: *looks absolutely appalled*

Cue 22 hysterical girls (and me) laughing themselves to tears and the collapse of the last five minutes of my lesson.