Friday, 30 August 2013

Finding the sunshine on a cloudy day

The release of GCSE results last week has rendered me speechless; hence my stunned silence.

I knew trouble was brewing the night before when the news articles claimed a drastic drop in results. I was naturally quite worried...but nothing prepared me for how bad it was.

I was already anxious about returning, but I still made the effort and marked and planned, preparing myself for my new classes in September.  Now, I'm just freaked out.

What do you do when you feel an absolute failure?  I'm sure most of my colleagues are in the same boat - wondering what we could have done differently and how we could have reached those kids who didn't do as well as expected.  We are not a school that gets 40%.

Today is the final day of the summer holidays, I am trying to find positivity and motivation.

I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference. This year is going to be hard.  Whispers of Ofsted and Special Measures cloud the start of the new year.

When I started this blog I did so to reflect on the positive things and focus on the good in my life in spite of the stress work causes.  I think now, more than ever, I'm going to need to remember that.

Stay tuned.  Cloudy times are ahead.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Treats and eats

This weekend we found (lurking in our wine rack) a sneaky little a bottle of red wine.  Warm days aren't really conducive for red wine drinking...but Sangria totally rocks our socks.

We used the basic recipe:  3 parts red wine, 1 part orange juice, 2 parts lemonade or 7up.  Apples, oranges, a pear and some mint are also floating around this lovely little concoction.  

And make room for more excitement!  These bad boys arrived today:

I've got a Vanilla in the freezer awaiting the Berry Iced Coffee treatment.  Nespresso has introduced Vanilla, Caramel and Chocolate flavour capsules.  Holy yum.

In other news, I thought I would bake some macaroons.  I've got a history with macaroons.  A sticky, disappointing history.  I've tried everything: the French method, the easy method, the Italian method, wax paper, macaroon mat, blah blah blah.

I have yet to produce a quality batch of macaroons.  Until today.


Time for a dirty little secret.

I can't believe it.  The countless attempts - all ending in failure - and then THIS comes along.  And they turn out PERFECT.  I'm shocked.  Plus, it was EASY.  Macaroons?  Easy??

Blasphemy.  Fraud.

So what does this mean for madame baker?  Well.  I'm not going to let a box mix of macaroons knock me down.   I'm going to take on macaroons day.  Maybe there's something special in this mix that I don't know about.  With that said, I'm going to take my freshly made macaroons and my iced Vanilla coffee and I'm going to enjoy the sunshine.  After all - only a week and half left!


Monday, 19 August 2013

How we survived financial strain

It's a time of financial worry, and it seems that everyone is worried about money and how to stretch a paycheque as far as it can go.   We moved into a house that we couldn't really afford - but we had light at the end of the tunnel.  We knew B would be earning a wage in so many months - rather than move twice, we made it work.

We managed to survive and get out of our time of financial strain...and I'm so excited.

It's quite personal and very faux pas to discuss money, but if I'm honest, some truthful reflections of the financial worries of others' helped me to get through.  Plus I picked up a few tricks and hints to make the time less traumatic.

I got a lot of ideas from blog posts and websites, but found tips obvious or just too frustrating.  When you are working hard you feel as though you deserve something rather than watching as your money is drained through bills or fuel or rent.

I'm not saying I'm a pro, but I'm writing about what worked for us.

Budget.   Hard, but the only way to make it work.  We have an overdraft, but I was very against going into it.  I had always believed that you shouldn't spend money you don't have.  We sat down and broke everything down:  Rent, electricity, mobiles, name it.  Every penny was accounted for - including our weekly allowance.

Allowance.  Both of us had an allowance every week and we weren't allowed to spend outside of this allowance.  It was pretty tricky for things like B's birthday - but I managed to save most of my allowance up and then could treat B or myself.

Online food shopping.  I knew I had £50 to spend on shopping each week.  I discovered Tesco delivery and watched as the magic happened.  I could pick exactly what I wanted online and find the cheapest item without ever setting foot in the shop.  No temptations - plus, I had everything on my list and never forgot anything.  We had the latest possible delivery option and this often reduced the delivery fee to £3.  

Taking on side jobs.  This one is tricky, but both of us were able to do it working full time.  I marked GCSE exams for AQA - it was horrible, but we earned a lot out of it - both financially and in terms of work experience.  B worked as a paramedic at weekends when he wasn't at Uni.  It meant we sometimes had to go two weeks without seeing each other, but we survived!

Saying No.  I often missed shopping or going out at weekends, but we knew we had to restrict ourselves.  If the money wasn't there, it didn't happen.  This meant no to a lot of things - hair cuts, travel - and considering we have so many people who live at a distance to us, we had to stay put and assure ourselves that we could make those journeys at a later date.  

Saying Yes.  With that said - we often made the money be there so that we could say yes to things.  Dessert dates where we went out to a restaurant for only dessert.  Trips to the coast with a picnic.  Visiting friends and brining dessert. 

Not being ashamed.  We shopped in Poudland and Discount UK.  We bought things online. We handmade our Christmas presents (I baked like 500 Pizzelles!).  We bought store brand food items.  I don't think we actually came out and said "HEY!  We are struggling!"  We just made it work in the cheapest way possible.  

I refused to stop living during this time period.  We found loads of ways to make the most of things in a cheap way.  We didn't do this stuff often, but once a fortnight or so - when we got tired of saying "no."

We had a date night where we set ourselves a challenge:  cook a three course meal using £5.  Hilarious. B was amazing.  Mine went all wrong!

I  packed up all of the clothes which I didn't wear regularly.  A few months later I went through them and I actually felt like I had a new wardrobe.
We joined LoveFilm.  We pay £3 a month and get three DVDs a month.  Movie night became date night!
Ebay.  B started selling old things he had from ten years ago including diving gear.  Some sold for over £100!
Joining a group.  I am a member of our local theatre group and we rehearse three days a week some weeks.  Our current show is "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."  It's a lot of time, effort and energy - but I feel like I'm doing something.  More on that later!
(Guys and Dolls, 2012)

We go out for coffee a lot.  I practically live at Starbucks.  Filter coffee isn't expensive - plus, when you have cards you gain points and get free drinks.  It's quite social as a few of my friends are also coffee addicts - we often meet for a brew to chat it out.
(Free Starbucks and work - reading Pride and Prejudice and marking)

"Treat thing" was an invention of my friend Jo.  Every time we did a food shop we bought one thing as a treat.  You'd be surprised, but when you feel as though you are working hard and getting very little for yourself, a box of crayons or a posh pop makes a world of difference.

It may not be much, but this is how we survived.  I don't know if we are out of the clear, but I certainly hope so.  I hope the same for anyone else struggling these days.


Friday, 16 August 2013

How I organised our lives

It's been a rainy day today so I've been cooped up  If there is one thing I've learnt about keeping our house clean and tidy:  It's a full time job.  

Our house is spotless on Sunday - by Friday it looks like a few cyclones have gone through and left no survivors.  We are clean people, so it's annoying to see chaos and carnage surrounding you after a stressful work week.

As it's the summer holidays, I've had the time to commit to keeping our house clean and tidy.  

I've learnt two lessons which have become my *Hallelujah* moments to keep us organised.

Rule One:  Have Little.

This sounds dreadful, but it seriously works.  B and I had very little when we moved into our house last November.  Thanks to travel and shared housing, we had basics.  But that was all we needed.

If you only have the necessities, it's easier to look and BE tidy.  We may not have a lot, but what we do have is good quality (thank good ness for our wedding registry).

Rule Two:  Everything has a place.  Keep it there.

We are still working on this, but I think we have cracked it.  Our living room has been defined as "Cosy" and "Homey" by my friend Jo.  I like that kind of comment - it makes me feel like I'm doing my job as an adult.  

As we are renting, there isn't much scope for creativity.  We have cream walls and cream carpet.  I said that we didn't have much when we moved into our house.  Fortunately, B's parents are incredibly generous and we were given all of their furniture when they decided to redecorate.  

One of things I wanted to do was have a bookshelf that wasn't overwhelmingly a bookshelf.   Between an English teacher and Doctor, we had loads of books.   I looked around the web for ideas, but in the end just went with what looked right.

How's that for organisation?  Obvious rules to live by - but it's the living by them I think most people find difficult.  Simplicity.  I love it.  

I'm going to pop on my wellies and buy some milk.  One thing I have yet to keep organised with: milk.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Our Wedding: Part Two

While tidying the house I fell to looking through our wedding album (dusting neglected!).  I can't believe the wedding was nearly eight months ago (and I'm quite embarrassed to admit that all of the cards are still sitting under our coffee table in a big box).  

I cannot tell you how impressed I am with our photographer Ditch Green.  His photos are just amazing.  You can see the original post here. If there is one thing I'm glad we spent money on, it was a great wedding photographer.  I thought I would dive into the wedding one more time - here's part two!

Our wedding was a Pinterest Inspired Wedding.  It's amazing going through my board and seeing the inspiration and how ideas changed over time.  

The Dress:  Ronald Joyce, Victoria Jane, Sable
The Hanger:  Etsy

My sister and I made the Brooch Boquet. My sister did most of the work, collecting brooches and then wiring them and taping them with flower tape.  I placed it all together over chicken wire right before the wedding and added a bit of white fabric.  

See that gold rose on top?  That was a real rose taken from my mother's wedding bouquet and dipped in gold.  Sentimental or what?

A lot of the brooches are earrings or old pins from friends and family who couldn't fly to England for the wedding. I even included my Delta Zeta badge!

My hairpiece was lent to me by a friend, so I'm not sure where that came from!

First glance of myself as a bride.  Holy Wow!

Mom just looked gorgeous!  She even got a fascinator for the wedding!  Like a true English-woman!

As the wedding was right after Christmas, we had a bit of difficulty nightmare finding flowers (my only bridezilla moment).  Lucky for us, gypsophila is easy to come by and keeps in the coolers!  Our florist made the most of a bad situation and just went to town with it!  

Pinterest inspired the aisle flowers!

The couple getting married at the venue the next day saw these and ended up using them for their wedding!  How sweet is that?

I have to admit, our photographer said we were going to take some photos by some dead looking trees and I was a bit sceptical.  I ate my words. The English countryside in December is actually quite pretty.

Red Wellies. As you do.

The hotel pool was actually a gorgeous spot for a photo!

A red post box for cards!

Although you can't really see it, we used silver candelabras and fake snow on the tables.  I *loved* the chairs, so there were NO slipcovers at this wedding!

B and I hadn't seen the cake until the day of the wedding.  His Mum is an amazing cake decorator, so we just gave her creative freedom to do whatever she wanted.  

AMAZING.  The cake is covered in handmade white roses and had red hearts on springs coming out - PLUS heart shaped sparklers!
On the side is a chocolate grooms cake - a Dr B medical cake made my B's mum and myself.  Check out that orange stethoscope!
On the bottom of the table, we put wedding photos from our parents and grandparents.  This was probably my favourite touch.  

Right after our first dance, we surprised our guests with a firework display and sparklers.  B really wanted fireworks - and who was I to say no?

We had a hot chocolate bar too - but I think it was tackled before our evening buffet was set out!  No photos of that!  It was adorable - I assure you!

One of the things I really loved about our photographer was that he did all of his photos candid.  We ended the night with a posed shot of our families together - and you know what?  The best shot was the one where none of were looking.  Mom is blocked by my brother and Kate is missing.  I just love it!  Eat your heart out, Royal Family!

Planning a wedding is hard work. I found it frustrating, inspiring and downright beautiful.  On the day, I found none of it mattered.  

Best.  Day.  Ever.  


Monday, 12 August 2013

Blueberries: Field to Pie

I've been craving blueberries and all of a sudden, signs for pick your own blueberries have been popping up everywhere I turned.  I suggested going blueberry picking at the weekend.  B had visions of blueberry pancakes.  Me?  Pie.  

We headed to Fairgreen Farms in Middleton. The farm was hidden down a long and windy dirt track which didn't appear to be heading anywhere.  But then -  jackpot. 

(Rocking the O-H-I-O)

(See that cardigan?  Autumn is coming....)

We collected two containers at roughly one kilo each for £9. Bargain!

I have been dying to make blueberry pie.  It's one of those things I've just never seen here in the UK. I used a crust recipe from Sprinkle Bakes (best crust recipe I've found) and coated the berries in tons of sugar before baking. 


While waiting for the pie, I baked some lemon and basil cookies. I wasn't sure about them - even after they came out of the oven I ate about four just trying to work out if I liked the flavour.  I'm taking them to rehearsal tonight so the girls can be the judges!  Recipe here.

And Finally...

Pie!  Real blueberry pie!  I'm so excited!

I can't wait for Rich to get home from work so we can sample this delish dish.  More baking to come - I LOVE the summer holidays!