I’ll be back soon!

So I haven’t posted anything on here in ages. I’m not happy about it but it’s just not been possible. I’m in the last little bit of my university degree and there’s lots of pressure on the last couple of essays.

The good news is that by the end of May, it’ll all be done. I’ll have my degree!

In June, I plan on getting straight back into my blog. I’ve really missed it and I’m looking forward to having a lot more time for writing.

So bye for now and I’ll be back in June! Have a lovely spring everyone!

A few thoughts on Feminism and International Women’s Day

It was International Women’s Day yesterday and it made me think about labels and oppression and freedom. So I thought I’d share all that with you.

I’ve always been a little unsure of the term ‘Feminist’. I know there was a big movement a couple of years ago of various celebrities and politicians, mostly male, loudly declaring themselves as feminists but the cynic in me rolled her eyes and dismissed it all as a way to garner publicity.

I know lots of women aren’t as fortunate as I am. They live in places where their options are extremely limited, where they don’t have a voice, where their lives are overall fairly miserable. Even in our own country, there are women being oppressed into lives they didn’t choose and have no escape from. We must speak out for them. Of course we must. We must try to provide them with alternatives. But equally, we need to do the same for all of the people oppressed because of their race, religion or sexual orientation, as well as their gender.

I quite like the term Humanist. It’s about equality but for everyone. I can identify with that. If I were to imagine an ideal world, it would be one where everyone can choose who they want to be and be open about it, as long as it’s not actually hurting anyone else. I once said that to someone and they pointed out that, as an example, gay marriage hurts the feelings of some religious people. My response to that is that if you don’t like gay marriage because it goes against your personal beliefs then don’t marry someone of the same sex as you. Crisis averted. I really cannot see how who other people love and marry and spend their lives with affects anyone but themselves. Live within your own rules, by all means, but don’t expect or force anyone else to. But I’m getting off topic a bit here.

International Women’s Day is a good idea, I believe. It’s a good day to highlight the problems facing women around the world and also to celebrate what women have achieved, especially in the face of adversity, thus showing those oppressed women their own potential. I really liked that the Facebook page I Fucking Love Science had a range of posts throughout the day on women in science and technology. I definitely want my daughter to grow up knowing her own potential, that she’s not limited to certain career paths because she happens to have been born with a uterus. Having some good role models is a big part of that. I think it’s worth pointing out that a valid option for her is to be a housewife and stay at home mother. The point is that she has the choice.

So, while I’m not 100% sure about any labels at all, I guess I could call myself a humanist. I want all people to live as who they truly are and live the happiest lives possible. Whether you’re a girl or not.

Have a good day.

 

 

What makes a children’s book ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

Today’s blog post has been inspired by my university studies. I’m studying children’s literature and at the moment focusing on what people consider to be good or bad books for children.

For my own child, I often pick or suggest to her books that I read and enjoyed when I was young, such as the works of Roald Dahl. I’d like to introduce her to Enid Blyton next and I’ll probably recommend Jacqueline Wilson as she gets a bit older. As she gets into her teenage years, I’ll encourage her to read some classics, like Austen, Bronte and some more modern works like Orwell but I wonder how much she’ll ignore me and read contemporary books instead. How much should this really bother me?

One thing that’s really surprised me in my studies is discovering that Dahl and Blyton, the very books I’d consider to be very good books to suggest to my own child, were seen as having low literary and moral standards pre-1960. Debates from the time about whether these books might be bad influences on our children remind me a great deal of the debates over the influence of violence in films and video games that have been going on for the past couple of decades (and show no signs of ending).

On first thinking about it, I couldn’t really think of a book that I would disapprove of. But now I’ve realised that’s not quite true at all. I often steer her towards books that might provide her with more of a challenge, not wanting her to get something too simple. I might tell her and myself that it’s because I think she’ll get bored of something too simple but is it really because I’m drawn to the idea that every reading experience she has should be an improving one? I have once or twice surreptitiously gotten rid of books that I’ve found to have grammar or spelling mistakes, while despairing of whichever publishing company let these through the editing process.

Am I worrying too much about what my child reads? Or is this exactly what, as a parent, I should be doing? Isn’t it my responsibility to make sure she’s getting the best experiences possible? I find it difficult at the best of times to find a balance between guiding her in the right direction (or at least what I perceive as the right direction) and letting her be independent. She’s a very strong-willed person and I’m happy with that, especially as it took me years of purposefully forcing myself to be more assertive to be even slightly sure of the choices I make. But I know that being strong-willed might lead to a tendency of not listening to other opinions, of being blinkered to your own view of the world which you are convinced is the correct one. I definitely don’t want this for my daughter. Again, it seems to be a matter of balance.

I’m very interested to get opinions from other parents (and indeed anyone who chooses books for children in any capacity) on this. Do you choose books for your children or just let them pick whatever they like? Do you attempt to steer them in certain directions regarding what they read? Are there any books (aimed at children) that you would not let your children read or at least would strongly disapprove of?

My January 2016

I feel like this month has gone by very slowly. Christmas feels like so long ago.

Looking back on the goals I’ve set myself for this year, I’ve made pretty good progress this month.

I wanted to visit ten new places this year. I’ve already been to one. Last week I took a walk to Llandaff Cathedral. It has been recommended to me from a number of sources as a beautiful building, well worth seeing. I worked out that walking there and back would take me about three hours. After weeks of being stuck indoors while the weather was utterly miserable outside, being outdoors for a few hours in the sunshine was really wonderful, even if it was pretty chilly!

I’ve been busy with studying this month, making progress towards completing my degree – another of my goals. I’ve just completed my third assessment of my uni course, an essay written about the play of Peter Pan. The text itself was pretty simple and obviously I already knew the story, as I think most people do. The analysis was a bit more complex than I was expecting though – a good challenge. Reading the play also added towards my goal of reading twelve new books this year – bonus!

I wanted to try out some new activities this year and also teach Pip some new skills. I managed to do something towards both of these this month as we had our first go at loom bands. Yes, I know we’re a bit late to the party but Pip is really only just reaching the point where she can really concentrate enough to do this. We’ve really enjoyed coming up with different patterns and designs.

Trying out twelve new recipes was another goal for me. I’ve tried two this month – coq au vin and beef stew, both in my new slow cooker. Husband and I both really enjoyed the coq au vin and I cooked it again when we had some guests over for dinner. I really liked the beef stew but neither Husband nor Pip were very keen so I don’t think I’ll be making it again!

Filling my new photo album is proving to be quite as much of a challenge as I thought it would be. I need to add about six pictures per week. This is fine at weekends when we’re busy with fun stuff but on ordinary week days, there aren’t many opportunities for photography.

I’ve had a little try at some comic book style drawing. If I can improve enough, this might be the way I go for my creating a piece of art goal. So far, I’m reasonably pleased with my efforts as a beginner. I’ll just have to keep trying and see how much better I can do.

So it’s been a good month, especially for January which are notoriously a bit crap. On with February!

 

 

 

 

My Tropical Fish: Six Weeks

I’m now six weeks into my second attempt at keeping tropical fish. It’s going fairly well, or at least better than it did last time. There was a minor white spot outbreak. This common fish parasitic disease wiped out my first lot of fish so I was pretty panicked when I first spotted it. However, it appears this group is made of stronger stuff and I only lost one neon tetra. The rest are now entirely spot-free and have been so for about three weeks.

My favourite fish is definitely my Siamese Fighter, or Betta, called Obi. He’s a beautiful creature and very active. For this type of fish, he’s surprisingly relaxed and non-aggressive. Siamese Fighters are well known for ‘flaring’ (flaring out beard-like flaps just beneath their mouths) and attacking, or else hiding away and being very skittish. He’s neither. I haven’t seen him flare once and he quite happily swims around with my two platys. Unlike my previous Siamese Fighter, he spends very little time in his hiding place. He does like to hang around behind the filter sometimes but never for very long.

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At first, I wrongly thought my Mickey Mouse Platy was female but, possibly due to growing up a bit more, it’s now pretty clear that he’s a boy. He’s called Chewie and my Blue Platy is called Han (anyone noticing a pattern?). There was a bit of aggression between these two for the first week or so but I haven’t noticed any nipping or chasing lately and they usually swim together. I haven’t yet made any firm decisions on adding to my aquarium but some more platys might be a good choice, I think.

My five neon tetras are simply called ‘The Jawas’. Since it’s impossible to tell them apart and they’re always in a shoal, I thought a group name made more sense. There were originally six but, as I said above, one was the only casualty of the white spot outbreak.

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I haven’t really named my cherry shrimp. I originally had three but I haven’t seen more than two at any one time since their first day in the tank. When I do see them, they seem happy and healthy enough so I leave them to it.

All of the fish have come to recognise the sound of the cabinet beneath their tank opening as a sign that food is coming and all rush straight to the top. There’s the occasional awkward moment when the food doesn’t come, because I was actually retrieving or replacing something else. They tend to then hang about at the surface for a few minutes until giving up, except Obi, who will continue to stare at me through the glass for quite a while.

Unfortunately, getting photos of the fish is pretty difficult since they move so quickly, hence the photos I’ve included are pretty rubbish. However, I am putting together a video of them so I’ll post that in due course!

 

Slow Cooking Beginner

After months of procrastination, searching for recipes I might use and trying to choose which model I prefer, I have finally purchased a slow cooker.

Since it’s something to experiment with (which could well end up not working for us at all)  I went for a fairly low cost model, the Cookworks 6.5l slow cooker from Argos . It’s not very fancy, although I think it looks just as nice as much more expensive models, and it has near perfect reviews.

I have such a long list of recipes I want to try out. Last night, I had my first go at using it. I made Coq au Vin for myself and the Husband (I’ll pop the recipe further down) and we were both really pleased with it. I had to tweak the recipe a little bit since Husband can’t eat onions. The flavours were really rich and the meat was ridiculously tender – it fell apart when I tried to get it out with tongs and it could be cut up with fork!

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I’m planning on trying out a beef stew this weekend. I don’t often cook beef as I’m always worried about it being tough. I reckon slow cooking is the answer. I’m always very keen to try some sweet recipes, such as rice pudding and poached fruit.

Here’s the recipe for Coq au Vin:

100g bacon

4 chicken breasts, each cut in half

2 tbsp oil (I used vegetable oil)

25g plain flour

200ml red wine

400ml chicken stock

  1. Heat the oil in a big pan and fry the bacon for a few minutes then remove from the pan.
  2. Coat the chicken in flour and cook in the pan for a few minutes on each side until nicely browned.
  3. Put the bacon back in the pan and add the wine and stock. Bring to the boil.
  4. Put everything in the slow cooker and cook for 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low (timings might be different for your slow cooker, this is correct for my model).
  5. Serve. Eat. Enjoy.

 

I served the chicken with mashed potato and greens beans and gravy made from the cooking sauce mixed with a teaspoon or so of gravy granules.

I’ll add more recipes as I try them out. Do you have a favourite slow cooker recipe? Do share it below!

 

Ten Goals for 2016

I’ve been thinking about things I’d like to achieve this year. About halfway through 2016, my degree will be complete. I’ll have no more studying to get on with. I want to make sure my extra time isn’t wasted. So here are my goals for the next year:

  1. Going fossil hunting. I thought it would be nice to pick just one thing from last year to do again this year. It’s a great day out and it would be nice for Pip to have another go now that she’s had a little practice. She hugely enjoyed it but didn’t find much herself last time so it would be nice to see her makes some of her own discoveries!
  2. Visit at least 10 new places. I’ve got a really long list of places I’d like to visit and I want to at least tick ten off the list this year. We’re not planning a holiday for this year so I’d like to make sure we still have plenty of adventures.
  3. Try out 5 new activities. I was a ridiculously shy and cautious child and now that I’m an adult (still feels weird to say that), I’d like to make up for lots of opportunities I turned down. I can’t ride a bike, for example, and I’d really like to learn to.
  4. Try out 12 new recipes. It’s far too easy to get stuck in a routine with cooking. We probably have about ten different meals I serve up over and over again. I want to be a little more adventurous and offer my family more variety food-wise. One new recipe a month should be easy to stick to.
  5. Fill my photo album. I filled a 200 slot album last year. This year, I popped on Amazon to get another for this year and bought a rather pretty one without realising it holds 300 photos. So I’ve accidentally just given myself an even bigger challenge than last year.
  6. Graduate. Yes, the final year of university is finally here. It feels like I’ve been studying forever and while I’m really excited to be finished, I’m also a little daunted by the prospect of the gaping hole it’s going to leave in my life. But anyway, hurrah for graduation!
  7. Read 12 books. This should be helped along by studying as I’ve got quite a few set books to get through on my current course. Once university is done with, I’ll be able to actually pick out some books for myself, something I haven’t really done in about six years!
  8. Produce a piece of art. Husband suggested this one and I’m glad he did. I’m not very artistically talented but I do enjoy drawing and painting so I’m looking forward to spending some time on this.
  9. Complete a computer game. I love gaming, mostly RPGs. Dragon Age: Origins was probably my favourite ever. But so often I start them and never finish, due to other things distracting me. This year I really want to start and finish a good computer game (suggestions are welcome!).
  10. Teach Pip 5 new skills. As a parent, I see this as a really important goal. These aren’t going to be academic things, since we do those anyway. They’re going to be practical skills. Things that might help her to be a happy, well-rounded person when she leaves home someday. It should be lots of fun too – she loves learning new things and it’ll all be enjoyable stuff, nothing too arduous or boring.