Catch up: An Ending and a Beginning

So it’s been a pretty busy time around here.

Pip turned seven a few weeks ago. We had a family event for the actual day; just a little tea party with some visiting relatives. Then the following weekend, she had a few friends over for another tea party. This was an opportunity (excuse might be a more accurate term) for me to design personalised placemats and invitations and little thank you notes to go into the party bags. I hadn’t quite anticipated just how much noise a few six & seven year old girls could make but still, a good time was had by all.

Then last weekend, I attended my graduation ceremony at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. It was brilliant. I will admit to being slightly nervous that I might trip and fall straight into the orchestra pit in front of the stage but I actually managed to avoid this, which really felt like as much of an achievement as attaining a degree. The robes were a little awkward but overall, made me feel a bit like a student at Hogwarts rather than the Open University. Anyone who knows me will know how happy that made me. Husband was graduating at the same time and looked extremely dignified in his robes, which didn’t keep slipping off like mine did. I’m not the kind of person to feel very proud of myself about anything but I genuinely felt rather smug for nearly a whole day. After six years of hard work, I think I was entitled to that.

Just before my graduation, I got a tweet, totally out of the blue, about a rather exciting opportunity. Long story short, I’m now the local editor for the Bubele newsletter for Cardiff. It’s fortnightly and I promise it’ll be packed with fun stuff for families in the Cardiff area. My first newsletter will be emailed out on 2nd November so do sign up! Bubele is also an app with lots of listings for family fun throughout the UK – I recommend downloading it and signing up for whichever newsletter covers your area. I certainly like having activities lined up, equally for the school holidays and for those long weeks of monotonous routine in between so I really feel like this is a useful tool for any parent.

I’m feeling uncharacteristically positive about all of the above. My little girl is getting ever bigger and brighter and more brilliantly unique. I’ve achieved something I never thought I’d be able to. I’ve got a new opportunity for writing more. Everything’s just bloody marvellous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Looking Back and Planning Ahead

Looking back at the beginning of 2015, I was unemployed but positive for the future. I found a job this year. It’s not a job I’ll want to keep forever but it’s good for now. It’s providing a little extra income and some extra experience for my CV.

We didn’t have any holidays in 2015 but we did have a few trips to interesting places.

We went Fossil Hunting at Penarth beach (something I’d love to do again this year).

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fossils & stones collage

We went to Castell Coch, a beautiful fairytale castle.

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We went to Bristol Zoo, to visit the baby Gorilla Pip has adopted.

We went to Roath Park and the conservatory there.

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This year I decided to start keeping tropical fish. The fish attempt did not go well. The fish sadly all passed away due to white spot (a common fish illness). The retailer I bought them from took responsibility and replaced them. The second attempt, so far, seems to be going well. I’m being extremely vigilant for any signs of illness or stress though. Fingers crossed they’ll still be here when 2017 begins!

Pip started her second year of school. She settled in brilliantly and is doing really well. I was so proud on hearing a glowing report from her teacher on parents’ evening and even more so when I saw her performance in the nativity play.

2016 should be one to remember. All being well, I’ll complete my degree this year. This feels like a really huge achievement for me – someone who dropped out of sixth form ten years ago. I’m hoping it can lead me on to better things.

Everyone makes New Years resolutions about losing weight. I do it every year. I normally succeed for a month or so then fall back into my bad habits. This year I feel a little differently about it. I don’t just feel a bit down about my appearance, looking distinctly chubbier than I once did. I feel unhealthy. I feel a little worried that those bad habits are going to actually start to have an impact on my future. I’m not just chubby, I’m properly overweight. If I want to live a long, healthy life, I need to change. I fear becoming a parent that can’t run around the park with my child. I’m hoping these worries and fears can finally motivate me to make a proper change to my lifestyle. This isn’t a resolution exactly. Those just don’t work for me. It’s more of a realisation.

I’m hoping we can take some trips to new places this year. I’ve already got some ideas but I’ll keep them under my hat for now!

2015 has been pretty good. Let’s see if 2016 can be even better!

 

 

 

Getting Ready for a New School Year

This time of year feels far more like a fresh start to me than actual New Years. The end of summer holidays means that Pip will be heading into a new year of school but also I’ll be starting my new (and last!) university course soon. I like to be prepared well in advance and have my desk ready with everything I’ll need.

I do have quite a love of stationary. My train of thought tends to be a bit chaotic so being ultra organised really helps me keep on top of my studies, plus all of the other stuff on my never ending To Do list! I have a deskpad, something I find really helpful for being always close to hand for random but important notes – the kind I might lose if I wrote it on a post-it or scrap of paper. There’s also our elephant, shared between me and the Husband (our desks are pushed together) that can be written on with dry-wipe marker pens. Both of these came from Paperchase, a store I really love for their useful yet quirky stationary.

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I currently have just one notebook, again from Paperchase. As it’s my only notebook, I note down everything from writing ideas to shopping lists and random ideas (recently lots of ideas for a certain little lady’s upcoming birthday party!). Ideally, I really need three notebooks – one for writing ideas, one for any random scribblings and one for university notes.

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I have a new lamp for my desk. We already had a good lamp to share between our desks but it’s nice to have my own one, plus as a huge geek and Doctor Who fan, I love the design.

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Cups of tea are an essential part of my writing and studying. So I keep a coaster on my desk. Until recently, it was a Duff Beer mat. Then I was gifted this gorgeous set of Hogwarts coasters that fit together like a puzzle. Since I’ll be studying Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for my Children’s Literature course this year, it seems like a perfect addition. When all of the pieces are together, it’s large enough for my mug and a couple of cheeky biscuits – very handy!

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As someone who doesn’t regularly act her age, I like to keep a few fun things on my desk, just to keep it looking like the happy creative space I want it to be. Currently I keep my Red Panda stuffed toy and a Severus Snape Pop Vinyl figure on there. I am planning to add more Pop Vinyl figures.

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A couple of weeks ago, I bought a new cork noticeboard to hang above the desk too. It’ll mostly be for displaying little posters, postcards and photographs but I’m hoping to also put up some motivational quotes or pictures and I’ve also pinned up a family calendar, so that we all know what’s going on and when. I’m using some pretty pom pom push pins from Paperchase (that’s some great alliteration, right there). I’ve already got my eye on some very cute little frog push pins too.

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We seem to be fairly well-stocked in terms of pens, pencils, highlighters etc so I don’t think I’ll need anymore of those.

For family and student use, we have a HP Envy printer with a subscription to Instant Ink. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It’s cheap, simple and means you will never run out of ink. Your printer simply sends a message to HP when it’s supplies are running low and more cartridges are sent out to you, along with a little bag to send back your old cartridges for recycling. As technologically savvy as I like to imagine myself to be, this still feels like some kind of witchcraft to me. Plus, because you pay a monthly charge for a number of pages, not an amount of ink, it doesn’t matter what you’re printing – such as high quality colour photographs – you’re not going to get charged extra for it as long you remain within that number of pages.

What are your favourite stationary items? How do you keep your desk organised?

Words from the Other Half: Change of Direction

Another guest post from Husband, all about his own university studies. 

As an OU Student, I am about to begin my 5th, and penultimate year.  First I’ll explain the process a little.

To get the Honours Degree with the Open University, you need to get 360 credit points , obtained by completing (most usually) 6 courses which grant 60 points each.  There are three difficulty levels, One , Two and unsurprisingly Three.

I have completed two at level One, one at level Two and one at level Three, which means I have a Level Two course and a Level Three Course to go.

So far I have focused heavily on History, which makes sense as I was trying to obtain a History BA (Hons).  Along the way I have had a taste of philosophy during the course and this has inspired a change in direction.  I have become aware that I can change my study plan to make the last two years focus on Philosophy, thus granting a slightly more ambiguous Humanities BA (Hons).

Oh the Humanities!

So my next course is A222 , Exploring Philosophy. The Module covers six different topics, considering Philosophy both from a historical and modern perspective. The topics are ‘The Self’, ‘Philosophy and Religion’,’Ethics’, ‘Knowledge’, ‘Mind’ and ‘Political Philosophy’.

While I try not to get too ahead of myself, the two topics I am most looking forward to are Ethics and Political Philosophy.

As I have had a keen interest in philosophy even before university, I can’t really say I am complete beginner.  An interest was cultivated when I was at school and a lot of private reading has informed the subject. I’m familiar with some famous thinkers already; Descartes, Plato and Nietzsche (will I ever stop having to look up the spelling of that name?) and the vastly different views.

One of the things that I have considered is that as the subject is so designed to inform our moral, theological and logical thinking, will I change as result of this next two years of study?  Will I make different choices, inspired by different schools of philosophical thought? In a sense this is a worrying prospect, its not a nice thing to suddenly pull into focus the ideas and beliefs you have had all your life and admit that you now think you were wrong all along, but at the same time I welcome it as the idea of taking views form the total sum of human philosophy, rather than from just my own relatively local point of view, will perhaps give me a better understanding of a world I don’t fully understand.

I suppose I’ll wait and see. 

Do you have a preferred philosopher? Perhaps you can share in the comments below? 

Thanks for reading.

New uni course: A230 Reading & Studying Literature

Summer holidays are still in full swing and we’re having lots of fun with our last few weeks before school starts for Pip. It’s going to be a big change in her life and she’s so excited. But she’s not the only one that’s starting a new school year. 

My next uni course might not be starting until October but my course materials are due to arrive in early September and, given that I’m also going to be looking for work as soon as Pip’s in school full time, I want to get a head start! 

This course is going to be very different from my last two, which were both creative writing with very little academic style writing involved. This year I’ll be taking the Open University module A230, Reading and Studying Literature. A large part of why I picked it was because the materials set list included a few titles that I’ve sort of been meaning to read for years but never quite got around to it – Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle and Othello by Shakespeare – plus one of my favourite books that I have read – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – and a film that Husband has been telling me I should watch for ages, Metropolis. 

On Monday, or what we dubbed ‘Mail Day’ due to a number of things being delivered that day, I received amongst other things, a nice big stack of books. Here’s a full list: 

Oroonoko by Aphra Behn

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel 

Dubliners by James Joyce

The Emigrants by W.G Sebald

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire

Othello by William Shakespeare

I’ve still got one more due to arrive, The Duchess of Malfi by J. Webster

As I said, I’ve already read Wuthering Heights. I’m currently reading Sign of Four. On joining the course Facebook group, I am just a tad concerned that many of my fellow students seem to have made much more headway on the reading than I have. Indeed some of them have already completed the entire list! But with just over six weeks until the course actually begins, I think I’ll be alright. I haven’t really analysed a book academically since secondary school and this is at a much higher level so that’s a bit daunting too but also an appealing challenge. 

I am really excited to be starting another year of university studies. This is my fifth course and once it’s completed, I’ll only need to take one more to get my degree! It’s still a way off yet and there’s lots of work to be done but definitely something to look forward to! 

 

Becoming an OU student

This post could also be called ‘Retaining your identity & sanity as a stay at home parent’.

Even from early on in my pregnancy, I found that my identity began to shift. I was no longer Amelia, but Pip’s mum – or at least Bump’s mum at that stage! I found myself becoming quite annoyed at people treating my belly like public property, grabbing at it without permission and judging whether or not it looked like theirs or their friend’s/next-door-neighbour’s/random pregnant celebrity’s and whether they thought it would be a boy or a girl. I began to feel like a walking womb, rather than a real person.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved being pregnant for the most part and I love being a parent but I didn’t like the idea that the person I was before becoming Mummy would just disappear. I needed something that was for me and about me and definitely not about pregnancy or babies. So I started looking into distance learning. A lot of the course providers looked, if I’m honest, a bit dodgy. The resulting qualifications from courses that cost hundreds of pounds were ones I’d never heard of and I wasn’t convinced that employers would have either. Then I looked at Open University.

University had been a dream that I had abandoned when my AS level grades were much lower than I’d hoped for. I was so desperate to get away from home at that point that I dropped out of Sixth Form and started job hunting instead. Now here was the opportunity to get a proper university degree after all, plus our low household income meant that I was entitled to financial support. I applied for my first module: An Introduction to Health and Social Care and started studying when Pip was just over a year old.

Now I am halfway through my fourth module, having studied Art History and Creative Writing modules since. I won’t lie to you, at times it has been tricky. Pip stopped taking daytime naps at 18 months old so almost all studying had to be done in the evening. This is possible to do but it does start to feel a bit grueling at times. From my experience, I have some handy hints for other parents looking to become OU students too (some of this advice could be applied to anyone but much of it is parent specific):

– Don’t take modules purely because they’ll help towards your chosen career. I did this initially and have since very much regretted it. I think Open University is much more suited to studying a subject that you are genuinely interested in, otherwise you might well find your motivation dissipating – remember it’s going to take about six years of part time study to complete a degree! If you look at the module description and don’t feel excited about it, it may not be the course for you! If you’re unsure, perhaps try a free short course on Open University’s Open Learn site? I also found this to be a really useful way of preparing for my first creative writing course and for filling the summer gap between modules!

– Make time for yourself and your family. I try to fit my studying around times when I’m at home alone but sometimes it must be done in the evening, which means sacrificing the important bit of time that I get alone with husband each day. I’m still not quite organised enough to prevent this but being able to get all the studying done without sacrificing family time is a good goal. Also, try not to spend every free minute you have on studying or you might find you start to resent it a bit. If you can’t set aside time for yourself, your family and for studying, you might need to consider if taking on study is really a good idea at all – you want this to improve your life, not make it so much harder!

– Get assignments done well ahead of time. I will admit, I am not good at following this rule. Although I have just submitted my latest TMA (Tutor Marked Assignment) two days ahead of schedule, I’m regularly finishing off and submitting assignments mere hours before the deadline.

– Talk to other students. You’ll be assigned a tutor group so chatting about the module you’re taking will be easy enough. But talking to other people who are taking similar modules or have completed the module you’re taking can be really useful too, partly for motivation. Knowing that other people are struggling or getting anxious waiting for their assignment marks to come in can be a big support for you. There are Facebook groups dedicated to most OU modules and lots of other groups for students. There are people I would now consider friends that I started off simply chatting to about studying online. It’s a great way to connect with other adults and talk about something other than babies – very important for a stay at home parent!

– It’s good to have a plan but don’t set it in stone. I had a very good plan set out for my studies when I first started. Since then, I’ve changed my mind on which modules I’ll be taking and even the type of degree I’ll end up with. Doing this is very simple with the OU so don’t feel like you must take a module just because it was in your original plan.

I hope this post helps anyone who is thinking about beginning their studies. Thanks for reading!