Thursday, 30 October 2014

Around the World in Eighty Days - Rome

Rome is somewhere I have wanted to go ever since I was really young (and watched Sabrina Goes to Rome. No, really.) and in 2009 I finally got to go, which was exceptionally exciting. I went in August and it was really hot, I should have known right? When you go on a beach holiday that might be okay, but when you want to see the sights it was a silly mistake to make. We wanted to make the most of our trip so we booked loads of excursions through the travel agent, which I would really recommend. It's all very well looking at the amazing ruins but it means so much more when you know what you're looking at and get told a few tid-bits on the side.

St Paul's

The Forums

The Pantheon

Right in the back is Vatican City

The Vatican

Rome was great in so many ways. Being surrounded by so much history is just extraordinary and we were lucky enough to have a hotel a short walk from the historical centre. Booking excursions was absolutely the right thing to do and it meant we saw and learnt so much more. 

You grow up being told that Rome is the food capital of the world but I personally found the food a little disappointing. I didn't have a memorable meal during the whole holiday (apart from a McDonald's - common as muck, me) and that was a shame. 

Have you ever been to Rome?

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Around the World in Eighty Days - Turkey

I've always had the travelling bug. I'm privileged to say, from a very young age I've always had a foreign holiday each year (and shamefully I have never been on holiday in the UK). Having M.E. means that travelling is now exceptionally difficult and I have very mixed feelings of going on holiday. The pressure to 'be well' not just for yourself but for others, the guilt of not being well, it's all just a lot of pressure. Sometimes it's easier to just not put yourself in that position. 

With that said, it's nice to be able to look back on holidays and places you have been fondly and I thought I'd do a short series of posts about places I've been and give you a little wanderlust. Starting with Turkey. I started going to Turkey in 2003 and pretty much continued going there every year since both with my family and then with my boyfriend...and then with my family again!






As I mentioned above, I've been going to Turkey since 2003. What is now a popular tourist destination, comparable to Spain, has grown from the quaint villages I visited years ago. It's really interesting (and a bit sad) to see these resorts grow and change. Apart from the obvious appeal of the gorgeous weather, the Turkish hospitality is second to none. They are so friendly and after going for years I have met Turkish people who are now genuine friends. 

Another appeal of Turkey is the culture and food. If you want to go out and get chips, or even an english breakfast - it's there. If you want to immerse yourself in something different, however, there's a lot to try. Following this theme, Turkey has so much history. There are actually more Roman ruins in Turkey than there are in Rome. You don't have to travel far to see amazing things. If you can take wandering around in the heat!

If you're interested in this sort of thing, check back to see other places I have been.

Have you ever been to Turkey?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

All About That Bass...

Today I wanted to write about something I've been considering more and more as of late - body image and self esteem, particularly the impossible standards society sets. I first started pondering  this more deeply after watching an episode of Catfish (which seems like a bit of a loose connection, I know but hopefully it will make sense). After two seasons now, although there have been a few surprises along the way, the formula is often the same. A person who has low self esteem, is often (but not always) overweight, creates an online persona and uses pictures of a perfect looking person in order to find love online. What always strikes me is, firstly, how sad it is that these people feel so bad about themselves that they do this in the first place and, secondly, how odd it is that the person being 'catfished' always declares their deep love or connection with this other person and yet this seems to quickly fade when they see the real person they have been talking to does not look like a supermodel.

"It's because they lied" you might argue, and that may be true, but in one particular episode when the Catfish met the Catfished she was profusely apologising and looking down at herself as she did and I couldn't help but feel she was apologising for the way she looked rather than the lie - and it left me cold. 

It's no wonder we are all feeling bad about ourselves. Queue my average British girl average morning: I wake up and look at my phone, if I don't see pictures of size 0 celebrities on my Instagram feed, I see pictures of people's impeccably planned healthy breakfasts or morning work-out views; switch on the TV and I see ageless skinny women with gorgeous skin and perfectly coiffed hair (I am sure girls on American TV shows are airbrushed); then the adverts, toothpaste doesn't just clean teeth anymore, it makes them 3D white. Serums promise ageless android-smooth skin (and I'm sold because it will make me look like the 19 year old model selling wrinkle cream). Jenny, 31 year old 'everywoman' from Bristol's before and after weight loss pictures flash up on the screen like a bad memory. 

I'm aware of all these external influences and yet I'm totally influenced by them. With a UK size 10 top half and 10-12 bottom half (J-Lo ain't got nothing on me) I'm distinctly average and slightly hourglass. Yet, average isn't good enough - I don't have washboard abs or a 'thigh gap'. I'm no where near perfection and perfection is all that's deemed beautiful in modern pop culture and I know that's silly. Even those who are doing it right are "looking good...for a bigger girl", "she's pretty but it's a shame about the hair". You just have to look at the Daily Mail comment section to see this is not just the media's perspective but ingrained in society. 

The other day I heard "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor on the TV. 

"Yeah my Momma, she told me, don't worry about your size
She says, boys like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won't be no stick-figure silicone Barbie Doll"

It's not really the sort of music I'm into but it made me smile. It means more that someone like Meghan was singing this sort of thing rather than Mika's token "Big Girls You Are Beautiful". Yet the next morning I saw something that made me really mad. An article which stipulated that Trainor's song was potentially damaging to body confidence and health because it made it 'acceptable' to be overweight or obese. If you watch the video to the song Trainor is clearly not unhealthy - she is dancing around with the best of them and looks great.

It is fair to say that the song is not particularly fair to the slimmer species but when we are constantly exposed to perfection in the media to the extent that we are, a little balance (however unbalanced itself) is all right by me.

Yep, I've got hips, so sue me.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

A Day in the Life of a Trainee Teacher

Those of you who know me, or follow this blog, will know that this summer I completed my four year teacher training degree and achieved 'Qualified Teacher Status'. Most of my university friends started their NQT jobs this year and, Spoonie or not, I don't envy them. My 16 week final placement, whilst sick with M.E. was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. It would be for the most healthy person. Recently, the Ofsted Chief Inspector commented that 40% of teachers left teaching within the first five years and I can't say I'm surprised in the slightest - teaching is no longer a sustainable career. Of the people I've met online with M.E, an overwhelming number are from the teaching profession - overworked and vulnerable health wise. Whether I had M.E. or not, I would seriously consider not continuing with teaching at all.

06:30 am - Alarm goes. Feeling way too tired after barely sleeping worrying about things I haven't done and things I need to do and an adrenaline riddled night. Now I have just under an hour to get up, get ready, eat something and drive to school. 

07:20 / 07:30 am - Arrive at school. It's almost still dark and there are already cars in the carpark. Feel guilty for a minute that you weren't here earlier (crazy in hindsight) and rush into the classroom to turn on the computer, which will take a full 10 minutes to load. 

07:40 am - Computer loaded, now to find all of the worksheets you'd made the night before. You never know how far your pupils will get each lesson, so you can never be more than a day ahead of yourself. 'Real' teachers don't often make worksheets, but on a placement you're there to impress, so everything has to be done by you and custom made. Each worksheet has three variations: lower, middle, high for each lesson. That's 5 lessons a day x 33 pupils. That's a lot of paper. Print.

07:45 am - It's time to join the queue of several teachers for the printer. The teacher scanning and re-sizing and fiddling with contrast settings is your mortal enemy. Everyone has hundreds of sheets to print so you stand in the queue for at least 10 minutes - it seems like a criminal waste of time. Everyone is tired, everyone is stressed, everyone is grunting. There's always that one sparkly teacher who is upbeat and loving it, they go on the mortal enemy list too.

08:00 am - You've been in school over half an hour and barely got anything done. You have a pile of 165 books to mark and it's not going to happen. You decide some books are going to have to be sacrificed until later and start marking what you can.

08:20 am - Your hand has cramp and you've only marked 11 books. You're flagging. You decide the only way you'll get through the day is with a coffee, so you make a run for it to the staffroom to grab one before the kids come in at 8:30. Coffee made, you wander back to the classroom trying not to spill any and bump into the Headteacher. Great. Now they think all you do in the morning is go and get coffee. You have still barely scratched the surface of all the work you have to do. 

8:30 - 8:45 am - The kids start filing in and suddenly you're surrounded by seven children, all vying for your attention at once, talking over each other with stories of dentist appointments, missing P.E kits and lost homework. "GO AND SIT DOWN!". Ahh what a grand start to the day. Commanding silent reading is the only way you can sit and think for a moment about what you are teaching today. 

09:00 - 10:00 am - This morning is maths and you are teaching equivalent fractions. You only taught the concept of fractions two days ago but the packed curriculum means you must steam on. Teaching kids that if two out of eight slices of a pizza are coloured in 2/8 isn't so bad, they can see it. Explaining to them it is the same as 1/4 or 4/16 is a far more abstract concept, even if you are using visuals. You even start to confuse yourself. You keep them on the carpet until they really understand then 3/4 of your lesson is gone and those worksheets you spent an hour on were kind of pointless as Gove says you have to move them on to quantum physics tomorrow.  At least they've got it though, you think. Until Suzie asks you at the end of the lesson "Miss......what's a fraction?". Face palm.

10:15 - Lunch - The rest of the morning is a blur. You have 33 children in your class, who all have different needs, but you can only sit with one table. This is usually the lowest table. They're eight years old but they can't or can barely read. Those 'on target' children could really succeed, if pushed, but you can't leave this lowest table to their own devices, so they remain the overseen middle. Every teacher swears this will never happen in their classroom, until reality sets in.

Lunchtime - Every teacher will tell you, you must have lunch. You ran out of the house this morning so all you grabbed is a squished sandwich, some crisps and a biscuit. Junk food. There are generally two types of teacher in the staffroom: most are as comatose as you are; the sparkly ones on the mortal enemy list are still sparkly, have gourmet lunches, and talk about their gym plans after school and then their cinema/pub/dinner plans. What is their secret? Is Gove secretly but steadily replacing us with teaching robots? You ponder this as the head teacher sits at your table and suddenly everyone becomes straight-backed and wide eyed. The comatose lunch turns into a mini-meeting and you leave the staffroom more exhausted. (NB: Many trainee teachers make the mistake of sitting on their own at lunch. My biggest tip is to sit with the teachers - it's scary the first time, but soon you become "one of the gang" and that is invaluable).

The afternoon - Afternoon teaching is never much fun. The kids are less patient and so are you. Kids do not realise the teacher is clock watching too. The last lesson is "finishing off" - you do the rounds and make sure everyone is okay then wonder if you can get away with a bit more marking and a sip of coffee, just as the head teacher walks past the window. Great. 

3:00 - 3:30 - You have half an hour to mark some books before your evening meeting. You have all the marking you had to do yesterday, plus everything the kids did today. You get 6 done.

3:30 - 17:00 - The meeting is meant to start at 3:30 - you know that because you stopped marking your books. Yet teachers wander in at 3:45, 3:50 - we can't possibly start until we're all here. Of course it's not sparkly, sparkly was here before you were, helping to set up. In the meeting you discuss everything, and nothing. You go round in circles. You have to listen to everyone's opinion although only you know and teach your own class. Everyone talks about pupils in their own classes, as if you know who they are, like people talk about their own children. And people listen like they're listening to someone talk about their own children: in a polite yet disinterested way, waiting for their own turn to talk about their own children. You pour over data as if it's meaningful after being at school for 10 hours. 

17:00 - 18:00 - You finally have some peaceful time in the classroom to mark some books, even though you're practically asleep. The world is fuzzy, you're ticking mechanically. Six PM rolls around and you still have only marked 30 maths books, so you guiltily take a set of english books home. 

19:00 - 21:30 - After having some dinner and staring blankly at a wall for an hour you're ready to plan all your lessons for tomorrow. 'Real' teachers don't usually physically write lesson plans but you must for your records as a trainee. Lesson planning not only includes meeting the curriculum, building upon what you taught today, differentiating for three (if not four) achievement groups, designing a lesson, a powerpoint, finding images etc for a starter, main and plenary for five lessons (exhausted yet?) it means scouring the internet for appropriate activities and worksheets. If they're not around, you have to make these from scratch. 

This all takes a lot longer than you realised. Nothing you've done lives up to your own type A personality standards, so you never go to bed content with what you've done or achieved that day. You look up at the clock, it's 21:30 and you are beyond exhausted. The pile of 30 english books are staring at you. You'll get them done tomorrow morning (hahaha). 

Apart from obviously having M.E and being crazy tired by that point, I always made myself go to bed at a reasonable time. Many trainees will stay up until the early hours, as will many teachers. This is the reality of a trainee teacher but for me, with M.E, you can only imagine how I was feeling all day. By the nighttime (and I didn't understand this at the time) I was adrenaline riddled and felt horrible every night, could never sleep and this panicked me. It was hell. How I ever achieved an Outstanding grade at an Outstanding school is beyond me. This way of life, day after day, is unsustainable for anyone. 

Finding time to do display's

Helping at an annual fireworks evening.

Science lesson preparation. I dreamt of jelly for weeks.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

My Upcycling Adventure

When you're unwell you inevitably spend more and more time in your room and the space really begins to matter. My bedroom has always been a bit of a work in progress. I have added a little bit here and there. The problem for me by adding here and there is that over the years I've bought pieces of individual bits of furniture I like...but none of them matched. There was too much going on. A little while ago I invested in this piece of vintage furniture:

It is in keeping with my *rough* blue and white theme. After rearranging my room I needed a new bedside table. I decided to buy a cheap pine table and paint it myself! 

After a little bit of lazy internet investigation I discovered I needed to buy chalk paint to get the vintage effect I desired. I had written down the name of the paint used on the vintage drawers and by chance I was able to buy the exact same paint from my local B&Q - Craig and Rose 'Morris Blue' and I also bought 'Regency White'.

I started off by gently sanding the bedside table, it was in pretty great condition so it didn't need much sanding at all. I removed the drawers and the handles (so it was easier to paint) and started to paint. It was as easy as that. On the first coat I was slightly worried as the brush strokes were very apparent but once the second coat had dried it left a really professional looking finish, I was very pleased! I would love to tell you I did some very clever things - but it was just so easy.

After painting the bedside table, my vintage green dresser it was placed beside started to look more and more out of place and so the next day I decided to paint that too. 

Keeping in the lines sent me mad.

Here are the finished pieces of furniture in my room. I'm pretty pleased with how they came out, although it will take a bit of getting used to having my furniture match!

As a spoonie activity, on the first day, painting the bedside table was really relaxing and enjoyable. I sat in the sunshine, I had all day to do it, took lots of tea breaks and I felt happy at the end of the day that I had achieved something. On the second day, however, I made that classic mistake of being drunk on determination and energy. It was a much larger undertaking to paint over the green and because it ended up needing three coats - I essentially painted three of them (after a full day of painting the day before!). Painting the blue ribbon detail was also a nightmare with my shaky hands. I knew it was going to rain overnight so I had to get it finished on the day.

That night I had the horrible exhaustion where I knew I'd been pretty stupid, felt awful, and couldn't sleep until the early hours. Needless to say, the next day I was a wreck: sleep deprived; aching like a mother and feeling truly horrible. Sadly that turned an enjoyable experience into a nasty one but it was my own stupid fault! 

I would really recommend up cycling furniture as a spoonie activity (or even a way to make some easy money - which I may look into in the future) but only if you take it at your own pace and keep it as the enjoyable activity it can be.