Good things come to those who wait

Will they ever get used?

Will they ever get used?

When deciding on our next family adventure and weighing up the options, the children’s opinions obviously always mattered and were going to play a big part in our decision making. When going to the UK became a serious option it was obvious that this was a popular choice for both my two oldest kids for a number of reasons and top of that list of reasons was that they really wanted to see, feel and enjoy snow.  For the last 2 months I have been telling them both that snow is unlikely and that it may only happen once a year if that.  They all got a plastic sledge each from Santa (grandma) for Christmas, wrapped up in black bin bags (Santa doesn’t seem to do large wrapping paper?), and momentarily used on the living room floor as they tried to imagine what it would be like to use them but not knowing when.  Little did we all know that they would be in full action less than from 48 hours from then.

It's real snow!

It’s real snow!

We were driving back from the sales as the light was fading late on the 26th. In the car headlights large flakes of snow began to glide through the beams and we all shouted out that it was snowing!  It got denser as we drove home, a lot like going into ‘hyper-drive‘ on the Millennium Falcon (apparently).  The kids were desperate to get outside and to feel the snow and as soon as we parked up the car they pulled on their winter coats and dived into grandma’s backyard to adsorb the new experience.

One happy snowman

One happy snowman

I explained to the kids (and my wife, who was just as excited) that the snow may not last for long and can soon thaw and turn to a brown slush, especially if it rains overnight. Even though it was now night time we decided to make the most of the opportunity and had our first family snowball fight, making sure a few snowballs also found their way through grandma’s front door at the same time!  The snow was settling and the conditions perfect to build a snowman.  I showed Jonah how to start with a small lump of snow at the top of the road and then roll it down the hill, “this is perfect rolling snow Jonah” – constantly flipping it over as it increased in size and trying to maintain a rounded shape.  I worked on his body and Jonah made his first ever snowman head.  We added some small stones for eyes, his mouth and buttons, and of course gave him a carrot for his nose.  The garden bush was hacked for some arms and a forgiving grandma donated an old scarf and hat for him to wear. The finishing touch was an empty can of Guinness which had helped keep dad warm through the activity and we both thought the snowman would appreciate (the idea of) it – hence his larger than life smile, he had waited a long time.

Even a snowman needs a friend

Even a snowman needs a friend

Before going back indoors and facing the not so pleasurable new experience of very cold toes and feet meeting a hot steaming bath, we decided to leave the snowman with a small friend to keep him company throughout the night.  Pleased with our spontaneous fun and achievements in the snow, we looked forward to a content sleep – the type you always seem to have after being active outdoors and in challenging weather conditions.  The only concern on the kid’s minds was if the snowmen would still be there in the morning.  They peeked out of the upstairs bedroom window every time they passed it informing the household “the snowmen are still there!

They're still there dad!

They’re still there dad!

Is there anything better than waking up to find the world covered in a crisp blanket of dazzling snow with clear blue skies and a sparkling winter sun?  Seeing your two special snowmen friends smiling up at you and coaxing you out to play?  Knowing there are three brand new shiny plastic sledges in the shed that are going to be christened today?  Plastic bags in between double layers of socks, thermos flasks filled and rations packed away, we are all ready for a full day of family sledging for the first time. There can’t be many better days than this, they are definitely worth the wait.

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Teaching people, not content

singing

 Post contributed by Karen Partyka

In the music department we start preparing for Christmas in September so in many ways it is a relief when the Christmas concert arrives! This year I was taking the Junior Choir. I had 30 wonderful pupils aged 11 to 14 who came to rehearsals every week without fail. I had chosen two songs to perform at our Christmas concert and we worked for many weeks. The pupils were very excited about our concert and they were all looking forward to it.

old people

I knew the pupils would get something from being in the choir and performing in the Christmas concert. I also organised that during our last week of school the junior choir would visit two care homes to sing Christmas carols. Some of the residents were quite sick and frail, the pupils had bought small presents for the residents. The residents were very touched by the presents and some were very emotional, that children who did not know them had brought them a gift.

choir1

However, I have a senior student in my music class, who I will call John. He moved to the UK two years ago and did not speak any English. Through that time he has managed to learn English and learn about British culture. He lives with his mother but his father lives in a different country. He has found the last two years extremely difficult, he could not speak English at the start so it was difficult to make friends, culturally he did not fit in and in many ways he is different from other students his age.  He loves music!  He is in the music department before school, break time, lunchtime and any free periods. He loves listening to music, composing and performing music.

guitar

As we approached the concert John was not in a group that was due to perform but just a few days before the concert the principal of music asked John to be involved with the backstage team and he was given the role of operating the curtain. He was delighted, he was desperate to be needed and feel involved. Over the next few days I watched as he worked and prepared with the backstage team who were all boys and close in age to him. In the short space of time he started to make some connections and even friends with these boys. On the day of the concert the backstage team were ordering Dominos pizzas. I could hear John laughing with the other boys and it was priceless. He had found some boys who had similar tastes and interests and just maybe he was now on a slightly easier road.

On the evening of the concert I arrived at school and bumped in to him. I was blown away. He scrubbed up so well!  Being a typical boy he didn’t seem to wash his hair very often, but that night he was showered, hair brushed and put up in a ponytail as he has long hair. He had black professional clothes to wear. He looked the part! During the concert I was so proud as everything he had to do was done to perfection, all his cues he executed superbly.

choir

The whole concert went really well, the pupils had a wonderful night. All the hard work was worth it just for John to be involved, all the work was worth it that he had the opportunity to feel needed, given the chance to be a part of something and start to make some friends. Secondary school can be very hard especially if you are a little bit different, but even if you have just a couple of friends it is a whole lot easier. The term has finished and John is working towards his qualification in higher music, it has been touch and go whether he will be presented but at this moment in time it is full steam ahead!  I want all the pupils in my higher class to do well and gain high grades, but my biggest achievement will be if I can ensure that John achieves his higher music.  For him it will show him he is worth something, I know he is bright and he can achieve.

A Christmas Gift

waiting

waiting

A picture tells a thousand words.

It is never easy being away from loved ones, especially when unexpected and for reasons that seem unfair.  It makes you think how many thousands and probably millions of families will not be together around the world this Christmas.  Some possibly never reunited again for reasons out of their control.

airport hugs

airport hugs

One of my colleagues took an assembly yesterday and reminisced about his outlook on Christmas as a young man (many) years ago.  It was a touching story that was based around the fact his father for 12 years always invited an elderly, widowed neighbour around for Christmas Day.  He and his brother resented this as they always missed out on watching the Christmas movie they had looked forward to for weeks since scanning through the Radio Times delivered at the start of December – the example given on this occasion being the Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back.  When this elderly lady died their father was left a letter in her will acknowledging the kindness and importance of that one day of each year to her. For 12 years – the thing she had most looked forward to was being with his wife and children and spending time with them on Christmas Day.  My colleague concluded his assembly by telling our Year 7, 8 and 9 students that that message had totally changed his outlook on Christmas and what a real gift should be all about at this time of the year.

 

When 1000 pieces all come together

1000 piece festive jigsaw - who would do that?

1000 piece festive jigsaw – who would do that?

Jigsaws were not at the top of my ‘must do activity list’ on returning back to the UK. Mother has always insisted on a family jigsaw around Christmas time and for some reason brought one up with her when visiting our new house last month.  I did have to question why she thought it a necessity to pack a jigsaw, and the specially tailored homemade plywood board for doing jigsaws on, and impose it on us when we are just settling in to a new routine and way of life and trying really hard to de-clutter.  I acknowledged it and quickly tucked it to one side in the back room with other boxes and items that could be forgotten about for the time being.

A long way still to go...

A long way still to go…

The festive jigsaw didn’t stay tucked away for long though as over the weekend of her visit she persuaded me to open it up suggesting “it would be a nice family activity to do over the Christmas period.”  So we plonked the plywood jigsaw board in the middle of the living room carpet and opened the musty box of 1000 intricate pieces of cardboard and started looking for the edges.  Both my older kids asked “why are we looking for edges dad?” both thinking they would start putting together the big santa being the main feature in the middle of the puzzle.  I explained carefully the importance of a patient approach to jigsaws like this one and forming the perimeter or boundaries of the picture first before constructing the images in the centre – “we need to no what we are working with and where our limits are.”  I gave them the challenge to look for the four corners and they eagerly set about searching for them as if it was a festive Christmas dip.

Pieces everywhere!

Pieces everywhere!

The thing with jigsaws is that they take time to get going.  You have to be resilient and focused to get beyond the early stages of locating corners and edges and sorting similar colours, shades and patterns.  It can be a lonely affair in those early stages with no sign of a successful completion in sight.  It is always better if you can recruit a team of jigsaw helpers and all agree on a role for each other – delegating specific shades and patterns to be found, distributing personalised collection and sorting (Tupperware) boxes for maximum effect and ownership.  This organised and strategic approach is key to jigsaw teamwork and avoiding the ultimate chaos and predictable disaster of vigilante jigsaw building when every one is in it for themselves and not thinking big picture.

Satisfaction

Satisfaction

There is an addictive satisfaction to that click of a jigsaw piece slotting neatly into place.  In the box a midst hundreds of other coloured pieces a single piece is lost and has no sense of place and is easily overlooked as multiple hands rake through the box on their own agenda.  The picture on the front becomes key, this is your guide – the code to success, the plan that enables you to focus on what you are trying to achieve.  It also gives you the confidence to know what unique pattern is required to make the selection of other shades and colours complete and form the picture you have been working on.  Even though it looks nothing like it in the box each piece plays a key role and you must put in the time to look for the right one and find it.  Clicking pieces into place is a satisfying process and encourages you to continue doing it (long into the night!) – and before you know it you have 1000 little pieces all coming together and the picture is clear.

How to do a hand-stand

Post contributed by Eline Postma

Developing personal confidence

Developing personal confidence

For a year or two, I have decided to change my new year’s resolutions from something behavioural (e.g. study harder) to something more tangible (run 5k without stopping). I made this change because it seems like they are more realistic goals that have more clear steps that would lead up to the attainment of it.

handstand1

My New Year’s resolution for 2014 was actually to learn how to do a handstand without the use of a wall. For some reason, I am terrified of being upside down, so this seemed like a nice goal for this year where I would have to go out of my comfort zone to gain an interesting new experience. If you think about it, being able to do an unsupported handstand symbolises personal confidence in several manners: you have to trust your body’s ability in being strong enough to support you, and have the general confidence to eventually practice it without a wall (note to self: learn some safe exit strategies!).

handstand

After a month or so, I adjusted my goal to learn how to do a ‘head-stand’. I had seen some people do it in their yoga practices, and it seemed like the coolest thing to be able to do. When I was in Edinburgh at the beginning of May, a friend showed me what it felt like to be upside down by holding my feet so I wouldn’t fall over. I realised it isn’t as scary as I once thought, and If you haven’t tried it, I would recommend it, because it is the best energy booster I have ever come across. After a little over a month of daily practice, I managed to do an unsupported headstand. This was the best thing I did this year for boosting my self confidence and positive body image. More so, than any amount of public speaking ever could 🙂

Future target: clearly, an unsupported handstand in 2015!

What shall we do today?

Can we ride on the beach in England dad?

Can we ride on the beach in England dad?

Last weekend as I was compiling my list of important things to do I set myself a back-up target of getting the bikes out (now arrived safely with 90 other plus boxes) and reassembled ready for an unlikely family bike ride in the next 6 months or so.  To be fair though the weather has been great since returning home and although the temperature is obviously a lot colder we have seen and enjoyed plenty of sunshine and such was the case the Sunday just gone.

The Ribble salt marshes

The Ribble salt marshes

As soon as the bikes were ready the kids were on them like a flash, woolly hats over their helmets!  They had obviously missed their bikes the last 6 weeks and I hadn’t realised how much.  They were out in the back street riding up and down and amazed at the lack of sweat being generated but anxious to pull their sleeves down over their quickly numbing fingers.  Provocatively I suggested that we go for a bike ride and much to my surprise they both agreed.  So we set off across two busy roads (another novelty to them getting off their bikes and pushing them across a road) and onto the promenade at St. Annes thinking we could ride along the beach but soon realised nobody else was and that push bikes and soft English sand don’t work too well together.  So we pushed our bikes back up to the main promenade and decided to take on the pedestrians heading towards Lytham with the sun shining on our faces.

The Lytham St. Annes spitfire

The Lytham St. Annes spitfire

Sometimes you (well I do) think things are not worth the hassle and it is easier to keep things simple.  Unpack the bikes in the summer, leave them in the garage and worry about fixing them then when they will be most needed.  Do the shopping today, clean the house, get the kids homework done and put them in front of the TV.  How many times do we fall into that trap and what are we missing out on?  The last Sunday in November and it was an amazing afternoon to be out on our bikes, in fact everyone seemed to be out and it was great weaving in and out of people walking off their Sunday roasts. We made a point of saying ‘hello’ to our new neighbours as we passed them and a ‘thank you’ for making way at the same time taking in the new sights and points of interest of our new home, community and environment.

Not as hot as Thailand but still need a rest

Not as hot as Thailand but still need a rest

The Lytham Windmill

The Lytham Windmill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of Stuff to-do-list

The Story of Stuff to-do-list

One of my favourite Tweets that I read and decided to re-tweet this week was from The Story of Stuff a website that I have actually written about before. What I love about this Tweet is the simplicity of the to-do-list but the effectiveness of how powerful the outcomes are from doing it.  We sometimes take these activities, opportunities and outcomes for granted and almost always, from my experience, gain and discover a lot more (the value-added) than we ever imagined by getting up and outdoors and doing them.  A 10km bike ride got nowhere near my original to-do-list last weekend let alone at the top up amongst: Tesco shop, clean the bathrooms, find the bathroom scales in the shipping boxes, research electricity provider rates, Christmas decorations, etc… but I am so glad that impulse plus a bit of sunshine found a way and that I was reminded of the important things to be included at the top of any to-do-list.

The Season of Giving

Contributed by Brittany Tang

Christmas post

Here in Michigan, the winter months seem to set a much needed peaceful atmosphere in the hustle and bustle of exams. As the snow falls gently from the sky and accumulates on the ground, sparkling ever so slightly, a quietness blankets the city of Ann Arbor. Students study in the warmth of the residential halls and cozy up next to soft velvet blankets, sipping hot beverages as they work hard to make their mark on the world. I’ve met some very inspiring individuals who are motivated to constantly do their part to benefit others. They lead organizations that help the impoverished, raise money for better education/health systems overseas and work hard to share with others their philosophies of kindness and global citizenship.

As Christmas approaches, I think of those who aren’t so fortunate to have a warm place to sleep during the bitterly cold and windy evenings. I also think of the children and adults who have limited access to medical and educational resources whose Christmases are consumed with worry and distress. In my local community, these people are the homeless. They roam the streets during the summer, spring and fall seasons and desperately seek shelter during the winter. I do my best to help these individuals by volunteering in the Food Gatherer’s kitchen in the basement of the homeless shelter. We make hot soups, pastas, and steam vegetables. There is always coffee, juice and water as well as fruit and dessert and all of the food that is used to make the meals is donated by local grocery stores and educational institutions. It is so heartwarming to see volunteers filling the kitchen with smiles, enthusiasm, excitement and the hope that they can help make a homeless person experience a few moments of joy by eating a delicious meal.

Is it about giving or receiving?

Is it about giving or receiving?

The giving doesn’t stop there. It’s wonderful! In my residential hall, students are collecting donated hats, gloves, mittens and scarves in an event called the “giving tree” with the hopes of sending these donations to Safe House. This organization provides support for individuals who have been impacted by domestic violence and/or sexual assault. We are also holding a knitting session one evening to make our own winter attire to donate.

The holiday mood has engulfed my dorm. The halls are decorated with paper snowflakes and the doors are covered in Christmas wrapping paper. Despite the small stresses of university, joy is in the air and the desire to help others is prominent and it is a beautiful sight!

To read other posts by Brittany please click here.