Saturday, 18 November 2017

Joy, satisfaction and the link to living...

Interrupting my monthly updates with a teacherly reflection. Actually, it's more a reflection and a reminder on a few instances which have brought me joy this week. And they are both, unusually, from work. Teaching.

Teaching involves children. And so teaching involves stress and angst and hard work and trying to solve problems. Sometimes, it works.

The stress this week was trying to help a child do maths. His attitude was challenging: I counted myself fortunate that he hasn't actually written: "I hate maths." or "This lesson sucked." but it has been a close thing on a number of occasions. Matters came to a head earlier in the week when he just about refused to do any of the practice questions I had set the class. Tears - his AND mine - were incipient.

I took a deep breath and directed him to read and closely examine my Growth Mindset display at the back of the class. Fortunately, it was break at the end of the lesson so we both had time to recover. After the break, I asked him if anything had been helpful.  "Yes," he replied, "this." as he pointed to this image:
Image result for growth mindset steps to success "Oh, interesting," was my reply. "Where do you think you are on these steps?" He pointed to 'I can't do it.'
"I'm here," he said, confident that I would recognize the truth of the statement.
"Oh no, you aren't," I replied. He stiffened, ready to defend his position. "No, you're here." I pointed tot he bottom step "I won't do it". "You don't want to try maths at all. It's not about can't because I promise you, you can. And I know that is true, because, as you know, I am a Very Old Teacher and have taught hundreds of children. I know you can do maths If You Want To."
I carried on for a bit longer, going on about negative attitude, giving up before you're even started, blah blah blah.
Then we went back to my desk and I explained the maths issue again, using some very simple practical aids. After a few minutes of teaching, where my unwilling student had achieved 100% accuracy while I, metaphorically speaking, stood over him, we then stopped and I gave it no more thought....

...until a couple of days later, when I realised a) there had been no more negative comments written in the maths book b) no more negative attitudes in maths AT ALL  c)increased concentration and focus  and d)a much happier little boy.

I called him over and shared my observations. "Oh yes," he said, smiling. "I'm so much happier now. And I LIKE MATHS."
I congratulated him, low key. Well, I might have used words like thrilled, delighted, proud etc etc, but I didn't whoop for joy or high five him. Just found myself grinning broadly, at how just a few minutes of focused attention had made all the difference to this particular ten year old... Memo To Self: Pay Attention. It reaps dividends...

The other incident which gave me particularly warm and fuzzy feelings was, in brief, just reminding a troubled child of two key questions: What is the problem? What are you going to do about it?
A little reflection and he had a strategy. Result: a much happier, more in control child who, hopefully, has a strategy for the future now as well.

Teaching. Making a difference. And, really, Absolutely Nothing To Do At All With The Three Rs....

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Observations in October

October began in an oddly musical way...

The first Saturday was time for my monthly participation in the Healing Rooms - praying for folk to be healed. We always prepare by having a shortish - twenty minutes - session of worship music, remembering that healing is from God and getting ready to serve Him in obedience.

After that, I whizzed down the hill to the library. Down in town, the first thing I saw was a dance group  of willing volunteers, performing steps to rap music...while, round the corner, a girl started busking, singing a Simon and Garfunkel song as her opening number: beautiful voice. I headed for the quiet of the library, but there was a celebratory arts event on with all kinds of activities and a classical music group, dressed in appropriate historical costume, playing Regency era songs from the minstrels gallery while costumed dancers performed steps below.  Back outside, the dance group had turned its expert feet to Irish dancing: at least, two tiny girls were earnestly hopping around while the rest of the group looked on, bemused. 

The cycle home is usually a quiet oasis of calm lanes, but as I approached the Guernsey Horse Riding Club, I was serenaded by loud popular music. Odd - a heavy drizzle had set in: not impossible for a horse event, but there had been no publicity.As I drew nearer, I saw a lone horse rider circling the ring, practising dressage to the music blaring out of the loudspeakers.

Strange to have so much music in the course of the day, but I was reminded again when our dear friend Robin phoned later. Now aged nearly 97, he has been a family friend for nearly sixty years. His was a highly talented musical and artistic family (his brother, John Craxton, became an internationally renowned artist while his father, Harold Craxton, was a well-recognised pianist and composer.  Robin's wife herself had been a wonderful piano teacher and both were valued family friends. She had died in August, so Robin had been on my mind as I wondered how he was coping after a lifetime of devotion...

Ongoing in October has been the fall out from the referendum in Kurdistan, Iraq. It has made life and work even more difficult for aid workers there. Cat and Andy could not fly out of Erbil, the capital, for their planned R and R in Croatia, as Iraq has banned all flights except internal ones to Baghdad. Instead, they had to drive across the border to Turkey and fly from there. So not impossible, just tricky, time-consuming and awkwardly fraught with potential difficulties...We pray.

Highlight in October was, of course, Byron and Lisa’s visit. Dear friends for 32 years, they have continued to live and work in Africa – presently Tanzania – and are considered as family by Jonny. What a delight that Jonny and Adele are now teaching in the same area and get to see them frequently... and what a help Byron and Lisa have been to our ‘children’ as they settle into life in Arusha, accompanied by all the challenges and joys that characterise Life in Africa.

So we had three days of much laughing, reminiscing, talking heart to heart... Walks on the windy cliffs as Storm Brian raged through the British Isles; coffee overlooking the harbour; a birthday celebration for Lisa, eating dinner while a high tide crashed waves on to the windows of the restaurant; exploring World War 2 relics and remains.
Selfies at home...

Sue Wilson from the Tumaini Fund came to visit. Byron has just supplied them with a Basic Utility Vehicle which his project in Arusha is developing for small scale farmers. #joyinconnection

Lisa was pleased to discover Blue Bottle gin, made in Guernsey, after Jonny's recommendation!

Rather an appropriate advert #Africanvisitors

Storm Brian. #windy #blownoffourfeet

Dinner out

Waves lashed at the windows

We took the overnight ferry to Portsmouth together in the motorhome, journeying up to Surrey to explore Newlands Corner, which Lisa had visited when living there as a child. Beautiful. I had had no idea there was so much countryside so near London. There on the  North Downs Way we saw a flock of jays and a variety of tits, including coal tits, clustering tamely on the bird feeders at the Visitors’ Centre.

It was, indeed, sad when we left them in the tiny village where they had booked to stay with their Karly and Trevor, their second son. Trevor and Jonny were adventure buddies growing up, sharing our holidays in Portugal and then, later, the whole group of brothers and friends making an epic walking safari of 100 miles through northern Tanzania...  Bummed that we had time only for a quick hello and goodbye...

Yet sadness did not consume us. The gift of the visit was such an unexpected joy that we were able to accept the inevitability of parting... and we, too, were on our way to other encounters with other friends...

...with Pickle. Adventuring, again, in the motorhome to Pastures New – or rather, mostly, Pastures Old.

And then, we were back home, to Nearly November.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Strolling through September

I'd like to say that September began with Reconnecting With Friends but actually it began with Catching Up With Washing. 16 loads of it, to be took a week or two to get it all dried and put away...

But the month did, indeed, also begin withReconnecting With Friends. Afternoon tea with Sarah's lemon curd cakes on the cliffs - and with Sarah, of course. We usually manage an afternoon with tea and scones at the beach, but the weather, while sunny, wasn't quite warm enough thanks to the north-easterly wind. We didn't miss swimming - too much to talk about.

The next day was Lunch With Kareena. Usually Tea With Kareena On Saturday Afternoon, but we were both busy later on. Catch up Part One. A quick walk on the cliffs - and there were Sarah and Martin, busy picking blackberries.

There was, of course, a Birthday and an Anniversary.  33 years!!

Then, meeting up at the beach for kayaking with other friends - about a dozen of us, in the end. Pickle came too, for her first sea kayak outing. She sat comfortably between us, very chilled and relaxed: although she expressed an interest in riding up front on the bow, she was quite calm about not taking up the figurehead position. Afterwards, as we sat on the beach chatting, she sat next to us - a very different dog from a couple of years ago, when the prospect of staying in one place for more than a few minutes resulted in whining, pulling and general restlessness. Many hours well spent in the motorhome...

But the WEATHER!  A post here would not be complete without a mention of The Great British Bugbear.  Most of September's weather was unbelievably...bad.  Rain. Wind. Storms. Rainstorms. Windstorms, even.  We hurtled from one bad to one not-so-good day, until the Autumn Equinox when the weather inexplicably took a turn for the better, with calm days and warmer evenings: so much so, that the 23rd was sunny and almost hot: certainly warm enough to sit comfortably outside for more than a few minutes and hot enough to produce a bit of a suntan.

We made the most of it. A quick scamper to the cliffs resulted in the last blackberry picking of the season and a beautiful sunset.

I hosted a breakfast for eight friends, after which we took off, with Pickle, on bikes exploring the lanes and then down to the coast; watched cars race up the hill by the Imperial Hotel at Rocquaine for a few minutes; pottered around the garden, sitting on the patio for tea; then, again, going out for a night ride on the bikes. Back down again to the Imperial and a brief listen to one of the bands performing down there, the music floating far across the waters of Rocquaine bay as the tide lapped the sea wall. A peaceful, calm evening: we returned home as the last flight of the day landed at the airport, drifting in at the end of the garden....
Chimonea... burning hedge cuttings with enthusiasm

Berries brighten...

Early morning delight...
...And so we arrive at the 30th. Good waves this week have seen us in the waves at Vazon, surfing/bodyboarding in surprisingly warm water. September is always the warmest sea month - I now have a thin shortie wetsuit for swimming in, but it is only in late August/September that the water actually feels more pleasant.  #notacoldwaterswimmer  We'll venture out again, later this morning: we've had a heavy rainshower, but that doesn't make any difference. It is certainly no longer beach weather.

Looking back, though, there have only been two occasions when I drove to school, one of them because I had two evening meetings afterwards. Otherwise, I've been able to cycle, trying to stay fit, though it's nothing like what we were able to do in the summer, of course. Cycling back through the lanes is a calm pleasure after a busy day: especially when I find signs which say: "Access as far as Rue Sans Nom." Road without name.  Not even 'Ruette' which means 'lane': somewhat more insignificant than 'road'. What could be more insignificant than not deserving a name...?

It seems to have been a long month. School days are packed: I'm still adjusting to dealing with hundreds of interactions every day, rather than just a few. But it's all been good, as we have settled back into routines again: Richard busy with DIY outside while the weather is still reasonable.  Even I have been spurred on to paint some bedside chests of drawers white, to fit in better with the colour scheme: not that I'm going all 'Homes and Gardens'. Home decorating for me has always been about using what I have, making the best of it and adding items only if they are needed, rather than for decorative purposes. However, I did buy a blue cushion from a charity shop recently, for no other purpose than to coordinate with the curtains we inherited for the guest room....

I'll have to retake the photos for Airbnb now.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Accelerating through August

August whizzed by in gloriously slow, sunny days, each one rich in experiences. Considering that we arrived home on August 31st... well, it's all on Pickle's travel blog, really.

But there were one or two memorable extras. Cat and Andy, of course, were settled back in Iraq. There was still a tangible reminder of their visit, sitting forlornly in a corner of a cupboard in the motorhome:

Jonny and Adele arrived in Tanzania on August 2nd and we spent more than a little time praying for their settling in. Their new colleagues and neighbours were friendly and welcoming; the house comfortable, furnished with most of what they would need; they had managed to buy a car through our good friends, Byron and Lisa, who have already been living in Arusha for some years...and then there were issues with the car.

Of course there were. It has spent nearly all of its 20 years in Africa, enduring the roads and, at times, less than expert mechanical repairs. So Richard spent a bit of time exchanging WhatsApp messages on the Pollards Mechanics Helpline group, and then on the Cars group, with a few Skype conversations as well when we could.  (Amazingly, when we needed it most, we were in places where there was good internet connection.)

There was also an amusing exchange with Cat on the Pollard Pavlova Helpline as well: amusing, because she is an expert pavlova maker and I am definitely not. I can count on hands (not fingers) the number of times in my life that I have attempted to make pavlova or meringues.

Otherwise, August was a Cycling and Reading and Pondering month.  I noticed a few blackberries: September in Guernsey beckons. As we neared the end, I began to look forward to Reconnecting With Friends At Home.

And then it was over. August AND Summer.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Jeepers – July already!

Well, most of July – beginning from 10th – is chronicled in absurd detail on 

Otherwise, the Main Highlights: last day of school on 7th July; Cat and Andy arriving on 13th July; Naomi and Vince leaving us on 17th July; Mags and Louis arriving 21st July; Mags and Louis leaving 24th July; Cat and Andy leaving us 29th July. The End.

It’s all about relationships.

The first week of July was just a carry on from a rather unpleasant last few weeks of June, with staff difficulties and, on my part, abnormally high blood pressure. Easily treatable with pills but will require further investigation at the end of August. It’s all due, I’m fairly sure, to work-related stress brought on by one of my managers’ actions.

It has needed a LOT of grace and forgiveness, but God is good and has surrounded me with supportive family, friends and colleagues. Not to mention a very sensible and caring headmaster who has been a tremendous help.

Nevertheless, I managed most of the Last Week Of Term items: Prizegiving; Leaver’s Service – which I had to organise; Leavers’ Lunch; a celebration day for our beloved caretaker Andre Franzen, who was retiring; and the last day of term, with all the farewells to the children I have taught this year. They have been wonderful, good fun and rewarding; their parents have been equally kind and supportive and helpful. The little thank you notes and cards, painstakingly written by 11 year olds, make it all worthwhile.

So we cleared the classroom; our new gap year student for next year, Rachel, kindly volunteered to repaper my noticeboards; and I managed to tidy up just a little. I’m not going to touch anything else until September.

School is out now. Wahey for the holidays!  Beginning to catch up with my life at last....and what am I reading?

Song of Songs, with First Five; and Brennan Manning, for a start. It's not a coincidence that he starts off with Song of Songs, either...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Jumping June

Well, not really jumping. Just lots happening.


June jumped away from me. It is now half way through July. Oh dear.

June began with a wonderful visit from Jonny and Adele and Matthew and family. Cooking for eight! Lovely to have a houseful.

We slept in the motorhome – it seemed the easiest option before putting up our tent in the garden. #nexttime 

Jonny hung out with Tom in a kayak, gaining an impressive sunburn. Beautiful Adele plugged diligently away at reports. My nephews, Henry and Gabriel, were good fun and delightfully well—behaved.

I went back to school after a long weekend.  #nohalfterm #butwedobreakuptwoweeksearly 

School, of course, is fairly manic in June: writing and finishing reports; INSET; creating with the children, an inaugural ‘World War II museum’ showcasing all the children’s work this term; and a clash with my senior manager. She has been VERY difficult, culminating in a week off for me with work-related stress and abnormally high blood pressure. All very ‘interesting’, but the blood pressure is now under control and I’m now on holiday, anyway.

There were some bright spots, one of which was possibly THE best afternoon of my teaching career. A ‘transition afternoon’ had been arranged for the Year 6 boys to meet their prospective Year 7 tutors: out on a fifty foot pilot cutter.

Wow. Down at St Peter Port harbour, three vintage pilot cutters motored up to the quay and we embarked. SUCH fun. It was a gloriously sunny afternoon as we sat on deck, a small jib gently moving us along. Could have done with a little more wind, quite honestly, but it was a new experience for most of the children so at least we avoided sea sickness. It was just beautiful sailing peaceably to and fro beneath the cliffs outside the harbour.

I also managed to host an almost monthly breakfast. I’m never too sure who, out of the thirty women on my email list, will manage to attend but it is always the right number of people and a wonderful, encouraging atmosphere.  I always feel as if I’ve been on a mini-retreat after just an hour and a half of chatter and laughter over a relaxed meal.

Other news in June: revelling in the flowers emerging in the garden: the hydrangeas have gone bonkers, lilies appearing from almost nowhere, a myriad of tiny wild flowers dotted among the grass on the lawn.  A blitz on hawkweed, of course, which tends to take over; and much trimming of hedges and bushes, which seem to sprout tendrils as soon as you look away from them. Not to mention the weeds... #wildflowersbyanothername.

Vegetable –wise, the potatoes have done well, the broad beans thriving, rocket providing many a meal – wilted rocket has been a particular favourite; and pumpkins and butternut squash beginning to spread across the garden.

By the back door, the herbs were thriving and lettuce had grown large enough to be picked. Sadly, I forgot to take a photo of the clematis Nellie Moser in all its glory – getting on for a hundred deep purple flowers climbing up the wall and all over the tree branches which hang over the wall. Hostas had sprung up overnight, growing so thickly that the patio is unrecognisable from its winter self.

We have been intent on clearing up in preparation for going away at the beginning of July, ready for visitors in our absence. I slowly removed ornaments, packed away precious china, acquired and organised bedlinen and towels. It took us quite some time to think through all the paperwork, writing instructions and organising someone for grass cutting and cleaning. A lot of work, but once we have done it one time, it should be easier in the future.

Phew. I thought June had gone in a blur...

And in all of that... I was privileged to be able to say goodbye to dearest Renee, privileged to be with her daughter Wendy who had come to walk her mum home...tears and laughter and loving, loving memories.  I shall miss her so much.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Maybe May...

April turned cold, in the end, despite its promising start. Back to winter woollies and boots for the first few days of May. Richard's birthday: a surprise gift of a curry subscription from a daughter who knows her father well...
Birthday boy!

Cat gave this little vase to me several years ago: she painted it on a visit to the pottery in the Isle of Wight...
The pace at school eased temporarily with a Labour Day bank holiday and then, on May 9th, a public holiday to celebrate the Liberation of Guernsey in 1945.

It is an important occasion for islanders, with celebrations around the island, a cavalcade of military vehicles and classic cars, concerts and performances. This year's was a little subdued as it is only 72 years, rather than a 70 or 75. We didn't go into town, in the end: the sun was shining but the strong wind - Force 5 at least - was bitterly cold. Instead, we found a sunny warm sheltered spot outside the front door...

...and Garth and Karyn came round for tea...and we enjoyed renewed friendship. We have known each other for over twelve years now: inbetween, Garth and Karyn moved back to South Africa, and now have come back here. I was remembering how breathless with excitement I was when I heard the news that they would return.

As I look back at the month, it is hard to believe how hectic it has been. I have heard others share the same, wherever in the northern hemisphere they might be living. It is as if, after winter and a slow start to spring, everything suddenly speeds up: we want to get ready for summer at such a rate that reason flies out the window.  Spring cleaning must be done: yesterday. School events must happen: now now now, whether or not they are actually occurring this month or planned for later on in the term. Holidays planned: quickly. Light mornings, the sun rising earlier and earlier, streaming in through the windows; late evenings, dusk reluctant to creep in. All means that every ounce of daylight must be used in the Recipe of Life.


Not that I slowed down, of course, except for the first weekend in May when I hosted a breakfast for a few friends. What a pleasure, to be able to sit and catch up on each others' lives, hearing about some amazing answers to prayer.

Add in to the mix: a VERY challenging situation at school; special 'off-curriculum' days; report writing; parents' evening;  training; extra gardening; Guernsey's annual New Wine weekend; friends to supper, to lunch, out to all kinds of events from cocktail parties to a traditionally Anglican Ascension Day service at St Peter's Parish Church...

Now it is Bank Holiday Monday. Typical weather: from a beautiful summer's day last Friday to fog and rain and mist and drizzle...

And a chance to enjoy peace, catch my breath, reflect...and enjoy flowers.
Blooming on the patio...

Pennywort (?) on our daily dog walk

Mallows: geranium family, growing on the bank along the road from the house
Pink campion by the wayside

Foxgloves at the entrance to Wendy's field, overlooking the sea at the edge of the cliffs opposite our house

Orchid field
Yellow orchid!