Yoga. Or, the first 28 day challenge that I’ve actually finished.

It’s a good six months since I blogged here, not sure where that time went! It’s been much longer since I did a yoga class however, the last time was in the 6th form when we all tried not to fall asleep on our mats or roll off the stepped floor in the auditorium where we practised.

The one I finished

The one I finished!

I started yoga again because I was fed up with flunking out of the Couch to 5k running program at week 7 of 9, injured. I also started again because of the impending menopause and the need to build strength and flexibility as well as the cardiovascular fitness from running and cycling. Helped by the fact that some of the most sorted women I know – of all ages –  do yoga or have benefitted from yoga in the past. I also quite fancied some of those long lean yoga muscles. I wanted some meaningful exercise that could be done indoors, at a time of my choosing and that didn’t require a special pair of shoes. So I looked around in real life and online, and found a weekly Vinyasa Flow class at a local studio and Erin Motz’s Fall Challenge, which is 10-15 minutes of yoga daily for 28 days. They have worked together well, not to mention with C25K which I have now finished without injury and with a respectable time (smirk).

Yoga is definitely more strenuous than I remember. Vinyasa Flow is a more energetic yoga than that which we practised at school, and I’ve no doubt that my flexibility has decreased over the intervening years. There was some aching after the first two classes. Doing 10-15 minutes daily with Erin has helped considerably, not least her hamstring class which fortuitously arrived in my inbox moments after a tiring run. My core muscles are returning, my waist is trimmer and my trousers looser. Of course my running is contributing here too, but I’m seeing results that I never saw before from just running. I’m also learning to accept and occasionally welcome the opportunities presented by the current limits of my flexibility.

The biggest surprise was just how easy I found it to accommodate 15 minutes of yoga into my daily life. It’s felt like brushing my teeth – something that’s no big deal in terms of effort but that I really don’t fancy missing. I finished the challenge yesterday and today signed up for her original 30 day challenge. I’ve also subscribed to myyogapro – a subscription site with video instructions for poses and a range of classes and courses graded to different levels. At present I’m using it to learn more about the poses introduced by my weekly class but I’m sure that I’ll be doing some of the classes and courses once I’ve got more of a grip on the basics.

It’s good to be back. I hope you’re all well.

Putting the fun back into Fridays

About 7 years back, before Small Girl, I would spend my Friday mornings deskbound, often 60 miles away, tabulating my week’s work in 15 minute sections against various cost codes. I’d write a weekly report and sometimes a monthly report. If you’d asked me how I would spend the day if I weren’t working, I’d never have suggested a trip to Morrisons. Yet that’s what I’ve ended up doing, most weeks. Friday morning, the glorious portal to the weekend, should not be spent in a supermarket.

It was Morrisons themselves who made me see the light. They’ve moved their carpark enforcement to a new bunch of cowboys business, and the carpark and store entrance are now littered with signs informing us of the £85 penalty should we dare leave site on foot to spend money elsewhere whilst enjoying their 2 hours free parking, or should we overstay, or return within 3 hours because we forgot something or because something was wrong. Apparently if Morrisons don’t have everything we want, we’re not supposed to walk the couple of hundred yards to another town centre shop, but drive that short distance. Nice to see a supermarket doing their bit to discourage short journeys in a congested, polluted town centre #ironyOFF. Now I’m fairly sure that automatic numberplate recognition cameras don’t work on faces, but I can’t be bothered having the debate given the Lidl on my doorstep and the number of supermarkets who will happily deliver to my house (Morrisons not being one of them). It’s a bit of a shame really, as inside the store is as friendly and helpful as you could imagine.

So I’m testing out a new type of Friday. One with a grocery delivery after school. One where I walk or cycle into town after the morning school run to go to the butcher, run the other small errands and have a coffee or breakfast somewhere lovely. One where I go for a run or a bike ride. One where I don’t go to a supermarket or do the ironing. One where I break the rules and play my sax with a glass of wine on the side rather than a glass of water.

However you’re spending yours, I wish you a happy Friday and a lovely weekend.

GoldieBlox, Gum Girl and STEMinism


GoldieBlox see-saw

These three things all entered my life recently, and are making a difference.

GoldieBlox is a construction set launched in the US. My brilliant quilting friend sent a box over for Small Girl’s birthday. Small Girl is a pro with her Lego friends sets and will happily follow the instructions and then play for hours with the results. Yet she’s nervous about building from her imagination. GoldieBlox pulls off the rare trick of appealing to girls without being a mass of pink. I don’t mind pink per se, in fact I’m fond of it in the right shades, but it should never be used as a way to pass off inferior design/construction on the female market. Anyway, back to GoldieBlox.

GoldieBlox packaging

GoldieBlox packaging

We made the Dunk Tank design, it was loved, played with extensively, and sobbed at when it fell over. Her friends loved it too. A couple of days later she agreed that perhaps we’d try making something else. Crossing every synapse I had, we produced a functional see-saw that worked with 3 Lego friends at each end. Then we modified that into a catapult, and much fun was had pinging Lego friends across the room, then retrieving their hair from behind the sofa. We considered making a slide for the ball, then it was bed time. I was woken at 7-30 the next morning by an ecstatic girl who had built a functional bowling lane, complete with pins and a little ramp for rolling the ball down. On Her Own. The Mister has now been tasked with bringing another set back from his next US visit. It’s not the sturdiest of construction toys compared to others (that don’t appeal to her), but I don’t mind. Will it give her a life long desire to build? Possibly, possibly not. She is blown away with her ability to make something “Even More Awesomer, Mummy” and I love seeing her horizons stretching before her. That’s enough.

"Catastrophe Calling" by Andi Watson

“Catastrophe Calling” by Andi Watson

Gum Girl is a series of graphic novels written by Andi Watson. Small Girl loves comics, and we’re lucky to have a fantastic comic shop a short drive away and an independent bookshop who will order us anything locally. Gum Girl is a textbook example of the right way to use pink. Grace Gibson regularly saves her world as her bubblegum alter ego Gum Girl. She’s not a token heroine or a sidekick, and she has problems that are easily identified with – unpleasant school dinners, making friends at a new school, un-co-operative hair – all just as worrisome as the local volcano or menacing giant robot. She’s also mercifully free of puberty. We’re just about to buy the second of the series.

@STEMinist Twitter feed came into my life hours after GoldieBlox. They focus on women in Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths. It seems that the world of women in these subjects has not significantly moved on since my school days 30 years back. Waiting with friends in 1981 to catch the school bus after an O level chemistry class, a normally morose and silent male class-mate told us that women shouldn’t work because then there’d be fewer jobs for the men. As I recall, his surprised female audience went on to become a chemical engineer, two GPs and a technical writer. By contrast I can’t even remember his name, let along what he went on to do.

On my Twitter feed this morning, a trailer from HBO about a TV series set in Silicon Valley.  I won’t credit it with a link. Two women feature – the first, invisible, provides a voiceover about how a male character blew her away with his algorithm. The other, granted visibility, is a stripper.  Ada Lovelace would be weeping, along with the women at Bletchley Park and many more.

I’m fully aware of the fragility of my position – a stay at home, crafting mother, banging on about opportunities for women in an employment sector that I’m not currently part of. Yet, I spent my education and many working years working within coding and technology. I’ve done more meetings than I can remember as the sole woman in a room full of men. I’ve tried to respond calmly to sexist comments delivered by colleagues in front of customers. I never felt that my place in the STEM career field was to either flatter men on the quality of their algorithms or entertain them with my body. Despite the length of this blog post I’m actually struggling to find words to express my anger and disappointment at the contents of that trailer. The fact that fewer than half of all UK state schools enter girls for “A” level physics is begging to be stated here too, clearly the problem is not just with a US media corp.

I would like my daughter to know that a career in STEM is as possible and valuable as any other opportunity she might consider.  That it’s an employment area for all. That’s why we play programming games and build things as well as playing Barbie and doing fashion designs. That’s why I shall keep following @STEMinist.

An app to help me remember not to forget

2014 is the year that I have to improve my organisation. I am normally quite an organised person but fall short on annual events such as birthdays and insurance renewals. This may be the reason that Santa brought me two beautiful diaries this year, apart from my love of beautiful stationery. After a couple of near misses with insurance and multiple birthday misses, next year’s New Year Promise is to get better. I need a system that will ping me reminders and that I can update wherever I am. Outlook was great in employed life when commitments arrived as neatly emailed invites or reminders, but not so much now they are via school gate convos, text messages, Filofax entries, snail mail, cards stuffed in my filifax or crumpled letters in the bottom of Small Girl’s book bag.

Having re-subscribed to Habithacker to nudge the housework back on track after Christmas, I found a recommendation for the to-do/task manager site Remember the Milk, and I’m trying it out. As a Windows Surface and Windows smartphone user, I use the main web interface from my tablet and the third-party Milkman app from my phone, both free. I’m set up on Twitter with it too and also make extensive use of the email address given to me when I signed up. I can have a range of different lists – eg Work, School, Personal, Crafting, Shopping and so on. I can add tasks either from the site or app or by email. There’s also some management possible by Twitter. It’s email that’s the golden bullet for me, I can just ping off a quick mail to my rememberthemilk email address with a subject line such as such as:

Kate dentist 14 January 15:00 #personal


bread flour #shopping


house insurance 15 November *yearly


Seconds later there it is in the appropriate list! The SmartAdd syntax lets you specify all the properties for a task in a single line. It’s also clever enough to parse your input, so “martial arts payment to school tomorrow” will result in the task being allocated against tomorrow’s date (be careful with time format though to avoid tasks being accidentally added to a month rather than time J ). Mine is set with “Work” as the default list, so anything without a list specified goes in there. Alternatively you can specify that any new tasks go into an Inbox for sorting or into any default list of your choice. If you share your rememberthemilk email address then others can add to your lists too, so there might be fewer conversations about exactly who missed what from the shopping list. You can also set up contacts with other rememberthemilk users so that lists can be managed or executed jointly.

Reminders can be set via twitter, email, sms or a myriad of other things that I don’t use. Mine is set to email me every morning at 9am and also to direct message me on Twitter. Tagging is supported too, so if I really wanted to geek out I could tag my shopping items according to the shop I need to buy them from. Tasks can be set against particular dates and times (appointments) or left open (shopping) and can also be set to recur – perfect for school and afterschool commitments. If you use location on your phone you can also set tasks against a particular location so when you are close to that location the allocated tasks pop up.

RTM runs on a shedload of platforms with some variation between them. If you’re an i-phone or Android user you’ll probably get a better experience than me. It’s pretty good for Windows users though with a couple of caveats. I have yet to test the (premium facility) synching with Outlook so cannot vouch for that. Also, the web interface is rather retro in its appearance although perfectly functional. I can add tasks accurately via the Outlook email subject line but have not yet succeeded with the longer form method of using the email body. This is actually fine for me as I prefer the faster method and am happy to fill in finer detail when I’m sat down at the end of the day. On the whole it’s definitely worth a look if you’re a smartphone user prone to forgetting things. I’m barely scratching the surface of its functionality and already seeing results in terms of more stuff being done and less stuff being forgotten.

As for the beautiful diaries and my long-suffering Filofax, they will be used for documenting the fun stuff, with one in my handbag for emergency, should my phone be out of battery. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have shirts to iron and a mobile phone to top up before the end of the month. Wishing you all a very happy and healthy 2014!

Missing pages – more Nook thoughts

I’ve had the e-reader for about three months now and thought it was time to update my thoughts about it.

It remains very convenient for travel. The illuminated screen for reading in darkened rooms is fantastic for reading in a room that also contains a sleeping child, it takes no space at all and holds a charge for weeks. One of the incidents that first made me think an e-reader might be useful was the time that the Mister’s bag, containing his hi-tech Kindle, went through the airport security scanners without a hitch, whereas my first edition paperback of Tipping the Velvet resulted in two xrays, then being cautiously removed with a gloved hand before being waved at me and the queued passengers in all its nubile naked trapeze-swinging cover glory. “Is this a book, Madam?” asked the Security Officer frostily whilst her colleague gingerly took away one of Small Girl’s toys for surface substance testing. That was an air journey best forgotten. Anyway, despite all the Nook’s convenience and airport-friendliness, I do miss the tactile feel of “proper books” and the feeling that somebody really cared about publishing the book properly. The trilogy that I just finished reading on the Nook terminated with three consecutive page 957s, followed by two page 958s. Another small but irritating shortfall is the lack of a blank page at the end of each Nook boo; it’s impossible to get the satisfaction of turning that last page. I don’t mind paying for books, and I don’t mind paying a fair price, but I do expect accurate pagination regardless of the format. I’ll happily accept the risk of airport inconvenience for the feel of a proper book with proper pagination and a blank page at the end. I don’t think it’s fair for an e-publisher to spoil the experience of a great read with careless production and delivery.

I’ve had a couple of poor experiences with content too, though in one case that would have been just as much a problem had I read the book in a traditional format. “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies” was unfinish-ably bad. Swayed by the promise that 85% of the text was true to the original, I hadn’t thought to check what was meant by “original”. It was the localised, North American version, which I suspect shares rather less of 85% of its DNA with the original version. Hence lawyers and squirrels became attorneys and chipmunks. Trust me, stumbling across a chipmunk in an Austen novel was far more distressing than the zombies were. Keen to refresh my faith in literature with a quick fix, I decided to download a free version of Little Women from the Nook website, in the hope that as it was a US original the English wouldn’t be butchered. The first one wouldn’t open. The second one did open, but had been scanned from a library book and left me wondering why it is that anyone would go to the time and cost of scanning and storing a book without using widely available spell and grammar checking utilities at some point. Although the substitution of “bum” and “bums” for “burn” and “burns” never did get old. Lesson learned on free books however. I do think that Barnes & Noble should be ashamed to have material of such poor quality on its Nook website. I have since found out that ebooks can be bought from an independent site, which I will be trying when I next travel, since the one outstanding success of the Nook has been to get me hooked on fiction again. My bike sits unridden, clothes are unsewn and my Nook rests under an open paperback as I scan my bookshelves to see what to read next.

So I’m back on the hard stuff, I’ve been missing pages too much. I won’t be putting any childrens books for the Small Girl on the Nook, frankly it can’t hold a candle to her gloriously coloured and glittered picture books and I don’t wish to tarnish her love of reading. I shall spend a few months reacquainting myself with my fiction collection, before indulging in the new Donna Tartt and Helen Fielding novels next summer.

Black Friday indeed

I’ve always liked the idea of Thanksgiving. I like the idea of a day of simple gratitude for the things that it’s so easy to take for granted. I’m also partial to roast turkey and think I might quite enjoy pumpkin pie. I’ve been equally bemused by Black Friday – the retail frenzy that follows a single day when the USA doesn’t shop (well not in bricks and mortar stores). It’s almost as if the gods of retail resent being neglected.

Thanksgiving, despite its English roots, left the UK with the Mayflower and never really made its way back. WalMart and Amazon, scenting a missed sales opportunity, are trying to introduce Black Friday deals here. We may not have a day for giving thanks but perhaps, despite the recession, we can be coaxed into helping out impoverished multinational supermarkets. Fast forward to this weekend’s news of events at Asda stores across the UK (Asda is owned by WalMart). Pregnant and disabled customers knocked to the ground, arms broken, security staff restraining angry customers who want to buy more than one 60inch flat-screen tv. All this for a sale that we’d never really heard of two years ago, and with our own Boxing Day and New Year sales just a few short weeks away.

I suppose this is one of the cases where internet shopping has the advantage. No-one gets crushed in a virtual queue, and you never get to see the people who were quicker/more cunning than you, let alone get the chance to remonstrate with them, or with the staff that you might hold accountable for the lack of stock. Perhaps you might tweet your disappointment, as I did last week with a company whose website was picked bare of sparkly glittery Christmas small girl frockery within days of the new stock catalogues going out*. Then you might have a cup of tea or a beer, and look elsewhere or go for a bike ride and consider that you probably have enough stuff anyway.

I find it telling that the deals are on highly priced electronics. I wonder if passions would run quite so high for bargain-priced groceries.

Footnote * – there was a happy ending. My tweet was answered with an email address to write to, they kept an eye on their returns, and hopefully the purple spotted package upstairs contains the cream and gold dress that Small Girl wanted Santa to bring for her for Christmas. I’ll know once she’s sung herself to sleep and I can open it. To me, great retail is about that kind of service every day, rather than stupid sales prices on a few items and hospitalised customers once a year. I’d be grateful for that. A belated Happy Thanksgiving to my US readers – whether home or abroad – thinking of you all with a slight degree of envy on my part. One year I will celebrate Thanksgiving, even if it’s on this side of the Atlantic.


Sorry. Note to self, wordpress is not a suitable editor to sketch out my Christmas list on the school run.