Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Road trip

We drove back home from Mum and Dad's on Sunday.  They live in South-West France, so it's one heck of a drive.  The part through France takes eleven hours, and when the ferry and the drive up through Kent and into East London are included, the whole journey takes around sixteen hours.  

I've always rather enjoyed long road-trips.  I did a few when I was at University and studying in America for a year, although I still have the classics on my to-do list: Route 66 from Chicago to LA, and the full East to West Coast trip, New York City to San Francisco.  When I was living in Australia, in my early 20s, I drove from Brisbane up to Cairns which is still my longest road trip (nearly 24 hours in driving time, although we spread it over three days).  In 2010 the children and I took a road trip from France to Switzerland, and then back along the German border to northern France and home.  That remains the longest trip I have done without someone else to share the driving.

We're used to the long drive down the length of France.  It starts with rolling off the ferry very early in the morning, and then we drive down the Calais peninsula, admiring all the wind turbines along what the French call the 'Autoroute des Anglais', because every other car (at least) is English.

Bowling down the Autoroute des Anglais just after dawn this morning.

Successful navigation around Rouen's missing Pont de Mathilde - and successful avoidance of Paris. Surprisingly tricky when every sign and slip road attempts to suck you towards Paris whether you are aiming for it or not. #france #roadtrip #navigation

All along our journey, the main role of whoever is navigating is to avoid Paris AT ALL COSTS.  I am well used to the mad, fast, often intolerant driving that goes on in a capital city, and I actually used to drive around Paris a fair bit when I was younger and working there, but I wouldn't want to do it now.  Paris traffic is either at a complete standstill, or moving eye-wateringly fast, and you need to be unhesitating and precise in your navigational skills at all times.

Much of our drive through France is on the autoroutes.  French autoroutes are owned by private companies, and most charge tolls to drivers.  However, the tolls are pretty modest - our eleven hour drive costs around £30.  I'm more than happy to pay because the autoroutes are such a pleasure to drive on - quiet, incredibly smooth and well-maintained, and well supplied with 'aires' (service stations).  Some of the aires sell petrol, food, magazines and are parked up with hundreds of trucks and cars, but others are just a selection of picnic tables and parking spots in a little forested glade, set back from the motorway.  On our way down we found a particularly nice one somwehere south of Orleans, where Olivia did some sunbathing and Graham did some yoga stretches (our journey down was the day after his marathon, so sitting in the car for 16 hours was tougher than it would otherwise have been for him).

Graham doing yoga to stretch out his marathon-weary legs, and Livvy enjoying a sun lounger #roadtrip #changeofdrivers

We have flasks of coffee and bottles of water for drinking on the go, and a plentiful supply of chewing gum (neither Graham or I like long drives without chewing gum - is this strange compulsion just us?).  The children are plugged into their iPods, and spend the whole time reading.  Whoever is driving gets to choose the music for the front, and the passenger is not allowed to argue with the driver's choice.  Graham and I take it in turns to drive/choose music for about two hours each. 

The temperatures rise steadily as we get further south, and finally we turn off the autoroute and drive down small, rural roads for the final forty minutes or so to Mum and Dad's house.  We all know these roads so well, and Graham and the children and I all look out for the landmarks that tell us we are so very nearly there.  Coming back home, there is always a strange moment of disconnect when you get off the ferry at Dover, and England now feels like a strange and foreign land - so used are we to French voices, driving on the right and the sight and smells of the French landscape.

Pollarded plane trees #france #walk

And then it's done.  The car engine is turned off, we all get out, have a stretch and start unloading bags.  If we are arriving at Mum and Dad's there are excited hugs, delicious wine and a hot meal before bed.  If we are arriving back in London there is the excitement of seeing the hens again, the comforting familiarity of being back home, and a mental calculation of how many more months it will be before we can get back in the car and do it all over again.

Empty, beautifully well-maintained and clearly signed French autoroutes. It is always a shock to return to Britain's very busy and slightly shabby motorways #france #love #roadtrip

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sunday morning running

As I write this, Graham is over half way round the 2014 Brighton Marathon.  I am obsessively checking his progress via the wonderful, free app the race organisers have provided, which gives me his split times every 5k and a little map with a moving dot which is my husband.  I am sad I can't be there to cheer him on in person, but this app means that I can at least feel some of the excitement of the occasion at home.  I love this sort of technology; it makes the whole experience so much better for everyone.  

My own running is still going pretty well.  As he was resting before his race, Graham yesterday ran parkrun alongside me, at my considerably slower pace.  Because of our wildly different running abilities, it is very rare that we run together - I think the last time was probably on holiday in France last summer.  It felt strange to run together - I missed the music that I usually listen to!  But I loved the companionship, and it made me want to speed up so that we can run together more often.

A month ago I got a new PB by running under 28 minutes for the first time ever.  The sense of achievement when something like this happens is enormous.  I really love the 5k distance - I've got no desire to join Graham in running marathons, but I am determined to knock another couple of minutes off my time over the next year or two, and inch towards the 25 minute mark.

I've done very little running during my A&E placement.  My feelings about this alternate between thinking 'fair enough - you're on your feet for twelve and a half hours at a time', and knowing that really, deep down in my heart, walking around A&E, no matter how fast I walk and how busy I am, is no substitute for proper exercise.  Most of the nurses I was working with were runners, or cyclists and managed to fit exercise into their days off.  A&E was also an emotionally draining place to work, so some running on a day off would be very good for my wellbeing.  After the Easter holidays I start a new placement on an oncology ward, and along with all the nursing skills I want to master while I am there, I also want to get the hang of fitting exercise around my work.

Well, would you look at that - while I have been writing this blog, Graham has finished his marathon.  In a very good time of 3 hours, 29 minutes and 4 seconds.  I am beaming with pride!


Monday, 31 March 2014

Mothering Sunday

Early morning in the Olympic Park

In the morning we all went for a swim in the London Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park, which opened to the public earlier this month.  It is one of my favourite buildings from the Olympics, and looks much better now than it did then, because the wings of extra seating have been removed.  It is beautiful inside and out, and I filled my camera with photos.  Cam shrieked when I asked him to take some photos of Graham and me, and we had a little smooch for the camera.

Family reflections in the pool window #london




The children bought me presents (Cam this book, and Olivia a scarf with flamingos on it, inspired by my abiding love of all things flamingo) and made me cards, and Graham bought me daffodils and croissants.  I didn't have to lift a finger all day

In the evening Graham and I popped down to the local pub to listen to some live music and enjoy a pint of beer.

What more could anyone need? Perfect.  

Thursday, 27 March 2014

10 things

  • I baked some strawberry buns with lemon buttercream icing - just because I'd spotted the Cadbury's mini eggs in the supermarket and thought some little buns with mini eggs on top were just what I needed to bake to celebrate the arrival of spring.
  • I am not usually a fan of cupcakes, and I rarely bake them - but today I felt the need; strawberry and vanilla buns with lemon icing and a mini egg. Very pleasing #Easter #baking #buns
  • As well as mini eggs we have many large hen's eggs at the minute.  Bertha, Adelaide and Ethel are all laying an egg a day, and 8 year old Queenie is thinking about laying again (8 years old is an epic age for a hen).
  • A spiral of eggs on the kitchen windowsill. We end today with 17, and 3 more are laid each day #cake #omelettes #morecake #scrambles #yum
  • Cam sits his first two GCSE papers on the same day in May as Olivia's Year 6 SATS test; and later that same evening, Olivia is playing in a music festival.  I have written it all in the calendar and am trying not to think too much about the collective stress levels that day.
  • Cam then has a three and a half week gap before he sits his final paper.  GCSE timetables are insane.
  • My geraniums loved the mild, wet winter and are all blooming again.
  • Working in A&E has been by far the best part of my course.  I have loved every, single minute of it and am so sad it comes to an end next week.  I have arranged to go back for another 5 week placement this autumn.
  • When I work a long day shift, Olivia stays up so that she can ask me, as soon as I walk through the door, "What were your most exciting patients today? Did the helicopter bring in anything dramatic?" - she's all about the blood and guts, this one. 
  • Arriving for Saturday nightshift #studentnurse #nightshift #london
  • I have re-arranged the bookshelves downstairs, and am slightly startled to note that I have five whole shelves of cookery books.  I always considered myself to be very picky about which cookbooks I own; only the really good ones, which I use regularly, are bought.  Turns out there are more great cookbooks out there than I realised.
  • I am knitting myself a pinky-orangey-red beanie hat.  I anticipate this being worn very often.
  • I am no longer the tallest in the family.  Cam has overtaken me.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Confidence regained

Fresh, white uniform hanging on the line. Very pleasing. #nursenancy #sunshine #laundry
Fresh, white uniform drying on the line

My nursing course has reached a new stage.  The teaching at University has now finished, and from now until I qualify at the end of December, I am out on placement (with a couple of holiday breaks in there too).  I have three stripes on my epaulettes, and the nurses I am working with expect much more from me now that I am in the final part of the course.

I didn't feel remotely ready to finish the teaching element of this course.  In the last week at University I became less and less convinced that I could ever work as a nurse.  The sheer enormity of what the job entails seemed overwhelming, and as we crammed in the last few bits of theory I felt derailed and uncertain that I could do this.  But after just one week back on placement, this time working in the frenetic and dramatic environment of one of the UK's biggest and busiest emergency departments, I have regained my confidence.  

Nursing is such a practical, hands-on job and when we are out on placement we are constantly doing - washing, giving medication, carrying out procedures and observations, documenting, assessing, making comfortable, feeding, communicating, soothing and investigating.  Since I started back in September 2012, I have learnt how to do all these practical skills, and become gradually more competent in them without even realising.

The theory is crucial too - medicine always needs to be based on the best available evidence, and without the theory to underpin the practice we are in danger of carrying out tasks ritualistically and unthinkingly.  We need the teaching and critical thinking skills that the University element of our course has given us, but on their own they're not much use.  I love placement for bringing the theory and the practice together, and I think that is ultimately what I love most about nursing - I get to use the academic side of my brain, whilst also doing something that is completely hands-on and practical.

Working in A&E is fascinating.  You see every possible type of person and condition you could ever imagine, along with things you never even thought possible or wanted to see.  I have never known a 12 and a half hour shift pass so quickly, and even three weekend nightshifts in a row didn't wipe me out as much as I thought they might.  At 4:30am, on the third night I cleaned and dressed a massive cavity wound in the foot of an elderly homeless patient who amazingly slept through the whole procedure and then woke up at the end to inspect the quality of my bandaging, say thank you and give me one of the broadest grins I have ever seen.  We had a laugh and a quick chat, which left me on a high for the rest of the shift, and I thought to myself, I can totally do this job.

Arriving for Saturday nightshift #studentnurse #nightshift #london
Arriving at work for the start of Saturday's nightshift

Beautiful blues as I leave work this morning #London #goodmorning #sunshine #blue #nofilter
Leaving work on Sunday morning, and heading home to bed

Monday, 24 February 2014

Hair musings

Long hair suddenly!
Early morning - hair everywhere

I looked in the mirror this morning and was surprised to find my hair so long.  It seems to grow overnight sometimes - going from shoulder-length to long without me noticing.  I like to vary my hairstyle - sometimes it's long, sometimes I have a very short bob, occasionally I have a crop, sometimes I have a fringe, and sometimes I have layers cut in.  The idea of finding one style and sticking to it makes me feel bored and restricted.

I used to dye my hair quite regularly when I was a teenager and in my early twenties.  I mainly hennaed it, or dyed it various copper shades.  Now my hair is beginning to show silver streaks I am less inclined to dye it though.  I rather like the idea of having silver hair, although the in-between stage of salt-and-pepper shaded hair is less enticing.

For work I have to have my hair completely tied back.  I once arrived on a ward with a new haircut and no hair elastics and the ward sister informed me that even my short bob needed to be tied back, so I spent the day with it scraped back into an elastic band that she produced from her desk drawer; which, as anyone who has ever had to do that will know, was incredibly painful!  So now I have a little zip purse of hair elastics and kirby grips in my bag at all times.

When my hair is long I am guilty of tying it back into a ponytail almost all the time, which I sometimes think is a shame.  I am very fussy about my ponytails though, as I like to make sure they are high, symmetrical and secure.  I find there is something quite energising and uplifting about sashaying out of the house for the day with my hair swinging up in a high ponytail!  I do high ballet buns on Olivia for her ballet lessons, and she is just starting to learn to do them on herself.  However, we both find them much harder to do on ourselves than on someone else ...I haven't really mastered doing a bun on myself.  Not a satisfyingly, high, neat one anyhow.

So I shall start thinking about what I do with mine now.  Let it grow even longer and practice doing buns? Cut it off? Leave it long but get a fringe cut in?  This probably means there is a Pinterest board to be compiled....

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Two new tops

It feels like a long time since I made any clothes for myself.  When I checked on my blog I discovered that it was indeed a long time ago - May 2012, just before I applied to University and started my nursing course.  Dressmaking takes time - even the simplest piece of clothing is a challenge to make in one day when you've also got to cook tea, take someone to ballet, clean out the chickens, draft an essay and read a couple of articles on diabetes.  I used to set aside whole days at a time to making new clothes, but I just can't do that any more.

So I've approached it differently.  I took my time, did a bit of pattern tracing one day, and had a happy few hours choosing fabrics the next day.  Then I had a couple of days at University and some more studying at home, before I spent another few hours pinning and cutting the fabric out.  The next weekend I sewed everything together, and finally finished the hemming as I waited at the station to pick up Olivia a few days after that.  Of course I can still make clothes when I am working or studying.  It seems obvious now I write that, but having been given the luxury of staying at home the last few years, it took me a while to understand how.

Over the past few weeks I've made myself two cotton tops.  I used the Lisette Market Dress pattern, Simplicity 2211, which I just discovered is now sadly out of print.  I bought the pattern when it came out and just hadn't got round to making it.  I made the first version exactly as the pattern directed, except that I left off the strange fake button placket down the centre front.  When it was finished and I wore it for a day, I had a number of issues with it.
  • it has rather a boxy shape on me - snug around the hips and too roomy around the waist.
  • the puffed and gathered sleeves look too babyish on a woman of 41
  • the interfacing I used on the contrast fabric around the neck and sleeves, left the top feeling a little too stiff at these points.  The neck is very high anyway, and the interfacing in it made it sit very awkwardly on me.

Resuming dressmaking. A simple top in a jazzy fabric to ease me in. Very pleased to have something new to wear
Version 1 - not bad, not great

Hemming my new top, as I wait at the station to pick up O #sewinginthecar
Hemming the first top, waiting in the car to pick up O
So, I embarked on version 2.  This time I left off the interfacing, left off the cuffs at the bottom of the sleeves so that they were no longer puffed, and took the side seams in at the waist and out at the hips.  I also bound the bottom edge with ribbon rather than hemming it.

I am delighted with this version.  Leaving off the interfacing made the process of putting on the neck much more sweary, as the fabric really takes some serious manipulation in order to lie nice and flat.  However, my patience (and swearing) paid off as the resulting neck is still neat and clean, but much softer to wear and somehow a little more casual too.

Swiss top. Crazy but fabulous. #dressmaking
Version 2 - much better tailored to my shape, and with more grown-up sleeves

Finally sewing something with the beautiful, thick, embroidered Swiss ribbon I bought when I was in Interlaken in 2010. #ribbon #switzerland #sewing
Thick, richly embroidered Swiss ribbon
For both tops I used fabric that I absolutely love.  The first one uses a wonderful spring-fresh quilting cotton from Amy Butler and the second one is an insanely patterned printed cotton which I bought in Switzerland in 2010.  It has little scenes of Switzerland on it, including my favourite - a tiny fondue pot!  The ribbon on the hem is also something I bought in Switzerland - a traditional Swiss, floral, embroidered ribbon.

There will be a third version too - incorporating all the changes I made for the second one.  I am just dithering over fabric choices at the moment.  A home made top deserves distinctive and beautiful fabric, and one of the reasons I love making clothes is that I end up with something you would never be able to buy in a shop.  I wear jeans a great deal, and their plainness is off-set nicely by a fancier top. 

This term at University we've been talking a great deal about how we will cope with the stresses of the job once we qualify, and one topic that keeps coming up is that of hobbies and interests outside nursing.  Mental wellbeing is something I wrote about a little bit on this blog back in October last year, and I now consider my mental health much more than I used to.  I am beginning to realise that although I love having new clothes to wear, I actually love dressmaking just as much for the creative challenge it provides.  All the measuring, adjusting, fiddly lining up of notches, pinning, overlocking and stitching requires just enough concentration to take my mind off whatever else is going on around me.  And now that I spend my working hours in a uniform with a high polyester content, the importance of beautiful, well-made clothes in natural fibres becomes even more significant.

Nancy's New Wardrobe Spring 2014 now underway! #excitement #tailorschalk
The best tailor's chalk in the world, ever
Setting the sleeve #pintastic
Ready to set the sleeve

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Overheard on the bus

Number 56 - Clerkenwell to Leyton
  • "I would go skateboarding, but I can't find one with brakes"
  • "I literally can't even look at my own belly button"
  • "I wouldn't want to own a shimmery skater skirt - but a black one might be okay"
  • "I maintain perfectness at all times"
  • "I wish Google Images was a shop"
  • "I've been asked to draw my tattoo so many times - I just can't be bothered any more"
  • "That's not even a thing"
  • "You know, I can just sense which bus stop we're at - it's kind of like an extreme psychic ability"

Right at the back of the bus this evening! #london #bus

Didn't manage to get my favourite seat on the bus today

Monday, 10 February 2014

10 things

  • I am not feeling the running love at the moment.  I am finding it hard, I'm getting tired of my usual routes, and I ache.  But I am still running, and for that I feel very proud of myself.
  • I just found out my next placement is in A and E.  As someone who has watched every episode of every series of 24 Hours in A and E obsessively, this is one of the most exciting things that's ever happened to me!  I start in a month's time.
  • I am so sick of this rain.  We are fortunate not to be living in an area that has been wrecked by floods, but oh. my. word.  This rain just goes on and on.  And on.

Still light for my evening run!! (kind of...) #london #run #twilight

Yet more sodding rain. Normally I like winter, but I don't this year. #rain #london #nofilter

It's still raining. I'm suddenly full of cold. I'm waiting for Olivia to come out of school and I forgot to bring my kindle with me. Feeling VERY sorry for myself. #doom
  • I have enjoyed another run of good books lately: Where'd you go, Bernadette, The Ship of Brides, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and my current read, Man Belong Mrs Queen.  I am panicking that this run of success is going to grind to a halt after this book.  Four great books in a row is pretty lucky.  Can my luck continue?
  • My mother-in-law had a landmark birthday, and to celebrate the extended family plus friends all gathered together in central London for a magnificent cookery lesson at La Cucina Caldesi.  I learnt how to make pasta, and I am now scouring eBay for a pasta attachment for my KitchenAid.  It was a wonderful day.
  • My sister's baby arrived and I am now an auntie for the seventh time.  I made my new niece a little quilted blanket out of some Ed Emberley fabric I bought years ago and never used.  I think it was waiting for R's arrival.
  • Sewing something special for my new baby niece with my precious Ed Emberley fabric #edemberley #sewing #fabric
  • My next exam is a drug calculation exam.  I need to get 100% to pass - you can't have nurses getting drug calculations only 90% right.  I like maths though, and I like learning formula and practising sums, so it's not too daunting at the moment.
  • If you haven't already found them, take a look at the Metropolitan Police helicopter crew on Instagram and Twitter.  They take the most incredible arial photos of London, as they're travelling to and from jobs - often on just an iPhone.
  • I have been cooking dumplings often this winter.  They cheer me up and help me to forget about the rain.
  • Chicken stew, with dumplings #winterwarmer
  • I am listening to Sophie Ellis Bextor's new album, Wanderlust, and loving it. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Evolving appetites

Graham is training for a marathon again.  He came home last weekend after a long (over two hour) trail run, and his Garmin showed that he had burnt nearly 1,800 calories while he was out.  Which is an eye watering amount of calories for a single run - over two thirds of the recommended daily amount of calories for a man.  Unsurprisingly he parked himself down at the kitchen table and devoured vast platefuls of food, washed it all down with a banana and oat smoothie and then took himself off for a long nap.

The children too are eating vast platefuls of food and sleeping a great deal.  They are growing almost in front of my eyes...Cam is now within a centimetre or so of being taller than me, and Olivia already taller than her grandmother.  Teenage appetites have arrived in the house with a vengeance.

And so suddenly I find that my years of experience in cooking for four people don't count for much.  My previously precise quantities are all out of kilter, and what used to feed us all comfortably with second helpings and leftovers now barely feeds the children.

Toad in the hole. I'm going to need to get a bigger pan. What used to feed 4, with plenty of leftovers, now barely feeds the teenagers.
Toad in the hole

Baked oats with apple, cinnamon and cream #brunch
Baked oatmeal

Brunch underway #potatoes
Potatoes - ready to be roasted for a corned beef hash

Someone 'accidentally' put a LAKE of syrup on her porridge this morning.
Would you like some porridge with your syrup, Olivia?

Cherry and almond loaf cake #cake #teatime
Cherry and almond cake

I have gone back to doing a big brunch on Sunday mornings, which gives me a break from what sometimes feels like endless cooking and feeding of squawking baby blackbirds.  While Graham is out on a run, the children can lollop on the sofa watching tele, and I can leisurely potter about in the kitchen listening to Radio 4 in peace while I cook and bake.  I try and make at least three big, filling dishes that everyone can help themselves to, and come back to during the day if they feel hungry.  I don't bother making anything for lunch, and then we have supper a bit earlier than usual.  It makes the whole of Sunday feel lazy, indulgent and slow, which is just what I want.

Here's what has made it onto the brunch menu during January:
  • corned beef hash
  • herb omelettes with spicy tomato sauce
  • Amish baked oatmeal (recipe here)
  • banana and apple muffins
  • huevos rancheros
  • lemon and raisin pancakes
  • savoury bread-and-butter pudding (grated cheese and bacon instead of the sugar and raisins)
  • soda bread
  • breakfast pizza (homemade pizza with breakfast-like toppings eg. mushrooms, bacon, tomatoes, eggs)
  • spicy burritos
  • oat and raisin muffins
We eat brunch at about 11am, but the children can't last that long without food.  While they are lolling and tele watching they are also eating fruit, toast or porridge - whilst waiting for brunch to appear....so basically they have breakfast AND brunch....