My Extra Family

Just when you think you’re a grown up (yeah right), you start to assess stuff and count quite how lucky you are to have certain people around you.

Let me introduce you to Catherine. Best friend, godmother to my girls, and mother of my god-children (or at least would be if she got her arse in gear and got them christened!).

And saviour of a great deal of my sanity.

Take today for instance. Today, I mooched over to her house to be distracted from my current childless state. I walked through the door to be mobbed by toddlers, babies and other small hairy people who demanded to show me how to fight with “light saviours”. Then I’m handed a hot chocolate with coffee in it and am dragged off to look at Cat’s new photography poster which she is convinced is green. “The babies are greeeeeen!!” I’m told. (Actually, they are a bit – she’s a newborn photographer you see). GREEN!

Eventually, the kids got bored of us drinking hot coffee-chocolate and pouring through photos. So we came up with a plan. Home cinema! Out came the sofas, curtains were closed, we made tickets for them and made them queue up.

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After checking their tickets, they sat in their seats and were furnished with fizzy drinks and ice lollies. We even sang the ‘cinema is starting’ song! And….

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They were transfixed for the next hour.

What does this mean? Cat and I are the bloody A Team. She has the creativity, I have the organisation. And we both have enough crazy to make life fun.

Thank you Cat for making my day sparkle.

Oh, and for those who want to assess if her babies are actually green, go to http://www.thegypsytree.co.uk
I love the site, but I am hugely biased.

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What happens When I’m Staring Intently At My Laptop And Apparently Ignoring You.

Dear Husband,

I know you like to do that thing where we both speak words and they form this thing called a conversation. It’s just that I’m coding, and unlike you who appears to be able to Skype with clients, drink coffee and create almighty web apps that make people go ‘oooo!’. I am more typical of the programmer kin and need to focus to the point where bombs could explode (or parents can be steam cleaning the room) around me and all I see is a search for a semi-colon.

In lieu of the conversations that I think you were trying to have this morning, let me show you what I’ve been up to.

This is my student website. In I showed the initial design for the site, which admittedly took me a bit longer wrangling with divs than I had expected.

Today, we have a fully functioning sign up & login (yes, I know I need to sort out the alignment, but functionality before beauty).

website login

After that, I started to build the competition pages. Remember that idea you had about setting them a mystery quiz? Well, I’ve built it along with the first few challenges.
First, each page recognises whether you’re a guest, a student or an admin.

Guests – well, they get a message telling them that they only have access to the resources bit.

Students – The page looks at the database and works out which of the challenges they have successfully completed, showing them the next in the series. It also works out how many incorrect answers they have submitted.

challenge

Admin – This is planned to be a dashboard for administration of the competition and to get automatic results (the winner will be decided based on the speed that they go from the first to last challenge and how many incorrect answers they submit. This makes it fairer for those joining in late as I record the datestamp for each answer that is submitted.). But, for now, it allows me to enter new challenges into the competition and view the challenges alongside the answers. (the answers here are blocked out…. you never know who’s reading!)

admin

Next? Well I still need to build a homework dashboard & the interface for the kids, and then a results & feedback dashboard for the kids to look at their progress. Some content on the resources might be quite nice too!

Not just yet though. Let’s have a conversation first 🙂

Those Who Can… Spend their summer preparing to do it all over again!

So, what have I don’t with my lovely long teacher’s summer holiday today?

Ok, I’ll admit, with the kids away at camp, I took the opportunity to have a lie in. Oooh that was nice! But soon after, the laptop went on and I got down to the exciting job (actually it is quite fun) of planning the first two terms of work for my A2 students who take their final A Level Computing exams next June. There’s a lot to get through in the final year and I’m now in my fifth year of teaching the subject (I’ve flitted between the two exam boards which has kept me on my toes and am now returning to AQA).

Much of my feedback to previous students has been though the online system that they had access to, which will no longer be an option at my new school. And I know I said I’d never build another portal, but I have. Well, sort of. I’ve created my own system where I can upload files, homework (they can upload their homework… hopefully) and I can feedback their progress in my subject to them.

When I say ‘built’, I mean I’ve cobbled together the basic V1.0 design and set up the standard SQL & session injection prevention. (read: Charlie Brown Teacher blah blah blah ).

Here’s the pretty bit. (comments & suggestions welcome!)

Image

 

The Binary Scarf – let’s play a game…

Never let it be said that my lessons are boring. In an attempt to keep busy and retain my sanity while the bugs are away at camp, I am going to prepare all my lessons for the coming term (and a but further). The prep that I need to be doing is for the Computing courses for GCSE and A Level (that’s High School & college diploma equivalent if you’re from the US).

I’ll accept that computer science has nerdy overtones to it, so I’m working with it and setting them a term long mystery challenge which will roughly cover every topic in the first half of the course. In a similar way to the random puzzle that GCHQ stuck on Facebook a while back to enhance their recruitment process, I’m trying to give the students some augmented reality games to improve their independent learning ability. Just without them knowing.

The first clue in the puzzle is to learn to decode binary into denary, then translate this into its ASCII equivalent. Simple enough. Only, the first clue is currently being knitted into my school scarf.

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I’m using an excellent online pattern from Knitty for a binary scarf, which I have adjusted so that it holds my message. The trick here is for them to realise that the message is here. They’ll be told to look out for a secret message somewhere at school…

This will lead them onto another clue which will require them to create some programming. The result of this will lead them to a specially built web page which takes them further through the mystery. But I’m not going to give the game away just yet. As they solve it, I’ll write up the game and the clues I’ve left for them.

What’s the point? Well, if they’re up for a challenge, that singles them out as potentially good coders (you need to like beating a problem into submission), and it sets a bit of competition through the ranks. Especially if the kids aged 14-16 are up against the ones aged 16-18.

I’m enjoying the scarf creation too. It’s blindingly simple but relies on me changing the colour pattern constantly so I’m not bored. I’ve already added tassels to the first end which makes it look much more like a scarf, and because it’s knitted in the round, the double layer means it’s going to be really toasty!

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There’s a lot to knit here, so I think I should be able to keep myself amused for a good week!

Anxiety Girl strikes again!

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I’m sending my kids away for a whole week on Monday. With a bunch of people I hardly know. (A bunch of vetted and CRB checked people, but I don’t know them). And mobile phones are banned. I can’t talk to my children for a whole week. I can’t walk past their bedroom at night and check that they’re breathing (yep, I still do that. It’s part of my routine). They’re excited. I’m freaking out. And no one else seems that bothered that we’re letting the kids out of our sight for a week. Doesn’t that seem weird to you? Shouldn’t we be more protective than this? What if they want to come home, and the leaders think they just need to toughen up? (Yes, I’ve read that from several camp leaders posting on worried parent forum posts. Or the ones who think that parent phonecalls undermine their authority – now those ones I could have happily throttled.) The idea of leaving my frightened child somewhere that I could just jump in the car and get them from is borderline horrific. How am I meant to protect them from that, if I can’t contact them?!

I am of course projecting my own fears onto the girls – I wasn’t very good at being away from home as a child. I sobbed regularly when left at school, and the one night I did stay away from home at their age, I ended up being given antihistamines (the old fashion sleepy ones), just to calm me down. I was a teenager before I attempted it again. By that point I found my feet and promptly bugged off on a regular basis.

Worrying and fretting isn’t going to help – all its doing is making me agitated and snappy. I’m in full on flight mode and spent a good hour this evening thinking of reasons why they can’t go and how to engineer a reason for camp to be cancelled. Apparently, I’ve lost my mind. This isn’t borstal, this is fun filled brownie camp. So I did something constructive. This is the email I sent at ten past midnight, because I can’t sleep.

Hi,

Just a quick email before the girls come up to brownie camp this week.

While we have everything packed and ready, the girls (and far more so I) am a bit concerned about the procedure should they be homesick during the week. As there is no direct contact with the camp itself, what will happen should one of the girls request to come home? My main concern is that they would be encouraged to ‘stick it out’, which is not a situation that I would be happy about at all.

I do understand that I am probably far more worried than they are, and everything will be fine. However, I would appreciate reassurance that a phonecall home would happen in these circumstances.

Thanks for understanding.

Holly.

Yep, haha, isn’t it just hilarious that I’m such an anxious over-protective mother? I won’t mention that I feel physically sick (and have done for weeks) to the point where I have heartburn when it’s talked about and actually don’t know if I can leave them there. I’d never let on to the girls quite how awful this experience is from the adult’s perspective, as I’m determined to not pass on some of my more psychotic traits like irrational anxiety about my offspring’s safety. (No you can’t go on that fairground ride as mummy just had a vision of those flimsy cables snapping and launching you to a high velocity death. See? Mental.)

LSH is totally laid back about the whole thing. Difference? He went to cub camp, I wasn’t a brownie so this is new. He’s not really getting the whole obsessive packing and preparing on my part.

The girls will be fine. They’re not me. I however may have to seek out some of those nice antihistamines or something similar for the week…

Crappy Parenting 101

When I was carrying Beanpole, I had images of being a Mary Poppins, Supernanny, cool, but awesome mum. Beanpole is now 8 and TinyPants is 7 and I’m ok with being a crappy parent.

I still smile at new parents of tiny people who only feed their child lentils or breast milk and who devise mentally nourishing activities for their children.

Let me tell you about yesterday’s cardinal sins:

1. always supervise your children. Lie ins are not advised. Not unless you want to stagger downstairs to what appears to be an explosion of glitter and PVA.

2. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. School holiday breakfasts are a bit more lenient than normal ‘eat the bloody cereal’ breakfasts. This morning we had beans and cheese in toast. Healthful. Even had brown toast. Children looked orange. Bean juice all over children.

3. your children reflect you. Allowing them to get dressed without supervision is always amusing (or not depending how fast we need to leave the house). Whoever said girls take more care than boys over their appearance hasn’t met mine. For me, it’s the clashing patterns that really make their outfits say ‘bad mother’. For instance, this morning TinyPants is wandering around in neon yellow & black stripes tights & a brown curly wig. I’m currently negotiating losing the wig and adding possibly shorts and tshirt before we go out. Please?

4. Always get your kids to help with shopping to give them a sense of independence.The supermarket. This is evil at the best of times, but add two over active children…. The bribe was good behaviour equals Club Penguin membership. By aisle 3, this was out the window and I was growling at them (met with sympathising looks from the other mums doing the same). I met another mum in there carrying a box of wine – she indicated her child was the reason for the alcohol / vegetable balance in her basket.

5. Garbage in, Garbage out. Lunch. This should be nutritious snack to fuel the afternoon’s activities. This does not describe our lunch. In a fit of, taste over nutrition, we bought hotdogs and smothered them in sauce. And crispy onions. This is what happens when I am deprived of coffee!

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6. Children need fresh air! So we cycled to the local park. Go children, be free! (In the standard confines of the play park.) Mummy opens her book and starts to read in the sun. Bliss.
………..
………
……

Half a page later….
“I’m bored”
“But you’re in a park!”
“It’s boring”
“It’s got a zip wire! Go play.”
……….
…….

Three lines later…
“I need a wee.”
“Do you want to go home?”
“Yeah.”
“Urgh. Ok.”

So we wheel the bikes to the loos and I proceed to cover my hands in grease re-attaching TinyPants’ chain back to her bike. Who knew I could do that! Then off we ride back home to make cauliflower and broccoli cheese for tea.

7. Always get enough sleep. ….or leave the kids with your parents, go to the pub and drink several bottles of pink wine with your friends. Thank god I bought coffee yesterday.

Hi, I’m Mummy. Remember me?

Day two of summer holidays in the Ruby Doom house and it’s gone quiet. Too quiet.

Mum awoke late to discover that the conservatory had a liberal coating of glitter and PVA. Mum hadn’t had a cup of coffee yet. Open larder. Coffee is gone. Breathe. Breathe more. It’s ok, it’s just coffee. You can buy some more. When you go to the supermarket with both kids in tow without any coffee. No. It’s too early for wine. Make tea. Urgh.

Kids “clean” the glitter vomit from the room and are given standard homework books on maths, English & French. One page per day is the goal. Work completed with little fuss. Stickers issued.

Kids are given breakfast and ushered upstairs to get dressed while mum cleans out the fridge to prepare shopping list and picks up the iPad for inspiration on food for family (10 months of school dinners and being too tired to cook does weird things to you, like forgetting what an actual meal consists of)….

Only thing left is sausages. 12 between 6 of us. Sausage cake! (Toad in the hole to those of you who don’t have kids who take things literally and refuse to eat weird sounding food).

Why is it so quiet? What are they up to?

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They’re in their room watching a science program on iPlayer. It’s not the tidiest room ever, but it’s quiet and they’re not destroying something. Seems I have some time to get on with things…

I’m loathe to start packing up their brownie camp stuff just yet. I’m still feeling a bit weird about them going off for six days without us. They’ve never been away from us for that long. Not even with family. I’ll admit here, I don’t really want them to go. But it’ll be so good for them and I’m not going to let them know that I’m freaking out about leaving them with essentially unknown people who could lose them or let them get hurt by not watching them enough. Says she who was letting them climb trees way higher than a parent should feel happy with yesterday.

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I wonder how parents in the US deal with sending their kids off for weeks? Or people who’s kids board at school? It seems I am indeed a product of being an only child.