Wednesday, 30 April 2008

food fight, anyone?

Our online shopping arrived today. I love buying the value priced vegetables because they are cheaper only because they are oddly shaped. Every week we get a big box of mushrooms. Sometimes they are all minuscule, other times they look like three-headed monsters. And today there was the mother of all mushrooms! I have never seen an edible fungus this big!

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

good day

A few things have made for a good day. The newspaper activity I planned for today seemed to go well. I gave each pair of students a page from a newspaper (either The Independent or The Local Guardian, a free paper that's put through my letter box every fortnight). They had their first lesson about mean, median, mode, and range and so I asked them to list the lengths of 25 words. For example, the first five words in this paragraph have lengths 1, 3, 6, 4, 4. Then I asked them to find the averages and the range for their data.

Tomorrow we will talk about how a tally chart makes this process much more streamlined and easier. We'll learn about how to find the averages from the frequency table and compare the results from the two newspapers.

One unforeseen snag which I will certainly avoid next time was the somewhat adult content in the free paper. Oops!

After work I went to my kickboxing class. It was miserable out and Sarah and I were both feeling really unmotivated. But we went anyway and I'm so glad we did. I always find the press ups quite hard and today we had to do partner assisted elevated press ups! Sarah had to hold my knees against her thighs while she stood behind me with her knees bent. I was scared but in the end (amazingly!) managed to do twenty. I was only able to lower my upper body slightly each time, but still I consider this a success!

And I had a nice treat to look forward to when I got home. Ant ordered us Thai food and I really enjoyed half my prawn pad thai. I have saved the other half for lunch tomorrow. Yum.

Monday, 28 April 2008

brief school update

I don't write about school much.... But recently reading the blog of another teacher has inspired me a bit. I am struggling at the moment with knowing how I fit in the maths department at my school and thinking about how I need improve and develop as a teacher. I wish I was a bit more innovative in lessons; I have become a "starter and a worksheet" type of teacher over the last two years. Here is one attempt to get a bit more participation into my lessons. After the students recorded this data for us, we used it to make tally charts and draw bar charts.

Later this week I am planning another data exercise where students will record in a tally chart the lengths of words in a newspaper and we will calculate some statistics. Data handling seems like an easier strand to teach interactively, now I just need to develop a few other ideas.

not much going on

I haven't been blogging much lately.... It just feels that my life is not too exciting at the moment. I have been working hard: I did an extra revision session on Saturday, for example. I stay until closing each work day evening (5:45 when the bells ring and the building is locked).

On Friday night we hosted our church house group. I have really enjoyed the fellowship. The questions on the studies are quite in depth, even the "welcome" questions are things like "What have you been praying about lately?" The questions are are designed to make us feel more comfortable over time talking about spiritual issues, and I think we're enjoying the challenge.

On Saturday Ant and I went to visit his uncle and family who were over in the UK for a holiday. It was brilliant to see Ant's three cousins again (we last saw them at Christmas in New Jersey). We also got to meet the friends they were staying with, one of whom is a maths teacher, which always makes conversation flow easily.

On Sunday we went out again! (This was a much more social weekend than most for us!) We went bowling with Ant's friend Natalie for her birthday. We played two games--Ant was the top scorer of the six of us both times, and I improved from 66 to 84, which was enough to make me content.

Well, Monday has returned and we are back to the grind. Ant is on a course this week which means he maddeningly gets up much later than me. Grrrr. I will be tiptoeing around in the mornings while he snoozes.

Friday, 18 April 2008

twenties party

Here are a couple of pictures from before Easter. Ant and I were invited with Matt and Bree to attend a twenties party as a going away get together for some friends. I have never been a big fan of fancy dress, but I got into the spirit with this one, with a little help from Helen and Bree. And then I kitted Ant out as well. :)

Thursday, 17 April 2008

round up

And now, a few random items from my week off: the new exercise I've been trying, some food talk, but first, I have managed to finish the first part (just over 200 pages) of The Idiot by Dostoevsky, which I blogged about last week. I have to say that I am enjoying it so far. I was expecting it to be a gruelling, though edifying, read, but I seem to be getting through it alright. One fear has not materialised: from my limited experience of serious Russian novels, I was concerned that it would have a terrifyingly confusing cast of characters, with multiple names for each, in Russian fashion. But I have made it through the first part without getting too mystified.

On the back of the book is says that the main character, Prince Myshkin, "is perhaps the most appealing of all Dostoevsky's heroes. Gentle, saintly, foolish, and kind, Myshkin is... the pure idealised Christian." I have been very curious to find out what Dostoevsky thought was true goodness. So far I have seen that Prince Myshkin is honest in everything. He is thought of as a bit of an idiot (a bit soft in the head) because his truth-speaking seems reckless to others. He believes in others' goodness, respecting even a "colourful" woman that the others want to chastise; he ends up proposing to her! She thanks him, saying, "No one has ever spoken to me like this before. They've always been trying to buy me." But she refuses, saying she would ruin him. "I was imagining someone like you, kind and honest and good and silly as you," she declares, but then excuses herself to run off with a rogue, more fitting for her, she says.

In other news, Ant and I had our downstairs neighbours over for dinner last night. Not many people know their neighbours in London. We talk to ours because of things like sharing the front and back garden, and plumbing oddities (their water tank is in our loft, turning off their water turns ours off, etc). One night a couple of weeks ago we all ended up chatting outside as we arrived home from work and we invited them for a meal. It was interesting to talk with new people. We found a few common topics: both Ant and the gent work for banks and both the lady and I are public sector workers.

I splashed out on ingredients for the food: proper parmesan cheese that had to be grated, for example. Very middle class! We ate lamb burgers, which I have made twice now with Sonya's recipe. Lamb is not something I know how to cook because I have never really eaten it much. But the lamb burger recipe is so interesting: lamb mince, green onions, feta, an egg, mint, and cumin. They are served with a granary bun, feta, spinach and red onions which have been marinated in balsamic vinegar! Wow-ee. True fancy stuff. I served it with a homemade Caesar salad and cranberry banana bread for pudding.

The new exercise I have been trying for the last four weeks is kickboxing and self defence*. Sarah really wanted to try it out so we went along to a women's beginners class. So far we have discovered that we are both as uncoordinated as we thought, but we are really enjoying it. This Tuesday Sarah was away on a trip and I had to go by myself--which was almost as nerve-wracking as the first time we went. But I managed to find partners at the appropriate times and also have a quick chat with one girl as the class finished.

Yesterday was the last real day of my holiday, since I went to work today to run revision classes and photocopy next week's worksheets. So yesterday I had my holiday treat, a Swedish massage and steam room session. So wonderful! An hour long massage (for the not too extortionate price of £30) was just what I needed.

* I just learned today that "defence" is the British spelling of the word "defense". I didn't realise this was a difference. Did you?

Monday, 14 April 2008

journey to citizenship

I am one step closer to my British citizenship. I took the Life in the UK test today. I had an hour's journey to get to the test centre (one in north Lodond that had openings on a day I could attend) and then the whole process took an hour and a half, of which I was answering test questions for six minutes. The test is a 45 minute, multiple choice test with 24 questions. I have been studying and doing practice tests for about two weeks, learning about the UK population (lots of statistics), immigration patterns, governance, laws, employment, and daily life. Here are some sample questions--try them and then check the answers in the comments. Let me know how you did!

1. What is the purpose of the Council of Europe?
(a) To create a single market for members of the Council
(b) To create new European regulations and directives
(c) To debate proposals, decisions and expenditure of the European Commission
(d) To develop conventions which focus on human rights, democracy, education, the environment, health and education

2. Why did large numbers of Jewish people come to Britain during 1880-1910?
(a) To escape famine
(b) To escape racist attacks
(c) To invade and sieve land
(d) To work in textile factories

3. Which is the largest ethnic minority in the UK?
(a) Black Caribbean
(b) Indian
(c) Black African
(d) Pakistani

4. What percentage of the workforce is women?
(a) 15%
(b) 35%
(c) 45%
(d) 51%

5. Where is the Cockney dialect spoken?
(a) Cornwall
(b) Liverpool
(c) London
(d) Tyneside

6. What is the name of the ministerial position that is responsible for legal affairs?
(a) Chancellor of the Exchequer
(b) Foreign Secretary
(c) Home Secretary
(d) Lord Chancellor

7. In which elections can European citizens vote? Choose two answers from below.
(a) European elections
(b) local elections
(c) national elections
(d) elections to the House of Lords

8. Which one of the following parliaments or assemblies does not use proportional representation?
(a) House of Commons
(b) Northern Ireland Assembly
(c) Welsh Assembly
(d) Scottish Assembly

Thursday, 10 April 2008

pics from the couch

I have been snacking on fruit on the couch. This is a picture Ant took a few days ago.

Today when I came home Ant was awake enough to give me a little head rub. Mmmm. (I'm wearing a new necklace I bought today.)

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

time off

Ant has been so sick the last few days and so I have spent some of my time off looking after him. Poor man, he has been in such pain and is now off work for the third day.

I have also been studying for the Life in the UK test, which I will be taking on Monday. It is one of the requirements for my British citizenship, which I hope to acquire before the summer. I already have indefinite leave to remain, but gaining citizenship will allow me to leave the country for a longer period and return with all the same rights. Ant and I can already be approved for a mortgage but this will lower the risk to the bank still further. On Monday I was studying the ethnicities statistics. The test is multiple choice and quite detailed, it seems. I doubt that many Britons would be able to pass the test without studying as I am doing.

I have finally started reading The Idiot by Dostoevsky. I have been thinking about it since before Christmas. My interest started from reading the Philip Yancey book, Soul Survivor, which I bought and blogged about in December. Yancey write about how Tolstoy and Dostoevsky jointly helped him understand more about how the Christian life can work. Tolstoy devoted some of the best years of his life to an austere existence, freeing his serfs and living like a peasant in an effort to follow Jesus' teachings (Luke 18:22) to "give away everything and you will have treasure in heaven". Tolstoy was utterly disheartened by his inablilty to live up to Jesus' instructions, finding his shortcomings unbearable. Yancey found his ideals and his reverence for God inspiring.

Dostoevsky and Tolstoy lived at the same time and read each other's work. Dostoevsky was arrested for being part of a liberal group judged to be treasonous. He spent eight months in jail and then was dragged out to be executed in a public square. At the last minute the death orders were changed into time in a Siberian labour camp. Dostoevsky was hugely changed by the gift of continued life. He endured his years of hard labour and diligently read a New Testament he had been given. His later work is a surge of joy at life. I wanted to read some Dostoevsky because I heard that he explored goodness the way other novelists explore evil. Yancey says that he learned from Dostoevsky that the gospel of grace filters into the world through love. "To follow Jesus, I learned, does not mean to solve every human problem--Christ himself did not attempt that--but rather to respond as he did, against all reason to dispense grace and love to those who deserve it least." Tolstoy wrote about absolute ideals and Dostoevsky wrote about absolute grace. I'll let you know how I get on with The Idiot. I have read 60 pages of the 660 that comprise the book.

In other news, I have slowly been becoming a bit more green. I have been gradually replacing all the cleaning products in the flat with ecological ones; now our waste water is safer and cleaner. And I have made myself a pledge never to take another plastic bag at a shop again. I have bought a few canvas shopping bags and I have put one in each handbag. I made a resolution a few weeks ago that if I found myself at a shop without a way to carry my shopping home that I would buy a reusable bag. The last one I had to buy at Sainsburys cost me £5; this is a costly enough mistake that it motivates me not to make that error again. Today I had the first real troublesome incident and I realised it was time to make my pledge a reality. I was at the shop near the station picking up some supplies for Ant and I for tonight; I had no shopping bag in which to get it home. I declined a bag and the owner looked at me a bit funny. I ended up cramming two cartons of soup and a two litre jug of milk into my already bulging handbag and ended up carrying the two litre bottle of lemonade and the loaf of bread in my hands. This was not a huge issue in the end since I only had a few minutes to walk but I felt good that I had saved a plastic bag. Plastic bags are a becoming a more talked about issue in the UK lately, and around the world.

Saturday, 5 April 2008


Last night I started typing this post and I wrote:
I think that with the change to British Summer Time that spring has really come. On my cycle home on Friday I snapped this picture of a tree flowering. I wish I knew what kind of tree it is since I think it is gorgeous and I would love to have one. If I ever owned a piece of ground to plant it in, that is. Does anyone know what the name of this tree is?

Today I woke up for church and it was snowing (the second time this year, the first being on Easter Sunday). It snowed steadily for several hours, although it hasn't stayed. The snow collected on car rooftops, but just melted on the ground.

Over my week off I hope it warms up again because I want to go on some London city walks and do some cycling.