Friday, 26 April 2013

Retreat time

Me and my new best friend, my Back Nodger, are off to Holy Isle off Arran this morning for five days of peace and quiet. There's something about being on an island off an island that adds to feelings of being away from it all.

A lovely pic of Holy Isle from Lamlash beach on Arran. The small white rectangle you can see is the old farmhouse where I'll be staying

I have a full retreat of ten people and then there's a whole raft of others who'll be there who are on a Mindfulness of Dream and Sleep retreat, which is something to do with lucid dreaming I believe. I was quite taken with this description: participants have the opportunity to engage in group dreaming sessions, which entail everybody falling asleep side by side with the shared aim of lucid awareness. The vision of a bunch of folk who've spent quite a lot of money spending five days sleeping brings a smile to my face. Actually I might just be tempted... only kidding!

So that's me... off to sit on my bum and contemplate my navel. Back on Tuesday evening with tales of the unexpected no doubt.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Luck upon luck

I'm now wondering how many lucky things one person can have one after the other? Yesterday I had more to add to the two from the previous blog.

My book for World Book Night (Me Before You if you remember) is a very enjoyable read and luckily I'm now no longer an outgroup member! I'm one of the over 2000 who would have given it 5 stars. But more to the point I can face all those people in the street that I gave it to and feel good about myself. By the way the night itself was a tremendous success and I even got invited in to chat to people about books. I went slightly further afield than I have done in previous years, as I usually take books just round my village, and opened Greenlaw's eyes to the delights of World Book Night.

Next, at my poetry class yesterday afternoon my poem was very well received. I had some great critiquing and, on discussion, decided to cut two lines and add a comma or two. I was dreading this one, mainly because the tutor emailed me the night before to say he thought my poem was 'very discussable' which sounded decidedly ominous, but I needn't have worried, they loved it.

Then, a piece of equipment that I ordered when I was at the conference in Birmingham over a month ago, and I feel like I've been waiting for forever, arrived. It's fab! It's called a Back Nodger (yes really it is) and is a method of dealing with those knots in my back that cause me much pain. Trouble is, it's extremely addictive and I spent many happy hours last night going up and down my back nodging away.

I've got just one day left before I head off on the annual retreat I lead on Holy Isle, off Arran, which finishes next Tuesday. Do you think it's possible to have a week full of lucky events? I think it is. I'll report back.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Two down, one to go?

I can't believe how lucky I am!

On Monday Nicola Morgan, famed author, put out a message on Twitter, her blog and on Facebook that she was doing one of her giveaways and this one was to be a goody bag containing cards, recipes, posters for nine lucky folk and two ultra-lucky souls, out of those nine, were going to get a copy of her book too. Well from all this I'm sure you can gather I won! I wasn't ultra-lucky, but I really don't mind at all, I'm just so thrilled to have won something!

Then last night I managed to chop my finger when the very sharp knife I was using to chop onions slipped. Luckily for me, as I thought to myself this morning in the shower, washing my hair, it's my middle finger and not my index finger. Yup, definitely another piece of luck.

So what I'm wondering is if luck comes in three's? Can't wait to find out!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

In group or out group?

When I went to visit my brother he was extolling the virtues of a book called 'The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared' by Jonas Jonasson. According to him it made him laugh out loud and we all need that in our lives, so I bought a copy.

I now realise my brother's sense of humour and mine are really far apart as the book hardly raised a smile, let alone a laugh.

The book is about Allan Karlson, who on his hundredth birthday climbs out of his window and escapes from the nursing home he's in and the party that's arranged for him. We then get taken on a journey with Allan as he steals a suitcase full of money at a bus depot and heads off into the wide blue yonder of Sweden. During his journey he's involved with several murders, whilst trying to elude the owner of the suitcase and the police and we also get to read about Allan's early life, which, Forrest Gump-like has Allan at major points in history and tells of his enormous influence in them.

Although the book started quite well, and I did like having the central character being someone of age, after a few chapters I got bored and, as the story went from ridiculous situation to ridiculous situation, began to find the whole thing tedious and silly and not particularly well written.

However, if you look on Amazon for the feedback there are over 3,000 people who gave it 5 or 4 stars, compared to the 124 who gave it 1 star (where I would rate it) and the 163 who gave it 2.

What worries me slightly with this is that I've now chosen to give away 'Me Before You' by Jojo Moyes for World Book Night (I've been a giver ever since it started 3 years ago) and if you look at the feedback for that there's over 2,000 5 star reviews and 25 1 star reviews. I know the book is chick lit and I have no problem with that, but it will be interesting to see which camp I fall into after reading it - and yes, I did choose a book I'd never read (as I also did for the other 2 years) as I like the idea of giving a book away that I can also say I'm going to read too. I chose this book especially because it's about disability which I think is an important subject which can be treated in a light-hearted way.

I wonder whether I'll continue the trend and be an out group member? We'll see.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The joys of green sludge

For the past week I've been delighting myself with a breakfast of a conglomeration called 'The Glowing Green Smoothie'.

My reason for subjecting myself to it is because I felt absolutely lacking in energy after what seemed like continuously being ill for months and I'd read in a couple of places that this was energising and cleansing for the body. The least I could do was try it.

I have to say that it has had a remarkable result. I'm so full of energy I'm buzzing, which is a huge change and I've not had any '4pm dip' which I've been prone to for ages. I also feel my eyes are brighter and my skin is feeling less dry, and even better than that, I seem to be able to concentrate a bit better, which is a real bonus. My memory, sadly, hasn't improved at all, but then you can't have everything.

So what is this miracle? It's a hefty combination of fruit and veg blended together until it looks like a thick green sludge. It tastes a lot better than it looks... at least from my perspective. However, to give you the other side, John (of Sarah and John fame) had a taste while I was staying the other day and I think the look on his face after a teeny tiny not-even-teaspoon's-worth was one that told me there was no way he'd ever put anything like that in his mouth again!

I'm going to keep at this until I go on retreat at the end of next week, where luxuries like this won't be possible, so it'll be fascinating to see if there's any difference in how I feel.

And just in case you fancy trying it for yourself, here's the recipe, which I've found makes enough for 3 large glasses full:

The Glowing Green Smoothie
-1 1/2 cups water

-1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
-3-4 stalks celery
-1/2 head of a large bunch or 3/4 of a small bunch of spinach
-1 apple, cored and chopped
-1 pear, cored and chopped
-1 banana
-Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
1/3 bunch coriander (stems okay)
 1/3 bunch parsley (stems okay)

1. Add water and chopped head of romaine to blender.
2. Blend at a low speed until smooth.
3. Add celery, apple and pear and blend at high speed.
4. Add coriander and parsley.
5. Finish with banana and lemon juice.
6. Drink it up.

I haven't tried it with coriander as I struggled to get hold of some and the recipe does call for all the produce to be organic, but that's not possible where I live, so only the spinach I've bought has been organic.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Car rage

Me and my car had a contretemps, when my car had a 'paddy' of sorts. Let me explain:

Last week my car went into the garage for its 75,000 mile service. 'It's a big one', they told me at the garage, which in translation of garage-speak means 'it's going to be expensive'. Lucky I know the lingo so I wasn't too shocked at the price, but it certainly was expensive. The day after that I was tootling around Edinburgh and my car started a whistling noise and then suddenly lost power. Not much fun when you put your foot on the accelerator and not much happens. I did a detour and took it back to the garage, very slowly. It turned out that the new petrol filter they'd put in was blocked. They weren't sure if it needed another new one, but they cleaned it out and it seemed ok.

On Monday I went off to do a two day teaching in Perth and was given an invite by friends, Sarah and John, to spend two nights with them in Kinross, and as I was travelling up the road my car just didn't feel right. I decided I would take it back into the garage on my return. As I was arriving in Kinross I noticed the slip road north from Kinross - the one I expected to take the next day to get to Perth - was no entry due to road works.

I had a lovely evening at Sarah and John's and they gave me explicit instructions of how to get onto the M90 at Milnathort and from there a fairly quick route into the back of Perth and straight to the hospital. And this journey would take me a mere 25 minutes in 'John time', which means I left 35 minutes to get there and an extra 10 because I'm neurotic that way. Right, so I was all prepared to leave Sarah and John's at 8.15 to get there for before 9.

The next day, feeling totally in charge, I duly set off at 8.15. I followed the instructions to Milnathort - easy peasy I thought - and then... nooo... that slip road was also having road works done and was no entry too! The diversion took me around and about and back to Kinross and then I had to head down the road South to the next junction and take that and got onto the M90 precisely 28 minutes after I'd left the house. So by now, I'm on the M90, along with all the rest of the rush hour traffic heading for Perth, negotiating the road works of single lane 20 mph. That took another 10 minutes, and then? My car started the whistling noise!

I made it into Perth for just after 9 feeling panic stricken. This is not the way I like to start a course. I also had the problem of phoning the garage while trying to be calm and collected with the participants. I'm not going to go into detail, but I think the phrase, 'I've just paid a fortune to have my car serviced' seemed to do the trick. They sent out a courtesy car for me, which I was extremely grateful for. I did apologise to the guy who picked my car up that there wasn't much diesel in it, but he waved a petrol card at me and told me not to worry.

The course itself was a bit disjointed and I was distracted by all this, but coming out at 5.30 on a cold, rainy, extremely windy evening, I was overjoyed to have a car that I knew would work to drive, so much so I wasn't too distressed that it had the garage name and 'Accident Repair Courtesy Car' writ large all down both sides, nor the fact that it was a Citroen C1, which felt like a teeny tiny tin box, and felt even more so when, battered by gale force winds on the Friarton Bridge, I did struggle to keep it in one lane (I apologise to Citroen C1 owners out there).

As I was going a jaunty 40 mph down the motorway, the C1 suddenly started beeping at me. It was running out of petrol! So much for that bloody petrol card! I managed to make it to Kinross Services and, after just over 5 minutes of trying to work out how to take the petrol cap off, I was feeling less stressed. And £20 lighter and with nearly 3/4 of a tank of fuel I got to Sarah and John's feeling relieved the day was over. They were a bit taken aback when I arrived as they thought I'd had an accident what with the writing on the car, but we went out for a fab dinner locally and it was very jolly with lots of laughter and good spirits and I felt a whole lot better.

The next day I left at 8. I was taking no chances. I arrived at 8.30 with not a care in the world. The day passed with not too much of a problem (apart from a bit of an 'interesting' ending when I left without realising I should have been in a meeting) and in the evening I drove back to Edinburgh rather than The Borders so I could pick up my car this morning.

At the garage they told me they'd cleaned this and that, but it was all working just great and not to worry, but if it did start again to come straight back in. Not particularly reassuring. Neither was the 'And you'll probably need to put some fuel in your car' which of course in garage-speak means it's virtually empty. No surprise there then when I got in my car, switched it on and got a violent complaint as to it's needs. Their driver obviously needs lessons in how to use his petrol card!

A quick fill-up later and me and my car seem to have made it up. I certainly hope so as I've got mileage to do over the next two weeks.

This blog entry has become rather overlong and I don't feel I have time to tell you about how I managed to bypass the meeting at the end of day 2, nor my rather big blooper when I rather dropped one of the other facilitators in it at the end of day 1 ... I'm going to leave all that to your imaginations!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The last bowls of the season

Friday night saw the last of the Indoor Bowls season.

I have to be honest, I really didn't feel like going as on Tuesday I had played what was probably the very worst game I've ever played in the last of the league games, where every single bowl had a life of it's own (nothing to do with me Guv) and ended up nowhere near where it was supposed to be.

On Friday night, I was in a team of 4 with 3 others I'd never played with before and our skip I was told was 'Oh Alec, yes he'll be our skip, wouldn't tolerate any other position,' which in bowls terms means that he's a very good player.

I couldn't believe how I started out. I was the only one of us who had a bowl near the jack. And so it continued all night, with me playing the best I've played in a very long time, if not ever. We lost, but not because of me. I was ecstatic! Our skip, sadly, had a dreadful game and hardly got anything near the jack at all. He came up to me after and asked if I'd like to play on his team in the afternoon!

After that it was a glass of wine and some not very good food and an interminable prize giving. I only woke up when I heard my name being called out. I'd completely forgotten that my league team had come top of the division before the second part of the season started (when we'd been put up to Division 1 and have done badly ever since) and I won £5 for my part in that.

And then I won a raffle prize too... actually this wasn't so great as it was a box of chocs that I'd given as a prize a few months ago! I gave it away to a couple who, at the last raffle, gave me one of the 3 prizes they won. It was a good way to finish the evening. It was also very late when I got out of there.

I don't know why but I woke up yesterday with one of the worst migraines I've had in a long time. Nothing seemed to shift it and I suffered well into the wee hours of this morning. I woke up this morning feeling a bit battered but ok.

Today will be a day of catch up with all the things that should've been done yesterday and a sorting of things that need to get sorted for next week, because this coming week (and the next for that matter) are a couple of the crazy ones that show that my work life balance still needs to be addressed.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Mind made up!

I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear that I've come to a decision, or at least that I'll stop blogging about the damn thing.

And the decision is...... (drum roll perleese).... I'm changing my course to being self-directed study. Phew! One quick phone call before I changed my mind and there it was done.

If I'm lucky I get my new course stuff tomorrow and if not it'll be on Monday, and because I already have the book (they don't ask for it back) and I've already started and can continue where I left off the other day at Chapter 3 (which is actually week 5) then I'll hopefully skip along on the online self assessment tests and catch up with myself pdq.

And as a bonus I'm now £30 better off!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Making my mind up

The OU course saga rumbles on.

So far this week I've managed to talk to a couple of people at OU central and neither of them really seemed to know what the new course, the one where you do the course for the fun of learning and get a certificate at the end that says you've done it, really entails.

Today, however, I did have a conversation with someone at the OU in Scotland who did actually know what the course entails, but sad to say I'm still a bit confused as to which way to jump. The main problem is that I would probably have gone for the new course presentation (the one where you're not assessed) if I'd have known about it rather than this one.

One good thing is though, the other course has no book and all reading and work is online, but because I did sign up I've got the book, and I don't have to send it back even if I do swap over... hooray for real books!

Even though I'm still debating as to which course I'll finally end up doing, I can tell you that I have learned quite a bit already and to prove it here's a bit of cloud info for you: today our Scottish skyscape is covered with stratus cloud, or in other words it's a crap, grey day!

Hooray! A book and some learning... what more could I want? Oh yes... a mind made up would help considerably....

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Blame it on the dilemma

Spring has sprung here in the Scottish Borders!

A gloriously sunny day, which saw central heating off, windows and doors opened and air flowing through the house.

It also saw a bit of spring cleaning. Well, alright then, not actual cleaning as such, but bedroom drawers and cupboards tidied and three whole bags brimming with clothes to be taken to the charity shop. And taken they were. No time to have the clutter cluttering up the house. Time for action.

There's something about clearing out that makes me feel quite good and then it also makes me feel quite sad.

The good is obviously it's a brilliant feeling to have at least one room that has a semblance of  declutteredness. But the sad thing is, there's still a whole cupboard and two chests of drawers full of clothing. I don't know how I've managed to accumulate all of it and no matter how much gets taken to the charity shop, there's always a whole lot more there.

I've tried that thing of if I buy an item of clothing then I should let an item go, but it just doesn't seem to work for me. I've also had the thought that I really should be able to live with a third of the clothing I have, but the problem is... which third? This is a dilemma which has been with me for years and it doesn't matter how I try and solve it, it remains unsolvable, and so my cupboard will stay overflowing until the unsolvable gets solved. Sadly I don't think this will be in my lifetime! 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Calling OU'ers

I don't know if this happens to you, but when I'm studying something new I seem to suffer with some kind of inner tourette's. Terms that have never really entered my realms of reality start ringing out in my inner voice over and over until I almost can't take any more. And I'm only on Chapter 2 of my new course!

I'm currently trying to get my head round nocturnal inversions, saturated and unsaturated air, relative humidity vs specific humidity, dew point, air pressure and air density, all of which I keep looking at the manual in hope of enlightenment, but it's not happening. All I get is that irritating voice.

I do feel there's some hope for me though as I do kind of understand convection, conduction and radiation. And then, even better, I have actually understood what a sea breeze and a land breeze actually are so maybe there's hope for me yet.

Things were thrown into slight confusion yesterday when I suddenly discovered that I could be doing this course without the exam element and credits just for the pure pleasure (or should that be torture) of studying. The OU hid that one well! I'm still unsure whether to take this road or to stick to what I'm doing, when part of me feels that the discipline will do me good, but the other side of that is that I don't know whether I need the stress of it all. After all the likelihood of me ever completing a science degree is virtually nil, and this is only 10 measly credit points.

More will be revealed, but I'd welcome your thoughts, especially you OU peeps out there.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Only 12 weeks... or not?

Do you ever want to do something and then when you're given the opportunity it doesn't quite turn out how you thought it would?

I've wanted to do a short course with the OU called Understanding the Weather for ages now. It seemed so interesting and also I'm slightly obsessed with cloud formations, so thought it would be great to learn a bit more. The only problem is that the very last presentation of this course is about to start and so I felt I'd better sign up and get on with it.

I'm now beginning to have huge regrets. Most of the people on this course seem to have either a) done lots of sciency type courses before and understand all the maths, the physics and the terminology; or b) are new to the OU and want to do lots of sciency type courses, already understand maths and physics, but need to learn the terminology.

Frankly, I'm struggling and I've only done Chapter 1. My knowledge of geography, which stopped pre O level when I changed schools and had to do history instead, is minimal, I'm maths phobic and never done a day's physics in my life and I have an innate dislike of graphs and bar charts. This does not bode well.

There are two things that are making me think I should keep going:

1. I'm going to learn a huge amount on this course. I've already learned where some places that I've never, ever heard of are and can even tell you about Verkhoyansk in Siberia - a pretty, bloody cold place near the Arctic Circle, which suffers under regular temperatures of -46C - which makes me pleased I live in the relative warmth of the Scottish Borders where our temperature hasn't risen much above 3C for months. So maybe doing this course will continually reinforce the pleasures of Scottish living and instead of the usual moaning at the weather, I'll instead be quoting all kinds of figures to prove just how lucky I am.


2. I don't like to quit. Yes, it's disappointing that in order to learn all I need to to pass this course I'm going to have to put in far more work in getting to grips with the basics than I'd like, but I really don't like to give up.

Of course, I may well retract this last statement and feel after a few weeks that I've had enough. But this course is only 12 weeks long. Even I can sustain something for that short length of time, even if I'm hating it, can't I?