Thursday, 13 February 2014
Do you remember the Pigs by Kids campaign by Natwest which wanted children to design the new official Natwest piggy bank?
We entered it (twice over) and this week, as a thank you for our creativity, we were sent two very special gifts. They are soft toy replicas of our crafted prototype pigs.
It is amazing how much they look like our designs, and the girls absolutely adore them. They are taking them in to show in assembly this week.
Our original designs are here....
What do you think of them?
You can follow news about the new Natwest pig Pigby using the hashtag #PigbyandFriends
Wednesday, 12 February 2014
This week I put the final nail in my coffin for following my ambition to get a PhD and start on a career in academia - I withdrew my last pending paper from my university's journal - and it feels good!
It shouldn't feel good. But it does. I think.
Basically, in my final weeks at university as a mature student back in 2006, my supervisor casually mentioned that if I didn't feel I was done, they were taking applications for students to do a 1+3 studentship (which is basically a recognised masters degree, followed by a three-year PhD programme, all fully funded). To be honest, I wasn't done with studying. I'd gone back to university as a 26-year old, sought-after print professional to do something completely random and I'd loved it. When I graduated I was an almost 30-year old mother of a toddler with a first-class honours degree, being only one of two students to get a first on my degree programme. Studying suited me. It didn't suit my bank balance, but as a woman with a young child, and a husband in a full-time job, studying was challenging with enough flexibility to make things work.
I made some casual enquiries with a post-grad student I knew to talk to, and she, as a fellow mother herself, convinced me that it was a good move. With full funding and a tax-free stipend equivalent to a full-time job, it was a no-brainer, even if I didn't know what I wanted to do afterwards. I gave up studying for finals, and started pulling together a research proposal. I got my supervisor to sign it, convinced a lecturer who knew my face to second it, and sent it off.
With finals done, and results in, I got down to the last three for the department's studentship, and completely bombed the interview. Again. I hate interviews. By the time the preferred student hadn't shown up, and they gave me a second chance to bid for the position, I was pregnant with T2. I turned them down. I didn't have time for this now.
In the meantime, I'd applied for studentships at two other Yorkshire universities and came close on both occasions - one rang to tell me I was the panel's second choice on a 3-2 split! I had looked into selling our house and moving us all lock, stock, and barrel to a city 70 miles away. I was so convinced I was going.
After the birth of T2, I got a job with the local authority but I continued to look into studentships. None seemed to suit, especially now I had two children to worry about and pay childcare for. I needed something close to home, and that meant looking at opportunities at my local university only. I knew it would be tough and competitive but I was determined. Had I the option of being able to uproot at a week's notice and take a position at the other end of the country, or abroad even, then who knows? Bit I didn't, so its, well, academic.
Then I spotted an interesting project with funding for one year, leading to a masters degree at Durham University, which is at least a two hour drive away. But Durham! As a child from a very working class background where any university wasn't an option, here I was suddenly eligible to go to one considered third only to Oxford and Cambridge. I applied. I got it. I quit my stable job and embarked on an academic path once more.
Working mainly from home, and commuting to Durham for supervisory visits, I carried out the research, and my new supervisors helped me look into extending the 1 into a 1 + 3. Nothing seemed to work out, but my supervisors and I kept a look out for any opportunities. At the end of the twelve months, and pregnant with the twins, I handed in my thesis and waited for graduation. Then nothing. I had nothing to go to. No job. No academic position. I was now a stay-at-home mum to my family which had now doubled in size.
But I kept in touch with my supervisors. I spoke at a postgraduate conference at Durham University on my specialist subject. I started writing a paper for the journal that would be produced from the conference. This was in 2011, the year the twins were born.
I also started co-authoring a paper with my supervisors. They were a brilliant support and with their weight behind it, it had a good chance of getting published. We finished it after weeks of to-ing and fro-ing by email, and submitted it to my supervisors' first choice journal. It took weeks, months even. It got rejected because the topic wasn't suitable for the journal. We chose a more suitable journal, edited the paper, sent it for approval. It got a lot of criticism. Criticism that we couldn't address because my research didn't fit their questions. I knew I was right on my findings but because the subject is new and specialist, the journal had too many questions and we weren't giving what it considered to be the right answers. Sounds like excuses now, but they aren't. I stand by everything that I did. I know I'm not wrong, but I'm not in the business of trying to convince those who think they know better. That's their problem, and with four children to care for and a house to run, I certainly didn't have time to waste doing it.
We submitted the paper to a journal of my suggestion. It took months to come back, and only after we chased them. This is now 2013, three years after I did the initial research. To say things drag on in academia is an understatement. The main criticism of my research was that it was out of date. Go figure! We withdrew the paper. The last email I sent to my supervisor was me saying I haven't got time for any more re-writes, as well she hasn't. We're in touch but not much.
Before Christmas, I received an email from the university journal with some questions about the paper I submitted after the 2011 conference. Two years later. I answered them as best I could and resubmitted. They sent it back with more questions. I returned saying I couldn't answer them as my research showed what it showed, and I couldn't re-do it or re-visit it to make my research fit what they wanted it to say.
They gave me some 'friendly' advice which was basically a nice way of saying that if I wanted to succeed in academia, I had to toe the line. And that was it. I knew there and then what I think I had known all along - I didn't want to succeed in academia. So I did what I do when something in my life is proving problematic. I got rid.
I had pursued it because the practical side of me knew it could be a good lifestyle choice at the time, and I felt I had something to prove. I now know that I don't have to prove anything to anyone, and certainly not to people who only like to hear what fits their thinking.
I know I don't have the personality to last very long in an academic world. I am too much of a lone-ranger, and quickly lose respect for those who eke stupid. I have little respect for authority, preferring to judge others on their actions rather than an arbitrary title. Academia is as full of stupids as it is of intellects. While I may crave the approval of the proven eggheads, I haven't got the patience to work through the stupids to get there. In any case, I may turn out to be one of the stupids I detest so much. I will end up throat-punching someone before the end of the first semester. I lasted less than a year at the council. I don't see why an academic institution would fare much better.
And at almost 40 years old, do I really want to be starting my new career as a junior researcher? I'll only have 20 or so years left in me after that. A lot of academics take this long even to get to junior lecturer level. I should have taken the decision long ago - a PhD is not a good investment for me, mentally, or as a career booster. The degrees were, in a lot of respects, a waste of time. As a development tool, they were amazing and I'd do it all over again. As a career tool, I should have stayed in printing. I haven't earned as much as I did when I was 25 years old, childfree and without any letters after my name whatsoever.
Career-wise, I have all the professional flexibility I need right now. I have taken up freelancing and can turn down work as much as I need to. I can concentrate on my family while having something to challenge me mentally at times when I am ready for those challenges. I have my clients - happy clients who pay.
Most of all, I have my girls. While a big part of me wanted to succeed to show them that women can do just as well as men in academia, I can't justify bringing us all down to prove a point.
I'm a bit sad about it all. I'm happy too. The word I think I'm looking for is relief. It is, yes. Relief.
Thursday, 19 December 2013
It's that time of year again when everyone turns to Christmas shopping, and I turn to mince pies.
If truth be told, I started buying and eating them a couple of weeks ago at least. I do love a good mince pie.
Anyway, last year I decided that I ate so many of them, that I should make them in bulk and freeze them. It worked out really well so I thought I'd share it with you in time for this Christmas.
This is what you do.....
You will need.
32 ounces of Self-raising flour
8 ounces of lard/fat
8 ounces of margarine or butter
4 ounces of caster sugar
This will make approximately 48 mince pies, for which you will also need 1200g of mincemeat.
You also need bun trays, and plastic storage containers or freezer bags.
First mix the sugar and flour together, and then rub in the lard and margarine with your fingers. You may want to split the mixture and prepare it in two lots, unless you've got a huge mixing bowl and arms like Popeye.
Then roll out the mixture and cut bottoms for the pies with a round cutter and pop them in the tray. To get 48 pies out of the mixture, you need to roll it quite thin. The pastry will rise during cooking so you can get away with very thin dough.
Fill each bottom with a teaspoon of mincemeat.
Put the whole tray into the freezer and leave overnight to freeze. Once the pies are solid, pop them out of the tray and store them in the freezer in the plastic containers or freezer bags. You only need the bun trays for this stage so borrow them if you can. 48 pies is four trays so you'll have to do them in shifts if you can't get hold of four.
And there you have it - freshly baked mince pies any time you want them for the least effort.
This is the cost breakdown if you're interested...........
Mincemeat sells at Tesco for approx £1 per 400 g (so 1200g = £3)
Flour is approx 30p
Margarine/Butter = £1
Sugar is approx 30p
so £4.60 for 48 mince pies, which is less than 10p each (plus the cost of the oven).
Sugar is approx 30p
so £4.60 for 48 mince pies, which is less than 10p each (plus the cost of the oven).
This week, we have been testing a new app - Woolly and Tig - on the iPad.
It is based on the TV show of the same name. The app involves a very toddler-friendly spider called Woolly, who asks you to tickle him, and help him roll over. The game needs audio to work as all Woolly's instructions are verbal.
There are six activities to play which are to get Woolly dressed, brush his teeth, wash his muddy face (which is the twins' favourite), fun in the rain, fun in the sun, and fun in the snow.
Each game is very simple and is easy for toddlers to handle. The twins (almost three years old) became experts in every activity after a couple of turns each. Woolly is a little slow to react - but only a little - and it does not detract from the play value. There's not much that Woolly can do each time, which is great for toddlers who tend to have fat finger issues and start jabbing the screen all over the place.
The graphics are bright and fun, and the twins really love playing with Woolly. Trouble Two (six years old) likes playing it too.
The app costs £2.99 which is ok. The twins have had a few hours play each on it so far and they really enjoy it. They can do it without supervision too as there's not much they can fiddle with, which is good for if I need to nip out to the loo or put dinner on.
There is a parents area where you can set times to help your child learn routine - you can set the teeth brushing time for example, and co-ordinate brushing Woolly's teeth with your child's. As far as I can see, it sends a notification to your device to remind you when the time comes, but that's about it.
Overall, the twins really like their new 'spider game' and I would recommend it for fans of Woolly and Tig the TV show.
Disclosure - We were sent a small payment to cover the cost of the app and a Woolly and Tig goody bag to enjoy.