Learning can be messy – Frozen Flowers

I have a confession to make – I am addicted to Pinterest and can spend hours looking at ideas and thinking ‘maybe I’ll have a go at that’. I’ve not done any photography just ‘because I wanted to play’ for ages (done weddings and proper stuff but nothing just for fun). I saw some images of #frozenflowers and immediately created a new Pinterest Board. The images looked amazing, I’ve got a ‘foldio’ portable mini studio and several bunches of flowers due to a recent birthday so ‘jobs a good en’ as we say in Yorkshire.

I hit several problems which I needed to solve – it struck me that this would be a great project to do with children as they could work around the problems – great for combining arts, science and photography.

  1. I didn’t have a container in mind so hunted around the cupboards – I chose a round one which didn’t give me a flat surface from the sides – first mistake but it did mean I tried out different shapes and depths. It was at this point that my teacher brain kicked in.
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  2. When I put my flowers into the water they floated – when I put flowers in first and poured water on – they floated! I would ask pupils to solve this problem for me. (A quick tour of Pinterest – pour in a small amount of water to freeze the flower to the bottom of the container. Then add a small amount of more water and return to freezer. NB the word ‘small’ is important because if you pour in too much it melts the first layer of water – mistake number 2!)
  3. I took my frozen block out and managed a couple of ‘OK images’ such as this one.
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    My water had frozen as ‘cloudy’ and none of my Pinterest images looked like this – how did I get clear ice? Teacher brain now in overdrive.
  4. Another search – use distilled water! I had some in the garage but if I was in a classroom I’d get pupils to distill their own – there will be a tutorial or a friendly science teacher won’t there?
  5. Photography session number 2  revealed that distilled water doesn’t freeze at the same rate as tap water (science lesson here people!). What looked like a frozen block was still liquid in the middle – lots of puddles later… I managed a couple of images – I love the patterns in distilled water when frozen – (Art lesson 🙂 )
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  6. I discovered lots of other issues – the thickness of the ice alters the patterns, and affects how much of the flower you can see. Ice blocks melt and move – (especially under a light source! – more puddles). Did you know if you put a block of iced distilled water onto another block they will fuse together … and crack when you pull them apart!
  7. I love this type of experimental photography as it gives you lots of room to experiment and come up with something unique. There is no end to what you could freeze and what you could learn along the way
    J x

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How old can you be and still have a mid life crisis?

It’s my birthday at the weekend and i’ll be 59. I don’t feel old but I am having a crisis. I’ve been saying i’m going to retire for a few years now but kept saying yes to jobs and seemed to limp along. A bout of illness at the end of last year made the decision for me and I had to cancel work bookings. It’s definitely a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. I feel lost, invisible, isolated, guilty and am driving my long suffering husband to distraction. I want to be useful, I want to do something for charity, I need to be creative … my head is ‘a shed’ and I’m not sure where I go next.

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This morning I received an e mail from someone I went to school with and haven’t seen for 40 years! They were so lovely about my book Learning Through a lens and had taken the time to contact me. You have no idea how much that helped me. It really did make a huge difference and made me determined to make sure I tell others how much I appreciate them.

So at the minute, I’m trying to turn my sewing into a productive hobby (very frustrating but rewarding), I’m investigating charity ideas and planning to spend my birthday with my two grandchildren at my great nephew’s 5th birthday party – how can you feel down when surrounded by so much joy x

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Sewing linen and leather baby shoes

Sewing outside the lines

I’m reasonably new to sewing but health issues have forced me to slow down for a while. I need to have projects on the go, I need to create, I need to experiment. I attended a free motion embroidery class which led to the creation of ‘not the norm textiles ‘ with a friend and a series of portraits.

I then decided I needed to be able to sew straight lines which I found a lot more challenging than free motion. I made tissue holders (loads of them)- four straight lines and that’s it – result!
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I progressed to simple pouches/purses – definitely a bit hit and miss with the zippers 😂. I spent hours on Pinterest and worked out how to sew bags, tweaked the patterns and made most of my Christmas presents.
I’m not good at reading Instructions or following patterns – i.e I just don’t do it. Having worked out a basic bag pattern I decided to create a bag using just
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There are no rules I just put scraps of materials over one another and sewed, I used random machine stitches, different angles and whatever scraps I had. It was amazingly liberating, no pins, no straight lines no worries! This can then be cut to a rectangle and used as the front of your bag – here’s my first attempt at scrappy quilting aka sewing outside the lines.
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The kindness of strangers

I’m going through a difficult patch -‘It’s your age’ and ‘you’ll grow out of it’ were phrases my mum often used to say to me. At the moment they are making me smile as I definitely feel that my age and getting older is having an effect. I suddenly seem to have developed various minor ailments which have resulted in doctors visits and subsequent hospital visits. I’m ok but struggling. I’m fine but shattered.
Yesterday I had a biopsy on my tongue – yes it was scary and yes it was painful but due to the kindness of strangers I managed. I was on a day surgery ward where no visitors are allowed. At first we all sat in rows in our own little bubble of worry, expectant faces lifting every time a nurse or doctor appeared.

Gradually we began to chat and form our own little support unit, the elderly lady next to me squeezed my hand and said ‘good luck love’ when I was called. Complete strangers supporting each other.

I know I’m naive but I didn’t realise I would have to go to theatre – I lay there in my gown having my ID band checked and began to shake – sheer nerves. The nurse held my hand and didn’t let go until there was someone else to hold it. I daren’t open my eyes as they cut off a section of my tongue and stitched it back together, but all the time the nurse held my hand and squeezed. I felt safe and cared for, this was above what they are paid to do but that hand just held on and got me through. We talk glibly about giving others a helping hand but I will never forget their kindness.

My new friend reappeared in recovery and we chatted- I was happy to be able to return her kindness and find her husband to tell him how she was as I was released before her.

I can’t eat properly, I’m drinking copious amounts of coffee but am smiling at the kindness of strangers and thanking my lucky stars for our NHS x

30 years on – tread softly …

Do you ever drive somewhere and when you arrive just literally shake your head as you have no idea how you got there? I was having this discussion with an old friend and we both feel like that about our lives – how did we get here? We are pushing  sixty our children are grown up, married, parents. Our own parents are in their 80s and some have died. Life has quite a surreal quality at the minute. This week it Is 30 years since my eldest son died and I want to mark it in some way. He died when he was 8 weeks old and I will never forget how soft his skin felt when he was first born. 

Do I see him as a 30 year old? No he’s my baby, he will always be my baby and I can’t imagine him as a grown up. I think about him, the hurt has faded and I know he would have suffered if he’d lived. Has he left a gap, changed my life … hell yes! When he was 21 – I bought a watch which I have worn everyday since. I take flowers to his grave, I talk to him there. The anger has gone – you can’t be angry for 30 years, the pain has lessened, the memories though as sharp as ever. The sounds and smells of the intensive care unit imprinted on your subconscious. 

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As Matthew only lived for 8 weeks, his birth and death are all intertwined in my memories – I wrote this last year but never posted it.

Certain days are etched on your memory. The sounds, the weather, the emotions. One of my worst days was 29 years ago today. My baby son died in my arms. He lived for 8 weeks and 2 days. I’d  held him up to the hospital window to show him the world he would never get to experience. I’d cried and begged him to let go, I could see he was suffering. The fear, the sheer terror accompanied by the steady hum and beeps of hospital monitors. Death isn’t peaceful it’s drawn out and rasping breaths getting further apart mark life’s end. 

The silence when it comes is all invasive and the need to run or scream or curl up in a ball take turns at overwhelming you.  Nervous expressions, kindly smiles but no one knows what to say. You are offered a Polaroid once all the tubes are removed but I can’t look at it.

The uncomfortable silences, the forms, the formalities and then you go home without your cherished son who has been your focus every single hour of his short life. Emptiness,sadness, bitterness, rage – every emotion you can think of and suddenly it’s 29 years ago. You are divorced from his dad, you have a younger son who has his own children, the floral tributes now include one to ‘uncle Matthew’. Life goes on, the hurt is buried deeper, the scars fade but nothing can take away the memories.

So here I am 30 years on, blessed with two amazing grandchildren- no idea how I got here but I’m going to enjoy it and honour the memory of my beloved Matthew by looking after his namesake Thomas Matthew, and his little sister Layla Jane

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‘Tread softly for you tread on my dreams.’ WB Yeats

Outdoor learning just in the garden

Tommy and LJ love our garden, they love Mamma’s greenhouse (Tommy has been calling me that since he began talking and couldn’t say grandma). We are learning so much by playing outdoors just in this small space.

I wanted to share some free and inexpensive  ideas for developing your garden and using it for fun learning

  1. I’ve left a patch of grass ‘wild’ to encourage butterflies and bees. It looks very wild now and the grasses are almost waist height for Tommy and LJ. They love walking through this and feeling the different textures as well as looking for butterflies.
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  2. Seeds – I saved seeds from poppies, sweet peas and foxgloves last year and we planted these earlier this year. They understand the sequence of plant pot, soil, seeds, more soil, water and writing a label and can now plant seeds with very little help.
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  3. We won a book on Toppsta called ‘Bee and me’ this is a stunning book all about the friendship between a little girl and a bee. It arrived with a packet of beautifully illustrated seeds. Obviously we planted theses and nurtured them ( toppsta is a site where you can look at book reviews and recommendations but can also win ‘ giveaways- well worth a look)
  4. As a result of the above we now spend a lot of time looking for ‘buzzy bees’ and talking about pollen and flowers.
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  5. I caught Tommy outside with his camera taking ‘photos of flowers like mamma’
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  6. We allow the kids to fill up the bird feeders and that’s one of the things they ask to do now.
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  7. Tommy has a digger with a bucket on the front and we collect small items to fit in, leaves, feathers, stones all the while talking about big and little
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  8. We listen for sounds – I could have cried when Tommy said ‘listen to the birds singing’ -Tommy particularly likes aeroplane spotting.
  9. We have picked tomatoes from the green house and eaten them outside ( I have stressed he must always ask me first before eating anything!! Paranoid grandma.)
  10. Tommy uses the hosepipe to water the tubs and we are gradually learning what is the correct amount of water – we’ve had weeks of too much water to get to this stage!


None of this is rocket science I know but I’ve really started to learn about the joys of outdoor learning as I have been privileged to work with Juliet Robertson ( take a look at her blog there are so many ideas on there!)  on two of her books Dirty Teaching and Messy Maths ( both by Crown House ). I now think about the language I use and can see joy in the kids faces when we lay on the floor to look at a green caterpillar or Tommy asks what the berries are on the tree. I love it when they are excited to see starlings feeding their young or when LJ makes piles of pebbles. Yes they get dirty and my hosepipe is Tommy’s favourite toy but they are outside playing and learning to love nature which has got to be a good thing 

We did buy some items, a magnifying glass which meant we could look closely for caterpillars and bugs, children’s gardening gloves – they were £1 a pair at a local hardware store, smaller watering cans and the children’s first book of birds from The RSPB.

It’s the little things that matter …

I have been horrible this weekend. Bad tempered, snappy and irritable. Why? I’ve no idea – I just know I’ve been difficult to live with. You know those times when you can hear yourself and know you need to shut up but can’t – yep one of those days!

Two things made me stop and think about what mattered this morning both tiny little things but they made me stop and smile. I have lots of virtual friends on twitter – many of whom I’ve now met in ‘real life’ but this morning one of the ones I haven’t met yet  tweeted about my photos of wildlife and my grandchildren – it’s so lovely when people appreciate your work and what you are trying to share. Kathy typifies many of my followers – supportive, always caring and ready to share. Thank you for pulling me up short Kathy!

The second tiny thing was when I got to Tesco I realised that I hadn’t put my necklace on!

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I wear it all the time – it was a Christmas present from my two lovelies – it has their names, DOB and fingerprints and as my Daughter in law said ‘it’s so you can hold their hands even if they aren’t with you’. 

Strop over, irritation gone, I know how lucky I am and if I forget I can just hold their hands and remember 🙂

If you are interested the necklace was from pickle and pumpkin 

The (tongue in cheek) grandparent’s guide to indoor play areas

Tommy and LJ love ‘Play Valley’ and a trip there instigates almost mass hysteria. Never underestimate the pull of brightly coloured plastic!

It occurred to me yesterday that there are pearls of wisdom ( tongue firmly in cheek) I can pass on to Rookie grandparents

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  1. Footwear – never wear shoes that have laces or are difficult to get on and off. By ‘difficult’ I mean you must be able to just step out of them at a seconds notice to race after your charges. I know you will usually take them off when you get there but the same rules apply – no 2 year old is going to sit and wait patiently whilst you untie your laces!
  2. Clothes – nothing ‘posh’ nothing restricting – it may be years since you climbed to the top of a huge slide but once your grandchild runs up those squashy stairs and totters at the top – you will have no option but to scramble after them.
  3. Ball pools – may look empty BUT always assume there is a child hidden under the balls (99% of the time there is) so do not allow your grandchild to dive in head first
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  4. Do not assume you can sit at the side sipping your latte in a leisurely fashion – get that fitbit on and realise the only way to cope is to get in the middle of the melee and follow your grandchild within grabbing distance.
  5. Food – you are usually not allowed to take your own food but there will be an enticing ‘bag’ option. Do not even think about trying to steer toddlers into the healthier option, pick your battles – they are never going to go for a banana when there is the option of chocolate. Give in gracefully and eat half of it yourself.
  6. Don’t underestimate the fearlessness, agility or speed of your grandchildren. I am still cringing as LJ (who is 19months) pushed a 5 year old down the slide yesterday as she was sitting at the top too scared to move and was in her way!
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  7. Change their nappies before you go – they will create such a fuss if you try to take them away from the coloured plastic for something as mundane as a nappy change.
  8. The machines that require money for a ride are always ‘broken’ well that’s what I always tell my two – having once made the error of saying one ride only each …
  9. Always smile encouragingly and sympathetically at a grandparent who is trying to coax their toddler to leave – it won’t make a difference but hopefully someone will return the favour and smile in sympathy with you when it’s your turn to leave.
  10. Take your phone or a compact camera – the smiles and joy are worth all the aches and pains you will have tonight – and reliving it over a glass of wine in the evening will make you smile.
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A break through …

The lack of left handed cameras is frustrating, as is the lack of understanding on the part of major manufacturers. However, we are undeterred and yesterday saw a breakthrough for us.

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We were in a cafe when Tommy put his camera onto the table and looked at the live view screen, he shook his head and said ‘can’t see you mama’ He was actually trying to line up his shot! I am so incredibly proud of him. He usually balances the camera on his little arm and presses the shutter with his left.

JMH_1252  Later on I put my own camera away and realised I was thinking about tripods in the wrong way – he doesn’t need a proper size one just a miniature one. I had a very small gorrilla pod and attached it to his camera – we then laid on the floor – RESULT – look at this photo of LJ – Now look closely in the bottom right hand corner – total fluke but you can see myself and Tommy in the reflection in the cooker. Its not an ideal solution but it’s one we are going to continue to experiment with.

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#tenfingersareoverrated #luckyfinsrock

Limb difference awareness month