Starting our Adventure

dh Terry and I have started our month-long trip in Max Headroom to Netherlands, Germany, Denmark (briefly ), ferry to Iceland (for 2 weeks), Faroes (3 days). It’s all very exciting. The highlight of our trip is visiting family but I know we’ll have many adventures along the way.

We left our rainy and overgrown garden at lunchtime today (elephant garlic growing strongly in foreground and Viburnum Plicatum Mariesii blossoming away to the right).

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Garden -rainy and a bit weedy

Our journey to Hull was fairly good and Terry reversed Max Headroom into place next to 2 huge containers.

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Max Headroom in place on ferry

We headed on up to our cabin -cosy!

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We are now having a beer in the bar waiting to depart Hull. We are looking forward to a nice meal in the restaurant and will disembark at Rotterdam tomorrow morning.

This is the first blog post l have ever written with a stylus on my phone so I’m hoping it looks OK.

Welcome to Frances Bell – home at last for all the mes

How I got here

I started blogging in 2006 with Elgg and moved to my own hosted site at francesbell.com when elgg.net disappeared, but with enough warning for me to back up. All was well for 5 years, except that I wasn’t good at backing up and my ISP was a crook. One day, my blog disappeared and I felt bereaved – 5 years of blogging gone, and I still miss those posts.

I started again at francesbell.wordpress.com my temporary resting place where I felt my posts were safe and it’s been really difficult to pluck up the courage to return to francesbell.com. It’s only joining Reclaim Hosting that’s given me the confidence to make this step, and I have taken quite some time to make this site live.

The mes that are here

When I started blogging, my posts reflected my professional interests but since retiring, the balance of my life has changed.  For the first year of my retirement, I was not sure that I wanted to do anything more than spend time on knitting, sewing, gardening and visiting new places but since then and being treated for underactive thyroid, I have combined those with an identity that I saw once on a conference badge, itinerant scholar, that nicely captures my institution-free status. I was thinking about my changing identity in January 2013 before I retired and again in January 2015 when I asked my network for help in how to perform the multiple mes here at francesbell.com. So thanks to Catherine Cronin, Kate Bowles, Pat Thomson, Bon Stewart, Doug Belshaw and Donald Clark who helped me think through what to do in conversations like this one.

 

At last, with great help from Jim Groom and the crew at Reclaim Hosting, I have made a start (there is more to come). So you can have any or all of the mes: slices of the blog or the whole pie; knitting pictures or academic outputs.

All that I have learned from being and working in technology and education is still with me but what has changed is my perspective.  I am now looking at the education system from the outside while experiencing learning and technology from the inside.  What grabs my attention are the (im)possibilities of learning and being on the web in the whole of life. The change of perspective has been quite a revelation for me.

Failing gently but travelling hopefully at #western106 #ds106

Confession time:

This is the second time I have tried to join in with a DS106 class and it’s not going much better than the first time when I sank without trace. I have tried to follow the guidance but am not doing very well at ‘keeping up’.

  • I am determined not to be downbeat about this and I have some great contacts like Mariana Funes on whom I can call so I’ll try to count up:
  • I did the ‘red still life’ daily create after I saw Jeffrey Keefers but I think I was a day late

Red Still Life from objects in Frances' kitchen

Red Still Life from objects in Frances’ kitchen

  • I wrote a blog post linking Bowie to cowboys on the day of his death but then didn’t know how to connect it to #western106 #ds106.
  • I joined in with a #ds106 radio but was quite late so got l got little from it.

So what can I do now?

  • I can recognise that I can’t do ‘daily stuff’ – that doesn’t fit with my life style
  • I can ask ask my friends for help
  • I can focus on a single goal – mine is to learn to make a GIF from videos

Now I can share with you my flaky progress on that goal. I feel a bit ambivalent about Westerns (apart from Blazing Saddles). One of the issues I have with the genre is that women don’t always get a great deal in Westerns.  My idea from recollecting a John Wayne film where he spanked a woman so I thought I could do a ‘critical’ GIF on this topic.

Imagine my horror when I searched youtube and found that ‘spanking women’ was a common trope in Westerns. I think that this is the one I recalled but take my advice – don’t read the youtube comments.  Even worse, there is a spanking scene in the Big Bang Theory.

So that’s it, I now to learn to GIF to critique this trope. All help (except spanking) welcome to save us from a clear line from westerns to 50 Shades of Grey.

 

Elise’s Christmas Soup

Elise is on the right
Elise is on the right – looking fab!

My dear mother Elise Crampsey (later Richardson) 1916-1990 was named Elizabeth (a family name) that was adapted to a French variant in recognition of what was happening in France in 1916 around the time of her birth in Grangemouth, Scotland. She was the oldest of 7 children born into in a working class family whose father, Francis Crampsey, died of pneumonia (in the days before penicillin)  when she was 14 and her youngest sibling was a toddler. Her mother, Margaret, knew how to feed a family well on a very limited budget, and passed on these skills to her daughters, at least, and many of her descendants, male and female, are and have been excellent cooks – what a legacy!

Two things I learned from my mother’s cooking was the value of ingredients, and the importance of what you did with them. In the 1960s, as we travelled in Europe and extended our repertoire of menus, she sought out new recipes and ingredients. Despite the appearance of more exotic dishes, a Christmas staple persisted – the soup from the turkey carcass, because my mother who started her family during WW2 wasted little or nothing.  As soon as the turkey was stripped, the carcass was put in the pressure cooker to make the richest stock of the year, and on Boxing Day or the next day, the soup was made.

Now I can’t say that this recipe was exactly from my mother’s childhood (it was never written down) but it’s my recollection of what she made in her later years and it tastes lovely. My version includes stock from a ham that my son Tom cooked on Christmas Day (for his next family destination) but it doesn’t really matter.  As long as you have some of the turkey stock, you can make up the volume with water to match the vegetables you have. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, just cook it for longer on the hob in an ordinary pan.

First step – Making the stock

Put the turkey carcass and any left over veg (but not the gravy, save that for other leftover meals) in the pressure cooker and cover with water. Bring to pressure and cook for 30 minutes (cook for longer if you don’t have a pressure cooker).  Drain and leave to cool. It will form a sort of jelly with what Elise called a ‘lid’ of fat. Remove this lid with a fish slice – it will scrape off.

Making the Soup

The soup
The soup

Ingredients

3 leeks
3 carrots or more if they are skimpy
3 celery stalks
Turkey/Ham stock made up with water to cover contents of pan
1 or 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
2 handfuls of long grain rice
salt/pepper (to taste)

Method

Sweat the chopped leek, carrots and celery in a little oil for 15 minutes. Then add the stock, tomatoes and rice with a bit of salt/pepper. Bring to to pressure in pressure cooker and cook for 15 minutes, or maybe an hour in an ordinary pot. The rice should have exploded into a curl.  This is not essential – it will taste delicious and may need a little more seasoning.

See the curl of the rice
See the curl of the rice

Enjoy!

Measuring and Correction

my first task at quilting class
Log Cabin – my first task at quilting class

I attended my first quilting class today at the Quilting Box and this is what I achieved. I have done some quilting over the years, and been quite pleased with what I have achieved but I knew I had a lot more to learn – I just didn’t quite know what. Textile crafts have so much to tell us about learning in general.

I joined an ongoing class where participants make a series of 12 inch squares, each one from a different quilting pattern.  It was social and inspiring to see what others had achieved.  I started with log cabin that I had done many years ago.  Prior to the class, I had chosen fabrics to use for this square and subsequent ones in my quilt.

Violet's quilt in progress
Violet’s quilt in progress

Something I have learned from my recent baby quilt projects that are all about colour and fabric, was to be bold in choosing fabrics to go next to each other. Other people at the class commented on the strong colours I had chosen and liked the finished effect.

 

I brought my own sewing machine and bits and pieces to class but I did encounter some new technology – a square transparent ruler that helped me measure what I had done, a sewing machine foot that helped  me make 1/4 inch seams and flat-headed pins to mark places where I had gone wrong. But what I really learned from dear Edna, the teacher, was how to make a perfect 12 inch square by measuring and correction. So I measured and cut the fabric pieces and sewed the seams as accurately as I could, and then Edna showed me how to press and measure at each second round so that errors could be marked with a flat headed pin and corrected on the next seam.

The measuring was under my control, for improvement not for a final judgement, and Edna was around for advice.  That gave me the confidence to achieve a 12 inch square, knowing that I can also apply the measuring/correction technique to other projects. And I was delighted with the finished effect of the fabric combination. So checking, measuring and correcting are all part of learning, with a teacher to support learners’ development of confidence and resilience in a social setting with other learners. Even things that can’t be measured such as choosing fabric combinations are learned by individuals in social settings.

Libraries in my life

I have always loved libraries. The first one that I remember is Withington Library from when I lived in Withington in Manchester as a child. It’s great to see it is still there and operating as a community hub.

When we moved to Middlesbrough, I became very excited that I could join two different libraries and double the number of books I could borrow.  I longed to be 12 so that I could join the adult library.

Middlesbrough Central Reference Library by https://www.flickr.com/photos/deargdoom57/ CC BY 2.0
Middlesbrough Central Reference Library by https://www.flickr.com/photos/deargdoom57/ CC BY 2.0

The first floor reference library looks pretty much as I remember it though we didn’t have bands performing there back in the day.

Funnily enough, university libraries tend not to be among my favourites even though I know how important they are for resources and as study venues for students.

Manchester has two beautiful libraries in the city centre, each of which has had a facelift in recent years.   John Rylands Library was built by Enriqueta Rylands as a memorial to her late husband (Manchester’s first multi-millionaire) and opened on the first day of the 20th Century.

John Rylands Library
John Rylands Library

It feels like a cross between a museum and a church and, as well as offering archives and services for librarians and researchers, it has a reading room that offers a truly lovely workspace that I worked in last week .  The silence is almost loud.

Manchester’s Central Library reopened recently and I have visited it twice but feel that I have only just scraped the surface.
new entrance to Manchester Central Library
It has a spectacular new entrance that connects it to the Town hall, with a dimpled reflective ceiling that throws off dynamic and fractured images. The cafe is in the heart of the ground floor right next to  interactive multimedia resources that offer a way into physical archives at various Manchester libraries.The ground floor offers connected social spaces that open into each other. On my first visit, I could hear a performance for the Manchester Jazz festival across the other side of the building.

So let’s celebrate public libraries and defend them from funding cuts.  We still need public spaces where people can learn independently with guidance from librarians.

Screen shot from Google Books
Screen shot from Google Books

They are as important now as they were at the time that Roberts (1971) wrote about in his classic work about Salford slums in the early 20th Century.

Roberts, R. (1971). The classic slum: Salford life in the first quarter of the century. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

A wee poem – The Voyeur

Tonight, I was feeling like I needed a wee rest from my desperate attempt to complete the paper from hell, and I plucked a book of poetry fom the shelves to give me a different perspective.

Here’s what I found

Lovely wee dog
A wee dog by Iain Smith CC BY-ND 2.0

The Voyeur

by Tom Leonard

what’s your favourite word dearie
is it wee
I hope it’s wee
wee’s such a nice wee word
like a wee hairy dog
with two wee eyes
such a nice wee word to play with dearie
you can say it quickly
with a wee smile
and a wee glance to the side
or you can say it slowly dearie
with your mouth a wee bit open
and a wee sigh dearie
A wee sigh
put your wee head on my shoulder dearie
oh my
a great wee word
and scottish
it makes me proud.

 

        


 

 

The tea cosy that taught me – a story about knitting and learning

Saartje bootees
Saartje bootees
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Berry hat

 

 

 

 

 

I am a fairly unprolific knitter who loves knitting. I do knit repeats of things I have knitted before, like the berry hat and Saartje bootees that I have knitted for many babies of those connected to me.

But what I really like in a new knitting project is a challenge, that it pushes me to learn new things. My most recently completed project is a the very lovely “I’m a little Teapot” tea cosy designed by June Dickinson of Simply Shetland. Here is the finished article in use today.

Cosied tea and biscuits
Cosied tea and biscuits

I discovered the pattern through my Twitter friend, a great knitter, @glittrgirl who tweeted her finished teacosy last year.   I was also attracted by the promise from the pattern that it’s “a good small project for learning Fair Isle knitting and steeking”.  Steeking – what a fabulous word – I wanted some of that even though I didn’t know what it was.  Having had a slightly disastrous Fair Isle experience earlier, I wanted to make a fresh start and learn to do it better with the authentic yarn .

Steeking is a scary knitting concept as it involves cutting vertically through knitting – I can imagine knitters wincing if this is the first time they have heard of it – I know I did. Steeking is the strange twin of knitting in the round, a wonderful technique done using circular or sets of double-pointed needles that enables you to knit a tube with no seams. That works well for hats and socks but in sweaters, we need slits for our arms to go through, or in tea cosies, slits for the spout and handle of the tea pot. Here’s how Eunny Jang explains it:

In practice, setting, knitting, and slicing a steek is just a handy way to knit an entire sweater in the round by creating a bridge of waste stitches wherever a separation would be, i.e. between front and back for an armhole, or between the right and left sides of the neck, or all the way up the front of a cardigan.

I started the project in December, and it’s fair to say there have been ups and downs. I made several mistakes with the Fair Isle for the lettering. Eventually, after many froggings (ripping back to the error) I completed the basic knitting. I added the corrugated rib to the bottom of the cosy, and the Shale lace to the top, then I knitted the iCord drawstring. Now there was nothing left to do but to steek – I had to cut this knitting that had taken me months – it was terrifying!  I had knitted the cosy in the recommended Shetland Spindrift, a ‘sticky’ yarn that I was promised would not unravel when I cut it.

Here is my unsteeked teacosy.

Teacosy - before steeking
Teacosy – before steeking

Fortunately @glittrgirl was at hand, she gave me a Skype tutorial in seeking that was one part technical information to nine parts confidence-building. I didn’t follow the pattern exactly – I just went with a cobbled together approach that we came up with.  And then we had a nice juicy gossip about ed tech stuff.

So now, there was nothing else for it – I had to steek. I did ….. and all went well. The last steps were to knit around the turned back and stitched steeks; to finish off the lettering, as per the pattern; and also to correct my errors that I only spotted  later. Can you spot them?

Where are the errors?
Where are the errors?

So how do I feel now that it’s finished?

First, I feel a massive sense of achievement – despite all of the mistakes and ripping back, I have produced a thing of beauty and no-one except me will be aware of the mistakes and recoveries.  They will see, as I do, a delightful tea cosy, that will be used in lovely social situations involving tea, and possibly cakes and biscuits.

So that’s one product but what about learning?

I have learned to do Fair Isle knitting better than I could do before. I have learned to steek. I have learned to do knitting in the round with the two-circulars method.

But the more important learning for me is the possibility of recovery from mistakes; that doing the knitting and making mistakes can be pleasurable; that the learning in a project can hinge on mistakes;  that the fragile and imperfect beauty of the end product can eclipse the mistakes; and that those enjoying the tea and admiring the cosy that kept it warm for the second cup won’t be a bit bothered about the mistakes.

What does that have to tell us about the experiences of learners in formal educational contexts?  Can they call on more experienced others to help them through scary challenges? Do they feel safe to embrace mistakes and believe that they can recover from them? Are they proud of what they produce?

Four women on a train – one of many possible stories

This story is dedicated to Heli Nurmi whom I have known since we worked together on the CCK08 MOOC in 2008. Heli blogs about open learning, and regularly participates in MOOCs. She has extensive experience of research and practice in education, brings much insight to discussions at blogs and on forums.

I have visited Finland twice- the first time in 1999 was to meet up with educators using digital technologies and the second time was to attend a conference in Turku in 2004.

View of lake at Repovesi
Repovesi by https://www.flickr.com/photos/anroir/ CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the first trip, with a colleague I travelled by train from Helsinki to a college in Kouvola, then on to the University of Tampere and back to Helsinki. Train journeys are a great way to see a country and I remember the landscape of lakes and forest we saw, though checking the map reveals how little of Finland I saw.

On one of our train journeys, we sat in a pair of seats facing two women, one old, one young. The older woman was very keen to speak to us though she spoke no English and we spoke no Finnish. She soon established that the younger Finnish woman spoke English and so she persuaded her to translate. We struck up a conversation about where we were going and where we came from.  The translator seemed to become increasingly bored and uncomfortable until the older lady launched into an animated story that lasted about 5 minutes. Our translator turned to us, shrugged her shoulders, and said “Shit happens”. We smiled and got off the train at the station where we needed to change trains.

In writing this story, I struggled to remember details (apart from the memorable ending) and it occurs to me if either of the other women remembered the meeting they would very likely tell the story differently, as would my colleague.