Wednesday, 31 October 2012

10 things

  • The University is a 7 minute walk from Loop.
  • I have been running errands to Loop for my Mum.  She needs some nice projects to knit whiles he recuperates from a second hip replacement operation.  Nice projects need nice yarn.  Loop has verrrrrrry nice yarns.
  • Mostly I have been terribly well-behaved and just bought what Mum wanted, but yesterday my resolve crumbled and I bought myself a skein of Malabrigo Worsted in  the Rhodesian colourway - a wonderful burnished orange - to make myself an autumn hat.
  • Autumnal hurricane hat
  • I don't really have time to knit, as I am too busy practising my aseptic technique, writing biology notes and submitting my first essay.
  • My first essay in eighteen years.
  • That makes me feel even older than saying 'my son is thirteen'.
  • Olivia has decorated the chimney breast in the kitchen with A5 sized manga portraits of everyone in the family.  It looks wonderful.
  • Olivia and her manga family wall
  • Some of the likenesses are uncanny - Uncle Richard and Granny are particularly good.
  • Manga Cam and Manga Granny
  • I am still cooking - almost as much as I did before I started my nursing qualifications.  I am still baking all our bread, and making yogurt, and making midweek suppers and packed lunches.  Olivia's doing most of the baking though, and Graham is cooking on weekends.
  • It is not easy to let other people have their turn in the kitchen.  Doing the cooking is what I do best.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The raspberry pi

Some of you will have heard of the raspberry pi, but many of you will not.  Ours recently arrived, and is already making its presence felt.

It is a tiny little computer, about the size of a credit card, that comes with no peripherals (such as keyboard, mouse, cables or monitor).  It doesn't even come with a case - it is just the green circuit board with various ports attached.  Because it is so small and basic it is very cheap - just £25 - and the idea is that pretty much any family will be able to buy one, and children (and adults, if they wish) can use it to learn how computers, and programming, really work.

Raspberry Pi - it's all you need
Our raspberry pi - we bought a plastic case to protect ours, but the pi itself is just the green circuit board

The designers of the raspberry pi wanted to see a resurgence in programming skills in the UK, which they felt was something that had been lost over the last twenty years.  Children at school today are very familiar with IT, but more and more as users and consumers rather than as programmers or designers.  The IT syllabus focuses a great deal on being able to use Powerpoint or Excel and evaluate the design of web pages but not so much on how these tools came about. The raspberry pi hopes to rekindle people's understanding and enthusiasm for programming and help them understand how the computers that we now all take for granted, actually operate.

We bought a plastic case to protect our raspberry pi, and have been able to add things like a keyboard, cables and mouse from leftover bits of computer we had lying around at home.  For a screen, we use the TV or the Xbox monitor.

Getting started
Cam, with the pi plugged into the TV

In the picture above you can see Cam with the pi on the floor in front of him, a keyboard plugged in to the pi and the pi itself plugged in to the TV.

You might look at this little green circuit board and think "where on earth would I start?", but that's okay - there is, of course, a wealth of information out there about how to get to know your raspberry pi and what you can do with it.  We bought two books to help us out - one a user guide to the pi and one on a simple programming language, Python.

Cam's Raspberry Pi books

The raspberry pi website has a quick-start guide, and there are a plethora of Twitter accounts and online forums to help you too.

Cam had learnt about the Scratch programming tool at school, and now uses it on the pi at home.  It's a fun and quick way to start that doesn't seem to techy for somebody new to programming, but actually requires you to think about things in the minute steps that programming requires.

I love the fact that the pi is all about learning and not about consuming.  At thirteen, Cam is already a 'gamer', and would spend his every waking moment on the Xbox if we let him (we don't).  But I don't mind his enthusiasm for computer games so much if there is a core of knowledge behind it, and he has an understanding of how games work and an ability to create his own if he wishes.

We all know knowledge is power, and the raspberry pi aims to give the knowledge of how computers really work back to anyone who wants it.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The two of them

There is one day in between their birthdays.  Yesterday Cam turned 13 and tomorrow Olivia turns 10.  Today is the day in between.

The two of them
Aged 7 and 4
Olivia and Cam with their Union Jack cake
Aged 12 and 9

They've always been close, and for that I am thankful.  But this birthday season makes them into even more of a unit than usual.  They become quite twinny as they plan wishlists, outings and birthday menus.  The excitement of the other one's birthday seems to make their own even better.  They spend weeks secretly drawing each other birthday pictures and working out what to buy one other.

The two of them
Aged 5 and 2

And if they can keep this closeness through their teenage years I shall be delighted.  It doesn't always happen.

Brother and sister
Aged 12 and 9
Happy Birthday, my two loves!

Monday, 15 October 2012


I arrive at Barbican station each morning. 

It has long been one of my favourite stations on the whole tube network, because of the view of the Barbican estate tower blocks stretching up above you when you step off the train (when I win the lottery I will live in one of the appartments near the top of these towers).

The view from the platform  at Barbican station
The enormous recessed arches on the eastbound platform are the other delight.  I admire them as I walk past in the morning; and I lounge within them, feeling tall and elegant as I wait for my train home in the afternoon.
Barbican station

Saturday, 13 October 2012

10 things

    Dry, unadorned nurse's hands
    Dry, unadorned nurse's hands (late at night, while I should have been studying the nervous system)

  • There is no space in my head for anything other than nursing.
  • The tunica interna of an artery is made up of the endothelium, the subendothelial layer and the internal elastic lamina. Did you know that?  I didn't until this week.
  • For practicals, and when we are on placement at a hospital, we can't wear any jewellery at all.  Our fingernails have to be very short and neat and our hair must be completely tied back.
  • I didn't realise I would feel so naked without my jewellery.
  • This weekend I am (amongst other things) preparing a presentation on the biology behind the government's Drink Aware campaign. 
  • I didn't fancy my usual Friday night bottle of Weston's organic cider last night.
  • On Tuesday we measured lung volumes and breathing rates. I have big lungs.
  • For the urinalysis practical we used sugary tea (no milk), instead of actual urine. I was slightly disappointed by this.
  • Already, I wash and dry my hands thoroughly and methodically like a proper nurse.  Even if it's just after chopping garlic. 
  • The heart is an amazing organ.  It's so amazing that if I think about it too deeply, I start to wonder why on earth it's still beating if it's got that much to do.
Weekend work
Weekend work

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Maintaining creativity

Despite the full-time (and over-time, really) study around here these days, I'm still determined to keep some creativity in my life.  It's very hard though.  I come in late, talk to the children, help with their homework and wish with all my heart that someone else was making dinner - I don't feel like pottering in the kitchen when I've been doing urine tests and drawing bacteria all day.  The early evening in the kitchen is no longer a creative part of my day. I absently stand at the stove, thinking of biology or planning essays in my head and not really caring so much what sort of soup I'm making.

But late last night I finished knitting a sock, and today I had a morning at home learning the cardiovascular system, so I took five minutes out of my studies to photograph it in the sunshine.  This sock grew really fast until I started University, and since then it's only grown a couple of rows at a time.  I knit for ten minutes at a time, late in the evening after I've finished studying, maybe once every few days. 

New sock, old sock
New sock (l) and very old sock (r)
So I know this sock is going to be without its other half for many months to come, but just imagine the sense of accomplishment I will feel when it's done!

The other outlet for my creativity is colouring pencils.  With so much anatomy and biology to learn, I find it easiest to take in the information by drawing and colouring.  Yesterday, it was mitosis and today it has been the directional flow of blood through the heart.

Four phases of mitosis

Directional flow of blood through the heart
I think my anatomy and biology notebook is going to be the most colourful one on campus.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Lecture mix

I didn't expect that being a student nurse would make me so hungry.  I spend the entire time at on campus with a growling stomach, wondering when it's next time to eat.  And it's not just me -  my new friends are all the same.  Being a student nurse gives you a huge appetite, it seems.

Many of our lectures, practicals and tutorials run back to back with no break.  Often they are scheduled over lunchtime too.  The hunt is on for snacks that we can eat discretely in lectures, and food that we can shovel into our mouths with no mess or fuss as we dash through the building to the labs.  This is our list of snacks we've tried and rejected so far:
  • crisps - too noisy, and not healthy if you eat them all the time
  • apples - too noisy, and where do you put the soggy core?
  • bananas - too stinky, and where do you put the skin?
  • croissant - crumbs all over your notebook and the notebook of anyone sitting within three seats of you
  • cake - too sticky
Then this weekend inspiration struck.  I made a big batch of trail mix for Olivia's lunchbox, and realised that it would work perfectly as a lecture mix too.

Trail mix is a combination of seeds, nuts, dried fruit and chocolate that is designed to fuel you on long distance walks (or trails, hence the name).  Those delicious boxes from Graze are basically trail mix.  Of course the beauty of it is that you custom your mix to what you have in your kitchen and what you like to eat - I also have to leave nuts out of anything I make for Olivia's lunchbox because her school has a strict no nuts policy.

The batch I made at the weekend had in it:
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • sultanas
  • dried apricots, chopped to the size of the sultanas
  • mini marshmallows
I make enough to fill a large 1 litre jar, and whoever wants some can shake a few handfuls into a little pot.

Other good things I like to put in my trail mix if I have them are:
  • chocolate buttons or chocolate chips
  • dried banana chips
  • dried figs
  • dried cranberries
  • salted peanuts
  • cashew nuts
  • bombay mix
  • dried, sour cherries
  • rice krispies
Trail mix - for lectures at lunchtime
Let's see if this will get me through three hours of back to back biology and anatomy lectures without my stomach growling.