Friday, September 30, 2011

A no-sew hair-clip tidy

Premise: my daughter's hair-clips and elastics were jumbled together in a box, and the resulting mess was a source of conflict.
I needed a quick and easy way to organise them all. I didn't want to do much or any sewing.
Even though I loved the idea of making a caddy which would hang over a coat hanger - we don't like making holes in the wall, and I would have nowhere to hang it.
I didn't want to spend much or any money.

Result: A stand-up polystyrene board cut to size, covered in fabric, with attached ribbons. Cost: zero. Time taken: half an hour.

Materials needed:

A piece of polystyrene board (or cork board, which was my original plan, but couldn't find any).
A ruler, cutter, pen, a fat quarter (a nice piece of quilting cotton),  some ribbons, and some drawing pins and sewing pins.

Instructions: Measure the polystyrene or cork board to the size you want. Mine is 30 cm x 35 cm, because I want it to fit in the cupboard.

Cut out the board. Vacuum up all the millions of tiny polystyrene balls which go everywhere as you cut. Perhaps a hot wire would have worked better, but I didn't have one to hand.

Iron your piece of fabric, then lay the board on the wrong side of the fabric, and begin pinning. Pull the fabric taut so it is neat and tidy on the right side.

Endevour to make nice, neat and tidy mitred corners, but don't worry too much! No-one is going to see them.

Ta-dah! One covered for the ribbons.

Cut your ribbons to size, tie a knot in the end or cut on the bias to stop the unravelling. Pin them to the board. Then take a wider piece and cover the tops of the ribbons with it. I used long sewing pins to pin this piece to the sides of the board.

I then at a loss, as I realised I had nowhere for the elastics...a few bead-headed sewing pins (long, quilter's pins), fixed that problem. You might come up with something a little prettier...I was working with what I had on hand.

And voilà! The finished product, with all hair-clips and elastics neatly arranged and ready to go. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Six Month Veganniversary!

Well, about 6 months and two weeks really, but who is counting? We're celebrating by having dessert for lunch today, and I'm finally inspired to blog about it. A Flylady/Facebook friend of mine put me onto a recipe for a "zucchini apple pie" filling (from We have a zucchini glut (of course - Italy, July, what else?). I happened to have some store-bought wholemeal pastry in the fridge (for those of you in Italy, I use Buitoni Pasta Sfoglia Rustica, which is accidentally vegan). Only enough for bottom crust though, so the idea for Strudel came about.

I turned the pie filling into a strudel filling by adding 3 tbsp pinenuts, 6 chopped, pitted dates, 3 tbsps soaked sultanas and 2 tbsps breadcrumbs. I wrapped the whole lot in the pastry, and baked it at 200°c for 30 minutes (brushed the top with soy milk, first). And it came out like this:

When I cut into it, it looked like...STRUDEL!

And with soy icecream on top, it looked like...DESSERT!!

Happy 6 month veganniversary to me :-)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pre-school ESL...breakthrough moment.

This blog purports to be about teaching English in Italy, but I haven't blogged about that for such a long time. Mainly because it is all just ticking over right now. And because everything is taking a backseat to the Delta (exam June 1 - beginning to think in terms of "countdown").

The biggest buzz is from my pre-school class at the moment. It's all come together so well this year (compared with last year's mad scrabble around for inspiration). My basic lesson plan is always the same, but I choose to emphasis different aspects each time, working on building their vocabulary and giving them usable chunks of language. A lesson of one and a half hours (with anywhere from 16 through to 28 kids) goes something like this.

Take the roll - they answer "Yes" to their names.
Count the kids, out loud, going around the class (yes, they can count past 20 now).
Use warm-up song (action version), What's Your Name song, Hello, How Are You song, to get them singing, moving, laughing, having fun.

Read a story book. So far we've "done" "Mrs Wishy-Washy's Farm" (success), "Animal Boogie"  (near success), "Watch Out, Big Bro's Coming" (fail), Ten In The Bed (huge success), and today I introduced "Are You My Mother?"...

Move into Wiggle Time. We use the Wiggles songs a lot. Their favourites are Five Little Ducks (be warned, if you use the live version, with Captain Feathersword crying his eyes out, expect hysterical laughter from the kids), Here Comes A Bear, Captain Feathersword (the Pirate Dance), and Rock-a-Bye-Your-Bear.

Once we're all Wiggled out, we move on a DVD of children's songs which I've had forever.CYP Best songs from this are Open Shut Them, Teddy Bear Teddy Bear, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, Heads Shoulders, Insy Winsy Spider, If You're Happy and You Know It, and to my great surprise, Tommy Thumb!

And THAT is where today's breakthrough came from.

I like Tommy Thumb in that it teaches two very usable chunks - Where is X? and Here I am! I'm never sure of the actual uptake in the class - they usually learn something VERY different from what I think I'm teaching! So today while I was reading "Are You My Mother?", and we got to the part where the baby bird says "Here I am, Mother!" and one of my students sang "Here I am, Here I am", I wanted to sing and dance and cry all at the same time! A very exciting moment...

And after all the singing and dancing (of the lesson plan, I mean), I hand out a worksheet which has some tie-in with the lesson. Today I tried to move towards literacy, by giving the 5/6 year olds a tracing writing sheet, the 4/5 yr olds a "letter a" writing sheet (trace, copy, and fill in the space with "a"), and the 3/4 yr olds a colouring sheet with the same theme (family words). Hard to tell how that went, although I noticed that one of my "problems" was thrilled by it! He doesn't usually participate in the colouring, so perhaps he's telling me that he's really wanting to be challenged. Something to think about for next time.

When I think back three years ago, and how terrified I was at the idea of teaching young and very young learners, I have to smile...can't laugh yet, because there is still so much for me to learn, but I'm so glad I said yes to giving it a chance.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Sunday morning walk in the Italian spring sunshine

I took advantage of a quiet Sunday morning (early start thanks to my lovely full-of-energy kiddies), and went for a walk in the spring sunshine. There were so many flowers (wild and otherwise) that I couldn't resist taking a few photos. And then I thought that perhaps some people are still in winter, or heading into winter, or could just use a little here they are! Plus a few general views for orientation.
A view of San Michele from La Vignetta

The path in front of me as I wander, singing

Olive trees, because they are all around

A lone poppy - it must be nearly ANZAC Day


Bobbing peony roses

Little yellow roses on a wall

Pretty pink flowers against a wall

More olives and distant hills

I think I will come back to this post in the dead of next winter, just for a breath of freshness and colour.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My first short story.

Two years ago, I wrote my first short story (as a grown-up, that is...), as a Christmas present for a friend. I also entered it in a competition. Although it didn't win, I still feel a small thrill whenever I read it. And I think it is time to share it :-) 

I hope you enjoy it. I love feedback on my writing, so if you have any constructive comments, they would be much appreciated (positive or negative!).

Northern Skies

An original short story
Jo Gillespie

Dedicated to Jo K., a person who personifies faith and optimism,
and who is a very dear friend.

Merry Christmas.

I’ve been back in London all of thirty minutes, and I’m already remembering some of the why I left. We’re stuck in a motionless train under south London. The smell of the plane trip hangs around me. The shower I had in Beth’s dingy Sydney bathroom is a thirty-hour old memory, and although I sprayed copious amounts of the latest Giorgio Armani parfum pour femme all over me in Duty Free, I’m uncomfortably aware that at least some of my fellow passengers are not enjoying sharing this trip with me.
And although I’m not the only one with luggage, my overstuffed rucksack seems to be more offensive than anyone else’s. I’ve tried to tuck the straps away, but more than one person has managed to trip over them, all the same. I’ve said “sorry” more in this half hour than in the last six years altogether.
Six years ago, I left for a gap year. Running away so fast from my life in London. Running from my in-each-others’-pockets family. We’d lost our way after burying my father much too soon. They’d let me run, though. In those six years, I’d missed my sister’s wedding, and the birth of her first three children. I’d missed one brother’s graduation from Law School, and the other’s growing success as a chef. I’d missed witnessing my grandfather’s slow slide into dementia. Those were events, though. I’d been too busy enjoying a million adventures Sydney-side to miss anything else.
It’s the twenty-fourth of December. As we pulled away from station under Heathrow Airport, the carriage was mainly taken up with fellow travelers, tourists, or locals returning home, like me. I wonder briefly how many have been away for as long as me. I’m the only one with a tan. So my guess is, even if they’ve been away longer, they haven’t been as far. I want to feel smug for being such a great adventurer, but remind myself that I’m now back for good. I feel slightly ill.
Four stations on from the airport, the carriage is now jammed full, most people carrying one or more pretty paper or plastic bags, advertising where they’ve done their Christmas shopping. My gifts are taken care of, thanks to kangaroo, koala and boomerang shaped key-rings. Thanks, Sydney Airport. I want to sink my head in my hands, but resist.
The temperature is rising in the stalled train, and people are starting to shed their layers. Out in the open air of London, it’s probably three degrees, and people are wrapped up to ward off that above-ground chill. I’m glad I had the foresight to stow my jacket before catching the train, but I’m still over-heating in my zip-up sweatshirt, which bears the logo of the Sydney Olympics.
Six years in a warm and friendly outpost of Britain’s former glory, and I’ve forgotten, or lost, that hard London edge. I make eye contact with a business type, his orange and blue tie chosen to make a statement. A smile crosses my lips, but he scowls.
‘What you looking at?’
‘Just that advert above your head.’ I pretend to be fascinated by the ad for Life Insurance, wondering how such a professional-seeming gent could be so rude. Bad morning at the office, I guess. Or maybe this stalled train is making him late for a million pound meeting. I turn to look out the window into the darkness of the tunnel.
The carriage is too quiet for my comfort. I can hear myself think too loudly. Conversations which could be carried out safely, masked by the noise of the engine, have drifted into silence, and now no-one speaks. I suddenly wish I’d agreed to Tony’s offer. I could be cruising in his yacht off Sydney Harbour by now, heading away to see the world. Standing by a handsome man. Adventures waiting for us over every sea we travel. Trouble is, I’m done with that now. My sense of adventure has deserted me.
The train suddenly starts to move, and there is confusion as people struggle to keep their balance. Mr Orange-Tie falls against the pole he was hanging onto, and swears, but we’re in England, and no-one else makes a fuss.
As we pass through the stations along the line, the crowd changes, swells, thins. Too soon for me,  the train pulls into the station I’ve been waiting for, and dreading. Thirty-one hours after leaving the burnt acid blue of a southern hemisphere sky, I’m blinking up the dull grey of that of the north, the Christmas shoppers oblivious to the drizzle. The smell of fried chicken mingles with exhaust from the Turnpike Lane traffic, and I’m jostled off to the side of the pavement. I’ve made the wrong decision. London is hell.
Right now, Beth, Tony, Amy and Craig would be sleeping up on the open deck, being rocked gently by the swell of the ocean. They’re leaving tomorrow. First stop, Auckland. Then they’re doing the Pacific Islands.
I’m being rocked by the irritation of strangers. It’s my rucksack. They think that I don’t know where I’m going, but I do. This street leads to my family. I’m going home. My family just don’t know it yet. I push myself out into the stream of pedestrians, and point my feet towards the place I grew up.
The crowds thin out as I leave the shopping streets, and hit the residential zone. My shoulders are screaming at me, telling me what I already know – I should have left more stuff in Sydney.  I should have left myself there. I stop at Number 24. Grandma and Granddad’s house. Before Granddad passed away. The letterbox is still the same, and I touch it for luck, before walking on, walking to Number 32.
There used to be orange curtains in my room, overlooking the street. Now they’re green. I hate green. The downstairs lights are on, so someone must be home. As I open the gate, I notice my hands are shaking. Tired shoulders. The anxious knot in my stomach doesn’t let me lie to myself. At this point, I am sure I should have stayed in Australia, and put this moment off for another year or four. The three steps to the front door seem to take a year, but before I’m ready, my traitorous hand has snaked out and rung the bell.
There’s a clatter of small feet, and a pixie opens the door. A suspicious pixie, who frowns up at me. We stare at each other because the pixie doesn’t know me at all, and because I can’t figure out which of my sister’s children is hiding under that floppy green hat. We’re saved by the pixie’s mother, who comes waddling down the hallway.
‘Fergus, who is it? I’ve told you not to open the door without asking who it…Holy Mary, Mother of God. It’s your Aunty Isabel.’
I’m engulfed in my sister’s warm arms before I can say a word, my rucksack getting stuck in the doorway as I’m pulled inside.
‘Mum! Paul! Issy’s back! Oh, Gran’s going to have another heart attack at this. You’re soaked right through. You should have called. Mike could have picked you up, for sure.’
The offending pack gets dumped in the hallway, to drip all alone on the doormat. The pixie who, as it turns out, is my sister’s youngest child (but not for long, judging by the size of my sister’s belly), skips ahead of us, singing Jingle Bells for good measure. The twenty-fourth. Lunch. A family tradition that I’d forgotten. Everyone is going to be in the kitchen. I wonder if they’ll be able to make room for one more. An almost-stranger now.
We enter, and as I look at the over-loaded table, and the crowd of faces, showing various expressions of shock, surprise and happiness, I remember. And I realize.
This is not the wrong decision. This is the right decision for me, right now. I’m not a stranger. This is my family and home is where I need to be. I pull up a chair, and Mum places a plate in front of me, and squeezes my shoulder.
‘It’s good to have you back, Isabel. Merry Christmas.’

The end

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Entertaining and Eating Out - two new experiences.

Last Thursday was a VERY special day. An old friend from my AFS Turkiye days (1988-89!), who makes amazing chocolates on a small island in Maine (blackdinahchocolatiers) was visiting Italy with her husband and two friends...two VEGAN friends! Via facebook, we organised to meet, which in the end turned out to be lunch at mine. First time entertaining since becoming vegan. I was VERY excited. And in my focus on "cooking for friends, cooking for vegans" I forgot to worry about the "cooking for a chef" part! Oops!

Our menu was as follows:

Bruschetta - plain garlic, olive patè, artichoke patè

Wholemeal pennette with Puttanesca sauce

Roast potato and parsley pesto salad

Beetroot and Blood Orange salad

Carrot and Sesame Salad

Leek and Mushroom Quiche (which was a bit of a disaster! I made the filling with soy cream, but didn't add enough cornflour and it didn't set. I ended up scooping out the filling into a pot, stirring in more cornflour and cooking it until it thickened, then pouring it back into the pie crust! - it still tasted ok-ish).

For dessert we had soy icecream (store-bought), with homemade vegan chocolate sauce (which was a crazy choice, considering I was cooking for a Chocolatier! Eek! However, she declared it delicious - I think I had VERY polite lunch guests ;-) )

It was a real pleasure entertaining as a vegan, and cooking for vegans. The discussion about the whys and wherefores was interesting as well.

That was Thursday, and on Saturday I had another first. First time eating out as a vegan. I planned ahead. Luckily in Italy, because they generally cook from scratch in restaurants, instead of cook chill which is common in some places, as a vegan you can ask chef to leave out things, or change things around a bit. It helped that the friends I was dining with know the restaurant owners, too! There was much hilarity as I tried to explain what I DO eat (everything EXCEPT that which comes from animals...yes, that means honey, too), and in the end, I had a very satisfying and delicious meal!

Bruschetta with olive and tomato
Borlotti beans with porcini mushrooms (to die for! Honestly!)
Hand-rolled spaghetti with simple tomato sauce.
Fruit salad for dessert.

Perfect :-)

And to top off the week, I just discovered a recipe for the best hummus I've ever made!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Challenge Fail!

Sorry. It's one thing becoming vegan (which was so much easier than I expected it to be). It's a whole other thing trying to get a very unfit 40 year old body into REAL exercise every day...
I started so well, but fizzled on Thursday. That was a given, really, because of teaching from 8 until 5, with lots of driving in there too. You may remember that I'd done double duty (exercise-wise) on Wednesday...well, my knees really let me know what they thought about THAT on Thursday. So I decided my sprint from car to school to car to school to high school to school to car was plenty. Then there was some excuse (like needing to work on the DELTA) on Friday which stopped me, then I examined for PET/FCE most of the day Saturday, and it rained today. (Nobody mention the orbital trainer upstairs in the warm and dry...).
So I've failed.
And I'd love to say ... well, I'll just jump back in tomorrow...but I think we all know THAT isn't going to happen. I'll stick with the vegan challenge, and passing the DELTA with more than just a pass (ha ha ha), and perhaps in the summer time, will be more movement-inclined. Ho-hum...