Mini-adventures on minimal holidays

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During the last two weeks of the summer holidays, I enjoyed some time at home, as well as a couple of teen-tiny mini-breaks. Having a fortnight’s leave has been a blessing for which I’ve been grateful and I’ve really appreciated going at a slower pace for a while.

Mini-adventures by the sea

Although we didn’t have a family holiday this year, what has been a revelation is that a single night away (with a day either side) can be as refreshing as a longer vacation.

During my first week, with my daughter, the two of us enjoyed a luxurious single night’s stay in South Devon at the Harbour Spa Hotel in stylish Salcombe. Just over 200 miles away from home, the South Hams district is probably the farthest I’d want to travel for just one night, but it’s still possible.

Arriving in Salcombe at 12:15, we abandoned our bags and headed straight out for a walk up to South Beach, where we visited the Ginnel Gallery, indulging in an ice-cream at Bo’s Beach Cafe, before catching the South Beach Ferry back to Salcombe Harbour. Just as Warwickshire was beginning to feel the first touches of the changing seasons, Salcombe was still holding onto summer and we loved feeling the sun on our faces once again.

What’s lovely about a break like this is that the thought processes around it are minimal (we booked just a couple of weeks beforehand) and the packing required little more than an overnight bag and change of clothes (the minimalist’s ideal break!).

After a 3-course meal at the hotel, we slept like babies, but were up and at ’em the following morning to make the most of being by the sea. After a quick stroll to watch the boats and do some window-shopping, we had a brief time in the hotel spa before setting off for home early afternoon. With just over 24 hours in our little Devon bubble, it felt like we’d had a proper little holiday.

Mini-holiday number 2

For our second mini-adventure, Mr G and I stayed closer to home with a night in the Cotswolds. This time, we were keen to get some serious walking done, as my ambition for 2020 is to begin walking stretches of the South West Coast Path (SWCP) (along which Salcombe proudly sits).

The SWCP is a challenging 630 mile trek from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, taking in the coastline of Exmoor, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. It’s not for the faint-hearted; the route sees hikers go up and down the equivalent of Mount Everest four times. So, train we must.

Our chosen hiking ‘boot camp’ was within easy reach of Warwickshire. To test our stamina, our first trail had us climb some steep hills in a circular walk from Stanton via Snowshill Manor, through Stanway and back to Stanton. Using AllTrails, this particular walk didn’t have any ‘waypoints’ so we did get a bit lost a couple of times, but were able to get back on track by following the GPS tracker on the app. Stanway was particularly pretty and there’s always a hidden gem you discover en route, such as Stanway House and Fountain.

This time, our night away was at a lovely B&B in Stanton, handily situated for us to be able to jog back up the hill for an evening meal at the local pub.

Day 2, fuelled by a very good breakfast, we embarked upon one half of the Winchcombe Way, with more climbing but some rather splendiferous views from Cleeve Common. At the of the two days, we’d manage to clock up around 37 km in total, including a few good workouts for our hearts and lungs!

Bonus points for mini-adventures

Here’s the deal about mini-adventures like these: they are relatively low-cost, compared to a whole week (or longer) on what you might call a ‘proper holiday’. This means that the stakes are low; if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, it’s no big deal.

A hotel break can certainly be expensive if you stay for a few days, but you can still enjoy a luxury experience, often including a great late deal, if you’re only going for a night or two. By contrast, our Cotswolds trip was a bargain; our B&B accommodation was only £75 for the night and a meal for two at Stanton’s Mount Inn £55 (plus tip), making this trip very good value indeed.

It’s also fun to get a glimpse, however brief, on another part of the world. So, somehow, you feel like you’ve been away for much longer than you actually have.

The other benefit of enjoying mini-breaks like this is that you still get stuff done at home, catching up with a few jobs around the house or doing routine appointments that are more difficult to fit into your schedule during the working week.

So, all in all, I’d recommend these mini-adventures wholeheartedly. My next one (to France) is in just 3 weeks’ time! Where will you head to next?


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What would you take if you only had 15 minutes?

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Image from <a href=”http://Image by Boke9a from Pixabay“>Boke9a via Pixabay

 

Here in the UK, over the last couple of weeks, the nation has been watching and waiting after the dam wall at Toddbrook Reservoir in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, was damaged during heavy rain. Around 1500 local residents were evacuated from their homes, following fears that the dam would burst resulting in a loss of life.

During the period in which the emergency services worked tirelessly to repair the dam in order to lower water levels as quickly as possible, residents were given just 15 minutes to re-enter their homes and retrieve their most important possessions.

What would you take with you, if you only had a quarter of an hour in which to do it?

My most important possessions

I thought about what I’d take if I only had a few minutes in which to grab my most precious possessions.

Having ‘let go’ of so much stuff in the past few years (notably in the last 3), it was fairly easy to work out what I’d retrieve. There were only 3 categories:

  1. Official certificates and documentation
  2. Sentimental items
  3. Photograph albums

I can honestly say there is truly nothing else I couldn’t replace, if the worst came to the worst.

Official certificates

Consider how difficult it would be to replace your passport, driving license, birth certificate, degree certificate or other official documentation. I’d definitely grab my file in which I keep most of those items.

Whilst it’s possible to obtain certified copies, I’ll bet it’s a bit of a nuisance. I suppose it would, at least, be useful to make scanned copies. Note to self!

Sentimental items

I have hardly any sentimental items left, since my major decluttering efforts. But I do have a couple of small items of jewellery I’d grab (I love rings – always have).

Photographs

I’d also be pulling photograph albums off the shelves. Although we have a great many photos stored online, there are some collections from ‘the early days’ for which there are no digital equivalents. I’m glad we do have a digital collection, though. Our ‘Google home’ device plays a lazy ‘slide show’ of photos we’ve taken over the years, evoking memories of places we’ve been and family occasions we’ve enjoyed.

But none of this has meaning when you consider the plight of people who lose their homes; lose their health (or both).

Inspirational stories from those who live with less

I’ve been devouring Raynor Winn’s wonderful book,  The Salt Path. Made suddently homeless following a legal case gone wrong, Winn and her husband, Moth, find themselves with no house, no money and no income. Worse, to coincide with the terrifying experience of losing their home and livelihood, Moth is diagnosed with an incurable health condition.

So, with literally nothing to lose, the Winns embark on an extraordinary 630 mile journey, walking the South West Coast Path from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. Surviving on horribly meagre rations and camping off the beaten track, Winn explores the nature of homelessness (encountering some interesting reactions along the way).

What’s inspiring, is that at no point does Winn bemoan the lack of home comforts. It’s interesting that – when you’re really up against it – the need for ‘stuff’ disappears and what’s important is more fundamental, more truthful and more about people and experiences than anything money could buy.

I’m glad to say the people of Whaley Bridge have now returned to their homes; how glad they must be to be back. I wonder if what is now most important for them might have changed throughout their ordeal? And what would you take if you only had 15 minutes?


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3 things you need to do this weekend

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How did you spend last weekend? Perhaps you spent time on chores, catching up from the week, or maybe you enjoyed a hectic round of social events?

In her podcast, Before Breakfast, Laura Vanderkam discusses ways to maximise a short weekend (aimed especially at those who perhaps work on a Saturday or Sunday). She advocates prioritising 3 things that will help make the most of your time off, no matter how long you get:

  • Something social
  • Something spiritual
  • Something physical

For me, last weekend fulfilled all of those ideas.

Something social

Last weekend was somewhat extended for me, as it began with a light meal and a catch-up old friends on the Thursday evening.

My ‘Gin and Books’ group followed on Friday, with a spirited discussion on Joanna Nadin’s The Queen of Bloody Everything. Some of us really loved it; others weren’t so keen. So, maybe it’s a ‘marmite’ book. Either way, the gin was lovely; I sampled Strawberry Gin with an Elderflower Tonic.

The following day, I was was scheduled to do my fortnightly Pets as Therapy visit with Ollie, our (almost) 6 year old cockapoo. This combined both the social with the ‘spiritual’ as my heart sings when I see the enjoyment of the residents in the nursing home I visit visibly perk up when they see us.

It’s rare to have 3 social events in quick succession; I wonder why they all arrive at once?

Something spiritual

If you’ve ever been a singer in a group (or even enjoyed singing in church), you’ll know about those spine-tingling moments when you experience a musical moment of perfection.

Anything that’s good for the soul will give you a tick in the box when it comes to ‘something spiritual’. For me, that was baking a lemon drizzle cake on Saturday morning in honour of our daughter’s return from a few days away. Simple pleasures, such as enjoying a lovely cup of tea in the garden or a quiet soak in the bath, can really be uplifting.

Something physical

Our ‘something physical’ last week was a long walk – straight from our house – down to the Millennium Trail, which follows the path round Kenilworth Castle. This morning’s walk followed part of that route, but it’s raining heavily, which is odd since we experienced baking temperatures on Thursday!

We know that getting out in nature is good for us (more on this here), so we try to do this, even if it’s chucking it down!

I love the idea that these 3 simple suggestions can help us make the most of the time we have off. So, what will you be doing this weekend? I’m certainly going to remember to try to incorporate a bit of each: something social; something spiritual; and something physical.


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Rambling along the English Coastal Path

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Craster, Northumberland

We’ve just returned from a week in the most northerly county of England: Northumberland (so called because it is situated on land north of the River Humber).

Having fallen in love with the South West when our daughter was small, my heart has always called me back to Cornwall. However, when Mr G suggested we explore another stretch of British coastline, I agreed to accept the challenge.

We rented our home for the week through Coquet Cottages, an award-winning luxury holiday cottage company. This turned out to be a brilliant choice; it was delightful, as you’ll have seen from some of my most recent Instagram posts and stories.

Heading North

The first difference to the breaks we’d previously enjoyed was that this was a Friday to Friday holiday. This meant that I finished work on the Thursday evening, ready for our drive ‘up North’ the following morning.

Our route was incredibly simple. Once we were on the M1, we headed straight up to Leeds from where we picked up the A1, stopping to enjoy the friendly atmosphere of the Black Bull pub near to Scotch Corner.

On we travelled, arriving at the cottage in late afternoon, before heading off to explore the beach at Warkworth, our nearest village. It was such a thrill to walk over the dunes and find ourselves on stretch of golden sand that extended as far as the eye could see.

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Beautiful beaches

A castle on every corner

From that first moment, we knew we’d found somewhere rather special. With what seems like a castle on every corner, Northumberland combines stunning, unspoilt coastline with countryside to rival anywhere we’d been before. We couldn’t wait to explore.

During the course of the week, we did a lot of walking, which was a complete delight (even in the light rain we endured when doing a circular walk from Hauxley Nature Reserve, via the water’s edge, and back again). This was life lived at a slower pace, simply and with time to notice and appreciate our surroundings.

Wonderful walks

These were the real highlights:

  • Dunstanburgh Castle from Craster (pick up some fresh Kippers for your tea on the way back in Craster)
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Dunstanburgh Castle
  • Seahouses to Bamburgh Castle (and back) (our longest walk at 11.4 km and just under 19,000 steps.
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Bamburgh Castle
  • A circular walk from the beautiful village of Rothbury, about half an hour from the coast and the home of Cragside, owned by the National Trust. Here, you have a real sense that you’re in Border country; the landscape is more dramatic and the stone properties suggest a hardy existence in winter. Plus, we were treated to our very own private air show, as a pair of fighter jets flew right over our heads, as we crossed the moor. 
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Rothbury

We also visited Alnwick (pronounced Ann-ick), home of the famous Alnwick Castle (but not dog friendly, so we couldn’t go inside). Alnwick is best known for two famous Harrys: Harry Hotspur (who features in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One) and Harry Potter (the castle was one of the film locations for the Harry Potter series).

Nearby Alnmouth (Alun-muth), whose image features on the home page of Coquet Cottages’ website, was another gem. Ollie, our 5 year old cockapoo, was very happy playing catch-ball on the beach there.

Cosy evenings

During the evenings, once I managed to get the logburner going, we settled down to enjoy a glass of wine and a good book. I’ve been reading Raynor Winn’s wonderful memoir, The Salt Path, which charts the journey of Winn and her husband, Moth, as they walk the 630-mile South West Coastal Path. It’s a terrific read (and I’m not going to give the story away – you have to read it!), evoking memories of many of the places we’d visited over the years of holidaying in Devon and Cornwall. Theirs was no afternoon stroll, however; the Winns were wild-camping and completely exposed to the elements, but this book got me thinking about the therapeutic nature of walking.

Walking for health

As humans, we’re meant to walk. It’s kinder to our joints than running but has all the same health benefits (you just have to do it for longer). There’s also something meditative and calming about walking outdoors; the steady, rhythmic aspect of trekking – coupled with clean, fresh air – blows the cobwebs away and allows you to get a different perspective on life.

It seems we’re not alone in thinking that walking is a good idea; it appears we’re right ‘on trend.’ An article in The Guardian suggests that walking is now considered cool.

Walking for good

Not just ‘cool’, walking remains a force for good. Take Becky and Jamie Gunning who’ve just walked 198 miles (coast to coast) in 7 days to raise money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity – and jolly well managed to raise over £20k. You can check out Becky’s Instagram to find out more.

Closer to home, the young people from my daughter’s school recently took part in a gruelling 24 mile walk across the top of the Coventry Way (some did the whole hog at 40 miles), also raising money for a jolly good cause.

So, an idea is forming (with a little nudge from my friend, Rae). It is said that when men experience a mid-life crisis, they buy a fast car. Women go walking. Well, I may not be in crisis, but I have a zero birthday not too far ahead. Maybe I’ll give myself a little walking challenge of my own. I’d certainly like to return to lovely Northumbria; a few more ramblings along the English coastal path would be just lovely.


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Slow-down hacks for a simpler summer

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It’s been a whole month since my last post, so I’ve been desperate to get back to the blog. How are you all?

The reasons for my silence are twofold: Mr G has been jetting around Europe for work (Warsaw twice; Prague once), so life’s a bit different when he’s not around (all you single parents out there, you have my utmost respect).

Plus, I’ve been spending some extra time during the evenings, sitting alongside our 17-year-old in the car, to enable her to practise her driving skills. Having past her theory test, she now has her practical booked for next month, so we’re keeping everything crossed.

Happily, after what has also been a very intense period at work, I’m really looking forward to the summer. It’s a great time to slow down and simplify life a little bit, so here are some hacks for you that I’m going to be putting into practice once school’s out.

Switch your mode of transport

Even when you’re at work over the summer, if your journey permits it, try changing your mode of transport. My workplace is just 5 miles away, so I’ll be dusting off my bicycle and whizzing to the office via the cycle paths. I don’t want to cycle all year round (the route is not fully lit), but when the mornings and evenings are filled with sunlight, it’s lovely being able to arrive at the office feeling oxygen-filled and energised by a bike ride.

I met another Sixth Form parent on Thursday who told me that she’d recently taken part in the school’s 100 mile charity bike ride in France; she suggested I go along next time. I don’t know about that, but I might just manage 10 miles a day!

Eat simply

Did I tell you that I’m loving Madeleine Shaw’s cookbook, Ready Steady Glow (recommended to me by fellow blogger, Glamour in the County). Full of easy-to-make, tasty and nutritious recipes, Shaw’s way of cooking has me getting meals on the table – from start to finish – in less than half an hour. Even better, I’m going to be choosing her simple salads to throw together during the week this summer. That will leave the weekends for some more self-indulgent and time-consuming culinary creations.

Dine outside

Talking of food, we love eating out when the weather is fine. Last year’s heatwave saw us making very good use of our patio set. This year, so far, we’ve had a very wet June but I live in hope that the weather during the school holidays will be kind to us.

Today is going to be the hottest yet and I am – unusually – at home entirely alone. Mr G has taken our teen to a university open day and Ollie-bobs (cockapoo) is at the groomer’s.

Invite others

I’m hoping to follow in the footsteps of inveterate people-gatherer Sarah Harmeyer of www.neighborstable.com whose story I read about in the latest issue of Simplify Magazine.

Harmeyer’s welcoming ethos is an inspiration to us all; keeping it simple, but extending the hand of friendship to all-comers is something I’m going to try to do more of during the holidays.

Get those jobs done

This week saw the start of a series of household jobs we’ve been meaning to get done for some time. Somehow it seems easier to be doing work on the house when the weather is fine.

Plus, we’re doing some jobs that really should be done in the summer months. First up, we’re replacing our home’s 30 year old gutters and drainpipes and repairing a part of the roof. We’ll be glad we did this come the autumn.

Get your sea fix

This year, we’re visiting the Northumbrian coast for the first time. Fellow cockapoo owners have recommended some dog-friendly places to visit (and eat) and we’re staying in a cottage that’s managed by an award-winning lettings agency. It’s my dream to one day visit places such as New England. In the meantime, we’ll take the simpler route of jumping in the car in ‘old England’ and heading north. We should be there in around 4-5 hours and are looking forward to the slower pace of coastal living.

Dress simply

The loveliest thing about summer is being able to slip on a dress, dig your feet into sandals (or trainers if the weather’s a bit inclement – I’m loving the white trainers trend), grabbing a bag then heading out of the door. I don’t know about you, but I also think that summer is a time when you can afford to dress a little more casually; be comfortable; and be a little more sartorially relaxed.

What are your favourite summer hacks? Do let me know by replying in the comments below!


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Declaring email bankruptcy

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There’s something distinctly unfunny about writing a whole blog post on managing emails, only to make a monumental error and lose the whole post. That just happened to me!

So, this feels a bit like having to re-do a piece of homework, but I hope that – on reading this post – you’ll feel it was worthwhile topic of conversation.

Simplifying your inbox

So much of our working lives revolve around composing, reviewing, reading, forwarding, saving, filing, retrieving – or even recalling – those little electronic postcards we call email.

Like me, if you have already been successful in simplifying other aspects of your life, applying some organisational principles to electronic mail is another step towards minimalism.

Emails falling like raindrops

On Bank Holiday Monday (Memorial Day to my lovely US readers), I spent some time that morning sitting at my breakfast bar, catching up on work emails.

Whilst it could be argued that I shouldn’t be doing this, the reality was that I’d had a very full diary during the preceding week, so there were quite a few emails that needed even just a little attention. This quiet couple of hours, with a lovely cup of coffee at my side, meant that I could regain a sense of overall control and feel positive about resuming work the following day knowing that I was on top of things.

Is email ‘real’ work?

If you listen to Laura Vanderkam’s Before Breakfast podcast, you may have heard the episode in which Laura suggests allotting specific time slots during the day for handling email correspondence.

This is a good idea, as you can then close your mailbox when undertaking other focused activities and avoid the lure of dealing with a quick message as soon as it arrives. In my case, I have switched off notifications and I try to make sure I’ve retrieved anything I need from my mailbox, before embarking on a non-email task.

Interruptions are sometimes welcome, but the reality is that they are such a distraction that we can take some time to recover and re-focus on the task in hand.

That said, email isn’t just ‘noise’. In my organisation, it is “real work” so we can’t ignore it.

Managing the inbox

I’ve written about this before, but when I’m having a proper sprint through my inbox, I’ll intentionally sort received items by Subject. This way, if there’s been a conversation on a particular topic, I can delete all but the very latest message and see the whole trail in one email.

I’m now also much more inclined to press ‘delete’ on as many messages as possible and don’t need to file anything that’s just a casual ‘thank you’ or acknowledgement.

Surely, there are other ways to communicate?

I work in Higher Education, so some of my colleagues with teaching-focussed roles find that handling email becomes even more of a challenge for them, as they aren’t seated at a desk all of the time. Recently, we’ve been discussing how we can improve internal communications to this group of staff, so that they perhaps receive a digest of items on a regular basis, rather than a drip-drip-drip of regular emails.

For my own part, wherever possible, I pick up the phone to speak to someone, rather than sending yet another message.

What do you do in your workplace?

What about personal emails?

I use gmail for personal mail, but I want to avoid it becoming ‘grrr-mail’. I want to read ‘good-mail’!

So, I have deliberately and very intentionally unsubscribed from practically all the marketing emails that I used to receive. This way, the only mail that comes through my virtual letterbox is genuinely useful, informative or necessary.

Listening to one of my favourite podcasts recently, I was struck by a suggestion that a great happiness hack would be to ‘declare bankruptcy’ on a mailbox that had simply got out of hand. Surely, this is the ultimate digital declutter?!  I find the financial analogy amusing but could we (dare we) go that far?

Have you ever done that? However tempting that may be, I don’t think I’d delete an account (or walk away from it), unless I’d really wound it down properly.

P.S.

Of course, the irony of this is not lost on me; I know this post is likely to be coming to you via your own inbox (and I’m glad you’re there!). So drop me a line via email (ha ha!) or reply to this post by clicking on ‘reply’ below. I’d love to hear from you.


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Why it’s important to let our teens fail

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In our family, we have a running joke about timekeeping, which came about because our daughter has always operated in a way that is more lastminute.com than ‘early bird catches the worm.’

The joke is that our teen should never join the emergency services because the siren would sound and she’d be calling, “I’ll be there in a minute!”

Being under-prepared

There is, though, a serious point here. Being unprepared or disorganised not only puts the individual concerned under pressure; it can also place a burden on others.

If your child is late for school and you’re driving her, you’re going to risk being late yourself. At the other end of the day, her having forgotten to take her key means you have to leave work early to go home to let her in.

There are other examples. I wonder if they are familiar to you?

  • Not having the necessary PE kit ready (which puts pressure on others to lend theirs)
  • Discovering the list of ingredients required for a cookery class only on the way to the supermarket to purchase them the night before they are required (meaning we duplicate what we already have in the cupboard because we don’t have time to go home first and measure out the quantities)
  • Having to pay a next-day-delivery charge for a new item of clothing (adds unnecessary cost to a purchase that could have been done many days before)
  • Forgetting to send a calendar invitation for an appointment, then finding that the parent you were relying on to take you now has other plans

In spite of reminders that are intended to be helpful, we still seem to sort things out at the 11th hour. Why?

Safe fails

Yesterday, I was with a very dear friend whose twin boys I am privileged to call my Godsons. As the mum of an older daughter who also has a teenager in the same year as my own, my wise pal pointed out an obvious truth that hadn’t previously occurred to me. That is, every time you sweep in and solve a problem for your offspring, you’re preventing them from having a learning experience.

We need to let our kids fail in a safe environment, so that they are better equipped to cope when we aren’t around to pick up the pieces.

Helicopter parenting

As a working mum, I’ve never hovered over my child, anticipating her every need. However, in wanting to be supportive, it could be argued that I’ve been a little bit too eager to step in to facilitate or solve a problem. In so doing, I’m potentially preventing my teenager from learning a valuable lesson.

Living with the consequences

So, what’s the worst thing that can happen if she doesn’t have her PE kit? In the lower school, she’d have got a detention. In Sixth Form, she might be resourceful, but she’d still have the inconvenience of sorting out the problem herself.

What if she doesn’t have her cooking ingredients? She’ll have to explain herself. This is potentially embarrassing but might make her think twice about not being adequately prepared.

Independence is not neglect

When our daughter was little, we adopted a little saying, “Independence is not neglect.” But I seem to have forgotten this now that she is older. I wonder why?

In spite of this, I am occasionally (pleasantly) surprised. Today, she tells me that she not only completed the short piece of research for her French homework, as required. She printed it 7 times (one for each member of the class and a copy for the teacher). She also provided an English translation on the reverse of each sheet and hole-punched each one so it would slot into everyone’s folder. This was totally unprompted and no-one else in the class had done it. If you can figure that out, you are a better person than I.

Maybe the highly-organised gene hasn’t completely skipped a generation. I’ll live in hope.

Plus, maybe I’ll let the odd thing slip from now on. After all, if we don’t make mistakes, we don’t make anything. And that’s a valuable lesson for us all.


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