Shadows: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome to the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s theme is shadows.

The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say.

Gregory Maguire

Shadows lurk around the edges of our consciousnesses, intensifying our feelings, darkening our thoughts and making us question things. But without shadows, we wouldn’t be able to see anything at all! Your challenge is to capture an image of a shadow.

These can be real shadows or imaginary ones. They can be images representing the shadows which hold you back or make you doubt yourself, or the shadows that dance under the kitchen light when you make a midnight snack. I can’t wait to see what you can come up with!

My photo is of the shadows that formed beneath a staircase in Seoul, South Korea, at twilight. I love the way these shadows seem to show the spiral isn’t at the same angle across the three turns of the stairway. At the top was a beautiful flower-filled bridge with trees planted in containers that seemed to be floating in the half-light.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution and check out your blog.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Gift: Come join the Thursday photo challenge!

Welcome to the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! You don’t have to be an expert artistic photographer (I’m not), just someone with a passion for pictures!

This week’s Thursday photo challenge theme is gift. Share a photo you have taken of a gift. It doesn’t have to be a present, it could be a gift like a talent, or a gift of kindness toward someone, or any other way you choose to interpret it! I love the things people come up with for photo challenges!

“The past is history. The future is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

Oogway, Kung Fu Panda

My photo of a gift is from Seoul, South Korea, where we found vending machines selling bunches of mixed flowers and beautiful arrangements of roses and greenery for people who needed a gift for their loved ones on the way home from a long day at the office. I thought it was such a beautiful idea. A gift vending machine brings joy to people and reminds us to think of others amidst the daily hustle.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

10 Homeschooling ideas for Lego or Mega Bloks Construx

When you are homeschooling, sometimes you just want to give your child something to do, that doesn’t involve a screen, and to know they are learning something.

Lego/Mega Bloks Construx/other building products are perfect for this. Just buy a big bucket of blocks and use these ideas to keep your child busy and learning without any input (or minimum input) from you.

Younger children are very easily attracted to Lego, but even older children will find a challenge with some of the tasks you can set them using blocks that push together.

For older children, using Lego to express extremely complex ideas from the maths and science curriculum can help compound their learning, or you can use it as a starter to introduce a new topic.

I have also made a printable which you can print out, which is a deck of 21 things to build with Lego, for when you need a quick draw activity to instantly engage your child. You can download the free printable here.

You can also use the printable cards as a reward, e.g. if they have finished the work on another task, let them choose a card, as inspiration for something to build with Lego or Mega Bloks Construx.

Set them a challenge like building the tallest tower that doesn’t fall down using only yoghurt pots, then when you come back ask them how many yoghurt pots made the tallest tower and what might make the tower stand up better, then giving them time to try other ways to get the tower to stay up (glue, making the base out of three yoghurt pots and building up, etc).

Here are 10 activities your child can do with construction blocks such as Lego or Mega Bloks Construx that you could turn into an investigation or lesson (and which will give you time to teach your other children or make yourself a drink):

  1. What is the tallest tower you can build? You could use this to teach younger children about how buildings stay upright and, for older children, centre of mass and balance for GCSE physics.
  2. Put twelve blocks together. How many different ways can they split it evenly (two groups of 6, three groups of 4, four groups of 3, etc)? You could use this to introduce factors for a maths lesson.
  3. Put twenty blocks together. How many times can they split it in half? You could use this to introduce fractions for a maths lesson.
  4. Make one row that is one block, the next row is one, the next is two, three, five… each time get them to add together the last two numbers in the sequence to find the size of the next row. You could use this to introduce the Fibonacci sequence, an important number sequence that can be found in nature.
  5. Can you make a circle out of Lego, if you have enough bricks?
  6. Design a car. It has to be different to the last one your child made. Ask them to make it out of a different type of brick, or with different size wheels, or similar. You can then use the Lego car to test out physics questions (especially if they can make a ramp) such as friction (how much do they need to tilt the ramp before gravity allows it to roll down).
  7. Older children could make a 2-D Lego model of a plant or animal cell (or both) to compare the features of the two.
  8. Make a scene out of Lego, complete with minifigures, and use it as a creative writing prompt for your child.
  9. Make a balance beam with a long piece of Lego. The child can attach bricks at different distances and find out when the beam tilts. For example, one block, six studs away, should be able to be balanced with two blocks on the other side that is three studs away. You can use this to teach children from age 11 upwards (even through A-level if they need the reminder) about forces and distances from a pivot point (these are called moments).
  10. Using minifigures, look at their faces. They often have different expressions. Your child needs to write down what emotion each character is expressing, and describe their face (such as “eyebrows are close together and diagonal”, for frowning). This is especially good for children who are struggling to interpret emotions of the people around them. You could take this further by asking (for example) “why might this figure be angry?” Once the child has thought of something that makes them angry, you could move onto, “What could you do to make them feel better?”

There are thousands more things you can do with Lego, these are just a selection of things that I think would link closely to the national curriculum. Lego can be far more of a learning tool than the boxes imply. The best Lego to get for education is a bucket with a good mixture of lots of different shapes and sizes of Lego.

If you are using Mega Bloks Construx, these are compatible with Lego, but some other types of construction block don’t stick to Lego due to being very slightly too big or small. In my experience, Mega Bloks Construx don’t stick as tightly to Lego as other pieces of Lego do, but if you’re on a budget, they are definitely worth considering.

We have some of the bigger baby-size Mega Bloks and our little one loves them, although they are not compatible with Duplo (the next size up of Mega Bloks is, though). The plastic on the baby-sized ones is softer and I think he likes them because they are very chewable, perfect for teething babies. The baby-size Mega Bloks also have the advantage of being suitable from age 1 whereas Duplo is age 2+. When it comes to the smaller bricks, however, they are largely identical to Lego (the Construx range by Mega Bloks is for ages 5+) and there’s a thriving world of Mega Bloks Construx out there which you can discover.

Need some Lego? Get a big box here on UK Amazon or here on US Amazon (neither ships to Ireland but this smaller box does).

Lego, Duplo, Mega Bloks and Mega Bloks Construx are registered trademarks of their respective companies.

There’s a better way to get the vaccine out. Why aren’t they doing it?

In the 1950s Britain, a district nurse used to go from house to house giving life-saving medication to people with a certain illness. The medication was insulin. The illness was diabetes. Nowadays, around the world, diabetics are injecting themselves with insulin every day. They are in better control of their illness and able to monitor it themselves.

What changed?

One day, the NHS (national health service) decided they didn’t have the resources and staffing to send a district nurse to people’s homes to give them their insulin. So, instead, anyone with diabetes who was deemed capable, was taught how to inject themselves with their insulin.

But surely that’s quite hard? Surely there must be a lot of practice and trial and error, before people learn this skill?

What if I told you there wasn’t?

When I had a Caesarian Section last year, I was discharged with eight pre-loaded syringes of something called Clexane. This is a blood thinner to stop you getting a blood clot after major surgery while you are recovering. I had to inject myself with it for eight days. It was as straightforward as finding a place to put it, putting the needle against my skin and pressing the plunger down. It stung, and sometimes left bruising, but it was only for eight days so that was largely irrelevant.

But surely that only works for that one thing?

Nope. In January, my son was rushed to A + E with anaphylaxis. He has a peanut allergy. We were given an Epi-Pen and told how to use it. An Epi-Pen, like Clexane, is a pre-loaded syringe which anyone can use.

They are saying they can’t get the vaccine to people fast enough in the UK because they don’t have enough trained clinicians who can do it. My question is, why are we using trained clinicians at all? Why are we not just going door-to-door, asking how many live in the house, and handing out the right number of pre-loaded vaccine syringes?

Normally, we have accepted the cultural myth that vaccines are delivered in a clinical environment such as a hospital or school, but right now, in the current state of emergency, when the whole world is depending on getting this vaccine before life can return to normal, it makes absolutely no sense that trained clinicians are the limiting factor stopping the vaccine from being rolled out. Worse than that, the mass clinics, like the one I was asked to attend for my flu vaccine in December, are a hotspot for spreading a virus like this. People will get the virus before the vaccine can protect them.

Now, some of the approved vaccines need to be stored in a particular way. But there is already capacity to maintain those storage conditions during delivery, otherwise it wouldn’t safely get to clinics. Other Covid vaccines don’t need to be stored in such specific conditions. Assuming the pre-loaded syringes can cope with the temperature at which the vaccine needs to be stored (some plastic goes very brittle under extreme low temperature), all of them could be put into pre-loaded syringes.

Nothing about this approach makes any sense. If the vaccine is the sole end-point of this mass vaccination program, it would be good if the vaccine companies re-think their delivery method, put the vaccine into pre-loaded syringes and give them out that way.

If not… then what is the purpose of this program? Is its secondary purpose to record who has definitively received the vaccine rather than who was given the correct number of syringes for their household? Why? If, as has been said, there are no plans to restrict the movements of those who have not been vaccinated, why is the vaccine not being manufactured in pre-loaded syringes and given out to people door-to-door for immediate use?

The sudden explosion of Covid in children: Why is it being downplayed?

A news article earlier this evening about children with Covid was published on the Telegraph which was later, hastily removed again.

It stuck in my craw a little because it was about the hospitalisation rates of children. At the same time, well known UK discussion site Mumsnet was aggressively deleting threads discussing the same thing.

Why?

The latest news is that there are about 50 children a day being hospitalised with Covid. Teaching unions, councils and parents have been begging the government to shut the schools for weeks but they refused. Even now, it’s being treated as a massive inconvenience rather than a terrifying reality that our children could be threatened by Covid. The current narrative is that children can’t get Covid, but that, when they do get Covid, they don’t get very ill with it. It would appear this article is a direct contradiction of that.

Luckily, the Telegraph article about this was hastily archived and you can find the full text here. I also have my own copy of this article, which I snapshotted. There was also a Radio 5 Live interview (clip available on Twitter here) with a nurse saying basically the same thing. And the Department of Health’s own statistics say 40-50 children are being admitted with Covid every day at the moment in England alone.

It’s hard to know what is true, these days, but there was some reason to believe, when lots of threads on the same topic were being hastily deleted on Mumsnet by moderators due to them allegedly containing “conspiracy theories” (they really didn’t), that this is being kept quiet.

I don’t know why the article was taken down but that, in itself, was enough reason for me to do something. I wanted to write an article about this, to keep the topic alive until more information comes out. Are they taking it down to get their story straight, or to minimise a real emergency, or something else entirely? I don’t care to speculate.

I will, of course, update you if I am asked to take this down (within the parameters of that request). It won’t be the first time I’ve been asked by an organization to take down an article. I guess that’s the problem with being an independent journalist who isn’t beholden to any given establishment.

Top 5 ways to cut your own hair at home alone

Many of my friends have been wondering how to cut their hair at home without any help. With so many of us being under lockdown this holiday season, it’s not surprising. I have done this a few times with varied results.

So here’s my top 5 ways to cut your own hair at home, alone.

First, figure out if you really need to cut your hair or if you could wait until you can next see a hairdresser. This is obviously up to you, but the things I’d consider are:

  1. Is your hair looking really wiry and/or dead?
  2. Has it grown so long it’s unmanageable?
  3. Can you live with the results if your hair ends up not turning out perfectly?
  4. What is the natural texture of your hair?
  5. Looking at the ends, are they splitting or are they looking healthy?
  6. Have you damaged your hair by over-bleaching it?

If the answers to these questions don’t make you think, “I definitely need a haircut” then you can probably leave it for a while longer. If a hairdresser is an option for you, do that instead.

If, however, you are looking in the mirror and wondering when your hair started to look less Kate Middleton and more Kate Bush circa 1985, then cutting your hair at home might be an option.

There are so many ways to cut hair, I’m going to go through the main ones you can do at home. I’ve tried all of these on myself, except the last one, which I’ve only done on an ex-boyfriend (with his permission haha).

1. The Pudding bowl cut

Who is it for? Anyone who wants shorter hair.
Who should avoid this: Anyone with very thick hair that curls unpredictably.
Difficulty: Easy
How predictable are the results? Very.

The result of this will make you look like one of the Beatles. This is a very androgynous look but was traditionally used for children by mothers. If you’re an adult man, you may prefer your hair shorter. You may not.

What you need:
A plastic mixing bowl that goes over your head. The size of the bowl will determine the length of the cut. If your bowl is too small you will look like a monk when you’re finished.
Scissors. Ideally, you want some quality hairdressing scissors but in a pinch, any sharp scissors will work.

The method:

Put the bowl on your head and line it up. You may like to get someone to help you, but this is doable alone. Hold the bowl on your head firmly with one hand. Cut around it. In my experience, this works best as a dry cut, because my hair curls and I like to see exactly how it’s going to turn out.

If you mess up any other haircut at home, the pudding bowl is the go-to fix to get an even, straight cut at home.

What this style looks like:

Source: Styleinterest.com
Source: Pinterest.jp

2. The bobble cut

Who is it for? Your hair needs to all go in a bobble (hairband) to make a high ponytail with at least a foot of hair AFTER the bobble. If you can’t put your hair in a bobble, this won’t work. Additionally, if your hair is a medium thickness (or more) this won’t work. And if your hair isn’t naturally straight, guess what? This won’t work.
Who should avoid this: Anyone with hair that isn’t stick straight and a bit thin.
Difficulty: Hard
How predictable are the results? Unpredictable.

You will need:
A bobble (a hair elastic, if you’re American)
Scissors with a long nose.

Method:

Put your hair in a high ponytail in line with your crown (the tip of the curve at the back of your head). Tie the bobble tight so your hair doesn’t move around while you cut it. Cut in a straight line. Ideally, you want to cut once.

Honestly, having tried this, I would totally avoid this one. It’s not a good way to cut your hair. Likewise, putting it into about four to eight smaller bunches and cutting doesn’t work well, either. I’ve included it here so you have the information to make a good choice on how to cut your hair.

What this style looks like:

According to this Daily Mail article, you can look like a 70s pop star using this method, but look at the “before” and “after” pics and you’ll notice her hair hasn’t actually gotten any shorter, despite the fact she’s holding a big chunk of hair in one hand in the second pic. Genuinely, where you position the bobble and how straight you cut into a giant thick chunk of hair will both determine the success of this hairstyle. But at least if you mess this one up you can do one of the others to fix it! When I tried it, I ended up with the back really short and the sides CRAZY long then the front was short again, like a weird pair of dog ears, because my hair is too thick for this one. It’s a really fiddly style to get right (and yet it looks so easy) if you have thick hair, but will work out better if you have very thin hair.

3. The Half-Shaved Bob

Who is it for? Anyone who has at least shoulder-length hair. This is best for thicker hair.
Who should avoid this: Anyone with very thin hair that needs volume.
Difficulty: Medium
How predictable are the results? Medium.

You will need:
A bobble
Sharp scissors
A razor or clippers
Sectioning comb/tailcomb

Method:

Sectioning from above your ears, tie the top half of your hair into a bobble. Using the razor (for a REALLY short cut) or the clippers, clip off all the hair that isn’t tied up. If you don’t have clippers, you can do this with a pair of scissors by cutting really close to the scalp but it will be hard to get such a short cut even without a razor or clippers. Check you’ve done this evenly then let the tied up hair down, and cut it level with your jawline.

What it looks like:

You can see an example here and here on Pinterest here’s a preview:

3b The Layered Bob

Who is it for? Anyone who wants shorter hair.
Who should avoid this: No one, but anyone with curls bigger than 3a might struggle to get a straight edge to the cut.
Difficulty: Medium
How predictable are the results? Less predictable than the shaved bob.

This is a variation on the half-shaved bob that leaves the bottom layer longer, and will suit people with thinner hair (or people who don’t have a razor or scissors). The key to making this work is to cut the bottom layer slightly shorter than the top.

You need:
Scissors
Clippers or a razor
A bobble
You might need a sectioning clip or fine-toothed comb

The method:

Section your hair from above your ears and tie up the top half firmly out of the way. Cut the bottom half in a straight line, holding the hair in place with a fine-toothed comb or a sectioning clip if necessary. Next, tie up the bottom half if necessary, release the top half and cut in line with your jawline (if you do it right, the top layer of this cut should be longer at the front and shorter at the back).

4. The side-by-side straight cut

Who is it for? People with long hair.
Who should avoid this: People with hair that’s only a little past their shoulders.
Difficulty: Easy
How predictable are the results? Fairly predictable

You will need:
A hairbrush
Scissors

Method:

Part your hair exactly down the middle at the back and bring it forward. Brush it either side of your shoulders. Make sure there are no knots or kinks as these will affect the finished look. If your hair is curly, you might want to do this as a wet cut to make it easier to get a straight line. Using a pair of scissors, cut from the outside in. If you cut in a completely straight line, your hair will fall in a bit of a diagonal and meet in a point at the back, Instead, angle your scissors up very slightly, so you’re cutting in an upwards diagonal towards the middle. When you’ve done one side, do the other, taking care to cut at the exact same angle as before. If your hair is moving too much or bunching up in the scissors, keep it in place using horizontal sectioning clips.

What it looks like:

how to cut your hair at home with no help
Ok, so this was 2005, and you have to ignore the crazy bleach job and look at the cut itself. It’s straight and neat. You can easily cut this shorter.

5. The Skinhead

Who is it for? Anyone who wants to be free of the burden of hair.
Who should avoid this: Anyone who likes to keep their ears warm.
Difficulty: Easy but time consuming.
How predictable are the results? Very.

You will need:
Clippers or a razor

Method:

Starting on one side, move the razor or clippers over your head. If you are using a razor, you will need to stop very often to remove hair from the blades.

Have you tried any of these? Let me know how it goes in the comments or tag me in your Tweets/Instagram @mamaadventurez

Note, I am not with you in your house and not responsible if you wreck your hair. Exercise your judgement and always practice safe scissoring.

How to get a Covid test with a baby

Three weeks ago, I was minding my own business when I got a call from my baby’s nursery (daycare). It was the last thing I’d expected to happen that day.

“You need to collect your child. He has been coughing non-stop today.”

He’s had this cough for about two months. He blatantly picked it up at the nursery. It’s not a “continuous, dry cough” and therefore wasn’t a Covid symptom. But they insisted we got tested and said he couldn’t return to nursery until he’d had a test and seen a doctor.

In this country, those are two very different things. You’re not allowed to go anywhere near a doctor if you’re suspected of having Covid.

So I booked the test. Last time I tried to book a test, they tried to book me into a testing centre in Dumfries and Galloway, which is across a sea, and given that you can’t use public transport with suspected Covid, and given that I don’t own a powerboat, this was utterly ridiculous. But the tests were not making it to Northern Ireland, just like the food didn’t, back in March, despite the fact literally no one here was panic buying.

It gets diverted to the South of England.

I was very surprised that this time, we were able to book two tests immediately (if baba boo had Covid, then my cough must be Covid, too), and not only that, but it was for about 30 minutes’ time.

So we went to the testing centre, which was in a big, empty car park. Everything was marked out with lots of orange cones and there were signs printed out from a computer saying “Covid testing” in black lettering.

Inside the deserted car park, we had to stop at a Portacabin where a member of staff stood at my passenger window and took my phone number then handed me two tests. Then, I had to roll up the windows and answer the phone, where the same member of staff told me, with the muffled audio of someone speaking through a facemask, how to take the PCR tests.

We were the only people in the whole place. You’re generally not allowed to get out of your car once you’ve parked to take a test. However, with a small baby, it is impossible to test him without getting out of the car.

The instructions said the best thing was to hold the swab in the back of your throat for thirty seconds, using the same swab to split that fifteen seconds on each side of your throat. I found that pretty easy. What was harder was following the instructions for a baby. See, for a baby, you have to stick the swab up their nose (“until you feel resistance”) for fifteen seconds per nostril. Only, after about two seconds, my baby, who had been fast asleep, woke up because his breathing was obstructed, then he used his excellent baby reflexes to fight the swab.

I was actually very proud of him for this, because it showed just how powerful his reflexes are when he perceives his breathing is threatened, even though he’d been asleep. But I could have lived without trying to get this sodding swab up the nose of a screaming infant.

Once you have swabbed, you have to break off half of the stick and put the half with the swab in it into a sealed jar in a sealed bag, which you should have written your name and date of birth on beforehand. So you need a pen. Not that they tell you this when you book the test.

We drove around to the place where you deposit the tests, and the man there checked I’d done it all properly. We had, so we were able to leave immediately and go home, where we had to self-isolate and wait for results.

Thankfully, we both came back negative.

Tips for easier Covid testing with a baby in the UK:

  1. Do yourself first. It’s really hard to count slowly to fifteen with a baby screaming in your ear.
  2. Take a pen to write on the sample bags.
  3. That’s it. It’s not a complicated process at all.

I am a little confused at the emptiness of the testing place just before Christmas, given that allegedly Covid cases were rising hugely at the time. Where were all these people getting tested? I have no idea. I’m just glad we only had to isolate until the test results came through.