Adventures in Home Education & Asperger's Syndrome

Actually it’s pretty much still the same old me… but with attitude.

I want to get a bit fitter. I’d like to get a bit thinner too, but one thing at a time.

I think it’s fair to say that over the years I’ve been a reasonably active person, for one who hates participating in sport of any kind at least.

At various points in my life I’ve cycled six miles to work and back each day, taken tap dancing lessons and joined a ballroom dancing class. I’ve regularly pushed a double buggy to town and back, hiked the round trip to playgroup, then nursery and then back again and carried babies and toddlers up two flights of stairs together with several bags of groceries.

But in more recent years the confidence to cycle in heavy traffic and the need to carry or push small children around in slings and buggies has diminished substantially… well, entirely actually.

And as a result life has become a little less physically demanding. Not that it’s not demanding in other ways… oh dearie me no… but much of what is required of me now involves less physical exertion than toiling up the stairs carrying a toddler, a baby and three dozen bags of pampers.

The result of this changing life style, combined with the joys of reaching the age of the hot flush, has meant that my previously skinny frame is now… well, somewhat less skinny than it was.

I find myself adding a dress size or two to my wardrobe, whilst looking longingly at some of my old clothes.

So I decided as the year came to a close that I needed to take myself in hand and try to rein in the changes, just a bit.

My book of body sculpting arrived from Amazon a couple of weeks ago.

I sat and looked at it for several days before daring to open it and see exactly what I’d mentally, and financially, committed myself to.

The book begins by showing you how to grade your own fitness, giving you a starting point to work up from.

You’re supposed to work through a list of specific exercises, up to a maximum of twenty five, until you reach the one you struggle to complete. You then go back one step and take that as your starting point.

My starting point turned out to be number one. The only reason it was number one was because there wasn’t an exercise before number one that I could start at instead.

I told you I needed to get fitter.

Anyway, I’ve been doing my exercises three times a week for two weeks now and so far, despite all the pushing and pulling and bending and stretching, I can’t honestly say I can see any difference.

I do feel just a little bit happier that I have a plan and am doing something, however minor, to ease my way into ultra fitness and a new slender body.

Or at least that’s what the book tells me I’m doing.

I was supposed to take a before photo of myself so that I can compare it with the new me later on, but the photo I took was so awful that I deleted it. I decided that how I look just now is so firmly imprinted in my brain no additional photographic reminder will be required.

I ordered a nice tunic top today, that I spotted in the sales online. It’s in a larger size than I’d like it to be but I suspect it’ll be fine for the time being.

Perhaps when I reach level twenty five I’ll treat myself to a new slimline version. I might even take a photo to show you.

Or not.

Since I last wrote about him all those… days… ago, Kato the cat has continued his search for a cosy place to hang out.

IMG_3497He tried the laundry basket but it was too narrow

IMG_3457The carrier bag was interesting but got a bit hot and sweaty after a while

IMG_3507The bookshelf was too cramped

IMG_3501The Aga was cosy but a bit too close to people’s feet

IMG_3506In fact finding a good place to chill out was proving tricky

IMG_3514Until this box arrived. It was great once all that clobber was taken out

IMG_3534Actually the clobber was quite interesting too

IMG_3538Where does this lead?

IMG_3543Gradually the bits and pieces began to grow upwards

IMG_3550With some feline help of course

IMG_3556Finally everything was screwed together… Ta Daaaa! (Ignore the mess on the right, that’s the gerbil stuff now needing a new home. My next task in fact)

IMG_3560A luxury penthouse suite offering perfect views of the local wildlife

IMG_3567It needed testing out though. To make sure it was safe

IMG_3570Hmmm, seems to be ok… zzzzzz

IMG_3571Nice panoramic views

IMG_3576Quite cosy actually

IMG_3584And all that’s needed to meet friends for dinner is one small leap

The cat tree proved to be a tad bigger than it looked on eBay, despite the careful measurements I took. I managed to squeeze it into its allotted space however. Hopefully no one will want to use that door ever again.

Kato seems to approve of having somewhere to call his own, where he can climb up really high without being dragged away to avoid major ceramic catastrophes; where he can look down on the gerbils with an appropriately lofty air and after a bit of manic climbing, leaping and scratching, he can snooze the day away without danger of being accidentally booted or tail crunched.

And where is he now? I hear you ask. Is he sitting high up in his crow’s nest, or snuggled inside his cosy tent thingy, or drooling over the gerbil tank? Well, no as it happens, he’s actually curled up asleep in his cardboard box next to the Aga.

Well worth spending all my nectar points on the cat tree then.

Town and Country

We are very lucky to live here in Edinburgh. I often find myself thinking that, but most especially when I look out of our front windows and across towards the Firth of Forth and the distant hills of Fife.

Our flat faces northwest or perhaps more accurately north by northwest, and being on the second floor we get a great view over the rooftops. Perhaps our view isn’t quite as dramatic as the flats immediately above us but it’s certainly good enough to allow us to enjoy some fantastic sunsets and sometimes great views of other people’s celebratory fireworks.

Yesterday I glanced out of our bay window and noticed that the sun had sneaked out from behind the endless grey cloud cover and was beautifully spotlighting the distant snow covered hills.

I grabbed my camera and snapped some pictures through the window, over the rooftops and beyond the chimney pots.

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These are the Lomond Hills of Fife. 

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They look so near don’t they? Even though I was using a long lens to photograph them it is still strange to realise that, despite living in a capital city, the wider countryside and hills are so close and accessible to us. We certainly have the best of both worlds here.

Earlier this week I spent a couple of hours in a cafe in town, made famous for being the place where a certain well known local author sat writing her more than well known Wizarding book some years ago.

I was waiting to collect Robert from Remade, where he spends an evening once a week helping repair computers and such. To pass the time I took my iPad with me, hoping that I might somehow absorb a little leftover creative inspiration and gain some ideas for my as yet non existent entry to a BBC short story competition, due within the next couple of weeks or so.

The only creative experience I had however was seeing how slowly I could sip the large hot chocolate I ordered to make it last two hours because I was too mean to buy anything else. By eight o’clock my drink was stone cold and so was my story telling imagination.

I blame the sofa I’d chosen, thinking it looked nice and cosy and somewhere perfect to snuggle up and write stories. Unfortunately too many other people must have thought the same thing as there was almost no stuffing left in the seat and so instead of being soft and comfortable it felt more like sitting on a bucket covered in a thin layer of fabric.

So no inspiration then. No multi million pound book idea involving witches and wizards, spells and magic was going to come out of my time spent drinking not so hot chocolate perched on a bucket sofa in the cafe famous for being the centre of so much creative writing.

Ah well. Maybe next time I’ll try a herb tea and see what that inspires.

IMG_3371… and inside the box

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Whichever way round it is

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Or in the towel cupboard

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Unlike most of the towels

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Or in front of the computer

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Blogging possibly

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Or on top of the gerbils

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Breakfast anyone?

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Or in the bookcase

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Or on top of the fridge

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Or maybe in the box again

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Or not.

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So many choices

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It’s all too much. Maybe a snooze on James’ chair is best

Later:

Lucky I took these photos before today as Kato found a new place to visit this afternoon… the chimney.

He is no longer a ginger and white cat but more of a sooty black and grey one.

Apparently in the Chinese calendar 2015 is the year of the sheep.

But in the Newnham household it has quite suddenly and rather unexpectedly become the year of the cat.

Over the years Matthew and I have occasionally had the cat conversation. We both like them very much, but the one I had when we first got together caused Matthew to become very wheezy and so we’ve always dismissed cats as potential pets due to the danger of allergies.

It’s probably worth pointing out at this stage that the cat I had then was the most nervous creature in the world. He was a rescue cat that never learnt to trust people. Whenever he was scared, which was pretty much all the time, he would shed hair in handfuls. Once, when I took him to the vets, there was so much hair in his box on arrival that I was surprised he wasn’t totally bald when the vet lifted him out.

So looking back he probably wasn’t the best allergy trial test cat we could have chosen.

And then we got Judy the greyhound. She was absolutely the best dog in the world but probably not one that would have been prepared to share a small flat with a cat. Not for long anyway. Greyhounds are bred to chase and potentially kill small furry creatures. It’s in their DNA. For all we know Judy might have learnt to accept a cat. She was after all the gentlest of animals in all other ways, but we weren’t about to put that to the test and risk the consequences. So, for that reason alone cats were not an option while she was around.

But then sometime over Christmas Matthew and I started a cat conversation. He thinks I initiated it whereas I’m pretty sure it was him. Either way we somehow went from not even thinking about cats to deciding we might like to try having one, in the space of one possibly mulled wine infused evening.

I love cats, well almost all animals actually. I grew up surrounded by a great variety of pet dogs, cats, budgies, fish, mice, tortoises… I even had a collection of garden snails in a jam jar at one point, although perhaps I won’t tell you what happened to them. We had ponds filled with goldfish and newts and tadpoles and frogs. There were always animals around the place.

It didn’t take much discussion to get me enthusiastic about the idea. My main concern was the allergy issue, but Matthew has recently spent time around a friend’s cat and shown absolutely no sign of problems. He felt confident that this would no longer be a major issue.

So the plan was to think about the whole idea for a few weeks, see what was out there, get past all the Christmas chaos and then decide if we should go ahead. That was the most sensible and considered approach to take.

What actually happened however was that, having meandered somewhat idly through various Scottish cat charity online adoptees, I came across an advert for an adult house cat needing rehoming due to the owner’s increasing work commitments. The animal was based just ten minutes drive away.

So of course we went to meet the cat.

I bet you would have done the same. Yes, you would.

Anyway surprise surprise, seven hours and a relatively expensive trip to Pets At Home later, we were collecting our new housemate from his owner and installing him into his new abode.

And here he is…

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He quickly decided this would be a good vantage point to spy on the garden cats. During the day at least.

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He is the most relaxed rescue cat I’ve ever known.

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So relaxed.

Within a few hours he was totally chilled about his new home.

This might of course have been helped by his discovery of… the gerbils.

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The cat decided the best place to be was on top of the tank. He plonked himself up there without a second thought, causing the mesh lid to bend alarmingly. The gerbils were none to pleased either.

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To protect the lives of the poor rodents, I managed to find an old wooden plate rack which fits perfectly across the tank and provides a more secure place for the cat to sit whilst still maintaining the gerbils’ air supply and generally keeping them safe underneath, assuming they don’t all die of heart attacks of course. Poor things.

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The cat certainly approves, although it doesn’t look particularly comfortable to me. 

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 I suspect the gerbils might have some reservations though.

The cat seems to prefer sitting on the gerbil plate rack to curling up next to the Aga on the soft and not inexpensive cat bed I brought home from the pet shop. They really are strange animals aren’t they?

On his way up or down from the plate rack, the cat often likes to have a wee wander along the top of the bookcase. This is the place I recently decorated with my lovely potted hyacinth, Matthew’s gorgeous blue Buddha and, especially for the festive season, the wooden nativity scene.

I quickly realised I needed to find new and safer homes for the breakables, leaving plenty of space for the cat to get up and down as required. However I thought it would be fine to leave the nativity there for the duration.

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 That’s it mostly hidden under his tail end. The three wise men looked on helplessly while baby Jesus vanished beneath a pile of shepherds, a donkey, his parents and a cat’s bottom. 

The next problem was the naming of the cat, formerly known as Tigger.

You may already own or know of a cat called Tigger. I don’t want to suggest this isn’t a perfectly good name for a cat. It is. It’s just not one that the boys would have chosen.

It’s probably worth pointing out here that, despite the cat’s age, (somewhere around seven we believe), we felt that changing his name wouldn’t be a big problem for him since he seems to respond equally well or not at all to whatever you call him, depending on his mood, how focussed he is on gerbils and whether you’re holding food or not.

So we started making a list of possible cat names. It was quite a long list. Unfortunately not one of them was a name we all agreed on.

Super villains seemed to appear fairly frequently on James’ part of it.

By 9pm on New Year’s Eve we still hadn’t decided and I was getting fed up with having a nameless cat. I became determined to have it sorted before the start of 2015.

After lots and LOTS of rejected suggestions I finally homed in on one I thought we might all agree on. Robert was not entirely sure but Matthew and James were happy and so in the end we plumped for Kato. Pronounced Kay-Toe.

Kato is, according to Wiki anyway, the Esperanto word for cat. It is also a martial arts performing character in the film The Green Hornet, played by Bruce Lee. And of course Cato in The Pink Panther films was hilarious as he and Peter Sellers ambushed each other with karate moves and such, pretty well destroying the house in the process.

We chose the K version as James felt otherwise it would look as if we hadn’t tried very hard.

Kato seems to suit him very well, as this cat does love ambushing us round corners and from behind doors. I expect he’d try some martial arts on the gerbils too if given the chance.

I’m sure you’ll be subjected to many more Kato photos in the next wee while. He’s a very photogenic animal as well as being a most affectionate creature.

Although if you don’t hear from me for a while it’ll probably be because I have a cat sprawled out across my knee preventing me from accessing my laptop.

That’ll be my excuse anyway.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE

So Christmas is over for another year. After all the preparations it does seem to vanish quickly doesn’t it?

We had a lovely chilled out day on the 25th. The boys were up early… well 8am which is very early for them these days.

They discovered their mini stockings on the dining room sofa as usual. These started years ago as a brief distraction for little boys to allow their parents time to have showers and get dressed before finding out what Father Christmas had left in their giant stockings under the tree. Now of course mini stockings are not technically required but they are still expected none the less.

Traditions are traditions after all.

Having watched the boys disassemble those and then fortified ourselves with coffee and gingerbread, we headed into the sitting room.

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This was just the start of the mass present opening. That paper hillock soon became a mountain.

There are now piles of books, games, DVDs and chocolates lying around the floor, also some snazzy pyjamas and a variety of other lovely goodies including the start of a collection of Dr Who mugs James was keen to get. We have yet to find them all homes but eventually they will no doubt become absorbed into the general muddle that is our house.

The boys were thrilled and delighted with each and every parcel they opened.

Lunch was eventually forthcoming. I think the catering elf was a bit too relaxed to get on with it all very early. No one seemed to mind though.

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It looked and tasted better than it appears here. And yes those are sprouts, which I love, whatever anyone else says.

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We had a giant cracker filled with little presents, like robot-shaped USB sticks. The cracker-filling elf even got me one, mine was not shaped like a robot however.

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It’s to store my photos. Great isn’t it? It looks just like the real thing, except it’s only just over an inch long.

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We managed to get both the boys into a couple of photos, a rare achievement these days. I think here I’m checking that Robert isn’t about to bolt, like the dog used to whenever she saw the camera appear. Do you like their t-shirts? They certainly seem to.

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Three boys together, plus compulsory Christmas hats. Robert is wearing one, you just can’t see it from this angle.

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James is a much more willing participant.

When I appeared wearing my colourful bargain skirt, new Christmas ebay jumper, a red and furry mistletoe covered hat and flashing Santa earrings, there was a stunned silence. I like celebrating the festive season, regardless of the withering looks I might get from the male members of this fashion rejecting household.

The rest of the day sailed happily on, with lots more fantastic presents generously sent to us from family around the UK, followed by the Queen at 3pm, then more food and wine and the Christmas cake.

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Those are three melting snowmen there on the top. The nearest one is more of an existential snowman, since it is supposed to have been one before it melted but in fact never was, if you see what I mean. Also the trees were straight when I first put them on. Like me they gradually became more and more laid back as Christmas progressed.

Boxing day was more sociable with my cousin and her family joining us from the Borders. We had lots more food, more presents too and a mini treasure hunt for the young involving clues which had to be sung. I think they were the product of a very late mulled wine infused night. The rhymes certainly deteriorated towards the end.

We all got snoods, ready for the coldest days, also there were some penguins and bags of sprouts, fortunately for the young they were the chocolate variety. Then we all shared yet more lovely presents, lots of chocolate and heaps of other things. Wonderful.

The boys discovered their surprise smart phones at the end of the hunt, which they were more than delighted about. I didn’t take photos for some reason so you’ll just have to imagine the fun. It was fun, with lots of chat and plenty of laughter too. A great way to spend Boxing day.

And now we’re all flopping about, recovering from overindulgence and trying to summon enough energy to write a few thank you letters. I might mull some more wine later to get us more in the mood, or send us to sleep. One or the other.

Meanwhile the boys are intensely focussed on their computers and their new phones too. Robert has already linked the two together so that he can access his games remotely. I doubt they’ll use them for many actual calls, but at least we know they’re there if necessary.

Next on the calendar… HOGMANAY. See you then.

Clan Newnham would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas…

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… and a happy, healthy and peaceful  2015

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Love Catherine, Matthew, Robert and James xxxx

This year the Gerbils have their very own Christmas tree, because that’s the sort of thing we do here.

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Gerbils right, Christmas tree left, in case you were unsure.

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They also have their own stockings. Labelled and everything.

I hope they appreciate the effort we’ve gone to to liven up their corner of the hall. And of course when I say we I mean I, because no one else in our house, or our street or perhaps even our city, would think to provide four small rodents with their very own Christmas entertainment. Meanies.

The humans here also have a tree and stockings. It’s not purely a gerbil-centred household. Just to be clear.

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Human’s Christmas tree 2014

Those are of course hats, not stockings, which don’t appear until Christmas eve, despite what the gerbils think.

The bonus tree was a spontaneous buy, spotted whilst wandering through a local charity shop. There it was sitting in the window, all tiny and neat and with a £3 price tag. I thought it would be fun to set a mini tree up next to the gerbil tank, brightening up an otherwise dull, dusty corner of the hallway. And of course it might have the added benefit of drawing people’s eyes away from the layers of dust, piles of papers, books and general detritus that greets us all as we first step indoors (no photos of that you’ll be relieved to know).

The gerbils watched with interest as I fiddled around next to their glass home, moving tables and sorting out plugs and wiring and such. And then finally I turned on the tree lights.

There was a moment of stunned silence in the tank as the gerbils all stood transfixed by the giant multicoloured monstrosity towering over their home. They looked as if they’d been hypnotised by an evil magician and were awaiting their orders to… kill… Kill… KILL!

And then all hell broke loose. Tony, the gerbil voted most likely to panic, darted underneath their nesting box and started thumping. Apparently back leg thumping is gerbil language for; ‘Danger! Danger! Dart around in fear. Stare momentarily paralysed at the lights before running around in circles squeaking for a bit… then hide. Repeat until exhausted and then fall asleep on top of Steve.’

So that’s what they did.

Fortunately, now the tree’s been up a couple of days, the guys seem to be getting used to its menacing blue, red and silver lights, its terrifying miniature baubles and intimidating little gold stars. They have in fact more or less settled back down into their normal behaviours. Well, normal for gerbils anyway.

I think perhaps seeing their mini stockings hanging under the tree might have helped a bit. Even gerbils like surprise parcels left by Santa in the middle of the night. They’re not completely daft you know.

I think they will approve of their edible gerbilicious gifts and will spend a very happy new year chewing on carrot shaped maize treats to their heart’s content.

And they’ll miss the tree when it’s gone.

Almost certainly.

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Tony panicking a wee bit.

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You are under my spell…

(That little circle is stuck on the glass to stop the box room door handle from slamming back into it and cracking the tank. It’s not an eye patch that Steve’s wearing to cover up his pink eye)

I like lists. They help me focus. Also I have a terrible short-term memory so they are vital to keep me from forgetting what needs to happen next.

I have a Dogbusters list on the wall in the kitchen. That tells me that we have three dog walks booked this week. The boys never look at it. I’m not sure they even know it’s there actually. If I didn’t stand at the door in my coat, clutching a handful of doggy poo bags at the appropriate times during the week, Dogbusters would… well… go bust.

I also have a list above the calendar telling me when the boys’ favourite Superhero programmes are on throughout the week. Tonight it’s Gotham, which is about Batman’s childhood, before he became Batman, if that makes sense. On Friday we have Marvel Agents of Shield, which isn’t strictly about Superheroes per se but they do get mentioned. On Thursday we have to watch The Big Bang Theory. That isn’t about Superheroes either, but the main characters in it do spend a lot of their time in comic book stores, reading or talking about The Hulk or Spiderman or The Flash, so I count that. Dr Who is on a Saturday normally, although not now until the Christmas Day special. Does he count as a Superhero? I’m not entirely sure.

You’d think the guys would remember such important events in their week as these wouldn’t you? Well, sometimes they do, but often they don’t. So it comes down to me to act as TV monitor and gather the troops as required. I need to organise meals around these times too, as it is impossible to watch any of these programmes whilst things are boiling on the stove or saucepan lids are being clanked. Trust me it’s impossible.

Going back to my lists, in the hall I have a chalk board, which I rescued from a charity shop, on which I write reminders of appointments. At the moment, and for the last several months actually, there is only one word written up there. DENTIST.

I glance at the board every time I walk past it and eventually will have to make the call and book us all in for our very overdue family check up. Eventually.

My most recent list is leaning up against the door of the airing cupboard in the dining room, next to the coffee machine, so it can’t be ignored.

When in Lidl a while ago I spotted a bargain. A very large white board at a ridiculous price. I looked at it for a while, then circled it with my trolley several times. Eventually I saw a couple looking very interested in it, so once they had moved on, I grabbed it and wrestled it into the trolley and eventually into the car.

It is big. Standing about three feet tall and two feet wide. I got it home and wondered if I really needed a board that big.

But it turns out I do.

I now keep a list of everything important I need to do. As I get them done I make a point of dramatically scoring a line through them and then leaving them there for a bit to remind me that I don’t just slob around in my dressing gown all day.

At the moment number one on the BIG list is MAKE A FAMILY DENTAL APPOINTMENT. That’s been there a while. I really must do something about that.

Next we have WRITE CHRISTMAS CARDS. Last night I was able to score through that one with great satisfaction having spent the whole weekend getting our cards written. I do enjoy doing them actually. For many friends and family it is the only point of contact we have throughout the year, so I try to add a chatty line or two to each. But it’s also a relief when they’re done and ready to be posted, simply because there’s so much else that needs attention. You probably feel a bit the same.

Number three on my big list is BACK UP BLOG POSTS. I really need to do this regularly as the idea of all this writing, over three years of it now, just vanishing in a puff of cyber-smoke, is more than I can bear. So far I’ve managed to convert about a dozen of my 268 or so posts into word documents. This could take some time.

The list goes on down the board, almost to the floor in fact. As I scan through it I see I need to decorate the cake, write a Christmas story for my creative writing buddies, clean the entire house and then decorate it for the festive season, paint the window frames where I reputtied them a couple of months ago and re-cover the sofa cushions which look like a dog ripped into them searching for a bone.

I have at least crossed some out too. Finish the Christmas letter… done. Send parcel of pressis to Devon…done. Book dentist… bother.

So I’d better stop whittering on here and go and do the next thing on my list. It’s not actually written down, but it’s there none the less.

MAKE A CUP OF COFFEE.

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and the dentist thing of course. Let’s not forget that.

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