Welcome to 2015

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Yes, I am aware that it’s almost July.

It’s six months into 2015, and I haven’t yet finished up 2014. I debated not mentioning that, just starting to talk about what we’ve been doing recently and glossing over the fact that I promised to give you all an update at the end of each month on how my goals for 2014 were doing.

That’s not to say I haven’t thought about it. I got as far as considering how my 2014 had gone, and thinking about my goals. I just haven’t told you about it.

I almost decided it wasn’t worth it, it was too late to talk about last year. After all, it’s six months later. Nobody cares any more, right?

But a while ago I had a conversation with someone who was explaining a point of view that they had come across which they didn’t understand.

(Yes, that sentence was intentionally convoluted. I’m trying to make it hard to identify the people involved.)

It was this:

Either it’s too early to tell if your strategy works, or it’s too late to do anything about it. So why worry?

Six months into 2015 is too late to change 2014, true, but I can still learn from it. And although I have thought about it, if putting it into public words helps even one other person it will be worth it.

So here’s my summary of 2014, what I planned, what I did, and what I’ve learnt.

Work

My plan for 2014 was to qualify as an actuary. I started the year with 2 exams to go, and I wanted to pass both and complete the paperwork to qualify.

I actually only passed one exam, despite two attempts at the second one.

On the plus side, my grade did improve in the second sitting, but not enough.

I also did a lot of the paperwork. It’s not completely ready to go but it’s a lot closer than it was.

So, progress, but also failure.

I feel incredibly frustrated by this, obviously. I put a lot if effort in and it makes me wonder if I actually deserve to qualify. But I intend to persevere, and I hope that I will pass next year.

I thought I needed more question practice, and to that end I arranged for someone to mark some questions for me. That gave some good feedback on where precisely I needed to improve.

I sat the exam again in April, and the results are out in two weeks time. I honestly have no idea how it went, so I guess we’ll wait and see.

I do have some added incentive though. I was sort-of-promoted at the start of the year. Namely, I was interviewed for a qualified actuary position, and given the job (but not the title) with the understanding that if I pass the final exam within the next 18 months I get an automatic “proper” promotion. I’ve even been given a minion (erm… I mean “direct report”) to look after.

What have I learnt? Sometimes plans don’t get accomplished, and that’s frustrating, but I shouldn’t give up, because if I persevere the rewards could be great.

Family

My family situation hasn’t really changed, which was the plan. I still spend time with my husband and cats, although it seems to go in spates – some weeks I have loads of time and some weeks I barely see him.

Jasper is the bestest at being cute and floppy.

Jasper is the bestest at being cute and floppy.

We dallied briefly with buying a house, but that didn’t go well. We continue to look.

I think my learning from this goal is that sometimes maintaining the status quo is exactly what is needed. And sometimes it’s hard. It requires actual effort sometimes.

Guiding

This is the section which I suspect most of my readers actually care about.

What did I plan? To deliver “good guiding”. I used the “Good Guiding Is…” resource to help me define it.

“Good Guiding is” gives advice in ten areas:

My goal was to provide at least two things from each category.

Sometimes it's important to just sit and chat.

Sometimes it’s important to just sit and chat.

I think I achieved it. Mostly due to good teamwork. Especially things like residential opportunities, which were almost entirely planned and executed by other people. Notably the Big Brownie Birthday team, who did a fab job with the sleepover and camp.

I think, in retrospect, I should have made it more challenging.  With two units (three at the end of the year) it’s very hard not to meet this challenge, especially with the number of joint and large-scale events that were available last year.

What did I learn?  I would say “teamwork is key”, but I already knew that.

I think I learnt that we do so much more than we give ourselves credit for.  Actually just keeping track of all the opportunities that we provide made me realise how many of them there are.

Shorinji Kempo

My goal was to learn the techniques on my next syllabus.  I have to admit, I don’t think I really did this at all.  I had planned to do the hard ones after the exams in April, but then I had to study again and it all just got forgotten.

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Learning point: Sometimes plans can be abandoned, and that’s ok.  Studying was more important than some self-imposed goal with no real deadline.

Blogging

I was aiming for three posts a week.  Well, it started out being fine.  You’ll have noticed that towards the end of the year it slipped a little (or a lot).  I posted 112 times total over the year, which averages at one every 3.25 days, or 2 a week, more or less.  So not bad, considering I do this for fun.

I did have my best blogging day ever in 2014 – apparently it was May 13th, and I had 148 visitors that day.  I’m not sure why, I didn’t post anything that day, and I hadn’t been writing about anything particularly controversial…

Reading

I was aiming for 52 books read.  I achieved precisely 52.  Some of the later ones were quite childish, but some were in Esperanto so it probably balances out.

Conclusion and Future Plans

I had a reasonable year, all told.  Guiding, of course took up a lot of my time.  Which is good, because it’s one of the best parts of my life.

Not passing that last exam was frustrating, but I think I learnt from the experience, so it can’t be considered a complete failure.

For the future, I think my plans come down to one word:

Efficiency.

The first few months of this year I’ve been trying to streamline my admin processes.  It sounds ridiculous, but when you think that I now have three Guiding unit’s accounts, plus the Division’s accounts, plus one unit where I have to plan almost everything and two units which I do a share of the organisation, AND I still work full time, it starts to make more sense.

I want more time to spend on the fun parts, so I need to make the duller parts shrink slightly.  It’s going reasonably, but I think there are still improvements possible.

Blogging-wise, I’ll spend the summer catching you up on anything interesting we’ve done recently (and we have done lots!), so hopefully by the time we get to Summer Camp in late August I can blog in real-time.

November Goal Update

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Work… nothing happening.  It’s less than two weeks until results day now!

Family… life goes on as normal.  I had a week off work in November (just because), which was nice.  We didn’t really do anything, just spent some time being in the same house.  I have to admit I spent a lot of it on Guiding admin of one sort or another.

We had a house-related disappointment, though.  It turns out that the man who was trying to sell us a house doesn’t actually, technically, own the whole house.  He thought he did, but there was some paperwork that didn’t get done properly, so technically half of it is owned by a man who currently lives in South America.  They’re going to have a court battle, and we’re back to looking for a house we want to buy.

Still, it gives me more time to get rid of the junk in our cupboard, I suppose!

Guiding… Well, we’ve done a lot this month.  Not only did I start doing Guides, but we’ve had our normal Brownie meetings – stargazing and juggling among other things – and also Remembrance Parade and the Brownie Christmas Bazaar.  I’ll write about the Bazaar later this week, so stay tuned for that.

I do slightly worry that we are starting to spread ourselves a little thin.  Honestly, I think all three of Sunrise, Lightning and I do enough Guiding to be a full time job – and we all work too!  Still, we’re working on trying to make it more efficient.  Things like having the PLC for Guides at the end of this term so that we can get organised and have one consent form for all the exciting things we no doubt will plan for next term.

Kempo… Slow progress, but nothing interesting to say, really.  Oh, except I went to a black belt course in London, which was fun.  Twice as much travel as training sounds excessive until you realise that I got to have lessons from the 8th Dan sensei who is head of the whole BSKF.

Blogging… started going a little better during my week off, and I kept it up for a little while, but it’s gone downhill again.  I’ve lots to say, just no time to write the posts in!  Which is probably the right way around to have my life, if you think about it.

Reading… to hit my year target I needed to read 6 or 7 books in each of November and December.  I managed 7 in November, so I need 6 in December to hit the target.

They were good books, too.  I read the 2nd and 3rd books in the Divergent trilogy, and a few of what could be termed “children’s” books, although Black Rabbit Summer dealt with some pretty heavy topics.  I particularly enjoyed The Magic Half, which was about time travel and magical twins.  I’m currently reading Hollow Earth, which is about being able to make drawings come to life.  There are monsters and conspiracies too.

So there it is, another month closer to the end of the year.  Only one more to go.  How scary is that?

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?

Great Balls of Rice

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One of my Brownie units is doing the entertainer badge this term.  As part of it, we’re trying out various things that could be entertaining.

This week, we made juggling balls and then learned to juggle them.

Which was very entertaining.

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To make juggling balls, you will need:

  • a sock per ball (so for 30 children I provided 45 socks – long live Poundland!);
  • tights – 1 pair makes 6 balls (30 children = 15 pairs of tights)
  • a huge quantity of rice (100g per ball, roughly)

Take a third of a leg of tights.  If it’s not the toe, tie a knot in one end.

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Now fill it with rice and tie a knot in the other end, as close to the rice ball as you can.

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Finally, take a sock and put the rice ball in the toe.  Twist the end around and fold it back on itself so that the sock covers the ball and doesn’t leave any dangly bits.

If you have some lying around, you can use loom bands instead of twisting the sock.

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Not only does the sock make it look pretty, but socks are stronger than tights, meaning less risk of breakage.

Now try to learn to juggle.

What interested me most, I think, was the lack of desire to practice.  Or rather, the lack of ability to cope with the fact that you’re not instantly going to be good at something.

I don’t think they believed me when I told them how long it takes to get good at something.  Considering how many of them learn instruments, that’s quite worrying.

First night as a Guide Leader

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I’ve mentioned that I’ve joined the Guides. After a goodbye party for the old leader and a meet the parents social, Wednesday was our first “proper” Guide meeting.

A friend had suggested an interest badge for us, since there’s not really enough of the term left to do a Go For It.

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We’re doing the Chocolate badge.

Right now, about half of you are probably thinking something to the effect of “Chocolate? How is that a Guide badge? What is the world coming to?”.

But actually, it’s quite complex. They have to learn about the history of chocolate and fair trade and all sorts.

This week we did a survey to see who eats how much chocolate in a week. One patrol voluntarily did statistics on the results – they calculated the mean, median, mode and range of the number of chocolate bars eaten per person.

We also did taste testing to rank brands in order of how tasty they were and try to identify which brand was which.

Chilli and ginger were least popular, and green and blacks butterscotch flavour was almost universally loved. Which is unsurprising but good to know.

All in all, it didn’t seem much different to Brownies. A little more independent, less detailed instructions perhaps. But they still love eating, and they still love solving puzzles.

I think I’m going to enjoy Guides.

Explore-a-dome

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Tonight we had a visit from a giant silver dome.

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It was so big, in fact, that we had to move to a larger hall for the evening. We had some trouble finding a hall close by that was free at the right time, but we didn’t want to change the time so that all those girls with busy lives could come.

I haven’t mentioned yet what was inside the dome.

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Darkness. And Brownies. And stars. Millions and millions of stars. The explorer dome is a mobile planetarium.

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Yes, I know that’s not a star.

The two people running the show were amazing. They told stories, and gave information, and kept the girls interested through about 40-45 minutes of star show.

I learnt a few new stories, too. For example, I didn’t know that Ursa Major is a lady bear. I’d always assumed it was a boy. But she’s Callisto, the mistress of Zeus. When Hera (Zeus’s wife) found out about the affair she turned Callisto into a bear.

Callisto’s son is Ursa Minor. He was an archer and was hunting in the woods. He almost killed his mother (because a bear trying to say hello is pretty scary), but Zeus turned him into a bear at the last minute. Then he put both of them in the sky so they could be together forever.

If I do the stargazer badge enough times, perhaps I’ll learn all of the stories!

Decorations

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This week has been a week of good decorations.

We’ve spent some time making our new board look pretty. The leaves on the tree are all supposed to be things about the Promise, but some of the girls got a little distracted.

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The space in the top right is going to contain a picture of our Brownie Bear doing something interesting.

Brownie Bear goes home each week with the politest, most helpful, most enthusiastic Brownie, and this week I told her she had to provide a picture for the board as a challenge.

I’ve done some decorating of my own, too. My plate bag developed a hole, so I found a Guiding tshirt I didn’t need and used the picture to make a patch. While I was at it I decided to name it properly too.

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And then, mostly because I was off work this week and a little bored, I tidied up our storage/breakout room and decided to refresh the decorations slightly.

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It’s a work-in-progress at the moment, it lacks pictures from the two units I don’t have much to do with. I’m aiming to have everyone who uses the building represented.

Finally, we had a Promise Party on Friday, and my new Brownie brought a (egg and dairy free) cake decorated with trefoils.

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So, good decorations all round!

Meet the Parents – Guiding Edition!

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As I mentioned in passing a few days ago, I’m joining a Guide unit. The old leader has moved house, so some of the Brownie leaders are joining the Guide team.

This week was our first meeting, and we decided to have a meet the parents/social/find out stuff meeting.

There was cake. And also quiche, because we’d come straight from Brownies so hadn’t had tea yet!

A lot of the parents we already recognise, because lots of the girls were in our Brownies. But a good proportion were new to us. We wanted to find out things like “which ones are helpful” and “which ones will let their children walk home alone”.

We also wanted them to meet us – it’s sometimes shocked me how many parents don’t know who the leaders are. Surely you want to know who is looking after your child? I mean, it’s nice that they trust Girlguiding so much, but still!

Anyway, the Guides were great. They took tea orders from the parents, and gave everyone a number for their order, just like in some real cafés. They even made a good start on the washing up before they were dragged away by their parents.

We talked with the parents about some of the opportunities available, such as helping at Brownies or Rainbows. The girls had had this mentioned to them before, of course, but it turns out that teenagers don’t always tell their parents things. Who knew?

Some of the older girls got quite enthusiastic about doing the Community Action badge, which was lovely to see.

Next week we’ll have our first proper “normal” Guide meeting. I hope that goes as well as this did!