Category: Astronomy

Happy New Year 2017 (by )

New Years Resolutions and Goal Setting Jar

The new day dawned on the new year and we were all still snoozing in our nests of clean bedding. We'd changed the lining so we would have clean sheets for the new year - symbolic.

We had a lovely night last night with wish stars and fire and The Rats of Nim, and there are photos which I hope to get around to sharing.

Today we got up at 12, lunch time. And made our resolution and goal setting jar. We burnt our wishes last night so that they could fly free (plus I can never shake the idea that burnt things go to heaven - this idea got lodged in my head at 7 yrs of age when my nan died and was cremated I would make her things and cut them up and burn them so they could go up to heaven for her - I got very distressed when I realised a lot of rubbish got burnt!).

We each picked a colour and then cut A4 paper in that colour into 8 (some of us used more than one sheet some of us less), we wrote the resolutions and how we are planning to carry them out, we wrote goals and little action plans, Mary mostly drew hers. We then rolled them up, popped a loom band round and dropped them in the jar. Some of them we shared and some we didn't, for ones that are secret "Don't Read" was placed as a label on the rolled up scroll.

There are extra sheets in the four different colours plus a little bag containing pencils and loom bands in the top of the jar. The jar is huge and once contained stuffed olives - it still smells vaguely of garlic but that is being seen as a feature. We plan to keep the jar highly visable so as not to forget and to help keep the pace up and also we aim to review the contence at the equinoxes and solstices and any other time we think it appropriate. Again this is to keep momentum up.

Mary saw me knock a leek down that was waiting for composting as we ended up with ALOT of leeks this year. This lead to a humourous half hour of word play about me leaking on the floor and at one point calling Jean down from upstairs to help clean up Mary's leeks as she'd leaked all over the downstairs of the house 🙂

The Leeks of Summoning

Jean rolled her eyes and then giggled and then proceeded the Leek Summoning or nest building as the demi-deamond Mookie Moo (Mary) called the leek construction. I pointed out to Alaric that they had gotten lots of things for Christmas and what was it they were playing with? Shrivelled up leeks. There were arguments over how many sides there should be, Jean said 5 Mary said 6 we pointed out that traditionally it is 7 or on the discworld 8. Like all good kids they ignored us and continued with their game which was actually two separate games but hey they were playing co-opratively with each other - something both of them had put down as a resolution.

Mary in her nest of leeks

Then we went off to the cinema to watch Newt Scaramanga unleash havoc on New York - Mary cried when we said we were going to the cinema to watch a Harry Potter movie, she wanted to watch Frozen there if we had to go and why couldn't we watch it at home? She cheered up once she found it was not one of the films we had at home even though we had explained that multiple times on route!

Me and Jean are of the opinion that Newt looks like Matt Smith if he'd been turned into a shop manikin and then back into a human - weirdly melted.

I have no idea what happened in the fight scenes as I had to hide from them but yeah no slurred speech just slightly tingly arms and a bit of virtigo! 🙂

There were tears today - mine as I feel short changed by the universe and also like I have no right to feel like that... I was ill and stuff as a kid with blood transfusions and walking aids and hearing and speech issues etc... but I thought I'd grown out of it, I thought I'd grow up big and strong and then I was grown up and I tried to do the stuff you need to be big and strong to do.... I failed. Alaric asked me what I'd invisioned myself doing as a grown up and so I told him... climbing mountians, deep sea diving, exploring... maybe even going to space.

I find it hard to let go of dreams. I wanted to find new things and explore. He says you can do this without physically going and picking up rocks, I say I know I tried that but the physical location of labs in some institutions meant I couldn't get into them or it was exhusting to do so and it was still the consolation prize and I still failed at it. He reckons there is new stuff everywhere to find, I'm having trouble seeing that - I said the closest I get these days in writing my novels, notice the mary-sues or janes or what ever they are called of sick people designing exo-skeletons or waldos or other to get around physical issues???

And having said all this I am probably the fittest and healthiest I have ever been bar my brain not working properly... oh the irony it's always something...

And I am lucky, I am alive, I have explored things, this summer I got to go to South Africa, I got to see whales, I've always wanted to see whales!!! I got to read the landscape and talk to people who helped end apartied, I got to see the southern hemi-sphere for the second time in my life. That is amazing, that is more than most of the earths population, I have a big house and kids in amazing schools, I have a hubby who doesn't hate me for keep getting ill or sick or injuried. Who is my best friend.

I have friends, friends who have not abandoned me when my brilliance of mind was dulled, friends who did not run away though none of us can be there always because we all have lives and that is a two way street, a cyclic thing, they helped when they could, and we have done the same, we've stopped each other from drowning.

So I am a ball of confused emotions, the more better I get from the head injury the more frustrating I am finding the issues it has left me with but I am also amazed at what I have.

Maybe next year my Christmas can be filled with sparkling lights again - I miss them but if I can't have them then I can do what we've done this year and just ask people to visit us and have events here.

After a year of multiple redundencies Alaric has a good job and we are even looking at getting a car!

Life is good, our plans are solid, we are almost where we thought we'd be 10 yrs ago 🙂

The coming year will be full of creating and making and videos of much of it as they are easier than big junks of writing at the moment and serve almost the same purpose!

Also Salaric Craft and How To blogs have just had their tenth Christmas so you will be seeing a lot of stuff to do with that, and the Wiggly Pets blog was set up in the summer of 2007 so prepare for more zines and photo stories and the like!

I like acting - I know I've come to this conclusion late in the day but I did an advert and the Fright House stuff, in 2015 I did a music vid and docu-drama. I'm not sure how to get more of this sort of stuff but I will be looking!

Alaric needs to get time to work on his projects - he has stuff that humanity needs... most of his time "off" ie redundent got taken up with infrastructure stuff in the house/server migration.

2017 here we come!

Apparently there will be stargazing and photography 🙂

Blood Red Super Moon (by )

Blood Red Super Moon

I photographed - the camera is broken, I got the kids up for about 20 mins when it was looking good, Jean appreciated it, Mary seemed confused, I hope I got some good shots but... meh camera is broken.

The Solar Eclipse and Education Fails (by )

Solar Eclipse Gloucestershire UK 2015

Friday morning saw me and many other people outside for the solar eclipse - these are rare events. It was not a full eclipse and I have a busted camera so my photos are not brilliant.

Inversions and reflections

But I was happy and my kids were happy. Mary had learnt about it and made a projector thingy at pre-school and Jean's school had gone all out and have a telescopes and glasses and solar observing stuff. They both loved it and it was a big fantastic educational thing for them.

The eclipse through a defraction grating aka hello kitty sun

I on the other hand was in my back garden mucking about with defraction grating and seeing what funky photos I could take - it was a bit of a fail but I enjoyed myself. And accidently ended up with the above "hello kitty" sun much to Mary's delight.

However... that evening I discovered that this was not the case for most schools. To my horror I listened to other parents tell of how they were late to work in order to take their kids to observe the eclipse because the schools had said they could have until 10 am off to view it as long as it wasn't in the school play ground because.... Health and Safety reasons.

I. Kid. You. Not.

But that was the nice schools - turns out many of them did not even give this little concession to an event that could well be career forming within our younger population - and not just science/astronomy, artists like a good old eclipse too.

The more I listened to the parents groaning about this the more I got angry but not just at the education system that seems to have struck off such events as useful things for teachers but also at the individual schools for being so crass about the whole thing. To the parents who were too busy to notice - but I might well have been one of those, to myself and the science communication community.

I didn't worry about the eclipse I knew Jean's school had stuff planned and I wanted to attempt to take photos. It never occured to me that schools would not be doing stuff with the kids, there are universities and what not out there that I'm sure with a little work could have been galvinised into action and all schools could have watched the eclipse at least on the telly if the weather had been a complete fail.

I really can not fathom what was going through the head teachers heads to not set up something. At to this people getting annoyed with me for the fact that large science announcements they think should be major headline news... isn't. This is normal people not scientists, they kind of don't believe some of the recent discoveries because they are not splashed across the headlines but it is really difficult to get the main media outlet (TV, Radio, News Papers and Mags) to take stories at all, let alone give them headline coverage.

However non of this absolves me - I have cuddly science sitting up stairs and I have done nothing other than write another script for it since Jan and this episode has just proven to me how much stuff like it is needed. My main constraint is that I need money to run the workshops and get to the schools and stuff so kind of need paying and no one seems to want to pay and so I simply can not give my time as funnily enough going to events can end up costing you especially if they don't even want to give you expenses.

It is on the too sort list :/

It's even worse as I could have made projectors with the cub pack but thought all the schools would be doing that :/

If there are any teachers out there who want to give a voice as to why they chose not to run an event/observation morning - then please get in touch.

The sun Eclipse inversion rainbow arc Sun in the trainbow lines Sun and rainbow and eclipse Rainbow pincers Rainbow streaks Reflection in the glare Sun through the arc

Camera is broken is a way that means I can't use a tripod which is a right pain! Just click on the photos if you want to see them bigger.

Cuddly Science at The British Science Festival (by )

Cuddly Science Puppet show Photo thanks to Fiona Austen

The weekend saw me, Alaric and Jean at the British Science Festival in Birmingham. I was doing the most indepth version of Cuddly Science yet - everyone who knows me will no doubt now be sick of hearing about Cuddly Science but just incase here is the run down 🙂

I came up with an idea during my science communication course at UWE and have spent the last six months working on it, initially just as a piece of course work but I soon realised that this was the thing that would link together all my skill sets. It grew and adapted.

It is a set of puppets, larger than life versions of influential scientists, technologist, engineers, maths peeps and medical persons. Initially I focused on Ada - she was a natural choice as we have taken part in every single Ada Lovelace Day so far!

Ada went on a few trips out and about telling kids about programming computers and her own erratic childhood. But right from the beginning I knew this needed to be bigger, I have a list of puppets that need to be made.

I now have 5 puppets, I only actually had two proper shows prepared for the Science Festival as I'd planned to repeat one of them. But people decided that they were going to keep coming back to my next show so I improvised the last show which was more about the experiments and science games we'd sorted out.

As mostly Cuddly Science is just me, each puppet has their own show with an activity of some sort for the kids to take part in. So Darwin told of how he wasn't very good at school or sitting still and about his discoveries and this led onto DNA (which wasn't about in his day!). We then did a little DNA extraction experiment with the kids which they loved.

Alaric extracting DNA

Ada has a game that Alaric designed and I have done the graphics for, called Robo Bob's Jobs. We want to make a giant version of it as too our amazement there were way more than the 30 people we had designed our shows around and we need something seen from the back etc. The size of the crowed and the increase in business of the library during the day caused some issues with noise levels so I want to get a portable PA system as well. I need funding.

We also had some bits from Universe in a Box which the kids loved and was the stage for Brahmagupta, a 1500 yr old maths and astronomy dude. I generally entertained the kids between shows with the puppets and also during the activity sessions. We also had colouring sheets which I had drawn - manga scientists with room for the older kids to write down little factoids about the scientists etc...

I want to draw some more of these and maybe have a proper bundle for people to take away with them or down load from the web etc...

There were also science crayons for the colouring in - it was very popular and parents were desperate for their kids to have one of each of the pictures.

Science crayons

Those who could here the shows seemed to really enjoy them and I had so many people coming up to me to say how brilliant it was, how the children really responded to the puppets etc... I did get very nervous for the Ada show which was strange as I have done that one several times before. There were a lot of people there but not as many as for the last show which was improvised so should have been more nerve racking!

This is why I am off to do an improve comedy course at the end of the month - I am going to nail those nerves!

The appeal of the puppets was pretty universal and I got people who were just in the library and hoping for a story time - I equipped them with programmes for the rest of the festival and some of the kids would have played Al's game for hours and hours and had to be shoed away by Ada Puppet.

Ada was termed a princess by many and at least one parent turn round and said that they hadn't known girls could programme. I obviously thought about all of this when deciding what puppets to put in but was amazed to see impact straight away. Questions from adults and kids a like - mainly about Ada and Brahmagupta - it was the idea that people like "me" have done big science, tech, etc.... I really did not expect to see it so vividly.

I believe science is for everyone and this has been a big part of wanting to do science communication and the science art and it has made me more resolute and determined that Cuddly Science needs to get out there. It maybe one of my mad hat schemes, it may just be stupid puppets that me and my mum designed and games my husband made and a mish mash of my science education, experience running craft workshops, being in musical theatre, being an artist, poet and childrens instructor. It may have gotten it's inspirations from all over the place but Cuddly Science has the chance to make a difference, to help build a better world.

Cuddly Science awaiting at the Birmingham Library

The library and festival volunteers were amazing at looking after us and a chain of people I know from various things came to see me which was very encouraging 🙂 Jeany loved it, especially when I let her set up the Story Steps at the library!

Jean setting up the story steps Jean too tired to continue with the setting up of the story steps

The library itself was pretty epic! And I loved the fact it was connected to the Theatre with poetry on the doors 🙂

The library Birmingham

I even bumped into a fellow poet just outside 🙂

And got to go to dinner with friends and meet their little one and stuff.

More photos of Birmingham:

Jean drinking milk in the Rep Gold dudes Gold Dudes planning topary train Giant flowers on the library buildings with giant crosses on them Reflective buildings Brum in sillohette first proper view of Brum

Jean and Alaric found where they had been doing the custard walking 🙂

Jean and Alaric find where the custard walking had been

And so yeah - Cuddly Science is GO!

Mars Curiosity and *the* Space Book for Kids (by )

I spent last week working at the Times Cheltenham Science Festival and as part of it I got to go and see a few of the talks which was brilliant. The first one I selected was Mars Curiosity as I spotted it had my old personal tutor Sanjeev Gupta in it. I also got a ticket for Jeany even though at 7 I thought she might be a bit young but she would never have forgiven me if I had gone to see such a talk with out her!

Jean in her Question everything tee

Sanjeev taught one of my favourite subjects at uni Earth Surface Processes so I was very excited to see how Mars research was going especially after seeing the prototype with Jeany earlier in the week. He looked basically the same but has grey hair! He still moves around far too much for a decent photo but that is what energises his talks (of course he didn't recognise me when I said hello - boo hiss but it has been ten years).

Sanjeev Gupta talking Martian landscapes at the Cheltenham Science Festival

The other talker was Lewis Dartnell who was very engaging and handled the childrens' questions brilliantly at the end including the sad, 'When is it coming home?' Jean has been going on about forever vacations on Mars ever since!

Lewis Dartnell talking Mars rovers at the Cheltenham Science Festival

Jean did get a bit confused about the fact the robot is ingesting Mars and yet needed batteries! I explained in whispers that it was eating the rock to see what it was made off and not as food. I was impressed she knew what ingesting ment to be honest. They went through the grissly details of man missions and radiation sickness and stuff Jean is still determined to go to Mars if she can or failing that she asked me if she could build a robot to go and then worked out that the 2030 mission would be a good one for her (she'll be 24).

After the talk I had to head over for a meeting but took Jean to Alaric and Mum and Dad to get the book she wanted signed. My meeting ended really quickly and just as well as I received a phone call from Al saying they couldn't find the book! I asked and was told it had sold out but then I saw a copy on the signing table and ended up talking to a lady who turned out to be the authors wife! It was the last copy!

Jean getting her book signed by Lewis Dartnell

Jean went and got it signed and I felt an ache of sadness for my impact lithologies and endolithic organisms and a moment of doubt about science communication instead of trying to go back but I missed that boat a long time ago. Jean was instantly obsessed by the book and Alaric and Lewis had a conversation involving lots of hands about space ship design. We had to drag the still reading Jean away from the table so that he could go home!

Alaric and Lewis Dartnell excitedly talking spaceship design at the Cheltenham Science Festival

Jean has had her noise in the book ever since, it is a good childrens' book, informative, fun and easy to read but also it is gamified - the kids get to choose where they go on a stella holiday - Jean has always loved books like You Choose so this is right up her street. The illustrations are lovely and colourful, some simple and some intricate giving it a wide appeal to kids as it has different levels you can appreciate it on. It is one of the best I have seen recently and Jean took it into show and tell at school this week along with her cave man stickers and her t-shirt saying Question Everything. She proudly showed the other kids that it was signed with her name in as well 🙂

Jeany was very excited that they had mentioned Liecester as we had spent the previous week going around the space centre there etc... with my friend Becca 🙂 (still need to process the photos and blog about all of that!)

Here is me and Jeany in our festival t-shirts - I'm hiding it at the end as it isn't that flattering of me! hee hee!

Mummy and Jean at the Cheltenham Science Festival in our t-shirts

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