Saturday, 9 July 2016

A university challenge

With college finished for the academic year and the A-level results awaited for eldest son's university place to be confirmed, we have started the choosing process over again with our youngest son.

In discussions at work people have been asking how I found out what to do with the boys, so I thought it might be good to share with you how we have gone about choosing a university.  This has worked for us and you may find all or some of it useful.  Through this post, when I talk about "you" I am referring to both you and your child as this does need to be their decision but they will thank you for your support and guidance (and in the case of our youngest - my focus and organisation skills!!)

Firstly it is never too early to be thinking about university.  If you want to save to help your children through the cost, then start when they are young, but if you read the articles on don't let the cost put you off encouraging your children to attend university.  It is their debt, not yours, and the current government scheme means that they will pay very little each month AFTER graduation, and only once they start earning over £21,000.

I have always encouraged the boys in their career dreams to think what training and education it will require and although their ambitions are now different to when they were 5! going to university has always been part of our discussions for what they want to in the future.

It CAN be important to understand what they think they would like to study when they are taking their GCSE options at school. Our eldest son wanted to be an architect and it wasn't until we looked at what A-levels he would need we realized he really needed to have taken art at GCSE to follow that one through.  It didn't prevent him from following that dream but it did close a few doors to which universities he could choose from.  As it is that dream has changed anyway during his A-level studies!

Now if you want to study something really specialized at university, choosing where to study may be quite easy as it will be wherever they are offering  international Spa management (or whatever your dream might be - but yes that is a degree on offer in the UK).  Fortunately (or not depending on how you look at it) both boys have wanted to do very academic courses offered everywhere.

So the boys decided where in country they would like to study, checked the Guardian university guide for their chosen courses and applied for prospectuses.  They also attended UCAS university day, like a craft fair but with lots of universities selling themselves.  Ours was arranged by college but they can book in directly if not offered.  We read through the course details in all the prospectuses as they arrived and checked the entry requirements.

Then we booked in to lots of Open days.  The one thing to remember is that the UCAS form requires a short list of 5 university choices.  You don't have to have 5 but if you don't give five and then unfortunately don't get any offers you don't get access to the second chance application process.   SO we decided filling in all 5 was the best approach.

Details of when open days are being held can be found on the individual university website but can also be viewed on the UCAS website or  For those of you who know me well you will not be surprised when I say the next thing you need is a spreadsheet!! You need to track when the open days are, if you have pre-registered, registered, received your invite email or need to revisit the website at a later date.  I'll share our spreadsheet in a later post as it covers our whole process.

Applying to Oxford is a bit different and I'll cover that in a separate post, having just completed that one with youngest son.

Once you receive details confirming you are booked on the Open day watch for details about talks you can attend while there.  Some universities just have drop in sessions at set times, some you need to book in advance or when you arrive and some just have information stands.  Do your research and make a plan.  You will only need to attend one finance talk at one university as they will all tell you the same thing but do make sure you pick up information about bursary schemes!  Make time to visit the accommodation, this is where your child is going to live for possible three or four years.  Find out how many years the university offers halls accommodation for.

When we got home we made a note of three good points and three bad points to help with the decision process.  Do this as soon as possible as they do all blend into one after a while (we visited three universities in four days two weeks ago!)

Hopefully you will get an idea as to whether campus university life or a city one is a preference or that it doesn't matter.  However if it does then you made need to cancel some trips and make new plans if your original choice doesn't match you found preference (sorry Coventry Uni but city life just didn't cut it for one son once we started looking so we didn't do that open day!).

The vest piece of advice we were given, while eldest son was still in secondary school was to start the Open Day visits early on and we actually meet a mum and daughter on trip before she had started 6th-form.  That way if you need to visit more you have given yourself plenty of time.

If travelling is not an option for you, due to cost (and it does rack up a cost!) or the chosen university is too far away, try the university website for a virtual tour and look to see if the students produce an alternative prospectus so you get an insight into life as a student.

Then you just need to whittle that lot down to your final 5.  We joked that the whole process feels like the judging process on x-factor, and so at this point we are taking these 5 through to judges houses!!

Fill in the UCAS form - lots of helpful information for parents and students on the UCAS website and support should be abundant through school or college for this bit - and wait for the replies and hopefully the offers to come in.

Eldest son got his form in before they broke up for Christmas (well ahead of the January closing date) and started to see offers coming in quite soon after.

So what's my next post I'll cover choosing the firm and insurance choice (or universities that make the live finals!!)

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Seasons of life - where are you?

It's half term again and we are well into exam season in our house.  Which means that the summer is just beginning and it's time to change our schedule.

Word of the month - May - Cheneycraft blog
Summer is a much more relaxed affair around here.  As I only work term time, I am home with boys so we can get things done in more time.

This year though is somewhat different, which I'll explain in a bit.

I haven't updated the blog since February and in the meantime I have been looking at where I am in life and what is important to me.  I purchased the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle  which although is American based, is a great set of resources, offered for a limited amount of time at a great price.

Ultimate homemaking bundle 2016
Several of the eBooks on offer focused on organisation and making life simple, so I have working through these.  When I started he blog I wanted to share my crafting activities but also how I manage to fit everything in around a busy family life inspired by my faith. What I have realized is our family life has changed and the season we were in when I started is not where we are now.

I used to write the blog while the boys took their bath on a Sunday evening as we prepared for the week ahead.  Well they are grown teenagers now (and they will both be men by the end of the year!) and so that time I had carved out no longer exists.  What I have realized, however, is that I fit everything because I work term-time.  So some things slide during school time and then I tackle them, head on, when I get the luxury (and I fully appreciate how fortunate I am to work this way!) of long days at home to get things done.

My dawning realization has been that I need to embrace this and blog during my down time and not add to the pressures of my working weeks.  The boys are both off to university soon, one this year and one next year, so I only have the pleasure of their company for another 16 months (not thinking about this too much!!).  I want to make the most of that time and not be too busy filling up the day that I can't play Call of Duty (and I am under tuition for this!) when my youngest son wants to share his time with me or to be able to discuss what culinary needs the eldest will have at university later this year and work through his recipe repertoire.

Chocolate Meringue
My intention, therefore, is I might blog two or three times a week when I am home and then just occasionally during term time.  You are never far from my thoughts dear blog readers but I want to be present in my boys lives while I can and create memories and then as a by-product of this I will have more to write about.  Win-win I think.  I want to share more with you about I how achieve what I achieve, which is how I am wired (I took the Myers-Briggs personality test and I am a defender and the enneagram (pronounced any gram) test which showed I'm a helper (most mums are) and loyalist).

I'm off to plan the summer, high level plans only we ant room to be spontaneous, but this year is slightly different.  As I said I work term time but as the boys have officially finished college this week and just have exams and year 2 preparation classes to attend, we can go away on holiday before the schools break up.  SO, I'm splitting my summer break up and taking three weeks in July, then going to back to work (we have a project that benefits from me being in the office) and having the end of August and beginning of summer off.

Summer Planner - Cheneycraft blog
The Bible passage that has come up for today really ties in well with my personality test findings:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; 
mourn with those who mourn.
Romans 12:15 NIV

Our prayer as a family this week is for those who find the break from school routine hard, may they find peace in the time off.  We pray that those who are still studying will have the concentration they need and God's presence with them in their exams.

Take time to smell the flowers, hug the children, splash in puddles and play games (even if that's Call of Duty on the playstation).  The time with children passes oh so quickly.

Flowers in the garden - cheneycraft blog
With God's blessings, from my family to yours,

Jo x

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

For the love of crafting!

February whizzed past and I kept thinking I'll just finish these few jobs and write my blog post tomorrow and as you can tell tomorrow never came.  However February has been full of crafting opportunities for me so I have lots to share with you.

Word of the month - March = Spring
Our monthly family drop in session on the first Saturday in the month at church goes from strength to strength.  February we used God's love for us as the theme and the crafts on offer were:
  • A Love print made from finger painting spots over the page, masking off the word LOVE to leave a white space.
  • A heart arrow, using the glue gun, which caused great excitement, to stick a heart abnd a feather to each end of a straw.
  • A sun-catcher heart with words from Romans 5:8 written around the outside.
  • A paper aeroplane to colour in.
  • A hanging heart decoration made from 3 double sided (or 6 single sided) hearts stapled together.

Valentines day was during half term, so made small gifts for the boys and included Jacob's in his packing for his skiing trip to Switzerland.  The mouse shape was created from a heart folded in two and tail is a lolly pop.

A mouse for Valentine's day
During half term we had our film and craft morning at church and had over 100 people attend.  We made note holders with pompoms stuck on a peg and trees from hand prints and hand plants growing out of a plant pot (not shown).

Half term crafting
I also kept up with my Christmas card making and added some more to my stash, ready for writing later in the year. I loved the vintage images I picked up in a sale pack form The Range.

Christmas Cards -Rudolph Day jobs
First Saturday in March fell as the day before Mothering Sunday, so the them for Craft at drop in was Mother's.  The crafts included the handprint tree for those who hadn't made one in half term, a teapot gift bag containing two teabags (so Mum could have tea for two!) and two gorgeous animal pictures showing mummies and babies, put together using paper piecing from templates.

Mothering Sunday crafts
For a Mothering Sunday gift I had a quiet house all to myself while the family were elsewhere.  Josh went to Norway for the weekend with friends and to meet up with the family and scout he spent the summer with.  Andy and Jacob managed to get themselves on tele while watching Andy Murray in the Davis Cup (well I saw them as I knew where they were sitting!).  So I took the time to make some cards for my Mum, one for Mothering Sunday (as wasn't seeing her until the Monday) and her birthday card, which is later this month.  Safe in the knowledge that she doesn't use the computer I've included them below (normally I wait until an event so as not to spoil the surprise!).  Don't tell her but these came from another pack I found on sale in The Range.

Mothering Sunday cards

I'll update you on choose a university for Josh and how the Spring Cleaning challenge is going in upcoming posts.

The Bible verse for this week is reminder that through Christ, who died for us, that healing comes.  For us as Church this is quite timely as we are finding out about the Healing on the Streets movement.  It also reminds me of the healing I received at last year's Spring Harvest event for my painful shoulder, which although very occasionally still hurts, it not nearly as painful or frequent as it was.  Actually when the pain returns it often reminds me that I am trying to rely on my own strength and not God's, who has provided my healing. 

then know this, you and all the people of Israel: 
It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, 
whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, 
that this man stands before you healed. 
Salvation is found in no one else, 
for there is no other name under heaven 
given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Our prayer as a family this week continues to be for all those displaced by war or famine, who find themselves in a foreign country just trying to survive.  We pray that our country and other around us will reach out in love and accept these people, while working to make their homelands a safe place for them to return to in the future.  

We have only just celebrated Christmas, when we remember that Christ was not born at home but in a town far from his parent's home and in a stable, who then fled to a foreign land as a refugee.  Our faith is based on this history, can we so easily forget this when the inconvenience to our lives comes knocking on the door.

With God's blessings from my family to yours,

Jo x

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Strictly Family Time

How is your January going?

Last weekend Josh and I were "using" our Christmas present and went to watch Strictly Come Dancing Tour in Birmingham.  It was a great day out, with a meal before the show and drinks in the interval, all at our own table in the hospitality area.

Waiting for Strictly Come Dancing:The Tour to begin
Following the Home challenge on A bowl full of lemons I have cleaned and organised the kitchen, pantry cupboards and dining room and this week I'm starting on the "launch pad", the area that holds everything we need to get out the door in the morning.  We've had an area for this for a while but as the boys have grown and the bags they carry get heavier it needs to be transformed, so watch this space for next week's update.

At church we are running the Parentalk:The teenage years course from care for the family which is a fantastic time to meet with other parents of teenagers and share stories and for those who come before the teenage years have started to pass on our hints and tips.  It has been great to hear from everyone that we are going through similar experiences and that as parents, we are not alone.  It is not a church or Bible based course and can reach out to all parents of teenagers, whatever their faith (or none).
Banner image

This year I am trying to use my slow cooker more and to prepare meals for it ahead of time.  I found a great spreadsheet already set up on excel that enables you to enter your recipes and then it creates your shopping list for you.  It is designed to create the whole week's menu but I just use it for evening meals as I already have a list for everything else I buy weekly.  This means that instead of using the rows for each meal, I can use them for each week in the month and work out what I need to buy to create my slow cooker meals.  We still plan the whole month using post it notes, so we can see what we have planned and change our mind.

A month of menu plans
It's a work in progress as I make sure I have included all of the meals we might use each week, but it will enable me to spend one weekend a month preparing slow cooker meals to pop in the freezer and then I just have to take them out as I need them the day before.  This is food I had to prepare this month, which actually looked very similar when I worked out what could be frozen ahead of time and what I had forgotten to buy!!

Cook ahead slow cooker preparation
I have started on my Christmas cards for this year in my crafting sessions.  My aim is to make 7 per month plus a bigger session in the summer holidays.  Hopefully I will stay on track better this year and not need to make quite so many in November!

Our prayer as a family this week is for all families with teenagers, that as parents we will listen to our teenagers and respond to their needs and that as teenagers they will understand that parents just want the best for them and are struggling to adapt to their changing children.

The Bible verse selected for this week is a great reminder at the end of January, that even if we have not kept the resolutions we made for the New Year, our God is forgiving and gives us a fresh start in His love:
You, Lord, are forgiving and good, 
abounding in love to all who call to you.
Psalm 86:5 NIV

With God's blessing for me family to yours,

Jo x

Lizzie Somerset

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Getting organised for 2016

The first week back at work has finished and so our normal routines are beginning to kick back in, although to be honest it has been hard getting up each morning still this week.

January Word of the month
The UK is seeing a very mild winter at the moment and we have only had to wear winter gloves once this week on the cycle to work. However, my word for January in my display is snow! I live in hope 1) that we will see snow - I love how the garden looks under a blanket of snow and 2) that if it does it doesn't last long as I don't like cycling in the frozen snow!

This week's craft has revolved around getting my weekly planner ready for the new year.  I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, I'm a list girl.  If it's not on a list it's unlikely to get done.

Home planner cover page
I have updated the weekly planner we use at our family diary meeting to reflect what we learned last year.  I have pre-filled in the boys' college times until Summer Half Term - when exams will start and schedules will change.  I have created one to-do list rather than a daily one as some days we have more to do than others!

Weekly planner - diary and to do
I am also taking part in the 2016 home organisation challenge which I did last year.  It's a great way to reset the house after Christmas, without trying to do everything at once.  I have previously followed organized home new year challenge so have I been working through the lists I made and making sure I have everything noted. I find it easier to follow if I have each item that needs cleaning and decluttering written down, or I may miss it if I just have "Clean the kitchen" as my goal for the week.

The Bible verse for this week picks up from the sermon we heard this morning that as we are called to be part of God's family at our baptism, we are called to take His light out with us in all we do:

But just as he who called you is holy, 
so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 
“Be holy, because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:15-16 NIV

Our prayer as a family this week is for those who find returning to a normal routine after Christmas difficult having been reminded of those they have lost.  May they know God's presence in their dark times and find solace in his Word.  We also pray for those affected by the floods in the North of England and Scotland. May we, God's family, reach out to those around us in his love and bring his light.

With God's blessings from my family to yours,

Jo x

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Looking back, planning forward

Happy New Year.

New Year's resolution - Take more photos, write more blog entries.  It's four years since I started my blog and although I have written as often as I thought I would, I do enjoy sharing our family updates with you.  Hopefully some of what we share is useful as well.

So to start off the new year, I thought I would write about all the things I didn't get round to writing during 2015.

Church Life
We have continued to contribute to the family life of St Michael's church and as Andy leads the creche once a month, I have taken on leading (rather than helping) a Sunday School session for 5-9 year olds. I also lead occasionally and have started to relax into leading a more formal style of service.  Andy has been involved in encouraging some of our younger men through a men's group and took them away camping in the early summer at the CVM event "The Gathering" which saw 2000 men worshiping God in a field just outside Swindon.

CVM - The Gathering 2015
We had some great church family events this year as well, with a weekend "away", using another Swindon church's premises for a day of Bible study.  We also had a murder mystery dinner to start the weekend and while I cooked for the 60 people who attended, with some help from Josh, Andy and the boys joined in the entertainment as part of the cast for the murder mystery (write that down, write that down - as quoted by Andy several times during the evening!).  We also hosted a comedy evening, transforming the church into an entertainment venue (it's amazing what you can do with a few standard lamps, rope and dust sheets!) and great evening was had by all who attended.

Murder Mystery dinner preparations
Music is still a great part of our family life and Jacob and I regularly helped lead worship through the year, Jacob on guitar and me singing.  However for our Christingle service the music was led by a whole band of young people.  Josh, on keyboard, was the oldest at 19 (that day as it was also his birthday) down to some of singers who were 6.  Another element that has become a Christmas tradition is a choir drawn from across our congregations, drawing together all our singing styles, to present carols and led the singing at the carol service.

St Michael's Music Group - Practicing hard!
We have ended the year tracking where our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes have been sent this year.  It is a lovely way to bless those less fortunate than ourselves at Christmas in God's love.
Shoe boxes ready to send
Those of you who regular read my updates will know that sport, participating and watching,  is a huge part of our family life and 2015 was no exception.

We followed Swindon Town up to Wembley again during the year for the league 1 play off finals. One day we hope to share the joy of winning at Wembley with the boys, but for another year we came home feeling down.
Wembley - League 1 play off finals 2015
Having older children means that they can take advantage of mid week sporting events and took themselves off to Wimbledon this year for the first week's Friday action.

Day out at Wimbledon
Josh also arranged a day out in Cardiff with friends for a day of rugby watching "judgement day".  It is lovely that they are growing into independent young men.

Andy and Josh went to watch Wales in their warm up for the Rugby World Cup, when they played Italy.

Wales v Italy - World cup warm up
We have also watched the tour de France, Rugby World cup and Wimbledon as arm chair supporters.

Family life
As part of Josh's Christmas present last year, he and I went to Birmingham to see the Strictly come dancing tour (we enjoyed it so much we are off back there again this year).

I sat and passed the next module in my Business Analyst Dipolma and have just one left to go plus an oral examination to fit in during 2016.

Jacob had a regular problem in the Vizor household during November - invitations to be in two places at once.  Both offers were for presentation evenings - one for his GCSE certificates and awards evening and the other was a surprise presentation from the LTA.  We contacted the school to explain where he would be and arranged a separate occasion to collect his school awards while we took him to collect the Wiltshire LTA Young Volunteer of the year award.  The mantelpiece is now very full and he carries on like this we will need a trophy cabinet rather than just a shelf.

Josh's application for a university place is progressing well and the offers have started to come back through to him.  We have two visits planned for February to help decide which university will become his first choice and to look seriously at the accommodation choices.

Josh and I squeezed in a second Good Food show this year and I treated him to a cocktail making workshop, which will go down well as an ice breaker (no pun intended) at university.  He has collected quite a drinks cupboard over his birthday and Christmas and we bought a cocktail shaker set.

We have had several trips to the cinema as a family - the male contingent decided the local cinema wasn't up to standard for the Bond release so they headed off to the nearest 4K cinema to view Spectre.  However, we did all go together to watch Star Wars as a Christmas treat.

Jacob has started to learn to drive and is currently on his way back from Scotland where he has spent the past 5 days walking in the Cairngorms, staying just outside Aviemore with the Wiltshire Scouts Midwinter Expedition.

This blog entry doesn't include the boys summer trips or our Silver Wedding celebrations, which I have already written about.

It is always surprising to look back and review all that we have done and how we squeeze it all in.  However we know that all we accomplish is part of God's plan for our lives and it managed in His timing.

That said as part of planning for the New Year, I am taking part in a 40 day devotional for Mums called - Spending time each day with God to hear his voice into my parenting is a refreshing time.  I have read their book and been part of the launch team for the devotional and these two ladies write from the heart and from God.

Our prayer as a family this week is that God will bless those around us in all their plans for the coming year and may His love shine out from all we do.

The Bible verse that has come up for this week is very timely for a New Year, that reminds us as we start to fill up the calendar that we need to learn from the things we do.  To me it also says that we should make the most of the days God has given us and make them count.

Teach us to number our days, 
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

With God's blessing for 2016 from my family to yours,

Jo x