Do You Know What A MOOC Is?

No? Well, it’s not trendy text speak for a milk-giving bovine. That was my best guess when I first saw the term!

Until about 3 months ago, I had no idea what  MOOC was either. But last December I noticed a thread on a Facebook group I belong to, talking about MOOCs. I’m a sucker for a good acronym, so I couldn’t resist investigating . It turned out MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.

These are online courses that have no limit on numbers and require no prior knowledge of the subject being taught.  These courses are being run globally in increasing numbers, but the ones that were being discussed on the thread that caught my attention are based here in the UK. They are run by FutureLearn, a company owned by the Open University and involving 21 UK universities, plus Trinity College Dublin and Monash University in Australia.  The British Library, British Museum and British Council also make material available to students.

Courses are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible from mobiles, tablets and desktop, so you can  carry on with any course you choose, where ever you are.

I only work very part time because I want to be able to be around for our kids when they aren’t at school, so I also have time for a little further education. Especially when it’s free, as are all of FutureLearn’s courses at the moment. After reading through the list of  up-and-coming courses, I ended up enrolling for a couple.

To date, I have already completed one course; Good Brain: Bad Brain. It walked me through 3 weeks of  very basic neurology, concentrating mainly on the anatomy and physiology of the human brain. This involved concepts I was already familiar with, due to my degree, so it wasn’t really the most challenging course for me. I enjoyed it though and found the links to more information and videos provided very easy to follow. There is plenty of opportunity for discussing  course material with other participants, and a short quiz at the end of each week to make sure you have understood the topic so far. This course was supposed to take me 3 hours a week, but I managed to cover the material in about half that time.

This week I started a very different course, entitled Shakespeare And His World. This is a 10 week course and will supposedly take me around 5 hours a week. Again, I have found this time allocation to be quite generous, so far anyhow. This is a subject I know very little about, but I am finding the mixture of history and literacy fascinating. All the materials (plays and videos) needed are supplied online and are supplemented with access to the historical collections of museum, library and archive items from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

I am already eyeing up the list of courses and trying to decide which one to do after I have finished getting to know William Shakespeare better. Computing, Psychology, Business, Maths? There are courses in all these things available.

If you have a few spare hours a week, and fancy trying something new, why don’t you take a look at FutureLearn’s list of high quality, free courses?
What have you got to lose?

Future learn

The Gallery: Guilty Pleasures

Candy crush level 318

I’ve posted about my Candy Crush addiction before.

No, I’ve not managed to overcome it yet. I gave up playing the other game after our summer holiday as I’d had a month off from both of them, but when we got home I went straight back to crushing candy.

My husband calls it the most evil game in the world but I think he’s probably over exaggerating. Though I wouldn’t like to calculate how much time I’ve spent playing it; DH has offered to work it out. We will settle for ‘too much’ but it’s just so easy to squeeze in ‘one more game’ before I do anything. It’ s probably just as well there is a 5 game limit at anyone time.

If you read my previous post, you will see I have moved on somewhat since then. 246 levels in about 8 months, to be precise. That’s progress right?

And I am very proud of the fact that I have not yet spent a penny on the game- yet.

But has anyone out there ever finished this game? I bet you suddenly have a whole lot more spare time on your hands!

Candy Crush Fail Screen

For more Guilty Pleasures, check out this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.


The Gallery: Rewind

Franz Josef Glacier

This is a photo of DH and I in the snow. It is the 1st of January 2001; we’ve been married for almost 6 months. We were newlywed and childfree; a  happy-go-lucky state  of affairs that would end abruptly about 11 1/2 months later with the arrival of DD1.

If you look closely, you may notice we are not particularly well dressed for the cold. We have trainers on our feet, no gloves and wear no heavy jackets or snow wear. We were very ill prepared for a trip to the snow.

This because we are not in Europe or America in this photo. We were in New Zealand, where it is actually summer in January and had been used to wearing T shirts for the last couple of weeks. So where did all the snow come from?

We are standing on Franz Joseph Glacier in the South Island, 2700m above sea level. The helicopter behind us was our mode of transport. It was terrifying, but infinitely preferable to having to climb up ourselves.  We hadn’t planned to take the flight but had driven past the heliport, seen the sign advertising the chance and we took it. At sea level it had been around 26C, so we didn’t have any really warm clothing with us. We layered up as much as possible, grabbed our so far unworn fleeces and up we went.

We spend almost an hour on the Glacier looking around at the snowfield, throwing snowballs at each other, taking photos and freezing our butts off. It was pretty surreal and a fitting  way to begin our first full year as a married couple.

Then we climbed back into the helicopter, flew along the glacier back down to the heliport ( so I’m told, I had my eyes shut!), where we jumped in our hire car and continued our drive north to the top of the South Island. I’m Kiwi born, so our ultimate destination was my parents’ farm about 2/3rds of the way up the North Island.

Like a lot of couples,we really didn’t make the most of our life before kids, but I’m glad we got to do a few exciting things.

This week’s Gallery theme is Rewind. If you’d like to go back in time with some other bloggers, check out this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.


What Did You Get For Christmas?

I know this question probably seems a bit late. Christmas was over two weeks ago. It’s so last year. Surely I should be asking about New Year Resolutions instead?

Well no. I happen to believe NYR are a mostly pile of poo although I will make an exception if you have resolved to do something new this year, rather than proposing to get fit, lose weight or stop smoking. Again.

If you’ve decided that 2014 is the year you are going to run a marathon, do the three peaks or travel somewhere interesting then I’m all ears. Tell me about it sometime.

But in the meantime, lets go back to Christmas presents.

My best presents were an Alice In Wonderland Klever Case for my Kindle, my Kenwood Kmix (which I have used to make Pavlova, cake, toad in the hole and pancakes) and some super fleecy socks for my wellies. I’m pretty easily satisfied these days.
Kindle Klever Kase

My DH liked his Kindle although, as we are sharing an account we’ve had some interesting discussions about my choice of reading material.

And the kids have enjoyed Marios 3D world on the WiiU, DD3 likes her Pokemon Black DS game, the girls like their Rainbow Looms and knitting, and the lego has gone down well with all of them.

I’m a nosey sort of person, so I want to know what you got for Christmas. I don’t want you to list everything, but would love to hear about the things that you ripped out of the packet and made part of your life in the first week of 2014.  I want you tell me about the good presents, not the ones that are going sit around unwrapped in cupboards until this year’s summer fair.

Also, what did your kids get that they haven’t stopped playing with? Or maybe you could tell me about the things that you have confiscated or ‘accidentally’ thrown out already?

Xmas Day






Happy six year old

There is something about my baby turning six that tipped me over the edge for a short while.

I’m not someone who misses the baby years. Nappies, buggies, feeding, carrying around an entire bag worth of baby stuff- ugh. I was glad to say good bye to all of that. I have enjoyed my kids more as they have got older. It’s great to be able to enjoy their company, rather than just tolerate it.

But now my youngest is now officially a proper boy, capable of reading and writing and arguing his case. He’s no longer the compliant, sweet little brother that the girls have bossed around for so long. Now he has opinions of his own and he is not afraid to share them.

The evening before his birthday, it all hit me quite hard and I moped for a bit as we wrapped his birthday presents. But the next day I was back to normal and enjoyed watching him read his cards and open his presents. His favourite was a Skylanders Swap Force starter pack; as you can see from the photo above, his big sister approved too!

We are not having a birthday party for DS until later in the month, but as a family treat he wanted to go to Build A Bear. DD3 asked if that could be her birthday treat too, as she celebrates at the end of January, so we thought we’d kill two birds with one stone.

Off we trundled to Westfield shopping centre. We don’t go there often, but it’s a 20 minute drive from our house so the plan was to go and have lunch first and then Build A Bear.

It worked out well at first. The food court allows people to choose different things but still eat together, and the kids loved  looking at the Christmas decorations and watching people on the ice rink. But then we headed off to find Build A Bear, and it all went pear shaped.

It took us ages to find an information post that could tell us where all the shops were, and it wasn’t until we had gone past the Lego shop and the Disney store that we realised that there was no Build A Bear in the shopping centre we were at. It seems there used to be, and there is one in Westfield Stratford, but not in Westfield London.

Poor DS, he was very, very upset. Luckily the ensuing meltdown occurred right  outside the Disney store so we were able to distract him with the promise of a Spiderman costume. He was so happy with this that he wore it all day yesterday and has it on today too. I keep finding him crouched, Spidie-like, in various places around the house.

Spidie six year old

So I don’t think he was too upset in the end and no doubt we will end up at Build A Bear some other time. But as far as five year olds go, that’s it for me. There will be no more in this family.

Upwards and onwards.


This Is Not A New Years Resolutions Post

Well, that was 2013. I hadn’t expected much from a year with a ’13’ in it, but it turned out to be a pretty good one.

We enjoyed some fantastic holidays as a family, DD1  has coped well with moving to Secondary School and passed her grade five piano exam, we welcomed a couple of new arrivals into the home and everyone seems to be mostly getting along with life and each other.

On a personal level I’ve taken my work a little more seriously than some other years, have started doing agility with the dogs, read a book a week and got to see the ISS several times.

But what has 2014 got in store for us? You never really know do you? Life can change  in a second, but for 2014 we have no real plans. No travel plans ( yet!), no new pet plans but we will have DD2 starting Secondary School in September. I’m trying not to stress about this too much as it’s months away.

I stopped doing New Years Resolutions years ago, as they only ever made me feel bad when I didn’t manage them. But I do usually make a list of  Things I Would Like To Do.  There are no expectations that I will WILL do these things but it’s something to look back at when I’m feeling lost  or uninspired.

Of course I could do this at any time of year but the beginning of January seems a convenient time to make new lists, doesn’t it?

So in 2014, I’d like to:

  1. finish something that I have begun writing. I have plenty of unfinished bits to work with!
  2. increase my activity levels now my knee is hurting less. Maybe I could try swimming again? I’d like to try drinking more water. And eating more fruit and veggies when hungry.
  3. be a little more organised in my day to day life. I think I will try and keep my phone calendar up to date as well as my Organised Mum Life Book.
  4. spend more one to one time with each of the kids. This makes such a difference to their behaviour that the effort is worth it. Also I’d like to try and yell  at everyone less.
  5. do more baking instead of buying stuff  from the shops. Bread, cakes, biscuits- I have gadgets for them all.

Five is enough I think so I’ll leave this TIWLTD list here .

What about you; do you make resolutions or would you like to make Like To Do list as well?

2014 with fingers





Are You Feeling Christmassy?


I didn’t think I was.

This week has been Hectic ( with a capital H) and I’ve had no time to feel festive. I’m not too worried. I’m pretty sure I remember feeling the same way, at the same time last year, and once things calmed down a bit, I got into it.

I’m counting on my Christmas Spirit to show up next week sometime, probably right after DD1’s birthday.

So imagine my surprise when I came over all Christmassy after watching a video made showing a Canadian Airline I’ve never flown with, giving some of their customers unexpected Christmas presents.

It’s obviously a publicity stunt, albeit a very thoughtful and carefully planned one, but I definitely got a tingle while watching it, and even felt a bit teary.

These were not gifts given to starving African children, homeless people or kids with cancer, but still the excitement and disbelief on these ordinary people’s faces when they opened their present and found what they had asked for, was just a little bit special.

I showed it to my kids and they liked it but then launched into a verbal tirade of all the things they would have asked for, which is missing the point a bit. Then they asked if we could fly with Westjet, which is probably more of the point.

If you haven’t seen the video already, then take a look and see what you think. Did it make you feel festive and did you well up like I did?

My Sore Back

back pain
I have a sore back.

It’s not something I have really suffered from before and it’s really very unpleasant. It’s sore mainly when I’m in bed, so it wakes me up in the middle of the night and stops me from having lie ins. I can still move around carefully, do pilates and walk the dogs. I even manage a bit of housework unfortunately.

During the day it gets better, although can feel a bit stiff and sore in the evening. But I can only lie down for about five hours before the pain starts again. I spend a lot of time tossing and turning. This is a problem because I need at least six hours sleep if  I’m to function efficiently.

This has been going on for about six weeks now. So I’m extra grumpy because I’m in pain and because I’m sleep deprived. This is not good at this time of year.

It all started when we went to Morocco for half term. The riad was lovely but the beds were awful. The mattress had dips in the middle and as we had to share them with the kids, I spent a week trying not to roll onto a child. Once we got home, I had a couple of pain free nights back in my own bed. But then the pain started up again and it won’t stop. I don’t think it’s our bed at home as it’s a futon and has not caused me problems before. We’ve also just recently replaced the mattress.

I take ibuprofen in the morning, and sometimes before I go to bed. I’ve tried heat and ice. Three weeks ago, I went back to the chiropractor I haven’t been too since having my youngest ( He’s now almost six). I still regard chiropractors as a little bit ‘woo’ despite  them keeping me on my feet during two SPD- riddled pregnancies, but I thought they were worth a crack (boom boom).

My first appointment confirmed my pelvis was painful where it joined to my spine. After some treatment, I felt more stable walking and going up stairs than I have for some years. But my bloody back is still sore. It’s now more muscular and seems to involve my quadratus lumborum muscles, if that means anything to anyone.

Last week I headed to the GP looking for a physio referral. Eventually I got one, and I have now braved the NHS chooseandbook site and been able to make my own appointment for about a month’s time.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to be sore and grumpy and will keep shelling out to see the chiropractor as I do feel better after immediately after seeing them; it just doesn’t last.

I commiserate with anyone who has chronic back problems and apologise for not looking particularly festive to anyone who sees me on a daily basis. Please don’t take it personally.

And if anyone has any suggestions for relieving lower back pain, fire away. I’m now at the ‘I’ll try almost anything’ stage…

My Name Is Jacq, And I’m …

An Amazon Addict.

I do 90% of my shopping through Amazon, as I love the way I just need to press a button to buy anything. I don’t need to remember any passwords, or enter any card details. I don’t want to visit dozens of different websites, compare prices and delivery terms before selecting the best deal, then have to wrestle with my credit card details and passwords in an effort to pay. Basically I shop with Amazon because I’m lazy.

At this time of the year Amazon is a godsend. Over the year I’ve been compiling wish lists for the kids, so now Christmas is approaching, all I need to do is work my way down the list and press ‘add to basket’ a lot. Even DH will happily put together a wish list, so I don’t have to worry about getting him a book he’s already read or a CD he already has.

I have an Amazon Prime membership ( £49 / year) which must pay for itself during the month of December, let alone the other 11 months. Oh and if I have to return anything, it’s not too much hassle that I just don’t bother. I figure this saves me money in the long run as well.

Do I feel guilty for not supporting smaller retailers and shops on my high street? Yes, a little. I do try and buy locally when I’m on the high street, but  I’m not going to drive anywhere especially to buy something, when it can be delivered the next day for cheaper.

I also feel bad about not supporting bookstores but we already have too many books in the house, and I now have a kindle for my books.  And of course you buy kindle books from Amazon.

I also happen to hate shopping ; if I’m doing it online there are no crowds, no rude shop assistants and no sorting through the stock trying to find what I’m looking for.

I know Amazon is a retail giant that doesn’t pay enough tax, and doesn’t treat its staff particularly well. I watched that Panorama program and was prepared to be horrified but actually, I didn’t think it was that bad.

So here I am, still sitting firmly on the fence. I love Amazon for its easy payments and fast delivery but feel uneasy about the ethics involved.

What it comes down to is that I don’t feel bad enough to try and do anything about my Amazon habit.

And besides, where else would the cats get that many boxes to play in from?

cat and amazon boxes

The Gallery: November

Jet Stream

This November, I have been watching the weather.

I’m really keen not to have a repeat of last years very wet winter; as a dog owner I was thoroughly sick of mud by the time spring decided to arrive. Instead I want cold, frosty weather with maybe a good spell of snow for the kids to enjoy.

There has been a lot of talk in the tabloids about how this winter is going to be the coldest in years but I’m a cynical old bag these days, and want to have proof of things before I go repeating them. So everyday I log onto netweather,  look at the forecast for my area and then I check out the Jetstream.

The Jetstream is an extremely fast, very wide, ‘river’ of air that flows around the earth from West to East, high up in the atmosphere.  Landmasses and the rotation of the earth stop the Jetstream from flowing in a straight line, and cause it to meander in waves instead.  In the picture above, the Jetstream is moving more quickly in the red areas and more slowly in the yellow areas. Warmer air usually stays South of the Jetstream ( nearer to the equator) and cooler air stays North of it ( closer to the poles).

So what happens when the Jetstream is right over the UK? Look outside. Wet, windy weather is typical.

You can learn more about the Jetstream and how it works here, but for the purposes of this post, all you need to know is that the picture above suggests a good frost is unlikely in the next few days, at least in or around London. For a cold frosty winter, we need the Jet stream to move South of the UK, so some of the cold weather from the north can reach down across the country.

To join me in keeping an eye on the Jet Stream, take a look at Netweathers Jetstream Forecast now and again. Of course, watching the weather doesn’t influence it in the slightest, but at least you’ll be well informed.

To see what others have been up to this November, pop on over to This week’s Gallery at Sticky Fingers.