photo credit: Margaret Mead by Smithsonian Institution

photo credit: Margaret Mead by Smithsonian Institution

A response to despair is thankfulness.  Thankfulness for rich memories, for experiences that can’t be taken away, for the gift of crossing paths with others in unexpected and soul expanding ways.  When the news veers from the horrific to the heart-rending, helplessness is an understandable feeling.  But I choose something stronger than defeat. I choose thankfulness. Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead’s wise words come to mind: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the word. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens abound. I see them in the PTFA groups who organise movie nights, school fetes, raffles, etc to help improve the school atmospheres and provide so many uncountable extras. I see them in people raising money and collecting donations for charities and causes farther afield. I see them in the members of my orchestra who come together to share music and remind ourselves as well as our listeners of the great beauty and achievements of art. They pop-up in on-line communities that form and reform around topics that people are passionate about, or in the writing groups I participate in and facilitate. I see them when I visit a place where I may not speak the language, but I need no translations to understand interactions of kindness and trust. They are the living forms of the celebrations of light and faith that so many traditions observe during the winter months.  They are the nodes of communities: neighbourhood gatherings, church groups, knitting circles, community sports teams, book clubs, friendships carried through decades and across distances.  Wherever there is a genuine connection in which people see each other, create conversation and share small bits of understanding, I believe there is good work being done, change is being made for the better.

When sadness lingers at the edges of the newspaper or the day, I find it a balm to stop and look for these small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens, carrying on with their important and humble work.  I am thankful for all the ways they replenish our humanity.

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Where to start from?


Where to start from? acrylic on canvas board, Lynne Cameron 2012

It’s been a quiet and fruitful autumn.  I last posted in September, feeling a need to harvest the many crops of the past year of writing, Writing Circles, running and reading.

And in that time of quiet, a time of gaining perspective on what matters and what I hope for next in this journey of exploration and slowly gained understanding, I’ve found myself growing in two opposite directions.  Maybe this is what makes trees grow so tall – reaching upwards and outwards towards the sky and horizon while at the same time stretching roots deep into the earth.

My reaching upwards and outwards has taken the form of a heeding a call to go back to the classroom, back to teaching physics.  Starting in January, I’ll be teaching in a local independent school here in Cambridge that I’ve long admired.  An opening for a maternity cover came up.  After much consideration, I applied, interviewed, was offered the position and accepted. I’m looking forward to the challenge: from the rigour of teaching the year 13s who are preparing for final exams to the fun of teaching the year 7s who are just beginning to build a physics framework and all the mixtures of year groups and abilities/interest levels in between.  It will be ‘full-on’, as they say here in the UK, but it feels like the time is right.

My stretching of roots deep into the earth has taken the form of more writing, and finding spaces for writing in all corners of the day and city. I don’t necessarily need a room of my own, but I do need to ring fence times of my own where I open the notebook and move the pen, or open the notebook and stare out the window in silence, or open a previously-filled notebook and extract some ramblings into the beginnings of a poem.  The writing keeps me rooted.

Having times of calm or at least quiet reflection, which for me takes the form of writing, is a way of letting all the different strands of my life settle.  During the day, I’m happy for those banners to fly gaily in the wind, twisting and tangling, waving their stripes.  But I believe we also need times when the winds diminish and all these streamers come to rest.  My own personal mandate, as I go forward with teaching this January, is to frequent the blank page, returning often to a centre of stillness.

So what does this mean for the Writing Circles and the posts here at One Tree Bohemia? A hiatus, but not an ending.  If my experiences in and out of the classroom, in and out of physics, in and out of writing and teaching English have taught me anything, they have taught me that there is no such thing as an ending.  There are chapters, there are pauses, there are long breaks, but the things that make us the individual creatures we are, our gifts, skills and passions, never desert us.  They always come around again, and nothing is ever lost or wasted.  Sometimes (usually) they find expression in unexpected and different forms from before, but they always take the form they need to take at that moment.

This post waves ‘goodbye’ in the sense that I don’t know when I’ll next be here, writing in the forest.  I am so grateful for the many visitors, both vocal and silent, who have stopped awhile under my tree over the past few years.

As a closing and a blessing, I’d like to share a painting by my friend, Lynne Cameron. I have loved this painting since I first saw it when I ran a writing workshop, Empathy and Creativity, as part of Lynne’s exhibition, The Living Impulse. And over the years, as I have grown as a writer and watched Lynne grow as a painter, I have come to love it even more. Last autumn, I had the opportunity to purchase it, and taking all the hard-earned money from my accumulated rejections, I bought the painting. (And in a funny kind of poetic justice, I’ve since had 6 pieces of writing accepted for publication!)

What I love about this painting is that I don’t know if I am looking at something very large or very small, I don’t know if I’m looking at a beginning or an ending.  It is possible I am seeing all of these at once.  When I first held the painting, I oriented it differently from how Lynne imagined.  My son then pointed out that I could hang it from different angles, from different sides.  It’s many many paintings in one.  The title is ‘Where to start from?’  It asks a question and opens a world.

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Where to start from? acrylic on canvas board, Lynne Cameron 2012

Posted in Music and art, Non-parabolic trajectory, Physics, Poetry, Present not precious, teaching and learning | Tagged , | 2 Comments


September is often a time of change and beginnings.  Around here, it’s the start of a new school for my son, new activities for my daughter, and a lot of travel for new projects for my husband.

September is also a time of harvest. A time to gather the ripened fruits and grains of the year, savour some, store some for the winter, and collect seeds for next year’s planting. A time to look at the fields and consider which need rotation, which need rest, and which are ready for winter crops.


This year, I find I’m more in harvest mode than new beginnings mode.

Last year was fruitful: In September, the first Writing Circle gathered and set the tone for a programme that I am both proud of and honoured to facilitate.  Spring and summer saw two more groups assemble, each time with faces both familiar and new, and each time with writing that was vibrant and so very exciting to see emerge.



As for my own writing, I filled 8 journals with freehand musings. How many words? The calculation is interesting to me: approximately 8 journals x 200 pages per journal x 20 lines per page x 6 words per line = 192,000 words. Surely there must be a few worth keeping from that hoard.  (To compare, a typical novel is about 90,000 words, probably preceded by many thousands of others that didn’t make the cut).


As my family settle into their new routines (and I help them navigate those transitions), I have decided to take time to tend to the past year’s writing harvest. Time to sort, mill, mix, knead and proof those words. I’m still enough of a scientist to know that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It only changes forms, and the transformation I’m choosing is from generating raw material and excitement to working with what I have in hand. So many words. Perhaps each is a grain.


It’s time to let the fields rest, so that come 2016, the soil will be full of nutrients for Writing Circles to come.  Because it is not the season for sowing, I have decided to postpone this autumn’s sessions of Spilling the Ink and Continuing the Craft. But please stay tuned to hear what offerings will be available in the new year.

In the meantime, what will you be harvesting this autumn?

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August – a month away.


So many beaches, so many waves. Santa Barbara, CA.

We’ve been in the California for the month of August. I haven’t spent this long in the US since before we moved to England, nine years ago.  Unlike most of our other trips to the States, we haven’t been racing around visiting family and friends.  With the exception of a trip I took with the kids to New Mexico to see my family, we’ve stayed in Santa Barbara, as my husband is here on an extended workshop at the university. In many ways, it has felt like a quiet month. Time away from the usual rhythms and patterns of our full lives in the UK.

Sure there have been a lot of adventures and outings: We went to the Channel Islands! We hiked up Rattlesnake Canyon! We play at the beach! We saw the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona! We watched the sunset from the top of Sandia Peak! I could go on and on.  Time spent outside in the wide open spaces of the western US refills every reservoir that runs low when I am away from these landscapes.

View from Cavern Point, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

View from Cavern Point, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park


Barringer Crater in Arizona (2.5 miles around, 4000 ft across, and 550 ft deep) created 50,000 years ago by a meteor about 150 m in diameter.

Watching the sunset from the top of the Sandias, Albuquerque, NM.

Watching the sunset from the top of the Sandias, Albuquerque, NM.

Northern New Mexico. The landscape I love most.

Northern New Mexico. The landscape I love most.

But for me, the tone of the month has been quiet. I think what I mean is that by stepping away from my multi-faceted roles in Cambridge, I have found a brief respite from the tug and push and pull of all those projects. I can stand back and look at the lives we are creating, see how we are filling them with passions and growth.  It’s all a matter of perspective. I get to see the forest for the trees.

When we return to the UK, the academic year will start rolling, picking up a momentum and shape of its own.  We’ll find our ways back into school, work, music lessons, activities, committee work, etc, etc.  But for now, for one more week, I’ll relish these quieter mornings with a relatively uncluttered desk and time to write, play, and be outside.

A very inviting writing desk. At the Presidio, Santa Barbara.

A very inviting writing desk. At the Presidio, Santa Barbara.

Posted in Kidstuff, New Mexico, Non-parabolic trajectory, Present not precious | Leave a comment

Not Just for Writers

20150611_103704Who will come?

When I first started my Writing Circles, this was one of the biggest questions in my mind. Who would want to participate in a writing community where we would be sharing fledgling words, witnessing each others’ growth, and learning together as we went along?

As I put adverts in local village magazines and stuck posters up on notice boards and telephone poles, I felt like I was calling out, “Welcome!  Please join me, whoever you are, wherever you are!  You know who you are, even if I don’t.”

Slowly and surely, names and registrations started trickling in.  Who were these people? A scientist, a nurse, a yoga teacher…

Read more at my guest blog post over at What Now, What Next. You’ll also find information about a chance to join me in an online taster session of Spilling the Ink on 22 Sept.

And while you’re there, take a look around.What Now, What Next is a collaborative network of women 40+ who are leveraging their experience to launch & grow new ventures. There are conversations and community about topics ranging from careers to family to creativity and much more. If you are a woman entrepreneur, you can promote your brand, business & expertise with a FREE web page in a growing community. 

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Writing Circles – One Year Later

writing-circles-logoWe finished up our last meeting of Summertime Spilling the Ink this Thursday in Harston.  It’s been a year since I opened up the doors and put out the call for writers to join me in a Writing Circle!  What a year.  I’ve written about it over here, on my Writing Circles website.

If you’re considering joining me to write, registration for the Autumn 2015 Writing Circles will open soon (details here).  And, coming in 2016: an online offering!!

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Some good news!

I had some good news a few weeks ago.

Among the many hats I wear, I am a science content consultant to a company in India called HeyMath! I work with them on a project called HeyScience! developing short (3-5 min), interactive animations used to teach physical sciences for students ages 14-18.  Founded in 2000 by Nirmala Sankaran and Harsh Rajan, HeyMath! is a well established company in the e-learning sector, being one of the first companies to bring interactive maths learning online.  Their work has been profiled by the BBC, the New York Times, and the Economist as far-reaching and innovative.

Over the past 15 years, they have extended their reach to students in over 50 countries, with major footprints in India, Singapore, South Africa, the US, the UK, and Colombia. The company keeps growing in new and exciting directions.  In 2011, they decided to extend their focus to include sciences, and thus HeyScience! was born. I joined as an independent consultant in 2012, which I wrote about here and here.  I have had the joy of working with the team in Chennai on the HeyScience! project for the past three years.


Some high points: In order for me to work with HeyScience! whilst being based in Cambridge, I needed to set up my own business, which in addition to supporting my work with them has since grown into my creative writing business, Spilling the Ink. There was an amazing trip to India when I first started (photos and more photos).  That initial trip felt like stepping out into the unknown in a way I hadn’t experienced for years.  I had never been to India, I didn’t know what to expect, and it was the first time travelling so far by myself (without kids) since I had been in university.   Over the course of two years, we developed approximately 400 short animations covering topics in physics and chemistry from Newton’s laws of motion to reaction rates.  Completing materials to cover three years’ worth of high school physics and chemistry curriculum was a definite high point.

Another high point was the news last October that the team were ready to start development on the middle grades project for HeyScience! creating materials for grades 7-9, teaching natural sciences.  Again, I was so excited to be a part of the team and I happily joined. January brought the chance for another visit to Chennai. It was wonderful to see old friends and make new ones.


Flower seller in Mylapore market, Chennai


Vegetables for sale, Mylapore market, Chennai

In February, we had the great news that the first contract for HeyScience! to be used in classrooms in South Africa had been signed.  And in March, my colleague who led the development of the product brought the software and materials to South Africa, establishing the programme in about 80 state-funded schools in the Northern Cape province.

We waited with fingers crossed and holding our breaths.  Would it work well in the classroom?  Would it engage, challenge, clarify?  Would it bring science to life the way we have enjoyed it ourselves?  There have been so many people who have contributed to this project, so many sources of creativity and passion, so many hours of careful artistry, computer programming, and content development.  It felt like a lot was at stake when it was finally rolled out.

And now it’s in classrooms!  Our materials are being used!  Early reports (after about 4-6 weeks of use in the class) indicate that teachers and students are using the programme in many different ways to support learning.  Some teachers have been able to use our materials to get learners caught up on previously covered concepts that were tricky to learn; some schools have been able to provide students with learning copies of their own.  Of course, there are cases where the programme still needs help to unfold, to take root.  But we are in classrooms!  Our work is being used!

This is such a rewarding thought; knowing that all that hard work and imagination is finally in the classroom, reaching students and teachers.  Experience and common sense tells us that we will learn much from these first users.  Some things will work well, others not so well.  There will be areas for improvement that we couldn’t have seen without deployment in the classroom and there may be aspects which work well that, likewise, we couldn’t have predicted. It’s so exciting because the work is live!  It’s in the hands of students and teachers.

And that’s my good news.

We now continue, developing the next phase of curriculum, and I can see how all our experience from the first project is making this phase both more efficient and more focused.  The team is an energetic and imaginative bunch with whom I love working.  The high of seeing ‘ready’ animations pop up after hours and hours of hard work is just as thrilling as it ever was. This is work I am immensely proud of and so honoured to contribute to.


Some of the many many people who are part of the HeyScience! team.


With Nimmi Sankaran at Cambridge, recruiting graduates to work for HeyMath! in Chennai for a year (or longer).

Posted in Non-parabolic trajectory, Physics, teaching and learning, Travel | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments