Sunday, 3 May 2015

A competition that may save lives

If there's one thing that sends shivers down my spine, it's the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. We had gas safety checks and fire safety checks in our house, and each time, it was pointed out that a carbon monoxide alarm would be recommended. Did we get one? Well, eventually yes, but it was one of those things on our to do list for far too long.

It's been only in the last 6 months that we finally got around to pick up a couple of alarms to make our house safe. That's 10 years after first being told we should really get them. Every year in the UK, more than 200 people go to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning and about 40 people die. Small children and the elderly are most at risk, and these are deaths that are entirely avoidable by spending £15 on a carbon monoxide alarm (which lasts around 10 years).

Some more statistics: Ini the last three years, an estimated one in six homes inspected by the Gas Safe Register was found to have an unsafe gas appliance and one in eleven has an unsafe boiler. These are staggering numbers, and an unsafe boiler or gas appliance is a carbon monoxide accident waiting to happen.

CORGI HomePlan is campaigning for every home to get a carbon monoxide detector which will keep the whole family safe. They are really quite cheap, and you should have one in every room that either has a gas appliance (including gas boiler) or an open fire. Find out more details at their website: http://corgi-homeplan-how-safe-is-your-home.org/ where you can follow advice and be aware of warning signs to look out for.

And what's more, I'm giving away a carbon monoxide alarm worth £30. Simply leave a comment below. Competition closes on 12th May 2015.

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Disclosure: post written to raise awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning, no remuneration received. Detector provided by CORGI HomePlan.
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Saturday, 18 April 2015

Now Hear Me!

Now Hear Me is a recently launched NHS education campaign to raise awareness of AAC, which stands for augmentative and alternative communication, and how we all can support people who use AAC in order to communicate. The website Now Hear Me has a lot of practical information which will help anyone who wants to better understand and support people using AAC.

The campaign also offers two very short videos which raise awareness of AAC. I think it's a great idea and much needed because when I first heard of AAC, I had absolutely no idea what it meant, and even after knowing what the letters stand for, I still didn't quite know what it was. The videos only take a minute to watch but hopefully will meant that many more people know about AAC and will be able to proactively help people who use it to be able to make their voices heard.

I can only recommend you take the minute to watch the videos:




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Disclosure: this is a sponsored post. All views expressed are as usual mine.

Monday, 13 April 2015

April - The month of... Wild garlic or bear leek

A wonderful sunshine after the rain walk to and through Linn Park, which looked like this:



Two jacket pockets full of wild garlic, which is called bear leek in German, now look like this:


A super easy wild garlic paste which will keep for months in the fridge.

120 g wild garlic, washed, dried
15g salt
100ml veg oil

Process until smooth and fill into a jar.

This paste can be added to recipes, you can make it into pesto, use it as bread spread.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Review: Hawkins Bazaar

Of course we had a birthday coming up and so soon after Christmas, I always struggle to find a decent present. So it was great to try out a new toy shop, which like all shops these days, has not just a high street, but also an online presence. Hawkins Bazaar has branches in Scotland and I tested out their range and service in their online incarnation. Hawkins Bazaar has stores in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen which is a tad for to travel for me.

The website is rather intuitive and it's easy to browse and find what one is looking for. I also found it easy to browse if one doesn't know what one is looking for (i.e. me). I got lots of ideas and particularly like the section for party bag items which to me seemed a bit more of the unusual and useful type, rather than the usual plastic tat that doesn't last the day. Particularly there were some small toys that in multiple (party bag) quantities were a very good deal.

I'm not quite sure what made the website so user friendly, but my experience was that I found what I was looking for much quicker than in other store websites. For the birthday child, we got a model mini, because she's just really into minis. The idea seemed perfect, and the mini also comes in yellow, however, it wasn't possible to choose the colour (and the one that came was black, but she didn't seem to mind). For Snowflake we got a mermaid tank with swimming life like mermaid which she totally adores, and plays with hours on end. It's perfect for the garden and has been popular amongst the neighbour's girl as well.

The delivery was quick and all went rather well. I stocked up on party bag items and presents for upcoming friends' birthdays too which was rather convenient. The range and selection was good - I'm not sure how it compares to other shops but I definitely didn't feel in any way limited by the range. Postage is reasonable and free for orders over £40. Special deals and multibuy offers are also easy to find, so all in all a good shopping experience that can be recommended. I'm actually quite curious now what the physical Hawkins Bazaar shops look like...

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Disclosure: I received vouchers to buy products for this review (in part payment of my order)


A spot of gardening

I love gardening. But it's one of the things that often gets pushed down the to do list. With all this spring holiday sun (now gone), there was no excuse. My uni assignments may be late, but my back garden is looking much more like a back garden than the mess it was.


This year, I won't be growing much in the line of vegetables. This is because I already know I won't be there to water them for over 3 weeks and the past has taught me what that can do to vegetables. It may rain a lot in Scotland, but there are times when, well, it doesn't. Every single year my poor veggies died of unintended neglect, so I'm going to go simple this year: with flower beds, herbs, lettuce in pots, some potatoes (still chitting), if I can source it, rhubarb (which is a vegetable, so there) and maybe a container growing apple tree.  I'd love some rasp-/tay-/black- or blueberries too but haven't been too successful in keeping them alive either, so I'm still a bit undecided.

In a small garden where container gardening is the big word, even easy growing plants just need a bit of extra attention. So it's all about low maintenance and nothing that I fret over if it gets destroyed. It also doesn't help that the cats are using the raised beds as their toilet, which I'm told is not particularly good for veg growing anyway. And doesn't give freshly planted then dug over plants the greatest of looks.

I filled 2 wheelie bins with garden waste and garden rubbish. It's rather astonishing how much rubbish and unwanted growth can happen over a year. Of course I'm not finished yet, so bring on more of the warmish weather so I can complete the job. But for today, I'm rather satisfied with our wee back garden.


(next time I may even manage to get the herbs actually into the shot, doh).

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Sunshine, holidays and a crashed aeroplane

We are currently on holiday, all four of us. Which is pretty awesome - usually the only family holidays we get in a year are one where we go abroad plus Christmas, so to be off and at home is very rare. We have to thank a change of jobs and a change of working hours respectively. So what to do with a precious week off? Not having planned anything and after having been away on a campervan trip so recently, we are keeping it reasonably local. We've explored new places nearby and further away, following recommendations in the main.

There is also this rather impossible concurrence of school holiday and good weather. It's been sunny since Saturday, that's 5 days in a row. Nothing can go wrong now.

One place we discovered was Fintry in the Campsies, a spectacular short drive away. There is a very cosy bar/restaurant, the Fintry Inn (not to be missed because they have a bike sticking out of the front wall), with very tasty Scottish food fare and a pool table, and a lovely little walk along the river - we didn't get far because the children's imagination at a pebble "beach" took them to imaginary places while their bodies stayed put on said beach. Basically we spent 2 hours on a path that would normally take 10 minutes to walk. It's as if all that winter staying in time had to be balanced out by outdoor imagination all in one go.


Today Cubling and Mr Cartside went into the hills behind Largs to find the small passenger airplane that crashed on Irish Law in 1948 (miraculously, all 20 passengers/crew survived). We didn't go along because it was a proper hillwalk on boggy terrain, which would not have been fun with a 4 year old in tow. (Snowflake and I went up another hill, with much easier access and the quick reward of stunning views of Arran, Cumbrae, Bute and Largs). At the end of a day, back came a very muddy child proudly presenting tiny bits of aeroplane that she'd picked up.
 



It was clearly an adventure filled day. It's astonishing that the plane wreckage is still up there and even more so that not many people outside of Largs know about it. It was something like a real life treasure hunt which made the proper hill walk so much more fun.


Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A German Discovery (Giveaway)

So here I am, being offered my favourite chocolate (Ritter Sport if you must know) and some lovely Moselle wine to explore how Germany can be a good travel destination. Nothing more to my liking than that! It is a bit strange for me though drinking German wine, which I connect with summer in Germany sitting outside in the sunshine of an early evening, here in Glasgow on a rather dreich and chilly March evening. It's just not the same and it makes me long for my summer holiday which will actually take us to Germany.

Germany is not the most popular tourist destination. It's a bit underrated that way. It's a big country with very different regional characteristics, it's by no means a place that can be easily summarised. My parents hail from the Eifel, which is a wine growing region but also makes its own beer, a rural, mountainous and very wooded part of the world which is rather beautiful and very much undiscovered by tourists outside of Germany. The wine, like that of the Rheinland further south, is the perfect drink on a hot summers day, and seriously better than its reputation. I have not had a bad wine in Germany and really don't know where that Liebfrauenmilch myth comes from.

My own part of Germany lies 200km further north, just outside of Cologne, a very densely populated area steeped in chemical industry and with the Black Country of Germany next door. And there's beer being made there too. In fact my hometown is on the borderline between two types of beer, Alt and Koelsch and it's really rather important which one you are partial too, and whether you see yourself closer to Duesseldorf, the city of fashion, or Cologne, the city of Tuennes and Schael, comedy, carnival, hard work and hard partying and a rather impressive Cathedral.

And we are yet very different from all the other regions, the fishheads of the north (it's a term of endearment, honest) or the south/Bavaria, who drink their beer by the litre (when we prefer tiny 200ml glasses, aka test tubes). And Berlin is of course a world on its own.

In our attempt to find a proper holiday destination (in the sense of something that isn't my hometown or one of the fabulous places our friends are from), we have come across a lot of regions to discover. There are canal holidays, the lakes of Mecklenburg, Swiss Saxony with stunning scenery, you only need to drive for an hour and you can discover a slightly different regional identity. Holidays in Germany also mean bathing in lakes, the mudflats of the North Sea, romantic Ruegen at the Baltic Sea, beautiful town centres which are pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

The food is traditional still and you'll get your regional fare anywhere really, it's only the big cities that have the usual multicultural variety of cuisines available. Which means that yes, as a vegetarian, it can be a bit of a struggle, because it is true, Germans love sausages. But there are also foods which have rarely traveled and really should have, take Spaetzle, or the amazing varieties of German bread. In fact, start any German expat on the topic of bread and you'll not hear the end of it.

The great thing about a German holiday is that it's not geared up for mass tourism and isn't pretentious and also doesn't capitalise on what it has to offer. It's all a bit understated, as if nobody really thinks that anyone would even consider coming all the way from where ever to visit Germany - we certainly had a decent amount of disbelief on our farm holiday in the Eifel, where people  wondered in amazement why we would travel so far for this kind of holiday, not understanding that actually, it's a pretty amazing idea to live on a working farm and have the opportunity for the children to see how it all works, as well as daily pony rides through the beautiful German forests.  

Inntravel is a travel company that offers Slow Holidays in Germany, which are tailor made and offer self-guided walking holidays, cycling holidays and more, which offer a great opportunity to explore Germany. An example includes Meanders of the Moselle, which takes travelers through the
vineyards of this Moselle wine region, providing plentiful opportunities for tastings along the way. A full selection of holidays in Germany is available too.

What's best is that I can give away another set of 2 bottles of tasty German white wine and a couple of bars of the most delicious Ritter Sport chocolate to a lucky winner. Please leave a comment on here, and share this giveaway on facebook or twitter with #MyGermanDiscovery @cartside for an extra entry each. Giveaway closes 10th April. 
(Open to residents of the UK only sorry).



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Disclosure: we received German wine and Ritter Sport chocolate to join in the  #MyGermanDiscovery campaign.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Shared Parental Leave

On April 5th, in just a few days, the right to shared parental leave will be coming into force. This is something that has been around in other countries for a while. In Germany, its uptake has been pretty good and lots of dads appreciate the opportunity it gives them to spend quality time with their children in the early years too. When I speak to parents here, many are skeptical about uptake but at the end of the day, one can't take it if it's not an option, so having the option is a first step, it gives food for thought and a choice that wasn't there before.  If you were wondering what it's all about and how to take advantage of it, GoToMeeting has a useful infographic available which explains in a nutshell everything around shared parental leave in a very easy to follow way. A useful too for anyone considering to apply for shared parental leave.


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This is a partnership post

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Birthday week - Disney on Ice

Last weekend's campervan trip was of course not enough to celebrate Cubling's 8th birthday. Thanks to free tickets we had the great opportunity to see Disney on ice and review it. An extra special birthday treat and a great night out for the family for sure.

I was actually quite surprised how excited the girls were about the night, and both of them in equal measures. There was a lot of talk about which characters would be there and what it would all be like, 4 year old was so excited that she wouldn't even have a late afternoon nap (which she usually has whether I like it or not, and which would have helped to get her through the long evening). I was bit suspicious about the venue, the SSE Hydro, which has let me down before with rather poor viewing, but when we took to our seats I knew that this wouldn't be an issue. The ice rink was positioned in a way that it was easy enough to see and the distance and height actually helped to appreciate the formation skating.


The show came in two halves which I felt were perfectly timed, with an intro and then 2 retellings of well loved Disney stories,  The little Mermaid and Tangled before the break and Beauty and the Beast and, of course, Frozen after. The stories were abridged and came with all the best songs from the films. The outfits were anything from stylish to funny - I had rather a lot of fun with Sebastian the crab and Magnus the horse, and the seahorses that came out to dance were rather breathtaking too. It was a visual feast and with ever more "oh look, it's ...!"

For Snowflake, it was the bestest selection of storylines anyway, as she is heavily into Tangled and Frozen, and likes the other two as well. A fair bit of pyrotechnics added more wow factor to it, and there was even a moment of being rather scared (in spite of the distance to the action and being reasonably high up, which I guess speaks for the way that the show did spark the imagination of little ones). The props and set were clever and at times rather beautful too, the ship for the Little Mermaid stood out for me as looking extremely realistic in spite of being only a tiny boat part, and the lanterns from Tangled had all the magic they promise to be.

With the finale of Frozen, all our favourite songs were present and it Snowflake was singing them at sotto voce (much to the dismay of her big sister). I think I was also the victim of having little hands put in front of my mouth as I'm quite party to singing along. I have to admit that I missed bits of the show because the girls were so delighted that I couldn't help but watch them instead.

Like Disney or not, it was a great show with lots of visuals, great music, tongue in cheek and all the hallmarks of great entertainment. The young audience was all dressed up and enjoying themselves brilliantly (as were most of the adults). There was a fair bit of souvenir and marketing stalls which I'm not a great fan of but we did find it easy enough to avoid and at least we didn't experience much pestering.

The show was captivating throughout, both my 8 year old and 4 year old were equally enchanted and in spite of it being well past their bedtimes, they followed every single move. The show is part of the Magical Ice Festival tour and you can catch it in most major UK cities in the next few months.

Which left me with just a cake to make for her ceramic painting party at our local Glazed on Saturday. This year's chosen cake theme would have to be Okami, a Japanese video game which Cubling has been playing with Mr Cartside since Christmas, it's all about a spirit wolf called Amatarasu who fights for good and feeds the animals in the spirit world. I don't think there's many Okami cakes out there, enough though to copy it from a more talented cake maker and icing sculptor than myself. Cubling was pleased which is the main thing. One of these days I'm going to find out how to make a symmetrical cake too. In the meantime, we're munching my assymetrical cakes which at least taste just as well, so there.

There's something about turning 8, Cubling looks really grown to me now, as if she's now at an age where she's getting ever more responsible. It feels odd to be a parent to an 8 year old when it really only seems like yesterday that she was born. A cliche I know but oh so very true.



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We received free tickets for Disney on Ice in return for a review. All views expressed are that of the cartside household, which is slightly partial to all things Frozen in its entirety.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Campervaning

Tomorrow my big girl will be a big 8. And the best birthday present came a bit early, in the form of our first ever trip in a (hired) campervan. I'm not quite sure where her infatuation with campervans comes from, not that I don't understand it, after all it smells of adventure. So we went up to Perth (with a stop en route to watch the solar eclipse through a thick layer of cloud) to pick up our campervan from Big Tree Campervans for 3 days and off we went, without a plan and the Highlands right in front of us.

We didn't stop in Dunkeld - I love this town so much that we probably wouldn't have left if we had, and we didn't find the picnic place I had in mind, so by the time we had lunch, we were in Pitlochry where the fish ladder that we had stopped to see was unfortunately closed for the week. Not to worry, the birthday girl was loving watching the fishermen and soon was found digging for worms (pst, the fishermen didn't want her worms, but fortunately she didn't notice).

Having had 3 recommendations for a campsite in Aviemore, we decided to head there. A quick stop for a food shop and an outdoor jacket (we had filled our small car with stuff, but had managed to forget the birthday girl's jacket which really is kind of essential). Our first night was spent at Glenmore, a camp in the forest site, with owls and woodpeckers to keep us company at the lochside beach, to the backdrop of the snow covered Cairngorms.

I was pleasantly surprised that campervans have heating, for all my love of the outdoors, I really don't enjoy being cold at night. The first day took a bit of getting to used to the campervan (it helped once we figured out that lifting the roof made cooking much easier), and the girls loved their den in the roof. My good plan to work on a certain Open Uni assignment or do some crochet after the kids were asleep were rather a no-goer, because I fell promptly asleep.

The next morning, after a fun filled trip to the beach (it involved water dam building, tree planting, making a see saw, balancing on logs, duck and dog watching), we surprised Cubling with our newly hatched plan for the day: visit Loch Ness. She had done a massive show at school last year all about Nessie and we knew this would be a winner, and so it was. The weather was amazing, blue skies and the first warmth from a tentative spring sun.

We had lunch at Urquhart castle car park, and probably didn't get thrown off because it was off season. The visitor centre was arranged in a way that there was no access to shop, cafe or toilets without paying in, but thankfully they let Snowflake use the toilet anyway, and I shouldn't grumble as they left us in peace to cook up our lunch. Next stop was the Loch Ness Experience, another money making endeavour, which wasn't really worth the price tag. The girls were engrossed in the cave like set and videos with special effects, and clearly enjoyed it. But £8 for adults/ £5 for kids to watch 6 short videos and for the privilege of entering a massive souvenir shop? (not toilets again by the way) I wasn't convinced and wouldn't recommend it unless your child has done a school topic on Nessie.

We decided to head for the Loch Ness Shores campsite south of Loch Ness, which we later found out has only been open for 19 months. The road took us through Fort Augustus, which is a beautiful and sleepy place at this time of the year, and a stunning road through the mountains, past peat bogs, mountain lochs and stunning landscapes, possibly the most spectacular scenery of our trip. The campsite is located in Foyers, which is a village carved into the mountain, with an upper and lower part to it. The following day we would explore the breathtaking waterfalls and the cosy cafe at the waterfall with seriously good food and incredibly thoughtful service by a lady who in another place would probably have been retired 20 years ago.


The campsite was quite different, modern facilities and not as spectacular as the forest site of Glenmore, but run by a couple who were clearly interested in the welfare of their customers and made sure to find us the best location with easy access to both playpark and toilets. Yes, there was a playpark on the site, which was great, as well as lots of different walks along Loch Ness and into the steep hillside that connects lower with upper Foyers.

And what does my almost 8 year old want most? A campfire (not allowed on site but allowed at the shore). Stick with "old man beard" were collected, because no adventure is complete without a fire. Oh, can I see a monster shape coming out of the water?

It was a long drive home - and we went past so many places that would merit a visit. I'm sure we were all in our heads plotting our next trip, whether with campervan or wigwamming it, youth hostels or picking one of our favourite locations and looking for accommodation nearby.

I felt quite apprehensive about a campervan trip, not ever having done it before, and we didn't go the whole way and camp in the wild this time. I was surprised though that it was easy enough to cook simple foods in the van and that it was more comfortable than imagined, the bed didn't give me a sore back, and eventually we had all our stuff organised in a way that was not the total chaos of the first night. What I particularly appreciated was the brilliant communication by the rental company, their excellent customer service (in the good sense, I didn't feel like a serviced customer, but like someone just made absolutely sure that I had the best possible time on my trip), and who can argue with finding 4 fresh eggs from the rental company's hens in the fridge? I also really liked the fact that Big Tree Campervans are based in Perth, which is the best starting point for any Scottish holiday (well, ok, maybe not for Dumfries) and they even valeted our car while away (I almost didn't recognise my car it's so shiny and clean!).

And to Cubling: Happy 8th Birthday my tree hugger, fire maker, Nessie spotter, worm digger, dam builder, cartwheeler, tree climber, adventure lover! You keep me on my toes which is just as well!

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