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!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Procrastination

You know that sinking feeling, when there's just too much to be done and you find yourself on facebook far too much because the mountain is just too big to tackle? Well, it seems my open uni course is moving too fast right now to keep up, throw in a 4 day work training in Cardiff, a child's birthday, a campervan trip, home being redecorated and it feels like the sky is falling down (and I now it's just an acorn, and it'll pass).

I was trying to take it all in my stride, forgetting my clumsy big toe, until just before I got home from Cardiff, on the finishing line between Glasgow Central and Cathcart, where I fell spectacularly into the train. Heavy rucksack on my back, heavy case clinched in my fist. I was a turtle on her back just that I had fallen flat on my front, the Kafkaesque person metamorphosed into a bug and unable to move.

Yes, I needed the help of a young gentleman to get me off the disgustingly dirty train floor, and my shins knew it had been a bad fall. 4 days later and it seems I managed to give myself whiplash because that pulsating headache, neck ache and shoulder ache is just not shifting. I was far too embarrassed to even make an attempt to thank my knight in shining armor and feel awfully guilty about it.

Am I using this as an excuse to postpone my uni assignments or am I really struggling here? I don't know, I just feel catapulted at top speed through my life and all I want is for it to stop and slow down.

It would help even if I didn't end up quite so tired at the 9pm spot when the kids are finally in bed, with a brain unable to do any studying. It's rather clear that this excursion to student life will not continue, 9 months of it is enough (6 months at this point). A bit like pregnancy, I remember vaguely I had more than enough at the 6 month point.

Snowflake really cheered me up by drawing a sad face and telling me that would be me if Mr Cartside, Cubling and Snowflake were dead. Top marks for empathy, bottom marks for making me miserable. But on the plus side, she loves me more than Elsa, which in 4 year old terms is probably a massive declaration of love.

And she made a dalmatian so all is well.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Mulan the Musical

      This week had a special treat in store: We were off to see Mulan the Musical at Glasgow's Fruitmarket. The Chinese production by an all female dance company cast retold the legend of Mulan with percussion and acting, transcending language barriers while still celebrating Chinese culture and heritage.

We were very lucky to be offered review tickets, and I'd shown the girls in advance the trailer and told them the story of the girl who protected her ailing father by pretending to be him and joining the army to fight in his stead.

The performance was breathtaking, the drumming was superb and so were the visuals. With great costumes, great acting, a bit of audience participation, and bit sized pieces that made it easy to follow the story, it was very much a production that appealed to young and old alike. Links had been made with the Chinese community in Glasgow and many schools had school classes in attendance so that it felt very comfortable to have taken out young children to a school night performance.

Snowflake's best friend is Chinese and it even turned out that she had seen it too, possibly even on the same night (though we didn't bump into her) so they had a lot to talk about the next day! I thought it was great for Snowflake to learn a little bit about the cultural heritage of her best friend (they have already exchanged languages, her friend teaching her Mandarin and Snowflake teaching her German). And Cubling was more than excited about it all, impersonating the percussion even before we went to see Mulan.

I felt quite privileged to be able to see such an extraordinary performance right at my doorstep. This was the last performance on Red Poppy Percussion's European tour but considering the performance was sold out, I can't but hope they'll be back really soon.

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We received free tickets for the show to review it.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Passing it on

Thanks to a friend whose children attend Glendale Primary School in Pollokshields, an area of Glasgow that is not all that far from where I stay, I found out about the Glendale Women's Cafe, and was asked if I'd be interested in doing a few crochet workshops there. After the first attempt had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, it finally happened in the last 3 weeks. The Glendale Women's Cafe started out in a portacabin on the school grounds, a place for mums to meet. Now the cafe got some funding and is in a proper nice shop front with quite a decent amount of space. There's always cake, and lots of interesting activities. The area is quite multicultural, and so is the cafe.

So I popped in for 3 crochet workshops while friends of mine were kind enough to take my own preschooler to the German playgroup. I'm by not means an expert on crochet, but after a couple of years of regular crochet projects, and with a memory of how I struggled a fair bit to learn it well enough to be a contender with knitting projects (I've been knitting for as long as I can remember), I thought I'd at the right place to try and pass the crochet love on. Mind, I volunteered so nobody could sue me for being a fraud.

And it was just great fun. I approached it with not assuming at all that everyone would progress at the same rate - there's individual differences, some people knit or have done some crochet in the past which makes progress a bit faster, others have little ones that mean they cant' pay full attention, others only joined in session 2 or 3, some were able to practice at home others weren't, and while I had a rough idea what I would cover when, I let the rest just happen.

It was great to see so many people who came along for some crochet, the 10 hooks we had provided were soon gone and had to be replenished, as was the yarn. I loved to see that by session 3, there were still about 10 people with hooks in their hands, and some finished or almost finished products! And thanks to facebook I've even seen one finished project which puts my crochet work totally into the shade.

Some of the ladies even passed on their new skills to their own children, so there's rather a lot of crocheting going on in Pollokshields! Beyond my wee workshops, there are a lot of other activities on offer, art workshops, home energy advice, complimentary treatments and lots of links to community organisations and the services they offer. A brilliant project, all run by parents for parents, with the goal to increase community cohesion. I was a little bit jealous that our primary school doesn't have a similar cafe, it's just such a brilliant idea to create some community spirit by giving parents a space to meet and connect.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Review: Domino's Pizza

I have a a confession to make. I've never ordered in a pizza. Yes. That's right. There are reasons for this - cheese may be one. (there is a family member who won't eat cheese, unless it's cheese cake or crisps, or ... but generally, no cheese) But even when I was single, it never occurred to me to order in a pizza.

My children are a well of information and so I know that other families have things like Friday pizza night. How very curious. Of course, they have been pestering until my ears fall off a tiny little bit to live up to the Jones' so when we were offered to try it out with the money on the PR company, I knew that I couldn't deny my sprogs the excitement of the Friday pizza night.

And guess what? You can order without cheese (though personally, I don't quite see the point of pizza without cheese, but hey that's another blog post)!

Not being used to ordering pizza, and being a perfectionist (ahem), it took me about an hour to select our perfect meal. It also appeared that there were special deals on and it was all quite complicated to make sure that we got all the deals and paid every penny of the maximum amount given to us. It got a bit ridiculous and under normal circumstances, this process would have taken a few minutes max. However, the whole family enjoyed being able to order their very own special pizza (rather than being presented with the healthy stuff mummy usually decides to cook without proper consultation) - which was made possible by a range of sizes, one pizza with 2 differently topped halves, and a family where every person eats exactly what nobody else eats. I mean, we could have just ordered one massive pizza that everyone ate and paid half, but no no no, that wouldn't be us. Fortunately the choices on the order site were endless and pretty easy to make (although with all our toing and froing, an edit function for pizzas already in the basked would have been useful).

3 pizzas it was, one with two different halves, one without cheese and one for me. Throw in some of my favourite ice cream and a starter to share and we were all pizza'd out (and didn't manage to eat it all, so we got two meals out if really). Delivered to our door, no cooking required.

Some fun family games were thrown in, and the kids loved being able to run about and not sit at the table for once to stick the nose onto the clown (not part of your usual Domino's order). And to turn their parents until dizzy to see them stick the nose miles away from the clown. We had a great night in. Oh yes, the pizzas were pretty yummy.

I'm told there's a Domino app to order now as well. Apps are a bit advanced for me, and I have an odd windows phone, where most apps don't work, so don't know about all that, but I'm sure the young ones will love the app.

Jee, I'm hungry now talking about all this pizza.
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full disclosure: We received a set amount to buy anything from the Domino's menu and £5 Amazon vouchers for buying apps, the latter I spent on a nice CD instead, making Bruce Springsteen a bit richer. I'm clearly showing my age here.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

On yer bike!

When I said that the afternoon at Freewheel North did heaps for her confidence to try out her big girls bike rather than her balance bike, I didn't quite expect that a week and 2 outings later, I'd see this:




She's so tiny, the size of a 3 year old, and I can't get my head around that she's even able to cycle, and that she learned it so quickly as well. I guess we're all set for our summer cycle around Cumbrae then! Here's to the end of bike seat and hello trailgator/trips to the park for a wee cycle.

She was very keen to let her grampa know on the day (he is a keen cyclist) and can't wait for getting a start for it at nursery. Her joy was quite something to witness!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Freewheeling in the Green

It's the time of learning how to cycle again. It was pretty straight forward with Cubling, but Snowflake likes her balance bike and isn't all that keen just yet, although I have a feeling it won't need much practice to get her pedalling about.

We'd heard about this organisation called Freewheel North, both from cycling enthusiasts with children and it's also kind of right next to my work and I'd passed it on my lunchtime walks. So we took us there one Sunday afternoon because that's when they have a family session (on dryish days).

It's a simple enough idea, there's a small path network just for bikes and a whole range of pedalled vehicles, and kids can have a go on as many as takes their fancy, for the cost of £1 per person. Freewheel North also runs sessions for disabled people and people with additional needs during the week, so there are lots of accessible bikes as well.

We had amazing fun - first in the family bike (for 4 people, only the back row pedals, clearly the girls loved being moved about by us), then on go-carts, different bikes and balance bikes. There is a mud track too which Cubling was plainly in love with. It was just brilliant to have a decent track which was totally safe and fun, without any worries of traffic, pot holes or children entering the roads. A fab introduction to cycling for sure.

It was very inclusive because of the variety of bikes and other vehicles, there's something for every age and ability, including wheelchair users, and looking around it was great to see both people with special needs and those without cycling together. Cubling even made a friend and was off on a 2-person go-cart with her.

The staff and volunteers helping out were amazing, really making sure everyone had a good experience by choosing the right sized bike and knowing the basics for operation.

And what's more, Snowflakes confidence has really come on, we're still not close to cycling but she's now happy to pedal with just someone holding on to her jacket, so it actually worked to build confidence and move us on a few steps closer to the future of family cycling tours.

Freewheel North also offers led bike rides.
They are based at Templeton Street on Glasgow Green, right behind the adventure playground.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Waving, not drowning

It's pretty obvious that I've more than slightly withdrawn from blogging, other things have become more important and admittedly, I may have that sort of midlife crisis where I really wonder what I could possibly add to the debate when there's plenty of articulate people out there, would anyone really want to read what I have to say?

At the same time I've been busy. After almost losing my job once again (the joys of the voluntary sector where even a permanent job is not particularly permanent), I managed to reduce my working hours to something resembling a work-life balance (I now work 3 days a week term time, at least until Snowflake starts school, which is in September. What happens then, I don't yet know but it doesn't worry me too much), I signed up for some courses. At the Open University I'm working towards the Certificate in Promoting Public Health which won out of 10 different modules/courses, because it didn't just sound super interesting, but it also led to a qualification within 9 months which sounded doable. And if that wasn't enough, an opportunity presented itself that I just had to go for, and 3 months of training later, I am now a breastfeeding peer supporter with the NCT. Which actually fits in incredibly nicely with my course of course.

And with all that public health talk, it's high time that I did something about my health, and so I'm on course to move from totally sedentary to moderately active, and enough weight lost to no longer be in the obese category which I know means a significant lower risk of a whole lot of illnesses.

And then there's the stuff that was kind of always on my to do list and got pushed back by procrastinating on blogger, facebook and whatever else presented itself on the computer. There's a whole pile of books that's been waiting to be read, yarn wanting to be turned in to garments, and it's not that I do much more of it, but even that tiny amount of reading and knitting/crochet simply wasn't happening when all I did every evening was blogging. Somehow, that's no longer attractive and that's ok. 

It's also getting a bit tricky these days exploring the challenges of parenting when your children are growing and respect and confidentiality are more important. So much of this blog was about the thinking that was triggered by new challenges, and to some extent I don't feel like baring my soul or "using" my experiences, and with them, my children, in that way. It just doesn't feel right. It may be time to introduce Cubling to blogging and involve her in it in some way because she's pretty inspirational. I know I'm biased.

But giving this space up completely? I just can't consider this at all. So here it goes, a little toe in the water, a little update for those who may not know (because truth be told, I've not told many people what I'm up to these days).

So hello there, I may be back. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

The artist

Sometimes, she disappears for hours and I know that I am not to disturb. The creative juices are flowing and this child who usually bounces about, runs from adventure to adventure, and is the loudest kid on the block (which means I usually hear her if I can't see her) cannot be heard or seen. If I get too close to the door it's a panicky "mummy DON'T look" that greets me. Of course I don't because I know when she wants to be left alone until her project is entirely finished. It's a big secret and a work in progress is never shared with anyone.

Her favourite book ever is Hoglet the Spineless Hedgehog, which according to her is absolutely amazing ("Mami, it's so so so good that story")

And she is a self declared artist. She loves the fancy paints, like acrylics on canvas.

Next up she creates houses for cats, with built in toys.

After this, she's back to her usual bouncy self, like a switch that's been turned one way and then the other.


 It's not an easy task keeping up with this kind of energy!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Downsized

I have downsized.

As of next month, I've reduced my working hours to effectively 3 days a week term time only. It may be temporary, but there's no guarantee, so I've good and proper taken the plunge. I'd wanted to do this for ages, but alas, it wasn't possible - there were targets not achievable on 3 days, a restructure, more targets and now finally an opportunity to at least spend a bit more time with Snowflake in the last year before she starts school. Oh and the summer holiday: This past summer was so incredibly wonderful, there was so much on and I was stuck in an office without much work to do (which was a first to be fair), a lot of time to think and reassess what is important to me and to allow for my priorities to shift. Realising that due to the restructure, my work had changed to an extent that there was a real chance of getting a request for reduction of hours approved, the idea grew and grew, and I finally had the courage to ask for the biggest reduction to my hours I'm comfortable with. I now also have the summer to spend with the girls which is the real biggy - not just will I save on particularly expensive childcare, but actually be able to do stuff with them that I really want them to experience, as good as our local holiday club offerings are, I don't want them cooped in the same place they spend their school days and after school hours.

For as long as I can think, I've been working hard and playing little. Even as a teenager I worked after school and in the holidays, and every conceivable opportunity to make money to finance my travels was grasped.

Later I was ambitious, not hugely so but I kind of wanted to move up a bit on the career ladder. Having reached the motherhood glass ceiling or something like that, or failing to identify where that career ladder people talk about actually is, I don't see this happening any time soon. So it made sense to just let go of ambition and enjoy this moment, right here, right now, the last year of freedom for Snowflake, and who knows what will be after that.

I'm full of excitement and full of plans for this extra free day and the summer. I have to hold myself back not to fill it up straight away with all the things that I haven't been able to do because of lack of time and actually focus on the stuff I really want to do. So much to do - get back into growing, sewing, studying, volunteering - but above all just being with my children, reconnecting and being able to say yes more often, being able to follow their pace instead of the rat race's pace.

I might even find the time to blog again, whoop.

Both Snowflake and Cubling did a little dance by the way, which is kind of good, just imagine they'd have responded with "oh no mum, I'd really rather go to after school care/ forest kindergarten". 

All the while I am happily humming Chris Wood's song:



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