Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Review: Jamie's Italian

Last week we had the chance to test the new menu of Jamie's Italian in George Square, the occasion being not one, but two family birthdays. I'd been in the past but not in a long while so it was an ideal opportunity to enjoy some good food in town.

There's lots to like about Jamie's Italian. It's a large restaurant yet manages a really cosy atmosphere. The decoration is a feast to the eye too, simple yet appealing, with lots of wood and food items as well as cooking utensils on display.

As we sat down, the kids were given an activity bag which was a real bag of surprises. Not your usual colouring in/wordsearch with a couple of rubbish crayons that break as soon as you look at them. No, this was a pack that kept the 4 children entertained while waiting for and during the meal. A Chinese fortune teller with a food theme (that actually is still being played with, because this week the girls had a Chinese fortune teller phase, the timing couldn't have been better) came out top for sure.

The menu had so much to choose from, and it's so much more than one would expect from an Italian restaurant. With one family member who doesn't eat cheese, we more often than not opt against Italian food, but this was not an issue here at all. The kids menu is great too, and it was really useful that it can be checked out online because a few in our party were running late and it sped up the ordering process.

The kids' menu was refreshingly different with simple but good food and a tub of vegetables to go with it. Yes, there was some humming and hoing, what with this being different to the food they are  used to, but one of the four got really upset when one of her carrot slices disappeared into the mouth of another, because it was the longest and thinnest strip out of the pot. It was so refreshing to see that kids didn't get a deep fried carbs meal but a grilled, balanced meal with more vegetables than I've ever seen on a kids menu.

Best of all, the kids meal was actually free, because kids eat free with an adult meal. Wowser. That makes such a difference. The adults had a wide range of different foods and my goodness, it was tasty. Just the right portion too, i.e. enough to leave space for a pudding, but not too little to leave one hungy if pudding is not required.

We spent much longer than expected, which is rare with the kids, usually after about an hour we are keen to leave and give the relevant restaurant a break, but not so here. The kids were having great fun playing together (!) with the activity bag items, and we never felt the urge to leave.

I asked my two a few questions about the experience, they were a bit tired when answering so it's slightly monosyllabic.

  • What does Jamie's Italian smell like? Can't remember. Like honey!
  • What did you do until your food arrived? Played games, talked. We played with the play bag, there was stuff you can make and colour in.
  • What was your first thought about your meal when the waiter brought it to you? - Oh no, there's salad with it! Mummy's garlic bread looked and tasted extremely yummy and it was freshly baked bread.
  • What did you eat and how was it? Chicken lollipops and it was good. I liked the way the carrots were cut.
  • What do you think your meal was made out of ? Chicken, salad, vegetables, potatoes. 
  • Did you finish your whole plate? Almost. I didn't eat my salad. I didn't eat my potatoes (i.e. one didn't eat the salad, one didn't eat the potatoes)
  • What was the best thing about your meal? The yoghurt dip, the potatoes
  • What did your parents have? I don't know. A pasta dish? (yeah, kind of)
  • Do you think eating vegetables is very important? Yes (said with a frown)
  • Where do you think Italian food comes from? Italy
  • What was the best thing about Jamie's Italian? Eating with my cousin. And my whole family. I liked the toilets because you could easily flush them (this may make you laugh but honestly, most toilets are really rather hard to flush for a small 5 year old, and these ones, well, wow. She could flush them herself, and it looked like a cool flush too. Not having to ask for help from mum is huge)
  • Would you like to come back in the future? Yes/maybe

Friday, 2 October 2015

Disney on Ice

The girls are both big Disney fans. Each has their own favourites, and if I'm sick of reading one book, it must be the Disney story collection which gets pulled out as the bedtime story choice rather a lot. Last year we were lucky to see Disney on Ice and it was a great success, we all really enjoyed the show so we were more than glad to be offered review tickets this year.

This autumn's show started off in Braehead Arena, near Glasgow, and will be touring for a good while through major cities in the U.K. As usual, there are 4 Disney films featured and this time it's Toy Story, The little Mermaid, Cars and, of course, Frozen.

The venue was a bit smaller than last year, and so was the production. This was not a bad thing, we were so much closer to the ice, so much better able to see the amazing skating performance and the girls didn't in the slightest realise that there were slightly less people on the ice. It was still spectacular, colourful, with amazingly original constumes (I'm still not sure how Ken and Barbie managed to look so like Ken and Barbie as they did!). It was easier to focus on the story, and the characters, although for the adults, there was some compromise in the spectacle. But really, last year's show was a hard act to follow, with all of our kids' favourite films covered.

Cars was the one bit that didn't convince, there was no skating invovled, rather a few cars moving rather aimlessly across the ice. Fortunately this was also the shortest chapter of the show. A minor quibble of mine would be that the reduced version of Frozen left my girls wondering where Sven was, and also the story was told in a different way that left some loose ends for the 5 year old. However, as far as I was able to tell, the girls enjoyed it as much as last year's show, and even the initially reluctant and less excited 8 year old ended up enjoying it immensely. The 5 year old was full of praise what a great show it was, so it's definitely a great night out for the whole family.

Disclosure: We received complimentary tickets in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Hope and Fear

This week has been filled with very intense emotions about the big stuff, who we are as human beings. I'm not sure if to despair or rejoice.
It is heartening to see the public support for refugees, the direct action collections and Save the Children's Refugee Crisis Appeal exceeding its targets. People have been touched, a lot of people want to help and empathise with the desperate situation refugees not just from Syria find themselves in.

And then there's the other voices, so prominent because of this world of anonymous social media where everything goes, where the vilest of comments are acceptable somehow. But it's not always the straight forward vileness that depresses me, but the playing out against one another of marginalised groups.

As if wanting to help refugees who have lost everything, who have kids that just want to be safe and play rather than be shot, bombed or drown, comes at the expense of the homeless or other people in dire straits.

That line that we should look after our own first.

I feel very alienated from such discourse. I can try and understand it with my analytical mindset. I know that we as social animals create in groups and out groups, how important peer groups (=any kind of identity groups, ethnic, religious) are. But somehow deep down I don't get it, because when I look at any person I see a mirror, I see me, I relate, I do not see difference. I could be Syrian. My country could be destroyed. My country was destroyed, before my time, but my parents remember the trauma well, of hiding from bombs, of begging for food, of preventable serious illness, of losing their dads to a war that was not theirs, of left behind women trying the best to survive.

There is no "our own". Borders are no more than a trick of the mind, no wait, politicians, who like us to believe that we can impose political structure onto our planet. The reality is that there is one earth, one inhabitable planet, with limited resources, a growing population, climate change that causes changes which will lead to mass movements of people. What we see now is only the start. I'm not fearmongering but there is no doubt in my mind that in the long run we cannot shut borders or control immigration because people will need to move, people will move. From war, from the effects of climate change.

The argument that it's for the "generous" benefits in the UK is ridiculous, these are people running to survive and there aren't actually that many trying to get to the UK compared to other countries. We only see the tip of the iceberg.

Playing refugees out against the homeless or ex servicemen (who actually have access to some resources, even if arguable these aren't sufficient) is totally missing the point. What's more, it's playing out one group of people in need against another. It divides to divert our gaze from the real issues, issues of inequalities within our country, and inequality between countries. Our riches are built on exploitation of natural resources found in other countries, of the tobacco, sugar, and yes slave trade and now that we have it all we don't want to share.

It's extremely upsetting. I wish I could just focus on the outpouring of generosity, which should be so heartening. But I've seen burning reception centres in the past and the incitement to hatred I've seen in the media and particularly on social media fills me with fear. We held vigils at reception centres to protect them from arson. As a teenager I was outraged and self righteous, convinced that the good in people would prevail. I'm just not that sure anymore.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Blog identity crisis

I guess it's pretty normal that after years of blogging, sometimes, one feels that there's something like a dead end. It's not that I want to stop this blog, but it feels that what I used it for is no longer what I want to use it for. I started out in a previous blog with civil society themes, which are still close to my heart, then became a mum and blogged about the challenges but also the treasured memories. I feel this is harder as the children get older because I have to accept their own wishes and it's clear that Cubling doesn't like being a spotlight. And Snowflake is getting to this age too.

As far as other topics are concerned, I feel that there is a lot of noise out there already, so many voices, what could I possibly add? It's not a bout of lacking confidence, just an honest feeling that there are many people out there who are excellent writers and debaters and do the stuff that I would like to do a lot better than me.

So I'm looking a bit for a new niche, not a brand (I've never been one for a blog brand, it stifles my writing). I'm not sure where this will lead but I'm glad for anyone who's still with me on that journey.

A lot has happened in the time that I've been quiet on this space. I've studied with the Open University for the Certificate in Promoting Public Health. The experience of going back to study was interesting because so much has changed, it's so much easier accessing research these days where everything is digitalised. I enjoyed the course but didn't enjoy having to write quite so many written assignments which meant that the topics I really wanted to study were only side lines to working towards passing the course. If I'm to do any more study, I'd much prefer to study without that pressure, but then again recognised qualifications are what looks good on a c.v.

I also trained to become a breastfeeding peer supporter with NCT. I'd always wanted to do this and the opportunity came about suddenly and I embraced it. It took a while to start volunteering and actually be a peer supporter, but it's now happening, just as I'm no longer a breastfeeding mum. The Open Uni course and the NCT training were extremely complementary and both also had very strong links to my work so that I took a lot from it.

At work, I'm now involved in two programmes working with families who have children at the transition to primary school age range. This is of course very satisfying at a time when my own children are at that age. The new programme is in the development stage which is rather exciting, and different to being trained to deliver a set programme. Which actually isn't all that bad either.

There is also a bit of a shift happening with the children growing and slowly but surely being able to join in with activities that I enjoyed before I had children. Both girls are now cycling and we've started to do short and slow bike rides as a family. This has once again brought up my interest in making cycling safer and more prevalent in a city which is not set up for cyclists. I effectively stopped cycling after a bus hit me while pregnant with Cubling, so it's been a long time with only occasional and short trips on the bike.

We've also done a couple of hill walks, no Munro bagging of course, but that suits me just fine. It's just nice to finally find again some of the loose ends of my life before children.

During our summer holiday trip to Germany, we retraced some of my own childhood memories and also discovered some parts of Germany that were very new to me. I felt a tourist in my own country. I always find that I encounter strong emotions when I'm in Germany, a mix of homecoming and feeling estranged, which is slightly unsettling.

I had taken the whole summer off on unpaid leave to savour the precious last summer before Snowflake started school. And I'll do it again next summer. I'm lucky because my work is linked to school term time so it's actually possible, and the summer went by quickly and without regrets. Well, it may make the transition to a 5 day at school week a bit harder for Snowflake who tells me daily she'd rather go to nursery or spend the day with me.

I'll keep doing a good few reviews, simply because I feel they can be useful for some people even if they may not go well with the flow of this blog. We enjoy trying out new places and products (with a relevance to our lives, I have no energy to do reviews of things that I have no interest in).

Hopefully with a bit of a stock take, I'll be more likely to find things worth talking about, although these days I'm actually more interested than ever in the debate rather than just putting forward my own views. This might be why I've been on facebook more than here, where there's more interaction and debate than on a blog space.

Photos taken on our cycle around Cumbrae Island.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

For the technophiles: Kinivo wid380 USB Wifi adapter review

Guest review by the one and only Mr Cartside, who, as you will be impressed to see, knows a fair bit of all things techy (unlike me) which is why he got the job to review this USB Wifi adapter.

The first thing you notice about the Kinivo wid380 USB Wifi adapter is its distinctive physical form. Two slim arms, initially flush with the side of the device, can be rotated, and positioned independently. Presumably these each contain an antenna, and the idea that by a deliberate separation of the two arms, I may reduce the chances of poorly intersecting the electromagnetic wavefronts, is compelling. Physically, I should also mention a rather nice docking unit attached to an extension cable, which frees the device from the need to stick out the front or back of your machine; and instead sit on the top of it, say.

Regarding software, I tried first on Windows and that ran fine. I did also try Ubuntu, and was initially stuck with the previous version (14.10). Here, I needed to compile the driver supplied on the CD; also available at http://downloads.kinivo.com/product/driver/wid380/2011_0719_RT3070_RT3370_RT5370_RT5372_Linux_STA_V2.5.0.3_DPO.bz2. A first error regarding the "__DATE__" macro was resolved by adding:

WFLAGS += -Wno-error=date-time

to ./os/linux/config.mk. Two further errors regarding an assignment between incompatible types at lines 1126 & 1127 in ./os/linux/rt_linux.c were resolved by changing:

pOSFSInfo->fsuid = current_fsuid();
pOSFSInfo->fsgid = current_fsgid();


pOSFSInfo->fsuid = current_fsuid().val;
pOSFSInfo->fsgid = current_fsgid().val;

Eventually, this compiled, installed, and worked; though I must say with fairly poor quality, and frequent connection drops.

Happily though I can say that, on 2 separate machines, the device works automatically with current Ubuntu 15.04. I also now get one more bar of connection strength than I did with my previous USB dongle, so I'm chuffed. Then again, it's recently been dropping the connection again...

So, that's it. It works fine on Windows and passably on Ubuntu. It even looks good - something I never thought I'd say about a USB Wifi Dongle.

Full disclosure: We received the product for review.

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.

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

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:

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...

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).



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