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).

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).

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.

This is a partnership post



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