Thursday, 31 December 2009

Good bye 2009 - a linked year

I'm not in a reflective mood, and even didn't intend to post tonight. Yet here I am sat and reading some amazing posts in my reader. Some moved me to tears, some made me realise that I hadn't followed a blog as closely as I should have. I don't want to reflect too much simply because 2009 wasn't a good year and on the eve of our well deserved holiday I'm not in the mood to let anything bring me down. However, I quite liked Little Mummy Erica's idea of linking to some of her key posts over the year, and sneakily I'm stealing her idea (sorry!). It's particularly useful at this time as I'll be off to sunny shores for a week and won't take my notebook (honestly!), so the selection of links may keep you entertained for the next week or so.

2009 went something like this for me:
On Christmas Day 2008, my brother in law died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving behind his pregnant wife and son who turned two just a few days after. I was stunned and struck with grief for the loss of this wonderful man whose life was cut more than short. Words can't describe the loss, so I struggled for months to even mention it on my blog. Most weeks for the whole of 2009, I spent my three days off work at my sister in law's, or she stayed with us.

Also still in December 2008, I started a new job in a new office, but still with the same organisation and in a similar role. Due to a restructure, I now no longer work with asylum seeking and refugee children. Instead my work focuses on ending child poverty in the UK. As a last effort to make a difference for the people I used to work with, I sent out the Christmas Toy appeal on my blog and I summarised the fabulous the result in January 2009.

In February 2009 I had an idea to put together a fundraising book. The idea slowly took shape to become a hat pattern book to knit and crochet and is now available as a Lulu and Ravelry ebook and a real book.

My amazing daughter turned two in March and it really felt like a watershed. I also found out I was pregnant.

April: I moved bloghosts from cartside.civiblog.com to mummydothat.blogspot.com, becoming a "mummy blogger" in the process. So much changed because of this move, suddenly, I quadrupled my readership and actually got comments! More importantly, I discovered so many amazing blogs so that blogging became an even bigger part of my life. I also started pondering about how to best make our bilingual household work for my daughter. I think it was also April that I finally got myself a digital SLR and rediscovered my love for photography. Not that it was ever gone, but now there were endless possibilities.

At the end of May, I miscarried at just 2 days short of 12 weeks pregnant.

June was a frenzy of activity, maybe to get rid of the what if's in my head? I do have a tendency to go into mad chicken mode when confronted with something that may depress me, it's my way of keeping my mind in its right place. So, I tried to lose weight (and failed), I pondered on why advocating breast-feeding is really important, I pledged for Recycle Week and almost succeeded, and shared some of my work projects.

In July, at least some part of my garden, namely the raised beds, were taking shape, we spent our one day summer holiday on the lovely isle of Cumbrae, and Scotland Secretary Jim Murphy listened to the questions primary school children asked the government.

August held the first bilingual carnival in store. After all my searches for bloggers who blog on bilingualism and raising their children bilingually, I found that while there were great blogs, they weren't connected. And really, we were all experiencing similar difficulties. So the carnival was conceived and it's still going strong. Above all, I witnessed the birth of my niece which was a very emotional and special experience. I also looked back on various stages of being a mother, finding out I was pregnant, my breast-feeding experience, maternity leave and changing jobs while pregnant.

In September, A Hat in Time finally went on sale, I tried to give hope to those parents who like me have a baby/toddler who won't sleep through and that it can change, and I met some great Scottish bloggers for lunch.

October held my second trip to Germany for the year, just four days, but I brought home enough to keep me entertained for the winter. I also looked back once again on what the choices are if you are a 10 month mama. Oh, and I walked the fire of course!

November was full of seasonal events. We were rather busy to be honest: Fireworks, St Martin's Lantern Parade, and lots of getting prepared for Christmas. It continued into December with lots of baking, and an attempt to create a Christmassy Craft Advent Calendar with 24 entries - I'm 5 short so if you have a project you'd like to share for next year, please feel free to still add it. I also pondered on the bigger picture, and on thoughtless consumerism.

I've left out any links to my knitting projects, which is odd, because knitting does have a very secure place in my life an on this blog, so here's at least a link to my biggest and favourite project.

For the new year, I hope that the sense of loss will be at least partially replaced by joy and the ability to let the beauty of life into our hearts. Cheers. We'll be waving from the aeroplane tomorrow then ;)
Wishing you all a great 2010, may it bring happiness, joy, strength and purpose.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

potty training 10 days down

While I'm still knitting like a mad hatter in a race against time, I also need a little break, and possibly, some advice. So here is one last post before we head 4 air hours south: Something along the lines of an update (or cry for help) on the potty training front.

We're 10 days down the line and I had secretly hoped we could travel without nappies. It's not looking good, and while we have no hold luggage and will be keeping our luggage minimal, I think I'll have to take at least a day's supply of nappies along.

This is our road so far:
We went cold turkey. Nappy off, pants on, skirts and tights, spray disinfectant and terries on hand. Oh and the potty of course. I explained that pee and poo was for the potty or toilet, that she was a big girl now and would get a chocolate if she did either on the potty/toilet. And she'd be a Klokoenig (loo king - that concept is from a German potty training book that we read). The very book also has an episode of the boy unrolling a toilet roll while sat on the toilet. Cubling loves sitting on the toilet and copying him, announcing that this makes her a Klokoenig. Hm, not sure about that one.

Days 1-5:
Cubling really did NOT want to sit on the potty. However, being malleable and easily blackmailed, we managed to get her to sit on it while watching the TV, cuddling mummy, reading books etc.
At the same time, she hated pooing in her pants more than pooing in the potty, so we had 100% success on the no. 2 front.
Success on the pee front: 0%

Days 5-10:
Cubling doesn't mind sitting on the potty but neither particularly likes it. She verbalises that poo and pee go in the potty and that she'll get chocolates for it and will be a Klokoenig and that mummy will even make her a crown. She doesn't want to sit on it for the sake of it, but is happy to be transferred when something is imminent.
However, whenever I ask her if she needs to go, she says no. If I sit her on the potty or toilet, nothing comes. Sometimes she says she needs to and I sit her on the potty for 5 minutes - nothing. Repeat. Repeat. Put pants on. A minute later - that face, whining, "I done pipi!" In the pants/carpet/mummy's favourite Nepalese cushion that is. I try to focus on the success that she seems to be happy to use the potty now and seems to understand what this is about.

Poo continues to work better than wee except when visiting friends and when mummy is not around (Cubling is still rather focused on me). Only one day with 50% of pee success, total fail for all other days. When she does do something in the potty, she is slightly upset and needs lots of reassurance, doesn't want to see the result, but rejoices and celebrates the success. And celebrate we do.

Since we've started, she's been dry at naptime, and amazingly, dry 50% of nights (and she sleeps 12 hours!). She only ever needs to wee 2-3 times a day - so she goes a long time between and definitely can hold her bladder! The problem, in my interpretation, is that she doesn't seem to know how to let go. So she waits until she really can't hold anymore and we don't even make it to the potty. From her little wail to the waterfall coming I have about 5 seconds. Which is not enough most times. She also never verbalises that she needs to go - it's just a particular look of slight terror in her face and this little whinge.

Of all the readiness checklists the one thing that she failed on initially is wanting to use the potty/toilet. I have a feeling that she is quite prepared to do it now and reasonably keen, but she can't judge when she needs to go. She has also so far never done a wee when I sat her on the potty/toilet because I knew she had a full bladder - it's as if she's physiologically unable to actively pee. I'm not sure if that interpretation is right, possible or just daft. Thing is, I know my girl and she is eager to please and I do believe that while she's not entirely comfortable using the potty (which will come with time), she does want to use it to please me (and doesn't enjoy having wet pants). I'm convinced this is not a power struggle but that she's finding the practice really rather difficult.

So, where do we go from here? Is she ready or not? Shall we abort or keep going on our holiday? Are there any tricks to teach her to sit on the potty before she is bursting and how to let go even if she's not got a bladder full to the brim?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Christmas 2010

We spent Christmas in snowy Clackmannanshire, trapped for a day or so until we got the shovels and grit out. Not that we were going anywhere. The kids took all day (in Cubling's cousin's case more than that) to unwrap their presents - they were actually more interested in playing than unwrapping. The magic of Santa worked, milk, carrots, home baked cookies and some reindeer dust made sure Santa came and left rather a lot of presents.

And you know what? I love toddlers. Why? Well, how creative can you get with a barbie doll (can I hasten to add that the doll was not my responsibility) and a crane? I was in stitches. What a fabulous idea!
Christmas for us was also a time of great sadness and loss. So, in a way I'm glad this Christmas is over and done with, and that we got through it in one piece, with the kids having bucketloads of fun. A candle was burning all day and in the evening, we lit paper lanterns and let them rise to the sky. There was a physicality of letting go which couldn't escape me, followed by the fading beauty of the light as it rose towards the moon in the ice cold winter night, before changing direction towards the north east and disappearing from our sight. The lanterns that will not return gave us a moment of beauty, togetherness and mindfulness.

Santa brought a toyshop for Cubling with all the gear, including a very popular ice cream stand and a chip and pin till. We are exposed to endless questions of "what do you want to eat?" before she proceeds to fill the basket with random stuff, as much as will go in, and charges £3 for it every single time, with lots of change handed back too. She takes her new job as shop owner very seriously, making sure all her customers are very happy indeed.
When the temperatures rose to come close to zero, not much time was wasted to make good use of good snow man building snow. Three generations were at it, Grampa, Daddy and Cubling herself. And I discovered the monochrome setting on my camera. Hurray! (I'm not one for reading instructions...).

Once we got up the driveway again, we went home, spending boxing day at home mostly, before setting off to the west coast to visit family and friends who I hadn't seen in a very long time. While on the road between Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Glasgow and Clackmannanshire, much knitting was done, but oopsy daisy, I did got distracted and did the armhole shaping for a 6 year old, rather than the 4 year old version. So either I'm going to unravel and not have a summer dress ready for our holiday in a few day's time, or I'll pretend it didn't happen, try to fiddle about with it, adjust the back, make a second armhole for 4 year olds and pray it'll not look quite so bad. Haven't decided yet. I keep thinking that really there's not much in it between a 4 year old and a 6 year old armhole, is there? half an inch? Then I wonder how Cubling's 2 year old arm will look in a 6 year old armhole.... Decisions. Bottom line is I'm knitting ferociously to get the dress finished in time for our departure to sunny shores on New Year's Day. Time's running out and it doesn't help that I think I also found some errata in the pattern. Or maybe it's me?

It was lovely to finally have some time to visit family and friends we hadn't seen in a long long time. Some days, I feel very isolated, as if my friends are fading away because there is no time now to speak, meet and generally keep in touch. It's all the more reassuring when such opportunities to visit arise and the threads can be picked up where they were left dangling. Sometimes, time and distance don't matter. Of course, other times they do and it hurts when long standing friendships evaporate in front of my eyes and all my efforts are not enough to keep a good friend.

In between I kept admiring the winter wonderland that this Christmas had to offer. The Cart winding itself through a snowy suburban landscape, fog lingering over it in the sunset. Branches first weighing down heavy with snow, later turning white from frozen dew, a winterscape changing every day. The wide white expanse between Kilbirnie and Lochwinnoch, lochs that held trees prisoners in their frozen waters. The view across towards the majestic snow covered hills of Arran looking down on Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae.

Now then, I shall disappear for a few days in a pile of yarn trying to save that dress and get it ready for our holiday. I'm doubtful that I'll be able to blog on our holiday so it may be quiet on this site for a little while.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

A Christmas Postcard

Wishing you joy, health, warmth and happiness at Christmas, especially if for some reason or another, it doesn't come easy to you. And make sure you don't forget the cookies, milk, carrots and magic reindeer dust.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Grampa and Granddaughter

A Reverse Competition of Christmas Spending?

I came across a blog post today that tickled me in so many ways that I decided, rather than comment, to continue the discussion here. MrsW over at Clinically Fed Up elaborated on the middle class malaise of a competition of minimalism when it comes to Christmas spend on the kids, and a competition for the handmade which may or may not link in with this minimalism. Of course, I'm summarising here and I do encourage you to read her post before you continue to read mine.

Well, as you can imagine, as someone who has blogged about the senseless consumerism which seems to gnaw at our very existence (though it wasn't meant as a criticism of purely Christmas spending), as someone who tries to include as many handmade items as I can, and as someone who's been rather struggling financially this year, you can imagine that MrsW's post whirled up a bit of sand in my slightly scattered head. It really got me thinking. Am I contributing to the pressure on parents to be picture perfect and have a handmade home? Is my attempt to cut down on spending decidedly middle class (a question I ask myself almost daily)? Can I afford to spend but decide not to because I'm stingy?

To be clear: I find the £50 limit on spend per child artificial. This year, we spent more. In spite of being broke. Last year and the year before it was less, but that was because Cubling was too young and had more toys than she could play with anyway and I truly didn't see the point. The £20 limit is just daft. I spend more than that on other people's kids. The inverse competition isn't something that I've come across, in fact, I've never discussed with even my best friends how much they spend on their child. However, I can relate to so many examples linked to the minimalism of spending.

This year in particular, I've been found to complain about the abundance of presents. Not just for the kids, but for us big kids too. We (Mr and Mrs Cartside) are in our late 30s, yet we are given presents by relatives and friends, who now also give an additional present to our daughter. I know that for some, this is a significant expense, and I'm not comfortable with this. On the other hand, being given presents undoubtably creates a pressure to give presents in return and it does get rather difficult finding a present for people who actually have all they need (or don't disclose what they do need and have not). It's no secret that I hate waste, and the thought of any present, regardless of value, not being used, makes me question what all this present giving is about.

I only need to take my father as a glowing example. Every single present I've given him since time immemorial has been unused. He's my dad and I can't seem to be able to come up with a single thing that he may appreciate. I've tried. Rarely, I've been successful. His own approach is that of monetary gifts, one that I don't particularly like but at least he's (brutally) honest and tells me he can't be bothered imagining what people may want and he really doesn't want any more tat even from other people.

On the other hand, there's the financial pressure that I am under at the moment. It's temporary, so it doesn't worry me the way it worries others. But I know plenty of people who've recently lost their jobs and who still may give presents. It isn't right. I don't want them to give presents, I do appreciate the gesture very much, but really, it's not necessary. We have all we've got and a visit, a phone call, some time together is the best gift there can be. There is also the sad fact that those who struggle the most will still spend to make Christmas special, and end up in debt. Serious debt I may add.

Add to that my very real concern about the temptation of quick buys in cheap shops, the consumer society we live in which produces stuff that is not needed on the expense of natural resources that are limited, I have come to the conclusion that I can only try and address this in some way. So, yes, my way has been to try and increase the proportion of handmade items. Handmade in the broadest sense. Of course MrsW is very right in saying that a) handmade is actually not necessarily cheaper, especially if you look at my favourite sport, knitting; that b) it takes a lot of time and it's not realistic to make a handmade only Christmas; and that c) most of us aren't talented enough to make it anything that someone may appreciate. I struggle with c), really, I love making things, but the only thing I'm reasonably good at is knitting. Which takes ages. I could never ever knit enough to make even the smallest of presents for those closest to me.

As to b) the time involved in making things - that is a very important point. As much as I do like to increase the proportion of handmade items, it doesn't work because I work. Simple as that. I work 4 days a week, sometimes evenings and weekends, I'm the cook in our family, I keep the house tidy (barely let me tell you) and I also help out at another household. There is only so much time in the day and more often than not, my energy just about suffices for a quickly scribbled blog post.

So why do I try? Well, it is about trying to somehow break the endless consumerism I'm surrounded by. If I knit a baby hat, I know that I gave it 2 full evenings of mine. But evenings where I was able to relax. It does make me appreciate the real value of things. Because, even though you can buy a knitted hat/cardigan etc in the shop for a fraction of the cost of yarn, nevermind the time, I also know that the shop hat is cheap because of exploitation, cheap labour, pollution, consumption of natural resources (yes it takes oil to make a baby hat). And I try to opt, where I can, not to buy, not to consume, not to create more stuff. And yes, I'm acutely aware that this attitude is decidedly middle class which makes me very uneasy a lot of the time.

I also want to make sure as of the year to come that anyone who wants to give us a present knows that we are happy if they chose not to. That we appreciate a very small token and are open to agree not to give presents. And as to the kids, well, it's a hard one. I love giving to kids, and so do others. But truth be told, my daughter plays little at home - she's either at the childminder or at her cousin's house, or we are out and about. She already has more toys than time to play with them, and when she plays she actually prefers to help me cook, to play with empty kitchen rolls and other random items. She is great at imagination - e. g. she'll play hairdresser without any toys, she just imagines soap, hair dryer and scissors. I really feel, as much as I hate to say it, that the £30 (I'm guessing) play house that she played with a few times and doesn't now touch, was money wasted.

Therefore, for birthdays and Christmasses to come, I hope our friends and relatives do not feel obliged to buy the latest pink toy for our daughter, or anything at all for us, the parents. And, radical as it may be, second hand is just fine when it comes to presents. The bottom line is that it's hard to tell what will be played with. I'm very happy to spend a lot of money on one item if this is something that will be cherished (which is why we bought a large item for this Christmas) but would rather do without the stuff that won't get played with. And for us - well, do we really need anything? Have we not got more than enough? This year, I've made some handmade presents, some knits, lots of biscuits. They will come in lieu of gifts to relatives who we feel have been burdened with our badly selected gifts in the past.

Surely, food is always appreciated. And if it's homemade, it doesn't have the "I didn't know what to get you so I bought you a box of biscuits" feel to it. I do pledge to do more of this next year. Not as a reverse competition (we will always be happy to spend a lot if it's an item that is appreciated and will be used lots), but as a way of getting the balance right. And not making people thank us for another useless item that we randomly selected for them.

Monday, 21 December 2009

This Winter's Knits

It can only be getting closer to Christmas, if I have four knitting projects going at the same time. And to give them the real winter feel, I took them out to explore the winter wonderland of the weekend (not such a wonderland if you subsequently get stranded on the M80 for 4 hours but I did try to focus on the beautiful winterscape that wasn't exactly passing by on our way back. Thankfully I had some knitting on me to pass the time). Where was I? Knitting. In winter. For Christmas. See those snowflake falling on the almost finished tea cosy? Knitted with Rowan Cocoon (oh I love that yarn) with a splash of mohairy red courtesy of Rowan Kidsilk Haze. It only needs sewn together to be ready as a present for a very special person.

Next up are a pair of socks knit with another favourite yarn of mine - Mirasol Hacho. They are simple socks and will surely keep my beloved's feet very warm and cosy this winter.
You may remember this hat, I just can't get enough of it. I think I knit about 3 of it in the last 2 weeks, for all my friend's recent babies. Here's the latest installment (and after that, it'll be 3 weeks until I'll be knitting this again, as the next baby is due then) for a Scottish German little girl, just before it'll be posted all the way to Erfurt. The pattern is by Woolly Wormhead and you can find it in A Hat in Time. It's the first pattern which I know by heart - such an amazing feeling not having to consult any pattern, just being able to pick up yarn whereever you are and get going. Suddenly I realise that knitting may not have to be about knitting a pattern only once, but that you can pick and choose your piece which will get a new and different encarnation every time it's knit. I'm sure many knit like this, yet it's a new approach for me.

Lastly, a summer dress in the middle of winter. I aim to finish it over the holiday, ready for our trip to warmer shores on New Years Day, so that Cubling can be the star of the beach. It's a f.pea pattern which I'm adjusting to make the vest into a longer dress. I'm a bit nervous about this - usually I just follow patterns to the word, so I hope it'll fit and look as lovely as the original.

In the Christmas Spirit



Yay.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Going potty over the potty

How do working parents potty train?
This is not meant to be an odd question. I have a real conundrum. And I'm sure I'm not the first, A Mums Survival guide has a few tips in the potty training for working parents' department. Now, I've never fretted much about potty training, it's not something I've ever looked forward to, while I always thought it would be easy peasy. Cubling is now 33 months, and ticks all the boxes for readiness.
Apart from the one that has something to do with actually wanting to use the potty/toilet.

She's funny with that. She knows what potty and toilet are for. She saw her cousin being potty trained about 4 months ago. She sometimes wants to sit on the toilet and really wants to do a wee in there, but nothing ever comes out of it, and I have to drag her off the toilet. However, whenever I try to use those magic 3 days at the weekend to use the potty or toilet, she initially likes to sit on it, usually on day one we have one success and the rest accidents, and from day 2 she becomes very.reluctant.indeed. She begs not to go to the toilet, but also doesn't want nappies. Also on day 2 and 3 there are no more successes, only accidents.

While I'm not particularly pushy with potty training, I've tried three time so far to reach some degree of potty training in my 3 days off work, because I believe she's ready. You see, if I'm lucky, I don't work Fri-Sun. Recently though, I had to do a considerable amount of weekend work, which meant that I hardly ever even got 3 days in a row. Now, I can't exactly potty train for three days with maybe one success and then hand Cubling over to the childminder. That's cheeky. Even so, I'd reached the point of considering cheekiness, but asked her first to have a guilt free conscience. She said no sorry. I don't blame her.

Her tip was to do it when I'm off work for a week. That didn't really happen this year as I took individual days off before and after my niece was born. So I left it a while. Now I'm off work for 3 weeks, and this has to be the time. Because, to be fair, I won't get any week off work until Cubling starts at nursery and I really want her out of nappies by then. Another motivator is the fact that she now regularly gets a very sore bum in cloth nappies (something that never had been a problem until she turned 2) and we're using many more disposables than I'm happy with.

So then, round 4 of potty training has been called. It's not been going well. While at home, in the evening, she'll happily sit on the toilet for 30 minutes until I drag her into bed, at my SIL's house she had no inclination to cooperate. Yes, I'm bribing her with chocolates. Anything at this point to get her to be cooperative, I don't care. Yes, she does want chocolates. Oh and she does understand that she'll get them if she manages to do a wee or poo on the potty or toilet. Yet her interest in doing so wanes with every hour. We've done the potty dvd, role play and books. One (German) book, Der Klokoenig (loo king) has a great example of how to unroll a toilet roll into a heap of paper. So she does that bit on the toilet with great joy and says she's a loo king now.

Two days in and she hadn't pooed at all. I got rather worried. Her all day complaint about a sore tummy didn't make me feel any better. We had curry in the evening, surely curry would yield some BM? With plenty of cajoling, cuddling, singing, story reading and even feeding while sat on the potty we got her to at least sit for a long time. It was clear that she needed to poo. I even got the chocolate out, unwrapped it and held it in front of her like a carrot to cajole a donkey. Jee. This was getting a bit much. She alternated between big grins (I very happy! - at the prospect of getting chocolate) to a very worried face caused by fear that it might be sore.

Then finally, and please avert your eyes if this is too much information, that was what got her not one, nonono, but TWO pieces of chocolate:

Needless to say we had a big cheer and a little girl who was jumping for joy and proudly presented her turd to her auntie and cousin (the latter even shared her enthusiasm at the sight).

I very happy now. I know it's only a start. But it's a start, right?

Making a Recycled Tealight Holder

As today's entry for my craft advent calendar is still waiting for a contribution, and there are still another 5 entries available to bring us up to Christmas, I thought I'd share a very simple idea, suitable for crafting with young children (that means roughly 2 1/2 years plus). It also enables you to recycle food jars. It's about time I came up with something really, admittedly I hadn't yet made a proper contribution to it myself. You may consider it a late contribution to the fabulous Recycled Christmas Carnival over at The Rubbish Diet.

You will need:
-A wide jar, big enough to place a tea light in
-transparent craft paper in different colours. I think decopatch paper (which is semi transparent) should also look nice
-pvc glue
-a paintbrush to apply glue with
-a tealight
-scissors (not essential)

Cut or rip the transparent or semi transparent paper into small pieces.
Using a paint brush, cover part or the full outside of the jar with glue (it may help to thin the glue down a bit). Stick the paper pieces on the jar, brush them smooth. You can add layers by simply applying glue to the paper already attached and sticking more paper on. Finish off covering all the paper with a thin layer of glue. Feel free to add some glitter for sparkle.

You may create shapes with this, like a night time sky, a flower, Santa - or keep it simple (as we did) for just some colour and a project which a 33 month old can complete from start to finish. Let dry overnight. Light your tealight and enjoy.

(Well, you may need to also unglue your toddler from the table, and gather the sprinkling of paper bits that will have made their way into every single room of your home. But other than that...)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Backe Backe Plaetzchen - another baking instalment

I think by now all my clothes are smelling of biscuits. Cubling now asks every evening to do Backe Backe Kuchen (the German version of Pat a Cake, did I ever ponder on the strange similarities of German and English children's songs and rhymes?), so there will be even more.

At the weekend we invited friends over for a waffle brunch and we also indulged in Christmas biscuit baking episode 3. So, today, you'll get two recipes for the price of one blog post.

Waffles are, methinks, a Belgian speciality, but hailing not far from the Belgian border, to me, the smell of waffles, the taste of fresh waffles coming out of the waffle iron (maker), with hot cherries and whipped cream, is the taste of home. They are ideal for making when you have people over, because there is a certain effort involved which is hardly worthwhile for just your average nuclear family. Waffles are to be shared, they go well with children getting off chairs to play, and their parents to chat between waffles. For an image of waffles, look at Slugs in the Refrigerator's post on the Edinburgh German Christmas market - they look just the ticket!

Honeywaffles:
Ingredients (for 4-6 adults and 2 toddlers):
375 gr soft butter
75 gr sugar
5 tablespoon runny honey
1 satchet of vanilla sugar (or vanilla essence)
6 eggs
750 gr plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
550ml milk

Method:
with a whisk or hand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Slowly add sugar, honey, vanilla sugar and eggs and beat until fluffy. Alternately add flour with baking powder and milk - you want the dough to be creamy and without bits. The dough should be runny and expand of its own accord in the waffle maker. Adjust consistency by either adding more milk or more flour.

Preheat the waffle iron/maker. I use a medium to low setting - it's up to your preference, the higher the setting the quicker they bake. For a low setting, you may get carried away chatting without burning the kitchen. With a cooking brush, apply a bit of oil to the iron (top and bottom) so that the waffles don't stick. Put a half ladle of dough into each waffle compartment and close. Check regularly and take them out when they are golden brown. They don't take long! Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Eat with hot morello cherries (can be bought at Lidl - being a German chain they tend to stock typically German food) topped with whipped cream. Alternatively: ice cream or yoghurt.

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Now for the the next Christmas biscuit recipe. Today it's a "plain" shaped biscuit recipe. There's nothing plain about it, they are simple to make that's true, but oh so delicious. And they have endless options for the more creatively inclined amongst you. I wanted to make lots, to give as presents as well as stock up our own Christmas indulgence, so my recipe is for rather a lot of biscuits. Feel free to halve amounts if it's just for your own family. If you, like Amanda at Kitschy Coo, struggle with toddlers wanting to help you (or not for that matter), I usually let Cubling help with mixing things together and do the rest after her bedtime. The dough needs to rest, which is exactly the amount of time needed for bedtime routine.

Ingredients:
400gr soft butter (preferably unsalted)
180gr sugar
2 satchets of vanilla sugar (if you don't have those, you can just use vanilla essence)
2 eggs
400 gr plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Method:
put flour with baking powder, sugar, vanilla sugar and eggs into a bowl. Add chunks of butter and flake them to crumbly consistency. Then knead briefly into a dough, make into a ball, cover the ball of dough in the bowl and put into the fridge for about 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 180 degree C. Grease a baking tray (or two) or line with baking paper. Put some flower on your work surface and take about one sixth of the dough and roll out to approximately 3mm thickness with a rolling pin. Cut out shapes, place them on a baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown (in my fan assisted oven, the larger shapes were done after 8 mins).

Now, for simple shaped biscuits, just let them cool a bit and put them into an airtight container. However, you can decorate them with icing sugar. You can also make sandwhich biscuits, such as a big circle and a smaller on top, and jam in the middle. You can dunk them into molten chocolate. Anything goes, there are no limits to your imagination!

I found the baking, especially the second half on my own, very therapeutic, calming, with a lovely rhythm to it. Considering how many tasty biscuits I have, it didn't really take that long to make them. Plus they are so much tastier than anything you can buy in the supermarket.

Monday, 14 December 2009

The bigger picture?

Occasionally, connections can make so much sense. Over 20 years ago, I embarked on a distant learning course on Human Ecology. Just for the fun of it, I was that kind of kid. The other day, I watched Sir David Attenborough (sorry, forgot the title of his feature) ponder on population growth, the education of girls, food and oil shortage. The surprising thing was that all it did was reiterate what I learned over 20 years ago.

So here are the issues:

1. There are 7 billion people on this planet (when I took the course it was 4 billion) and we are struggling to feed them. If everyone on the world had the life style of the average Indian, we could feed 9 billion. If everyone had the lifestyle of the US, we could feed barely over 1 billion.

2. Carbon based energy will be used up in the not so distant future. Our agriculture (i.e. feeding those 7 billion) and consumer culture depend on oil.

3. World population continues to grow very fast. We will go beyond 9 billion. It's only started expanding like this in the past 150 years due to mortality rates going down. We don't want people to die of diseases, so we have to find another avenue to get back to population levels that the world can sustain.

Solutions must include as outcomes: food production to feed the growing population, severe reduction of dependency on oil, and levelling of world population.

To me, that seems to be the simplest summary of our task ahead. Now I'm looking for local solutions for this task. The documentary argued that the education of girls and young women was the biggest factor in a soft approach to population control. The higher educated girls are, the smaller their families. Education brings choice, empowerment, control over their own fertililty. Heaps better than the Chinese model.

Then look at what's happening in education to young people in the UK: disengagement, keeping head down in school, detention, exclusion. Young people for whom textbook education just doesn't cut it. Why? I don't have the answers, but I can see alternatives to education that are meaningful for young people.

A barrier to all of this is of course the way our society distributes wealth through wages. And here's where my main connection of today comes in: A Bit Rich is a report by New Economics Foundation which unveils the real value of professions for societies and compares it with the renumeration. You may argue with the nitty gritty of how they come to the "real value" but there's no doubt that the bottom line is that: We've created a society where the private and financial sector get high salaries but don't actually contribute an awful lot towards society, whereas those professions that do are paid a pittance. Often, women are to be found those in the more valuable professions (think cleaners and childcare workers) and it's also no news that maternal income is crucial in getting rid of child poverty. The cycle thus closes.

So then, we need to connect meaningful educational options with reducing reliance on fossil fuels and and increase in food production. As a step towards encouraging such sollutions, we need wages and salaries to reflect the actual contribution towards the things that matter. This is our challenge. This is not about climate change, whatever your position on this one may be. It's more about, as much as I hate to say it, survival.

It's a high task, but fear not, local changes is what we need and what we can do. Solutions can be found and I've just heard of a really exciting one so if you some clever people get their thinking hats on (there are after all 7 billion brains going about), surely there must be some great ideas floating about.

Ideas to save the world in comment box below please (I'm serious by the way!)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Winter in Pollok Country Park

After more than a decade living in Glasgow, Pollok Country Park to me is still a gem in the city. Before I had a child, I had my allotment there, went running in the large expanse of this urban park with a real country feel to it, or visited the Burrell collection, one of the finest museums of Scotland and possibly the UK. Now, with child, the park still has a magic spell, and never more so than in winter.

Today was a dreich and foggy day, the leafleass trees reaching into the cold and humid winter air. It was one of these Scottish Days where it doesn't truly get light, the dusky feel to the park made it look a little bit mysterious and even exciting. Pollok Country Park is the largest of Glasgow's many parks and, as the name suggest, has a real country feel to it. It's set in the southern edge of the city, about 3 miles from the centre, with the river Cart winding its slow path through it. It is part of the former Pollok estate and thankfully, the family bequeathed the park to the people of Glasgow, and as a consequence, like many museums and attractions in Glasgow, is free of charge.

It is rich in things to do, striking the balance between being a popular destination for a family day and still offering spots for quiet contemplation. In the summer, it hosts Pollok Family Day, a massive event with crafts fair, country living activities and more, in the winter, Pollok House hosts a Victorian style Christmas decoration and the lovely Mrs Claus, as well as horse pulled coach tours.

On ordinary days, Pollok Park invites the visitor to take a stroll along the beautiful banks of the river Cart, woodland walks that take you away from the bustling city. On the way, you will be able to take a very close look at the fluffy Highland cattle, the calves resembling more a lifesize Steiff soft toy than a real animal. There are many picknick places, and the surroundings of Pollok House offer something for the whole family: be it a look at the heavy horses (if you're lucky, you can watch their hooves being cut, all horse care is done in public so that anyone who is there can find out a bit more about the heavy horses), a run through the hedge maze (just the right height for toddlers to get them excited but not frightened), explore the walled gardens, vegetable patches or secret tunnes. There is a waterfall and a countryside rangers centre. At the edges of the park, you'll find two allotment areas and even two golf courses, which gives an idea of the size of the park. There is so much to discover, how about this secret tunnel, shown to me by a toddler (who clearly had better eyes for secret tunnels than me):
One of the attractions of Pollok Country Park is Pollok House, which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and thus charges for a visit. However, the cafe is free and allows visitors to explore a Victorian style kitchen and garden, with plenty of original features, a cozy coffeeshop with a beautiful terrace surrounded by a typical English garden. The cafe itself is beautifully maintained, with high quality food and a very pleasant atmosphere. Next to the cafe are two shops which offer typically Scottish and heritage style fare.

The Burrell collection (entry to which is free) must be one of the most extraordinary collections in the UK, if not Europe. William Burrell was an idiosyncratic art collector and gifted the collection to the city of Glasgow, on the condition that a purpose built building would host it away outside of the then rather polluted city. The museum building itself incorporates some of the art, such as arches, stones and stained glass windows, it's spacious and offers views into the woodlands of the park. A stunning building which is family friendly and invites for a short or a long visit. It is serviced by a modern cafe (a nice contrast to the Victorian atmosphere of the cafe at Pollok House) and a gift shop.

Most recently, there has been a big controversy about a proposed Go Ape development in Pollok Country Park. As the park belongs to the people of Glasgow, and Go Ape would have charged a significant amount for use of a large area of the park, there was a furious campaign against the plans. The campaigners managed to ensure that the whole of Pollok Park would remain freely accessible to the people of Glasgow. Since October 2009, Glasgow's first forest kindergarten has opened it's "doors" to pre school children, which in my opinion is an excellent idea. The park truly offers a sense of wilderness and open space, rural history at the doorstep to Scotland's biggest city and is truly a green lung for the city.

Oh, and did I mention the play park next to the Burrell collection? With so much to offer, it is easily missed, however, it is a lovely play park that offers a range of activities for different ages, also set against the backdrop of the beautiful woodlands.

So what does a toddler think of the park? She loves to run through the maze, balance on little walls, visit the heavy horses, see the waterfall, run on the lawn, climb stairs and explore tunnels, she loves being scared of the two stone lions, play chase and throw twigs into the water. She loves the mud, the puddles, the branches, the berries on the hedges, the swing park, the cafe. Her verdict when we had to call it a day: "I want to go home not, please mummy?"

Pollok Country Park is easily accessible by public transport, with direct bus and train connections to Glasgow city centre.

Zimsterne - cinnemon stars

Vanillekipferl aren't the only type of very yummy Christmas biscuit that are popular in Germany. If you read the comments, you'll see that Metropolitan Mum has been busy making Zimtsterne (cinnemon stars) (PS: and beat me to posting a recipe as I found out after I'd written this post). I can only agree that Zimtsterne are rather nice, and yesterday it was time to bake them, toddler help and all.

The good thing about Zimtsterne are that they allow you to use up your spare egg whites from making Vanillekipferl. So they kind of go hand in hand. Zimtsterne weren't made in my home when I was wee, and I still have a lot of respect for them. They involve egg snow (I know, in English that's beaten egg white. But honestly, how much cuter is egg snow? It just needs to be introduced to English). Egg snow scares me, because whatever I make with it, it won't work. And I've tried. I know the theory, just somehow it never works in practice.

Still, not to be discouraged, I went ahead and made them, substituting icing sugar with caster sugar (which may not be such a good idea - the biscuits turned out a bit on the crunchy side). The only shape for cutting out that resembled a star was too big really, not that it matters, but Zimtsterne are smallish and mine look huge. Cubling insisted on other shapes, particularly the flower (not in the Christmas spirit yet?), so we've got Zimtblumen as well. This recipe is even easier than Vanillekipferl (apart from the egg snow bit, but that may just be me).

Here it goes:
Ingredients:
3 egg whites
250 gr icing sugar
300 gr ground almonds
a teaspoon of cinnemon (I used 2, you can never have enough cinnemon)
a bit of grated lemon and a dash or rum (both optional).

Method:
beat the egg white until it becomes very stiff. Add the icing sugar as it becomes stiff, one spoon at a time (Cubling did that).
Add the ground almonds and cinnemon mix slowly and mix carefully.
The dough should be sticky but not runny. If it's runny, add more almonds.
Place the dough on a large piece of food roll, place another piece on top and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 5mm thickness. Remove the top plastic sheet and cut out star shapes, transfer to baking paper line baking tray.
Bake at 150 degrees C for 10-20 minutes (depending on your oven and size of biscuits - with a fan assisted oven and large biscuits it took 13 minutes - the biscuits should be firm from the outside but may still be a tiny bit soft underneath).
If you like, decorate with icing sugar, eithe dry or liquid. Store in an airtight container. Keep for Christmas or give as presents.

This is the half way point of Christmas biscuit baking. Upcoming are Spritzgebaeck and simple, shaped biscuits. Cubling really enjoyed making Zimtsterne, she very delicately cut the shapes and transferred them to the baking tray. Then she finished them off by adding some icing sugar to make them look snowy. I was impressed to say the least. She was better at it with her tiny fingers than me. Above all I'm amazed that she enjoys the baking and is able now to see the whole process through without getting bored.She's growing up, fast.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Rant in the midst of the Christmas spirit

Sometimes, just sometimes, I do need a reliable and affordable postal service. As someone who has friends in various countries, and who occasionally (and admittedly rarer than could be) would like to connect in simple but nice ways with her family and friends beyond the Channel and Irish Sea, I need to use some form of postal service.

So, I put a parcel of little titbits together for a friend of mine. Nothing of great value, just a parcel of goodies that a family of four would enjoy opening up. When I heard the postage cost I thought I'd misheard. Honestly, I had to ask twice to make sure that my ears were in fact working and the poor man in the shop post office hadn't made a mistake. The bill came to 32 quid. I kid you not, that's considerably more than the actual value of the items in the box. I had to decide not to use the service offered, which was embarrassing. Kindly, the guy fiddled about and found that if I repackaged into two parcels of 3 lbs each, I'd only pay half of that. How can that be? I mean, surely, it must be easier to handle one rather than two parcels? I decided to go with the competition, DHL to be precise, who picked up the parcel from my door, and deliver it tracked within 3-5 days for half the cost of Royal Mail. Plus I didn't need to repackage.

At the same time I'm waiting for a parcel from German that was posted well over 2 weeks ago. By airmail. It must be the slowest aeroplane ever. Some people may be able to cycle the distance in that time. What if it was meant for an occasion and arrived too late?

Next, I send a letter with 10 copies of A Hat in Time (have you got your copy yet?) from Glasgow to Edinburgh, for sale at a crafts market. Posted on Wednesday first class (very expensive and yes, ouch, because I still haven't quite recovered the outlay of the print run, and remember, this month I'm broke, so it was a financial risk to start with because I have to sell 3 books just to just recover the postage and production cost). Today, Friday, it hasn't yet arrived. This means I'll lose 50% of potential sale time. We're talking Glasgow to Edinburgh here, I could have driven the books there for the cost of postage.

I've had various incidents of larger items getting lost, within the UK and between EU countries. There was a toddler coat that I bought on ebay which arrived 6 weeks after it was sent, by that time the seller had completed (!) a claim with Royal Mail. I got my coat for free that way, but really, I'd rather pay and get my coat in time.

There are numerous incidents of a red card being left in our letter box and when I drag myself to the depot (which is only open mornings and about 4 miles away), the item was not to be found. Never to appear again. Without any knowledge of who sent it, so I can't even get the sender to claim for a lost item. And I don't even know if it was valuable, a nice gesture or anything else that I'd like to send the sender for.

So I'm seriously considering if I should entrust any Christmas cards to the rubbish service that has become out of Royal Mail. I'm all for supporting them so they can actually stay in business, but there are limits. It really infuriates me that they make it unaffordable to send a little something to people you hardly see, thus undermining the cracked leg that their business stands on. The personal touch of a letter, a parcel, sent from human to human. I'll certainly think twice now about using them at all. That surely can't be in their business interest.

photo credit: theedinburghblog via flickr.com

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Oh, what's that smell, could it be?

Yes, it it. The unmistakeable smell of Plaetzchen (biscuits). If there is one thing that reminds me of Christmas time in my childhood, it's this smell. There are some peculiarities in German culture, and this one is a very good example. There is a wealth of amazingly tasty biscuits that every self respecting family will bake in the run-up to Christmas (aka advent), and activity shared with the whole family. It fills every sense, the tactile kneading, the smell, the taste of dough and finished biscuits, the sound of Christmas carols, the sight of stars, moons and every Christmassy shape you can imagine. And somehow, in spite of this being so goody good, we only do it at Christmas. Which is a shame really. Because, arguably, these biscuits are one of the highlights of German cuisine. In my opinion anyway.

When I was a child, this was as good as the only baking we would do during the whole year. Well, there was occasional cake baking, but my mother hated the mess, she hated toddler/child me in the kitchen creating even more mess, and my dad never liked cakes (odd, I know). At the best of times, I was tolerated in the kitchen. Of course those negative kitchen vibes could not come between me and the love of baking Weihnachtsplaetzchen (Christmas cookies), and I would demand it anyway, contributing to a stressed out mood of my mother. Maybe she got stressed because we'd make about 3 or 4 receipes at once, which to be fair is highly stressful and also a tad boring. Biscuit baking is, after all, not a factory line production.

Christmas biscuits were given as presents, everyone seemed to have their personal best and so they were exchanged. Bakeries would sell their own home made biscuits and there were lengthy discussions about which were good and which weren't. It had to taste homemade, and if it didn't, the verdict was crushing.

After a baby induced break from making Christmas biscuits (my spirited daughter, for the past 2 years, did not allow me any opportunity to find the time and relaxed spirit needed to embark on Plaetzchen making and the year before that I was pregnancy-tired), I can proudly declare that 2 3/4 year after baby, I'm back at it.

Tonight I made one of my three all time favourites. They're called Vanille Kipferl, something like vanilla halfmoons in English. Fancy the recipie? Here you go:

Ingredients:
50gr ground almonds
50gr gound hazelnuts
280gr flour (I use self raising)
70gr sugar (I use brown caster sugar)
200gr butter (unsalted if you can get your hand on it, if not, nevermind - I use butter at room temperature, 30 seconds in the microwave does the trick)
2 egg yolks
20 gr vanilla sugar (the one item not to be found in the UK! Don't despair, vanilla sugar is just that, sugar and vanilla. I add a double measure of vanilla essence plus increasing the amount of caster sugar by 20gr)
icing sugar

Method:
Mix everything together (apart from the icing sugar).
Knead into a dough. Wrap dough into aluminium foil and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 190 degree C.
Take small portions of the dough and quickly form into a roll the thickness of a big pencil (for this, knead through the portion briefly, then roll on the work surface with a tiny bit of flour).
Cut the roll into 5 cm long pieces and shape into half moons/circles.
Put on a baking tray (either buttered or use baking paper) and bake in the middle of the oven at 190 degree C until golden (7-10 minutes depending on size of your biscuits and whether you have a fan assisted oven or not).
Take out, let cool for a few minutes but not too long (they should still be warm), then roll the biscuits in icing sugar (or vanilla sugar if you can get hold of some).
The biscuits store well in airtight containers.

Watch for toddlers and husbands who may sneakily eat them before Christmas, which of course is absolutely not tolerated. Only breakage may be eaten before Christmas.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Portrait of Mama and Dada


About two years or so ago, Hot Cross Mum tagged me with this excellent idea: Get your cooperative toddler to depict you in her own artistic way. Oh how excited I was at this fabulous meme (bloggish for chain letter).

Ok, to be fair, it's been "only" almost a month since. I asked Cubling every single day if she'd draw mummy. No luck. "Neee!" she exclaimed in her shaking-head-severely intonation, as if it was at worst an extremely daft or at least a rather peculiar request.

Fast forward to the weekend, and she's doing her infamous circles again. Oh she loves circles. So I ask her if she can do a face. How about one eye. And another eye. A nose maybe? And wouldn't a mouth look good? What about your favourite eyebrowes? Ears, my darling? (that's the lines beside the eyes) And maybe a bit of hair? Great, looking super!!! "Face!" she adds, and with a bold stroke of genius, she adds another circle (clearly, the original circles weren't actually a face).

Who's this, I ask her, (well, I did say "wer ist das?") to which she replied promptly "Auntie R!" My hopes to finally get this meme done are shattered once again.

The following day, I notice another face. No idea when she drew that one, and neither of the other adults present saw her do it, or indeed encouraged her to do it. My little girl is a genius. As granny and grampa arrive, I ask her to tell them who this is. "This mummy, this daddy!", she says, while pointing.

I'm delighted, she's changed her mind and finally, I have my much desired first portrait of mummy (she'd done daddy before, lucky him). Phew. Who thought it could be such an undertaking to get a two year old to comply with a simple request? Please also note that this is drawn with her favourite colour, the one she'll always pick for any kind of painting and drawing, yes, my readers, it's black. Only 2 years and already a Goth. I made the white paper green in Picasa because I felt like a bit of colour, not because mummy is green with envy or sickness.

And I pass this on to Kitschy Coo, Kids Craft and Chaos, Very Bored Housewife and Notes from Lapland in the hope that their kids are a bit more cooperative.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The erosion of childhood

Last week saw me attend two training days on keeping children safe online and educating them to keep themselves safe. The training is provided by CEOP and I can only recommend it. I consider myself reasonable knowledgeable in all things child protection, but the training was an eye opener still. What shocked me most was the realisation of how very young girls are becoming increasingly sexualised, the reasons for this, the risks and the impact on these young girls. Not long ago, Noble Savage blogged about the effects of the sexualisation of girls on boys, and I also revisited my thoughts on Tom Cruise's and Kati Holme's 3 year old daughter Suri wearing a designer wardrobe and, can you believe it, high heel shoes.

Children copy what they see. This Australian short advert which really brings this message home:


So what do children see? Most women they respect and are into are extremely sexualised. They are Christina Aguileras, Hanna Montanas, Katie Prices and many more. The list is endless. Girls/women in magazine, barely alive so famished to fit the size zero aspiration. Metropolitan Mum blogs about it every Monday very poignantly. Now, I've tried to remember what kind of women might have been my role model. Who did I admire when I was, say, 12? Strangely, the women I remember I didn't admire. There was Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Samantha Fox, Bananarama. All sexualised, but I couldn't care less for them. Annie Lennox was someone I admired, but maybe that is in retrospect because it was only later that I developed a deeply rooted respect for her talent. I honestly cannot remember a single woman who might have been a role model for me. My role models were male, for better or worse. So I'm at a loss. I can't relate to the admiration of half naked, unreal looking, orgasmically dancing women that have become the role models of this decade's girls.

The training presented me with many interesting facts. One of the statistics quoted was that 55% of secondary school children felt that their childhood was over. The link to the sexualisation of very young girls isn't proven, but it seems difficult to argue that there is no link. If it's desireable for girls of any age, and I mean from toddler age onwards, to look like a grown women, if they are put into adult clothes that make them look more sexy than cute (high heels anyone?), if they aspire to look like those succesful, rich, have it all women that are barely clad at public events (see that image of Katie Price posing with primary aged kids?) then it's little wonder that by the time they reach 11, children feel their childhood is over.

Instead, our girls are aiming to look like sexy women, boys create Miss Bimbo characters, read glossy mags and pro anorexia sites that tell them they should look like a famished person, that the way to fame, money and happiness is by being thin and sexy. Ask any teenager nowadays what they want to become and it'll be either a singer/actress or a footballer/musician depending on gender. This is the common ground of our children's aspirations. Aspirations which are bound to be crushed, and do not enable their individual talents to flourish. I just cringe at the thought of living in a world of Miss Bimbos.

The problems is exasperated by the fact that adults collude with the sexualisation of young children. Beauty pageants are just one example where adults encourage young children to the extreme to pose as little adults. Children are targeted by the fashion industry and so are their parents. It starts early and gets them hooked good and proper.

Just to be clear - I would never suggest girls shouldn't have the right to choose their clothing or the way they choose to represent themselves. They do, the issue is that they are stereotyping themselves and losing the diversity of personality that they do have. Often, younger girls are just copying their older sisters, and inadvertently, and innocently, equate good looks with sexy looks. The two then become inextricably linked and therein lies the danger. Of course, on the one hand there is the risk that paedophiles see a pouting girl's photo as an open door and that they will groom them. The problem here is the paedophile not the girl. The other danger is that of having the pressure to look sexy imprinted on them as something that is not just desirably, but necessary. Then, there is no choice for the girl.

I take issue particularly with the sense of lost childhood, a childhood that ends early because of the desire to be an adult, to be sexy, attractive and desired. As a mother to a girl, I'm worried. I wish for her to be carefree, to not have to feel pressurised into any kind of behaviour, by her peers or the society we live in. I want her childhood to last as long as possible, I wish for her to be free and able to choose what is good for her and makes her grow as a person. I want her to be a child for as long as she can. The thing is, childhood is short and precious, and adulthood is long enough.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Something I made earlier

I've been slacking a little bit in the card making department. For the last few years, incredibly, I managed to make almost every card that left our house. Not so this year - somehow, knitting took over. It could also have something to do with my reluctance to sitting in the dining room in the evening rather than the living room (where there is no suitable surface for making cards). The decision was made to give Christmas cards a miss for this year, but to at least attempt to get back into personalised card making for other occasions.

Baby Roisin and Baby no-name-yet finally gave me the kick in the Popo that I'd been waiting for. So, the other night, while my beloved was busy writing Christmas cards, I made few new baby cards. They are simple to make and the techniques are self explanatory. I'm not a card artist, just someone who enjoys crafting here and there, and who enjoys to personalise cards that little bit. The cards I make are simple, and I expect that anyone can create something similar (or even better).

I use plain coloured card stock in various sizes which can be purchased at almost every arts and craft shop (Millers and The Art Shop in Glasgow, Hobbycraft in the Fort in Easterhouse/Glasgow, and in Cardwell Garden Centre in Gourock which has a great crafts shop). I tend to go for the cheapest option (usually it comes as 50 cards and envelopes, the quality is decent and much cheaper than the lower quantity options - I find that I use white and ivory most, with red and green card stock for Christmas cards). I also have a supply of toppers and a selection of different type of card, fabric, stamps and pens to colour in, beads and any other decoration you can get your hands on. Ikea currently does very cheap scrapbooking sets which can also be used for decorating. Children's craft scissors are great for unusual edgings. Or you can rip hand made paper to great effect. Finally, I use letter stickers to personalise the card once baby is born and the name is known.

So six cheers for last week's two babies.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Money saving tips for Christmas

Is anyone else broke? I am. Big time. I never knew how much holidays to warm places can cost and used to backpacking really. So here we are, two thirds down the Christmas present hunt, only the start of December, no credit card (out of principle, I don't do credit cards) and slightly unsure of how to manage the rest of the month. I don't blame Christmas or the holiday we booked (we need it, and haven't been on a holiday since our honeymoon so we kinda deserve it), really and truly I blame the housing market. Or the combination of the three. I wouldn't be broke if my lovely flat would only sell - and if I hadn't renovated it (which I did so it would sell) and hadn't had a home report done for it (which I did, you guessed it, so it would sell).

So, from now until the ominous sale of the flat, we have to go on money saving setting.

I'm sure I'm not the only one scratching at the bottom of their purses, and why not share some top money saving tips? So here are my top 10 and it be great if you could share yours in the comment box below.

  1. Find a better deal on your insurance(s) (I saved 100 quid today just on home insurance, no bad eh?)
  2. Send e-cards instead of real Christmas cards. Good for the environment too
  3. Recycle old Christmas cards to make new ones or for name tags.
  4. Be creative with food. Cook from scratch and get better at buying just what you need, and use what you've got before buying new food so it doesn't end in the bin (tip courtesy of Zooarchaeologist over at Being a Mummy).
  5. Don't eat in cafes or restaurants. Take snacks with you and eat at home. Cruel but really, how much do cafe's charge for food and drink? I can get a pound bag of coffee for the price of just one latte.
  6. Make presents instead of buying them. Seriously, people have so much stuff that most presents end up in the next charity shop anyway so why not make something that is personal - surely those presents won't get chucked out a week after Christmas. Some Numbered Listof my do it yourself ideas: home made photo calendar with a bit of scrapbooking, home made Christmas cookies, home sewn and knitted bits and bobs for the house, handmade Christmas decoration.
  7. Declutter your home and sell old stuff on ebay, give it away on freecycle or to charity shops. It's satisfying, you can breathe again in your home and you may even make some money. And if you don't make money, you make someone happy. Even better.
  8. Head over to Violet Posy's Thrifty Christmas. Great ideas for presents (see 6.)
  9. Turn light and heating off in the rooms you're not in. Don't have heating come on timed, just switch it on as you come in. Turn it down if you get too hot in the late evening. In fact, turn the temperature setting down a bit. Turn off your chargers and other items on standby when not used.
  10. Don't get your roof repaired or your plumbing fixed. OK, I'm joking, but I'm getting ever so slightly used to having water come in through roof, ceiling, walls, into and out of cupboards, having overflowing baths and sinks. Our drains seem to have decided to let water in rather than out, when it rains. It rains a lot in Western Scotland. But that's another story. Cubling's comment: Need Bob the Builder come fix it! We got Ronnie the Plumber, Bob was busy).
Above all, I hope you can join me in appreciating the things we do have a little bit more every day. Like Cubling's infectious giggle when Mr Tickle is running for her, or her delight in being scared of Daddysaurus. And, in spite of being broke, I'm so looking forward to the holiday I can't really afford because I can't wait to see Cubling find out about sandy beaches and the sea without freezing her toes off.

Any more tips? Please do share!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Craft Advent Calendar

I had an idea. It doesn't happen a lot, so if it happens, I get all excited.
Inspired by Violet Posy's Thrifty Christmas, and today being the first day of December, it occurred to me how nice it would be to have one little Christmassy craft project for children for each day of December. A sort of Craft Advent Calendar.

So, I'm inviting all you fellow bloggers who have Christmassy craft ideas to blog about them and add the link to this post, and hopefully together we'll be able to create a unique crafty advent calendar which we can all draw inspiration from.

Are you up for it? Consider yourself tagged!

Let's bid for Cumbria!

I'm sure anyone in the mummy blogging world already knows about this but on the off chance that anyone reads this who doesn't follow me on twitter, who isn't a mummy blogger and who isn't my friend on facebook, and who's actually not heard about it, I absolutly need to tell you about this wonderful initiative:

Kat of Housewife Confidential came up with the amazing idea of raising funds for the Cumbria Flood Recovery Fund by mobilising the British Mummy Blogging Network and got together donations of amazing auction items, donation of a website hosting the auction and another one putting it all together, and the support of the blogging community and their social networking power.

Since yesterday, the auction has been life. It'll run until Sunday and I'm sure there'll be something for anyone to bid for. Having been a bit of a headless chicken recently, I totally missed the deadline for contributing a lot, and never managed to touch base with the two PR contacts I've got (I'll never get the PR business sorted, not my cup cake I suppose), so I've been a bit of a numpty for supporting this amazing initiative.

So, my meagre contribution are two hand knitted baby and toddler hats. They're not meagre though, because really, they are luvly. They are the one and only Baby Kate hat, knitted as samples for A Hat in Time by no-one less than their designer, Lisa S Rowe. The toddler hat will fit appr. an 18-30 month old and comes in a lovely shade of olive green. The other one is an baby hat in soft and snugly rosey-pink. Both are knit in the softest yarn you could imagine.

I think they may go into the raffle, or be late items for the auction (did I say I was late? Doh!).

Finally, just to give you a sense of what it's like to be flooded, please could you read this blog post. I really can't put it any better than this blogger. Just go there. Read. Then go to the auction bid, donate, support the Flood Recovery Fund. Thank you.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Weekend Roundup in Words and Pictures

One very busy weekend and not actually that many pictures.

Saturday saw us revisit the swimming pool, which we hadn't done in ages. It was a frosty and misty morning, just the right type of day for a bit of splashing in hot pool waters. Sometimes I'm awestruck at how quickly my little girl is growing up. Between our last and Saturday's visit to the swimming pool, she was a different person. In relation to swimming pools that is. No longer would she charge off running as soon as I tried to undress, put clothes in locker, turn the locker key, got to the shower, etc. Her confidence in the water had increased significantly. No longer was she worried about the big pool, clinging onto me for dear life. Suddenly, she was playful pushing herself up on my hands, made swimming movements, actually believed she was in fact swimming. "I schwimmen! I Fisch!" she exclaimed full of pride and joy. She even dared go on the little shoot which so far she'd been really not sure about. For the first time, I was able to relax and enjoy the time in the pool. Good bye constant fear of her sliding, running off quicker than I can follow, close to the water's edge, no more near accidents or charging after an unpredictable toddler. Even her timing was perfect, when she had enough it was time to leave anyway, and the prospect of lunch in the cafe was just the ticket for her.

In the afternoon we went to the grand switching on of Alloa lights. It was a bit of an understatement, what with having the people gather in a car park with a cheap stage and one Christmas tree and 2 tiny lights attached to lampposts being lit. It looked dire. Santa was about but didn't speak to Cubling or her cousin, and the snow queen and elves were dancing in silly ways. Luckily, there was a small fun fair and we managed to squeeze through the crowds and get in a ride on the two cousin's favourite - the double decker bus. As we left, I noticed that the drop ride didn't drop. It didn't move for a couple of minutes. My beloved thought that was part of the ride, but I wasn't sure. We decided to heat up the car (it was freezing cold) and watch and see. And indeed, there were people stuck about 10 m high up in the air, confirming why I wouldn't even think of going on one of these rides. Three fire engines came to the scene, much to the delight of the two toddlers watching from the backseats of our car. Did I take a photo? No, I was too snug in the warm car while I watched those poor frozen kids waiting forever and a day to get rescued. The BBC covered it though, so you can admire the incident here.
The following day we made Cubling a very happy camper by going to the Big Adventure in Linwood - a 5 storey soft play area, apparently the biggest in Europe. She was bouncing with excitement as soon as we walked in, so keen to explore it all. Amazingly, she did go up as far as level four, while I tried to keep my eyes off her and not show my own fear of heights. The centre is definitely worth the £4 entry, and offers a wide range of foods that offer a real choice, and staff who clean up constantly and also look out for your child in case she gets lost or stuck in the softplay area.

The idea had been to catch a short nap on the way from Linwood back to the south side of Glasgow, but just has we passed the aiport, a plan was landing. We literally went from excitement to excitement, there was no thought of sleep to be had when there was a big aeroplane landing a mere 100 yards or so away from us. Even I couldn't resist the spectacle and the agitation of a toddler brought on by witnessing such wonders of engineering.

So, almost napless we indulged in the wonderful German tradition of Adventskraenzchen - a cosy get togethers of friends and family on a Sunday in advent, with coffee and cake, Lebkuchen and gingerbread, lots of candles, Christmas decorations, mulled wine and lots of chat. A German friend and former colleague had invited us and another half German family to her cosy basement sandstone tenement flat. While Cubling played with her pal N. (also a bilingual toddler, and same age), cars, a dog and her first early Christmas presents (oh, and she cooked of course, with coffee dregs, yummy. Shows that recycling acquires additonal challenges once toddlers are about), there was plenty of time for chatting and eating and drinking yummy stuff for the big people about. There was a vulcano built from mashed potatoe and mushroom sauce lava, Natalie Merchant playing in the background, and general chill with toddler business.

It got late, and just before bedtime, as it dawned (or dusked) on Cubling that such a fun filled weekend too had to end, she broke into tears. Big, unconsolable tears. Tears that it was all over, tears of exhaustion, tears of all the energy still left in her inspite of it, tears of having to call it a day and say goodnight.

Tears that I couldn't have empathised with more.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

One in Four Women

Just yesterday I heard about a horrific incident of domestic abuse in a friend's family. It brought home to me how close domestic violence is to all of us, and reminded me of the blight it is to our society. Did you know that domestic violence accounts for more deaths of adult women than any other cause of death in the UK? Those deaths are not just avoidable, they are a shame for all of us, because really, nobody should allow this to happen.

Here are some more bare facts: one in three teenage girls expects to be abused at some point in their relationship. Incidentally, that's the same percentage of boys who think that they ma abuse a partner at some point in their lives. What's much much worse is that 1 in 4 women will actually be abused at some point in their lives. By their partner. In their home. Maybe even with kids around who witness this, think it's normal or acceptable behaviour and thus continue the vicious circle. Think about it: Picture four of your friends and imagine that one of them will have been abused. Or think about your own children. One in four will be abused as an adult, and they are growing up to expect to be abused by or to abuse their partner. Your little girl has a 25% risk to be the victim of domestic violence. Think about it. Now.

Domestic violence isn't talked about, it's ignored, and the victims often suffer alone because of the shame they think it brings upon them. Of course, the shame is on the abuser, yet those at the receiving end live in fear and often attempt to protect themselves, their kids and even their abuser.

There is no excuse for domestic violence. It's wrong and needs to end. And those who suffer from it need to be given the support they need to pick up the pieces and start a new, abuse free life, a life where they can live safely and without fear.

The national charity Women’s Aid has released their first charity single to celebrate 35 years of striving to end violence against women and children on 25th November. The single is called “Take My Hand”, and it will help Women's Aid raise vital funds to support this work for abused women and children. It is sung by 13 year old classical singer Olivia Aaron, and Natasha Benjamin, who is herself a survivor of domestic violence.

The launch of Take My Hand marks the beginning of Women’s Aid’s activities to mark the ’16 days of Action’, where the charity will ask the public to help them take action against violence against women and children. For more information on the ‘16 Days of Action’, go to www.womensaid.org.uk.
To buy Take My Hand for 79p, please go to www.womensaid.org.uk/takemyhand.

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