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
To buy Take My Hand for 79p, please go to

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Out of the mouth of Cubling

Cubling loves the moon. She's particularly fascinated by it appearing, disappearing and appearing yet again. "Another moon!" She shouts. "Noch ein Mond!" she adds in German (always as a postscript). "Das ist der gleiche Mond, nicht ein anderer, es gibt nur einen Mond, es ist immer der gleiche!" I insist (that's the same moon, not another one, there's only one, always the same).

Her response today: "Look! A gleiche Mond! Oh, noch ein gleiche Mond!"

The moon is now called "gleiche Mond" (same moon).

The other day, as she was emptying a box of toys (as she does, she still loves just emptying them, rather than actually taking individual toys out to play), Mr Cartside asked her:"Why are you taking all the toys out of the box?" "I don't know" she wonders. "Maybe it's me?"
It's her new catch phrase.

Interestingly, she can now form full sentences in English, and is adding new words every day. When she speaks "German" though (and I use quotation marks because she never speaks a full sentence exclusively in German, so it's not proper German yet), her language development is still at the 2 word stage. She has a good range of German vocabulary and can say long words, however, spontaneously she will only say German nouns, some German verbs, and very few adjectives. So, her German sentences are a mishmash really: "This Essen is very heiss! (this food is very hot) is a typical, if made up, example. Her language awareness is amazing, she will go through lengths explaining that daddy says "digger" while mummy says "Bagger" and she switches language when requested, and will also "translate" a sentences for her daddy. She uses German for speaking German and English for speaking English. Sometimes, she is clear she does not want to speak German. Her default is English and it takes her some effort and thinking to utter German sentences. Mostly, she doesn't mind me insisting on German, so there's definitely no real reluctance. Just a preference for the stronger language, a bit like my own preference to use English in writing because I'm so much more used to it and it flows more quickly.

All in all I still feel that her active language is a bit lagging for her age, while she does tick all the minimum milestones for 3 year olds (and she's only 32 months of course) - that means she's doing fine and not lagging behind significantly and bilingualism hasn't held her back in any significant way.

The funniest thing ever though is that her cousin has now started spontaneously saying full sentences in German. I'm close to dispair. Here I am, trying my utmost to support Cubling's development of the minority language, and who is the first to talk back in full German sentences? Her cousin who I don't even try to pass German onto. It's not fair, is it?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Breaking Through

Recently, I embarked on a residential with quite a few of the young people we're working with at the moment. As part of the fun activities with a bit of deeper meaning, we had enrolled Dragon Dynamics to run an afternoon session, which culminated in Board Breaking. You know what I'm talking about, the karate style chopping of a piece of wood? Right?

Oh, I was burning to do it. Very much unlike the Fire Walk, where I was reluctant and not at all sure if I wanted, should, could, would, ought to do it. Nonono, I've been waiting for this opportunity for a long long time. You may not know this about me, but I used to do kick boxing. And I loved it. In fact, I miss it, that mad outlet of energy, the opportunity to totally exert yourself, test your physical limits, feel the power of your own body, the total focus and presence of mind required (because otherwise you get hurt. Badly).

But of course, it's not just about the board breaking. The board is a metaphor for what hold you back in life, holds you back from doing things you know you should be doing, from making changes, from getting off your backside, from realising your dreams, getting out of a situation that doesn't work for you. It represents the fear that's holding you back, the barriers that you need to push through to make things happen.

Part of the preparation for the board breaking is about identifying these barriers and physically writing them on the board. As you attempt to break the board, you are most literally breaking through your own very personal barrier that's between yourself and realising your goal.

My barrier appeared in a lightbulb moment in the fullest clarity you could hope. And mine was not the only lightbulb moment. There were many, realisations of how communication works and how to take ownership, how to face one's own demons, and the realisation how the metaphor of breaking boards applies to each individual's life, and the importance it place on the breaking of one's very own board. I don't want to go into details - confidentiality and the respect for the young people and their extremely moving realisations tell me this is not the right place for elaborating any further on their realisations.

My very own barrier was significant enough: There was no question about what it would be, it presented itself with all it's impact. There is a fear that is holding me back, and which, so often makes me withdraw in intertia or choose to remain silent when I burn to speak out. It is the fear of not being taken seriously. Maybe this is partly why I blog - my semi-anonymous little bubble is a safe space where it's not about being taken seriously. However, this has changed because my blog is no longer as anonymous as it use to be, I've sort of come out and yes, I'm starting to feel ever so slightly uncomfortable.

I've been thinking about this barrier ever since, and still believe I've truly pinpointed something. It fits, I can find endless examples. While as a younger person, there was lack of confidence holding me back, this has now changed to the fear of not being taken seriously.

So, when I decided it was my turn, I was determined. There was no way it would take me two attempts to break through. This board had to go with a bang.
And a bruise.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


A sleepless night, constant thoughts about the 5 weeks ahead of us and still nowhere near to putting it into words. The looming question is this: How can we make Christmas special for our children, when it is filled with grief, loss, a massive hole. I waiver between trying to gather the strength to make the festive season as special as it should be, against all odds, until the energy to carry it through deserts me again.

Of course, it will not be easy, who ever said life would be easy? Yet for the sake of the children who do not know or understand death and loss, who only know what they have, not what they've lost, do we not owe them to let them partake in the magic of Christmas?

And can the day someone died be separated from the date? Does it matter which date the anniversary happens to fall, can we ignore that it is Christmas Day? (of all the frigging days of the year, did it have to be Christmas Day? And then again, is it not insignificant which day it was because what's really frigging bad is that he's gone?)

There are no easy answers, I've had almost a year to figure it all out and did not. Instead, there are ever more questions, the only constant being uncertainty. I simply don't know what is best - not for me, but for all those around me whom I love.

I'm only even posting this thanks to Linda at You've got your hands full. Her post on bereavement and children made me realise that at least, I should be trying to put my confused mind into some words, without flooding the keyboard yet again. Because, if you like it or not, we will all experience grief at some point in our life, as much as we try to ignore death. I feel I've had my share, with a friend dying when I was 15, another when I was 19, my mum when I was 32. But nothing has been as hard coming to terms with as the last year following the sudden and unexpected passing of my brother in law.

If you or you're children have been affected by bereavement, Linda has brought together an impressive range of online resources which I wish had been there 11 months ago. I can't thank Linda enough for this, and I'm sure it will be extremely helpful to lots of people. To be honest, there's nothing as comprehensive online as collated in her post. It's been a long time coming and I feel a little bit guilty that I never had the courage to do it myself. Well, I don't feel guilty now, because it's out there now, and that's all that matters. So thank you Linda.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Christmas Toy Appeal

Last year, I support the toy appeal of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees. One simple blog post led to an amazing success, I was inundated with presents for some of the most vulnerable children in Glasgow - so many that half of my office was taken up by the generosity of a handful of people who donated such quantities of toys and other useful items. I was truly moved by it all, even though I struggled to actually deal with the sheer quantity of donations.

At the time, it was one last chance I saw to contribute to a bit of a helping hand to the people I had been working with, in the knowledge that my new field of work would be very different. Not less rewarding, of course, just that I'd met such inspiring people when working with asylum seeking and refugee children and parents, and to put it simply, I really and truly enjoyed my work, even though at times the suffering that goes with the refugee experience cannot be left at work when you close the office door and go home.

You may have guessed it, it's this time of the year again and the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugee has launched this Festive Season's Toy Appeal. And yes, I'd like to ask my readers once again to open up their hearts to the children who've been through hell and back, having been persecuted in their home lands, who had to pack their lives into a bag they can carry in search of sanctuary, and maybe, just maybe, a new home. Nobody told them about the weather in Scotland I'm sure, or that they will be housed in Europe's highest high rises, that they will have to suffer abuse by those who fear that they are a threat to the little they have themselves.

I've been to houses of families where there was no more than one toy. If you've got to survive on 70% of income support (or less as is proposed) and you have to pay for regular trips for the whole family to Croydon to present your case from that little money, there simply is nought spare for toys.

So please, if you can, donate a new or nearly new toy or one of these items:
- educational and fun toys for younger children
- clothes for younger children
- goodie bags for babies (cream, shampoo, wipes etc)
- items for older kids, such as t-shirts, sweatshirts, trendy clothes
- games toys and sport items for older kids
- hats, gloves, scarves, socks etc for young teenagers
- gift tokens for books / music shops (units of 5 quid are best)
There tends to be a shortage of gifts for teenagers, so these are particularly welcome.

If you want to do more:
- tell your friends, neighbours, family and colleagues
- circulate this message by email, on your blog, retweet on Twitter etc
- collect toys etc yourself

Now for the nitty gritty detail:
I'm based in Glasgow during the week and weekends in Clackmannanshire. My ability to collect is limited, but I do travel across Glasgow a lot from work so it may be possible. If you want to donate, it would help if you could drop donations off or send gift tokens (if you're not in Scotland, please make sure you send gift tokens for shops that exist in Glasgow - if in doubt, just ask). Please leave a comment with your email address or email me directly to arrange a suitable time and place, my email is blog at cartside dot co dot uk.

Please don't wrap presents for health and safety reasons. You can provide wrapping paper if you like.
Please donate only new or nearly new items.

If you want to contact the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees directly, their email address is glascamref at

Thanks You!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Letter from Santa

I've been contacted by the NSPCC asking me to tell my readers about their annual Christmas ‘Letters from Santa’ fundraising campaign. The NSPCC is a fabulous and much needed lifeline for so many children in the UK. Working for another children's charity (one of the competitors so to say, but we're not competitve when it comes to safeguarding children) I can only do my best to encourage you to take part in this lovely campaign. For the record, I'm not getting anything for this, I really think it's a lovely initiative which helps raise funds for a very worth while charity, one that I've been supporting financially for years.

Their press release explains it all very neatly, so I'll be cheeky (you see, I'm frantically knitting at the moment) and just copy the relevant bits:

The NSPCC’s Letter from Santa fundraising initiative gives parents, grandparents and anyone else the chance to nominate someone special to receive a magical letter from Santa for a suggested donation of £5. The letter is personalised with the child’s name and age and is sure to confirm that Santa will be making his usual stop in the child’s home town to wish everyone a merry Christmas. The letter is written in a hand script font and is beautifully illustrated on quality colourful paper. The envelope shows that it’s been safely delivered through ‘express Rudolph Mail’.

Fundraiser Binita Patel said: “Letter from Santa is a brilliant way to put an extra twinkle into Christmas this year and make a child feel extra special. The appeal also helps us to raise money to support children who are perhaps not as fortunate.

“It is important to remember that Christmas is not a time of celebration for every child. Over the 12 days of festive cheer last year, ChildLine – a service provided by the NSPCC - counselled over 3,500 children who were in danger or distress and had nowhere else to turn. By supporting this appeal you will be helping to provide support, advice and protection for these children who are in desperate need of help.”

Also on offer is a Baby’s First Christmas letter from Santa, which is the perfect keepsake for newborns celebrating their first festive season.

To order a letter from Santa for a child you know, visit or call 0845 839 9304.

Friday, 20 November 2009

looking for creativity

The last few weeks were full of pressure at work and trying to get 100 and one things done in the evening. I slept little, stayed up late. Every night I planned to squeeze in some creative time, some knitting, sewing and felting (the latter thanks to Betz White's Felt and Stitch Holiday which I'd taken part in). Each night, I failed. Yes, I did do some creative work with my photos and produced some amazing photo books and calendars, which I do count as creative work. I did follow the felt workshop and discovered new techniques, yet failed to make time to implement them. Try I did, succeed I did not.

Erica over at Little Mummy recently posted and interesting pyramid of needs and while I don't subscribe to the rather radical theory, it was clear that my head wasn't free to make mind time for crafting. It was frustrating. My approach has always been that all my crafting has to be enjoyable and not a chore - so I went with the flow. Last night, at last, the urge came back properly and within a day, I completed a knitting project. It was triggered by a visit to K1Yarns' Glasgow shop. For anyone who doesn't know K1Yarns, it's a top notch yarn shop, with one shop in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow. The owner very kindly agreed to sell the print copy A Hat in Time without any commission and the reason for my visit was the delivery of a batch of books. In the shop, there were knitted tea cozies on display and amazing books on knitting and sewing caught my eye. Torn between 3 books, this one on Japanese Zakka (home style) sewing inspired me, ending up home with me along some wonderful knitting yarn:
There I was, frantically trying to source linen fabric, my head full of ideas, buzzing as it hadn't been in a long time. That very evening, I started to knit a tea cozy which I've just about finished (bar the finishing, excuse the pun). The feel of the yarn running through my fingers felt good beyond words, the pleasure of the texture created so satisfying. The joy of having found the right idea for someone special this Christmas. Thinking of the person while knitting it and which tea pot the cozy may keep warm.

It made me ponder how in spite of the sewing inspiration and the felting workshop, with all the materials lying about, I'd defaulted again to knitting. I feel at home knitting, unlike sewing and felting. I'm determined to become at home at least with sewing because somehow I feel it's meant to be, as my paternal family made their living from it. I can boast a father who can sew and cross stitch like you wouldn't believe it, having picked it up from his mum and aunt who were seamstresses and who were the sole breadwinners in the postwar years, with a fiance fallen in the Great War and a husband (my grandfather) injured in the Second World War. My father never was a great teacher, and while picked up knitting from my Mum, never did I do more than watch my Dad sew and stitch.

Sewing, for me, is something I still aspire to enjoy and get good at, because it's a family thing, a tradition, it should somehow be in my genes and there's pride in it too. Pride that my paternal grandparents were crafts people, a seamstress and a bricklayer, one to make homes, the other to make clothes and mend. A perfect combination, and considering I'm rather far removed from bricklaying, at least I want to do my father and his mother and aunt proud.

While for this weekend, I'll keep to knitting, hopefully next week will have some sewing in store at long last.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Social Media 101 Part 3: Create your own social network

So you know how to podcast and how to videoblog? Well, it's time to put it all together. Did you know over 80% of the UK population is on Facebook? For young people it's even closer to 90%. I find this rather amazing. Bebo is particularly popular as a social media site amongst young people in Scotland, and the trend is upwards. As is the use of mobiles, videoblogging and twitter of course.

To put it simply, we're all on Facebook. Of course this is simplifying things and there are people who don't access Facebook for a number of reasons, but it's still breathtaking to look at the statistics. Facebook, Bebo and MySpace are open social networks, the idea being that anyone can join, and it facilitates to accumulate lots of friends, or to be a part of lots of groups.

Now, for some situations, that's a bit to wide and not suitable. You may be looking for a topical network, one where all the members share an interest. Which is not about linking the world, but linking people around an issue, an interest, a theme. Enter: Ning. Ning is a platform that offers bespoke social networks. Effectively, it offers you to set up your very own social network and you have full control over who can join and who can't. You can determine privacy settings, layout, you can even moderate every single contribution to it.

Why would you want to do it? Well, for example if you work with young people and want to make sure that they use social media in a safe environment. Then look at British Mummy Bloggers: One idea, almost 800 members, and what a vibrant network! Of course, in the case of BMB, everyone can join who considers themselves a parent blogger, it's not closed in that sense. It does focus on one theme though and allows people to connect around that theme. Another favourite example of mine in Ooooby (out of our own back yards), an international ning site that connects people who grow their own veg in the small or big spaces available to them. You can find out about local farmers markets where you are, ask food growing questions, share seeds and saplings, and set up your own groups (I set up a Scotland group). Again, everyone can sign up and there's no moderation of activities. Towards Transition Glasgow is another network I'm part of, it's a Transition initiative - and Transition initiatives are always very local. A closed social network is ideal for a local initiative because it offers that focus.

Savvy Chavvy is an example of a successful closed Ning site. It's by and for young Gypsy/Travellers in the UK. Amazingly, it must have filled a void because thousands of young Travellers are on it - I didn't even realise there were that many young Gypsy/Travellers in the UK! Only young Gypsy/Travellers are allowed in, and there are some mechanisms to make sure that this is upheld. It works because it has created a save space which is exclusive, and because the Gypsy/Traveller identity is something that binds people across the UK together.

Ning offers all the features you would expect from a social network site. You can blog, you can share photos, videos, podcasts. There is a forum and you can set up groups. Each user has their own profile page which they can customise. You can make friends within your network. There is a poll tool, you can broadcast (or email) all the members, you can moderate every contribution or decide not to. It comes with an ever growing number of widgets. Above all, it's entirely free! Well, the free version has rather annoying google ads in it, but if that bothers you, you can get rid of ads for a reasonable monthly fee. The best thing is that you can set it up in a matter of minutes. And then play around with the layout for months. The options are endless, but you don't HAVE to use all the options. Simply does it too. Ning rocks, no question about it.

I set up a Ning site which is linked to the work I'm doing. It's fully moderated and membership is by invitation only. We've set the highest level of security because the users on it are young people and we want to keep them 100% safe. The big question is whether the restrictions will put them off, because it's counter intuitive in a social media context where everything is open and instant, where you don't wait for your blog post or photo to be approved by someone who works 9-5 Monday to Thursdays. Time will tell. I'm having fun with it, that's for sure!

Review: Jo Whiley: My World in Motion

This is a long overdue review of Jo Whiley's autobiography My World in Motion

It's long overdue because, bottom line, it didn't manage to excite me and it took me ages to finish it (I wouldn't write a book review without actually reading it you see). Now, I'm a seasoned music fan (I used to spend a large proportion of my dosh on records, then CDs and gigging). I was interested in finding out a bit more about Jo Whiley, and that's why I agreed to review the book.

However, there's the thing with autobiographies: They are mostly written by people who, to be fair, aren't fandoodletastic writers. I read because I enjoy a good read. A really good read. There's few autobiographies that I've profoundly enjoyed reading, Joe Simpson's Touching the Voidis one of them.

You can get my gist, can't you? I didn't particularly enjoy reading Jo Whiley's autobiography. It was mildly interesting, it's clear she's a lovely person and has had an exciting life, and what's more, she is a success story for managing to combine being a mum of four, a loving wife, and a very successful business woman. Her life is interesting, yes, but the bottom line is, I'd rather listen to the music she talks about than read her autobiography.

Of course, if you generally enjoy reading autobiographies, I'm sure this one will be for you. I don't want to put you off, I'm sure that for a celebrity autobiography, it's written superbly. It's just not for me.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Childcare vouchers: keep them or lose them?

Childcare is giving me sleepless day, er nights. Once again. This time it's nothing to do with me or Cubling, well, at least not directly, but the issue is all the more important.

The Labour government, in an attempt to encourage mums to work (and I won't go into the pros and cons of that, but check out Being a Mummy for some useful insights), introduced tax credits and childcare vouchers to ease the burden of childcare. There's also some half measure of free childcare which is rather useless and doesn't really ease the financial cost of having kids while also working.

Now, the government is proposing to phase out childcare vouchers. I take issue with this. While I understand the spirit of it, I still don't think it's a good idea as the proposal stands. Here's the problem: There is actually a significant gap in support for childcare costs. In the case of a two parent family, if one partner works and the other is in training or education that does not qualify for Educational Maintenance Allowance, the couple cannot claim for working parent tax credits. Both parents have to be in work to claim working parents tax credits. I am in such a situation, unable to claim the childcare element of working parents tax credits because my other half is in postgraduate education. So while only I can only take advantage of the tax relief through childcare vouchers (if two parents are employed, the advantage is doubled to 100 pounds a month), it is still so much better than nothing (i.e. the amount I can claim through the childcare element of working parentstax credit).

Childcare vouchers are therefore the only way of getting some tax relief on the soaring cost of childcare, childcare which in this country is heavily privatised. Just compare the cost: in some countries childcare is free, in others it may put you down between 100 and 200 quid. Here it's at least 600 full time. What do you do if you have to children under 5? Maybe there are people out there with an income that would leave some spare, but surely this is rare.

Granted, most training providers may have some support available. But many don't. So for instance, there's the mum who wants to do an NHS training, her partner is on a very low income but working full time, and the NHS does not provide any support at all to cover her childcare costs. She will not be able to undertake the training, thus limiting her chances of future employment and moving beyond the poverty line. Then there is a young parents who is offered a basic and non-certified course at a college, a course that may re-engage him/her with education and with time lead to him/her undertaking a course leading to a qualification. A parent who, as her/his situation is, is extremely unlikely to become economically active without this access course, but who wants to, and is offered an opportunity to gain new skills and over time, qualifications and the hope of employment. It won't happen because the college cannot offer childcare and without childcare, the parent can't take advantage of the course offered.

Childcare vouchers and childcare support for parents in training are two ways of enabling parents to have choices. I do believe that childcare vouchers for parents on high incomes, especially if they are in the higher rate tax bracket, are unnecessary. However for those on low and middle incomes, they are more often than not a lifeline.

What's more, the system of available support for childcare is complex and hard to understand. If a child tax credit form does my educated head in, and it takes me a full working day to research support options available to the woman who contacted me (and I have the advantage of being in exactly the same situation as her, so I had some considerable previous knowledge), how hard must it be for the many most in need of support for childcare costs.

Whatever the new proposal is going to be, I'd like to see a shift of focus to ensure those in need of childcare for any form of education, training and employment that is suitable for them to get adequate financial support, and that life choices and chances are not ever determined by the ability to afford childcare or to understand and complete tax credit forms.

PS: Polly Toynbee put it much better than me in the Comment is free section of the Guardian: "But to pay for their (the most deprived two year olds) care by abolishing childcare vouchers (...) would mean that not very well-off mothers would pay to alleviate the plight of toddlers of even worse-off mothers."

Monday, 16 November 2009

The day of lanterns

While this blog has been silent, we've been busy. To celebrate St Martin's Day in style, I'd brought lantern making equipment from Germany and last week saw us putting it together. What was meant to be fun ended in tears. The lantern was a bit difficult to make, and Cubling's fingers kept interfering at the wrong time at the wrong place. I was frustrated, so was she. Eventually, I gave in, let her cut into paper and make her own stuff (she used the scales of the mermaid to make a door and a door handle, which I was rather impressed with), and I finished off the lantern after her bedtime.

Next morning, her first sentence was "where's my Laterne?", and le voila, there it was, all done!
She was delighted, and I think she believed she had in fact made it herself. That's what counts, right?

Yesterday was the big day. Cubling's first Laternenumzug. We managed to just about sneak into the University Chapel before it all started, and luckily they were selling the right batteries and even the much needed light sticks - if only I'd known, I'd have saved myself a lot of worry and hassle. Cubling's eyes lit up with the little light. We met up with some of her little friends. Songs were sung, children read out the story of St Martin and Cubling was full of wonder of the interior of the chapel. As we left for the lantern parade in the "cloister" (it's not a real cloister), she broke into tears. It took me a while to realise why. She thought we were going home and no, didn't like this idea at all: "I want go Hause nicht!" It took some intense explaining that the parade was part of it and we were just going outside for the parade and no, we had no intention of going home just yet.

She carried the lantern as if it was a race, then found new uses for lanterns (they make good leaf holders) and finally found it much more interesting to run off. Posing for a picture? No chance.

The Umtrunk (wee dram) thereafter was busy and Cubling found some flipcharts she wanted to decorate. Malen! Laufen! (draw, run) were the battlecries of the evening. Just as well, it was so busy that by the time we got there all the food and drink was already finished. It didn't take her long to make some new friends and she loved it all so much that she was last to leave and even then only very reluctantly.

As we got home, she carried her lantern proudly, singing "Laterne, Laterne - Sonne, Mond und Sterne". It was the first time she'd sang this song, and it melted my heart. Of course she didn't part with her beloved mermaid lantern this morning either, showing it off to the childminder and the other girls.

I think we managed to make it into a successful day, one that she will hopefully remember.

Admittedly, I find the bicultural diary a bit demanding at this time of the year. Halloween, Bonfire Night, St Martin and Nikolaus all within five weeks of one another. Phew.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Late Autumn, Tollcross Park

Tonight was spent with photos - editing, selecting and creating Christmas presents. Very enjoyable, I'm still amazed at digital photography, especially now that I can combine my passion for SLRs with the doors that digital photography opens. No longer do I need a dark room (my childhood dream was to have one), all it takes is a laptop and some software, magic. So it's only right that I should share some photos tonight. All were taken at Tollcross Park last Sunday, a glorious last day of autumn. And today, at last, I feel ready for winter.

Monday, 9 November 2009

how much is enough?

At the weekend, a trashy glossy mag found my hands. There was a picture of a 3 year old celebrity toddler wearing high heels and having a wardrobe worth 2 million. Sorry, I don't recall if it was pound or dollar, and I don't care really because such minute details are beside the point. Thing is, I got fuming furious.

As I do when I see food being thrown into the bin. Not that I'm never guilty, just that I feel so flipping angry when I see people (including myself) doing it.

Excessive spending, excessive richness, excessive waste do my head in. In my world, there is no justification for the super rich. It annoys me unspeakably when people justify the amount of money some people earn, receive, inherit, or spend. To me, there's only so many resources going around and if someone has more than their share, there are people on the other side with less than their share. In the past, this had led to people calling me a communist. In times of the cold war, it was meant as the ultimate insult. But if that's what communism is about, well, fair enough, let me be one. Although I've never been comfortable with any label, political or not.

The image also reminded me of the intrinsic competitiveness that is in our human nature, which effectively leads to inequalities. Now I'm the last person to claim I'm not competitive. I believe we all are. Competitiveness can be a positive force, something that is all about striving for something better, progress and ultimately positive change. Yet we use it more often than not to aggravate the misery of others. As parents, we seem to automatically become competitive about our children. Who's got the most, the best for their child. The worry that comes with seeing a child do stuff that our own can't yet do. How bad I feel when I visit a house filled with toys. Not about not having them (because I know I don't want so many and neither does my child) but because I know that the other parents must think we're not giving our child the best start we could. Peer group pressure, competitiveness of keeping up with the Jones's. Or the worry that our explanation of our parenting priorities may in turn upset the parent who have transformed their home into a Toys R Us.

And yes I too fret over cute outfits and wish I had an excuse to buy them. In my case, there is no NEED to buy anything, yet I still DESIRE to buy stuff for my little girl. It seems in our parental nature. We want more. More. Ever more. Even if we've managed to disengage from buying ever more for ourselves, it all starts over even more viciously with our children. It's a daily struggle to resist the call for more, the desire to spend. I resent it when this competitiveness leads to mindless consumerism and, yes, greed .

Another mag that found my hand was the New Scientist. Not sure which edition, but it summarised how money shapes us. How, once we've got enough dosh to take care of food and shelter, we are happiest. How once we've got more than that, we become self-sufficient and disengage from human interaction, while if we have less than we need, we become more social because we need the help of those around us to make things work. Neither extreme makes us happy campers apparently. So if being poor and being rich make us unhappy, why do we live in a society where financial gluttonly is heralded and justified, excused with "s/he must work hard for it, s/he has so much responsibility and this has to be rewarded", the 25k rocking horse (thanks J for the example!) while people around the world, including the UK, go hungry, with 1 in 3 children in the UK growing up in poverty? The 25k rocking horse, the 2 million wardrobe of Tom Cruise's 3 year old daughter are wrong, and ultimately unnecessary.

At the same time as we can see from international comparison that those countries are more equal and fare better where the differences between the very rich and the very poor are least pronounced, where in fact a social Spirit Levelhas been achieved. Maybe my anger at greed, the very rich, the wastefulness of every day life, consumerism is well founded because all of this seems to be at the bottom of our society's ill.

I've been reading Not New Year blog with fascination over the past year - because of the very simple idea behind it, the attempt not to consume. It is more than an ecological statement. It is paying tribute to the limited nature of all our resources and the inequalities that our consumer society creates, the dependencies which, in the end, is likely to make us all suffer a rude awakening. I admire anyone who can make such a significant statement in their lives and not buy anything new for 6 out of 12 months. And they show us that it's possible, with conviction and real commitment, a commitment of action, not words.

A first step is of course to recognise our greed, our fascination with money and what money can buy us. The next step is to take stock of how much is enough: Do we really and truly need to consume the way we do? How can we consume less and in the process create a just society? Can we create general wealth by going with less (not without)? Is this possible to tweak our system or do we need to rethink it from scratch? Can we replace greed with compassion?

Above all, how can I make a small but significant start in my own life to waste less, buy less, give more to those who need (rather than desire) more? How can I free myself of the desire to have more when really and truly I have enough? Because at the end of the day, my gain is somebody else's loss.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Buttermilk Bean Soup

I'm cringing as I type the title. Some things can't be translated, they sound so very wrong.

A few weeks ago, when I was in a reminiscent mood, I remembered one of my favourite childhood dishes. As it happened to be a dish from the Rhineland I thought it would be a good idea to cook it and bring some sense of culinary biculturalism into our home. Not that eating a dish from the Rhineland would encourage Cubling to suddenly speak fluent German of course. But every little helps, and valuing the minority culture in small and different ways is something that is proven to aid bilingualism.

I'm not a great cook, never actually have cooked this dish and with the general evening rush, I'm hard pushed to try out something new. Today was the day though, the inauguration of buttermilk bean soup, Buttermilchbohnensuppe. I cooked it reminiscing about the person who cooked me this tasty and unusual dish. It was our landlady, who lived in the flat below us, bringing up her grandson, only 2 years younger than me. We were close. I played with the grandson, he was the brother I never had. They had money and he had lots of toys. Boys' toys, which I loved to play with. And his granny was born and bred in the Rhineland, unlike us blow-ins. She spoke in dialect. She was a strong woman with a hard hand, and yet with a childish sense of humour. In the summer, when the paddling pool was brought out, she filled it with the hose, trying to catch me on the balcony upstairs, giggling like mad at my futile attempts to hide from the ice cold water and a 65 year olds perfect aim.

Every Sunday, she had her family over for lunch (which is dinnertime in Germany). She would always send up the desert. Occasionally, she'd cook Rhinish specialties, and again, she would send a portion up for me to eat. I loved her food beyond words. Her apple pancake was divine, so were her deserts, cakes and, yes, you guessed it, buttermilk bean soup.

My parents stayed in the flat on her behest, she had asked us if we would stay for as long as she lived. She never increased the rent, my mum did her daily shopping, I cleaned the staircase for some pocket money. I walked her dog, we fed our food leftovers to him. She had parties we came to and we had parties she came to. We saw her every single day, had endless chats, and there is so much detail of her flat that I remember, the photo of her dead husband, the old fashioned furniture that I admired. My parents moved a year or so after she had passed away, after I'd already moved to Ireland/Scotland.

I remember I'd asked her to write down the recipie for buttermilk bean soup. She never did. Maybe she didn't have one. So, tonight, I made it up myself, with a little help from the internet:

Rhineland Buttermilk Bean Soup
boil 500g of poatoes, mash with milk and a very generous portion of butter
fry an onion (I'm not sure if the original has onion, but I like onion so there you go)
sautee 300g-500g of green beans
Add one cube of vegetable stock to the mashed potatoes, then the onions and 1l of buttermilk, enough so that they are quite runny. Add the beans.
After adding the buttermilk, don't boil the soup, only heat very gently because buttermilk curdles when boiled - the taste will be the same, but it won't look as good.

You may vary the quantities, I only guessed them. You can add a tub of cream if you like. Season to taste.

Enjoy, a very healthy, easy, cheap and nutritious soup. And vegetarian too!

Thursday, 5 November 2009


It was a long day. I can't believe how much we squeezed into it. To crown it, we decided to watch the bonfire night display in Glasgow Green tonight. Every year, for the past 30 years, Glasgow puts on a massive firework display, complete with fairground, food and merchandising, all in the city's most famous park, Glasgow Green. The Green has always been a place for the people, and it's great to see this tradition at least carry on into the annual event that is Guy Fawkes Day (incidentally, nobody calls it thus around here, maybe because the Scots wouldn't have minded so much if he had indeed blown up the Houses of Parliament? Who knows).

Cubling was excited. She wanted to go to "Firelands" as she called it. She loved crossing the bridge, commented on very many people and very little space. She delighted in the fairground rides and oh, the chips with cheese went down a real treat.

Then the fireworks started. What can I say? The photos I took of her show eyes filled with terror, with the neverending intonation of "I want go in my house, I like it not!" We managed to make her get through it with lots of reassurance, cuddles, suggestions of closing her eyes or looking another way, naming the colours of the fireworks. She did it, got through it at least without further tears, and the fairground rides definitely made her forget those very noisy, very bright, very funny (read: scary) fireworks.

But more than anything else, it was beautiful. There are days where I can't believe how lucky we are to live in this fabulous city. Today was one of them.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Five Rather Unrelated Things

First of all, thank you so much for your kind comments to my previous post. Some of your comments, and the blogs I read as a result, made me feel very humble and shed a few tears for your own losses, others full of hope. Above all, I was truly surprised how many of you shared their own story in the small space of the comment box. I truly appreciate this, it's not easy to be open about these things and it shows how many actually go through very similar experiences. And it strangely helps to know that. I'd mentioned in my previous post that talking to a mummy friend had made me much more positive, just sharing our very similar stories (same week count when we miscarried, same "age" of embryo, same difficulties after miscarriage of extremely irregular cycles and so on) made me feel more confident that all would be just fine. As an update, my GP (or her replacement as my GP was on holiday) thinks I'm a normal case of decreasing fertility post age 35 and therefore should wait another six months and not worry so much. And the fact that I got pregnant twice would indicate that most likely, I've still got it in me. So on the one hand, I'm pleased to hear this (even though I knew it anyway), on the other I'm not so pleased that no tests are being done (in case there is an underlying problem). Thermometer and ovulation sticks have arrived, watch it my dear eggs, I mean business and I'm gonna show you.

On a more sombre note, (which makes me wonder if this post is going to become really depressing because it's not exactly cheerful to talk about conception problems), there's a few causes that I would really ask everyone to take a very short but important action on.
A newly published report indicates that the recession is hitting the less affluent families in the UK very hard and that child poverty is on the rise in the UK. While the banks are getting bailed out, struggling families are being forgotten. You can take action to make sure that the Chancellor doesn't forget struggling families in his pre-budget report.

The Thinkuknow website (part of CEOP - Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency) have launched a call to promote a oneminute action for Madeleine McCann. The point of it is to never give up, and use social media for maybe achieving a breakthrough in her case, 2 1/2 years after her disappearance. It's very simple, watch the video, and pass it on - by email, on the social network of your choice (facebook, bebo etc), on twitter, your blog ... you name it. Literally, it will only take you a minute.

And to get even more sombre, on my way to an evening session at work, I got caught up in the traffic tailback caused by an accident. The accident must have happened around 5pm, I passed it at 5.20pm. The ambulance had been. I only saw the wreck of the car. My heart missed a beat. It's beyond my ken how the damage I saw could have come about on a busy and thus slow road. I wish I hadn't looked, the sight was horrific. And sometimes, it's impossible to see it as just another accident. I can't get rid of the mental image, the implication of what I saw hit very much home. This is the second major accident in only a month that I almost witnessed.

And fifthly, to lighten things up a bit, and even with a 5 theme, this is Cubling's favourite sentence:

I gross now, I go Schule!

(I'm big now, I go to school! usually accompanied by standing on top of something that makes her look taller. The school obsession hails from the fact that her best friend is at school since August and she dearly misses her at the childminder. When I explain to her that she has to be 5 to go to school, and I then ask how old she is, she will say she's 5...)

Monday, 2 November 2009

The End of Another Decade

Today I've had the rather disconcerting realisation that if I hadn't miscarried at the end of May, I'd have just 5 weeks of pregnancy left. I'd be massive now, probably hardly able to move if my previous pregnancy is anything to go by. Strangely, I'm glad that's not me right now. I'm sighing with relief, can't your hear it?

At the same time, I've been doing some soul searching. Now that I'm yet another year older (39 if you must know), there has to be consideration as to how long I'll keep the monthly rollercoaster of hope and fear at bay before it takes over. While I feel young for my age, I don't feel like 23 any more, and the prospect of pregnancy and the first year is not something I particularly look forward to, knowing fine well what hard work it is, how it affects my body, my mood and my ability to keep things together.

Yet it's not about absolutes, but let's say that there's a limit to how much longer I'm prepared to try for a sibling for Cubling. Having grown up as an only child, this is a hard prospect to face. I always desired a sibling, I tormented my parents with it, who had been told that another pregnancy would be life threatening for my mum. I knew that but being a child, I still pleaded for a sibling, for years. Yet I also know that not all siblings get on. And really, we are so very lucky to have the most energetic, most delightful little girl anyone could imagine. She has the energy for two, so much is clear. Of course, if I look at how she's besotted with her little cousin, there's no doubt that she'd love to be a big sister. She keeps asking me "I big sister now?" and is disappointed when I correct her that no, she's not a big sister, but a big cousin, which is a very nice thing to be too.

Tomorrow I will take action and explore what options in the line of medical help are available, knowing fine well that I'm not even half way down the line of having unsuccessfully tried for one year or even two. I've been told that at my age, referrals can be made earlier, and I'm not going to waste any time. Having reached the "months trying" count that is the longest so far, it seems the right time. I'm also clear that there's only so far I will go. Some fertility procedures are out of questions because I will not put my body under the stress they entail. Yet while I really don't enjoy the overly planned approach to conceiving, I'm now prepared to work just a little bit more towards it. If daily peeing on stick is the way forward, so be it, I'm not going to be precious about it.

It feels good to be taking some action, and I'm hopeful for tomorrow's appointment. It also felt good to chat to someone at the weekend who shared an extremely similar experience, and as ever, it's so reassuring to hear that all the stuff that worries me endlessly is in fact, well, nothing unusual. This too gives hope and a renewed positive outlook. So the end of this decade marks another departure for me, as did the end of the last.

If you would send me some baby dust anyway, sure it won't do any harm ;)

Sunday, 1 November 2009

all about bilingualism

It's this time of the month again and apologies for the slight delay in letting everyone know about this month's carnival of raising bilingual children (and raising bilingual kids is a carnival indeed) - had a busy weekend what with Halloween carving and cooking/baking for our mummy friends' Halloween Party, the party itself, nephew staying for a sleepover and both Cubling and nephew generally running wild for delight of spending the weekend with one another.

So to keep you entertained until I find the time to pull together a post, check Bilingual For Fun out for an impressive carnival. If you want to keep updated on future carnivals, sign up for a newsletter or view the carnival schedule, including links to the previous carnivals. You can even sign up to host it in the future.

Here are our current favourite utterances:
What does that say? What's that for? Wha'? (re the latter: she used to say "I here" when called. Now she says wha'? Not exactly an improvement)
I backe backe Kuchen maken.
Look! It's a Leiter! (me: what???? There's no ladder anywhere to be seen!) In Englisch fence. Daddy say fence. Mummy say Leiter. (no, not quite, Leiter is ladder, and fence is Zaun, but I appreciate your ability to visually transpose objects by 90 degrees)
Big one - Kleine one
This is very very schwer/heiss!
Want mehr Milch!
Mummy lesen books, Daddy go weg. (her way of saying good night daddy, I love you)
Lass das bitte!!!!
Fish finger auf Grund geflogen. (fish finger fell on the ground - literally, flew to the ground. I can't help but imaging fish fingers with wings. And I don't think I've ever used the word "Grund" and have no idea where it came from)
I no want it, is crunchy (anything crunchy is BAD, and if it's not crunchy, it's crunchy because she doesn't want to eat it, however we have first grape eating success at 2 years 7 months, hurraym and grapes are crunchy, aren't they?)
Look! Erbse! (she's pointing at yet another collection of red berries on some bush... I'm running out of energy explaining that peas are green and grow in pods and not red and growing on trees)
Want pumpkin sehen. Kuerbis. (she likes her friendly pumpkin and regularly wants to check up on him - I don't think we can get rid of him just yet).

We're still loving songs. So much so that monolingual nephew can now also sing about 5 German songs perfectly.
Her imagination has taken off. Tonight, there was a big imaginary bin beside her bed. And she made us all go in there and put the lid back on. Not quite sure what that tells us.



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