Friday, 30 October 2009

The friendliest pumpkin in town

Meet the friendliest pumpkin in town. Because Cubling is scared of, well, almost everything at the moment, particularly scary pumpkin faces. So we made a friendly pumpkin. Success, she goes near it, touches it, even holds it in front of her face. Hurray! This is only the second time I've ever carved a pumpkin and I'm actually rather pleased with the result. Oh and the eyebrows came on the behest of Cubling. Everthing has to have eyebrows at the moment (and moustaches, but understandably I left that one out). A toddler obsessed with facial hair...

And to finish the morning off, we made pumpkin soup. Cubling is the expert onion peeler as you can see. She did actually peel the onion perfectly with her bare hands and a plastic toy knife. And yes, it is safe to let her sit on kitchen worktops beside a knife and a bottle of wine. Oh and excuse the mess.
All ready for tomorrow's party then.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Great Outdoors - Forest Kindergartens for Glasgow

photo: spiros2004 via Flicker (because I forgot to take my camera)
For about a year now, an idea had been spinning around in my head. It was a business idea, something I felt passionate about. Yet I lacked the confidence in my ability to take it on and implement it. Still it spun around in my head, like a record baby, right round right round. (Oh, I'm showing my age here...)

In Germany, the Scandinavian concept of a forest kindergarten has been gaining massive popularity. And in spite of my deep UK roots, and I mean constant moaning about rain with that, it sparkled my imagination. Forest kindergartens are basically outdoor nurseries, usually for children 3 years and over. Children spend all day outside, whatever the weather. They build shelters, create stuff with what's around them, explore, move, run, discover, roam. You could call it a romantic tree hugging back to nature hippy idea, but in a world where children are so protected from the elements, kept indoors almost all day for fear of a raindrop or some stranger danger, glued to TV and plastic toys, the idea of a forest kindergarten has a very real appeal to me.

And then there's the fabulous Pollok Country Park in the South Side of Glasgow, a massive urban country park with large wooded areas, the river Cart flowing right through it. A place I go for walks, for runs, for enjoying one of the most amazing art collections of the UK (the Burrell collection), for visiting Pollok House and Gardens, for it's activities and general beauty. The park where I had my allotment for 5 years. I can't think of a better venue for a forest kindergarten.

I never followed my idea up because I have no Early Years related qualification and because I'm not a risk taker. I have a good and exhilerating job, nothing anyone would give up easily for a insecure existence and a little venture. Ok, some people would, but not me.

Then I came across this.
I mean, can you believe it? There's two mums who have this idea of setting up a forest kindergarten in Pollok Country Park and they just did it????
Wow. I'm jealous. You guys stole my idea! And I'm excited of course. There's a real forest kindergarten at my doorstep! And there's even media coverage hot off the press! Apparently, there was something on the Scottish news yesterday, which we missed, doh. Strangely, I missed all the publicity and it was only through my German connections (the Glasgow Goethe Institute who I used to work for) that I found out about it.

So today, I took the afternoon off and visited the woodlands outdoor kindergarten in action with Mr Cartside. Of course, there's no better time to get a flavour of it than autumn. It was wet, but not pouring. The leaves kept us dry, the colours of autumn were beyond words, and we watched the kids build swings, listen to stories under a tarpaulin, use the roots of an overturned tree as a shoot, build dens, and generally climb over fallen trees. No doubt that Cubling would love this, and would finally have a proper outlet for her neverending energy. And yes, I forgot to take my camera. Shame that, but there are lots of images on their website.

The outdoor kindergarten only started three weeks ago and at present, there are 4 to 7 children each day. They don't have a partnership registration yet, so funding for early years provision (in Scotland that means 12.5 hours per week are free for 3 and 4 year olds) isn't available. The children tend to attend 1-2 days and spend the rest of the time in another nursery where they get the funded hours. This works well because particularly for the younger children, more than 2 full days outdoors, with long walks to and from the base, may be bit much.

My initial idea that Cubling could spend the full 4 days a week in the forest kindergarten from when she turns three may not be practicable. Apart form it being tiresome, especially at the start, I don't want to lose out on the funded hours - so that would mean finding a nursery that would take her for the other 2 days. The difficulty is that nurseries are oversubscribed and we currently use a childminder, and if you haven't had your child in a nursery from before 2 years, it's unlikely you will get a place at all. Of course we'll try, no question about it.

Above all, I'm giddy with excitement at this fabulous opportunity, and I can't thank the two parents who set it up enough for getting their act together (unlike me). Here's to nature kindergartens!

Is there a forest/nature kindergarten near you? Have you got any experience or opinions on it? Would you send your child to one?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

I happy now!

(photo by D3 San Francisco via

We are driving home from the childminder. The short 10 minute drive is filled with relentless whining and whinging. Cubling is tired from a night filled with nightmares, where cuddly bears turned to vicious monsters, and a long day.

"I want go Spielplatz". "Nein, das geht nicht, es ist schon dunkel und viel zu spaet!" (I want to go to the swing park - no we can't, it's dark already and too late) "I want see George!" (she must fancy him. Every single day she wants to visit George. When she does visit, she doesn't play with him, doesn't even look at him. True love...) "I want go einkaufen!" When my third "nay" ensues, she starts bawling. And I feel for her. Three fun ideas, and no success. Frustration exasperated by a wound up state of tiredness.

10 minutes aren't long but they turn to eternity after a long and busy day at work, which followed a very broken night's sleep due to toddler nightmares. Almost at home, I plead, with an attempt at authority in my voice "Please stop crying now." She stops. I breathe. Space to think. An idea. "How about, we go to the shop to buy a pumpkin?" A smile, growing. Eyes lighting up and glowing with anticipation. "Yeah!"

We drive off to the shop. Cubling announces: "I happy now!"

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

How to publish a charity book

I have to giggle at the title of this post. You see, a while back, I had this ingenious idea of publishing a hat knitting and crochet book for charity. I was sure to make millions with it all for a very good cause, which would be Save the Children. Honestly, I thought my idea was fabulous and I'd come out the expert on how to publish a charity book.

Actually, I still think it's a reasonably good idea. And, as a third sector employee who is constantly whipped to do monitoring and evaluation and come up with reports of learning (euphemism for stuff that went wrong and how to do it better next time), let's have a go at my "learning" over the last six months.

I learned that it is a lot of work pulling together a book. Fortunately there were some weeks where my workload was low and I had the flexibility to work on the book. I would never have managed it in my own time. Now that my workload is crushing, it's almost impossible to move anything on. If I look at current sales, there is no way that the money made from A Hat in Time will justify the amount of time I put into its creation.

Then there's Lulu. Yes, the idea of an ebook was kind of ok, no risk, no initial outlay cost etc. Just that people don't want ebooks. I've sold about 15 so far which is meagre. I mean, it's really not good enough. To be fair, there's nothing lost with this approach so I try not to get upset about it. What I do moan about though is the online tool for publishing a Lulu book. For one, it's complicated. I still haven't figured out tax implications, ISBN etc for the promotion package (with which you can distribute the book on Amazon) and while it's affordable, I'm shying away from it because I just don't get it. Secondly, the online editing tool separates out the cover from the rest, so you have to submit various pdf files, and it's not clear if the cover has 4 or 2 or 1 page(s) so it took me a full day's work just to transfer the print ready pdf file into the Lulu pdf. I cursed a lot. And I think it's still not perfect but I can't be bothered anymore. Above all, the cover only allows use of Lulu templates. This is rather annoying because I have a beautiful cover, nicely branded with Save the Children, and I can't transfer it into this template. Above all, the title now appears on top of a photo so is hardly legible. This is not how I had wanted it, but the best that Lulu templates allow me to do.

Much easier was the process for publishing on Ravelry. I just published my lovely pdf file and done. Disadvantage: I have to deal in US$, which is subject to exchange rate fluctuation. However, Ravelry takes almost no commission and it was such an easy process that I've got nothing but praise for them. Sales figure: 2 so far. Not good.

After all my attempts of promoting the ebook, I had 17 sales. And lots of people asking me for a physical copy. It became clear that in spite of technology, internet and global warming, people still very much prefer a physical book to a pdf file, even if it's for charity, even if the ebook makes a higher profit.

So I then looked into a physical print run. I got about 20 quotes from local printers and the story is simple: If you print 1250 or 2500, cost per copy is less than one pound, if you print under 500, cost per copy is about 7-10 pound. Considering that I can't expect to sell a copy for more than 7.50, and that I can't expect to sell that many, this is not a good situation. I don't have the 3K or more needed for a large print run, plus the risk is too high (I may not sell enough to break even). The lower quantity print run doesn't make a profit. I tried to offer pre-ordering to finance a large print run, but again, not enough copies sold (lost count, but I don't think it was more than 25).

Well, I did finally find one printer who made me a decent offer - one where I can print on demand for a cost per copy which allows about 50 % of profit. Believe it or not, this was the only offer I got at all where I would make a profit for a print run below 500 copies. Hurray. And they're even a carbon neutral company, how good is that! Just that we've had a few glitches with the artwork, proofs, and generally missing each other due to workload, so I still don't hold the book in my hands. However, the main thing is, in about 2 week's time at the latest, there will be a physical book. It'll be lovely. It'll make profit. And I can have more printed if I run out. What more can I ask for? Well, sales. And more sales. The physical book will be available through the website, and also through Amazon, thanks to the support of my friend Natalie who is an Amazon Marketplace seller and found a way of selling A Hat in Time without a book distribution package (Note: If you follow the Amazon link, the price will come down soon as we're still experimenting with the listing).

I embarked on this adventure partially because I was keen to find out about online publishing. I have a few book ideas in my head and wanted to see the business case for them. What I can see now is that a) full colour books published on Lulu cost more to the buyer than they are likely to dish out and are not generally a good idea. b) Some traditional avenues work better than online promotion. For example, k1 Yarns have kindly offered to sell the book in their shops and already they've had a massive interest in it. I'm sure the book would have sold well at the Save the Children volunteer days over the last two weeks - had I had a physical copy. Books are still a traditional medium and ebooks, well, don't work. Or at least it didn't work for me. I also find the whole ISBN and distribution package for Amazon so mindbogglingly complicated (mainly because Lulu is a US company) that I really don't fancy going down this way - a way which may lead to decent sale numbers.

Now, with the Christmas season about to descend upon us, I hope that sales will pick up. What better Christmas stocking filler can there be for a knitter than this wonderful collection of 37 hats to knit and crochet, aka A Hat in Time? Ah go on, why don't you get one?

Monday, 26 October 2009

Tolo Toys Review

Have you heard of the Tolo Toys range? I hadn't so far, so I was pleased to be sent the Safari Girl to review.

When it arrived, I gave it straight to Cubling. She played with it a little and then moved on. Not wanting to give in easily, I let my nephew have a go. Cubling had no problem sharing. Nephew was keen, tried out all the features and was done 30 seconds later, announcing "I'm finished, Cubling can have it back".

To be fair, that's a 2 1/2 year old verdict. And it was for just playing with the safari girl on her own. I'm pretty sure that the reaction from a 1 year old would be very different, but it does say 1-5 years on the box, and one thing is clear, our 2 1/2 year olds aren't big time into it. Of course this may be different if they had a whole set of Tolo Toys, where they could use their imagination and actually act out scenes. After a quick browse on the internet to see what kind of sets there are, I realised that Tolo Toys aren't exactly cheap as chips.

What does the safari girl do? It's brightly coloured, has a camera and you can turn bits of her body, like put the head facing backwards, her pony tail forwards and the arms and legs in funny positions. And there's a squeaky button on her tummy to do a belly button squeak. When you turn her body parts, it clicks - a nice loud click which I'm sure would delight a 6-18 month old. It doesn't sit unsupported and the camera obstructs the movement of the left arm which is a bit of a shame.

Verdict: Great for a one year old or even younger, potential for 2 year olds if puchased in a set or in context of a playhouse or similar environments. On the higher price range for toys. Sturdy and quality construction. Made from plastic. Would I buy it? Definitely not for my 2 1/2 year old. Would I be happy to buy it for a one year old? Yes. Compared to say the Little People range they offer more activity with the actual figures, they are bigger and would definitely inspire a child's imagination. Of course, you'd probably also spend about three times as much on the set.

If you're interested, you can find out more here.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

and then, to make it all better again:

We're sitting at the dinner table after a late return from our weekend. Just Cubling and I.
"Kuscheln, mummy" she says out of the blue (let's cuddle), "kuscheln on mummy's leg", she elaborates. "Du moechtest auf Mami's Schoss kuscheln? Ja klar." (you want to cuddle on mummy's lap? Sure). I take her out of her ill fitting high chair and we assume cuddling position.

"My hand in there" she demands, wanting to make sure her right hand is behind my back, for a good and proper cuddle. Then, "I you lieb dich. Mummy, I you lieb dich."

I'm smitten. "I besser now" in Cubling's words. How could I not be?
(NB: this was a first. She's never said this unprompted before)

Friday, 23 October 2009

of triggers and spirals

Yesterday, in spite of a post that desperately tried to cling on to the positives, something triggered a downward spiral. Those spirals are strange things that can happen to people, and fortunately I don't get them very often. Even in times of bitter and deep sadness and grief, where days hold wells of tears, they don't necessarily take me down that dark and unpleasant place that one particularly strong spiral made me visit yesterday.

It made me wonder about the significance of triggers, and the underlying causes. Not that I'm any wiser. It's as if there is no reason I can put my finger on, all I have is knowledge of the trigger. With a day's distance and being back in control of the eye taps (at least most of the time), it's clear that the trigger was mainly that. This makes it more complicated because of the outburst of anger that followed the trigger. This cannot be ignored and it will revisit me. I lost controll and don't even regret it. At the same time I don't want to revisit before it's back on the balancing board.

What it felt like yesterday was more than unpleasant. A feeling of a world collapsing, the worthlessness of all my strive, the inability to see any light. Mr Cartside tried his best to alert me to the negativity that kept streaming out of me, in an attempt to stop the flow, and to try and divert it to the positive. But all I felt was negativity and I could not, would not divert it, could not focus on the positive. Something had shook me at the core of who I thought I am, spitting on it, and telling me that it was all but an illusion.

For as much as I analysed the trigger, I can't find the underlying reason, other than the implications of the trigger which go something along the line of lack of trust, potential of exploitation and lack of acknowledgement. Why this tickled my funny bone, I don't know. Normally I would stand firmly above this and confidently and sensibly defuse the situation. This time, my fuse blew.

The day was completed on autopilot, neverending activity, the comfort of the usual drag of end of day housework. Cubling wanted to play hide and seek. Mummy wasn't playing. I should have felt bad about this, yet I didn't. There was no trace of fun or smiles left, instead clear reluctance to engage with anyone, even my beloved little girl.

The fascinating bit is that this hole is unimaginable from the perspective of my normal being, it is so far removed, it turns me into an entirely different person. This is what depression and mental illness must be like for many a lot of the time, the lack of understanding of the profoundity experienced when interacting with other people and inability to escape the power of the mind. Let me be clear - I'm not clinically depressed, never have been, and I take comfort out of knowing that I will feel better soon. This is a mere visit of the dark side, I am very lucky in this respect.

For now, I seem to have managed to get out of the quicksand at the bottom of the pit, and I have a feeling it will take me a little while yet, lots of rows of knitting and a few more teary outbursts to lift myself out of it and return to normal.

Now all I need to decide is whether to click "post" or not. The argument for posting is that in better times I'd be able to look back at what this feels like, and with me, others who may be in the same state I am in. The hope that analyising brings clarity and healing. The argument for not posting would be that I'd be seen as a drama queen, not being taken seriously, making myself vulnerable when I already am. The knowledge that I'll have to defend posting this if I do hit the post button. The knowledge that I'm being defensive already. That wretched defensiveness that is my shadow.

I feel I've hit a button. No, not that one. Yet.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

This is what makes it all worthwhile...

Have a look at this. Our new Global Panel member. And look at the comments of support, they made me almost greet. You know, like normally on such comment pages of newspapers, you get all kind of dafties saying stupid things. Not here, no no no. It warms my heart to see so much support and determination.

Go Gary go, we're so glad to have you on board!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Wordless Wednesday: This season

Mummy go aeroplane Belfast. Back tonight. In the meantime, some Scottish autumnal beauty before it's all gone:

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Part 2: Video Blogging 101

Second in line of my 3 part series on social media is a fool proof video blogging 101.

The great thing to start with is that most stuff I covered in the podcasting 101 still applies. So it would be a good idea to read that post first for basic rules on content.

What Odeo is for podcasting, Youtube is for video blogging. The advantage of using Youtube (or any other video platform for that matter) is that it's externally hosted, yet you can embed the video in your blog which makes it appear as if it actually is on your blog. Another advantage is that youtube offers channels which you can link to on your blog, you can create playlists to share etc. Have a look at my own youtube widget where I share films that young people I worked with made. Some of them are on my own youtube channel, some of them on my favourites list.

Search engines love videos. If you have a video on your blog, it'll get more readers. A video can also really promote something, including a cause, if on youtube. Then there's the viral thing. That means that people pass on video they like. It happens more than with any other media. The video blogging (just like the micro blogging market) is growing and there's no sign of an end to this growth.

So really, to be hip and happening in social media, and blogland, you should use video. And why not have a go at it, as a one off, and see if it works for you?

Here's the technical bit:
You need:
1. a camera. A webcam can do this job. The Mercedes Benz version is a Flip camera (for which Supermummy Mumpreneur currently has a competition running, but you can't win it because I want it). They will set you back £70-£150. But they are so cool. Foolproof to use, stylish and they produce high quality videos. Your camera should have an inbuilt microphone, so no need for anything else.

2. editing software. Windows Movie Maker is a likely software that you may already have on your computer and it's all you need. It's intuitive and easy to use. I use Adobe Premiere Elements which supports more formats and also is a bit more stable - that's because I do HD stuff from a camcorder. Windows Movie Maker is perfectly sufficient for video blogging needs.

3. watch your file format. Your editing software may create one file format and youtube will only accept other file formats. Check this out and if you need to convert, google for free downloadable software that does just this. Make sure to read user reviews before installation - you want something easy and virus free.

That's it, off you go.

Now you can look for content. Video blogging often uses simple formats. The blogger talking to the camera. The blogger interviewing someone. The blogger demonstrating something. It's not rocket science!

It's ok to have a rough edge. You're not looking for perfection, some pauses, ehm and ahs make for authenticity and are fine. You don't need a tripod but you can use one if you prefer. However, avoide swaying the camera constantly and too quickly. That'll make your viewer dizzy.

Try to have the light facing your object. That way everything is lit.

Always check recording before you call it a day.

As with podcasting: give a bit of context, who are you? where are you? what's that noise? Make it personal: what do you think, feel?

To edit your video files, you need to first import them to your computer. Create a folder for this to keep them in one place. Plug in the camera, import using Camera and Scanner Wizzard.
Next: Open Windows Movie Maker. Then select Import Video. Drag it into the bottom bar. Import as many individual file as you need to make up your full video. Then click "Show Timeline"

You can now edit individual files, edit how they come together, you can add music, titles, subtitles, transitions, and much more. After every change, replay to make sure you're happy with your edit.

When you're done, save movie (you may want to open the dialog for more choices and select Video for Broadband).

Now upload your video to youtube (using lots of tags so it's picked up in search engines) and get the embed code (usually beside the video when it's playing). Add the code to your blogpost, or as an element/widget to your side bar. That's it, all done. Stand in awe and admire.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Treasures of our Trip

This is what we're bringing back with us from our short trip to Germany, to keep the link glowing for the months to come:

1. transparent crafting paper, a large cheese box, a mermaid instruction booklet and an electric lantern holder
To make a mermaid lantern for Glasgow's St Martin's Day lantern parade. Cubling is big into mermaids (and other less girly stuff, just that the less girly variations the craft shop had on offer didn't resemble combine harvesters, cranes, diggers or tractors) hence the mermaid booklet. She's still too young in my opinion to be trusted with the real thing, i.e. a lantern with a candle in it, so the electric variant has to make do for this year.

2. A hair band.
Nothing too German about that. She just wouldn't leave the shop without it and to be fair, it would help her hair style immensely. If she kept in in for more than two seconds that is.

3. A Brotbrettchen.
That's the flat rectangular with a slice of bread and a cow-shaped cold meet slice on it. It's a wooden board for eating your bread on. Instead of plates, you see. Very German. And they have such fun versions of it, I love them. This one was picked by Cubling as a souvenir.

4. Bernsteinkettchen (amber necklace).
A souvenir for my little niece and her teeth which may bother her. Amber necklaces apparently soothe teething pains. Believe it or scorn it, Midwife Muse tried it a little while ago on her gandchildren and maintains it worked (and she's not German so it must be true).

5. Various CDs and DVDs of German music and cartoon series.
That's me hoping that letting her watch TV in German will magically make her love all things German. To be fair, I can't wait to relive my own childhood by watching Die Sendung mit der Maus and Co. And I'm obviously big time into bribing toddlers.

6. A wooden sewing toy
Given to Cubling by my friend A. The needle is a mouse who eats through food. Cubling loves it, she's such a food addict and loves feeding any real or imaginary person or mouse.

7. Another present from A.: a drawing block, crayons, and a magic pencil with all the colours of the rainbow. The latter is a particular hit, Cubling loves making the colours change and telling me all about it.

8. A nursery rhyme singalong book.
One of those really annoying toys. I really had tried hard for Cubling to pick the autumn teeming book (Herbstwimmelbuch) which was my book of choice. However, she saw this and was not to be separated from it. So we've not got a book that plays 10 different German nursery rhymes, which is going under the name "Big Book" and is compulsory bed and nap time reading material. Did I mention my rotten cold? Imagine the scene, me singing with a sore throat and stuffed nose, 10 nursery rhymes at an impossible pitch for me at the best of times. It may annoy me and everyone in earshot, but Cubling has already started singing along and it certainly is her favourite book at the moment. So much so that I could've left all the other books I took at home.

9. Yarn
I spent my last Euros on 6 balls of Italian made yarn to knit a summer dress for Cubling. It's another F.Pea creation (cowgirl butterfly astronaut vest) and the suggested yarn, being US made, is not available here. I think I've finally found a good replacement.

10. Oops, forgot the scissors. That's because they had to stay as we only had hand luggage. When I went to my beloved craft shop aptly named "Zauberkoerbchen", Cubling wanted them. Then they became her precious. Imagine, my ever energetic, ever moving, ever running, never calm or sitting for any length of time, my one and only spirited girl - there she sat with a pair of scissors and a sheet of paper, cutting into the edge. Ever so carefully not to cut her fingers. For half hours at a time. There is magic in a pair of scissors as Slugs in the Refrigerator has described more eloquently.

And this is the lovely yarn I was knitting with while in Germany: Hachos de Mirasol, a Peruvian and fairly traded yarn which I just adore.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Four Days in October

Cubling and I are currentling visiting Opa (granddad) in Germany. It's a rather short visit, yet I'm trying to cram a lot into these four days, four day out of a total of 16 that Cubling will this year have spent in my country of birth. Our first trip around Easter led to an explosion of her active language capacity in German. All of which has since stagnated. We are at a stage where Cubling's sentences are English, with German nouns and occasionally verbs and adjectives sprinkled in, if I insist. The kind of "I want that Brot nicht!" (I don't want that bread).

So I'm hoping that she'll be getting a lot out of this visit, especially since she does know the difference between the languages now, and that there are different languages. More than the language, I'm also seeping up the culture, feed her sausages and Reibekuchen, buy supplies for making a latern for St Martin's Day, think about creating advent wreaths and calendars which too are different in Germany. I even go as far as planning to cook some German fare on my return, finally get around to organise a local German playgroup.

I'm overwhelmed by possibilities. Possibilities which are facilitated because I live in a big cities where we have some resources for creating networks of German-Scottish families. Time is limited to be fair, but at least we have these options. And we have the lantern parade for St Martin's Day, a German Kinderclub and lots of activities that can foster a sense of having two cultures to draw from. These four days, if not for Cubling, at least for me fill me with refreshed enthusiasm to create a bicultural home for her. I'm full of ideas, full of plans.

And nothing beats my pride at hearing her speak the occasional sentence in German. And my pride to hear her confidently chat up strangers in English. I love English, and I love to hear her to speak English so perfectly. I'm simply awestruck by my bilingual girl, even if her bilingualism is anything but balanced.

To see her play, dance have such fun with my Spanish-German friends' children, who are bilingual in their own way. To see her intuitively connect with them, still mixing languages, but clearly having no trouble communicating at all.

A marvel.

Here's to some lantern making upon my return.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

uphill struggle: kids and climate change

No, this is not an odd title. When it came to thinking about what my contribution to this year's Blog Action Day on Climate Change could be, I wavered between about 5 different ideas. Until it dawned on me that the biggest senseless contribution to climate change and the global challenges it brings is having kids in the developed world. And as usual, it's the grown ups who are to blame.

It's not because they themselves will contribute to CO2 emissions. Although that may be a good point too, just that I'd rather not suggest not having kids to save the planet. Let's for now stick to the premise that having kids is ok and after all, we are meant to procreate aren't we? No, what really enfuriates me, the child of parents who grew up during the war and the dire post war years, who knew hunger and the humility of begging for a slice of bread, a family where waste was unknown because the value of all things was known, is the amount of senseless waste and consumerism we live in now.

Take toys as an example. Our house is brimming with them. We still have less than many other houses. There is not a room without toys, most of them unplayed with, some even untouched. And don't get me started on soft toys. I've never counted them, all I know is that Cubling has only ever played with about half a doyen of them and wouldn't be unhappy if all she owned was Spencer bear (whom we almost lost on the trip to Germany but that's another story). Being A Mummy blogged about the nuisance of soft toys before. And she is right of course, they are mostly cute, some so odd I'd class them as disgusting to scary, but above all, they are unused dust gatherers, an utter waste of scarce resources, as are most of the toys owned by our 2 1/2 year old.

The problem is that people enjoy giving presents to children. I don't blame them, there's nothing like that face of delight when a present is announced, handed over, unravelled, discovered, explored. Unlike giving presents to us, the grown ups who have it all, and are hard to please, nothing is easier than pleasing a toddler. It makes us feel good. And contributes to our destruction of the earth.

And so our house has become, for want of an apter term, a skip of toys and soft toys. We can't throw them out for fear of upsetting a respected friend or relative. And yet they keep accumulating.

To make up for it a little bit, I'm resolved to buying second hand only wherever and whenever I can. Not to save money (although that's a lovely side product) but to combat that senseless consumerism, which wastes unknown quantities of water, oil, and other resources which are really not in unlimited supply, in the process creating CO2 and in the end contributing to landfill and further contamination of the place we live in. I've bought toys from charity shops, clothes from ebay, accepted ridiculous amounts of handed down clothes from when Cubling was born and it's not an easy choice. I always had to combat feeling like I didn't give my daughter the best I could get, that I may be seen as tight or even daft.

The only person who honestly doesn't care that her beloved rocking horse came from a charity shop or all her clothes are from her one-year-older friend is Cubling herself. Which helps. Yes, I do love shopping too, and I miss not having an excuse to spoil her rotten. Until I see her spend full days outdoors, exploring the world without a toy at hand, with her telling me how happy she is. It is then that I realise that the real loss is not the new and shiny toys she doesn't get, but the fact that nature kindergardens haven't made it to Glasgow yet.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

the hip and the fun part 1: podcasting 101

Last week, I got trained in social media. Quite a strange situation, what with being a blogger, twit and all that. Yet I know that there's a lot out there that I don't use and actually feel rather uncomfortable using. How about video or podcasting? It gives me the shivers, and all seems so very complicated.

Yet, when I blogged about our Wee Shots project, and then googled for Wee Shots with the intention of getting the original youtube files, I was gobsmacked at the search engine result: My little blog, the one with 49 followers (now 50, thank you babyrambles!!!) was first up.

Why? Google loves blogs (because they are regularly updated) and google loves video. Google gets all excited about blogs that have videos on them. Give them the right tag and you're way up there in the search engines.

So, time to have a look at podcasting and video blogging. I'll start with the audio bit in this post, video blogging will be part two. The third part will be about bespoke social network platforms.

Podcasting - the technical bit:
I was amazed at how simple podcasting is. So I'll keep this short and you can all just go out and give it a go. What you need is a gadget which will record audio files. I'm sure a microphone attached to your computer would do, if you want the mercedes benz version, you'll go for a handheld device, such as an Olympus recorder. Add a decent microphone and a set of headphones, and you're ready to go.

Your software requirements are all free for download: Jodix to convert your audio file to the editable MP3 and Audacity to edit your MP3 file and export it to a suitable format.

To host your podcast, you can use the free online platform Odeo, from where you can embed your podcast in your blog.

Here are the basic steps: Record. Convert your file to an MP3 using Jodix. Edit in Audacity. Export (in Audacity) to MP3. Upload on Odeo. Get the embed code and blog it. That's it. Podcast can be RSS'ed which is a plus.

Now, I'm sure you all want to have a good quality podcast. So to make it a good one, look at content first of all.
  • Do give a personal, a new perspective.
  • Do use some background noises that bring the topic alive. So if you blog about the trials of motherhood, screaming baby in the background would be nice. Just an example, you don't of course have to make your child scream for the sake of a podcast.
  • Do keep it short. 1-2 mins is plenty.
  • Do keep it to the point
  • Do keep it informal and conversational
  • Do make sure you don't make assumptions of knowledge: Explain terms, name check people you interview all the time, and anything else that makes it easy for your listener to follow your interview without the benefit of vision
  • Do take control of interviews, interrupt if your interviewee rambles, you're in charge!
  • Do add an image to your podcast upload, it engages and brings it alive
  • Do create a mental image in the interview, some sentence that calls up an image, this will stick with listener
  • Do record some sounds of the location to mix in later

In Audacity, you can edit the track. Remove bits you don't like, add silence etc. You can add wild tracks (other sounds, like music or sound clips) and with the washing line tool, you can fade music in and out. It makes it so much nicer to have a bit of music with the podcast. Import music (instrumental music is best, and it should suit the mood you want to create in your podcast) or other sound effects - you can do this for free on podsafeaudio or Royalty Free Music. Soundsnap is good for sound effects.

Audacity has lots of easy to use tools, and you can find out how in the online tutorial. It's really easy, you can get a fab podcast just by using some editing which will take you about 15 minutes or so even as a beginner. For a polished post, it may take you 30 minutes with just a little bit of practice. It's intuitive, you can undo changes, and it's all good really. Do make sure to listen to your podcast everytime you edit it, because you can only ever undo your last change.

Editing is fun by the way, I loved it and even the not so social media savy in our course got into it big time.

Do you podcast? Have you got any additonal tips to share?

Monday, 12 October 2009

One tired but happy mummy

I have no energy to write any proper blog posts. If I say proper, it means half thought through, the ideas that I have in my head, the stuff that takes a little concentration to complete.
Well, we've had a rare weekend as the nuclear family and made the most of it. No, I didn't clean, shop, garden. When one's time is very limited, priorities have to be right. Ours were to have some rare and precious family time. So the house is in a bit of a state but baby I don't care (hums along).
Instead of cleaning and all the boring stuff, we went to Edinburgh Zoo and Finlaystone Estate/Gardens over the weekend.
I was in London Wednesday to Friday for some work related social media training.
On Wednesday I'll be off to Germany for 4 days.
The following Wednesday, i.e. after 2 days in Glasgow, I'll be in Belfast for the day, again for work. I'm a very tired mummy already, don't ask me what it'll be like 10 days from now after all that travelling.

I'm extremely pleased we managed two sunny glorious autumn days in two fabulous locations. On the train journey to London I managed to knit a pair of mittens and I've managed to catch one of the last places on the online Felt and Stitch holiday which I decided would be my much deserved me time for the next few weeks. I hope having signed up to it will make me take that time, even if not at the specific days the projects are posted (they happen to be Wednesdays, which, for the next two weeks, will be airport days).

My internet connection may be more than iffy, what with my dad's virus infected computer and his stubborn reluctance to buy a new one (which I shall attempt to remedy while there, now there's a mission!) so if this space should be rather quiet, please bear with me. I do have a lot of posts planned and in the pipeline. There'll be a podcasting 101, a video blogging 101, an introduction to Ning, I'm sure I'll not be able to resist blogging about the beauties of Edinburgh Zoo and Finlaystone, and my camera is full of amazing autumn pictures. Have I mentioned already how amazing Acers are? I just can't get enough of them. Oh, and winter knitting. Next on my needles after the mittens shall be the dead fish hat, my current personal favourite hat pattern from A Hat in Time and in 2 week's time, the print run should be making its way out to those who've preordered. If you wish to preorder or buy the ebook, just hop over here.

Oh and sorry that I haven't had time to comment on other blogs, I just about manage to read posts here and there at the moment. Not complaining, just explaining ;)

To entertain you, some classics out of Cubling's mouth:
Tell Opa, which animals did you see in the zoo? "rabbits, dogs".
"I happy fish, mummy grumpy fish" (after telling her off for throwing her milk cup off the table and creating a milk puddle).
"I no want see Tiger anymore" (in the zoo, after we finally found the tiger and she couldn't quite get the parental excitement of him being right up at the glass).
"I want go aeroplane! I fahren Deutschland! Wheee! I fliegen high up sky!" (no, not yet darling, another few days to go - she's been saying this for 3 weeks non stop now)
"I big girl now!" Not sure what makes her think that, she's still not using the potty and is still in the cot, the two things that I consider signs of being a big girl...
Pointing at our neighbour: "What's that?" Mummy: "Who's that." Cubling: "Good morning, Who!"
And she loves Goldilocks, which we also read in a German version. She is the small bear, I'm the middle bear, daddy is the big bear. So far so good. And who's Goldilocks? Her cousin (my nephew). He is very blond to be fair... And he's happy with the casting.

Finally, I'm over the moon that this blog is listed as number 35 of the top 100 of British parenting blogs. I do think that many blogs below Mummy do that! are more deserving of this position and I'm sure in months to come this will be reflected. In the meantime though, it's made my day!!!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

induction, birth choices and going overdue

Peggy at A Mother's Secret has had me head her call again. Her topic this time is "Pregnancy Lows". Well, I had a reasonable pregnancy with Cubling (ok, having all day morning sickness while on honeymoon wasn't ideal, but other than that there were no major complaints). The lowpoint came the day before my due date, when I changed from community midwife to hospital care. These are my (edited) thoughts from back then.

8th March 2007
Apparently, I'm due today. Happy International Women's Day! Due. It sounds as if I'm about to go off, sour, or whatever. And really, is it me who's due? Should it not be Cubling?

Anyway, due as I may be, today is no different than any other day in the past week, and probably won't be much different to the next few days. Except that now my NHS care has switched from community health centre to hospital. After getting used to 2 female GPs and one midwife at my community health centre, who I all liked very much, and who made me feel relaxed and calm for things to come, I was now seen by two male doctors neither of whom respond to the name I was given as my consultant. They were both nice, but still managed within minutes to put me off any rails I've ever been on.

The problem, looking back, was honesty. I mentioned every possibly worrying twitch and niggle I experience - just in case it's a sign of something serious which needs treatment. Not because I'm a hypochondriac. I may not feel bouncy, happy and full of energy, but hey, that's alright, it won't last forever and I can cope. The consultants, however, assumed that I'd had enough and offered to start induction. Before my due date. Without medical indication. Just because I've got no appetite, big feet and a sore back/pelvis. The suggestion took me by surprise and my nerves continued shaking until I fell asleep last night, and I believed caused my heart (read Cubling) to sink (read descent).

I refused. Just that this wasn't as confident a reaction on my part as I would have hoped, because after all my reading, hypnobirthing, and knowledge that it is my decision and not a doctor's, at the end of the day, if a doctor suggests something, it undermines everything you believe in. He is the doctor. He must know best. Why does he even suggest induction. He must have a reason. He sees pregnant women all the time. It's my first pregnancy. What do I know.

Yet I still managed to refused. He asked me twice if I was sure. I wasn't, but said I was. And it was only when I happened to bump into the midwife visiting my friend who'd just had a baby that my doubts subsided. She simply found the idea of induction before a due date very odd indeed. I felt reassured. It took another medical professional to make me believe I had done the right thing.

So I'm not so empowered after all. Women's lib still has a way to go and I wish I was in the sole care of midwives.

21st March 2007
My confusion and insecurity on the day of my hospital visit was largely due to being confronted with new people at a very vulnerable point in time. Pregnancy has put me on a rollercoaster of emotions, partly due to hormones, partly because of the simple fact that it changes your life. It makes you more vulnerable, which is further strengthened by entering a crucial stage of pregnancy, where important decisions need to be taken. It isn't a good time to change the main caregiver. I took time to trust the two GPs and one midwife who cared for me in the local health centre, and there is no time now. While my GP, knowing my medical history, was extremely cautious of any sign pointing towards pre-eclamsia, a blood pressure that made her refer me to the hospital for monitoring was brushed off as perfect by this new consultant. Literally, a new file was opened and all my medical history seemed to have been lost, why else would he ask me if I had ever been pregnant before, had a miscarriage or termination?

Now interested in induction, the reasons for it, advantages and disadvantages, as well as success rates, I did a bit of research. As I did with each part of my pregnancy, to make informed decisions. This was all very useful and I'm now a bit more confident about my thoughts on all forms of speeding things along. Interesting though were attitudes of other pregnant women on the same topic, which didn't seem to match my concerns at all and made me wonder if I'm on a different planet.

First of all, there's an overdue club on a pregnancy forum which I frequent for the sake of passing time waiting for labour to kick in. Every single person on this forum moans about being overdue, and every single person is hoping for induction appointments rather sooner than later. Apparently, some hospitals aren't as quick with speeding things up as mine is, and most overdue women seem to be very keen indeed to get similar offers that I refused so readily. Unlike the women on this forum, I'm not particularly impatient or frustrated, though keen to meet my baby. I can't understand the desperation of wanting to end pregnancy, or the obsession with seeing themselves as overdue, when the normal gestation period is anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks, and overdue should really only refer to being 42 weeks plus. I always expected to go beyond 40 weeks, because almost everyone I know did. It's perfectly normal, but this does not seem to be something many women know or want to know.

Similarly, at an aquanatal class, fellow splashers weren't just amazed I was there at my advanced week count, but they were also sure not to see me the following week. "They won't let you go beyond 10 days over" was their conviction. I responded that they might have to let me go 10 days over because I would not agree to induction before 42 weeks. Ignore that they obviously didn't understand my point of view (why would you choose to wait if you can get induced?), they also thought that it was the hospital's/consultant's decision. While I obviously respect and consider medical opinion, the decision for any medical intervention is that of the patient, and I was shocked that educated, mature women did not consider this to be the case.

So why am I so reluctant? Well, to start with, I don't think intervention without medical need is ever a good thing. Bodies are amazing things and usually do a lot of good stuff themselves. Not always, though, and that's where medicine comes in. But to induce for the sake of it, I don't get. Induced labour is more painful, and has a higher likelihood of leading to other forms of intervention, particularly assisted delivery. While I'm positive about labour and looking forward to experiencing it, the thought of cesaerian section, ventouse, forceps and needles in my spine make me go weak on my knees. Truly. I do actually faint if I think of it too much. It scares me senseless. I also don't want someone to stick a hook inside my private parts. I'll accept the sweep though for the moment, I'm not trying to be difficult, honestly.

So maybe I was the victim of assumptions. Maybe the consultants thought I was like those women screaming for an end to big bump who would do anything to get induced on their due date or even earlier to get it over with. Maybe they were simply trying to be kind and not stand in the way of my choice of birth experience. So I won't be to harsh on them should I meet them again, but patiently explain that I may be a bit different.

I'm very pleased with the midwives at the hospital who really managed to calm me down and give me back my sleep last night. I'm 41+6 today, and after checking that baby is doing fine and things are moving, if slowly, along, they assured me that induction wasn't necessary at all but they would do it if I asked for it. They are happy for me go over 42 weeks even and assured me that I will go into labour naturally. Soon. And it looks like all is set for a natural delivery as well. I'm both impatient now and overwhelmed that Cubling will be with us in the next few days most likely. I can't wait to experience birth and I'm trying to sleep as much during the day and at night to gather energy for this.

Labour kicked in naturally the following day when my week count was 42 exactly and Cubling was born healthily and not overcooked 15 days overdue. The woman beside me in the postnatal ward had given birth 17 days post EDD.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Play Talk Read

It was with great interest that I got word of the new parenting campaign launched by the Scottish Government. Mindful Mum had been contacted and offered to come to the launch, and forwarded the invite on to me in case I was free as she was not. I wasn't either but followed it up requesting further information. I'm still waiting. It seems to me that possibly the launch was a media event and they were short of a few mums (and maybe even, just imagine, dads!) for the photoshoot. Or did they really try and target mummy bloggers who could get the message out about this campaign? If so, why didn't anyone get back to me?

Thankfully, I know how to use my eyesight and google. When I came across this picture I thought it may be related to the ominious parenting campaign. So I googled and found out that thi mysterious campaign was launched on 25th September and is called Play Talk Read. You can find the news release, read what the Herald has to say about it, and it's also been featured as a news story on Children in Scotland.

And the campaign even has a fabulous website, where parents can get bucket loads of advice, information. More than that, if you sign up, you can find local activities for your child, a forum to ask questions, you can find parents near you and even submit ideas for activities with young children. All good stuff, and really something that us Scottish Mummy/Daddy Bloggers should blog about to spread the message. In fact, check it out whereever you are, you don't even have to live in Scotland to get some good ideas from this great resource.

What I'm a bit worried about is that as with similar initiatives to get parents to read with their kids, it assumes parental literacy and access to the internet. Have another look at the advert that decorates Scottish billboards: great image, sharp message - but to find out more you need to search online for "playtalkread". Honestly, who is going to be bothered to do this unless they have a specific interest in this?
The message, though, is a really important one. To give your child the best start in life, play with him/her, talk to him/her, read to him/her. Simple but it makes a massive difference. It's the recipe to tackling inequalities in education and in later life, the recipe to transform society, no less, to make it a more equal and more just society.
Yet my worry is that an advertising campaign (only 14% of people take in advertising and act upon it) and a fancy website will contribute to further increasing the divide, a divide which is increasingly a digital one. I've blogged about this before. If you want to improve educational outcomes/experiences and life chances for children growing up in poverty and disadvantaged communities (and let's be clear, this is what this campaign is about) you need to consider access. Or rather lack thereof. Because many parents don't have the dosh to have broadband access, a computer, even a landline or a bank account needed to get a phone line. That's what poverty means in reality. Add to that parents who themselves didn't have a positive experience of education, may not have great literacy and who will certainly struggle with a very text heavy internet site.
So, just like bookstart, bounce and rhyme and rhyme time, I fear it'll be only those mums who'd be reading to their kids anyway who turn up at sessions, or use this lovely website.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

toddler fear

photocredit: oddsocks via flickr
It all started with a combine harvester. Now there's no end to it. "I Angst!" she exclaims, "I no want see xyz!" is added while she puts her clenched fists in front of her eyes. "XYZ scary!" is added in case we are a bit slow in getting the point.

My courageous, dare-devillish, derwish of a girl has discovered fear.

It is in fact scaring me.

There are night terrors, the worst of it when her beloved Spencer bear, the one that follows her on every trip, is cuddled snugly to her body every night, the one she feeds, cooks for, changes his bum for, shares her milk with, when this cuddly Spencer teddy, two nights ago, caused her major distress. "I no want Spencer in mein Bett! Spencer scary!" At 2am, I had to remove him from her bed. If Spencer bear can turn on her in a dream, nothing is sacred.

Books she enjoyed are now filled with fear inducing characters. She's scared of bears, lions, crocodiles, spiders, bees, flies, ants. Excitement and even joy now easily turn into heart wrenching panic. Every time we pass the fields where she saw a combine harvester a few weeks ago, she will elaborate on her fear of the "funny" yet "scary" vehicle that washes grass and makes it into Strohballen, a vehicle that may be lurking in the bushes to jump out at her. I remember the eye opening (or rather closing) incident when I spotted her then beloved combine harvester in a field next to the road. To do her a favour and share her excitement, I stopped the car right beside it. Her excitement, in a split second, turned to panic. Her eyes covered, tears streaming down her face, screams of anguish, "mummy drive!!!" leaving me in no doubt that mummy had had a bad idea.

From that day on, we've had regular night terrors, and irrational fears sprinkled through each day.

Let's hope it's just a phase. She's a confident, energetic girl and these sudden outbursts of fear seem at odds with her personality. Or maybe they aren't - maybe they too are a sign of the intensity of her emotions, whichever they are.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Toddler love

My little girl, I think, fancies both my sister-in-law's neighbour and Mr Maker.

I'm both amused and amazed. Her enthusiasm when she sees either is without bounds, her whole being filled with excitement, her body jiggling, her face one huge big smile, on the top of her voice she will exclaim their names, again, and again, with increasing volume and urgency.

In general, we've had a bit of a Cbeebies situation. Which is odd, being a household with 5 TV stations where the TV is often forgotten about and should we relent the endless calls for Fernseh gucken and Pocoyo, it's the latter in German that is put on. There is no CBeebies in our house.

Of course, we're not in full control of her TV consumption. I know for certain that the TV is on during pick up time at the childminder's. I understand this, it makes things easy and gives her time to feedback to parents (not that there is a lot of feedback). I don't know how much time a day she is exposed to the box, and so far have not tested it by checking the channel's timetable and comparing it with Cubling's vast knowledge of TV characters. Suffice to say that she sings the theme tune of Ballymory all the time, called herself Bob the Builder today, went on a trip with Postman Pat and endlessly calls for Mister Maker, Mister Tumble and Show Me Show me whenever the laptop is in sight.

It's all educational I'm told, but I still think that I'd rather have her do stuff then sit on a sofa staring into the flicker of a box for hours on end. It made me reconsider our choice of childcare, until I heard that nurseries are not much better on the TV policy front. Of course I could complain. But here's the problem: the relationship with the childminder is much closer than with nursery staff and I simply don't want to imply that she's doing a bad job, because really, she's doing an excellent job. Cubling is polite, cheerful, happy and her boundless energy has been channelled in very positive ways, for which I'm forever endebted to the childminder. And I know that if the weather allows, the children spend most of the day outdoors, more than any nursery could ever offer (except for nature kindergartens which I would love to see in Glasgow).

I just wish that Cubling's enthusiasm for Mr Maker would not short change that of playing outside and exploring the colours, shapes and transformations of this wonderful season. So, I made her feel extra special by framing last week's leaf prints. She is a very proud and happy +
girl today.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Knitting with milk

One of the best phrases I took home from my years at uni was one of my prof's favourite idiom of nailing the custard to the wall. In case the image/analogy isn't as obvious as it is to me after years of hearing it - it's about the impossibility of nailing down a complex issue in a simple sentence/theory. Well, I've knitted with milk, does that count?

I'd cast on these lovely cabled trousers a little while ago for baby I, who was born almost 6 weeks ago. Well, my niece was born a week earlier, and that kind of got into the way of completing them in time. So 4 weeks late, here they are, bright, lovely and cosy. And huge. I mean, not really and truly huge, just significantly bigger than intended. Which is ok for babies/toddlers really. I followed the pattern for 6-12 months, but used 4mm rather than 3.75 mm needles, trying to make up for it by knitting tightly. Well, doesn't every knitting pattern tell you to ALWAYS DO A SWATCH? OK, I didn't, and here we have approximately 18-24 month sized trousers.
I love the ruffled edge and while the pattern in itself is straight forward enough, it was the first time I knitted short rows (for the bum) and grafted. I left out the crochet detail of a phoney seam - simply because I don't know how to crochet (I really really have to learn how to crochet and it's on my top wish list if I can find someone patient enough to show me the basics). The trousers are knit with Rowan Milk Cotton, Tutti Frutti (which has real milk protein in it, how bizarre!) - a lovely cotton yarn with a vivid colour to it - an almost shine, it isn't quite shiny, but the yarn still appears to be a little bit because of its consistency. Hard to explain, let's put it simple, it's pretty and slightly unusual.

The trousers have some unusual detail: a knitted waistband for inserting an elastic band, and the bum is wide enough to fit over even the fluffiest tot bots cloth nappy. The pattern is called Juju au Lait, designed by Miss Knitta, and it's one of the patterns featured in A Hat In Time (she altered the original pattern especially for the publication to accommodate UK yarn, how nice is that?), which of course you can buy now as an e-book, on Ravelry, as a Lulu book or you can pre-order the much cheaper physical print run. Thanks to my friend N, it is now even available on A Hat In Time. Plug plug plug. It's all for a good cause so I'm not embarrassed in the slightest. Just by the book for yourself, for your friends and family, and tell everyone about it. I mean, absolutely everyone.

With patterns like that, how could you not buy the book? Ah go on.
Oh, and in case you were wondering about how a pattern like this could find its way into a hat pattern book, there is a good reason. There is only one non-hat in the book (and that would be Juju au Lait) and I didn't exclude it because it was such a beauty of a pattern. So it should really be called 37 hats and one pair of trousers to knits and crochet.

Right, and for once, I have nothing on my needles. What will be next?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Wherever you look, there's a carnival

I'm trailing a bit behind with post and had meant to post all about this week's carnivals muuuuch earlier. Better late than never though, so here goes carnival time x 3!

The one closest to my heart is of course the Carnival on Raising Bilingual Children. You can find the latest installation here. If you would like to contribute, host or join the mailing list, please visit this page where you can do all of this. Hopefully this smallish carnival will be a steady and growing resource for parents who raise their children bilingually, so please support it in its infant stages.

Second up is the Sleep Deprivation Carnival which is rather relevant to me this week after self induced sleep deprivation. I only have myself to blame. I just can't sleep in crammed tents, or go to bed without an hour of me time, so I think I averaged somewhere between 4-5 hours in the last week. Not good. I disgress. Find out all about the sleep deprivation ahead of you if you're mad enough to have babies, and how to turn the corner (hopefully, if you're not quite such an owl as I've been last week).

Finally, the fortnightly Mummy Bloggers Carnival that everyone knows of anyway is over at Mums Rock . No contribution from Mummy do that! this time, but that shouldn't put you off because you would have read my contribution here anyway if you're reading this, so it's all good new stuff over there!

Enjoy the read!

Oh and I've realised that there's a difference between amber and embers. Just search/replace mentally in my previous post. I didn't walk over ambers, that would have been easy peasy. It was indeed embers. At least I'm consistent, eh?!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

On Saturday, I Walked the Fire

Yes, you heard right. I walked the fire. Whenever I mention that I did a fire walk, people look at me blankly, not quite understanding. So it takes a bit of explaining. You know that thing some mad people do (me), chopping down wood with an axe, building a pyre , then lighting it, before walking across the ambers of the fire with their bare feet? Yeah? Well, I walked across those ambers with my bare feet.

Why oh why would I do such a stupid thing?
Reasons there are many. The occasion was the loss of another three amazing colleagues to redundancy. After a massive restructure, a lot of my colleagues have lost their jobs. Fortunately, most of them found really great new challenges so it's not all as bad as it sounds. Yet there had to be a proper seeing them off. So, inspired by a glass walk once done with a group of young people, a fire walk was arranged at a colleagues farm, with camping night to round it all off.

We started off at 4pm with workshops that set the scene. This fire walk was not about imagining a wet mossy carpet, nonono, it was about being very aware of the heat, the risk, the danger, the madness of it all. Apparently the fire is about 1600 Fahrenheit hot. Just as well that mean absolutely nothing to me as I don't do Fahrenheit. I believe it's rather hot though. Like, it melted a stocking, and even moving the ambers into place with a rake made my face burn. The workshops were all about exploring fear and the effect it has on each person's life, how it keeps us from reaching our full potential, how fear can be real and necessary to protect us but also a barrier, and a fear of something that is not actually dangerous. Knowing the difference is the key.

So the firewalk became a symbol for overcoming fear, for taking charge and making a decision, for reaching out for the impossible and going for it. More than that the idea is also to make a personal decision, and to take responsibility for all our actions, thoughts and words from here on forward.

This is all very empowering stuff. The firewalk thus was meant to be a very personal, individual achievement. It was a right of passage, a ritual, in our lives where such ritual, sacred or not, has lost meaning. There was to be no peer group pressure, the decision to walk the fire was to be personal, with a right for the decision to be not to walk the fire.

As the moment drew nearer, my fear increased. There was no doubt in my mind that that fire was hot and my feet were just made of skin. This is what the fire looked like:

And these are the ambers just before I walked over them:
I looked. I thought, this is impossible. I was sure I was not going to do it.

But remember, there was a group of us, and as we started walking around the fire in a circle, clapping rhythmically, with bodhrans and other percussion sounds, and as one by one people walked across the fire, my desire to do it too became stronger. I felt supported, not pressured to do it. I was still very ok with deciding not to cross the fire. I observed the ambers. Plotted a path that didn't look quite so hot. Calculated the number of steps needed (4). Focussed on the path, the ambers, gathered my fear, and took it across the ambers with me.

The question that keeps nagging at me is this: Would I have done it without the groups support? Was it really just my personal choice to walk it, did it really empower me, or did I succumb to peer group pressure that I had rationalised into group support to help me achieve what I wanted? How about the way we shouted at each other "I'm going to walk the fire and so are you" in the workshop? Does that sound like taking responsibility of your own actions? Or did we push each other?

Above all, as soon as the question was put up "what keeps you from reaching your full potential?" all I could think was, what is my full potential? Why do I have to reach it? At which expense? You see, I have talents that I chose not to pursue because I don't see the values of them beyond my own little niche. I'm a good researcher, I could have had an academic career. That was my potential, a potential I don't care much for any longer. Instead I'm doing something that I find harder, that stretches me very often, that makes me at times insecure. Looked at it from another perspective, if all a person aspires is to reach their full potential, this will clearly be at the expense of those around them. It's selfish, unsocial.

There's a balance to be addressed, those of one's own ambitions and those of the people affected by these ambitions. We don't live in a vacuum. While I see the benefit of the firewalk for those who live in fear and who have disempowered lives (and I'm told it works wonders to liberate in this context), I didn't quite buy it.

So, while my colleagues are all full of new energy and feel transformed, I enjoyed the experience but do not feel that my life has changed as a consequence. I'm glad I did it, I'm amazed I did it, and it made me realise that if I set my mind to something, I can overcome fear and I can, to use the German phrase, step over my shadow: overcome my demons. It also showed me how a supportive group, a team, can help people reach higher.

Yet I still don't by into the reaching my potential business. Maybe I choose not to reach my potential and seek the wisdom within me, as the angel card I picked suggested. What I do buy into are the notions of respect and responsibility for my own actions, thoughts and words and I shall endeavour to try and take that responsibility more seriously.

Oh, and the fire didn't hurt in case you were wondering. No blister, no nothing. And I still rationalise this, rather than believing in the power of my mind to do it.



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