Friday, 30 December 2011

That was the plan... And here's the jury:

I don't do New Years resolutions. Normally. And just to spite myself, I kind of formulated a plan for 2011, which I knew I wouldn't exactly follow through, it was more about reminding myself what I would like to do at one point in time. Needless to say, I haven't looked at the list until today. So, for a bit of fun, how badly did I fare?

1. Get chickens.
No chickens. There are reasons, and these go a bit deeper than the categorical refusal by Mr Cartside. While my other half is convinced our garden is too small, I'm pretty sure we could do it but I have to accept that it would mean that this would be the only use for our garden. No space to run about for the kids, no option to grow more veg. No compost heap even. While the kids are small, I think I'll postpone the chicken plan for a while. Cubling still absolutely wants chickens and now says we need to move house...

2. Grow more food.
I did. Rather than one raspberry, we had a constant supply of berries, though I still managed to lose half of my plants. Green fingered I'm not and it's not for want of trying. There were some successes though - lettuce, tatties, beans, peas some soft fruit and even the occasional spinach, garlic and onion. I think I got one tomato from my 3 plants, not sure if tomatoes are worth my while in the future...

3. Buy less in general. Buy with less packaging. Buy more ethically. Buy more handmade. Avoid plastic
Tick. My clothes are falling apart though and after a year of buying zilch, I think I need some clothes at least.

4. Make all greeting cards.
Almost. I made most cards, but because I'm not that organised, some people went without (sorry) and I admit to using a blogger freebie to get 50 customised Christmas cards sent to me. To be fair though, there's no way I could make all the Christmas cards we sent, it was 80 at the last count.

5.Learn 3 new things (high in the list of contenders are crocheting, basket making and wood turning, but it may be something totally different)
I learned how to crochet, basket making and candle making. There are no wood turning workshops to be found though I'd still like to learn this. So this is pretty much a tick.

6. Declutter.
Well, I tried. We got loft insulation and that meant I halved my personal rubbish stored in the loft. Managed to part with some books, and not buy too much new stuff, but it's still pretty cluttered which I blame entirely on having two kids...

7. Get back to a size 12. Yes I'm shallow. I want to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes. I think I only need to continue breastfeeding and should get there (I'm one of the lucky ones whose weight just drops off magically while breastfeeding)
Fail. I had it all going for me, because yes, after 4 months of exclusive breastfeeding Snowflake I was back to my post pregnancy weight which was a license to eat as much cake as I fancied. I still do but am no longer exclusively breastfeeding. Go figure.

8. Learn how to use Lightroom.
Tick. Of course there's more to learn but I can and do use it and have made some funky photo edits with it.

9. Reduce my carbon footprint.
It would help if I had some sort of calculator for this, but I did reduce it somewhat, especially if we take out the first 6 months of the year (no air travel in the latter half). I learned a lot about what has the highest carbon footprint and at least I now know how bad air travel actually is. If I had my way, I'd probably never use a plane again.

10. If I can find an illustrator, I'd like to create a simple bilingual German/English toddler book. You don't happen to be an illustrator? You see, I've had this idea for a long time but can't draw for the life of me.
Fail. I didn't even try.

So that makes 3/10 fail, 2/10 so so and 5/10 tickety boo. Better than I thought I'd fare. Quite a fun exercise too, I might even do it again.

worries by the language obsessed

In what seems like a previous life, I studied linguistics. I've always been fascinated by languages and if there's one thing that I watch like a hawk, it's how my kids learn to speak.

Just that this 15 1/2 months old of mine isn't speaking.
Consequently, we've got one worried mama, who once a week trails through the internet looking at signs of language delay, language milestones and the like.
Bizarre questions form in my mind. What counts as a first word? Is "mmmm" for "moo" (i.e. cow) a word? or how about "och" for "hoch/up"? Or could we count ah-oh! for when something falls down as a word? Does that make the milestone of 3 words by 15 months? I guess there's always hiya and hallo (the latter is her word for phone methinks) which we could count for good measure. Compare that to what Cubling was able to say at 16 months... When asked to say something, I get a most definite head shake. It appears she's not keen on speaking.

Interestingly I'm full of the guilt trip, what with a very chatty preschooler who also loves to read so most talking and reading is done with her rather than baba. Plus the latter is a happy wee soul, forever exploring stuff she finds, and not particularly interested in striking up a conversation with me or other people.

She may not be speaking, but she communicates pretty effectively alright. Especially if she suspects there's chocolate in the room (my girl), or if big sis has taken a toy off her. A "no" has to be voiced ever so gently and with a loving smile, lest there be tears. There's plenty of head shaking, nodding and waving goodbye, raising hands to be picked up, pointing and demanding, refusing and begging.

Just no words. We seemed to have managed to produced the ying and yang, and it's still beyond my ken how two siblings, can be so different from one another.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Is this the most beautiful card ever?

She asked. My answer was something like "beauty is relative and different people find different things beautiful. Your card is probably the most unusual card ever and you have put a lot of effort into making it and I think it's fab."

And I wasn't diplomatic, I mean it.
(and if you can't make it out, she meticulously covered a cream card with black tape and finally taped a wee gem flower onto it.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Time to breathe

The last few months were testing.

Within a month after returning to work from maternity leave, redundancy was looming, and it looked as good as certain that I had no choice in the matter and would lose my job. And while in a sense everything is an opportunity, if the opportunity is not a choice, it is rather less attractive than it would otherwise be. In a way, redundancy had some attraction, what with two children in nursery, the logistical nightmare of juggling work, nursery run and generally work and family, and the feeling that it's difficult to do both parenting and work justice.

However, having had that discussion during my maternity leave, I also admit that I'm not the best of parent if I do it 24/7. Yes, work and parenting stresses me out, particularly if the evening meal has to be cooked with two tired and moaning children in toe or when pre-schooler won't cooperate to get out of the house in the morning. But parenting alone is no less stressful. I often wonder if the fact that I became a parent later in life means that I find it difficult to go with the flow because I was so used to be in control of my life - when now even the simplest of things can be a massive effort of organisation, persistence and determination. The bottom line is that I enjoy work and the opportunity for getting things done without major distractions.

The situation changed from imposition to having an element of choice, or at least it was no longer definite that I'd be hit by redundancy. Then the question of working hours came in and long representations were made, and listened to. Redundancy was still going to happen, but it was delayed and my working hours reduced. There were internal opportunities for different roles, I applied, messed up the interview for a job that was exciting but also so demanding that I wasn't sure I was cut out for it. I applied for a second internal job and this time got it. Redundancy, for now, is far off the horizon. However I'd lost some fab colleagues.

While all of this was happening, I was also trying to do a full time job in 3 days a week. Most evenings were spent at the computer trying to make ends meet, trying to fill the gaps of the day. During the week of the second interview, I organised and ran an event while I also prepared for an interview and did the whole organising Christmas stuff. I experienced literally running on edge. Insomnia, worry, and  questions that shake the core. I'm a pretty stable person but truth be told, I couldn't do that week again tomorrow. It would crack me up.

But it's over. It's all good. I have the job of my dreams - well, as close as it gets in real life; but really, it's a fab new role that I truly believe in and that I'm totally committed to. I have it on part time hours. I have it from April which means I can complete my current work properly. There couldn't have been a better outcome.

The main outcome for me though is that I can truly relax and breathe for Christmas. That I can enjoy the break rather than continue the worry and anxiety. There was a time when I took unemployment and new routes in my life at a stride. With children, this is no longer the case, stability and security have become my best mates.

So for the next two weeks, I shall be able to enjoy spending time with my family without the constant worry that distracts me. I'm looking forward to a bit of knitting and reading, to playing and going for walks, to conversations that don't revolve around redundancy.

And I'm extremely thankful for this. Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, 19 December 2011

The week before Christmas

These days we've been crafting a lot. With my children or with some slightly older children.
I organised a Christmas Fair.
We've been to birthday parties and advent celebrations.
I've had Barefoot Books stalls at lots of Christmas Fairs locally.
I've applied for 2 jobs.
We baked Plätzchen.
We ate Plätzchen and baked some more.
We saw a panto and a friend took Cubling to the theatre.
We made oranges with cloves, wrapping paper, dry felt angels, felt ornaments, decopatch candle holders. And a few other things.

No picture available (because 1 year old is keeping me on my feet and it's getting harder to take any photos at all): the two crochet stars I made which still need some finishing (yay, I did some crochet and it looks presentable). The still unfinished knitting projects, to which a few knitted slippers were added for good measure. The glittery poo coming out of my baby's bum.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


So it's Nikolaus today. We almost, just almost did a BIG mistake and forgot to put out the boots. At 11pm I remembered, woke 4 year old up and got her to put out her boot (letting her off the cleaning bit which is part of the tradition, but I thought it would be a bit cruel to make her clean the boot when I had forgotten to remind her to put it outside the front door).

Tonight, incidentally, she couldn't remember having put out her boot. 

Nevermind, the big eyes when she saw it filled with chocolate were priceless. Because, you know, she'd been doubtful. What with the Nikolaus being German and not quite knowing his way around Scotland/Glasgow. Would he find her? Well, she wasn't all that sure he would. And how would he travel? Isn't it Santa who's got the sledge and rendeer, so surely Nikolaus has to travel some other way? The only thing she didn't question was the fact that the storm door had been locked all night...

Thanks to the Kinderclub (German playgroup in Glasgow), there was even some Nikolaus crafting on the 5th, Nikolaus eve, and we ended the day by watching Mausspuren im Schnee, which is all winter themed and features the Nikolaus heavily. Considering none of this was particularly planned, I'm totally stressed workwise, it was pretty magic and couldn't have been any better. To round it all off, the Nikolaus is coming to the Kinderclub on Saturday. 

And if ever there was a doubt if it was all worth it, this upholding of German tradition and the effort it takes, the doubt was crushed by the proud announcement of 4 year old: "I'm German". This is the first time ever she's said that. And it came without prompting, was said with conviction, and instantly followed by "and English too" (we're still working on the "Scottish" bit, because as far as we can trace our family tree, she's definitely not English).

Thank you Nikolaus, you rock.

Friday, 2 December 2011


These days, I feel like I'm chasing my own tail. Somehow, December has come upon us and I didn't notice. The advent calendar is filled up to day 4 only, and we only have one (poor neglected 1 year old, having figured she won't notice; ha, how wrong was I!) which sums up rather a lot.
It's not that the strategic plan isn't there, it's more that there aren't enough hours in the day to implement it. This, interestingly, applies to rather a lot of spheres of my life at the moment, and I'm perfectioning the art of doing the best in impossible circumstances.

It's not half as dramatic as it sounds, just that I'm walking the tightrope of appreciating the things I manage to do, and focusing on those that got left behind or not done as they should have, that standards are slipping and I can carve out less and less time for the little things that make my day.

Some days, I look back on a day filled with activity, with pride about what I achieved, because it usually is a lot. Then I get frustrated by the things that fall by the wayside. Sometimes I wonder if I should chart a day to the minutiae just to record how manic these times are. Manic, in fact, is a word that has entered my mind - there is definitely a feeling of frantic activity.

So, what has fallen by the wayside is blogging. I have numerous post for Nature Kids which just need writing, but there is no time. Instead, I've enjoyed the outdoors, with two development days. My knitting is way behind - I chuckle when I think of the grand plan I had in June, when I decided I'd make felted slippers for all the family. The felting yarn remains untouched and our feet remain cold, what with me refusing to buy slippers for my children's growing feet because after all, I have every intention to knit those slippers!

And yet, there's a lot of goodness in the manic days. A lot of learning, a lot of thinking, a lot of connections are made. Just that at times, prioritising is way too complicated and I'm faced with the dilemma of cutting corners that really cannot be cut.

But hey, it's not all bad. It's only the 2nd of December and there's two tins of Christmas biscuits done, most presents taken care of, and we've even transformed the kitchen table into a craft workshop. 4 year old is totally into drawing, cutting, making, decorating, writing and reading and her creative production line is definitely running. Keeping pace with her is the bit that's hard, she is so full of ideas and her ideas are good. It keeps my spirit up in the face of broken promises and frustrations of another sort. And as to our Snowflake, she lights up my day especially in these days, when the memory of last year's nightmare is rekindled and I feel so blessed that she is still with us and has become such a bright and determined little girl. She is my miracle girl and her smile still is the world to me.

Monday, 28 November 2011


She is 14 months old, and she can just about walk. Crawling is so yesterday that every movement is prefaced by the laborious squat and lifting of her body. Her toddle is determined, yet wobbly and slow. Every step an effort of balance and work against gravity. Her eyes ever attentive, she watches with glee the ball game between her sister and their grampa. The eyes follow the ball, until she joins in, squeaking with delight.

She is slow, barely manages to move towards the ball. Catching is out of question, but she can lunge when it escapes the hold of the 4 year old. Just occasionally, she wins the race, when the ball is oh so close to her and the big sister oh so far away. With the ball in her hand, sporting a proud smile, she toddles towards granny and delighted passes the ball to her.

She is playing catch and throw. Only she can't catch and she can't throw. Her world, unlike ours, is not limited by cans and cannots. She is playing catch and throw with all her might. She is part of the game, it's her game just as much as it is ours. She is the game. There is no self conciousness holding her back because she has no sense of self, just a sense of the game.

And I start to imagine a world without self conciousness. A world where everyone just joined in, with all their might, with all their determination and regardless of "ability", to take part without any sense of success or failure, being lesser or better than anyone else. Where everyone is just as good a player as anyone else, and plays their own unique part, with conviction and pride.

Through her 14 months old eyes, I may just have glimpsed a beautiful world.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

GET IN - young Ambassadors campaign

It's been all engines go at work (yes I still have a job, even if temporary) and before I collapse after yet another eventful day which was all good but also rather exhausting, it's high time to show you a really highlight of Save the Children's work in the UK, and Scotland in particular. Because, you know, Save the Children doesn't just work abroad. You'll be forgiven for thinking that, but just to set the balance right, here's what happened in Scotland on Monday:

A group of teenagers had thought long and hard about what are the things affecting and even holding back young people growing up in poverty in Scotland. In their search to find a barrier for poor kids to achieving their full potential, they identified that it is often really hard to access leisure activities. There's the cost of the activities, there's the cost of travel involved. Maybe there's nothing available locally, or it's just too dear to get to or to get in. Leisure isn't just about a bit of fun, but really an important part of young people's lives. It's about socialising and keeping fit, development and something worthwhile to do. For those young people excluded from it because it's too dear, they are losing out on a lot.

The young people, who are the Scotland Ambassadors with Save the Children, came up with a solution: a discount card may help pave the way towards equal access to leisure. But, I hear you say (if you are in Scotland and know anything about young people), there's the Young Scot card already? Well, admittedly there is. How come then that lots of young people don't have one or don't use it? Once again, the Ambassadors identified why the Young Scot Card wasn't working for all young people and how it could possibly be improved.

On Monday, their GET IN Campaign was launched, at the Poverty Summit that they had organised and led. The summit brought together decision makers, movers and shakers and above all young people from various other projects that Save the Children is running in Scotland. While the Ambassadors presented their campaign and discount card idea in the "Dragon's Den" of politicians and Co., the other young people thought about how they could contribute to the campaign.

My personal high point was when children from both of the groups I currently work with grabbed the microphone out of my hands to stand up and present their ideas in front of an audience of about 70 adults in suits. As if it was the most natural thing to do. Sniff, it was rather moving seeing "my" 9 year olds telling it like it is.

This is meant to be the start and we need as much support as we can get to make the campaign a success and to move things forward. Please check out the Get In Campaing Facebook page and like it, share it amongst your networks. Tell any young people aged 11-19 and living in Scotland about the campaign survey (there's an iPod to be won!) because the more evidence of barriers around access to leisure the stronger the voice of the campaign will be.

And here they are in action, Scotland's Save the Children Ambassadors:

Thursday, 17 November 2011

'tis the season...

...for making photo presents.
Every year around about this time, I'm found more in front of the laptop editing photos in the evenings than anything else. My eyes are box shaped as I wade through the thousands of images of two beautiful girls and the occasional rare shot of their parents, grandparents, auntie and cousins. In this digital age, if it weren't for presents around this time of the year or the simple discipline of wanting to have a baby's first year book not just for Cubling but also for Snowflake, the photos would probably just rot away on some hard drive.

Thankfully, there's the wonderful world of sponsored blog posts and they hardly ever come as welcomed as when it's about photo products (because, you know, I'd be buying them anyway so to get them for free and then blog about them, which I would have done anyway, well, that's pretty cool).

Time is short though and what with being more than busy at the start of the festive season, there are two products I'd like to review in this post - and bear with me, there's even a special offer code at the end for anyone who wants to give this a go too.

So first up is the tried and tested Photobox. We have a sort of tradition of making A3 photo calendars for the grandparents. I love doing this because I can bring together the best photos of the past year and share them with my father in Germany, as well as my in-laws who are not so far away but always love getting some photos of their grandchildren. I use A3 calendars because they are perfect for celebrating photos. It's the biggest format, with least space spent on the actual calendar bit (which is just the way I like it, but of course, if you're more into having a calendar that actually gives space to make notes etc - there's other calendar products on that will work better, I just like big photos on black background). This year I also made up a baby first year book and thanks to the credits I was given, I splashed out on the biggest bestest beautifullest product: an A3 photobook with best paper and finishing. I added a good few pages so that the full whammy would have cost £61 including postage. Sounds a lot? Well, to be honest, we still regularly look into Cubling's first year book and I still look into my own! So for something that's made to last and such a special item, I'm quite happy to go for the best possible option. And if that's not your cuppa, you can get photobooks and calendars at Photobox for as little as £11.99 (or for free if you sign up).

As to the process - you're best to edit and select your photos first, if you have a good digital camera with large files, you're best to ftp the photos you may want to use overnight. In my case (with lots of large photos) the upload took a good few hours. Next day, you can design your book. There are preset designs such as Baby's First Year. I don't like to be boxed in by such presets, but they still work for me: they template gave me ideas that I didn't think of myself (e.g. to compile a page on bathtime, one on eating, one on the first holiday etc), and if I didn't like the design of the page, it's easy peasy to customise it. So working with a template gives you a head start but there's no stopping you changing every little thing about the template, which means you are in full control. There's a nifty little tick on each photo to indicate if you've already used it or not. And if you need more than one sitting to design your book (as I always do), don't worry, it's all saved and you can access it the following day. In fact, all of my old creations are still on my account - it's great to know I could print them off again or even share them with my family.

Effectively, you can go from letting Photobox compile your book in a few minutes to spending weeks on the perfect design (the latter would be me). And, a few days later, the masterpiece arrived much to the delight of the whole family. It looks good. I'm very proud of it. One thing I can't tell is whether the premium paper and finishing options actually make much of a difference - but they're not that pricey so I would probably do it again. In the past I've also made the cheaper version of photobooks, for less special occasions. For instance, I made a spiral bound small photobook at £13.99 about our two holidays which is great for sharing with the children and talking about what they did, who they saw and keeping in touch with the German side of our family through pictures.

Next up I was approaced by which is an American based company specialising in customised holiday cards. Initially I had reservations, what with distance and how long the postal way would take. But surprisingly, within 4 days of submitting the proof, the cards arrived. That's quicker than some mail I get from Europe! On the site, you can create your own special occasion cards using your own pictures. I'd always wanted to send Christmas cards with a photos of our family, so this was an ideal opportunity to try it out. As we send rather a lot of cards, I opted for the high quantity flat card version - which come at $100 per 50. I think that's a comparable price to what you'd pay for a similar provider in the UK. Minted ships internationally and has competitive rates.

The design of my card was reasonably quick - there are endless designs to choose from but because of the cultural differences maybe, I didn't find too many of them suitable. I'm old fashioned and if it's a Christmas card, I want it to say happy Christmas rather than Happy Holidays. There was still a great choice even amongst the traditional (or British?) worded cards but it was nice not to have to browse through absolutely all of the designs because it would have taken me hours.

I ended up choosing a simple, charming design, with just one photo and a simple message. A day later the proof arrived by email link and once accepted, the cards arrived really quickly and came beautifully packaged and presented. Although I went for the cheapest card stock, the paper feels great and I'm really pleased with the cards (and relieved that it is now definitely possible to make the remaining cards we need ourselves). The back of them is blank, which leaves enough space for personal messages. Folded cards are twice the price, so you get 25 for $100.

If you want to give Minted a go as well, you can get 15% off your order by using this code at checkout: READERS10 (orders must be placed by 28/11/2011).

~~~full disclaimer: this is a sponsored post and I received £50 worth of Photobox credits to create and review a photo gift and $100 plus postage to review customised holiday cards from Minted~~~

Monday, 14 November 2011

Babies count

If there is one thing that has really opened my eyes in relation to rather a lot of things I care about it's the realisation how important the first year is in the development of a human being. Not just the first year of course, but during the first year of life rather a lot happens, and much more than in any other year of anyone's life.

Similarly, the first 3 years are more important than any other 3 years, and set the child off into the world and they will carry this with them for the rest of their lives.

The realisation is scary, because it does put a lot of pressure on parents to get it right. However, it's not about pressure because it doesn't actually take a lot to make sure that this first year turns out well. It is, at the end of the day, about love and affection, responsive care (i.e. reacting to the baby when upset), creating secure attachment by being there, interacting, focusing on the child daily at some point. Talk to, play with and read to your child and you'll be doing just fine. Don't leave them to cry, be close to them, if they need it, carry them.

I didn't know this when I first became a parent. I also didn't know how difficult it is to parent a "high need", "demanding", "colicky", "spirited" baby. All these labels, that came down to a baby that could not ever be in a separate room to me, that would not ever be settled in a bouncy chair, play pen, or even on the floor right beside me. If I'd known then that this is normal for some children and that it will pass, I would have gone with the flow. Instead I worried, I questioned myself, I even got angry with my baby when I was at the end of my tether. It pains me to say this, but I was at stages so distraught by inconsolable crying that I understood how a mother could shake her baby. I never did, but I was at the point where I knew exactly how a parent could shake a baby, a shocking realisation.

Looking back, all we knew about becoming parents was pregnancy and birth. We were thrown into the deep end. I had been an au-pair as a youngster and was confident I'd be doing just fine. I didn't and there was very little support around, very little help on how to parent when you really didn't know how to do it right. Library books and online forums were my saving grace but looking back now with the experience of raising two, and knowing more about how important secure attachment is, I have to say that some of the books to me are now out of bounds. Similarly, some of the advice I was given I even knew at the time was not the right advice for my child.

In a bigger picture, many of the ills of society are rooted in those first 3 years. If a child doesn't have caring parents, it is at high risk of suffering anxiety, depression, or the other end, become aggressive and violent. Substance abuse, crime and vandalism are often explained by a child not having received the love and attention they needed in their first three years.

Because the first year is so important I was more than pleased to hear about NSPCC's new campaign, Babies Count. It highlights how important the first year is as well as that babies are more vulnerable than any other group of people, they are in fact 12 times more likely to be killed than other children in Scotland. It is in this context that the NSPCC has launched the  "All Babies Count " campaign to ensure every baby in Scotland is protected, nurtured and able to thrive.

It's especially more vulnerable babies that are at risk of harm and it's important that every parent receives the support they need. Ultimately, every parent wants the best for their child, but if you are a parent who struggles with mental health problems, domestic violence, drink or drugs, it can be very hard to make sure that babies receive the love and care they need. And the earlier the support kicks in, the better for the baby. "Research shows that when abuse or neglect occurs, babies' development can suffer. The impact of a lack of healthy interaction with parents and other carers in the first year of life is particularly acute and can cause long-term damage to physical and mental health."

As part of the campaign, NSPCC is calling on the Scottish Government to

1. Place the promotion of infant mental health and development at the heart of the National Parenting Strategy, ensuring there is a focus on securing positive parent-child attachment.

2. Review the level and consistency of early year’s services across Scotland, highlighting good practice as well as gaps in provision.

3. Incentivise the reallocation of resources at a local level in effective and evidence-based early interventions, so the aims of the Spending Review can be realised locally.

The charity is making plans to offer a range of services to protect babies and support parents. 
You can join the campaign and make your voice count by signing up through the website, liking the organisation on facebook and following them on Twitter. If you have a concern about a child, you can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. search for ‘NSPCC Scotland’


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Birthday Treat

This was my birthday treat, a bit delayed but all the more longed for. It must be at least a year that I had wanted to do this:

The resulting basked is the perfect size for keeping my active knitting projects in. Thanks to Joan Campbell for showing us the basics, cooking yummy soup and keeping us warm in the tent with soup. Thanks to Mr Cartside for entertaining the kids and doing such a great job that Snowflake came home a toddler (and is mightily pleased with herself at her feat).

Saturday, 12 November 2011

... and rubbish food

Some of my work involves working with children at primary and secondary schools. Every time I witness break time, I can see a class of 30 take out their bag of crisps each, followed by a chocolate bar.
30 crisps packets per class, in every class, every school day.

My older daughter will be starting school soon and I dread the advent of peer pressure. The other day, on our way home, she already explained to me how she needed chocolates in her lunch box because one child (note, just one!) in the forest kindergarten always had chocolate. I didn't manage to bring across how that wasn't a good idea, as much as I tried.

In the good old time of my own childhood (which of course weren't all that much better) I never saw a bag of crisps. We ate crisps for parties, occasionally as a treat at weekends in the house. My lunch box? Well, I ate at home, didn't get money to spend and would eat a sandwich for lunch which occasionally came with chocolate tablets as filling. I remember waffles which were sweet and probably not very healthy. But most certainly there were no crisps and no chocolate bars ever. Similarly, I would never have thought about spending my pocket money on sweets. It just didn't occur to me. I saved for Hifi's, cameras and later records.

So as of September, will I have to bend down to pressure or will I manage to rule with authority? I shudder to think of a packet of crisps going down my child 5 days a week on 38 school days. How much rubbish is that over 12 school years? Rubbish in terms of nutrition but also in terms of waste. So I had this idea when one group of children (who surely have their bags of crisps too) suggested that we could do a project on a healthy eating theme. Well, how about doing a crisps free lunch, or even a rubbish free lunch day, a day where all the lunches have to be either without packaging or one that can be recycled?

I'm rather excited by this idea. Not sure if the kids will go for it though and they have the say as far as picking a project is concerned. Temptation usually wins doesn't it? Or maybe not?

As for my own children, somehow the school furthest from a shop has taken on a new appeal.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Food, glorious food

Recently we've been making rather a few changes to the way we get our food.

There are reasons for this. First of it's about trying to source food as local as possible. Growing your own is fine and well, just that the space we've got is not going to feed a mouse through the year (and living in the west of Scotland is not conducive to high yields). So the next best thing is trying to source food from within Scotland.

Another reason for changing our food shopping habits is an attempt to reduce packaging and waste. Buying in bulk or without packaging is rather hard if you get your food from the supermarket, even if you try your best to go for minimal packaging, bulk and cardboard before plastic.

I'm not quite that person yet who takes her own containers to the shops (this is mainly a space thing - I can hardly cope with the containers for freezing food I cook, space is precious around here).

So what's our solution? Well, there's two even. And the great thing is that it's something that can be done everywhere really without much effort.
Number one on our list is getting a vegetable bag from an organic and local grower (local in Scotland means east coast, really, the west is too wet to yield crops that actually taste nice. We can grow tatties and cabbage and turnip and rather a lot of beetroot, anything tasty and you need more sun and less rain). To reduce food miles and expense further, we've joined a food co-op. This means that one person coordinates orders and payments, receives the goods, and the members (who are all local) pick up on the delivery day. In return, we get wholesale prices, and the farmer has a guaranteed income throughout the year. There are currently 12 members to our food co-op and a like-minded restaurant serves as the drop off point for the bags so that they can be picked up all day and evening.

Second up is another kind of food co-op. This time it's about wholefoods that come in bulk. Again, there's the benefit of wholesale prices, plus the price advantage of buying in bulk. The system is similar: The food is ordered centrally, delivered centrally and picked up by the members. Our local provider is very amenable to food co-ops with the only condition being that there is no wholefood provision locally. All the admin is down to the members, so each members copies their shopping list from and to an excel sheet and it is then compiled by one volunteer, delivered to one volunteer. In our case we all turned up at the delivery address to sort through the order, one person on the computer, one emptying the boxes and putting food on piles, an one person keeping the kids entertained. It took the better part of an afternoon, but it was actually fun - very sociable and the kids loved it too. As the food comes in bulk, you wouldn't place an order on a weekly basis but it's more like quarterly, and it probably takes some experience to get the quantities right.

With both food-coops, the advantage is also that you get to know a few people near you. So you save money, reduce your carbon footprint, move the money you spend on food to local producers or green suppliers and get to make friends, which may well translate into stronger local communities. It's all good.

And it's so easy to set up, all it takes is a willing volunteer to pull together the order, someone with a bit of a head for numbers and maybe an ability to use excel. Plus another person willing to be the delivery address and opening their house to the chaos of sorting through the order (not as much of a chaos as I imagined). And Bob's your uncle. Free, yummy, local food that doesn't cost the earth.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Moral superiority gone wrong?

The other day, on a breastfeeding themed facebook page / blog that I follow and admire (Analytical Armadillo), the ethics of the Optigrow Infant Feeding study and the process of recruitment of babies for it was questioned.

I was interested because we took part in this study and I had my own dilemma about whether or not it was a good thing to be part of it. To summarise, the study is based at a University and is testing a formula milk which has a different composition to current formula milks on the market, being higher in protein and lower in fat contents which, in this respect and this respect only, makes its composition closer to that of breastmilk. As feeding formula milk carries a higher risk of development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease in later life, as well as obesity, it is hoped that the development of this new formula may reduce this risk. For the study, babies are recruited in the first 24 hours of life and the criteria are that baby is either exclusively breastfed or exclusively formula fed. If recruited in the second group, baby will get randomly either normal or new type formula for a year. Exclusivity of feeding either breastmilk or formula milk is required for the first 10 days for the purpose of this study.

The thread on the Analytical Armadillo facebook page started out with concern about the ethics of recruitment. I chipped in my own experience - partly because I'd been through the process and partly because I was rather keen to see this topic explored what with my own thought process about the study. The concern in the thread was that someone from the Optigrow study was going around a postnatal ward offering free formula for a year and that this undermined breastfeeding at a very crucial and vulnerable time.

Now, it is no secret that I'd like to see higher breastfeeding rates because there is no question that they are low, and in fact very low in socially deprived areas of the country. I'm also very critical of the marketing strategies of formula companies, which claim that their formula is closest to breastmilk and similar rubbish. I'm also very aware that the discourse around breast is best is misleading, with its wording of "benefits of breastfeeding" rather than "risks of formula feeding" (the former implies that formula feeding is normal and you get a benefit if you breast feed, while the latter implies that breast feeding is normal and the poorer health outcomes in baby and mum when formula feeding are a risk to both).

Furthermore, I'm acutely aware that our culture around parenting favours formula feeding. New mums are expected to be yummy mummies, to continue their pre-baby lifestyle, to demonstrate they take it all in their stride. "Me time" is a big thing that apparently every mum should have every day, and which includes an expectation that mum has a right to spend time away from baby. The expectation is so strong that I felt more than awkward when receiving an invitation for a night out when my youngest was 6 months and I had to decline because there was no way I could have left her at home even for a few hours. Mums are expected to return to work after no more than 9 months of maternity leave (which translates to 7-8 months after birth of baby) and a return to work of course means that many will move over to formula at that point. The demands of being a mother to a newborn are downplayed and there is little recognition of parenting being a full time job in itself. I have elaborated on this because this culture is significant as it favours the bottle. The bottle is freedom from baby, it allows others than mum to take on the feeding and caring aspect more readily and I'm pretty sure that this is the main reason why many new mums who can breastfeed but choose not to from the start do so.

So if we want to improve breastfeeding rates overall, we are up against a culture that makes it difficult to breast feed, we are up against marketing and advertising that sell us formula as the next best thing, and a discourse around breastfeeding that implies that formula feeding is in fact the norm. As a consequence. there are places in Glasgow where breastfeeding rates are as low as 8% at the 6-8 week postnatal appointment. The highest rates I could find were 68% at 6-8 week appointment, in the most affluent areas, which is still low in my view, considering 95% of women can breastfeed (and do in many countries).

This leaves us with between 32% and 92% of new mums who formula feed 8 weeks post birth, and rising the older the infant gets. Anecdotally, of all the parents I know (and I know a lot, as we attend many playgroups and most of my friends have had babies, and almost everyone I know intended to breastfeed) I only know one person who breastfed longer than I did (I stopped at 23 months with my first, falling short of WHO guidelines). The point I'm trying to make is that in reality, a lot of babies are fed on formula milk whether we like it or not.

Considering the facts, improving formula to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease must be a good thing because it would benefit the long term health of up to 92% of babies in some parts of the country, while we work on changing the culture that makes new mums choose formula over breast.

The response I received to this point was:
"Lactating mums need to STOP giving formula manufactures access to their children/milk! Would you give your business information to your rival company? Yes they need to make better formula for the TINY % of babies/women for whom BFing is not a possibility BUT whilst they are aggressively marketing formula as a life style choice and comparing it to BM and violating the WHO code they can do it without help from us!! Grrrrr!"

I take offence at this statement. I did not sell my baby to anyone. I considered carefully the ethics of the study and decided that from a pragmatic perspective, bearing the health outcomes of babies in mind, it was a good thing to take part in it. I'm not naive or stupid, I made an educated and informed decision.

Secondly, the statement argues that there are deserving babies vs undeserving babies (the "TINY % of" babies where mum can't breastfeed vs the babies of mums who choose not to breastfeed). Nevermind that many mums who end up not breastfeeding didn't choose this but struggled so bloody hard that it became an impossibility for them, the bottom line of this statement is that if you choose not to breastfeed your baby should rightly be exposed to risky formula even if less risky formula exists.

Now, you can argue about the ethics of the study as much as you want, but how about the ethics of this statement? Do we have two classes of babies? It's about the baby's health not the mum-who-chose-not-to-breastfeed's health! (and I reiterate that most mums who choose not to breastfeed didn't do this lightly and that usually there's a very good reason for this choice, ignoring this is plain patronising towards these mums).

At the same time I'm open to discussing the ethics to this study and I'm really keen to find out more. The two points in question are: the ethics of recruitment and the agenda of those who fund the study. Let's start with the second point: It has been mentioned that it's in fact funded by formula producers. It wouldn't surprise me because let's face it, state funding is being cut left right and centre, and a lot of academic studies depend on private investment. And private investment can only be obtained if there is something in it for the investor. So, formula producers are the likely investors. Of course there is a conflict of interest but I would still maintain that for the sake of the greater good (=health of babies) we shouldn't categorically dismiss any study that is funded by formula manufacturers. Instead, we should make sure that the study is scientifically sound, peer reviewed and that in the case of introduction to the market of the new "closer to breastmilk" formula, the marketing of this formula is factual, and that advertisement is controlled.

As to the recruitment, I can only speak for myself. I was approached because I was exclusively breastfeeding. The mum opposite me was mix feeding and did not get approached. When approached I was extremely tired after 3 consecutive sleepness nights (2 spent in labour followed by one with a mucusy post c-section baby). The researcher recognised that this did not constitute an ability to sign a consent form. She noted my interest and insisted on consent from dad, and returned hours later after I had had some sleep. At no point was the fact that there would be free formula mentioned to me. I cannot see therefore that anything in the recruitment process undermined my intention to breastfeed.

Quite the contrary - I was open to mixed feeding due to my previous experience of breastfeeding. The study required exclusive breastfeeding for 10 days. Somehow this gave me some goal to work towards, and once I'd reached it it was going so smoothly that in fact my baby didn't touch a drop of formula. As to the claim that apparently the first 10 days of the life of a baby and how it is fed seem to have a disproportionate influence on the risk of developing obesity, diabetes and heart disease - well, I don't know if this is true, but the study claims that because this is so, they "only" need exclusive breastfeeding for the first 10 days for the baby to qualify for the (breastfed) control group. This statement at no point translated to me as "after 10 days you can give baby a bottle".

To me, this process is good enough. It was made clear that I could leave the study at any time (and I was close to it because the recording of feeds really got on my socks). There are elements in the forms to be completed which I would change (e.g. for recording feeds in a 24 hour period, there are only 10 lines, and a breastfed baby is likely to feed more often than that). It may be that the process was less ethical in other postnatal wards and that clearly needs to be addressed.

The bottom line for me though remains the same. Refusing to allow the development of a healthier formula is patronising and morally wrong. Health inequalities between the richest and the poorest are a rift that divide and blight our society. Anything that can help to improve the health of our future generation is a good thing. Even if formula companies pay for it. We need, however, to hold them accountable and make sure the information gained is used in the best possible way.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Of 10 headed men, lanterns, pumpkins, guising and vampires (amongst others)

So hello there. Long time no see. Who'd have thunk that I could ever neglect my blog to such an extent? It's easy though, you just need to get into a really busy schedule, like the type that's busier than normal, and voila. No time to blog. Did I miss it? A little, not as much as I expected.

But worry you not, my faithful readers, I'm baaack.

To update you a little bit on what's been happening in the busy Cartside household, well, there's been pumpkin carving. Not something I have much experience of, but heyho, it's called being creative. So the first pumpkin was sat on a 4 pack of baked beans and somehow didn't like it so much. One morning I was heard shouting to my Beloved that there was yet another flood in the kitchen, this time the work surface, could he stop having a shower.

While clearing up I wondered about that smell, which wasn't shower water or even shower water went through plaster miff. It was sticky too. Then I saw the culprit, a rotten pumpkin, escaping its fate by literally escaping its shell.

The second pumpkin got a scary shark face and the third one never got carved.
There was a cat costume to be made. (Remember I have that thing going that I don't want to buy new stuff? Make first, buy secondhand or handmade?). Well, I never  managed to sew that outfit but at least managed a sad impression of a tail made from a tights leg and crunched up Glasgow Extra newspaper. Thankfully the charity shop had a cat ears hair band and even a devil horns one for the little one who couldn't protest. Though she did protest against that vampire costume which I found rather fetching considering her recent attempt to sever my left nipple off my breast.

Where was I? Oh. Then there's St Martin's. We needed to make a lantern. There I was, showing Cubling all those lovely dovely lantern designs and what does she go for? Doing her own thing. Thankfully there was enough stuff in our rubbish bin to upcycle (love that word) this wonderful lantern, Cubling design top to bottom. They must have been doing shapes at pre-school, as she insisted to decorate it with diamonds, crosses, squares, ovals and the like. I have to admit, even if reluctantly, that her design is not bad at all.

When she wasn't lantern making or pumpkin carving she took to drawing images of 10 headed men. I was told that this had something to do with Divali but really hoped it wouldn't be yet another source of night terrors.

Next up, trick or treating, or guising as it is known in these parts. Her daddy had little faith in her being the part, but let me assure you, if you've ever heard good jokes, let my 4 year old take them on! "Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he had a head on its curtain."
I mean really, could there be better jokes? And the rewards was a (modest in my eyes, huge in hers) bag of chocolates and sweets, 2 bananas ("for Snowflake, mummy") and a very pleased indeed little girl.

The pumpkin soup however. Umph. Let's say there was a bit of a lurgy going around. Just as well there was a massive box of chocolates to celebrate my birthday which kept my mind off feeling sick, while the rest of the household had the pukes.

All the while I was trying to make my mind up whether I should start an enterprise, become a stay at home mum or continue the rat race in the futile attempt at what some people call work/life balance. I tried to explain to Cubling that visiting us 5 times a night doesn't quite contribute to that balance.

So then, how's your month been?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

It's all nothing and that's all

My head is exploding because my mind is going around in endless circles.

I am a mother of two preschoolers. My husband works out of town and the commute is long. I love to spend time with my children. I love work too, because it gives me space and time to create, to plan, to deliver, to think and reflect. I'm a better mother if I work some part of the week. I have patience and enthusiasm for my children every day I spend with them.

In an ideal world, I would like to work 3 full days. Alas, this world isn't ideal. There are many fabulous jobs kicking around this week, and for this week only, jobs that appeal to what I'm passionate about.

All of these jobs are full time, involve unsociable hours and a lot of travel. Informal discussions about flexible working hours or job share have led to nothing. These kind of jobs are for people who can focus their whole attention on the job, who do not have to comply with hours offered by childcare providers (or who have granny living next door? Or a nanny? Not sure. Maybe people without kids?). I want each of these jobs. I really do.

So here it is, the weighing scales that is my brain. Redundancy, unemployment, downshifting stay at home mum with some fabulous business plan ideas that may or may not be viable on the one hand. Full time working mum under constant stress in very fullfilling job with a cleaner at home and kids in full time childcare on the other hand.

It's not a choice I ever dreamt of having to make. It's not one I like. Above all, it's difficult to ensure the choice is not led by fear of unscertainty, but by what I truly want my life to look like. And to be honest, neither option appeals too much for all the weighing up I do.

So this is what women's lib and equal opportunities looks like. Opportunities are equal as long as you deliver the same long working week, unsociable hours in the same high pressured job as your childless colleague. I'm 40, and I'm not sure if I've got the energy for this, as highly motivated, enthusiastic, and determined I may be. Seems it's between all or nothing, just that it's not quite clear what "all" and "nothing" are in this equation. Or is it all nothing and that's all?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Last Straw

Dear Blog. I've neglected you recently, I know. I wish I could promise improvement but alas, life is full of surprises and there's not enough time to take note of them all.
  • there are puddles of water in the kitchen and it appears they may have been there for a while considering the expansion of the kitchen units (ok, Mr Cartside, I admit, it was water)
  • there are endless changes in the likelihood of what my working future may look like (and I'm losing track)
  • there is a baby who's teething so bad that she screams day and night (FFS, what IS it about those darn teeth?)
  • there is a photobook to be made and tons of photos to be edited (why oh why did we take that many photos? Are we mad????)
  • there are two adult size cardigans to be knit and that unfinished jumper size 6 months? Well, that baby is 13 months now. Hubby's birthday has been and gone as well and he's still cardiganless.
  • there are about 20 jobs that I'd like to apply for and not enough time in the day to do so (they are all full time and I still don't know at which point in an application process the question around flexible working hours and job share is best asked)
  • there are more adventurous ideas in my head demanding to be explored yet no space and time to do so because ...
  • there's also a rather demanding job that still needs to be done even if it may only be for another two months.
I am not far off losing my mind ever so slightly. I've most definitely reached the point of "mummy can't do that!". Now can some plumbing hero please fix my kitchen?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Wrapped up Bitterness

There's so much confusion in my head that blogging isn't working anymore. I wrote a long long post and wasn't sure if I should publish it. It was bitter. It was my perspective on what is happening at the moment and my unhappiness about it. I showed it to Mr Cartside and his feedback got me thinking. Not that I necessarily agreed with all his views, the thinking process was important and having this really different perspective that challenged mine not just superficially but deep down.

So the post will remain unpublished, but I'll keep it, my own record of how I felt at this time, on one day. Because truth be told every day is different. There are those where I'm elated at the prospect of redundancy and being able to spend more time with the kids, watch them grow, not having to leave this baby of mine at the nursery (4 year old loves nursery so I don't feel quite so bad). Being able to impart things to them that are important to me. Or elated by the possibilities of this challenge, of all the things I could focus my energy on.

Then the days where I don't think I'm made for that, where I so just want a job.

In between the soul searching of why I actually want to work. Is it the money and status that it brings? Is it for my peace of mind because I'm doing something good? Is it because I enjoy work or the adult company? What do I do it for and what is it that I actually want? Do I really want, need to work or is it just something that I tell myself because of an ongoing reaction against the world view of my mother (who was a stay at home mum and who believed that a woman's place was at the kitchen sink and in church and wasn't she right in some ways because at least she didn't have as many balls to juggle as I do?).

I've considered self employment. I've considered applying for posts that I see coming up. I've considered voluntary redundancy and full time employment for the same employer in a new role. Can I make my mind up? The theory is crystal clear - I'd like a work life balance that works. I want a job that I can feel passionate about. I'm not sure how I would feel not bringing any money into the house so that is something to bring into the equation, but I also know that this is my own problem that I need to get clear about.

One day I'm sure I want scenario A. The next day I want scenario B and the third day I'm sure scenario C is the way to go. Day 4 and none of these scenarios seems likely to happen and I feel like sticking my head in the sand. Too many variables, too many uncertainties.

I think I have come closer to what the best two options would be for me. But it's one of those Day 4s. And I think I'll just crawl into a corner with a hot chocolate and knit a bit tonight and transform bitterness, uncertainty and disappointment into stitches to keep us warm this winter.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Theatre people are weird...

Remember I'm trying to get rid of all that baby gear? Well, bit by bit I can see some floorspace again, though the massive bag I had meant to pass on to a friend is still sitting there as inconveniently, the baby arrived on time. And I thought first babies are always late...

Some items are listed on Gumtree and Netmums, you know, those things that have some sort of resell value. For example, there's this Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper Mini which we thought would be a good idea for those early days. It was great as a storage space and admittedly, Snowflake didn't spend much time in it. Considering that these Co-sleepers retail new for £200, and that this one is used but still perfectly functional, and I bought new mattress and lots of bedding for it, you'd forgive that I think I could sell it on rather than pass it on.

So then, I rejoiced when I had a reply in my inbox. It was a bit odd though, not a prospective mum looking for it but some theatre person looking for a prop. Hm, I'm funny that way but I'd rather give it to someone who'll use it for a baby rather than a play, but I'm not against culture and do have a soft spot for some good theatre so I keep an open mind. I read on. It says something about an actress wanting to sit on it. Ahem. Why? (thunk I) Would it support her weight? (asked she)

Baffled I respond that in all honesty, I don't think it would being designed for a BABY for up to 6 months. That I'd suspect it would probably support a maximum weight of 10-15kg. (I was spot on by the way, maximum weight is 30 lbs) But please do check the specifications in case I'm wrong (you know, like, google it? Read between the lines: I just wanna sell it and don't fancy researching if an actress can sit on it). Not much time passes and I get a reply back:
"The actress in question is about 8/9st, Is there anyone about her size there you could ask to try get on it to see how it reacts to the weight.  Also if you manage to get someone on it can you send me a few pictures so I can see how it reacts to the weight and also get a better idea as to the size of the item."
You what? You mean I should try and source an anorexic person (ok maybe an older child) to sit it on MY PRECIOUS Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper Mini and watch how it collapses under the weight, possibly on top of my baby, while taking a photo of it which I then, after having paid damages to the injured child in question, send to the theatre person? That'll really help me sell my beloved co-sleeper.

Hello? I don't think so. Feel free to do your own risk assessment. Sorry. I guess I'll keep my Co-sleeper for the moment. (Shakes head in utter disbelief)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Giveaway: Kids Cook the World

The other day, ok, it may have been the other month, I was delighted to be asked to review "Kids Cook the World" - a cook book for kids, with recipes from across the world. I was delighted because I'm always on the lookout for a few additions to my limited list of recipes (I'm not very creative when it comes to cooking) and while I have enough cook books that are sitting unused in my cupboard, this one is a bit different.

For one, the recipes are simple so that kids can cook. That's a nice thought, even nicer because it also makes it easier for me (I don't have much patience for overly complicated recipes with ingredients lists the length of a page). Lots of pictures make the book attractive and easy to follow.

With each recipe comes some information on the country it comes from - not too much, just enough to be an introduction and to captivate a child's imagination.
The cook book is published by Solidarity Sports and raises money for their community work in projects that give young people living in disadvantaged communities in London key life skills. It's a great and positive way to raise funds for this work. The countries where the recipes come from reflect the countries the young people involved in Solidarity Sports come from, and the book encourages curiosity for these countries among the children using the book.

If there's one thing I don't like so much it's the format - A4 is a bit big for my small kitchen, and I generally prefer spiral bound cook books because they just work better in the kitchen. But other than that, it's a colourful celebration of cultures and food and will encourage healthy and varied eating habits.

Kids Cook the World (£9.99) is just published by New Internationalist and Solidarity Sports. Order online at You can also buy it through the Amnesty International online shop.

And to celebrate the launch, I have a copy available for one lucky reader! Simply leave a comment to enter and tweet this post for an additional entry (please include @cartside so I can keep track). And for another chance to win a copy, why not head over to my other blog, Nature Kids where I'll be giving away a second copy on Sunday. Competition is open to UK residents only and will close on Sunday at midnight. Good luck!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

and when it gets really bad - keep calm and knit

When the nerves are raw, the mind full of worry, there's one thing that is forever soothing and grounding.

Cubling needed a new hat for the winter. Urgently as she's back at the forest kindergarten. I knew it had to be an ear flap hat, I wanted to do some fair isle just because I hadn't done it in a while. So I found myself the Norwegian Star Ear Flap hat. But as I prefer to knit from top to bottom, I merged it with with the Thorpe pattern. I guessed the length of the hat, which meant it's a bit generous but other than that... I like. So I guess it's a Norwegian Thorpe.

Little Miss Cheekychops of course refused to get her picture taken, or to even wear it. This is the only photo I got, which neither shows the earflaps nor my pride, the crocheted border particularly well. Yes, I crocheted this and it doesn't even look as if I don't actually know how to crochet.

The yarn hails from a Föhr sheep - it's hand spun and hand dyed, and I love the colour scheme, which I often get wrong, but I think this one works. There's still a good bit of yarn left, definitely enough for another hat, maybe even two.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Take the money and run?

Life has a strange sense of irony. There I was, toing and froing during my maternity leave about what the perfect work/life balance was, if downshifting and spending more time at home was the right road for me or whether I should make use of the skills and knowledge I have and be a working mum.

Just as I'd made my decision to remain in work but maybe try and see if I could reduce my hours at some point in the nearish future; just when I'd returned to work and realised how fab it was to be able to focus your attention on a task at hand instead of the constant multitasking and attending to needy preschoolers (as much as I may enjoy it), when I'd just made my mind up that a 3 day working week was the perfect work/life balance for me at this point in life, I'm told that by the end of the year I'd be out of a job.

To which my reaction as something along the lines of not being sure whether to laugh or to cry. I wasn't devastated when I heard the news, having thought the thought I was prepared. There are rather a few ideas, sparks of opportunity, flying around in my head. None of that compares to the rather snug situation of being in employed work, but you know, I find it easy to fill my days and there were even some exciting plans of what I could do instead of employed work for the sake of trying things out.

Just that the bottom line is that I didn't choose redundancy. It still is imposed and for that, unwelcome. Particularly so in a time of general recession, knowing that if I take a career break now, I'll most likely have missed the career train for good.

There are bitter thoughts too, about the fact that in the middle of my life, with lots of skills and experience behind me, there is no job security, that like many others in a similar situation, I'm so easily dispensable. Bitter thoughts too about the glass ceiling and the way that having put my career on hold due to juggling work and family life, it seems the only route is down when I know that if I set my mind to it and didn't have a family, the route could be up.

Then there is the look into the future: Any employed work in my field is offered on a non job share, full time basis. Effectively, through redundancy I am made to choose between career or my family. I do not wish to work full time at this point in life, but I also do not wish to be a stay at home mum. However, there is no in between. While there is a choice, the choice is not at all satisfactory or even acceptable to me. Flexible working hours are for the most part, at least in my field of work, a luxury for those within paid employment. If you have to change jobs, even within the same organisation, they disappear into thin air.

So what will my plan of action be? Will I consider full time employment opportunities? Will I take the money and run, set up as a bilingual/trilingual childminder with lots of outdoor play time for the kids? Will I return to teaching and depend on sessional work and face the childcare nightmare that entails? Will I become, against all expectations that I ever held in my life, a stay at home mum?

Decision making has never been my strength. I've been through the arguments. The issue is the lack of a solution that actually works for me. That 3 day a week job, that unfortunately doesn't actually exist.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

What to do with all that baby gear

It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff makes our way into the house just because we have kids. The other day we watched the video of Cubling's first birthday, 3 1/2 years ago, just after moving into our family home. I hardly recognised the place. What was then empty, spacious and admittedly a tad bare, is now filled with toys, baby gear and clothes hidden in every conceivable crevice.

And boy am I trying to get rid of stuff. There are items that I think have a value which I've been trying to sell through Netmums and Gumtree. No luck. I've given bags of clothes to friends and to charity shops and still there is more. So when the Baby Booty Sale came along, I quite fancied to get rid of absolutely everything in one go, while also selling a few Barefoot Books.

So when at 1pm today, we packed the unsold stuff into the car, it became all too clear that I had not succeeded in the big declutter. In spite of nominal prices on items (I wasn't there to make money, just to make sure the stuff is getting used again), people didn't buy. Baby clothes and baby toys are quite clearly items that lose their value as soon as they leave the shop, a bit like books. It's beyond me how some items didn't sell at all, when I see them as highly desired, valuable and great bargains.

And as to my wonderful Barefoot Books - I didn't sell even one. Ok, I get that this was a second hand sale and the books were new and they aren't your average cheap Amazon deal. Still, some of them are cheap and I didn't even sell them. Looks like being a bookseller won't quite work as a plan B once I'm no longer part of the wage slavery movement.

After hours of sorting, packing, setting up, selling and vice versa, which amounts to about 7 hours of hard work (I'm shattered writing this) I made £5.75. I'm ignoring that I bought a clothes rail for £8.99 which means I actually made a loss. Nevermind, it was fun and an experience and I'm happy to know that at least some items made it to people who wanted/needed them.

So here I am, sat on a mountain of clothes and baby gear wondering how to reuse it because, at the end of the day, it's still good stuff with plenty of life in it. The reality is that we buy so much more than we need that on the whole, we are inundated with baby clothes that aren't needed, therefore making their reuse value nil.

In the 4 1/2 years of parenting, I have so far bought very little children's clothes. I've managed on the whole to get by with what we were given as presents, with hand me downs plus the occasional purchase of underwear (and freebies through this blog). I can count on one hand the clothes purchases I've made. Yet I understand the constant temptation to buy this cute outfit here, and that beautiful dress over there. It's hard not to grab that sales bargain that isn't really needed. But if I look at the masses of baby clothes that didn't get sold today, I'm rather determined to continue my quest to stick to second hand, and to make sure that the clothes no longer needed go to people who have a use for them.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Waving faintly

It's not that there's nothing to blog about. It's just one of those things, you know, baby teething, no sleep for mummy, tiredness of the kind that cannot be put into words, a to do list that is doing my head in, juggling work and kids, and of course there is a lot of worry and work going into planning my future in the workplace. I've reached the point where energy levels are running out and I can't formulate any consistent thoughts for this little blog of mine. There are giveaways in the queue, and a lot of half written posts. Countless photos that need editing and are waiting to be shared/made into photobooks. Never mind the knitting on my needles, not even sure how many projects I've got on the go at the moment.

Basically, I'm not gone, just dropping the balls in this juggling act.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Things I forgot in the past 12 months

After four weeks back at work, there's a few things I realised I'd entirely forgotten:

- It's amazingly cool to sit down at my desk and be able to concentrate on a job that needs done without any interruption other than being asked if I want a cuppa.

- Tea tastes better hot.

- Adult conversations that last longer than 10 seconds are pretty fun, even though I'm a bit rusty.

- I feel totally and utterly good about myself because I'm doing work that goes from A to D via B and C and is not eternally interrupted by whining, bum wiping, food providing and baby holding. Yay, I feel like I'm being productive.

- That mummy guilt disappears once baby smiles when dropped off AND picked up .

- That it feels horrible when baby cries when dropped off AND picked up.

- That baby will start enjoying nursery.

- That I have some really amazingly lovely colleagues.

- And that having a 3 day working week (though temporary until my accrued annual leave is used up) is in fact the perfect work / life balance for me.

Shame it looks like I'll be made redundant at the end of the year. Which once again proves that just when you thought you had your life all sussed out, someone in the background was just having a bad joke with you.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Roman Blinds Direct

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, however, all views expressed are entirely mine.

When I was approached to review the website of Roman Blinds Direct, I was initially a bit reluctant to review it, because, you know, I don't think I've ever even as much as thought about blinds. When I explored the site and had a good browse around, I have to admit, my imagination was fuelled and I was picturing how lovely our rather bare windows would look with some of the designs. Because really, the designs are rather lovely.

Ok, maybe the modern look wouldn't go quite so well with our Victorian style windows, but you know, in another life with a slightly different home, I can picture myself getting rather excited about these blinds. There's really something for every room of the house, but I was particularly taken by the children's roman blinds because they are bound to make every kid's room look rather special. There are plenty of designs to choose from, and what I like most about it is that for once, there's also plenty of choice for those of us who after having had two girls are rather sick of pink. I mean, you can get pink blinds, but there are plenty of designs which are a bit more neutral.

To make sure that the chosen design looks as good as it does on the website, you can even get a free sample before you buy, which strikes me as a great service as I'd probably be reluctant to order from an image that I saw online (I'm someone who needs to see fabric or anything for the home in reality and I'm probably not the only one). The blinds are made to measure and there's a choice of lining, allowing for blackout blinds and others. So if you're looking for blinds, make sure you have a peek at Roman Blinds.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Birthday girl

There is sunshine in our house. Every day, as soon as a pair of eyes open and a smile rushes over her face, making the start of the day, even after a long sleepless night, so much easier to bear. Nothing beats those baby hugs, mostly accompanied by a pat on my shoulders which tells me that I must be patting her when I give her a hug, something I never realised myself. There are noses to poke, pigs to be found (oh how she loves pigs!) and everything her big sister does rocks. Which sometimes, just sometimes, may upset said sister because she really wants to play with her cardboard dolls house or her magnetic fairy dress up kit which don't really mix with baby hands, as dexterous at they may be.

There's lots of head shaking, often with a cheeky grin, as she once again refuses to let a spoon come anywhere near her face or denies any offer of food. And then takes it after all because, you know, babies are allowed to change their mind or say "no" when they actually mean "yes". She now knows pretty much where to find mummy if she's left the room and will make her way across the house, determined to get a cuddle or be picked up. Which can be ever so slightly difficult if it's dinner making time... She's a big girl now, too big for her sling - well, not too big, but she's not too keen to be confined to it because there's so much to explore. There are balloons, balls, all the things in the house, everything is deposited on the ground. There are plant pots full of yummy soil which strangely is so much more attractive for putting into your mouth than breakfast cereal. Oh and the stones in the garden, what could be better than those stones! Every one is different even though they may look the same to the untrained eye. Each one has to be picked up, touched, chewed on and the shape determined before it is put back.

There are things that totally annoy her, like all those silly nappy changes, that stuff that comes out of you so much more often when you eat food. She so wants to be part of everything that's going on and doesn't understand why mummy doesn't let her stir the pot of food that's cooking or let her open the oven when it's hot. Oh and that wretched buggy that she gets put in, the most boring thing in the world. Not that she is constantly on the move but at least she wants to be sure of being able to move should she decide to do so. Oh and spoons, and most foods in general, c'mon mummy, aren't they just daft? Let there be cake because really, this girl does not care much for food unless it's round and can be picked up.

A year. Has it been a year really? We spent the eve of her birthday watching her big sister's first birthday videos. And there the big sister saw herself as the little sister, confusing herself with her sister, and truth be told, I don't blame her. Yes, big sis was chubbier (she loved her food, no question) and faster on all fours or cruising, but then again, she's always been very active. Little sister enjoys exploring just sitting on the ground much more, and is thus not quite so agile. yet. And also, as we remembered correctly, big sis was already a loudmouth at her first birthday, not to be mistaken for rather calm and quiet little sis. The ying and yang, two sisters who love one another to bits and yet are so different in personality. I can't wait to see them, their friendship and their sisterhood grow but at the same time, it's all happening so very fast. Where is my baby gone, this last babyhood for us to admire, adore, dote upon and experience. If only I could stop time for a little while and stare in those beautiful four eyes a little bit longer.

In the morning, I know that big sister will be the proudest girl in Scotland, when she will enter the nursery and announce that her little sister is one. And I'm so happy for her to be able to wear this pride so openly, as only children can. Because really, aren't we just as proud?

Friday, 9 September 2011

An FO at last - Finished object Friday

There has been a lot of knitting going on. Which is partly the reason I've been blogging less. Not that I've got much to show for it because it's not just hats you know. Nonono, I've been brave. Big time. There are two really rather huge pieces on my needles, in fact, I think I was still at school when I last ventured into knitting big things, like cardigans or jumpers for fully grown people. That's like over 20 years ago...

But finally, with a few birthdays of very special girls coming up, and rather a lot of babes in utero being due at around about the same two week span, it's been a race against time (often lost).
And yes, one finished object to show for all the knitting. Pathetic, I know. However I do like this little knit, so much so that a second one is as good as done.

I picked up the pattern from the Tramway Cafe in Glasgow, where there was a pile of knitting patterns nobody wanted. I'm not sure why nobody wanted this - it's a lovely knit, a bolero jacket for newborn to 10 years. Reasonably easy (if you can read patterns, I usually can but I've been a bit sleep deprived and may have slipped here and there and recovered with a bit of cheating), and yet lovely. I like it anyway.
This version is knit with merino wool, super soft Debbie Bliss cashmerino DK. It's soft yet really warm for the winter.

Then I tried it in cotton, Rowan Milk Cotton DK. Much lighter, definitely more a spring time knit. Once again, my personal favourite isn't the cotton. Maybe I should just stop buying cotton yarn because I always end up preferring wool. It's not bad, you know, just not as soft and fluffy.

4 year old insisted on the sparkly pink fabric to be placed in the photo frame, because pink is good and it's her favourite toy. Who would argue with that.

Pattern is Sirdar Lacy Bolero.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Gimme less rubbish!

It's Zero Waste Week everyone!
And I'm awfully late getting around to blogging something for it, forgive me, life seriously took over.

Some time ago I was flabbergasted by the story of the family behind My Zero Waste. They managed to get through a full year with just one tiny bag of rubbish. I was in awe. I mean really, how many bags of rubbish do you put out each week? Well, in my case it's definitely a bit more than one bag a year...

Anyway, I got pushed into thinking a bit about the waste we produce and how to reduce it. After all, each piece of packaging that goes into the bin doesn't just add to the mountains of landfill that will take years, many years to decompose, but it's also a waste. Not just of that wrapper but of resources to produce it. And once you get your head around just how much unneeded stuff is produced to wrap, package and display, and that the resources used that way are effectively taking away resources from our own children in the future, something has to happen. At least in my head.

With the help of the Rubbish Diet blog I looked at ways to reduce my rubbish. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in it for a competition and producing even less rubbish in a year. I know I'm not the My Zero Waste superwoman. But I know I can reduce my rubbish. Everyone can. And then I try to reduce some more. Bit by bit. Little by litte. One step at a time. Until the day comes when your neighbour's bin is overflowing (because we have changed to fortnightly "normal" rubbish collections) while ours, with a larger family, is still not even half full.

My top tips are:
1. buy in bulk.
With everything, consider the larger quantity. It's mostly cheaper, but it means less packaging. So we have 5 kg sacks of rice and pasta, the largest shower cream possible (though soap is even better on the packaging side of things) etc
2. buy loose veg and fruit. We get a net of fruit and veg from an organic box scheme which is recycled, any additional fruit and veg is bought loose if available, and I try to buy any other fruit and veg with packaging in mind (weighing it against food miles though).
3. Consider packaging with every item you buy. So for biscuits I will only buy those in just one item of packaging, rather than triplicate packaging of something like pralines.
4. Focus on one behaviour change at a time. So, one week/month, change over to only using reusable bags for your shopping until it's second nature. Only then do the next. I'm currently focusing on zero waste lunches for the kids and myself though I'm not quite there yet. When I worked with a primary school the other day, I saw 33 children take out a packet of crisps each at their morning break time. Imagine, one class, 33 foil wrappers, every single day. times every single class. Mind boggling. Surely this isn't necessary?

5. One biggie: cloth nappies or EC (elimination communication). I do use disposables occasionally and at night time and even with that occasional use, it makes for one shopping bag full of rubbish. So I tried going all cloth. It worked for a while, but since my return to work, well, something has to give. All I can say though is that a good cloth nappy leaks less than a disposable! EC is not for me I have to admit, as with everything, you have to weigh up if it's doable for you or not.

6. Look at what you can do outside the house. For instance, at work we recycle paper but we don't recycle milk bottles. So I'll be taking them home now for recycling in my recycling bin.

7. Find out if you can get your milk delivered in reusable glass bottles. It will be more expensive but a) you get them conveniently to your door and b) no more bit ugly plastic bottles!

8. Use tap water rather than bottles. Whenever I can't stomach tap water (in some parts it has quite a chlorine taste) I use diluting juice just enough to cover that taste. That way the diluting juice lasts for months and yet I don't get quite such a sweet tooth for drinks.

9. Get a compost bin. Even if you live in flats, there may be a way that you could get together with neighbours and get one for the block of flats? Community composting is doable, there's lots of support out there for it so you don't need a garden to have a composting bin.

10. Grow your own - on windowsills, in community raised beds, in your own garden. Every pea you eat that you grew yourself has no packaging at all, tastes so much better, gives great satisfaction and makes for better health in so many ways. And it's fun too!

11. Opt out of junk mail. You will have to contact various organisations for that and you may still receive some junk, but less than before at least!

12. Reuse: Look at stuff and consider if you can reuse it. Maybe for a craft activity with the kids? Maybe as a plant pot? Maybe you can use that old garment for sewing something else? Kindle that creativity spark!

And last but not least: Embark on the Rubbish Diet Challenge.

That's the stuff I've managed to do. I still have half a bin of rubbish every fortnight, but that's only half of what we used to have. Which is more than a good start in my eyes. Now I only have to drop some hints to the neighbours how they can prevent their bin from overflowing ...



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