Thursday, 31 March 2011

A movement close to my heart

This is a sponsored post for which I receive money. However, it is a cause very close to my heart and I'm delighted to be able to support the Co-operative Group on this little blog of mine.
In 1844, the Rochdale Pioneers established the first successful co-operative and with it started a revolution which is still going strong. The Co-operative Group today has six million members and 5,000 outlets across its family of businesses. Every customer has the the opportunity to be a part of the Co-operative Group in a small way, and the group demonstrates its strong ethical credentials by providing funding for local projects that benefit the community, inspire young people, combat climate change or tackle global poverty - all areas that I strongly support.
A little while ago I introduced the funding opportunities for local projects that the Co-operative can support. Today I'd like to share some inspiring examples of the work that the group have funded, to support their launch of a high profile advertising campaign. The exciting bit is that anyone with a great idea can make it happen with the backing of an ethically sound movement, so what are you waiting for?
One such example of a local initiative funded by the Co-operative Group is Urban Bees. It was set up by bee-lovers Brian McCallum and Alison Benjamin. They wanted to help protect dwindling honeybee populations in urban areas by educating city-dwellers in beekeeping. Having already invested £500,000 into Plan Bee, the Group's own bee protection and education programme, funding from The Co-operative helped Urban Bees to run training courses for beginners, give talks and work in partnership with other organisations and companies. 
Brian and Alison have now established 20 new hives on rooftops and in community gardens and allotments across London, and they will have given training and start-up equipment to approximately 300 people by the end of 2011.
In a time where the bee populations are declining, such an initiative is very welcome, and it also enables urban dwellers to source local honey.
Another fabulous project the Co-operative supported is the UK’s first community owned wind farm, Baywind Energy Co-operative which was established in 1996. The project has always favoured local investors, that way the economic benefits of the wind farm are kept within the community it serves, which in general is rarely the case, so it's an exemplary initiative.
In 1998 Baywind secured a loan from The Co-operative Bank to purchase two turbines for their Harlock Hill site. It has also received several grants from The Co-operative Enterprise Hub to develop new, co-operatively owned wind farms across the UK.
Baywind now typically generates around 10,000MWh of electricity each year – enough to power around 30,000 homes. And along with educational visits throughout the year, it funds environmental books for local schools.
And let me introduce a third example, because again, I think it's a great idea on so many levels, serving the people involved and the community, as well as having a sustainable transport agenda: The Oxford Cycle Workshop is a community-owned enterprise that sells recycled bicycles. It took advantage of the free business advice and support offered by The Co-operative Enterprise Hub to expand its service to local people. The Enterprise Hub connected the Workshop’s founders with the right people to advise them on how to move forward as a business, and to achieve their long-term goals. Now they have established a training centre that hosts cycle skills events and tailored maintenance programmes. They also hold workshops in community centres, and work with schools and organisations like the Youth Offending Service. All with the central aim of making cycling accessible for everyone in Oxford.
A similar project actually exists in Glasgow, Common Wheel, where a cycling workshop recycles and sells bikes, but also offers people suffering from mental health issues an opportunity to work, learn new skills and enter the workplace in a supported way.
I found these initiatives quite inspiring and I'm keen to find out if there are any projects local to me that the Co-operative Group supports, so I've liked their facebook page to stay in touch. I can think of many ways how co-operatives could work in my local area - for example I'm part of a co-operative vegetable box scheme, where a number of people have signed up for their organic vegetable box from the same farm. The veg is delivered centrally thus saving on food miles and us a few pounds because we get it cheaper. It is quite informally arranged, but it still needs some financial support to run and expand, for instance to include other locally and organically sources produce.
I'm always quite keen on skill share initiatives which would bring people locally together and enable them to exchange skills they have or buy in tuition in those skills they don't yet have locally, thus making communities more resilient and stronger. Even something like an outdoor playgroup could benefit from joining the Co-operative Revolution: with a bit of financial backing there is a lot of potential to make such playgroups accessible to more children. Do you have ideas that you would like to see implemented in your local area? Please do share, and do have a look to see if the Co-operative Group could lend a helping hand and contribute to making it happen.
You can stay in touch and Get involved with The Co-operative through their Facebook page and their Join the Revolution page.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

It's not cutting it

Admittedly, I'm not exactly on top of all the news at the moment. So when the big cuts were announced I neither managed to look in depth at the emergency budget nor in depth at the recently announced budget (though it's still on my to do list). It was a bit of a surreal experience, this maternity leave bubble. Everybody talking about cuts, and all that I feel of it was debates on the radio. Of course I knew that the voluntary sector would be hit hard, but how exactly, and when, seemed a bit more elusive.

Now however, I've experienced cuts even in my little bubble, and without particularly looking out for them. I'm not surprised but still very disappointed. Services for Refugees and Asylum Seekers were first to go - the housing contract Glasgow City Council held wasn't renewed, so rather a lot of support services are on the way out. This is hitting refugees hard - as well as everyone working in the sector. The cuts affect support for the most vulnerable, support for English language tuition and thus affects integration.

In another area, I tried to apply to volunteer as a breastfeeding peer supporter. However, the programme is stalled because the NHS has withdrawn their training element from the programme. So there you have a service which is actually all big societyish with volunteers doing the work, but the necessary training to enable them to do a good job has been cut. Again, it hits the vulnerable in our society, but also society as a whole because low breastfeeding rates are linked with poorer health in later life, increased risk of obesity and general health inequalities. It's short sighted and will in fact incur a delayed cost.

I have strong views on the suggested privatisation of forests and libraries. Again, I think it's the wrong approach. And the list goes on of course.
This is not to say that I'm all opposed to cuts, or opposed to all cuts. Muddling Along Mummy stirred up a bit of a debate on those who seem to think unrealistically that we can just not have any cuts at all.

However, I think we need to start with the right vision and not cut where it's quick and easy, but which will incur additional costs in the future.
So how about we look at what is costing the country money?

1. Crime. Crime is expensive because of the justice system, more so than the actual damage (though that counts too), and it also costs our society morally (in the sense that people feel insecure and don't use public spaces - a real detrimental effect on communities). Prison doesn't get rid of crime. I'm not suggesting that prison is wrong, just that it doesn't actually do anything to remediate the problem, however is important to show there are consequences to wrong behaviour.

2. Addictions. And I include tobacco and alcohol in this - alcohol in particular costs us an awful lot of money. The damage caused by people who are drunk, the violence caused by drink both outside and in the home, the consequences addictions have on the children of addicts.

3. Poor health that is caused by lifestyle choices. Most of us know what is good and bad to eat, yet bad food is cheap and convenient and it takes knowledge, real effort and conviction to make healthy choices.

4. Unemployment/worklessness.

All of these are linked to inequalities though it's a chicken and egg situation. Social inequality causes higher crime rates, poorer health and addictions, which in turn cause social inequalities. It's a vicious circle and I don't pretend there are any easy solutions out there because if they were, we'd have made appropriate choices.

There are two factors though which I strongly believe will make a sustainable positive difference to alleviate the malaises of our society. One is to aim to make our society more equal because it has been demonstrated that societies are happier and have less violence, crime, addictions and health problems if the gap between rich and poor is not as wide as it is in the UK (the widest in Europe, and it even beats the U.S. which surprised me).

Secondly it's about the early years and good and responsible parenting, as well as a recognition by all parents that they are the people who will set up their children for life. Hence it's absolutely essential to support parents to do a good job. I'm not talking about pushy parents here, just about parenting that respects the child, that gives the child love and attention, and ambitions. Education will then add to this foundation, but education cannot bridge the attainment gap caused by growing up in poverty and deprivation; in fact school has been shown to increases the attainment gap. I'm not suggesting that poverty has to lead to low attainment at school, just that children growing up in poverty are more likely to be low achievers at schools, that there is a very real link, for many reasons. Some to do with the parents, some to do with the environment and lack of facilities. It's complex as all of these issues.

With these two principles in mind, it may become clearer why libraries, breast feeding support (breast feeding is a health indicator of deprivation - some areas of Glasgow have breast feeding rates of only 8% at the 6 week check-up) and children's centres (in England, we don't have Sure Start centres in Scotland) in my view are cuts that are very wrong. I would go further and propose a whole reassessment of value of professions. Because, if a child care worker earns less than a car mechanic, does that not show that we value cars more than children?

I do want to propose alternatives though. There is a lot of waste of money, resources in all walks of the working life. Business trips, special VIP treats etc to me are spitting people in the face who are unemployed and struggle to make ends meet. Most larger organisations have an inflated management structure - and managers are paid more than the actual front line staff. I also very much believe in a progressive tax system (ours is regressive at the moment due to the effect of VAT). While I realise that there are too few high earners and thus taxing them more doesn't change the world, it would contribute and make our society more equal.

On top of that, waste is also in physical resources. How much paper is wasted, how much stuff produced that we don't need? How about taking this age of austerity as an opportunity to reduce and reassess what is needed from what is not? If everybody cut out their waste of resources in their professional and personal lives, surely it would be a revolution of sorts?

What we cannot do is talk big words of big society and then withdraw the necessary support for this. If I, as a volunteer, want to provide a service (that really should be provided by a statutory body in the first place) it is simply stupid to withdraw the funding needed to provide a few hours of training.

Oh yes, and bring on fuel duty. If it can be cut, the deficit can't be all that bad. Fuel is not going to become any cheaper any time soon unless we build a few more nuclear power stations. Better get used to the real cost of fuel and prepare sooner rather than later that we have to rethink our worship of the car.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Small steps towards finished objects

Thanks to the baby who will not settle in the evenings, I've not been doing too much knitting and the focus was on getting that puppet theatre done. I'm really pleased with the puppet theatre, and so is Cubling, she went straight into playing out her favourite fairy tales (and is running about the house with snow white and the prince kissing each other).

Still, some tiny weeny objects did get done. I'd been wondering for a while what the best project for some lovely 100g skein of Shetland bulky wool (Jamieson's Marl - a grey/blue mix of lovely thick and warm wool). I'd unravelled the TV remote holder because it just looked wrong - this yarn was meant for something warm. So it became this (short) scarf for a very special Grampa to keep him warm on the golf course. I know it's the wrong season, but nevermind. I was rather pleased that I managed to make it as long as possible with the one skein I had. I didn't use a pattern, just made it up as I went along.

My friend J has come up with a great fundraising idea for Cosgrove Care - the idea is to knit 100 objects and auction them in aid of the local charity. There is a regular knitting evening in the Cosgrove Care charity shop on Skirving Street in Shawlands where knitters can also chat and those who would like to knit but don't know how can learn it from the more experienced knitters. I knew that any ambitious project would stand the chance of not being completed, so I went for some more bulky yarn. I found this super soft  and super pink yarn in a charity shop and initially thought this is ideal for my pink fairy princess, but hoping that maybe it would go to the fundraising initiative. I found a Rowan booklet with a quick hat pattern - meant for adult size but with even bigger yarn and bigger needles, so I chanced it and cast on with size 7.5 mm instead and my slightly thinner yarn and hurray, it all came together beautifully.

Just that Cubling was just about to be persuaded to try it on for me to take a photo (much persuasion needed) but did not want to keep it. Apparently she just wants the light pink and no two pinks in her hat. Fine then, it'll be auctioned then! So the hat fits a 3-4 year old head (the yarn is stretchy, so it may fit from 2-5), is super soft and pink and has cute earflaps. It's really quite lovely. Any offers? All to go to Cosgrove Care of course.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Party in the sun

So it was Cubling's 4th birthday. We decided this year to celebrate her birthday outdoors. It's a bit of a gamble because obviously March can still bring some pretty wet and cold weather in Scotland and Cubling was more than clear that she did not want to wear waterproofs to her party and there's no way I would have forced the issue on her special day.

Sometimes though, you get lucky. The weather was fabulous, the kids loved it and her cousin kept saying how this was the best party he's been too.
And yes, doing it outdoors meant no trashed house (though to be fair I never find the tidying up after a party as bad as it seems when the last party goers have left) and above all space for everyone. Last year, with a total of 15 kids to invite, we split the party into two - we simply don't have the space in our small house for all her pals plus younger siblings plus parents; as much as we'd like to make the space. Having two parties isn't fun, and it also takes away some of the magic of the special day.

Compare this to the outdoors party: I kept thinking that there were kids missing because it didn't look busy at all, so much space for everyone, no stepping on toes or worse, babies. And who doesn't like a picnic in the sun at the side of the river?

Plus, there was an opportunity for something different as far as party games are concerned. Pass the parcel and musical chairs were missing this time, instead we played a mix of German and British favourite outdoors games: Blinde Kuh (blind cow), What's the time Mr Wolf? and Egg and Spoon Race (Eierlaufen). We had also prepared a treasure hunt, hide and seek and Wolf and Sheep (a chase game played on all fours) but didn't get to play them - though the kids got a shot at climbing the massive old beech tree.

It was quite a challenge finding suitable outdoor party games for younger children, which is why I'd like to share the ones we found. Do you know any good games for 4 year olds to add to the collection? Please share them in the comments!

Blinde Kuh/Blind Cow: One child is blindfolded and twirled around. The other children pick a place and don't move and don't speak. The blindfolded child has to find another child and then guess who it is. Once they guess correctly, the next child takes on the role of blind cow.

What's the time Mr Wolf? One child is the wolf. The other children stand in a line and shout: What's the time Mr Wolf? The Wolf answers, e.g. 7 o'clock, and the children move as many steps as the time, e.g. 7 (counting loud). This is repeated until the wolf decides it's "dinner time" and turns to catch one of the other kids. The other children try and run back to their starting line (behind which they will be safe). The child who is caught is the wolf of the next turn.

Egg and Spoon Race: Children try balancing an egg (hard boiled, wooden or plastic) on a spoon and run as fast as they can from start to finish line. If the egg drops, they can pick it up again. They are not allowed to touch the egg while running. Whoever finishes first is the winner.

Wolf and Sheep: all children on all fours. One child is the wolf, all other children are sheep. Wolf catches another child who will be a wolf too. Both wolves are asleep, snoring, and the sheep tease them. Then the wolves wake up and catch the sheep. Any sheep caught by a wolf becomes a wolf too. The last sheep standing is the winner.

Treasure hunt: self explanatory, though we had thought about collecting as many sticks or pine cones as possible in a set time, with the winner being the child with the most.
This post is part of Outdoor Challenge Monday, hosted at - a weekly carnival to encourage and share outdoor activities with children.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Hip hip hurray!

The past few months have felt a bit like an episode out of the book "when will it be spring?". Time is relative in the three year old mind. There is no concept of days, weeks, months. Even "tomorrow", though uttered, may mean something entirely different.

She had wished her birthday to come, like a fairy. And wished it again. A groundhog day question of "when is my birthday?" "Is it my birthday yet?". So we measured time in BIG STEPS. When it's spring, it will be your birthday. When will it be spring? When the flowers are blooming and the trees pop their new leaves out of their buds.

Every sign of spring was noted, explored, watched. Snowdrops caused enthusiasm, so did crocuses, though they confused with their many colours, surely they can't all be the same plant? We watched buds turn green and the slow progress of the daffodil stalks.

Because, above all, it will be your birthday when the daffodils are blooming. Because, four years to the day, you were born to a sea of daffodils, with a daffodil song humming in my head, a song half remembered, well loved, a bit like your birth itself.

And here you are, little fairy princess mermaid, 4 years old, an independent little big girl, confident in your world, the most sociable person I've ever seen, ever on the go, with an exhuberance of emotions that is unrivalled. Today, at last, we were able to wake you to the soft words of "it's your birthday". And all day you celebrated that you were four years old, and that you would be four all the time now. So proud to be a big sister, convinced to be taller than daddy even. How you loved every one of your presents, the puppet theatre and hand puppets that I spent every possible 10 minutes of Snowflake's rare evening sleep time trying to sew together in time, the Disney Princess jigsaw and the Hungry Hippos game, the fairy that your granny and granddad sent you, the Prinzessin Lillifee purse from your Munich friend, the many books - all promises of fun times we will spend together.

Maybe this will be the first birthday you will remember many years to come. I hope that we will remember, how proud and happy you were to be four. No longer a baby, not a toddler even, you are indeed your very own self, your own person on her own two feet.

And I love this person to bits.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Great family day out: Whitelee Windfarm

At the weekend, Mr Cartside had a fab idea and took us to Whitelee Windfarm. It's situated south of Glasgow, near East Kilbride and Eaglesham, and yet it appears to be in the middle of nowhere. Our short route took us through lovely villages where time has stood still, onto a misty high moor with a single track road. Suddenly, the giant pylons appeared out of nowhere, clearly playing hide and seek with us. There were no signposts (at least none that we spotted). You really need to know where you're going, and have been told about this little gem.

Because Whitelee Windfarm is not just Europe's biggest windfarm, but also hosts a very green visitor centre with an exhibition about all things renewable and wind, a lovely cafe with fabulous views, a nice shop, events and even a cycle park and shower; surrounded by moorland, windmills and miles and miles of walking and cycling tracks. And sometimes, you can even see one of the well over 100 windmills. Unbelievably, for much of our visit, we didn't see any although we were really rather close to these gentle giants.

It's a slightly surreal place - to me the landscape has the feel of the wide boglands of Ireland, the single track road speaks of remoteness and Scottish Highlands. Yet it's not remote at all, in fact, rather accessible, by road and bike. Then there's the juxtaposition of the ancient moorland with the engineered landscape of renewable energy production. Add to this the cosiness of the cafe in the visitor centre, looking out onto a windy and misty barren landscape.

I was captivated. I took a lot of photos and looking back at them, none of them captured the strange beauty of it. It was a brilliant day out and I wish we'd have had more time because once we had feasted on the homemade food of the cafe, listened to the storyteller telling us stories about the wind and the sea (and Cubling creating her own seascape with the contents of her bag), after exploring the exhibition on windpower, we just about managed to walk as far as the first pylon before we really and truly had to make our way home. We were able to hear for ourselves that pylons are not as loud as jets (which is something that was suggested on question time on the radio) - their calming quiet buzz is actually rather relaxing. There are miles of countryside walks, a network of cycle routes and we've been told that on a less misty day, the views are glorious (I found them breathtaking as they were).

We'll be back though, little doubt about that. And if you are near Glasgow, put it on your "great family days out" list. It's so worth it.

To lie or not to lie

What a great start to the day - after eating her breakfast (by herself and even quickly, is this my girl or what?) and asking to "play the chalk a wee minute" before "I don't want to go to nursery again!"; she comes up to me, delight in her eyes, and announces: "Ich habe das Stuhl gemalen with chalk!" (I drew on the chair - you'll get the "with chalk" bit. Notice that we have a one article proposition for German grammar; everything is "das" at the moment and I'm sure many a German language student would love her take on gender. Linguistic gender that is.) Realising that chalk isn't as bad as permanent ink, I managed to stay calm and composed this time (I'm not very good at calm and composed at the moment so was rather pleased with myself) and commented that she knows that furniture is not for drawing on and that's what the blackboard is for.

Her response: "Then I didn't malen on the Stuhl. No I didn't."

What a prime example of wishful thinking. We have reached the stage where she'd bend the reality on anything just to "say" the right thing. Suffice to say I don't trust that she washes her hands after the toilet, that she wipes her bum after the toilet that she... you get the picture. I think this is a normal stage, just that it's taking  kind of over because she does a lot she's not meant to do (or doesn't do what she's meant to do) and subsequently whitewashes her actions. I know she doesn't mean to lie, that she means well, but that doesn't exactly help to tell truth from fiction.

At the weekend we visited a windfarm (more of that later when I manage to wrestle down Lightroom to edit the rather spectacular photos I took) and her question prior to arrival was if there would be any animals. Well, there were birds, does that count?

She did something else really funny the other day and I'll share should I manage to remember. Mr Cartside, to the rescue?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Early literacy, bilingualism and different scripts

My recent post on how to best support early literacy in bilingual children brought about a few comments on the topic of different scripts.

This is an interesting one because it adds a new dimension to literacy; a new worry about potentially confusing the child. I'm sure it is a worry we all have - whether it's between the two languages spoken, the two languages read and written, or the two scripts used.

Therefore, as a starting point, my gut feeling is that there's no difference between spoken bilingualism or written bilingualism with two scripts. Yes, it's more to learn. Yes, children will mix. Yes, children will end up being proficient in both.

When I was a young child (maybe 8 years of age - I'm not sure) I got interested in the Greek alphabet. I'm not sure where I saw it, but I saw it, and wanted to learn it. I didn't give my dad peace until he taught me the whole Greek alphabet (I can still recite it now!). Considering I only learned to read and write at 7 (which is normal in Germany), it was close to acquiring literacy. Did it confuse me? Not at all. I remember that I found it reasonably easy to learn because the script was similar in principle and shape. Many years later, when I learned Russian (which has a script based on the Greek alphabet), it helped me learn to read Russian and enabled me to skip a full term of tuition (the script is usually taught first) through a mere 2 weeks of self study.

From the anecdotal example of how I felt about these scripts, learning a second script in early childhood, like learning a second language, is an asset rather than a hinderance. So I wouldn't worry about confusion - there may be some at the start, but it'll be so worth it.

Cubling's nursery is lucky to have some speech and language support and they actively support bilingualism. Part of their early literacy development is actually showing other scripts and letting all children be creative and "write" in that script. So for Chinese New Year, they drew Chinese characters that they made up. There are also a few other bilingual children in Cubling's room, with at least 4 language pairs. The teachers have produced books with images of everyday objects and asked the parents to write the word in their language underneath. These booklets are on display for all children to see. This way, the bilingual children realise there are others like them (the realisation for Cubling has had a positive impact on her attitude towards German), they feel recognised and the monolingual children develop an interest in other languages. All of which is good, everybody wins. I think it's good practice because early literacy is not just about learning your letters, sounding out and reading - it's about the letter as a sign, the realisation that we can represent speech and use these representations in enhancing ways, and creating an awareness of literacy which will then result in a motivation to become literate.

And this can happen in as many scripts as you want I would think.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Blankets, glorious blankets...

Today I picked them up. Five glorious, handknitted blankets, from tiny to massive. Last Saturday, I'd put five bids on five blankets in the silent auction of the blankets that were made for the amazing Garterstitch100 project for the Centenary of International Women's Day, to represent 100 million women who are missing in this world due to gender inequalities with a stitch for each missing woman. My hope was to win maybe two, but somehow each of my bids won, so now our house is smothered in beautiful blankets. I think I won the five most beautiful ones (otherwise I wouldn't have bid on them, right?).

The blankets were auctioned to raise funds for the selected women's charities in Glasgow. And there are still some blankets available. Large or small, stripes of knitted/crocheted squares, packs of squares that can be made into whatever takes you fancy. All of them were handknitted with lots of thought and love, with compassion and solidarity.

Plus the supported charities can do with every penny, especially in these belt tightening times where charities will be hit hardest by the cuts.

So if you can, please consider getting in touch and buying blankets, squares and co., they are going very cheap, you don't have to spend a lot of money to buy some. Either head to the Tramway in Glasgow on Wednesday/Thursday 23rd/24th March, or get in touch through Facebook or Twitter.

Thank you!

Review: Photobox

Photobox asked me if I'd be willing to review some of their products and as a long standing customer, I was more than happy to agree (I was given product credits for this sponsored post, however all views expressed are mine).

When I first started using Photobox, there were only a few competitors out there and it was definitely one of the online photo printing services with the largest range of products. I've since lost touch a bit so can no longer compare - I've simply been happy enough to stick with Photobox for all my non-digital photo needs.

For example, each year I create a photo calendar for both sets of grandparents. Photobox offers a fabulous A3 calendar option which I go back to again and again. The actual date section is kept to a minimum, giving maximum exposure to the photos, with a stunning black background option and a decent set of layouts for variety from month to month - not too many though so that it's still easy to use. The quality of the printed images is great, and as you create your photo product, there is helpful advise as to whether the quality of the chosen image is good enough. To create your photo product, you need to upload photos first and then add them to the online tool. This is easy enough - and the good thing is that your project couples as an online storage tool. So I can still go back and have a look at the calendars I created a few years back, and could print them again if I wanted to. As you work on your calendar, Photobox remembers what you were doing so it won't get lost if you get interrupted or you lose your connection to the internet. It's also very easy to edit and make changes to get it just right. I usually get a fabulous calendar done in just one evening, and then it's easy to customise them a bit for the relevant grandparents, i.e. making two similar but different calendars.

You can also share your photos with friends and families through Photobox which is useful.

Recently I also tried out Photobox' canvas prints. I ordered one in colour and one in black and white, and both look stunning in our home. The only suggestion for improvement I have is that the side of the canvas is white, and I'd probably prefer this to be printed (though this may mean losing part of the image which then wouldn't be so good - so maybe there's a point to having it so).

Photobox has a great introductory offer of 40 free prints if you sign up, so you can safely try and see for yourself. With normal prints, you have the option of adding a border, which I quite like, and I don't think many other online photo printing companies have this option. When you sign up to the Photobox updates by emails, you'll always be in the loop with special offers. The special offers really are great - usually at some point in November there's the 2 for the price of 1 offer for calendars, which means I get it done well in time for Christmas.

Delivery is reliable and thanks to the great communication, you always know where your order is.
Photobox offers a fabulous range of photo products, have a look for yourselves and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

6 months

My little Snowflake turned 6 months yesterday.
I still see her very much as a little baby. I find it almost unbelievable that when Cubling was this age, I was already back at work four long days a week.

She loves holding things for ages and exploring it in her mouth. She loves biting into things. She doesn't like being spoonfed but is more than keen about feeding herself. So I guess we'll be doing mostly baby led weaning this time around.

There is no mad giggles as with Cubling - where Cubling was intense with her emotions (and still is), Snowflake is observant, spends longer with one toy, and actually takes an interest in toys (Cubling was and is mostly interested in people, not toys). Of course she loves people and Cubling in particular - she's the one who gets the most smiles, the most giggles.

On the sleep front, the baby who started out a great sleeper is no longer that. We have occasional nights where she sleeps for longer stretches (3 hrs at a time). Most nights she won't settle well in the evening (she does if I hold her, but don't let me try and put her into bed or sneak away) and during the night she wakes a lot. I don't watch the clock, but she wakes regularly, mostly not for long, but increasingly she will only settle back when cradled into my arm. My poor 40 year old shoulder is not happy.

I'm trying to change this but the thing is that she goes from one cold/cough to the next and it's not that she doesn't want to sleep. She just wakes herself a lot. She is not exactly the picture of health, and maybe we'll have to explore treatment. Since she was born, she's only been a few days without a snuffle nose or a cough. And that was after 2 weeks of IV antibiotics. I've raised this concern with Health Visitor and GP yet both say she's just picking up bugs through her sister and as long as she feeds without problems, she's ok. Well, she feeds ok but brings up a lot due to her constant coughing, and the 6 months weigh in has shown that she is in fact lighter than Cubling at 22 weeks, which is surprising considering that a) she feeds so often and I feel much more efficiently than Cubling and b) she never strikes me as not getting enough (a concern I very much had with Cubling - incidentally, both girls were exactly the same weight at birth). Maybe she is not putting on the weight as she should because of bringing up so much with her coughing fits. Our handwash regime is good, and I do try to keep Snowflake away from those with colds, but still she gets one after another. I've heard of other children who were like this as a baby, and that it can be very normal, which is reassuring. Yet I've reached the point where I'd give anything for a couple of good nights to recharge the batteries and where I think it's not fair on Snowflake to just do nothing.

During the day, she's a happy girl. Even with a snuffly nose and a bad cough. Chilled yet determined at times. I can't wait to see her personality develop over the next months, while I also wish she'd stay a baby for a bit longer. Every day, especially on those where I'm tired and feel I'm running on some hamster wheel, I keep telling myself to treasure those fleeting baby moments and just be there.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Hooked part 2

One of my resolutions, well, plans for 2011 was to learn how to crochet. Since the fabulous introduction to crocheting at Glasgow's sewing Cafe, thanks to tutor Carol Meldrum, I've managed to crochet exactly one flower. Life kind of took over. I'm quite pleased with this flower though, because it almost looks as it should, with just one minor mistake.

I did this ages ago and since then nothing. My pledge to make everything this year is still going, just that it has led in part to not making anything. This is not due to my slacking commitment, rather to a baby WHOWILLNOTSLEEPBYHERSELF syndrome. I'm not talking night time sleep, that one is pretty much on the worst case scenario side anyway, but that's ok. The thing that bugs me is the 9-11pm window. I spend hours each evening trying to settle her in bed, rocking, feeding to sleep to then sneak away. She usually lasts 10-30 minutes before procedure is repeated, with one of the following outcomes:
a) I repeat procedure and fall asleep
b) I repeat procedure, fail and take her downstairs
c) I repeat procedure, fail and dump her on hubby for 15 minutes to get the most superficial tidy of the house done
d) I repeat and succeed, which happens about once a week and gives me just enough time to get one step closer to having a birthday present for my big girl (a puppet theatre that I'm sewing, and though it's easy and I still have over 2 weeks to go, I worry I may not get the time to finish it off).

So not much making getting done, twins have been born and didn't even get one card made, nevermind two.

I also have a certain number of tabs constantly open on my computer, just in case I get around to pursuing lovely stuff that I found a bit further. To no avail so far. Going 3 days without even  blogging? Unheard of yet still happening. My mantra: this too shall pass and I know it will. Just sometimes exhasperation strikes.Can I spell big words? Not momentarily.

One of these tabs is Red Ted Art's guide to teaching yourself how to crochet and I do do do want to follow it up. Written by Vonnie from the Life Craft, and featuring the lovely blanket squares from Attic24, it's a gem and surely will get you all enthused about crocheting.

And thanks to Maggie of Red Ted Art, I was sent a lovely crochet book for review (disclaimer: received for free for this review): love crochet. I was rather pleased that when it arrived it turned out it was written by the very person who taught me how to crochet! She's a really good tutor, and what's better, her projects are easy - she maintains that after her class we all should be able to complete all the easy projects. About two thirds of the book are classed as easy, so it's ideal for the stage I'm at and I'm more than happy to review it.

Because of the babywhowillnotsleeponherown syndrom, I haven't actually managed to make any of the projects in the book. I know, what a rubbish start for a review. However, I've done a few of the patterns in the class, so I know that I could do it. What I like about it are the clear instructions, really great images showing you all the basics for crochet, a great reminder to get me started on any of the projects.

The range of projects is quite wide, so there's bound to be something of interest for most people. You could see that as an advantage or disadvantage, but for the beginner, it's definitely nice - a scarf here, a bag there, a belt or maybe something for the house, or how about a crochet project bag? The finished pieces are all photographed beautifully and really entice you to get going.

The vast majority of the book is taken up by easy projects, which is perfect for someone like me. Yet it also has the scope for moving on to intermediate and even difficult realms for good measure. Plenty to keep me busy for a while, to practice the basics I know and move on when I feel more comfortable and less like I'm holding one needle too few and the yarn in the wrong hand.

So a definite thumbs up for Carol Meldrum's love crochet.

PS if you buy the book through the link provided, I'll get a percentage of the sales price to no cost to yourself which allows me to feed my book habit.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The power of the stitch

Usually, knitting seems to me just like any hobby that one may or may not pursue. Then there are days like the day before yesterday, when knitting takes on a whole new meaning.

When artists Jetson, Janssen and Jo called for squares to be knitted for a massive blanket to celebrate the centenary of International Women's Day, while remembering the staggering 100 million women who are missing in our world due to gender inequality, I personally took to the initiative because it combined knitting with equalities issues, both of which are close to my heart. I never thought they could get the number of squares needed (I think it would take 600,000 squares but I'm a bit lazy with my maths so it may be a zero more or less) just to have one stitch per woman who is not with us today. Now my experience told me that knitters are a great bunch of people and up for any charitable effort. Still, I didn't think there was enough publicity for this project to become really big or make a powerful statement. After all, it was only a few people in Glasgow, there was one leaflet, a little website and a twitter/facebook stream, none of them with a massive following as far as I could see.

How wrong was I.

Yesterday, on International Women's Day, Glasgow's Tramway was transformed into a sea of colour. I have no idea how many squares there were (and I still want to know!!!) but regardless of it, there were a lot of squares. Blankets on every chair. The bare industrial look of the venue transformed utterly. Even the baby changing room was full of blankets. Catching the visitor's eye right from the start was the big rainbow blanket near the entrance.

Consider the time it took to knit all this. And then sew it up. It takes me 2 hours straight knitting to get a square, I spent 2 hours to sew a heap of squares into one stripe (and didn't even sew it onto the next stripe). How many stitches, how many fingers' work. The pride of having contributed to it, even if my contribution was small.

It was moving to say the least. And suddenly, it all made sense. The way that only art can at times. Because ultimately that was what it was - art, a transformation of the ordinary, the knitting, into the extraordinary. The solidarity and sisterhood of so many people working towards one goal. The knowledge that not one person could have done it. The beauty of the transformed space, the warmth of the blanket that welcomed everyone, the rainbow of the diversity of yarn and colour representative of the people who knit and the women of the world, how one stitch which is the same across the globe has so many manifestations and that only the multitude of stitches is the whole wonderful picture.

I experienced before how knitting connects women across the globe. It may be surprising (or not) that knitting is done in every continent and that there's a real connection when you start knitting with people from other parts of the world. It's similar to parenthood - once a mother, you feel connected to all the other mothers of the world, regardless of differences (well I do anyway).
Still I asked why and how the idea came about. As if there was some well thought out plan.

The blankets spoke to me and there it was: the stitches that connect us all, the diversity they represent, the tragedy of the missing women remembered with a beautiful, strong statement that celebrates women at the same time.

Something captured lots of people's imagination and they started knitting, for one reason or another. For everyone who saw the result, they walked away inspired, uplifted and with a feeling of belonging. To celebrate in style, there were 100 events (Loop) for people all ages to go to, and I particularly enjoyed dancing to Ma vie en Rose with Snowflake, watching yarn being spun, and generally bumping into rather a lot of people that I knew from so many different corners of my life. There were people I used to work with a long time ago, people from our outdoors playgroup, people from the knitting group, colleagues to have a chat over lunch with (did I call you a "colleague" again, J?), people from the Kinderclub. I even took part in a workshop on the theatre of the oppressed, with Snowflake trying out a creche and being without mummy for a couple of hours.

Happy International Women's Day, wishing all the women of the world that the future will bring equality and that soon there will be no more women missing in this world.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Look who's talking: the March Carnival of Bilingualism

Today, let's here it for the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism which is hosted this month at Verbosity. It's going from strength to strength with a fabulous range of very diverse entries, a real resource for parents who are raising their children bilingually or considering to embark on the journey. When I first had the idea of initiating such a carnival, it was because all the books I could find seemed either not to fit my situation or give me little idea as to what expect, somehow they didn't address the practical questions that I had on a daily basis. For me, the carnival has managed to help me answer these questions, and I honestly get more motivation, inspiration and knowledge out of reading the contribution than I get out of any of the books I've bought.

I'm so pleased that more and more people contribute with such a range of languages and language situations. Thanks to Letizia Quaranta at Bilingual for Fun/Bilingue per Gioco who manages the mailing list and the carnival schedule (head there if you want to join the mailing, see the list of carnivals, the schedule or want to offer to host) what was once a foggy idea has taken real shape and become a resource for hopefully many parents like us.

At the start of the year, I made up a 10 point plan to boost Cubling's minority language (German). I'm pleased to see some success, and it also becomes a bit clearer what works and what doesn't. She's been quite insistent that she's English and not German, so we're working on that. I think she's starting to accept that she's both. She is very clear that everyone has to speak Deutsch to her sister, which is rather lovely, though not impractical.

We have had a few playdates with German children and together with generally having come across more Germans in Glasgow, and more situations where mummy speaks German, she is now more willing to speak German to me. It still amazes me how good her spoken German actually is when she talks to other people (with me, it's a mad mix and I do have to insist rather a lot so she doesn't slip back into English only).

Above all I've learned to see the whole language business from her point of view. If there's no need to speak German, no benefit to it, why should she? If it's just mummy who speaks German, but she clearly speaks English too, where does the motivation come from? If it's just my motivation, it will be no good. Speaking German has to make sense for her, not because her mummy tells her so.

So exposure when possible, lots of one to one playtime with me (we didn't have much of that in the first month's after Snowflake's birth, it was mostly playtime with daddy), and I also have high hopes for our 2 week stay in Germany in April. Without daddy. Which is a shame in one way but a great opportunity of two weeks full immersion.

And you know what? I need it too. I cought myself saying something like "Er weart eine Jacke". Ouch.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Little rascal

I have a feeling that Snowflake is trying to tell me something.
She's been sneakily stealing chips from Cubling's plate and Cubling is delighted to share them with her beloved baby.

Oh and carrots, yumyum, gimme them. Tatties are no bad either. Oh and home made leek and potato soup? Can I have seconds?

Then somehow my ginger nut biscuit disappeared. Oh what a messy face, oh what messy hands, carpet and generally everything.

This morning's robbery beats it though. I must have not been watching with eagle eyes for a second or so, only to wonder why I was feeling all warm and wet on my legs. Surely she wasn't doing a puke on me again?!

It was coffee. She'd grabbed my cup and poured it over herself then me, including the dregs. In front of about 25 mums and their relevant children, for all to see what a caring and able adult I am to fail and protect my baby from hot drinks (only that of course I knew it wasn't hot. My coffees come with so much milk that they can at best be classed as luke warm). There was no hiding it. The dregs on pink trousers have me outed.


And no, I have no intention of weaning her on coffee. That one is most defnitely mummy's. She may be a week short of six months but if there's any wisdom in watching baby, the weaning road lies inescapably ahead of us. The irony doesn't escape me that I complained about a certain sample diet and now have to list chips and ginger nut biscuits... Serves me right.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

A good example?

As part of the Optigrow feeding study that we stupidly signed up to in a daze of postnatal hormones, I now have to complete a 5 day food diary for the study requirement at the 6 month mark.

As an aside, let me qualify my use of "stupid" first.
I'm sure this is useful research and there may be great benefit for babies born in the future. The study is not stupid as such, it's me who's stupid to have signed up for it, because it's a right pain in the bum. I had to complete endless feeding diaries at various stages (each of the first 10 days, at 1, 2, 4 months for three days each) plus heavy water tests (4 of those at each of those months), amongst other things. As to the feeding diaries, well, at night time I'd rather not have to wake up to an extent that I can see and actually remember the time of a feed. Add to that a frequently feeding baby but only space for 10 feeds in a day (I'm never sure what counts as a feed- I mean, do I count hourly feeds in the evenings/at night as separate feeds, or only if there is a minimum 2 hour gap? And how do I tell comfort suckling from a proper feed?) which always reminds me that yes, she is a rather frequent feeder and shouldn't I be concerned, are they telling me that if she feeds more than 10 times in a 24 hours period we're waaayyy off the chart and she's not getting enough? Plus, the convenience of breast feeding is not having to watch the clock, so I strongly resented having to fill in this diary (and I admit I made up part of it). The heavy water test - oh my. Another obnoxious little addition to a total of 10 days. Doesn't sound much, but it involves checking nappies every 30 hours until there is a pee, and again until there is another one. Which severely interferes with busy schedules and makes for a baby who is constantly disturbed in her sleep.

No, I didn't like feeding diaries or heavy water tests one bit and had I known how much work it is, I'd not have signed up. Or at least I'd have demanded money for the effort.

Now, at 6 months, I have to complete a 5 day food diary. Luckily, we've not really started weaning (she's a week short of 6 months anyway) and it's not too hard. But if we had, it would have been another massive effort. And I have to admit that I'm partly delaying the start of weaning until after Wednesday because of this requirement - I so can't be bothered recording every crumb she eats.

Now to my main point (yes, there is one) - what disturbs me is the "sample" food diary that comes with the study, the one that's meant to give parents an idea of how to complete the food diary form. Now remember, this food diary is taken a week before the 6 months mark, and again a week before the 12 months mark, i.e. both before the baby turns one.

The examples include a chocolate hobnob, a slice of chocolate cake, scrambled egg, strawberry jam. My jaw drops open. The remainder of foods is made up of jars, or goodies such as white bread and sweetened yoghurt.

So we have food which isn't great but kind of ok, and food which is actually not recommended before the age of one. In a sample food diary. To me this sends out the message that this is normal food a baby might be weaned on, and for the first time parent, it may even serve as a source of ideas for nutritious meals, after all it comes from an infant feeding study!

What were they thinking when they drew this up? The only reason to present such an atrocious example of weaning foods is to say to those parents who do wean their babies on chocolate hobnobs (though know that this is not ideal) that it's ok, you may put it into the diary and don't have to keep it secret from us. But even then, I still feel what they've done is shockingly wrong. It is a sample menu and it will be taken as an example of what a baby might be weaned on. It will encourage people to offer stuff that's not good for such a young baby earlier than they would have otherwise. Nevermind the missed opportunity of providing a good example of a weaning diet.

I'll be getting the chocolate cake (with icing and filling) out then. I'm sure she's gonna like it.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Proudly poking legs

I'm proud. Proud of my baby and me. And this unashamed, glorious, giddy pride comes from not having been there before. So don't shoot me if you didn't manage to/couldn't breastfeed. I feel the pain. Today though, I feel the joy. The joy of these chubby legs, the joy of a baby that is clearly bursting out of the carry cot (and we only used it a handful of times!).

Snowflake is 24 weeks and exclusively breastfed. I never thought I'd be able to say this. Yesterday she had a cooked carrot and the nappy tells me she did manage to swallow some (to my surprise). We will soon be weaning onto solids (not just yet, she still ejects foods offered to her so not quite ready yet but I'll keep offering). Today though I want to celebrate the two of us for having made it so far.

With Cubling, we supplemented on and off, from 12 weeks, and when I returned to work (she was 23 weeks) I tried to express but didn't get enough for the two bottles she needed on my working days, so she had formula daily. Breastfeeding was hard, she fed long and often. I stuck to it through pain, blood and tears. There were many weeks where I gave it just one more day, one more feed. I was so ready to give it up. I now know that part of the problem must have been latch, possible some problem with her palate, and that she most likely never fed efficiently.

What a different story this time: Snowflake feeds quickly, if frequently - but you know, frequently is not bad if it doesn't last an hour! I'm more than happy to feed every 2-3 hours (or hourly while she had bronchiolitis, so she wouldn't bring up her feeds) if it only takes 10 minutes and I see a happy baby after the feed. I had no pain, no problems apart from early clusterfeeds. Before Snowflake was born, I vowed not to be so hard on myself about the breastfeeding malarky, to supplement when needed, surely mixed feeding can't be that bad (I now know why exclusive breastfeeding is actually better than mixed feeding but didn't 6 months ago).
Well, I didn't need to. Bottles and teats are unused (ok, I used the bottle once and gave her expressed milk). So are the just in case cartons of formula. I even threw expressed milk away, because I knew I didn't need it.
It was easy, convenient and I can't stop poking her Speckbeinchen (porky legs), knowing that I grew every cell of them.

And after this proud pat on the back, let the weaning mess begin.



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