Monday, 29 August 2011


Almost a year ago, I was given a present from some lovely people.
It has weathered the coldest winter that I've witnessed in Scotland. In a pot. This spring, it was given its place of honour, beside the gate of our tiny front garden, welcoming everyone to our home. We watched in anticipation as it blossomed and grew little fruit.
And now, the fruit are ripe. I managed not to kill it, instead it's given us a bountiful crop, especially considering its the first year.

Snowflake loves the plums. Cubling, as with every fruit, won't eat them but admires them nonetheless. If you're German, plum go with cake but I'm not that German as to go for a traditional recipe (because you can't beat the Brits for their cake recipes). Praise to the glorious internet for giving me possibly the best plum cake recipe ever.

It may pass as the nicest cake I've managed to bake so far.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

August Bilingual Carnival

The August Carnival of raising bilingual children is out now over at Tongue Tales. It's got a lovely flag theme, and as ever, it's fab to see all the different perspectives, and language combinations too. Enjoy!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Looking back

The relative silence on this spaces says it all. I'm back at work and there's little time left between racing between home, nurseries, work and back, between dressing, feeding, cleaning little ones, cooking, keeping the house in some acceptable state that isn't a health hazard, work, and knitting to keep sane. Still, I'd like to look back on the last year.

A year of maternity leave, apart from the obvious past times of wiping bums, providing constant food and drink for children, trying to not fall over toys while holding baby (I might have tripped once), and trying to keep the nerves from snapping, also was an opportunity to try out a few new things and change things that I'd been half thinking about but never quite managed to follow through in the daily race.

The time went quickly, and there still is a lot on my wish list. And so there should be, because where does motivation come from if you've done everything you hoped for already?
I even had a plan for the year. And pledged to live as sustainably as possible. So where am I at more than half way through this year?

- I buy much more local produce and avoid packaging where I can, without compromising on convenience. This means that we get a local veggie bag, that I check for all fruit and veg that they aren't imported from outside Europe (with the exception of those that have to be imported, like avocado, sweet potato and other convenient baby food). I've also added some recipies to my repertoire thus reducing my heavy reliance on frozen ready made vegetarian meals. Although the latter might be out of the window simply because there's not enough time to cook from scratch. I'm using shopping bags and combine trips with the car.
- We didn't get chickens. I'm still in two minds about it - as our garden is anything but chicken proof and very small too, if we were to get chickens, they couldn't possibly be free range. With a run we'd seriously compromise on play area, and then there's the issue of maybe in future growing more veg where there is grass just now (and where the chickens would run about). So while 4 year old and I are still more than keen on the idea of having our eggs for breakfast from the chicken coop, for the moment it is stalled (or filed if you ask another member of the household ;))
- We explored solar energy and decided that it's not a sensible priority for us just now. Instead we learned that insulating and keeping heat in is the best first step, followed by renewing our roof and adding some insulation to it. The latter is great in theory but obviously a big gulp in practice, so will it happen this year? I'm not so sure. We got our loft insulated and are monitoring our energy use. The computer / router is no longer on all day. Our monthly energy bill has halved in this year, though this is partly due to overpaying. Still, it is low.
-On my pledge to make presents rather than buy - well, I did as well as you could expect. No, I didn't manage to not buy anything but I tried to stay clear of disposable plastic stuff, and I made as much by hand as I could. I'm not sure if it was always appreciated and it does hurt more if a present you spent days making isn't appreciated compared to something you didn't think about much when buying it in a shop in the space of a few seconds.
-I also pledged to make cards rather than buy them. So far so good, though some people went without because I didn't manage. Sorry.
-I didn't buy a new gadget this year. So far anyway. But I bought lots of yarn, but that's kinda ok, isn't it? Yarn doesn't count, right?
-I reduced my air travel by about half. It's still half of my total annual carbon footprint. Gulp.
-I grew more food than before, though I'm still rather rubbish at it. My compost bin is back in action and the slugs are having a feast in it. Should I be worried about this? Cubling and I are quite in awe about the size of those slugs, so at least we're having fun.
-Then there was the consideration of downshifiting properly. And the decision that no, I won't quit my job and that I'd probably not be a good homeschooler or stay at home mum in general.
-There were two new projects that give me a lot of pleasure, selling Barefoot Books and the Nature Kids website. Time will tell where they lead, for now it's a bit of fun on the side that I don't really have time for but love doing anyway.
-I didn't manage to declutter properly, letting go of stuff is just really hard and seems counter-intuitive if you try not to waste. I cannot manage to let go of books at all, and I really don't know why we have these mountains of CDs when they're all ripped into MP3s and onto hard drives. Well I know - because we're still only actually listening to real CDs.
-There were two courses I attended, one on reducing one's carbon footprint and one on foraging. There were many more I wanted to go to and many more coming up. Willow weaving and upcycling are on my wish list right now (and I've come across living willow fences which are just wonderful, I wants them!)

So, my plans for the rest of the year are to get the house up to scratch a bit. It'll be a real challenge with all else that is happening. I'm not holding my breath but it's better to have an ambitious plan than no plan at all. And there's rather a lot of knitting going on with a new wave of babies to welcome into this world. And winter babies need something cozy, n'est ce pas?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Guest Post: Gaddafi’s Regime and the Ruin of the Mediterranean Bride

Libya has been on our minds a lot recently. I'm myself not knowledgeable enough to feel confident to write about the crisis; however, while I'm a pacifist and would generally always opt for a non violent solution, I also believe that there are situations where force is necessary. Is Libya such a case? Only hindsight will tell, as so often. Today I have the honour to hand over to a Libyan friend who would like to remain anonymous for personal protection and that of the family. It is a letter written to the Glasgow Herald, however, the newspaper chose not to publish it and also not to respond. I'm glad that at least here the letter can be published and this voice can be heard.

I do not know from which point I should start in regard to the crisis of my country, Libya, but let me give you an idea of Gaddafi’s regime and the Libyan uprising, before I present to you the horrifying situation of my home town, Tripoli. Yes, most Eastern cities in Libya are now breathing the breeze of freedom, yet the crisis in many other cities in the west part such as Misrata, Western Mount and Tripoli is beyond imagination and the calamity cannot be believed.

Libya started producing oil in the early 1960s, and its oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world as of 2007. The reason I mention this oil information is that, yesterday, one of my friends was completely shocked to learn that Libya has been exporting oil for that long. He could not, and I guess no one would, believe that an oil-rich country like Libya, still remains way behind most undeveloped countries. Most Libyans believe that Gaddafi, who has being ruling the country since 1969, is to blame for the havoc of the current situation and the corruption in Libya.

Gaddafi is a one-man show who, during his 42 years of power, has focused mainly on all security, guard and defensive means to protect himself and his regime. Meanwhile, history shows that he is an aggressive person, who will do whatever it takes to maintain power. In fact, his violent and unpredictable attitude has allowed him to stay in power through the decades as most Libyans have realised since the 1980s that he will not hesitate to destroy the country if he feels that his days are numbered. However, on 17/2/2011 Libyans in most cities including the capital, Tripoli, went peacefully to the street to say No to corruption and inheritance, and “YES to democracy”. They were inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings early this year, and they thought that Gaddafi should have learned by now a lesson from his two neighbours, the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents, and step down, but sadly this was and is not the case.
It is almost 6 months now since the Libyan uprising started, and Gaddafi is still determined to hold his position while the majority of the country descends into an unknown destiny due to the ongoing conflict between the uprisers and Gaddafi’s militias and mercenaries. It is true that the rebels (uprisers) are gradually gaining more and more ground, but their progress toward Gaddafi’s bolt-hole, in which he is hiding for more than 4 months, is slow and not as it should be due to two factors: first of all, the uprisers are civilians who are not prepared or trained to fight; and secondly, Gaddafi’s troops have started planting landmines as obstacles to the rebels’ movements. The slow progress in getting rid of Gaddafi and his cronies threatens further devastation in many cities, especially the western cities that are still controlled by Gaddafi. The residents in western cities like Misrata, Western Mount, and Tripoli are suffering shortages in many major aspects of basic life such as medicine, food, water, electricity and gas. To be more realistic, I will convey to you here only what I am hearing directly from my family members who live in Tripoli, but the situation is almost the same in most other western Libyan cities. 
Tripoli used to be called the Mediterranean Bride. It is now living in tragedy since the uprising started. On 20/7/2011, the third day of the uprising, more than 800 people were killed in Tripoli alone, and the situation soon worsened as Gaddafi’s militias apprehended more than 30,000 (thirty thousand) people; most of them between 18 and 35 years old. This was not the end, and the situation has started getting even worse in the last two months. Tripoli’s latest news, which I have just got from my family, is frightening and speaks of looming disaster. I had to call my family these last three days to make sure that they are safe after NATO bombed a Gaddafi army compound on 9/8/2011 around 1 am. The compound, located in a region called Alfornaaj, seems to have been full of heavy weapons, such as rockets, because after that, many rockets from inside the compound started flying out, and fell on 4 or 5 nearby houses. Although my family and other friends’ families repeatedly confirm that the NATO strikes are extremely precise, I had to call them because that compound was only 600 meters from my family and relatives’ houses. My family told me that this strike was the heaviest, and thank God that no one was hurt.
Yesterday, I had a long call conversation with my family who revealed to me the following issues as they were describing the crisis in Tripoli:
  1. Medicine: Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are common health problems in Libya. In the last three months there was a shortage of the drugs needed for people with such problems. Tripoli has also been hit by baby food shortages: in particular baby milk formula. If medicine and baby food are found, it will be 10 times more expensive than its regular price.
  1. Water: in the last four months, most people stopped drinking tap water because they were worried about it being poisoned by Gaddafi’s militias. However, now they turn back to tap water because there is a shortage of packaged water, which consequently has become very expensive. Unfortunately even the tap water is not available all the time.
  1. Gas: There are also big shortages in gas supplies during the last 8 weeks. In Libya, most of the people use gas cookers, but in order to get a gas bottle these days one needs to stay in a queue for between 24 and 48 hours. However, staying in a queue for that long does not mean that you will get gas, simply because of the long queue, and sadly most of time the bottles are sold before you get your turn. According to one of my friend’s family, people have started reducing their gas consumption by cooking with chicken meat instead of red meat, such as lamb and beef, because the latter require more gas to be cooked as compared to the chicken. The prices of the gas bottles are now going through the roof, with prices raised 30 times during the last month. So, people have now bought mini electric cookers, to use if there is electricity.
  1. Electricity: Many parts of Tripoli in the last 4 weeks have been without electricity for between two to three days. The lucky parts of Tripoli get electricity for a period of 2-4 hours per day. The electricity interruption, I think, is due to two issues: to conserve fuel, which is needed for the electricity generators; and to limit the movement of people during the night time. Many families in Tripoli, due to the shortage of gas, have started using electric stoves to cook their meals, but due to the electricity blackouts there is no specific time for cooking. The cooking depends on when the electricity returns. They sometimes have to wake up around 3 o’clock in the morning to prepare meals for the next day because no one can ensure that the electricity will stay for another hour. The other problem is that they cannot prepare meals for more than one day because the refrigerators and freezers, in which they can keep their food, also have no power. The shortage in gas and the continuing electricity problem led people to look for other alternatives for cooking such as BBQ coal. Even coal became very expensive around 10 times higher than the regular prices. 
  2. Fuel: People have also been distressed by the fuel shortage, for 3 or 4 months. In Libya we do not have public transportation, and so people depend mainly on private transportation to get to work, school, university, and shops, and the problem gets even worse in the case of an emergency. By the way, we do not have ambulance vehicles that one can call in case of emergency. To get fuel one has to stand in a queue for a minimum of three days. Alternatively you can buy from smugglers, but the cost here is 80 times higher. 
  3. Libyan Currency: Yes, there is a lack of currency in the Libyan market. Gaddafi, from the beginning of the uprising, started motivating young Libyans and foreign people (mercenaries) to fight on his side against the rebels by offering them a tempting amount (thousands of Libyan pounds) of money. The big slap to Gaddafi in regard to the currency happened at the beginning of the uprising when the UK government seized around 700 million Libyan pounds, which were printed in the UK, from reaching Gaddafi’s hands. To overcome this problem, Gaddafi’s regime has taken the following steps:
    1. Started using old (out of date) currency which has been cancelled for around 15 years, though still stored in the Libyan central bank storages.
    2. People are only allowed to withdraw 500 Libyan pounds a month, and sometimes even less, in order to keep as much as he can in the banks.
    3. In the last 6 weeks, Gaddafi’s regime has started selling golden bars to people in order to get some cash for his daily business. I presume this represents the Libyan national assets.
The information I have provided describes the daily grave situation of the people in Tripoli and many other Libyan cities, and I avoided talking here Gaddafi and his militias’ violations of other human rights starting from killing old people to using rape as a weapon. These issues may need books to clarify and justify. These horrendous and intolerable events, which are taking place in Libya in the 21th century, are beyond imagination, and most Libyans are now saying that they have not experienced such circumstances since World War II. Guess, this all happens for the goal of satisfying Gaddafi’s family desires for a continuation of power.

By the way, I am not a writer, but I decided to uncover Gaddafi’s regime and speak the truth in an attempt to do something for my country and the Libyan heroes, who are dying for free democracy for all Libyans.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Health and Safety me Bum

Health and safety regulations have gone mad. More and more they are real barriers to making things happen, to thinking outside the box or to simply living an interesting life. Now, I'm not one to say that we should ditch any thought about health and safety, I do want to live in a safe environment. However, if health and safety regulations restrict our lives in such a way that it's having a serious impact on people or the environment, in my view, health and safety has to be rethought.

Take some examples:
If you want to register as a childminder, you have to demonstrate that for every change of nappy for every child you use a different towel as an underlay (I assume disposable paper underlays may be ok, but that would create a lot of avoidable rubbish). You will also have to keep anything that can be considered to be medicine in a locked box which is out of reach of children (in my world it's enough to have either). Any registered childcare now has to get a consent form in triplicate for applying bum cream, and selfsame bum cream has to have been prescribed for the child (which means I have to ditch the creams already in my possession). By the time I'd completed the forms for applying bum cream I wasn't quite sure of my own name any more I had had to write it so often.

Childminders now also have to go through a food hygiene course if they provide any home cooked or even home prepared food - otherwise they can only feed food provided by the parent. In practice that means they can't even open a banana that hasn't come from the child's parents' home. And I bet you that the contents of the pricey food hygiene course is something like - "use separate chopping boards for different food groups and wash your hands before and after preparing food." Because really, what more can there be to food hygiene? Food hygiene regulations, i.e. health and safety in relation to food, also account for a lot of disposable catering which I raved about before. It is not considered hygienic to have a sugar bowl with sugar, or a milk jug - imagine, the milk could go off! And the sugar may have a drop of tea in it - deary me, what a disaster. At jumble sales and coffee mornings it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise money for a good cause because that home made jam - you know, you cannae trust it, what with not having a food hygiene certificate course. And there's oh so much that could go wrong when chucking fruit and sugar together in a pot and boiling it for 5 minutes. So we're doomed to buy supermarket jams which may be controlled in terms of food hygiene (hm, when did they last find something dodgy in it?) but who knows what additives have made their way into this mass produced food.

Oh and then there's the nursery feeding policy - I'm allowed to provide my own food, even home-cooked food (hurray) but it cannot be warmed up because they can't guarantee that the heat is distributed evenly. Now, I have a fussy eater as it is, and cold spagbol just doesn't kick it. So instead she is fed school dinners which in the space of just 6 days have included arctic roll, baked beans, Pudding, sweetened yogurts, digestive biscuits, soup with I would assume normal stock (and that's just the stuff I remembered). So for fear of burns my baby is getting a diet too rich in refined sugars and salt for a baby.

In any public venue, staff of the venue will regularly tell my child not to do certain things because she may hurt herself. The staff are clearly fearful of liability (though they should be insured?) while I see this as an inappropriate interference with my role as a parent. If I'm there and supervising, if I know my child and her limits, that is safe enough. Yes, she may fall, she may hurt herself but show me the child who never falls and never hurts herself? Come on, it's part of being a child! In general terms too, my 4 year old is quite good at assessing risk herself. She won't do things that she's not comfortable with and usually has a fair idea of what is too risky.

Next, let me take you to the swimming pool. The other day, while I was getting baby and myself dressed and baby was rather unhappy, I put her in her car seat and handed her to Mr Cartside to calm her, who was also watching 4 year old (who had armbands on) in the baby pool. Mr Cartside was right next to 4 year old and ready to grab her should anything happen, but technically he was out of the pool while she was in. The life guard on duty asked him to remove 4 year old from the pool as he wasn't supervising her (what?) and he would physically have to be in the pool with her. I've since been rather reluctant to go swimming with the whole family.

I'm sure there are many more examples where health and safety regulations backfire. It stifles innovation, out of the box thinking. We are becoming overregulated. While there is good sense in having good standards, it becomes ridiculous when the good standard is preventing activities which are important parts of our lives or has consequences which are worse than the risk that they tried to reduce. It seems that regulations only go one way, of being tighter, rather than there being an open debate on the practicality and reasonability of legislation. I as the parent do not ask for legislation over applying bum cream. I trust the nursery staff to heat up food appropriately and without heat spots and would rather take the risk than have my baby fed unsuitable food. I as a parent would be happier for the nursery to give Calpol if my baby was in pain while I was on the way to pick her up. Surely as long as the parent consents to what is given to the child that should be enough, and it shouldn't need a prescription and triplicate forms.

What all of these regulations do is push activities almost underground. Childminding swaps are kept secret because getting registered for occasional childminding amongst friends is simply a pain in the bum and not worth it. So the backlash is that people will avoid regulation at all cost, which surely must be an unwanted side effect. At the same time, new regulations relating to health and safety are introduced all the while without proper debate amongst those affected by them. At the end of the day, we cannot eliminate risk, but we can reduce it and manage it. And when we do so, it's paramount to weigh up the pros and cons, and maybe it is wise at times to accept risk and not err on the side of caution.

I do want to be able to sell jam for charity. I'd like to be able to swap childcare with non-family members and provide food. I'd like to be able to go swimming with two children. I'd like to see nursery and school embark on outings and activity that carry a risk, so that my children learn how to assess and deal with risk responsibly. It is also about perspective: in an environment where children are more likely to pick up and play with broken glass or eat dog poo, it's nothing short of daft having to use different underlays at every nappy change. So let's get real and open up the debate, and maybe we can review some of the less, how shall we say, successful regulations?

Friday, 19 August 2011

How to raise a bilingual child

I've found the magic potion. The one that turns a passive bilingual into a fluent German speaker. After all the trials and tribulations, the hard work, the questions, the wondering if it's all worth it, it has happened. My child, at least presently, speaks German and English equally well and speaks German only to me, as well as to any other person who is German (even if they speak perfect English).

How did it all come about?

Of course the basics were to consistently speak German. That did a pretty good job for passive bilingualism. I then insisted on German responses when she was older, but did so gently by modelling (I really couldn't enforce a rule that I wouldn't respond to English utterances, I would have felt a cruel mum, considering how beautifully she speaks English with such a lovely Scottish accent!).

Next ingredients was maternity leave = spend more time with the child. There is a direct correlation of time spent with a child and level of language - 4 days a week in childcare is boo, 2 1/2 days with mummy around the rest of the time and a little sibling who mummy says is German and won't understand English - we're getting there.

Finally: Go to Germany without daddy but with a German friend and her children.
Magic. 2 1/2 weeks later and we've moved from slow and laboured minority language with interspersed English words and underlying English grammar to:
The Balance Bilingual Child. Yes.

I hope we can keep it up but it does seem easier now that speaking German finally comes natural to her and is no longer difficult. The hardest part was getting through her reluctant phase where she rightly said that it's harder to speak German than English. Now it's not and she no longer is reluctant.

Was it easy? No. It was much harder than I ever thought it would be. But it's been so worth it. I'm one proud mama.

Milestones in retrospect:
Cubling realises that there are real children who speak German when she first watches Die Sendung mit dem Elefanten (age 3).
Cubling travels to visit Opa and realises he doesn't understand her at all when she speaks English or Denglish (age 3)
Cubling becomes a big sister and mum goes off on maternity leave. She also goes to a German playgroups where there are lots of mummy who speak German. (age: 3 1/2- 4)
Cubling travels to visit Opa and is able to communicate pretty well in German and gains confidence in speaking it (age 4)
Cubling goes on holiday in Germany with a German family and is surrounded by German only for 2 1/2 weeks (age 4 1/2)
She now calls herself English and German. A year ago, she called herself English.

I've got a feeling that bilingualism will be an easy ride from now on.

(this post is written for the August Carnival of Bilingualism)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Smack those kids!?

On Tuesday morning, my first day back at work, which also meant back to listening to the radio on my commute, I first heard about the London riots. My first thoughts were bewilderment. I didn't know about the police shooting, it had bypassed me as it only can bypass someone who forgets to switch on TV and radio for a full weekend. My first question was "Why?" Yet all there was was people talking about "those kids" how they weren't disciplined enough and they knew no boundaries. There was no coverage of the motifs of the perpetrators, as if they had relinquished their right to voice their views, when really, if you want to tackle this violence it kind of helps to understand why those kids went off the rails. You know, tackling it at the root rather than letting it escalate even further?

It was only this morning that I had a first glimpse of how the young people saw this whole thing. From their words (selective as they may be) it was clear that a) they knew they were doing something wrong b) they didn't think there were any real consequences to their behaviour, c) they could afford the stuff but why pay if they can loot and d) when asked if someone robbed their house and set it on fire what they would think it was clear that this was a totally different story to them.

To me, this demonstrates a few things. First up is an unawareness that the destruction actually harms anyone in any serious way. It's a laugh. It's a bit of fun. The destruction to them doesn't harm anyone they care about and there was no moral barrier to stealing, as it was directed against shops that are big chains and can afford a bit of damage or are insured. Those young people didn't care about what and whom they were damaging. They didn't empathise with the shopowners and other people who were damaged as a consequence of their action.

Secondly, there is the lack of consequences of their actions that are serious enough to act as a deterrent. A criminal record? So what. Prison? It won't be for long. There is no sense that a criminal record may be an obstacle in life. Thinking back, the stuff that deterred me as a youngster were much more to do with worry how I would look in the eyes of my family, neighbours, teachers, and other role models..

Thirdly, underlying is an us and them mentality which in turn got really drummed in through the coverage in the media: Those kids that know no boundaries, they are the minority, we are respectable citizens, our society is under threat by the action of criminal youngsters. Yet really, these young people are our society, as much as you and I are. Underlying this behaviour is an already existing perception of not being part of society, of now owing anything. Disenfranchised young people who have little opportunities to succeed in life, who don't see that in working together and behaving in ways that makes for good living together reaps benefits and is worthwhile pursuing. Their only creed is to their gang, to the cool peer group, fuelled by dare devil behaviour (which in itself is a part of being a young male and perfectly normal).

So what causes this perspective? There are a few reasons that I would suggest. First of all, it's the makeup of our society. While we live in a rich country, the difference between the richest and the poorest is growing ever more, and with it, as research has shown, the rates of violence, crime and antisocial behaviour. A society that is perceived as unjust will create members who do not feel the need to respect the society as a whole. Instead, they will only respect those in their stratum/class/gang - you pick the word (The Guardian's Nina Power has put this part of my point much more eloquently than I could ever do).

The call has been loud that these kids need discipline, smacking, authority figurest that show them boundaries and consequences. But you know what? I think that will be futile because they know they are doing something wrong, they know the boundaries and chose to overstep them! Tough parenting has been called for and parents have been blamed. I agree and I disagree: Yes, poor parenting contributes and allows for children to rebel in such a way and neglectful parenting (i.e. not knowing where your child is or not caring much or worse of course) doesn't help. But discipline and smacking are not going to turn bad kids into good kids. Since when has violence (smacking is violence) ever convinced a child to be good? All it does is to force into submisson - temporarily usually. The same goes with a criminal record or some time spent in prison. When a person has chosen to do the wrong thing knowing the consequences, disciplining or penalising them will have little success.

If the young people involved in the riots demonstrate a lack of respect and empathy for those they have damaged, wouldn't it be a better approach to show our kids respect and empathy, to teach them by example but also by explaining to them why respectful behaviour is important? Explaining to them that people have feelings and we need to be mindful of these feelings? Explaining about property and the real cost of making things, how it's not about just the monetary value but the resources, time and effort that go into making things, which therefore need to be respected? Our aim needs to be to raise children who can distinguish between good and bad AND make the right choice.

What's more I understand that the young people have little regard for material items or the people whose property they damaged. We live in a society where everything is available cheeply and where we are detached from many people (and the more detached you are, the less you care). As one of the youngsters said - he could afford to buy the stuff he stole, but why pay if you can get it for free? In a throwaway consumer society it is easier to steal because material objects don't have real value any more. In a society where only your peer group matters, where you have lost connections to a range of different people, where the only role models are in your peer group or on the x-factor, people's feeling also have no value anymore.

So I'll be radical and suggest to show and teach our kids to make things from scratch. Instil a sense of value, purpose, skill, creativity and effort. And I dare you show me one young person who has been raised with respect, empathy and learned how to make things to set those things on fire. And get that inequality in this country sorted - because even I, well adjusted, peaceloving treehugger that I am, feel rather angry seeing the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Angry enough to imagine throwing a stone into a Mercedes Benz or an iPad.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Flying high, in the sky

The last session of the course I treated myself to on all things carbon footprintish and greener living was a real eye opener. Now, to some degree I knew that I'm doing ok on the food front, ok on the recycling front, and I don't waste energy if I can avoid it (though there's still a lot of space for improvement in all of these areas). And I know that the biggest area of fail is that of transport.

It's only logical, as an expat. You travel home to see your family, your friends. Flying is convenient and if not as cheap as it used to, it still is cheaper than any other way of travelling. I knew that flying isn't exactly great for my carbon footprint, but hey ho, I did reduce it to only 2 European return flights this year, which, considering how I love travelling, is a major improvement.

Until I had to face the fact what those 2 short return flights mean for my carbon footprint. Gulp. I really didn't think flying was that bad for this planet of ours. I mean, I knew it was bad. But that bad? I thought it would compare to my car journeys, but really, no. All my thoughts went into how I could live without a car, when really my greatest sin are those four 75 minute flights.

It's really quite unspeakable how bad flying is. One return flight equals our carbon footprint for all things home - ie. in under 3 hours I damage the planet more than I do in a whole year by using household appliances AND heating/cooking. It is clear, the way to a greener world, in my case, and I'm sure I'm quite normal in that respect, is by saying goodbye to air travel.

That isn't easy. I'm certainly not pledging anything like it just now, I'm a realist. Although it helps that I actually hate flying anyway and when we got stuck due to some Icelandic volcano errupting and took the ferry back, it was actually quite a pleasant journey (admittedly helped by having "taxi" services on either side). Yes, I can see us using car and ferry to travel to Europe.

But what about business travel? If you are someone who flies for business, and you think hard and truthful about those journeys, are they really necessary? Are they really so necessary as to justify damaging the planet to the extent they actually do? On the eve of the end of my maternity I'm sure that for every suggested business trip I will advocate the use of alternatives. Luckily we have a fab train line to London, and Manchester, where most of my trips will be to.

In the grand scheme of things, the one area where we can all make a humongous difference towards reducing our carbon footprint is air travel. More than any insulating of homes, switching off of lights can ever achieve. It's an opportunity, even though it'll mean less travel (which I'm the first to admit is a bit of a shame).

Monday, 1 August 2011


Quite out of the blue it dawned on me that this is it. This was my year of maternity leave, most likely the last one. Where did it go? Flying by is an understatement. It is odd how different I feel about returning to work this time around. How different I feel about leaving my children with caregivers. I hardly recognise myself, my feelings have changed so much.

In some fairy dream land, my imaginary plan had been to have my kids in Germany, where you get 3 years of (partly) unpaid leave each (which you can take any time and split between parents and take in chunks etc pp). Oh the luxury, to spend the early years with your children and still have a job to come back to.

Of course, life never works quite according to plan and I have only myself to blame for not following it through, one reason being that I actually quite like Scotland. And my job.

Still, as I count the hours before I'll leave my kids with competent caregivers who are still "only" that, caregivers, I wish I'd have more time. The older already nags me with complaints that she doesn't want to go back to nursery and rather spend time with me. The younger, oblivious to everything, gives me smiles and demands nursing as if there was no tomorrow.

Ahead of me is also the juggling of work and childcare demands, time slipping away and every minor traffic hiccups translating to having to catch up on work in the evenings, or not being able to take breaks. As a user of a council nursery (and I know that's as lucky as winning the lottery) there are also in service days and holiday weeks to consider, time off work that I simply don't have (did I find a babysitter recently? She'll be getting more work it seems). It's back to the rat race - just this time not for the money but for the sake of juggling what is often more than wrongly referred to as work life balance (there is no such thing if ever someone asks. If you work and have kids, the balance goes out of the window first).

The nagging question is that of "Is it worth it?" The constant rush, stress, all for a negligible bit of extra money. Is it really worth it?
My answer now, 4 1/2 years into motherhood, is quite different to what it was 4 years ago when Cubling started childcare. I'm no longer sure at all. The resounding yes is almost gone. And if it wasn't for the kind of job I have, the satisfaction I get out of it, the team I work with, the organisation that is more supportive of their employees than most, the answer may well tip towards the "no".

Transitions are never easy and I know from experience that a new rhythm will emerge, that things will settle down, that I will settle down. For now though, I'm in inner turmoil and reluctant to hand over my kids. It is me who has separation anxiety.

I once read someone label the start of school as institutionalisation of a child. At the time, I chuckled as it seemed over the top and a bit funny. I'd no longer chuckle now. I know what she meant. And aren't we all institutionalised and following the rhythm of what that institution imposes on us? The 9-5 rhythm of work, the in service days of schools, the nap routines of nurseries. Be wary child if you don't fit in, if you'd rather not have your mum leave you alone, if you are a nurseling at 10 months.

It is the way things are and I accept them as it is beyond me to change them so I try and make the best out of it. But I cannot be made to like it.



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