Saturday, 28 January 2012


I'm a person who can get passionate about a whole lot of things. Pre-children, I sometimes let myself drift by my passions. I travelled, learned languages, read books, and above all, I listened to music. Like any teenager, I eventually found the kind of music for myself that was oh so meaningful, oh so different to what other people were listening to, oh so telling about who I thought I was/wished I was/was sure I was. I would go to some lengths to enjoy the music I loved live. And like anyone else, I clung onto that music and go back to the handful of voices of my youth.

It's not that there isn't great new stuff out there. Just the discovery of great new stuff doesn't tickle the passion button anymore. Mild interest has replaced it. It must be middle age, or the constant grind of juggling work, home and family has rubbed off the writing on that button.

Every now and again, the passion for music that is still there, hidden underneath nursery rhymes and Disney soundtracks. Once a year, Celtic Connections comes to town and boy if I had known at 23 (when I first heard of the festival and considered travelling up from England to it) that I would end up living in the city of Celtic Connections, I'd have been one happy bunny.

So last week I went to what must been my umpteenth Luka Bloom gig. I'm not counting, but I definitely treated both my girls to his music live in utero, and the first time I saw him play live was in 1990. And after both pregnancies, on of the first gigs I went to was your man too. Or at least one of the other 4-5 other musicians who provide my soundtrack of choice and happen to grace Glasgow every so often because they go under the ever widening banner of "Celtic".

On such an evening, when the cold gig turkey that early/late evening nursing of a newborn/toddler brings about is finally overcome by a shot of the wonderful pleasure that is live music, it's like a wave of feel goodness that washes all over me and gets to every cell of my body. There are memories of wonderful nights spend with wonderful yet geographically distant friends, the memory of late nights, of my travelling days and all the things seen and learned, the people I met, the friends I made, the lessons I learned, the illuminating conversations I had. All at once, so many beautiful memories, so much feeling alive with it all.

22 years ago, I travelled from Cabinteely, Co Dublin (north west Dublin), to Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin (south east Dublin) and back to listen to his music. All I can say is that I wouldn't have undertaken such a mad journey for many musicians. I was 20 and didn't even know if I would get transport home that night. On Wednesday, with the in-laws looking after the kids, it was a short comfortable hop in comparison.

And then, I went up to the man himself and brought out the understatement of the year, when I simply thanked him for the music.

Happy Birthday to U., who shared many of the gigs with me and unfortunately didn't manage to make it here for last week's. There's always a next time!

in Wonderland

If given free choice of where to go, there is no hesitation where our trip should be headed. "Alice in Wonderland!" it is to be, and so today, yet again, Cubling and Snowflake were in Wonderland, having tea parties, opening doors and drawers, growing and shrinking, exploring deep holes in the ground that are really only mirrors. I love the way Cubling goes up to total strangers and share her observations full of enthusiasm, and I hate how those strangers simply ignore her and with that, deny the child in themselves.

Admittedly, some of the optical illusions of The Science Centre's Mind works were rather baffling, in spite of explanations and all. I still can't quite get the Ames room. I guess there's no shame in wonder.

And Psst, did you know that the annual membership of the Science Centre is cheaper than 2 visits with the Planetarium? Just saying.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Supporting your bilingual child with the Language Hub

As a parent who is raising her children bilingually, I'm acutely aware that the main risk for my children's minority language is the fact that it's mainly me who speaks it with them, and that "me" is someone who could also speak English. My kids aren't daft, and from their point of view, there's no need to speak German at all. We got around this conundrum through two long holidays without dad in Germany and it worked wonders. But now that the holidays are 7-8 months in the past, slowly their effect is starting to wear off. To keep the minority language alive, it is crucial to introduce social activities for the children where they are exposed to the minority language outside the home and realise that both languages are useful.
Thankfully, if you're in Glasgow, there's not just a German playgroup but now also an exciting new place for pre-schoolers and primary school aged children where they can learn a second language, or where bilingually raised children can get some extra input and support for their "other" language. I'm really intrigued that this is happening here, because Glasgow isn't that big and it feels a real privilege to have this option. I haven't tried it out yet, but will do so soon. There is a choice of classes available and I particularly like the relative short blocks that are both affordable and will fit into busy lifestyles. While I'm waiting for my older daughter to join the next block, I was keen to find out a bit more about the Language Hub from its director Michelle Gordon.
What gave you the idea for setting up the Language Hub?

My personal interest in languages and language teaching are deeply routed in my earliest childhood. I grew up in Germany with my Scottish father, my German mother and my two younger siblings. My parents always strongly believed in the advantages of speaking different languages and therefore, naturally, raised us bilingually. Having left school, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to pursue my interest in language further and to possibly teach it myself; and I did.
My whole life I have experienced what it means to be able to speak more than one language; the advantages it offers and the understanding of different cultures it has given me. I now have two children of my own and they grow up bilingually.
Making a second language accessible to your child  – either in a home or classroom environment – is a very special gift as it will always make your child an even stronger person. 
I am very passionate about language learning as it is a subject very close to my heart. So, in 2011, I decided to set up The Language Hub Ltd in order to offer foreign language learning to (pre-)school children.

What happens in the courses, what's your teaching method/approach?

Our classes are very interactive as the children are continuously encouraged to actively participate. This is achieved with the use of toys, games, songs, dance and arts and crafts ensuring the children are engaged, learning and having fun all at the same time. This applies to all classes, especially to the pre-school and P1-P3 classes. With older children, reading and writing exercises can also be included but generally the oral use of a language is more important at this stage of a child's (foreign) language development. I feel it is important that children at this stage should consider themselves as little as possible as part of an active learning process as this sometimes can dampen the enjoyment factor.

What is the age range and what languages do you offer?

Classes are on offer at the moment for 3-5s, 5-7s and 7-11s who are keen on learning German, French, Spanish or Italian. We also offer language support classes for bilingual children with German, Spanish, French or Italian as their second language. However, we are always happy to add other languages so if you cannot find what you are looking for on our website please get in touch.

Did you encounter any challenges in the early days?

All in all, it took ten months from deciding to go for it and set up the company to starting with the first class. But with two children and a part-time job I am actually surprised it did not take even longer. The biggest challenge I guess was starting the business without any financial assistance and having to rely on what is left from your normal household budget. Also, not yet having my own premises was a bit of a difficulty as finding adequate venues was not as easy as I had hoped in the beginning.

Now the biggest challenge is convincing parents how valuable foreign language learning actually is for any child. Adults very often find it difficult to comprehend that children do not learn languages in the same way as adults do but that children's brilliant little brains do it for them without any effort.

What are your plans for the Language Hub?

One of the future goals is to get permanent premises for The Language Hub Ltd. It was always my dream to incorporate different venues and activities for children under one roof if possible. This would include a language school, a multi-lingual nursery, an after school care club, a baby/children cafe, a children's library and so on....and who knows!

What's you top tip for raising bilingual children?

With all bilingual children, it is vital to understand their individual connection and identification with their second language and their individual confidence in using the second language. Therefore, children should only ever be encouraged and supported, and not forced in any way, to make use of their second language in a manner that best suits their individual state of mind.
It is important to acknowledge why children sometimes use their second language actively, some totally refuse or others only seem to use the language in certain situations or at some particular points in their lives.
From a speaker’s perspective, speaking a second language can make you a part of something but can also single you out depending on the situation. Therefore, a child can feel either special or intimidated by second language use.
The regular passive input of the second language is very important. Even if a child refuses to use its second language over a long period of time the passive input will stay with him or her and a child will be able to access this input when he or she feels like or needs it. This is why we offer our support classes for bilingual children.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Rag Rugs all around

The better half of my evenings last week were made making t-shirt yarn. And what better to make out of all that loveliness than a rag rug! But wait, this is not the only way to make a rag rug. In fact, there are a few approaches to brightening your home up with handmade rugs.

Thankfully, all three ways of making a rag rug were trialled at the latest StitchUP. I had my mind set on a crochet one, with all that colourful t-shirt yarn and my still rudimentary crochet skills, I knew I needed a helping hand to get me started. By now it measures 3/4 of a metre in diameter and it's growing quickly. It's an ideal starter project, and quite satisfying because it's so super quick, while giving the beginner plenty of single crochet  practice. Result: I no longer feel I'm holding the yarn in the wrong hand AND I can crochet while holding a baby toddler.

Make a chain of 6 stitches. Close to a round. single crochet into the hole as often as you can- I aimed for 10 but only managed 8. It's important you know that number.
Round 1: In the first round after this, increase the same number of stitches; i.e. single crochet into one stitch, then make a chain, single crochet into next stitch, make a chain etc.
Round 2: single crochet into next 2 stitches, make a chain, single crochet into next 2 stitches, make a chain until end.
Round 3: single crochet into next 3 stitches, make a chain repeat until end

To put it differently: you increase your number of stitches from the base round in every subsequent round. So in round 5 you single crochet 5 times, then make a chain; in round 10 you single crochet into 10 stitches then make one chain etc.
As to crochet hook: well, it depends on your t-shirt yarn. I used size 9 but that was on the tight side of things.

So this is an image of my work in progress, and considering I've only just learned how to crochet and this is my first proper project, I'm pretty pleased with it.

Next up is the one that I will be doing another time because it's been on my mind for a while. It's made from hessian (a type of rough linen/jute, the kind that used to be used for potato and coffee sacks). You will also need fabric scaps, approximate 2 inch long and 1/4 inch wide and a tool for threading (there are professional tools for this but a crochet hook will do failing all else). For a detailed tutorial, and more images, visit The Patchwork Heart:

Finally there's the no sew woven rag rug, also made from t-shirt yarn. It's pretty straight forward too, and as there is an existing tutorial I will spare my breath here and just point you to it.

All three methods are super simple - and yet you'll end up with a beautiful addition to your home, while recycling/upcycling fabric that is no longer useable.

You may end up not wanting to actually step on your rag rug, though.
Pray tell me, which one's your favourite?

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Let there be T-Shirt Yarn

For a few months, there's been a fabulous initiative happening in the south of Glasgow. It's trading by the name of StitchUP and oh, it is so to my liking. Once a month from 6-9pm, one can drop into a very cosy basement of a very nice cafe, and get crafting with fabric and yarn. There's a state of the art sewing machine, fabric, buttons, threads, felt, all kinds of pieces, knitting yarn, crochet hooks and more. People come along and share their skills, and every instalment of StitchUP has a couple of projects that people may or may not make. One evening, I brought my knitting that needed a bit of a push to get finished, and I ended up showing someone how to change colours while knitting. Another time I made crochet snowflakes which really helped me not lose my very basic crochet skills and expand on them at the same time.

It's family friendly, so I can bring my kids, which is of course not particularly conducive to getting a project done (especially if your preschooler is so fascinated by the sewing machine that she needs constant supervision lest she brakes the needle or worse the machine) but everytime I went, I came home having learned something new.

Next up will be rug making. Which is just fabulous because for about 4 years I have been meaning to make some rag rugs. I collected and stored old t-shirts ready for making t-shirt yarn. Finally, I got to dig them out and start making t-shirt yarn, ready for the next StitchUP where the yarn will be made into a rag rug.

T-shirt yarn making is great fun and there's a bit of magic going on. It's extremely therapeutic I found, and nothing beats preschooler joining me at midnight for a round of tugging and spooling. Such a special surprise when my wee ghosty came down the stairs and joined me in some magic yarn making.
The magic lies in the fact that one t-shirt makes much more yarn than you think. And this is how:

For a tutorial, you're best visiting craftpassion - I can't really explain it any better. To get you started, it's important you have a proper pair of fabric scissors because otherwise you'll just get rather aggravated. You will also need t-shirts ideally with no print and no side seems (so many women's cuts don't work). Obviously the bigger the t-shirt the more yarn you'll get, but even so, a medium or small t-shirt will still yield rather a lot, so don't dismiss them! I have used t-shirts with some print and it's not all that bad, but you don't want to have too much print as it'll affect the quality of the yarn. Finally, check the label - the t-shirt should be 100% cotton. I'm not really sure what happens if it's not but may try out just to be radical. Once you're set, go to craftpassion for your tutorial. The magic happens when you get to tugging your yarn. For some reason (er, magic) the yarn lengthens when you do that, at least doubling your yarn length. I get quite a thrill out of that, and so did Cubling.

You may be able to get some more t-shirt supplies from charity shops, however I found that plain, side seem free, 100% cotton t-shirts are not considered to be good enough to be sold in charity shops, maybe they tend to be too plain. It may be worth while building up a relationship with one or two charity shops and telling them about your passion for plain cotton t-shirts and get them set aside for you before they go into the fabric bin. What worked for me was just asking a few friends and colleagues for unused old t-shirts.

Apparently, now that I've got t-shirt yarn, I'm all set to crochet (!!!) my rag rug. This is where StitchUP comes in - there is no way I could actually do that by myself, even in the age of youtube, I need someone to show me and to check that what I'm doing is actually what I'm supposed to be doing. So I'll be bartering t-shirt yarn for expanding my crochet skills ;)

Next up I'll run through a few ways of making rag rugs, but I'll wait with that until I actually know how to make them!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Goal posts

When Mr Cartside came home exceptionally late tonight, I ran off the things I'd achieved today. And somehow it occured to me that I'm not quite sure when exactly the goal posts of what constitutes a successful and satisfying day had changed.

Today, while entertaining 4 and 1 year old without major tantrums and shouting (an achievement in itself), I started off by matter of factly refusing to dress 4 year old and lo and behold, she did it all by herself in no time. At this point I knew I was in for a winner. When 1 year old even ate her breakfast, there was no stopping me. I proceeded to doing two loads of washing, hung them up and tidied away dry laundry, emptied, filled and ran a load of dishes in the dishwasher, took down Christmas tree and all festive decorations, baked a bread, pumped up tyres, walked without a buggy (but with balance bike and trike) for 45 mins to meet someone for lunch (I usually take the car), had lunch and an adult conversation, walked back (if with 1 year old asleep in the most uncomfortable position on the trike), cooked a healthy dinner, bathed both on my own, got both into bed on my own. I read about 5 books to them during the day too. The TV wasn't on, and what's better even, 4 year old didn't pester me for a DVD. I didn't shout, there was only minor incidents of "toddler trapped in trike" and "I should have taken buggy after all but what the heck, she loved her first ride in the trike" and they both settled beautifully at the end of the day.

High 5s all around.

Nothing exciting, in fact, it's all extremely boring, and still, I feel awfully smug, because I know how exceptional a day this was to manage all this.

I guess it's called being a parent, for better or worse.



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