Sunday, 22 December 2013

Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel

A good while ago, we were offered tickets to review Hansel and Gretel, a Scottish Ballet production, and considering that Cubling hasn't been to a ballet yet and in fact, I've only ever been to one before (which was a very modern production that, well, was maybe not the best introduction to the genre), it was great opportunity.

From the above you can also tell that I'm no expert and it would seem presumptious to pretend I am and give Hansel and Gretel an expert review.

What I can say that it was a wonderful afternoon out. I was worried that Snowflake wouldn't be able to sit through it at her tender age of just 3, and that it may be aimed at adult ballet goers and not be suitable for children in general, especially as there was a different production aimed at children available too.

So I was prepared for having to nip out to keep a 3 year old happy, of it being a visit fraught with unsettled kids and not much enjoyment.

Much to my surprise this was not the case at all. Cubling was very much following every move on stage and simply got it. In fact, I could ask her what each dancer was impersonating when I didn't get it. Snowflake was also following the basics of the story, but got a bit confused by the changing set and didn't quite understand that the door that lead in was now a door that led out so that we were now looking at the inside of a house rather than the outside. Other than that I was more than surprised how much both children got out of the performance.

I suppose it was classic ballet, an orchestra underneath playing a very nice score, the dancers dancing pretty much as you'd expect a ballerinas to dance, the set design was magical, and both children sat for the full duration (ok, towards the end, Snowflake struggled a little bit, but nothing too serious).

It was dark enough to create serious suspense for Cubling (6 years old) but her fears (of the witch) never materialised because the production team was rather clever by making the actual witch a little bit comic and giving her a light grey outfit rather than the obvious choice of dark clothes. In fact, I was rather relieved because Cubling was so worried about the witch making an appearance that a scary looking witch may have sent her imagination out of the roof.

There were also pleasant minor departures from the traditional storyline which made the story more believable, and less dark. Yes, the witch was thrown into the oven eventually (Snowflake was not happy about this, even though the witch was a bad person, bless) but it was so close to the end that the witch almost instantly came out to the applause, clearly alive and unburned.

There was nothing to fault the production, it was simply beautiful in all aspects, music, dancing, costumes, set (oh the set... I just loved it).

All in all, it was magic on a dreich and dark December afternoon, there was hardly a better way to spend the day.

Hansel and Gretel is still touring until February throughout Scotland.

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Full disclaimer: we were given tickets to see the ballet in return for a review post.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

We don't need no education

The news that Ofsted is recommending that children should be able to start formal schooling aged 2 in an attempt to close the attainment gap between children from wealthier and poorer families caused me more than a little bit of a jaw drop.

It is true that there is a significant attainment gap between some children from poorer families and some children from wealthier families, which can lead to a difference of up to 18 months at age 5. Of course there are other factors that play into this, and I think the average gap is more like 9 months. However, it has been demonstrated that it's better for a child's educational success to be born rich than clever, as many intelligent children from poor families are overtaken by less intelligent children from rich families between ages 8 and 11.

This situation is shocking and totally unacceptable. It speaks of an unfair society where wealth determines educational levels and the one route out of poverty, education, effectively is not a route at all, but actually favours the wealthy.

In comes Ofsted and suggests that rather than tackling the causes of this sorry situation (poverty and inequality), the sticking plaster of sending kids to school early in the hope to make up for all the damage our unequal society does through a few hours of early education.

This is wrong for so many reasons. Baroness Morgan claims that many deprived children have “low social skills”, poor standards of reading and an inability to communicate adequately, which apparently translates to being “not ready to learn” when they start school.

1. Children are always ready to learn. Children are wired to learn. The reason they fall behind is that they do not have a wide range of learning environments and experiences which isn't going to be helped by sticking them into a classroom.

2. Children up to the age of 6 learn through play rather than formal education. They need free play, active play, develop motor skills, and play with other children and adults to develop their language and social skills. A classroom setting is not conducive to being the best environment to achieve this. I read somewhere that children need to learn to skip before they can learn to read, which summarises how motor skills come before language and literacy.

3. School readiness in the sense of ability to become literate depends on passive vocabulary. In fact, as a parent who raises her children bilingually, I've researched this a fair bit and I know that there's a critical number of words that children have to be able to use before they are able to learn how to read and write (which in our case made me decide to delay literacy development in the weaker language). There is no point in developing letter/word recognition or writing skills before this critical mass of words has been developed. Now one could say that this is to be done through the school setting, however:

4. Any schooling only accounts for a minor part of a child's life and the best case scenario is that schooling can influence between 10 and 25% of the total attainment difference between children (the rest is due to home learning environment, community environment, innate ability). This means that any effort to narrow the attainment gap between richer and poorer kids through formal education can at best be a sticking plaster but not make a real difference.

So what can make a difference? Well, ideally, and excuse me for being political, we need to reduce income inequalities, as these are the root causes for the attainment gap in a complex interplay of factors. Great wealth disparities in a rich nation leads to people feeling they have no control over their lives, people who don't feel they have control over their lives have low self esteem and are stressed in a existential kind of way, which in turn leads to poor health and having to focus on the day to day survival, making it much harder to plan ahead or even manage to move out of the low income bracket. Stress leads to family conflict, family conflict stresses the child, a stressed child cannot learn. Sending the stressed child to school is at best tokenistic and at worst futile (in fact, the attainment gap between rich and poor kids increases during the years of formal education, schooling does not narrow it!).

I'm a realist though and in the current political climate I don't see a change to a more equal society any time soon (although I'm still hoping/waiting for a little more outrage and anger by the general public about this ridiculous situation that the 5th richest country in the world is happy to be leading the way on income inequalities). In the short to medium term, we need to support parents to be their children's first educator, in an empowering way that is based on true partnership rather than the deficit model that some parenting programmes are happy to portray. Fact is that parents want the best for their child, but circumstances mean they are unable to be the parent they want to be (and that doesn't just apply to "poorer" families!)


But if we're really serious about our children's future, this isn't enough because the vicious cycle of poverty (or rather income inequality, because it's not the absolute income that matters but the relative status and difference between the richest and the poorest) undermines healthy child development in so many ways that even the parent with the best intentions and abilities will struggle to make up for the disastrous effects of poverty on child development.

All in all it's just another brick in the wall.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Goodbye Mimi

Any day now could be the last time I'll ever breastfeed. It's such a bittersweet time.
On the one hand, I've been looking forward to the last breastfeed for about a year, because it's just a bit uncomfortable feeding a growing toddler/pre-schooler. On the other hand it'll be the end of mothering small children, and in a way we're still hanging on there in that respect.

We haven't nursed in public for a long time now, and only very occasionally in the presence of good friends. That's ok, I appreciate that it's not the norm to nurse beyond a year, and the few negative comments I got did hurt so we kept it hidden. But I'm too defiant to keep it hidden good and proper, after all, I'm not a blogger if it wasn't for a certain happiness to share what matters to me.

All in all I breastfed just over 5 years, and considering the rubbish start to it I had, when I literally kept going just for one other feed, and repeat, I am happy and somewhat proud of this achievement. Not in a way that should make anyone feel less than good about themselves, but there's no harm in feeling good about something.

Snowflake sure was attached to her mimi, This recommended weaning approach of "don't offer, don't refuse" would probably mean she'd still be exclusively breastfed. I had secretly hoped for self weaning but it became pretty clear that this child won't self wean. We've been trying seriously to fully wean for about a year (a process that took a month with Cubling). This is what she says about mimi: "It's so yummy, it tastes like chocolate, cheese, yoghurt and strawberries". Tonight, for the last time ever, I fed her to sleep. This magic moment when you watch your baby relax all muscles and surrender to sleep.The calmness, oneness, the being in the moment of it.

She hadn't asked for mimi in 4 days but I needed at least one last feed that was a proper closure, rather than the reluctant, half asleep 4am one that was the previous potentially last feed. Of course I don't know if this was it for good, but we're not far off.

While I'm a bit nostalgic about moving on, it's the right time too. This child of mine is growing up, she is independent and really doesn't need this particular comfort anymore.

I'm holding on to the memories, lest I forget, recalling them in these last suckles.
Syringe feeding her colostrum in hospital, my mucussy c-section baby.
The frst proper milk feed, still in hospital, and her milk drunk face captured on my phone.
The amazement when I realised that breastfeeding could be pain free. The anger when I realised that something could have been done about the pain I'd experienced 3 1/2 years earlier and that it was only now that I found out about tongue tie and lip tie.
Waking up due to fullness and this tiny moany cry right beside me, instead of sleeping through and possibly waking up to her never waking up again.
Feeding her through her illness, keeping her nil by mouth twice pre-op, and the comfort that those hospital feeds brought us both. When it seemed that her health is outwith my control, it gave me something I felt I could do for her.
Feeding her in almost every place imaginable.
Feeding her through smaller illnesses, when she regularly refused all other food, she never refused this, which was reassuring.
Walking out of the GP surgery after a tirade of how I should stop breastfeeding instantly (she was 10 months), without a word because I knew there was just no point in arguing.
That first feed to reconnect after nursery pick up when I returned to work. That last feed before leaving her, in the nursery chair (she never took the formula offered, and opted to wait for my milk on my work days)
Being confused by people saying how it's so hard for me to be still breastfeeding when actually, it's not.at.all. Breastfeeding was never a sacrifice I made, and somehow people still saw it as such.
Being amused at my beloved Mr Cartside telling everyone who cared to listen, regardless of how well we knew the person, how she's still breastfeeding, at 1,2 and then 3 years of age, and secretly enjoying how uncomfortable this disclosure made some people (and understanding their discomfort).
Far too many breastfeeding discussions initiated by me in the office (although I really didn't mean to)
Learning so much about the politics of breastfeeding and infant nutrition and how we as a society are being conned for profit.
Developing and expanding an interest in infant nutrition, and realising how critical an area this is for the nation's health.
The delight when Save the Children took up the importance of breastfeeding in the first hour after a baby's birth and took on Danone and Nestle. And developed a proper breastfeeding policy (too late for my babies but it's there for those soon to be born).
The chuckles had when my request for a room suitable for private expressing in the new office was passed on to the project manager responsible for setting up the new office. It was clear she (!) had never considered the idea of expressing milk and that someone would do this at work (surely, working mums don't breastfeed? They do? Really? How bizarre)
And of course the endless cuddles while feeding, the smiles while feeding, the relaxation and time out it gave me, the excuse to sit down and stop and admire my miracle baby.
The pride when my then 3 year old told the nursery that while the baby they were role playing with had a bottle, her own baby drank mimi. Even a 3 year old can challenge the normalisation of bottle feeding.
And here's hoping that my youngest, who won't see me nurse another baby, may remember in some way how nice mimi was and pass it on to the next generation.

And that's only the memories of my youngest's breastfeeding journey.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

How not to raise your child on junk food

Well over 6 years into this parenting experience, it feels like either I'm on a different planet or that the gods of profit and consumerism have conspired against me.

Was I naive thinking I could raise my kids on a reasonable diet, that is nutritious, varied and does not destroy their precious bodies?

Every day, the pestering is endless, the black and whiteness of liking or hating food is doing my head in and it feels very much that as a parent I have no influence on my children's diet.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not the exclusively organic cooked from scratch with no sugar, salt or additives kind of mum. Like other working mums, cooking has to be quick and I'm also not exactly someone who gets satisfaction out of preparing a complex meal. I do think I'm the average mum who simply wants her kids to eat reasonably healthy, with a decent variety, while instilling positive eating habits and a joy of food.

However, I'm on my own.

All around me, there's junk food.
There's junk at school and nursery. They call it healthy meals. But fish comes in fingers, burgers without veg, and pizza with pasta.
There's junk at the swimming pool/sport centre. Every single vending machine sells junk. Every Glasgow Life cafe counter is filled to the brim with junk.
There's junk at the supermarket/kiosk/ every effing shop that we pass.
There's an icecream van parked between school and swing park that has to be passed on the way home from school.
There's junk at the school disco.
There's junk at every single school event.
There's junk at parties and those parties are plentiful.

Home becomes a bubble and because of the amount of junk food virtually everywhere, I feel I cannot even allow a treat at home anymore because they had so many elsewhere already, and I become the bogeywoman who doesn't let her kids have a treat.

Any food that is not a favourite is hated. And favourites are demanded. The cry for sweeties, snacks and treats is constant (my youngest had a phase where she must have had the idea she could have marshmallows for breakfast and every morning began with a tantrum when there were none). My "no's" are constant too.

At school, the children are taught about making healthy food choices. Just that they can't actually make healthy food choices. It's simply beyond a 6 year old to choose salad over a bun, and it doesn't help that the message is received in a very warped manner (apparently, because bread is healthy, as is milk, it's enough to just eat bread and milk).

It's not a secret that an ever increasing number of children are overweight, that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic that brings with it heart disease, diabetes, cancer and possibly other illnesses. It's costing us as a society a lot of money. Yet we won't bow to the pressures of the profit makers who sell us rubbish food, and let them market the food to our children in an unashamed way. They give the illusion of healthy snacks (cereal bars anyone? Fruit juices?). There's the argument that kids wouldn't eat the healthy options (yes, maybe for a while until they realise that's what there is and if they are hungry they'd better eat it). But really, are we so keen to just give up on our kids and let them indulge as if there was no tomorrow? As a society, we are reducing the life expectancy of our children significantly, and nobody seems to care because it's all big business.

So the school fundraisers have junk tuck shops to raise funds for the school (I'd be happy to pay for my child not to be exposed to the tuck shop). If I don't give money for the tuck shop, child feels excluded and is upset, and a teacher or parent is sure to give her some money to make her happy again. School dinners establish questionable food preferences under the health umbrella, or offer so many choices that every child is sure to be able to avoid all fruit and veg and binge on simple carbs and processed junk.

And here I am little mummy average, trying to fight a losing battle, with only two choices left: give in or take it on.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Take Action and Give A Helping Hand for Childcare in Scotland

Childcare. The devil is often in the detail. When older daughter started school, my head nearly exploded trying to get together the patchwork of childcare that was needed so both parents could work their allocated hours. Often I feel so frustrated trying to juggle work and childcare that I feel like throwing in the towel and give up work.

For over a year, I've tried to improve on this situation. Younger daughter has been on the waiting list for the council day nursery that is in the same building as the school for years. This year we even got offered a place. These were the hours:
Monday, Thur, Fri 1-4pm
Tue and Weds 9-4pm

My application had been for 2 or 3 full days, with flexibility on which days of the week the full days would fall on. We've been on the waiting list for 2 full years. 9am-4pm are not full days, especially as I work a 45 minute car drive away (I've given up even considering cycling or public transport). I pleaded and pleaded because fact is that our circumstances are thus that it's touch and go if I can fulfil my work requirements even with our current childcare set up. But no, it was 9am-4pm or nothing. So I had to say thanks, but no thanks.

My case is no exception. Council nurseries, even if they offer extended hours (which is not the norm - in Glasgow most council nurseries only offer 3 hours a day to 3-5s, usually as afternoons for the ante pre-school year and mornings for the pre-school year), hardly ever offer them as 8am-6pm which would actually allow parents to fit in a full day's work plus the travel to and from the work place. Currently, the best I could get is a nursery 3 miles from home and 4 miles from work, 3 days a week from 8.30am-5pm (when I would need it from 8.30pm-5.30pm), supplemented by one day at a childminder, and a back up childminder for the 5th day of the week in case I have to work it on occasions. And I'm not alone: A friend was offered 9am-5pm and couldn't accept the offer either as her work could not accommodate such hours. In theory, these are council nurseries that are open 8am-6pm, but they do not generally offer the full length of hours, making it impossible to use them if parents work full days.

Effectively, this means that working parents have to choose childminders or private provision, both of which are significantly more expensive and sometimes do not offer the same quality of service. If the working parents in question are on low incomes, private childcare more often than not is unaffordable.

Add to this that there aren't many council nurseries who offer full day care at all, and the prospect for parents on low incomes becomes rather bleak. I have met aspiring young mums who couldn't take up the college place they were offered because of lack of childcare or inability to pay the one month deposit plus a month in advance that private nurseries ask for. Or mums who wouldn't even apply for a job because they knew the waiting list for a nursery place was long and they would have to start the job within a month or two, with no prospect of sourcing a childcare place in the same timescale.

If I was on a low income, and didn't have a car, there would be no way I could continue to work, or take up a new job. For one, the daily home-school-nursery-work-nursery-childminder-home run is planned out to the minute and only doable by car. I only got a place for the younger sibling because older sibling was already at the nursery (who in turn had been on the waiting list for 2 years before getting offered a place). And I'm lucky that having been with the same council nursery for years, they have accommodated that I can take the 5 free pre-school sessions over 3 days, a set up which would not be offered as a general rule.

Save the Children have just launched a childcare campaign in Scotland asking the Scottish Government for more high quality, accessible, affordable and flexible childcare, so that especially families on lower incomes are able to access affordable and flexible childcare that allows them to work. Currently this is not the case, and the lack of suitable childcare is the biggest barrier particularly for mums to stay in or enter the workplace.

If you can spare a minute, please support the campaign by signing the petition to the Scottish Government to extend free childcare and make it available in a more flexible way, which is currently being debated for the new Children and Young People Bill. Feel free of course to share the petition link in you networks, so that the Scottish Government can hear the voices of parents loud and clear.

You can read the full report Give us a Hand with Childcare here.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Meet our new babies!

Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved animals small and big, who wanted nothing more than be a vet when she grew up. She fed snails to fledgling birds, copied birdsong and loved the visits to a friend who had all kinds of animals and another friend who lived on her hometown's last farm. She campaigned for a calf not to be slaughtered, cried when birds ate her mini turtles, and her pet caterpillars died of unknown reasons. She went to walk a poodle everyone hated because he'd bite people left right and centre and would run off like an utter nutter to chase rabbits. He never bit her. This girl also loved her only pet, a budgie who would sit on her specs while she was doing her homework, and occasionally would literally gnaw away at the jotters.

This little girl had a dream to have a cat. And a horse, but she wasn't daft and knew that a horse doesn't quite fit into an 80m2 flat. She dreamed of living on a farm in the country so she could have all the animals she wanted. She truly believed that the kitten her auntie "gave" her (which stayed with the auntie for keeps) was hers. Even when auntie totally couldn't remember what she was talking about.

When this little girl became a mummy to another 2 little girls, who did nothing but play with the kittens on the farm they stayed on for their holiday, and when these little girls wanted nothing more than a kitten in their own home, she remembered how much she once also would have loved to have a cat.

So enquiries were made and 10 days ago, brother and sister kittens arrived:


This is Gingy. I have no idea where the name came from and it wiznae me.


This is them sleeping on top of one of my numerous stuff corners, the most untidy places in our house and it doesn't help really if kittens decide to sleep on it...

And our little baby girl, Smokey. I do have to take responsibility for that name but I didn't mean it. Really. I just called her that once and the kids thought it was a good idea and now it's too late...

They are our babies. Snowflake does Row your Boat with them, Cubling carries them everywhere and even cleans the litter tray (long may it last). They snuggle up with mummy and daddy at night time and are clearly happy that we don't constantly carry them. It is also rather surprising how much they are like human babies, just with the difference that their reach of havoc creating is not limited to a certain height. Yucca plants have become scratch poles, and somehow they manage to take the upholstery off the sofa, which is quite a feat.

On the minus side I have to admit that my cat allergy is worse than expected. I knew I was somewhat allergic, but having slept in houses with cats, I thought it would be ok. Unfortuately though they give me, amongst other things that are more easily managed, asthma. So I can't wait until they are ready to become outdoor cats, as much as I like the evening snuggles. Any tips on how to manage pet allergies - fire away..

One childhood dream come true. Kids are great, they give the best pretexts for doing what you'd always wanted but were never allowed to.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Jamie Oliver and Effing massive TVs

So Jamie Oliver had a go at how families on low incomes shouldn't spend their money on massive effing TV sets but rather make a tasty dinner with 25 mussles and pasta for 60p.

And then he defended himself on the One show by saying that he does more good than harm and that it was all a media outrage that wasn't to be taken seriously.

As soon as I read his initial comments, I was deeply unsettled. The main reason for this is that he feeds into already well established perceptions of the poor being to blame for their misfortune. This is neither true nor helpful.

Let's look at the big picture for a moment: The UK is the 4th richest country in the world, yet rife with income inequalities. We are a rich country yet 1 in 4 children grows up in poverty. Apparently the richest earn well over 250 times as much as the poorest. And there is no way that the poor are to blame for this sorry and unnecessary state of affair. It is true however that the it is in the interest of the rich to blame the poor for their own plight, so that they can defend their own position to be one of merit achieved by hard work and strive.

Personally, I don't think any meritocracy can account for 263 times the income of the poorest, to me that's just greed and selfishness, and if you call me a socialist for saying this, feel free.

Anyway, fact is that in an unequal society is that as long as the public opinion blames the poor and justifies the rich, the status quo can be maintained. Jamie Oliver has done just that. And that is deeply wrong, unhelpful and actually works against some of the really good work he does. It particularly pains me because I like the bloke otherwise and think he has indeed done heaps for making cooking be cool, and ensuring that our kids get decent food at school.

His comments were also misled because they were patronising (he offered a hug to the poor, as if they need a hug, that's not bringing any food onto the table last time I checked) and simplistic. A massive TV? Well, maybe that was acquired before the crisis point, or given by a relative, or maybe it's the one and only item of "yes" in a life dominated by "no's" as the Guardian rightly pointed out.

Interestingly, Jamie Oliver also points out that cooking from scratch is so much cheaper and better for you. I wonder why he sells a range of ready made meals then, making a fortune from them. But more to the point I would actually defy that this is the truth. With the price of fruit and veg, and even staples like rice and bread going up while prices of ready meals are going down, it is actually cheaper to get your 10 (horse) burger pack from Farmfoods. If you even want to buy organic or locally produced food, the price tag is unaffordable even for middle income families, because food is the one cost that can be controlled more than others. If you have a bill for rent, that's paid first: eviction is more serious than having rubbish food for a week. Some examples: a can of coke is less than a bottle of water. When I was a student with very little money to live off, I would eat a chocolate bar and a packet of crisps which was and still is cheaper than a sandwich. And where exactly would I pick up the mussels Jamie mentioned? They are not exactly kicking about in Glasgow. Most housing estates are devoid of any decent shops - it's your farmfoods, overpriced newsagent and chippy and that's that. No market, no fresh veg. If you want that, you need a car or an ever increasing bus return fare to get to the nearest supermarket. I'm not sure where Jamie's idea of that market stall comes from, but it's certainly not the average housing estate in Glasgow.

Then there's the cost of cooking. Gas, pots and pans, even a hob are not things that families on low incomes can take for granted. Nevermind the cost of ingredients - it's nice to do it from scratch but herbs are over a pound a glass and you'll need a few of them to get you started, not exactly attractive if you can get cheap convenience food that fills your tum and tastes ok and can be cooked in 3 minutes in the microwave.

Next up is the whole concept that apparently rubbish nutritioun it's a problem of the poor. Rubbish nutrition is a problem of this country, regardless of income. The rich and middle classes have the means and resources to cook well but do they do it? Convenience food is convenient for them too. Making nutrition into a class thing just misses the point. I am middle class and overweight. My diet is not the best (although it's not the worst) and like everyone else it's bloody hard to resist the ever present temptation of sugar, carbs and convenience foods. Cooking from scratch is a daily hard choice that isn't made easier by the conundrums of working family life. Kids are influenced by their peers and demand fish fingers instead of fish, baked beans instead of lentil bake, and sweetened yoghurts instead of natural yoghurt. And when your children once again tell you they hate what you cooked, the fish fingers are more than tempting because you really don't want to be wasting food again.

Should I also mention that Jamie is one of the rich, who has no experience of the reality of being poor and human decency would dictated that he should keep his gob well shut about experiences he is so far removed from that he has no idea what he is actually talking about.

Above all, Jamie's comments have nothing to offer other than alienating audiences and contributing to perpetuating stereotypes that need to be challenged instead. I'm sure he's done his own campaigns more damage than good (although being in the news with patronising comments is probably in the end good for his profile). Instead, he should offer inspiring and fun ways of cooking with limited resources (i.e. that don't necessitate his cook books, utensils and fancy ingredients), and just be what he's best at: contagiously passionate about food.

And then, if he wants to go a bit further, how about tackling the reasons for this country's inequality and campaigning against the shame of this countries poverty statistics, for a fairer society where no child has to go hungry.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Jamming

Some radio station today had a feature on the word "jam". Which was quite apt as I'd spent the weekend jamming away, after our annual pick your own trip to East Yonderton Farm in Paisley. As I bought the jamming sugar, the woman at the checkout asked if it was easy to make jam, as she'd always wanted to give it a try but then though it may be too tricky.

Well, what can I say, I'm not a domestic goddess, I'm no great cook, but making jam? The easiest thing in the world.

Go on, give it a try, it's really simple and while not cheaper than the cheapest jam jar at your exploiting supermarket, it tastes 100 times better and you know where the fruit came from (if you did pick it yourself, which isn't actually a requirement).


My favourite is rapsberry jam but I've made jam from throwing all odd fruits I had together, from my rhubarb glut when I had an allotment rather than clay soil in my front garden which the rhubarb clearly doesn't like, strawberries, brambles and the Rhineland speciality of plum spread (which is a different recipe and involves a lot more time and patience).

Preparation:
large saucepan, wooden spoon
6 sterilised jars and lids (you can sterilise by putting them into the oven at 150 degrees for 10 mins.) I reuse jars with nice wide opening.
optionally: a funnel, wax discs 

Ingredients
1kg of fruit
1kg of sugar (jamming sugar for raspberries and strawberries, some fruit will require preserving sugar, alternatively you can use normal sugar and add pectin. Preserving and jamming sugar are only stocked at large supermarkets, the packets also tell you which fruit to use it for)
a knob of butter
a splash of lemon juice (both optional)

What to do:
Add fruit and sugar (and optionally lemon juice) to a large saucepan, at least twice the depth of the mixture, slowly heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring with a wooden spoon. Then get the heat on and add the butter. When the mixture is boiling vigorously, start your timer and boil vigorously for 4 minutes.


(this is not a full rolling boil yet. I love my jamming saucepan by the way, it's ancient 
I'm sure but perfect for making jam)

You then may want to test if the setting point has been reached. To be honest, I'm not fussed about this step, Only once did my jam not set and it was still lovely, just a bit runny. But if you have to, this is how to do it: put a small plate in fridge or freezer and after 4mins of boiling, put a bit of jam on the plate, wait 10 seconds and then touch with a finger. If it wrinkles, the jam is done. If not, boil a tad longer, try again.

Fill jam into jars. A funnel is handy for this. If you have wax discs, put them on top of jam, seal with lid. Done. You may want to label or decorate with nice fabric, I'm lazy, esp if I do 4 batches in one night and finish at 1am, so mine look like this.

Finally: Eat. Yum

22 jars of jam, should get us through the year until the next summer.



Saturday, 3 August 2013

Hooked

This summer, blogging has been mostly replaced by all things yarny. I've been trying to teach myself how to crochet for ages, with not much success, and a kick start a few years ago, when I went to a half day beginners course while wearing my newborn was great but there's not much time to concentrate on a new skill when you've just had a baby.

A few weeks ago I sneaked in another beginners class which refreshed what I'd forgotten plus showed me the way avoid my rounds getting wavey and my squares triangular. But of course, beginners classes are great to get you started but you only really learn by practising it, and that's where life usually takes over with endless stuff that momentarily is more important thank picking up a hook and concentrating on the slow progress of a beginner.

Enter Crochet Camp.
What can I say? It's basically just what the doctor ordered, an online community of people right into crochet, from total beginners to what I would say advanced masters of the hook (some creations look super advanced to me but what do I know?), everyone is super supportive, brought to you by Kat Goldin, crocheter and designer extraordinaire.

There is something that really works for me, no longer have I got to trail across the city to find a crochet group or work myself through blurry youtube videos and still end up not entirely sure where to insert the hook. Instead, I can follow simple patterns at my own pace, be inspired by the more complex creations, but also able to step by step get more confident. Just being part of it motivates me to pick up the hook even when I'm shattered at the end of a day.

Of course, it's slow progress, but because the camp is so successful and has now well over 1000 people, nobody is behind or ahead, as everyone works at their own pace and there's no pressure, just motivation to have something to show as well. I like the structure too, which is loose, but following the weekly patterns gives me something to work towards which is doable and takes away the difficulty of choice (when you have to choose THE pattern you want to tackle next amongst the thousands that you could be doing from a book or ravelry). It's a bit of "just do it".

And if you get stuck, you can ask a question and your problem will be sorted in minutes.

This week there's a show and tell on Slugs on the Refrigerator, which in turn got me blogging again to show off (ahem) my first crochet creations. I'm still learning but I can see it falling into place and I totally understand now where I went wrong in my first projects.

My first ever project was a t-shirt yarn rug. Wavey (and I frogged the first attempt because it was even wavier) but still treasured in the castle den by the girls.


Second, a t-shirt yarn basket which is actually not bad, and I plan to make more of these as they are extremely handy.

Next, a crochet flower, done just after Kat's crochet beginners lesson that I attended. This is also the current project on Crochet Camp.



And finally at Crochet Camp, a potholder, and a bag in progress (I also made my first granny square but the yarn is dark and not very exciting).



I finally no longer feel that I'm holding the yarn in the wrong hand (strangely, although I learned to knit from my (German) mother, she taught me the "British" way), and I can work myself through a simple pattern now (haven't tackled charts quite yet). What's great too is that my kids love the colourful creations, much more than they like my knitting, so I've got a feeling that this bag won't be mine. Or maybe I'll have to make 3. I've definitely reached the point where I'm dusting off my crochet books and feel at home with the hook, rather than throwing it in the corner in frustration and returning to the needles as I used to do every time I tried to crochet.

Now onwards to tackle some charts, and have a closer look at the details that so far didn't bother with. Above all, I'm looking forward to finally tackling some of the project that have been tempting me for years.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Review: Plymouth Touch Control Lamp

When asked if I'd be interested in reviewing the Plymouth Touch Control Lamp, my first thought was, probably not. But I was curious and had a look. And how glad was I that I did! I instantly liked the design of the lamp. I may not be a design expert but I usually know more or less instantly what I like and the Plymouth Touch Control Lamp definitely ticked my like box.


It's a classic design with unusual light turquoise colour and the cable has a woven texture which is a
welcome change from the usual boring black plastic.It gives the lamp a warm and cosy appearance, it's stylish without showing off in any way. It would look equally well as a bedside lamp or a desk lamp, we've opted for the latter simply because the colour didn't quite go with our bedroom colour scheme, and I quite like the combination of our second hand find of a solid wood desk and the aqua colour of the lamp, they're clearly made for one another.

Moving to the practical aspects of the lamp - it is just the perfect size for a desk. It's operated by touch sensors which cover the whole of the lamp - so no looking for a switch or trying to touch it in the right place, it's incredibly easy to operate. There are three levels of brightness which have a great range, from a very soft and warm light that still gives enough brightness to read, to an astonishingly bright setting, considering the bulb range is only 20-28W.

The lamp head can be adjusted through a simple and solid key which allows movement of the angle in two directions, and provides good flexibility.

It's also not easy to knock the lamp over as it's sturdy enough to resist minor knocks.

All in all it's a beautiful and functional lamp that adds a special tough to any room. At £65 I'm pretty sure it provides good value for money, and it's certainly made me have a closer look at the lighting range that John Lewis offers, there's no doubt that our lamps and lights could do with a bit of upgrading.


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Disclosure: I received the lamp to review plus some John Lewis vouchers and the views expressed in the post are from the Mummy do that! household.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Scottish Summer

In the 16 summers I've spent here, this is most definitely the hottest, sunniest, wonderfullest. It's not just that there are good days between rainy days, no, there's weeks of sunshine. There were summers where our BBQ did not manage to make a single appearance, now, it's becoming the staple ingredient of evening meals (ok, mostly weekends). Usually, a sunny day is so unusual that all has to be done to make the most of it, now we can take it easy and relax knowing that there's at least another week like this ahead of us.

Today, I've been in the Scottish Atlantic for the first time ever and thought it was pleasantly warm. The difference to what it usually feels like to dip your toes (and usually no more) into the Atlantic is quite astounding.

We had plans for the day but the kids knew what they wanted: Beach. And since everyone seems to go to Troon (and we'd never been), this is where we went. It occurred to me that 2 years ago I travelled first by plane and then on a 7 hour train, followed by a one hour ferry journey to see a similar scenery, when actually, the scenery is just a 1 hour car journey away. And of course, having the Arran mountains as a backdrop makes it particularly special.

Sandy beach, mudflats, tideways to splash in, and lots of memories of Foehr and marvelling how we have grown. Dad burried in sand, crabs and shrimps caught and released, water channels built and the tiniest sand castles too.

This summer may be one in a generation, but man, how good can Scotland be if the sun is out.








Monday, 8 July 2013

Who's the German?

There are some things that still surprise me when going between my country of living and that of origin.
  • At supermarkets, you need to weigh the produce yourself. I'm so used to the untrusting way of the Tesco that I keep forgetting.
  • At the breakfast table, in a restaurant etc, there is often no option of tap water. In fact nobody drinks it. At all. It's the land of Sprudel (carbonated water), which comes in glass bottles. We don't like carbonated water, in fact, my tonsillitis throat doesn't like any type of carbonated drink, so just as well we brought our refillable bottles. The restaurant owner wasn't happy, because it's really really rude not to order bottled water (carbonated) with your meal.
  • People take condensed milk in their coffee. The oddity of this is striking. I don't think I know another country that does this, although borderland Belgium also offers condensed milk and no normal milk. On the plus, the coffee itself is good. And there's my favourite incarnation of coffee, the Latte Macchiato, which is painfully missed in the UK.
  • As a consequence of the above, many places do not have plain milk available, the drink of choice for the kids, and the stuff I, unlike most of my compatriots, put in my tea.
  • When you ask for tea, you are presented with a choice of about 50 teas, only one of which is what is commonly referred to as "tea" in the UK. Even my description of "black tea" (which used to work) rendered a Blackberry flavoured black tea.
  • Right before left. I totally get why my beloved doesn't get it. It is rather hard to get, really, The UK traffic system is much more intuitive, and I have to actively remind myself so as not to cause an accident.
  • People are so in you face direct. I mean, I've known this for a while, and I know that I've been described likewise. But but but, I'd never dare to moan to a stranger or complain in the right on fashion that I overhear on a constant basis and that makes me blush just for hearing it. On the good side, I found it rather sweet that the hotel staff shared her rather horrid day with me with absolutely no intention of implying that I was part of making it a hard day.
  • Homeopathic medicine. I'm not a great fan of "alternative" medicine because in my mind it either is medicine (i.e. has a proven clinical effect) or it isn't. I'm happy to take plant based products of course, but that stuff they gave me for my throat is most clearly absolutely not doing anything and the price tag for this placebo was rather high. It would also be nice to tell me it was homeopathic before I bought it so that I could make an informed choice and say no thanks.
  • Paracetamol however is the devil incarnate here and will kill you for sure, and I've already overdosed and just waiting for my liver to pack it in. But of course, I'm not allowed any other painkillers because, shock horror, I'm breastfeeding (for a total of 10 minutes a day only, surely I can have something to help me through the day???? Something that's a real medicine???? Please????)
  • German school satchels (that term doesn't actually cut it, they are called "Ranzen" and are square boxes on a child's back, usually obscuring most of the body mass of a first year child) are even bigger now than they were in my day. My notion that it would be nice to totally label my child the odd German one out for the sake of satisfying my sentimentality came to a sudden halt at the price tag of, wait till you hear, Euro 150. For a school bag. Yes, it's well made, branded and lasts for the full 4 years of German primary school, but come on, that's still 30 quid a year?! And of course British kids don't have to carry all their school books and exercise jotters around with them so there's no bloody point anyway to Cubling having one of them. "But I want to look like a German school girl so that everyone sees I'm German!" She protests, and I'm not sure if I should be happy or deeply concerned by this sudden portrayal of German patriotism, kindled by what I'm sure is usually better known as consumerism.
Clearly, I've become a stranger here.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Review: Printerpix Photo Books

With all the photos we take of our adventures as a family, I'm always keen to try out new providers of photo products which bring the images on the external hard drive to life. A new kid on the block (to me) is printerpix, who gave me some photo product credits to play around with and test their products.

I went for a photo book, as it was my dad's birthday and as he's not close by and can't follow the children's adventures, it seemed a suitable undertaking.
So let's start with the finished product: It IS rather beautiful. I chose a scrap book style because I'd always meant to make a scrap book but never got around to it and the design appealed to me instantly (of course there are countless other designs to choose from, many with a particular theme in mind, really offering a wide choice). There are borders and frames around the photos which make the finished page look very special and catch one's eye, and of course it's that kind of thing that you simply can't do if you do it yourself. The colours are vibrant, the images all sharp and even the one image that came up with a warning of low quality looked very nice. At £43 for a hardback book, it's definitely competitively priced. And Opa liked it, which is not an easy achievement.

However, I had a hard time getting there. I do take my time over these things, wanting to do them just right. I also never just let the programme do its thing and just create something out of my uploaded photos. I do like to create themes, and to change layout to suit the theme/photo.

Now, all of the things I wanted to change/customise are doable, which is great. The software is definitely capable of a lot. However, it was a pain in the backside doing it: First of, in spite of a very useful short tutorial, it took me ages to find the zoom function to actually get a decent view of the page that allowed to make any changes at all. But even the zoomed in view was not detailed enough, so there were many mistakes made because I couldn't make out where I should click. I should say that I work on a notebook and on Firefox, so it is possible that the same issues may not be experienced with a bigger screen and a different browser. So after a while I gave up on adding descriptions because the view of the letters was so tiny that I couldn't check my spelling, and time was running out to get it done in time. Thankfully, it was easy to delete existing text boxes and their contents, if they were obscuring parts of a photo that I'd rather not have obscured. Other customisable elements were also hard to deal with, I struggled to apply a frame to a picture if it wasn't pre-set, and gave up eventually too (I'm sure if I had preservered, it might have worked, it certainly looked that it should be possible somehow).

I liked that you could easily save your project, so my stop and go approach wasn't an issue and no data was ever lost.

When it came to buying the book, it never appeared in my basket, which was rather odd, but was still in my projects. I had to contact customer service who were super quick to resolve the issue, so the customer support is ace (and had I known that they respond in real time almost, I would probably have asked them about the issues I had in the first place).

So overall I think Printerpix has some really high quality products to offer but the software interface could be made more user friendly by adding a zoom option. Of course, you could just let the programme do the magic and create a photo book for you and it'll be fine, but for someone who likes to be in control, it's a bit cumbersome.

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Disclaimer: I received credits for Printerpix photo products in return for a review post.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Down at the Mela

Every year, as part of the Glasgow West End Festival, the Mela transforms Kelvingrove Park into something rather special. We love the Kawa Circus (I'm a bit of a fan of street artists anyway), and our rather aimless wanderings brought us to storytelling, apple juice making, the best vegetable curry I've had in years and bumping into a number of friends we hadn't seen in a while. For once we managed to stay clear of overpriced rides because apple juice making and storytelling totally roped the girls' attention in. We were so busy enjoying these highlights that we kind of only happened across that we didn't even explore all that the Mela had to offer. Definitely an excuse to come back next year.

Today  I loved the way my big girl became so focussed on squashing apples and pressing juice, on listening to wonderful stories and on being enthralled by the Kawa Circus. This child of mine who is ever busy moving and has boundless energy, totally immersed in the process of apple juicing, or in the stories that appear to become real in her imagination, and then amazed by the magic of the circus.

And I felt rather sad having to wave goodbye to friends who are leaving Glasgow. 







Saturday, 8 June 2013

Enough Food for Everyone

1 in 8 people go to bed hungry every night.
At the same time, there is enough food for everyone.
Around here, we throw food away while around here too, people go to bed hungry.

It's not right and a better world is possible, if we put our energy towards it.

There are 10 days left before the G8 meet and today will see the London leg of the Enough Food IF campaign events in Hyde Park. I'll be travelling there today accompanying a group of 9 Young Leaders, young people aged 14-18 who've been involved in campaigning on child poverty in the UK with Save the Children.

I'm very excited, I don't get to London very often and it's rare that I take part in big campaign events these days. It's great to be able to be part of this, and see the next generation get behind the issues that my generation still hasn't managed to solve.

I'll be tweeting on route, my Twitter ID is @cartside. We'll be spending about 11 hours on the train to be in London for 4 hours, and it's so going to be worth it.

In the meantime, please have a look at this video and check out the Enough Food IF website. Sign up and be there in spirit if you can't be there in person by uploading your picture for the big screen.

There is enough food for everyone in the world and it's our responsibility to ensure nobody goes hungry, because nobody needs to.

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Getaway

Of course we adore our children, but sometimes, just sometimes, it's also great to have a bit of a break. To do something that's neither work nor child related and not even a home chore.

My favourite getaway has usually something to do with making things, and while one could say that I'm free to do this after the kids are asleep, truth is that it doesn't happen a lot. Too many chores, too tired, not enough light. Above all, too tired (did I mention that already?)

So I had this cunning plan of gifting a crochet class to my wonderful sis-in-law, and cheekily joining in the fun. Ahem, that wasn't actually the plan but that's kind of what happened. A morning crochet class with Kat of Slugs on the Refrigerator (incidentally one of my favourite blogs ever, with never ending beautiful and inspirational pictures of things involving yarn, kids having fun and generally all that makes life worth living, that bring a smile to my face with every post). While the mamas were having fun up the road in Alloa, the four kids were left with my beloved hubby to jump on a trampoline.

Oh the bliss of it all, being treated to not just a fabulous crochet lesson but also tasty AND pretty cupcakes in herstunning studio, filled to the brim with little treasures and so much love to detail that it was actually not an easy task to focus on the crochet hook (some of which were also distractingly different to anything I'd seen before).

Time flew and when the time drew to a close I was sure we'd only just sat down and no way that 3 hours could have passed just like that, time clearly flies when you're enjoying yourself. Thankfully the weather was stunning so it was great to leave into the sunshine and an afternoon of being spoiled with lunch waiting for us, more cakes and Italian souvenirs by t'inlaws (who'd arrived in the meantime). We even worked hard on our crochet "homework", while the kids were having a blast with the hose...

Summer in Scotland. When it comes, nothing can beat it.

PS Kat has a few more crochet classes scheduled (including one in July in Glasgow's Stitchery), check out her blog for details and to sign up.




 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Days of windmills, stones and rhubarb crumble

Thanks to a very Glasgwegian bank holiday plus school in service day, both kids were off school/nursery, and me with them, for 5 full days. I treasured every minute of it because I constantly feel that we are so very short of quality time spent together, with most days being a constant "hurry up we need to go NOW". Usually, every minute of the day is planned through, so being able to not plan and do the simple things in our own time was oh so very special.

I felt I finally touched base with both girls, and they with each other.

We visited Whitelee Windfarm, a great place with a visitor centre that has a cafe with a stunning look. It's great for cyclists, walkers or those in awe of the big windmills (that'll be us) and above all stone collectors of which I have two. We also visited Kelvingrove Museum and Snowflake was rather excited about the giraffe, half tiger and bear. I loved the art nouveau stained glass windows and metal work. For the first time we had a look at real paintings, and it went ok (apart from Snowflake being over keen to touch them), so here's to the shape of things to come. There was plenty of time spent at  home too, at the swing park, cycling as a threesome, gardening and a lot of cooking and baking. I even finished my seaweed vest. Well, sort of. It's too short for my liking so I'll be adding an edging to it at some stage. It's wearable though.

It was even sunny for most of the time, and when it wasn't we still played in the rain, had playdates and ate the cakes we baked. We had BBQs for dinner when the sun was out.

Yep, we spent the good life for 5 days. Suitably recharged for the next 4 days before the summer holidays.







Friday, 3 May 2013

A fair deal for both Stay at Home Parents and Working Parents

The other day I signed a petition asking for a fair deal for stay at home parents. Without question, the recent changes and proposed changes are all in some way encouraging particularly mothers to work. Well, in theory they do, because there are so many ifs and buts, nevermind the lack of jobs that things look quite different in practice.

I'm very much in favour of women having the choice to stay at home if this is what they believe is best for their child, or to work if that is what they believe is best for their child. But let's be clear - it's often not exactly a choice.

With living costs being extortionately high, it's really only a choice to stay at home if your partner has a higher than average income. And even that may well not be enough. And if your ideal situation is somewhere in between, it's often not possible to get reduced hours to have a better work - parenting balance, and if you're looking for a job, part time jobs are rare as diamonds.

There are a few things that rather bother me in this context, the first being the wording of  the above petition. It suggests that as a family that uses childcare because both parents work, we are getting benefits from the tax system and therefore cost the state money. This is factually wrong. The truth is that because we both work, we pay tax, and the only benefit we can get is a tax free allowance, so we still pay tax. The economic benefit of working parents is definitely in the black. And as for low income families - they may even miss out on any tax free allowance if their income is so low that they don't pay tax. This, incidentally, is a very serious flaw in the system which has a devastating impact on the lowest earning, working, families.

What is correct though is that there is a good point for having transferable tax free allowances. What I mean by this is that if a couple without children both work, they each have a tax free allowance. Once they have a family and one parent decides to stay at home, the tax free allowance of the none working parent is lost. In other countries, this works differently - if there is only one earner in a family, this person will receive an additional tax free allowance per dependant. So say dad works, his own tax free allowance is 10,000, he'll get another 5,000 for his wife and 2,500 for each child. Higher incomes are taxed more progressively to make up for this (for instance, in the UK, higher rate tax is only applied to income over the threshold amount, while in other countries it's applied to all the income). A system like this does make staying at home affordable also for people on lower incomes.

At the same time I do believe that the taxation and benefit system has to ensure that work pays. This has not yet been achieved, although some of the changes within Universal Credits will make this the case for more people than before (and I hasten to add that other parts of the changes to the benefit system will have a horrendous effect on many family and are really nothing short of shameful). Childcare is so expensive that without support, only high earners can actually afford it.

What is however totally unhelpful in this particular debate (which is about fairness and insuring that staying at home to raise children is valued, respected, supported and a financially viable option for parents) is to propose that either staying at home or being a working mum/dad is the RIGHT choice. When we should actually be supporting each other in our choices, this turn of the argument leads to alienation and bad feelings.

Sure enough there are studies that demonstrates that children are better off at home up to the age of 3 and that long nursery hours in particular can have a detrimental impact on a child's emotional development.

But there are also studies that demonstrate that maternal level of education is the biggest indicator of a child's cognitive and emotional development, and that children who have 2 working parents also do better than children whose parent don't work.It is thought that this is due to the link with higher maternal education and also the financial ability to provide stimulating experiences for children.


Children from low income families, on the other hand, tend to fare really rather bad in the education system and measurements of cognitive and emotional development, and of course quite a few low income families will have one or both parents out of work - so in spite of parents staying at home, children lag behind their peers. The reason for children not doing so well in low income families are complex and there isn't space here to look into it in detail, but let's say it's a combination of many factors which parents themselves have very little influence on.

There is also the question of the quality of childcare - and Liz Truss' proposal to have more under 5s per member of staff, who are trained to be compliant and purposeful (the toddlers, not the staff!) will certainly not make for better childcare.

My own mother was a stay at home mum, and I don't think this made me emotionally more stable - in fact I struggled severely with shyness and low self esteem in childhood, so much so that I loathed going to school throughout my primary years (and I didn't exactly love it in secondary but at least I had some friends by then). I can't help but wonder if I could have benefited from more nursery hours than the 3 hours per day that I got from 4 years of age.

So there is no black and white, no ideal situation. Because we can't exactly all be highly educated mums who then abdicate their blossoming careers in favour of being Stay at Home Mums. Some of us aren't highly educated. Some of us can't find a job. Some of us can't find the part time job we want. Some of us are better parents if they're not full time parents. Most working parents will go through incredible lengths to ensure that the time they do spend with their children is the best it can be. Above all we've all looked at the evidence and made our choices. I know how important it is to reconnect with my children when I get back, we practice most of what falls under attachment parenting (though I don't follow it as a philosophy, it's just what happened to be our preferred style), we spend quality time together and I listen to my children all the time. I work on improving my parenting and can draw from all the knowledge that comes with delivering a parenting programme. I have amazing childcare providers, so amazing that both my children look forward to it and miss it in the holidays.

And while I believe that Cubling started childcare too early (which was outwith my control and I do not feel in any way guilty about it), there is no doubt in my mind that I've given both my children the best possible start in life I can, all considered.

So,  I do not believe that I'm a worse parent for working 4 days a week. I also don't buy into the argument that having a fair deal for Stay At Home Mums is encouraging people to be/stay on benefits (because really, who wants to be on those meagre benefits? Exactly, nobody). We all make or are having to make different and difficult choices but all of us are trying to be the best parent to our children whom we love more than ourselves. And those choices should be respected, valued and viable.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Knitting and Reading

For a while I'd meant to join in with Sustainable Mum to share my knitting and reading over at Yarn Along, just that, truth be told, there was not a lot of reading going on. Reading is definitely the big loser in my life with kids. I used to read, what can I say, an awful lot as befitted a former student of literature times three.

My taste in reading has changed, it has to be so worth it or I won't finish a book. There have been few books in the last few years where I didn't feel I wasted my time. I'm more prone to picking up non fiction than fiction (just because it's easier to dip in and out). And I'm rather suspicious of the big novel. But if I find a good novel, there's no denying it that that's what I love reading.

I came across The Time Traveller's Wife (I found it somewhere, about a year ago) and I seemed to remember it was a book that could work for me. I'm sure almost everyone who is into reading books has read this ages ago, so I won't go into detail other than that I was very tempted to not complete it. I had numerous discussions at work (with those who'd read it) whether to go on or not, because after 200 pages or so I felt it was very much the same again and again, and a drag playing around with the idea of a time traveller out ad nauseam. It took the flu to knock me out for a few days and force me to a lot of bedrest before I managed to finally complete the read. Yes, it did move me, but that's not such a hard thing to do as I'm easily moved by even half decent books. My verdict is still that it could have made its point in at least 300 pages less. This is totally hypocritical of course from the perspective of a busy working mama, I'm sure I'd have loved this book to bits as a 20 something student looking for perfect love. I also felt it was very much a book for women, which I find a bit limiting, but heyho, I am a woman so I guess it didn't matter that much. There are numerous incidents where I really felt that the logic of the whole time travelling shenanigans fell to pieces (does it matter? maybe not but it broke my willingness to suspend my disbelief which in theory is a really bad thing), and for the length of the novel I felt important parts were left out (or rather things I was interested in). So yes, a good read but for my taste it dragged out a fair bit without really making much of a point or giving me anything in the way of stretching my mind/learning something new. Good entertainment without changing my outlook on life or the world even in the slightest. That's ok though, in the same way that I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code, not every book has to be life changing.

A lot of knitting was had on our trip around Dumfries and Galloway / Manchester. I have a good few projects on my needles but can only knit something really easy when travelling in a car without getting car sick, so this project was ideal: It's a jumper knit on 4.5mm needles in the round, stockinette stitch, from bottom up and I managed to get to the point where it needs divided for back/front and need sleeves added. The yarn is Artesano Aran in ocre, which is soft and heavy. The pattern is a version of the jumper that Sarah Lund wears in the Killing (yes, I like a good thriller and I'm nerdy enough to want to knit a Sarah Lund sweater). I'm not quite sure which particular version I'll be making, and that may have to wait a bit because I've got a few more urgent projects coming up, but that's fine because it most certainly is a winter jumper so there's still plenty of time to finish it for next winter. For the trip it was ideal, just plain easy and relaxing knitting and the slight feeling of pride that I'm firmly back into knitting adult sized jumpers (having completed 2 for last winter and another 2 on the needles).


Now off to pick some lovely baby knits for the little ones currently being grown by two friends of mine. I'm not broody, no, not at all...

Friday, 12 April 2013

Dark Skies and Wee Lambs

Last year we found out that the UK's first Dark Sky Park is in Dumfries and Galloway, in Galloway Forest Park to be precise. So we've been trying to get there and see some stars for a little while. Our efforts around mid term weren't too successful as it appeared that every single B&B was booked up, so Easter it was to be. Again, we found it hard to find a B&B that would accommodate 2 children. We were also keen to find a farm to stay on.

Eventually we got lucky and found Boreland Farm. While not exactly around the corner from Galloway Forest Park, we figured that it looked remote enough to have the same dark skies, and the description just sounded perfect.


And so it was. An extremely friendly welcome, a lovely newly converted annexe of the farm for our night time quarters, countless animals, newborn lambs and even pony rides. The B&B is listed as a 3 star, which is surprising as it was really quite high quality. The room had a double and 2 single beds, so it would easily accommodate a family of 5, with en suite facilities and an amazingly hot heating system (I mention this because we don't have this at home, so it was pure luxury having a really warm and cozy room for a change). Breakfast was had in the main farmhouse, which is also the family home, prepared on an Aga in a beautiful dining kitchen. The kids loved to visit the newly born lambs (and Cubling still talks about holding one that was only 2 days old), the ponies, the rabbits and the dogs, or to try and find one of the 3 cats hiding away.


On the second morning we were even treated to proper German waffles, because surprisingly the owners had spent a few holidays in Germany, and not in the usual places where you'd expect people to visit, but actually near my own family's home.

We spent most of the day travelling to various villages nearby and further away. It was still the start of the season so lots was shut or being developed. We loved Kirkcudbright, and the main visitor centre of the Galloway Forest Park (Kirroughtree Visitor Centre) which had an adventure playground, as well as some of the beautiful villages of Dumfries and Galloway, like Moniaive and Thornhill. Moniaive has the most amazing Green Tea House and we definitely have to be back to test their wonderfully looking cakes. In the artists town of Kirkcudbright we went for a little walk and found a wee gallery with a tea shop, but had a picnic lunch outside after much driving. The kids enjoyed the green spaces dotted about the colourful, Balamory-houses, town. Gatehouse of Fleet has an old cotton/bobbin mill which really inspired the kids' imagination. They loved to explore and touch the bobbins of all kind of sizes, get dressed up in old clothes, and explore what the town looked like in the 18th century.

The weather was fully with us, with wonderful sunshine and one night of clear dark sky so we even were lucky enough to see the dark skies. Because of the continuing cold spell there was still a lot of snow around which made our short walks around the farm fields a long adventure. Just the right pace for a 2 1/2 year old who won't walk unless it involves balancing.

Sometimes badly planned trips work out just perfectly - we didn't have a plan, or any knowledge of what we were doing/seeing. All we had was a map and a car and we discovered some really wonderful places at a slow pace without racing here or there to manage this or that. There were so many little moments that the kids enjoyed that couldn't have been planned anyway, like riding a pony, climbing a tree, finding a treasure or stroking a dog (a big thing for Snowflake who has never ever touched a furry animal before), or simply enjoying their imaginary play in the rare Scottish sunshine. Oh I forgot to mention the sticks. They were very important too. I'm not sure what for, but they were. I think they may have been ponies, and given the names of Beau and Willow.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

A trip to Legoland (Discovery Centre, Manchester)

Somehow our holiday plans are always a little bit last minute. So in an attempt to get away for a few days with minimal hassle, we went on a little trip to Dumfries and Galloway and then Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester, keeping the latter as a surprise for Cubling.

Everything was booked ahead online, which was good because online tickets are cheaper. We stayed in the Trafford Centre Premier Inn, which is truly a child friendly place (pre children I never expected that it can actually be difficult finding any accommodation that will allow a family of 4 in a room) with great service and good food. So convenient too for Legoland and the price tag was very decent too.

The Trafford Shopping Centre is quite remarkable with its Greek/Roman feel to it, it's nice and spacious but this does translate to longer walks and multiple signs for Legoland so that eventually a P1 child spotted the word "Legoland". Ah well, a surprise it was nonetheless!

Although we had missed our allocated entry slot, we still got priority entry because we had prepaid tickets - just as well because the other queue was impressive. Cubling was totally in awe by the amount of lego and the lifesize things made from lego, and loved everything about it, and her sister clearly joined in.

However. Now, it needs to be said we were there during Easter holidays, so it was probably a bit busier than usual (I hope), but my experience of the day was that we went from one queue to the next. First a queue to get in (and we were lucky it was the shorter one), then a queue for the intro talk, then a queue for the first ride, and another 5 queues for other attractions. Most queues involved about half an hour standing, which is difficult with a 2 1/2 year old. What annoyed me too was that the queues were very well hidden, so you only realised the length when it was too late to turn back.

The rides were all mediocre - now I say that because I've seen much better, but for a 6 year old they were all she could wish for, and she was totally happy and loved the whole day. For a 42 year old, well, she had a splitting headache, got very grumpy and was only saved by the kindness and helpfulness of the centre staff whom she couldn't but feel very sorry for. It occurred to me that I wasn't sure how they would evacuate the masses in case of a fire.


I was disappointed by the size of the centre, it was much smaller than I expected - again, this is not something that the kids noticed, they were very happy and didn't complain once (ok, they did make the mistake of exiting the soft play not realising that you'd have to queue again to get back in but they did take it in their stride) but I would have expected a bigger and more spectacular attraction. I did wonder how it compares with Legoland Windsor, or Legoland in Denmark for that matter.


So personally, I wouldn't go again or recommend it. If you live in Scotland, it is easier to get to than Windsor (which is why we made the trip) with just a 3.5 hour car journey from Glasgow.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A day at the beech

I'd almost forgotten how amazing it is that we live so close to the sea. There is always so much to see and do very close to us, so we hardly make it to the beach and even trips to the coast don't usually end up there. As someone who grew up a 4 hour drive from the coast (and without a car to make that journey), the sea will never lose its magic.

Yes, it was 4 degrees and the hills were still covered in snow. I may have been brought up with sea and sand equalling summer and swimming, but really, I never liked swimming anyway so personally I don't have an issue with the temperature. And the kids didn't complain either. There were treasures found, shells collected and dinosaur footprints created, apart from rather a lot of running about on the flats at low tide (our timing had been perfect).

I like the way toddlers are naturals at yoga poses. Unlike their mama.

We did have ice cream because surely, a trip to the beach without an ice cream just doesn't feel right.

We also had the most amazing late lunch at Popeye's.






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