Sunday, 8 March 2015

Happy International Women's Day! Today and every day!

Today is International Woman's Day.




Stuff like this matters to me.  I am a feminist - no doubt about it.  I believe as a woman, you really have no choice; after all, feminism is basically just saying you want a slice of what everyone else has in the world and that you deserve it too.  And you know what?  Women definitely do.

We fight from such a young age against a dominant patriarchy, who are determined (whether they are aware of it or not) to keep us pink and weak and submissive.  Which, trust me, we are not.

From babies festooned in sugar-pink clothes, to pink 'girl' Lego, books 'Just for girls'  and the idea that women have no other choice than to raise a family at home while the man goes out to work - negative stereotypes are still very much prevalent in our day to day lives.

Personally, I believe we need a day like this, not only to recognise the progress we have made as a society, but also to flag up the attitudes and practices which still exist to degrade us.

Of course, in the Western world, we are very lucky as far as feminism goes.  A majority of things have at least been under the microscope even for a short amount of time, even if they still aren't good and right yet.  It can seem like such an overwhelming thing to think of all the horrific and barbaric practices which still face women in other parts of the world.  But we can make this better by starting where we stand.  By doing this, we raise the bar and we make it even more difficult for other countries to ignore what goes on in their backyard.  And maybe we can help contribute and highlight their causes too.

We can look at it on a high scale and champion the causes of forgotten women who made amazing contributions in their lifetimes, and were pushed aside simply because they were women.  We can become involved in our communities and engage in Women's Festivals, charity events or even celebrate femininity in it's different forms by attending lectures, educating ourselves further and helping ourselves.

Let's not stop at one day though.

How about we celebrate women every day?

Let's champion the women who do stay at home and raise their families and let's not have in-fighting when it comes to parenting.  We all have different ways of bringing up our kids, whether that be breastfeeding, formula feeding, baby wearing, using a pram, co-sleeping or separate beds.  Please, let's start with the basics and look outward instead of in to each other.  Let's stop damaging each other and let's start attacking the things that really do matter.

Let's fight for more support for new mothers.

Let's challenge childcare policies and get better results for our kids.

Let's ask the toy manufacturers to give our kids equal playing opportunities and to stop engendering toys and books.

Let's give our young girls and ladies opportunities and ideas about work and careers and education which suit them rather than what society thinks they should do.

Let's support women in whatever they want to do in life.

Let's make it easier for women to have a career as well as children.

Let's help our women become equal in academia, education and sciences.

It's a tough gig being a woman.  Let's celebrate today, yes.

But let's also remember our contributions every single day and champion them.  It's so important.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Small Talk



I'm knackered.

My belly feels huge.

The husband is out at work and then out on his brother's stag do.

I've exhausted all of the good programmes on Netflix.

I (finally) ordered a new phone today and await it with anticipation.

We are waiting to hear back on whether the house we like can be ours forever.

The kids are too full of beans.

I have been crap at blogging lately, but I have far too many things to do just now.

I finished the boys' memory quilts today (pics to follow once I get new phone!)

I got myself a book from the library to read this weekend, but it turns out its not so good, so once again, I'm bookless.

I think I'm going to spend tonight making a patchwork quilt instead.

Sometimes I think getting the random stuff out helps.

I miss my friends.

I still can't think of a name for the baby and fear he shall be forever nameless.

Tomorrow will be our first family day for a long time.

I still miss my dog more than anything ever in the whole world.

The kids found what looks like a human bone in the woods today - they are calling it a 'dinosaur bone'. Hmm...

Ethan's favourite nursery teacher is leaving next week and I think he's pretty upset about it and we are getting it back in bad behaviour, which is testing, to say the least.

I have a super-wiggly baby today.  It's lovely.

Sometimes I feel like the only person in the whole wide world, which is scary and exciting at the same time.  I'm getting really used to being alone and I don't know if that's a good thing. I feel it is because it used to really upset me, but now I feel strong because of it.

I hate how uncertain our future is at the moment.  I can't wait until about 6 months time when the dust has settled and I can hopefully see everything clearly.  Just now it all feels like such a muddle. But I know it will work out. I am so impatient.

I'm really glad our neighbour is away - peace and quiet for a change.

I can't wait for summer.

Thomas has lost and broken 2 red noses in the space of 2 days.

I have to craft a glass tissue paper decorated candle holder for craft class on Monday, but I have neither glass, or tissue paper.  Excellent.




Wednesday, 25 February 2015

21 weeks 22 weeks 23 weeks...

So! We made it to 21 weeks for the scan (although I'm 23 weeks this week, but hey, I'm a procrastinator).

So, I thought I'd share with you the scan photo:





And also, the wonderful news that I don't have to think of some kind of crazy name change for the blog.

 Yep - it's another boy!

I am going to be a gang mistress for real now, complete with (very probably) nervous twitch, bad hair and lifelong ambition to get the house clean.

In all honesty though, I am extremely pleased to have another wee body to cuddle, regardless of gender, and am really looking forward to June.

The scan did show a wee problem with our boy's heart - a teeny wee hole in the upper Ventricular Septum of about 2mm.

In typical dramatic fashion, the scan took just under 2 hours to complete due to one very wiggly wriggly baby, who wouldn't sit still long enough (just like his dad!) to let everyone see what they thought they had seen.

Sadly, it wasn't just a grainy image - there really was something there.  It took a midwife, a sonographer and a consultant to check it out, but yep, one wee hole.

The initial conclusion is that it's nothing really to worry about and more of something just to keep an eye on.  In the grand scheme of things, it's early days and the hole should close over before birth. But as we all know, doctors must give us the worst case scenario, so we had to discuss things like the possibility of it being a sign that baby could have Down's Syndrome and also that he may need surgery as a newborn.

Eek.

We were offered the test for chromosomal abnormalities, but declined with gusto - it would only tell us if he did or didn't have anything wrong and it comes with a tenable risk, so we vetoed it instantly.

The way we see it is, everything else on that scan was beautifully perfect.  And he was rolling around like a trooper with huge kicks, punches and headbutts.  Our baby will always be perfect to us.  And we would face any challenge that came our way.  And besides - the strongest possibility of all is that it will all be fine.

It's still not the kind of shock you need at a 20 week scan, but there are definitely worse shocks to get. We were very lucky to be offered a raft of appointments to keep an eye on things; our care now involves cardiologists, paediatricians and lots of extra scans.

One of which we had today in fact.

We had an appointment (or two actually) with the top foetal and paediatric cardiologist in Scotland, no less, who visits our hospital once a month.

We are now on his caseload, which kind of initially makes you go ' whhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!?' because, well, you know, big important doctor, but for the same reason makes you go 'phew! Big, important doctor on the case!' And he had to travel from Glagow to see us today, so there was LOTS of hanging around for his arrival, but it was completely worth it!

He didn't seem too concerned - the feeling being that it's still kind of too early to properly assess actual amount of damage, and if there is the damage that they think there is, then it should be easy to treat.  Be that through surgery (eek! newborn surgery!?! Why was he so relaxed about this?!?) or a wait-and-see-what's-going-on, I don't know.

What I do know is that they are very reluctant to book me in for a csection date until they know more, which is kind of worrying me a bit.  There's a real chance we might end up delivering in Glasgow at Yorkhill rather than in our home town, so that's a bit of a head-mess too; right at a time where we are supposed to be moving house *groan* and trying to transition Ethan to primary school.

We never do anything by halves, that's for sure.

I'm ending today feeling a bit like this is all happening to someone else.  It's kind of hard to get my thoughts around all of the mad changes which are happening in my life, but I'm trying so hard to focus on the positives and keep the stress levels to a minimum.  It's tough though. So many alien concepts, especially after two (relatively) very healthy kids with no real complications.

It would be so easy to crumple under all of the pressure, but that's really not an option. I have to continue being a mother.  I have to go to work.  I have to keep house searching  so we have somewhere to live before this all kicks off.  I have to keep to my commitments and do my best; after all, it's all fun and good and awesome, and that's all happening too.

Dave and I like to have a bit of humour as we go, and we jolly each other along. Our humour might seem a bit black to others at times, but when you are faced with crazy crazy situations like these, it really helps to just generally laugh and make it a bit smaller than it is.  I'm so grateful to have a supportive husband like him.

Life's been a bit all-consuming lately.  I'm still very much grieving the loss of my old boy, Sparky, and we are stuck in a constant cycle of work, shifts, appointments, forms, school stuff, financial stuff etc etc.  I'm starting to look forward to the slower pace of summer, where we'll hopefully be settled with a healthy newborn, maybe a new puppy (maybe!) and the kids are playing in our back garden.

I'm holding on to that image in my head, because in six months time, once again, we'll be in an entirely different part of our lives, and all of this will just be yet another blip in the past.

Fingers crossed.





Sunday, 15 February 2015

Fifty Shades of Commercialised Hype, and you're all falling for it

I work in a library, and yes I did notice the popularity of the Fifty Shades series.

As part of the fabulous service that you can expect to receive at our library, you can put your name down to reserve a book when it becomes available, and in some cases even order it in to be reserved.

Needless to say, many folk put their names against this title, the books being hastily passed from one reader to the next, usually not even hitting the shelf before ending up back on the reserved pile.  It was crazy. People were phoning and asking about it, wondering when it would be their turn.

The audience? Well, mainly older ladies who use the service anyway and were curious to see what all the fuss was about.  Many, and I mean many, handed the first book back with a groan, pushing it over the desk and mumbling something about 'what a load of rubbish', or 'too far-fetched'.

'I'll stick to the Mills & Boon,' one lady giggled, 'it's a much better read!  That one was terrible, the grammar was awful!'

Some carried on to read the trilogy, remembering to pick up the second or third book, but very noticeably, there are now a lot of half-thumbed through second and third books of the series on the shelves compared to the few battered and well-read first books that were actually returned and didn't actually just end up under someone's bed, never to come back tot he library again.

I suppose, for those who read, Fifty Shades just didn't really hit the mark. They were much more inclined to pick up a dark classic or some of the other romance fiction (of which there are many, in various shapes and forms) to tickle their tastebuds.  The verdict seemed to be that Fifty Shades was just another well-publicised, over-hyped fad. The various comments about it ranged from "poorly-written", to "fifty shades of crap!

Curiosity did get the better of me, and I had a look at one of the reserved books one day, thumbing through one on my lunch break. I wasn't shocked, or even remotely perturbed - I'd spent time working in a high street sex shop which had worse things on the shelf than this.  Just picking out random bits of text turned me right off anyway. I mean, seriously - I didn't have to look far for some hilarious text to back up my view that no person who truly enjoyed words in their art form could subscribe to this as a serious storyline with serious outcomes.

I wrote it off as yet another book that would have it's time and then leave as suddenly as it came. No pun intended.

It floated away for a while and then the rumours came of a movie. It was no real surprise - after all, it was clearly a commercialised hit already.  People who never usually bother to pick up a book had picked up three. Which is quite profitable for your 'supermarket sellers', the ones you pick up along with your shopping or with your lunchtime sandwich. Cheap and cheerful pick-me-ups, right?

The search was on for a man to play Christian Grey, a character whom every critic was holding up on a pedestal as one who would be difficult to perfectly portray.  Who, if the casting was wrongly done, would ruin the very image of man.  The supposition was that these would be very difficult shoes to fill.

He should be at once sexy, but commanding. 

Lusty and serious.

Hot and unforgiving.

Women were going crazy for this guy, so I decided to do a bit of investigating.  After all, I'm not adverse to a bit of perving over fictional characters in movie format.  I've seen Magic Mike (to my eternal shame. What? Channing Tatum is unbelievably smooth in that film. Those dance moves are UNbelieveable!)

After skulking around various film boards, newspaper articles and feminist boards, I was kind of a bit worried as to the kind of character this Grey man was.  After all, if any of my friends or family started going out with or dating a guy who treated them like that, I'd be staging an intervention, complete with identity papers and a house move to another country.

I'm perplexed - how are normal, seemingly functioning and sensible, modern, women even subscribing to this notion of a man so poisonous and degrading to the very core of femininity?

Talk about one step forward ten steps back.

I get the BDSM thing.  I get the allure of bondage and handcuffs and I can even imagine how sexual contracts like the one Grey gives Ana can be a bit of a turn on to the usual lady lounging at home with her day to day life. It's thrilling. It takes away from the normal wishy-washy will-she-won't-she mundane storylines that crop up time and time again in other 'romance' novels.

It pushes a boundary, a social contract even, and it makes it seem legitimate, because ultimately, by the end of the third book, Ana gets her child and her man and her life with them. So, it's like saying, 'oh yeah, well, sure, they have a weird relationship to start off with, but they work it out, yeah?'

I've had several conversations with my fellow women about Fifty Shades, and I have to say, it's not the books, it's not the characters, nor is it the plotline which shocks me the most; it's the reaction of normal, seemingly forward-thinking women to some of the darker undertones of it.  The really, terrible, awful, abusive stuff that, seriously, there can be no excuse for.

It's also the fact that they are willing to normalise this behaviour to such an extent as to jump behind the commercialism, to invest in 'girly nights out' to see the film all together, to fantasise as to which guy is going to play Mr. Grey so perfectly in the film, to shout down the women who point out that sexual fun and antics is entirely right and good, but that a man who takes advantage of a woman in such a way is a bit of a git.

I've heard all the arguments as to how to legitimise Grey's acts - "it's sexual slavery and that's how that works", "Ana saves Christian from himself, so she's the stronger one", "don't be so vanilla", "it's just a bit of fun".

Come on, who are we kidding here? 

At the same time, I'm torn; I remember such over-reactions to similar things like how evil Freddy Kreuger was, how corrupting video games were to young children, the reaction to awful porn like Deep Throat - all of which make us laugh now and say, 'really? That's nothing!'

But isn't that where the real problems lie?

The problem with things like Fifty Shades of Grey is that it does normalise and legitimise.  It raises a bar that the next person has to hit in order to shock, and trust me, this will come too. There will be a time where we look at Fifty Shades and laugh at how ridiculously sweet it was.

And what about the real people in real abusive relationships?  What do they do with this information? Does a woman caught in an abusive relationship now have a chance to romanticise what is happening to her instead of breaking free, in the hope that she too will find her Mr. Grey?  After all the work that has been done by various groups all over the world to say that such behaviour is not right, is dangerous, is wrong, doesn't Fifty Shades somewhat court responsibility for hat happens here too?

Apparently not as long as the people behind it are making their fifty shades of moolah.

Of course, the commercialization which goes along with such a box office hit is phenomenal.  There's Fifty Shades promos on everything.  Hitting the Valentines day market, you can even but Fifty Shades sex toys. Albeit, very poorly made sex toys. Seriously, don't waste your money. That stuff will snap in two if you even attempt to use it harder than a wee bit.

Christian Grey is like a metaphor for commercialism alone - even if you move to Antarctica, it'll find you, right?  Maybe that's the joke here? 

I'm no prude, I have a wicked imagination and I could tell most folk a thing or two about, you know, 'stuff'.

But there's a reason why it's hitting a lot of people's moral compasses and raising red flags.  Reasons I sincerely believe I don't really need to outline here.

Everyone is entitled to explore their sexuality in whichever way they see fit - that's fun and healthy and good.

I think the definition of healthy is what's at stake here.









Monday, 2 February 2015

Goodbye Sparky

Last week we said goodbye to one of our family members. Our gorgeous dog-boy, Sparky, was 18 years and 10 months old.




I've had this awesome guy since I was about 12 years old.

Dave and I had been on a fun trip to a craft shop in Letham.  It was the first time we had had time together in ages - and even then I was due to be at work in the afternoon. We'd taken the new car for a spin, stretching her legs on the country roads.  It was a really sunny day - the first properly sunny one we've had for ages and our moods were light.

We got what we needed and then headed back for lunch, me eager to sort my hair and so on before having to face the general public.

We pulled into the cul-de-sac and parked the car, Dave going in first while I pulled in one of the wheelie bins from outside.

As I put it in its place, I noted the rubbish that had gotten out of the bag, and went to go inside to moan to Dave about making sure he tied the bags properly, to be met at the top of the stairs with a very panicked husband, with a  very worried look on his face.

'He's hurt himself. It's his legs! Oh no...oh no!'

I ran up the stairs and into the kitchen, to see my boy wobbling about on very wobble pins.  He flopped over, panting as he landed in a patch of sunlight, which on any normal day would be great - he loved nothing more than sitting in the sun.

I lay down on the floor beside him and just gave him the hugest hug - I knew what this meant and it wasn't good.

I don't know if any of you have ever had a dog live as long as 19 years old, but lets just say from about the age of 12 onwards, you are trying to prepare yourself for the worst.

I'd been through it so many times before in my head; I'd left on many a holiday holding him extra close in case he wasn't there when I came back.  I'd poked him so many times when he was sleeping extra-peacefully, convinced that this time this was 'it'.  I'd completely prepared for the fact that my old doggy couldn't last forever - I'd been preparing for years.

I just wasn't prepared for it to happen so suddenly.

The truth is, I'd been regretfully researching things like when is the right time to call an end to an older dog's life.  Although Sparky had been very physically fit and well, his mental state wasn't as good as it had been, and even though he still had mainly decent days, I was so aware of his recent decline mentally.  It was going to be a very tough call to make. And I was preparing to make it.  Just not yet.

As I cradled my boy on the floor, he just lay down.  He cuddled in, while I wept on his soft, white fur and ran my fingers across his big silky ears for which we both knew would be one of the last times.

I urged Dave to phone the vet, and we arranged to go down there and then.  We couldn't wait - we didn't know how much, if any, pain he was in and we couldn't bear making him wait longer than he had to.  Bundling him up, we took him into the car and drove to the surgery, where a kind lady led us to the table.

We placed him down, where he wobbled about, slumping to the side and wobbling back up again.  We put him on the floor and he fell over, wobbled up and tottered a bit before falling over again.

'We can do treatment, or we can do surgery if you like...'

But how could we?  How could we put our lovely elderly and confused dog through arduous treatment for old age?  He was so old. Worst of all - there was no real way of comforting him through any treatment.  We could just in no way put him through that.

That's when we made the decision properly.  The vet shaved his paw (Sparky hated vets and would NEVER in a million years have even sat on the table, let alone let her do that to him!  That's how I knew it was the right thing to do) and gave him a sedative.  She left the room so as not to stress him out and Dave and I sat with him, cuddling him in until he fell asleep.  That's the last he knew before the vet came back to administer the final injection.

It's the oddest sensation, being in control of whether a person stops something's life or not.  Knowing I could have shouted 'stop' at any time and my boy would still have been here.   Knowing that the pink fluid in the syringe was the difference between heart beating and heart stopping.  And that in less than a minute, my boy was gone.  Just like that.

God, I miss him.

I miss him, I hurt for him, I ache in my heart for him.

'Stay as long as you like,' she said.

We stayed about 5 minutes.

There's nothing more to be done with a body whose soul has departed.

I touched his ears one more time, so aware that I would never feel anything like that again.  The ridge of his skull.  I inhaled his fur, touched his smells-like-popcorn feet and ruffled the scruff of his neck.

There was nothing more I could do.  I wished I could feel, smell and touch all of this forever, but I couldn't. And we walked out of the room, collar in hand, paying by card, shocked looks on our faces.

We got outside and held each other in the afternoon sunlight, getting into the car and driving back home, back to our empty house with it's dog bowls and lead and white hair all over the sofa.

Dogless.

I passed the bins outside.  They can wait.

I didn't look in the mirror - no need.

We just got in and started to tidy away the things.  Preparing to tell the kids that the dog who stole their pancakes that morning died today.

Pancakes - when he was a pup we used to go to a coffee shop where the owner, a friend, made him his own special pancake.

The bowl which we'd filled for the longest of times now sits in the dish rack waiting to go, well, away.  I don't know where away is, but I'm going to have to find it.

We threw out his dogfood, well, because Sparky was so old and had seen through so many other dogs whose owners used to give us their old dog food after their dog had passed and it had always felt so wrong feeding him it.  It felt like giving it to someone else was like admitting he'd died, so, in the bin it went.

We told the kids when they got home.  Tom was gutted.  He's fine today, but he's working through it.  Ethan hasn't quite grasped it, or he has and is deflecting really well.  Either way, he'll get through it too.  I'm just so glad they got to know him, even if it was in his docile latter years as opposed to the crazy, fun, manic years, which they would have totally loved. But hey.

I went back to work this morning. Had a wee weep in the car before I got there, processing the scenes from the day before, grateful that I hadn't had any nightmares in the night about it (pregnancy dreams are so vivid). I parked my car in the street where I lived as a student and remembered all the walks we used to take around there, his feud with Dave the cat, the way he used to jump up on the little walls and generally be a pain in the ass on the lead.

Then I got to work and folk kept saying how sorry they were, how they knew how it felt, how great he was, how lucky I'd been to share such a massive part of my life with him.

All true.



19 years is like two lifetimes away for me.

I was a teenager, taking him to the park with my friends for an afternoon of throwing the toy, trying my best to tire him out.  Using the tug rope to twirl him around, trying to exhaust him, which was always impossible.  He'd get fed up and sit on the hill, while you called for him over and over.  He'd sit in the sun, grinning, fluttering his feathery tail at you, cheekily.

He played Toto on the stage in our local amateur theatre company's production of The  Wizard of Oz, making friends with all the kids at rehearsals.

We rode on the bus together - him on my knee, nosily watching out of the window, ears right up, watching absolutely everything.

He'd watch television, barking at dogs and cats he saw on programmes and listened intently to the world outside the windows of our house, jumping up onto the backs of furniture so he could get a glimpse.

I was a young lady, coming home from a late shift, sometimes int he middle of the night after working all day.  He'd greet me, wagging, as I shushed him, slipping on his lead for a midnight donder.  We'd come home and cosy up together in bed, him laying his head in the crook of my knees.



He'd sit beside me in my bedroom, as I sang along to my cds, picking up his toy and nosing it into my lap, so I'd throw it again, and again, and again, abesnt-mindedly, before playfully chucking him on the bed, covering him with the duvet and playing the game where he'd bite through the covers at my hands, furiously wagging his tail.

I was a girlfriend, bringing my boyfriend home for the first time that night overnight.  Sparky initially couldn't get over the fact that Dave slept beside me, but later on would sleep only between his legs at night. Sparky adopted Dave and Dave adopted him.

Sparky dressed up as Superdog for our house halloween party, joining in with balloon popping and pogo-ing antics.

He lived in our student flat, cuddled up with us under our communal living room duvets in the winter, and snuggled up to snooze beside our flatmates.

We moved house together a further once, twice, thrice, four times, five times.

He made friends with local dogs - the small white westie who lived out back, the long-haired retriever at the park, the staffie who marched around the beach.  He made enemies with the other Jack Russell who lived across the hall.  He went to dog training classes 10 years after he had graduated from dog training classes.



He patiently adapted to life with babies - no mean feat for a dog advancing in age, who has been nothing but the centre of everyone's attention. He simply saw it as a way of getting more food at mealtimes! Always the optimist!  Thomas would follow Sparky in his baby walker and Sparky would try it on with Tom, carefully placing his toy on the tray of the walker, hoping Tom would throw it for him.  At night, when I was relaxing in the bath after another long day, he would make sure we never forgot him - jumping up with his two paws on the side of the bath, waiting for me to give him a scratch on his head.  And when I reciprocated (because how could you not with that cheeky wee face?), he'd take it as a sign that it was time to play, and bring his toy to the edge of the bath, rolling it in and dropping it right in the water!

He knew how to make us pay attention.

Every guest had their bag rifled through, as we joked about our 'security dog', as he cheekily pushed his ball into visitors bags in the hope that they would throw it for him.  Sometimes he was just sniffing for snacks.  Once we had to pull him out of a lady's bag in the street, apologising profusely.  He was so damn cute that she opened her bag right up and let him have it.  His award-winning waggy tail won him lots of admirers.

Often people crossed the street just to talk to him.  He had a way of spying someone in the distance, a wee old lady, a child, a tall man, and would actually fold himself in half wagging his tail so hard, trying to get them to speak to him.

He loved the beach.

Man, he loved the beach!

In the summer we'd take him down for whole days, not getting any peace, as when he wasn't running back and forward with his toy, he was furiously digging a hole to bury it, covering everything with sand, including his own huge, pink tongue.

Toys...toys toys toys.

The Kong was a massive favourite - the eternal favourite.  He ruined so many squeaky toys, balls and footballs that the Kong was certainly right up there for holding it's own.  Then his red bone that squeaked at the end (but not for long), his Indestructaball (the only ball he couldn't burst and thus dug at ferociously.  So much so, we had to regulate his time with it!) and any soft toy he was allowed to cosy into and lick to death.

He loved the colour yellow.  He would pick up yellow balls he found at the park, steal yellow socks and make a beeline for yellow footballs at the park, which often led to us having to grab him before he ruined yet another game of football!  He favoured his large yellow rubber ball and once brought home the most disgusting old yellow children's toy which he licked lovingly while constantly guarding it.  The time I tried to throw it out, he went back into the bin to retrieve it.



He had the best sniffer I have ever seen on a dog.  We used to play games where we'd shut him out of the room, and hide his toy somewhere crazy, counting how long it took for him to find it.  And he always did!  He always knew when there were doggy treats in the house too - he could never leave them if he knew they were there.  Often, we'd get up in the middle of the night to find him lying in front of the kitchen cupboard, grumbling and moaning and wagging because he couldn't resist whatever he knew we had for him.

Oh, my boy.  My lovely, lovely boy.

We get his ashes back sometime this week.  We'll be taking them to the beach to scatter - there is no better place that I can think of.

He was always his happiest causing chaos at the beach.

Will there be another dog?  This is a question many people have asked me, albeit a bit too soon.  I suppose I'd be lying if I said I hadn't already considered it.

Of course there will be another dog.  There might even be another couple of dogs.

There will never, ever, ever in my whole life be another Sparky.

How lucky was I?


"If there are no dogs in Heaven when I die, then I want to go where they went"





Monday, 26 January 2015

Papercutting

Today I'm attending an art group where I will be tutoring adults on various arts and crafts.  Interestingly, the classes are to be themed around Commonwealth countries, thus making the choice of crafts a little more challenging!

I figured, seeing as I've never tutored an art class before, that I should start with something I know, so I decided to wade in with papercutting.

Papercuts are an older form of art and can be found in various interpretations all over the world, from China, to India, to England.  The oldest surviving paper cut is from 6th century China, and look a bit like this:


The ready availability of materials needed to papercut is probably the things which has made it so successful as a craft.  Almost anyone can pick up a scalpel, or other papercutting tool (they can be very fancy these days), and a piece of paper and get cutting.

It's very therapeutic too.

I began papercutting after stumbling across a very talented papercutter in one of my craft magazines one day. Paper Panda (or Louise Firchau) is a papercutter based in England who has created her own franchise of papercutting designs based on her own drawings and characters.

The work she does varies from lettering (a favourite of hers), to intricate work detailing houses (including ALL the rooms!), story pieces featuring her now famous bunny and bird characters, as well as some rather cheeky sweary word work.  I don't want to pinch any of her photos to stick up to show you (although I wish I could) because that's a bit naughty, so I'll leave this LINK here instead for you to look at.  You won't be disappointed!

Although, here's a papercut I did all by myself from one of her Paper Panda  template packs which is downloadable and you can keep forever! Great for practicing and making birthday cards out of!

Not bad for a first try, huh?

After reading her blog and having a nosey through the photos on her facebook page, I decided I would give papercutting a try - after all, all I needed was a knife, a cutting mat, some paper and some patience.

I've really enjoyed papercutting - it's a great wee craft which you can be as good at or as bad at as you like!  For those who are not so confident at it, there are various templates which you can download for free and print off, or if you're looking for some more intricate projects, some even sell their own designs for you to try.  Take a look on Pinterest, Etsy etc for inspiration.

One of my freehand papercuts
If you like drawing , you can even draw your own designs - but beware!  You have to think and draw back to front so that when you cut around the lines, you can flip it over to hide the pencil marks.  This is admittedly quite tricky to do! Alternatively, you can scan any front-facing drawing and, provided you have the correct software on your computer, you can easily flip the image and then print it out.

My favourite thing to do is a bit of freehand with a bit of light pencil thrown in.  I've done more than a few papercuts this way and quite enjoy it because it means I can change the image as I go (I am such a butterfly when it comes to these things.  I can never stick with a plan!




Here are a few tips for successful papercutting

Freehand xmas design
  1. Don't panic if you can't get it right first time. It can be really hard to get the hang of tension, pressure and the actual cutting blade.  Try sitting with different kinds of card or paper and cutting out freehand shapes for practice.
  2. Start with something easy. It might be something that looks so simple that it almost looks too easy, but you need to build up to cutting out tiny detailed shapes. You'll get much more gratification from it if you start slowly.
  3. Change your blade often.  The sharper the blade, the better and smoother the cut - and the more likely you'll be able to cut the tiny details
  4. Take it slowly. There's no rush! Papercutting should be something you can concentrate on but enjoy. If you are getting frustrated, stop.
  5. Cut away from your hand! These are sharp, sharp scalpel blades and it's very easy to accidentally stab a finger - and whatever you do, watch your face! You have no idea how many times I've gone to itch my face or my nose with the scalpel in my hand!

It's great fun - why not give it a try? What's your favourite found craft?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Degu Days

Hey, did I tell you all about my new love affair?

No?

Wow, I've been really lax lately.


Meet the boys!  These handsome chaps are Brewster and Whiskers and they are Degus.

Degus are Chilean rodents which are derived from the same family as Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs.

And they are really cool animals.

Did you know they have orange teeth and UV reflective fur?

AND they are fibrevores, meaning the feast purely on dried grasses, flowers and roots.  They are also diurnal, meaning the sleep at night and wake during the day.

Highly sociable and very clever and inquisitive, these guys make awesome pets.

We're having a fab time with them and have learned loads about these complex and interesting animals.

They snuggle up together for a wee nap, they build amazingly complicated nests and keeping them entertained is a daily task which proves challenging as fun, as they bond with us, and us with them.

I'm really chuffed with our new friends.

Want to know more about degus?  Check out degutopia or octogondegus for more information



Saturday, 24 January 2015

Pregnant Drinks

So, I'm now 18 weeks pregnant.  I've finally reached that glorious middle ground where I no longer have crazy hunger/simultaneous food aversions and somehow (most days) I feel replenished with the energy which has evaded me these last  few months.

My appetite has come back with a bang - and although I'm currently (guiltily) restocking on much-missed carbs and other food groups, I'm also back to some kind of routine, meaning I'm not in bed by 7.30p.m each night (hello T.V catch up!)

Thus I am able to once again work as hard as I ever have and, when the chance occurs, sit down and relax, enjoying my evening with my favourite snacks and drinks.

Except, I can of course no longer settle in front of House with a beer, or sneak a wee cheeky glass of wine while soaking in the bath with a good book.

I do love a drink.

Having worked in various bars over the years, I've got a pretty wide palette when it comes to alcohol and I do enjoy certain drinks based on season or mood.

Summer? A nice cold wine spritzer or cold raspberry cider.

Winter? A hearty Guinness, or a nice smooth Merlot.

Christmas time? Baileys, mulled wine or schnapps.

Party time? Tequila! Morgans and coke or a speciality bottled beer.

I love a malt whisky, I take great delight in supping a freshly brewed local ale and I know my way around a wine cellar.

Unfortunately, being pregnant kind of scuppers the joy a little.

Sure, over Christmas and even my birthday, I was unusually not bothered about drinking.  All day morning sickness kind of just makes you grateful for the small things in life, like super-cold fresh orange juice and ice cubes.

Over the last few weeks, I've started to be jealous of Dave when he cracks open a 'real' beer on a weekend.  True, he doesn't do it often, but my pregnant nose can discern the difference instantly; the oaky, hoppy notes of the beer, the alcohol, the sweetness of it just teases me like nothing else.

The bottles of Prosecco we were gifted for Christmas sit on the side, winking at me  with their cheeky wee corks cages poking out from the black foil binding.

There's nothing quite like a hearty glass or two of chilled Prosecco of an evening, if you are so lucky.

In a bid to find some kind of satisfying replacement, I've tried to adapt my tasting skills to the vast array of non-alcoholic alternatives available.

I'm determined to find joy elsewhere; after all there are so many amazing fruity blends out there just now, and certainly more than when I was last pregnant.

Have I been satisfied?  Well, I have to say, I've been pleasantly surprised.  There's a lot of rather lovely alternatives out there which I could happily relax with after hours (or before hours!), pregnant or not.

Here's a few I've tried.


BECKS BLUE, ALCOHOL FREE


Coming in at around the £3.50 mark for 6 standard-sized bottles, Becks Blue is a nice, cheap alternative to your generic lager.  If you like Becks normally, you might be so inclined to like this too.  In fact, I think I like it a wee bit better than Becks.  There's something about the alcohol Becks which can make it quite a tough drink if you're not in the mood for it.  I used to drink it as a student, but as my taste buds developed, I got more of a taste for the richer, smoother lagers, like Kronenbourg. Becks Blue is good - I would go as far as to say it's a wee bit moreish if it's cold enough.  It doesn't dry you out, nor does it feel too heavy.  I find this one makes a real week-night treat.

BITBURGER 0.0%


This beer made me so, so sad.  Dave and I had gone out for an amazing anniversary meal at the fabulous Rancho Pancho in Dundee (the best Mexican restaurant ever!) and once again, as chief driver, and this time, chief PREGNANT driver, I sat surrounded by the finest Tequilas and most amazing Mexican beers, lagers and cocktails going, while promising myself of an epic night of drinking at the Rancho soon. 

*sigh*

All was not lost, however.  Despite being amazingly busy (on the first Monday night after New Year, no less) and despite not listing any non-alcoholic cocktails on their drinks menu, when asked, the lovely (and very pressed for time) waitress made me a gorgeous peach and strawberry slushy cocktail which easily rivaled whatever else was on the menu. It was a real treat. Dave of course could and did tuck into a rather tasty Mexican lager, which was honestly delicious (yes I'm allowed to taste - I'm not a total martyr!), although the name escapes me just now (and they've changed the online menu so you can't see their lagers), all I know it was not Dos Equis, but a very similar tasting cerveza,  which was super easy on the palate and really refreshing.

Sadly, our sojourn at Rancho was over too quickly, and we were faced with the same dilemma which faces us ever anniversary (damn you, January wedding!) - a real lack of any open bars where we could settle for a drink.  Plus, we live quite far from town centre now and being knackered and elderly, we decided to choose a premises closer to home.

Our local of choice, like many others, took the opportunity on that quiet January night to have a bit of down time, thus we ended up in our local Chef & Brewer, The Bell Tree, which we thought was a safe bet on the quality front.

I have to say, we were sorely disappointed.  I'm not one to call a place usually on the standard of fare available, rather I usually just not mention it at all, but it's the first time for a while where we have left our drinks more than half finished.

Having been a bar person, I would always much rather take the issue to the bar at the time, but in this case, there was one bar person, it was a very quiet bar and it felt like more hassle than it was worth for a couple of drinks.  Dave had a rather flat, fousty-smelling Kronenbourg, and I ordered the only non-alcoholic beer available, which was the Bitburger.

The smell alone put me off. Bitburger has a distinctive hoppy smell to it, which I didn't find very pleasant and I think it was an odd one to have as an only choice for those who fancy a non-alcoholic beer.  It was a bit flat, a bit thick and left a smoky kind of aftertaste. I felt like it was chosen by someone who hadn't tasted it - like they simply wanted to fill the non-alcoholic gap in the bar.  After the stops that Rancho pulled to make me feel all special on the soft-drinks front, this was a sad, and kind of brutal alternative. 

A poor end to an otherwise fabulous night!


ERDINGER ALCOHOL FREE 0.5%



Right, stop the train!  This is a helluvanawesome drink. So awesome, apparently I just made up a new word to describe it. I first encountered the Erdinger Alcoholfrei on a night out while I was still completely off food and hadn't really told anyone my huge preggers secret yet.  In a bid to appear like I was drinking and to, er, throw others off the scent, I asked the bar staff at Drouthy Neebors what they could suggest on the alcohol-free front.  They had two different things to try, a nice wee bottle by Brewdog (more on that later) and the Erdinger.

Being a bit of an Erdinger lover, I was a bit worried about trying it out - after all the preggers/driving version is never as satisfying as the real thing, and plus, I was still feeling a bit dodgy: what if it put me off Erdinger completely?

Given the correct Erdinger glass to pour into (Erdinger glasses are coveted in the bar trade as for one, they are expensive and for another, Erdinger is a very special beer which only looks good in the long, tall, thin and beautiful Erdinger glass.  Which is why they end up in a lot of handbags, I guess.)  The way Erdinger pours, it's supposed to have a rather tall head, which just adds to the sexiness of the lager beer.  It's an almost creamy liquid which is golden in colour and never disappoints - I'm yet to be served a bad pint of this stuff.

The bottled alcoholfrei version also did not disappoint. In fact - it's pretty much a super drink.  Check out the blurb (I always read the blurb - I'm such a beer geek):

ERDINGER Alkoholfrei - The Refreshing Isotonic Recovery Drink.

ERDINGER Alkoholfrei is a refreshing isotonic recovery drink. It provides the body with essential vitamins such as folic acid and vitamin B12 which help reduce fatigue, promote energy-yielding metabolism and support the immune system. Just one bottle (0.5l) of ERDINGER Alkoholfrei is a daily contribution to a healthy nutrition.

ERDINGER Alkoholfrei is brewed under the strict Bavarian Purity Law, which means it is made from only highest quality, natural ingredients. Not alcohol free for the purpose of UK Food Law.
I mean - come on! Isotonic? Folic Acid? Reduces fatigue? Supports the immune system?

Hello!  This is THE drink to have while pregnant, no?

It was very tasty, very satisfying, and yes, I went back for more. It even poured with the head on it. I swear it even made me feel a little bit less sick, which is odd.  Maybe the blurb had psychosomatic effects?

Either way, this drink is a doozy, look out for it.  The only down side I suppose, is it can be quite pricey, even in the supermarkets, so it's definitely just a rare treat. It is to be savoured and enjoyed though - definitely not a middle of the road alternative, which is the most refreshing part about all this.  It's nice to feel special when you need to.

BREWDOG NANNY STATE

I think I love Brewdog.

I love them, because they bring so much character to their beers, ales and lagers, in a friendly tongue-in-cheek kind of way which I totally get.

The bottled stuff regularly appears in places like Aldi and  Lidl, where you can pick up a cheeky wee brew for a cheeky wee night at home cheap enough, while still pretending that you're young enough and cool enough to be hanging out round the new Brewdog bar (you know, if it wasn't for the damned kids needing to be babysat and having no babysitter and so on...chuh!)

The name alone of this wee beer raised a nod and smile of approval from me when I picked it up in my local supermarket.  I'm sure the good folks at Brewdog didn't have us preggers beer fans in mind when they concocted this brew, but still, it resonated with me; at no other time in my life do I feel as nannied as when I am expecting.  There are so many rules - do this, don't do that, don't EVER try this - it becomes a fine balance between trying to live your life as comfortably as you can while adhering to the long, long list of advisory and statutory bits of advice, information and commands.

The  tasting notes are thus:

Big fruity up front and in your face aroma with a medley of ripe citrus, orange, sherbet lemon and lychee. Herbal and piny edges add a touch of balance. On the pallet the 100% of speciality malts work hard to balance out the barrage of Humulus lupulus we throw at this beer.  Amber and crystal malts add some biscuit sweetness which is quickly balanced and overcome with more fruity hop and resinous flavours and then these cleanse the palate and transcend into a long, refreshing and quinine bitter finish.

Which sums up why I do love Brewdog - they aren't sacrificing taste for lack of alcohol, which is very much appreciated.  A bit rougher than the old Erdinger, which is what I would expect, Nanny State hits the hoppy, tasty spot. Perfect when you want something a bit tastier than lager, but a bit cheaper than Erdinger. Yum!

SCHLOER


Sometimes you just want wine.

I'm not saying Schloer is going to do it for you, but it's a pretty great alternative.  I honestly believe, having tried and tested many 'juice' products in the same guise, that Schloer still holds the crown as far as a wine alternative goes.  It's sweet, it's moreish, it's fizzy and best of all, if you really are looking to fool your friends at the beginning of pregnancy into thinking you are still drinking, the colour and character of this stuff really does the trick (just make sure you hide the bottle - brown paper bag for authenticity?)

What's more, special occasion? Don't feel like you are missing out - you can still enjoy the same old rigmaroll of popping a cork and pouring some fizz.  Yep, Schloer have certainly tapped into the whole pregnant lady needs a drink thing, and have produced a rather special looking Bubbly version in pink and white, which isn't too expensive at all for a special occasion drink.


Not bad, eh? I bought these for Christmas, determined not to miss out on the drinky fun. By that point though, I had been drinking a bottle every weekend (to myself!  You can't do that with fizzy wine!  Well - you can, but not without an epic hangover) and thus I think it had lost its appeal by then.  But I do still enjoy it.  It's just that I would enjoy a dry Frixienet Brut or glass of Prosecco a wee bit more. I find Schloer a bit sweet sometimes, especially as my normal wine tipple would be dry, but I am extremely happy to pull this out as an alternative. In fact, I have pulled it out in wine glasses for appreciative visiting drivers who also enjoy feeling like they've had a specialdrink without having a special drink, so job done, Schloer! Good work!


Well, I've yammered on enough now, so I suppose I'll stop there.  I realise there's a whole world of stuff yet to try, but these are the only ones I have seen available - and trust me, I've been looking!  I'm still quite surprised at the recent surge in low/non alcoholic beverages available now, which is a welcome change. The last time I was pregnant, I was literally limited to Schloer and Kaliber.  It's really great to see some breweries taking the initiative to produce some viable and tasty alternatives.

Have you had any really tasty non-alcoholic beers/wines/ciders?  I'd love to hear any suggestions!


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Preggers, health, dreams and visions...

Turns out I'm not so good at blogging while pregnant.

I'm at 17 weeks now (nearly 18) and have had every malady, one after another, for what feels like the last 4 months.

It started with the crucifying morning sickness (all day sickness), tailed by never ending exhaustion for weeks.   When I wasn't desperately seeking out which food I could actually eat without wanting to throw it back up again, I was trying not to fall asleep while being asked to 'pway, mummy! Pweeeze pway wif me!'

Then came a horrid cold which made me feel awful, right on top of the sickness bug which both kids had been off school and nursery with (there's nothing worse than looking after sick kids while feeling sub-human). They got better and then I got floored. Excellent.

Cue a rough xmas season, which was actually quite nice, but again, still plagued with morning sickness and food aversions, a really awesome stomach bug which nearly destroyed me and finally, I am at the moment working my way through what started as a lovely fuzzy headcold, which has fabulously moved down into my chest, leaving me with the inability to take any kind of deep breath without hacking up a lung and waking up every morning with the world's most awesome dehydration/sinus headaches.

It's been a jolly old time.

In between of course, I've been spending my time freaking about the potential harm this could all be doing not to me (oh no) but to the small, growing foetus inside of me. The internet is not a great place to go to when you are looking for answers.  Chances are, that worst case scenario in your head, if you Google hard enough, will crop up and you will convince yourself that the worst has happened...oooh...99% of the time. And I am nothing if not a researcher.

Over the last 14 weeks or so I've internet diagnosed myself with LOTS of things.  I should really learn to just walk away from Google...

It's been an okay time apart from that. I feel really happy (if a bit hesitant about it all - I'm the world's best worrier and will worry until the baby is at least 42) and finally, it seems that all of our shit is coming together.

Dave has a nice new job, the kids are happy and healthy, and we are finally looking for a forever home of our own.

So when I'm hacking up more phlegm, trying my best not to freak out over whether that might be the baby moving or not, or struggling against yet another tide of exhaustion, I'm trying to stay in my happy vision of opening the door on my own back garden, letting the boys out to play while I shoogle a wee baby.

Oh please, let that happen!

Everything crossed. And completely no Googling!




Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Lang May Yer Lum Reek!

Every year, the same old story: New year, New Start.

Does it ever work?

I don't know.

I'm not sure I could even tell you what I resolved to change last year.

What I do know, is that I am significantly happier and I have taken more control of my life and I am very, very grateful for that.

We have accomplished a lot, and that's all you can ask.  Life is short and you should try and pack in as much as you possibly can with the time you have. Not to sound morbid or anything, but you never know when your time might come to an end.  There have been plenty examples of that this year.

So, what's the point of resolutions?

I think you have to see them as more of a self-assessment.

There's not much real point in saying you are going to do this, or you are going to do that - chances are it's not going to happen, and you are going to feel a lot less happy for it.

It's much better to assess what's already going on and try to take note - you might not follow up on any of it, but just a simple reflection is sometimes all you need to kick-start something awesome.

So here's my, well, not resolutions, but self-reflections.  I'm not promising to change, I'm not going to become super-human overnight.  But here's a note to myself.  A recognition of things I might not be all too happy with and an acknowledgement that there might be a better way to do things.



1. Try to see the positives instead of the negatives.


I am your classic glass-half-empty kind of gal.  It's a terrible affliction and more often than not leads to a lot more stress and strain than anything else in my life.  Nobody is harsher on me than I am.

I'm realising more and more with age that actually, in the grand scheme of things, what I do doesn't really matter.  I'm getting a lot more into the train of thought that I should do what makes me happy and I have stopped worrying about any so called 'consequences', which are, more often than not, completely dramatic and made up.

Trying to look at the light instead of the dark is easier said than done, especially if I'm feeling tired or stressed and overwhelmed, but one thing I have learned (especially through living with these crazy children) is that there's always something to laugh at and that we are in fact very lucky indeed.

2.  Eat better


I've tried a lot of new things this year, and it's been a real eye-opener for this fussy vegetarian.  I have a really funny palate and am completely adverse to some textures, so trying new things (and enjoying them) is always amazing to me.

Later nights and a smaller kitchen have led to me taking the easy route - pizza, snacks instead of meals, filling up on crisps.  I've never really eaten like that before.  I love to eat fresh and healthy, so I suppose I should make more of an effort to get back on track with this.  I suppose time has just become such a huge factor in this. Must try harder!

3. Stop worrying (so much) about the kids.




Okay, so this is never really going to happen, but what I can do is give them the benefit of the doubt more.  I can stop panicking that they are going to fall off walls, I can stop worrying so much about the impact moving house and school will have on them, and I can stop stressing about how they are going to cope with a new baby in the house.

I have two, very balanced, very happy wee guys who take most things in their stride, and as long as we continue giving them a solid base to work from, everything will be just grand!


4.  Stay open to new things (but know when enough is enough)


I'm quite good at this.  I love changing things up and trying new stuff.  I think I have to try and let go of my inner fear when it comes to some things though.  It's really tough to say yes to stuff when you are already pushed for time, etc. but one thing I have learned is that I should also learn when enough is enough. No point in ruining a great experience by getting too tired and stressed.

5. Take time to re-investigate what you love



I love gaming.  So I'm going to do more of that.  I need to read more books.  I NEED to use my sewing machine.

But I am ALWAYS making excuses.

No time, no energy, not enough fabric, too messy, too silly, too time-consuming, no good books.

Enough with the excuses!  I will be knitting, crocheting, reading, sewing, crafting and so much more this year, because that is what I love to do. And I miss it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for reading this year and sharing this wee blogging journey with me.  It's made me laugh, been so good for reflecting and helped me close a few doors too.  It's also opened a lot of doors and I've made some lovely new friends to boot.

I'm really enjoying getting words down on page and sharing with you all.  It's something that's just for me, and I kinda need that.
I'm really looking forward to the new adventures 2015 will bring.



Slangevar!

Lang May Yer Lum Reek!