Monday, 20 October 2014

Party Day: The Two Birthdays in Two Weeks Quandry

Our boys have their birthdays within two weeks of each other, which has always been a bit of a headache for us.

Two little monkeys

The first year, we had two very expensive celebrations, feeding our huge family twice with a lot of food to honour both our then three year old and one year old.

The second year, we had learned from the year before.  The month was already expensive enough with two birthdays, why not have just one celebration?

We hired the local hall, complete with bouncy castle, musical statues and pass the parcel, and decided to host it here for everyone - we also invited some of the boys' friends from nursery!  Bonus!  We held it between the two birthdays, sure that this was the obvious, perfect solution.  There would be food for both adults and children. Perfect!

Wrong!

We hugely underestimated how excited both children would be for their birthdays, and also how excited everyone else was for them (which of course is very lovely).

We ended up with not just one celebration, not two, but three whole celebrations, complete with three cakes and snacks across three days.  It was crazy - and much more expensive than the previous year.  But, no matter, by all accounts we were still experimenting.  And also, there's nothing wrong with eating party food for a whole month (I quite enjoyed the extra cake, crisps and chocolate that happened to be lying around - who wouldn't?!)

The kids had had a blast, and we had really enjoyed seeing everyone so frequently and were really grateful that they had made the time and the effort for the kids, but we also felt guilty about asking folk to make such time and effort so close together.  Our family, although large, is not especially social and doesn't spend a lot of time together naturally, plus, you know, the usual busy with life stuff.

Dave: "How can we make it so that we have one efficient birthday celebration? Hmm?"

Me: "Disneyland!"

That's right.  I'm crazy!

We went from the sublime to the ridiculous last year when I suggested, researched, booked and executed an elaborate surprise trip to Disneyland Paris for the kids' birthdays.




But, I surmised, it combined the elements of holiday and birthday celebration perfectly, and, oddly, was quite cheap (I got an amazing deal in the January sale).  We booked up for 4 nights, children were free and we got a free food package.  It was brilliant.  And what's more, our best buddies decided to come along too and join in the birthday celebrations! Amazing!

We had such a great time - it was truly magical.  I won't go into the whole holiday (that's a completely different blog post), but we were all completely blown away.

Due to school holidays and pricing, we ended up going away the first week in October.

We ended up in the Mickey Mouse cafe on Tom's 5th birthday, complete with cake and singing and finished the night with fireworks at the castle.  As we were walking back to our hotel, Ethan in the buggy, Tom on the buggy board, Tom whispered to us 'I can't wait until I have kids so I can tell them how great this has been.'

Deal, done - best time ever.

We had tried to make it about both kids - we packed presents for both, gave them both as equal a share in cake celebrations as we could, but there was no escaping the fact that Tom definitely had the best birthday out of the two.  We had a small pirate party for Ethan at home when we got back, and Tom got in on this too: because we hadn't been at home on his actual birthday, everyone was really keen to see him and give him gifts too, which was great.

But it was tough to make it equal.

Delight!


This year, they are that bit older, that bit wiser to birthdays and what they entail.

Poor Ethan is still a bit young.  At very nearly 4 years old, he is very excited, very much into it all and really clued up on parties, cake and presents.

Having Tom's birhday first has really confused him though.

First, he got a few really cool presents on Tom's birthday from some relatives, which meant he felt included and he was really excited about that.

Next, they both asked for a party for them and their friends, which we held yesterday at a local hall. We decided, to be fair, to hold it in the middle of the school holidays and in the middle of their birthdays.

It was chaos.  Nearly 30 children in a hall with a bouncy castle and lots of bikes.  We spent a lot of time making Pinterest-inspired food, sourcing cheap tablecloths and stressing out about invitations.

Ethan's birthday is tomorrow, but his dad is working overnight tonight and then until late on tomorrow, so instead of missing it all, we have decided to have Ethan's birthday today, so we can celebrate together.

Much more chaos has ensued.  Instead of having one birthday and a party between them, they have both ended up with one party, a gathering of family on each birthday day and Ethan is technically having two birthdays, plus celebrated on Thomas's and got loads of lovely presents from his party yesterday. Both boys have been absolutely saturated!  But what the hey - you're only wee once!

Yeesh!

Next year it is Ethan's 5th birthday and we plan to go away for it - I'll be searching for a deal in January, but blooming heck! Who knows if we'll ever come up with a solution for the birthday problem!

When they are older it will be easier to explain, but at the moment it's really nice that everyone is so keen to celebrate our little boys.  We are so lucky and really grateful.

A huge thanks goes out to everyone who has celebrated with us.





Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Six

Six years old.


Five Years was...

Skylanders.
Lego.
School.
Mummy, I'm finished, but I'm still hungry!
Kickboxing.
Cake.
Apples.
Arguing with my brother.
Crying with happiness at the end of films.
Scared of the dark (but only a little bit).
Getting to like the cinema.
Theatre trips.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Rollercoaster Loving.
Friends.
Computer Games.
Cuddly Toys.
Good at making friends.
Made myself like bananas and peppers!
Fish and Chips.
Learning to ride my bike.
Being an amazing reader for my age.
Awesome school reports.
Sometimes not listening...
...but a first clear hearing test!
First wobbly tooth.
Barber visits.
Long walks.
Visiting the zoo.
Secret late nights on the couch with Mum and Dad.
Making toast!
Getting my own breakfast.
EvanTube
ThomasTube!
Planning a career in video games making.
Playing the Yes game!

Properly counting the sleeps until my birthday...

Happy 6th Birthday Thomas!


Monday, 6 October 2014

I tried it, and I liked it #1

Skulduggery Pleasant, The Dying Of The Light

So, the main character is a guy who is dead and is a skeleton. And a detective.  That's grounds enough for an epic story, right?

My first experience of Derek Landy's epic series, combining horror, fantasy, comedy and intrigue was in the library.  Of course.
I work in a children's library, and as such, I get to spend a lot of time talking to kids of all ages about what they read.

So here she is, the young lady in the green jacket.  She approaches me nervously as she hands back her book.  As I scan it back into the system, she stutters, 'Do you have the next one in the series?'
She's not nervous because she has to ask me for a book, she's nervous because she really  really needs the next one  right now and she is worried that I am going to say that I don't have it for her.

And I don't!

I search high and low and in the secondary stock and even in the Teenage library, but it's not there. These things happen in a children's library - it's a hazard of the job.

 I break the news to her gently, and then I tell her we can order a copy in for her, but it might take a week.  She's not too disappointed.  Instead she grins and nods her head enthusiastically, just glad that she can get it at all.  Curious, I ask her about the book, while I apologise profusely for the missing copy, and she's eager to tell me all about it, telling me that actually, she's glad she has to wait a bit, because she needs a break, just to absorb it all.

'Wow!  Is it that good?' I laugh.

'Yeah, it's really awesome.  It's just so thrilling and I really love the characters - the writing is really unpredictable and it's not done in a formulaic kind of way, so it's really different.  You can never tell what's going to happen.'

I make a mental note to look out the first of the series.

Just as she leaves, and I put the book she just returned on the book trolley, a young lad comes in, he's maybe about 10 years old.  He looks awkwardly at the book on my trolley.  I smile and say,

'You okay, dude?'

He points at the book and says nervously, 'Is that...is that for anyone?'

'Err...' I look at the hope on his wee face and smile.  This is why I love books.  They are magic.  

'Just you, mate', I say, handing him the book.  He looks at the cover and then I ask if he wants to take it home.  He nods and I beep it out for him.  He's happy.  I'm happy I've made him happy, job done.

I was sent a copy of the last Skulduggery Pleasant book in order to review it, but I think that these two experiences do all of the talking for it.  Landy's writing is fast-paced, energised and exciting - to all ages. The characters are a work of art, all relatable and, the beauty of it is, none of them safe from Landy's plans, no matter how awful they may seem.  Nobody is immune from being killed off or sidelined, and the plot is twisted and fun.

I'm sad to see the end of the series, like may Skulduggery fans will be, but like many, glad there has been a conclusion.  And a very thrilling conclusion at that!

Available in Hardback in all good book shops!  If you are looking for a gift for a pre-teen for Christmas, this is the one!


RAVPower Mini Lipstick Charger


I hate my phone.  For some reason, it's never got any battery on it and it never has quite enough when I need to do important things like take photographs for work, or upload stuff to my G+ account (all very important for a blogger!)

I have to mention that since I dropped it, it's kind of lost its appeal to me too  It's not quite the same trying to scroll down a broken screen.  The cracks catch on my finger and well, it just makes me sad.  And I still have another year on my contract! Poop!

I can't fix my screen without forking out a lot of money, but I can sort out the battery issue.

I was sent the RAVPower Luster Mini Lipstick charger to try out, and I have to say, it's been great.

Doubling up as a torch too, it charges from my computer via USB port, and then the wire simply flips around to connect from the charger to my phone.

It takes up no more space in my bag than a lipstick case, is a sleek design and comes with a small price tag of just £10.99 too.  A fab piece of kit.  No more blogger emergencies!  It also ensures my phone is charged when I'm out all day - very important as a parent!

You can buy it from Amazon.  And it's compatible with:
 
iPhone 6, 5S, 5C, 5, 4S, 4, iPod (Lightning Cable not Provided); Samsung Galaxy S5, S4, S3, S2, Note 2; Nexus 5, Nexus 4, HTC Sensation, One X V One X V S, EVO 4G, Thunderbolt; Nokia Lumia 1020, 920 900 N9; Motorola Razr; LG Google Nexus 4 and other Android & Apple Device, Smart Phones and Tablets!

Phew!


Vimto Squeezy


We spend a lot of time out of the house at the moment and a lot of time in the car.  Nobody ever told me how crazy it could be, running between all the kids diffeent groups and classes, not to mention my own day to day stuff.

I need sustenance!

It's very important to stay hydrated when busy, and water can get boring.  I was sent some cool new wee bottles to try to jazz up my water. Vimto now comes in tiny little bottles, ready to turn water into tasty goodness with just a few drops.  What's more, the bottles are handy for slipping into a bag or even coat pocket, providing a wee treat for when you are rushed off your feet.  They come in three fab flavours too, original, cherry and strawberry, enhancing your water with as little or as much flavour as you like!

And you know what? No Added Sugar! Win!


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown

I have a slight Snoopy obsession.



It's not something I have been vociferous about since I entered adulthood, but yes, I am a huge Peanuts fan.

This week, Charlie Brown celebrated his 64th Birthday!

Wowee!

I didn't really fathom this however, until I was perusing my various social media accounts and stumbled across the AMA section on Reddit, where none other than Jean Schultz herself was answering questions about Peanuts and the whole franchise, including details on the new Snoopy Movie which is to be released next year.

What a lady!  I had goosebumps as she described her husband's drawing routines, his views on copyright and also his health issues, of which I had no real idea.


The reason I love Peanuts is because it encompasses humanity.  It corners those feelings that all people have on relationships, the ironies of everyday life and its nuances and also the breadth of emotion felt at such a basic, but very complex level.  The protagonists are children, and I really do think that not only do they link in with our inner children, but help us to simplify our feelings on a basic level, which is sometimes is all anyone needs.

Plus, it's pure joy.

Old Sparky left us with a lot of that.

Thank you, Charles Schultz.

In honour of Charlie Brown's big day, here are some of my favourite Peanuts quotes!










Enjoy!





Saturday, 4 October 2014

Small Morning Victories!

Getting two small children out of the door in the morning should be considered nothing less than an Olympic event.



My mornings never run like clockwork, despite the effort made the night before to ensure as smooth a run as possible.

Someone always spills milk, there's always some sort of calamity involving the loss of a shoe or worse, the dreaded school tie, and we very rarely have a morning where everyone is completely happy and ready to go on time (not looking at anyone in particular, oh youngest son).

Refining the various tricks and things that go into the morning routine is nothing short of an every day small miracle and should be considered applicable for addition to a C.V.

Plus, there's never a morning where everyone is happy.  Either the dog ate the toast off the table (he's supposed to be old and doddery, not to mention a wee bit blind but apparently his nose can always locate toast at a 5 mile distance) or Ethan doesn't feel like he got to watch quite enough Jake and The Neverland Pirates before we leave (hence a tantrum) or worse, I don't get time to grab some food before we leave, which makes everything seem just a little bit more challenging.  Especially once we have dropped Tom at school and I then realise I have a butt-ton (yes, that's a legitimate unit of measurement), I say, a BUTT-TON of stuff to do before I'll be able to get home.

I hate mornings.

That's why I decided to hook up with the #MorningWin Linky challenge with Belvita breakfast biscuits.  I need to see how other people are doing this!

Britmums and Belvita are asking bloggers for their small morning victories.  So here's a few of mine!

Hat finding - just one more thing to remember!


1. Leaving the house on time

It's pretty much the end goal, isn't it?  All roads lead to exiting the house, albeit with one shoe on, no school tie or a half-packed school bag.  Joke.  I'm not that bad.

But leaving the house in the morning, on time, with everyone intact is one huge victory! So, a smaller victory would have to be...

2. Finding all of the shoes

Not my shoes then...
I have no idea where my trainers are.  I took them off three days ago, and I can't find them.  I have three pairs of shoes, all have very specific purposes.  When I am rich and famous, I'll buy back up pairs.  But until then, I live in a perpetual, never-ending search for my shoes.  Or, more frustratingly, one shoe.  Because no matter how many times I make sure everyone has put their shoes in the hallway, ready to go, or do the end of the night count, there's always some crazy shit that goes down that means that some of the shoes go walk-about. Usually in the middle of the night after the elderly dog (who likes a middle-of-the-night wee) has been out and I've sleepily deposited my shoes somewhere crazy, or after the three year old has decided to play that lovely game of 'sniff my stinky shoe!' with his brother.

There are all kinds of shenanigans that you wouldn't believe goes on in this house. I feel genuine relief when I see a pair of shoes together. Actual, genuine relief.

3. Getting four pairs of socks



What the hell happens to socks?
I love new socks.  I get a bit precious about them.  I promise things to them in my head, like 'I'll keep you both together always' and 'I'll never let Dave wear you with his bag mad crusty feet' and 'I'll always wash you together so you stay in a pair'.

Lies!  All lies!

Despite my best efforts, we have ended up with a sock bag.  I think I hate it more than anything else in my life.  Every day, the search through the bag for pairs is a soul-destroying task that fills me with rage.  And complete happiness when I find a pair. And complete merriness when I find a pair for everyone.

One day all of my socks will be paired and in drawers, but today is not the day.  Not when I still have butt-ton (yup, there it is again) of other, more important stuff to do.  Like, anything else.  Life is far too short. Sorry, socks.  And anyone else who cares.

4. Managing to leave the house with everything we need



It's early, we're all tired, we've possibly dealt with things in the night that we never thought we'd ever have to deal with.  If you have small children, or an elderly dog for that matter, you'll know the kind of things I mean.

I'd give you my secret handshake, but I can't remember if I've washed my hands yet...

Joke.  I joke. *dry laughter*

Getting out of the house with everything we need ; packed lunches, play pieces, homework, a change of clothes, hats, gloves, scarves, gym shoes, lunch money, books, things I said I'd give to people...it's no mean feat.

I do forget sometimes.  Although, I'm going to jinx it now by saying I've had a good run lately where I haven't forgotten anything.  But there were a LOT of times last year where I forgot things and had to hand them into the school office an hour after making the initial trip.  It was so bad that the lady in the school office didn't even have to ask who I was handing it in for.  But at least I got it in the end, right?

These are my morning victories. These, coupled with not getting stuck behind the bin lorry in our narrow street, not getting stuck behind every red light there is on the way and managing to get the kids out of the door without the inevitable fight that they have to see who gets to open the door (Why?  Why do they do that?  Every damn morning!)

Eating a wee brekkie always makes things a wee bit better, and if I can grab a wee bite to eat on the way out of the door, in the car or even on the way to school, or even after, then I consider this a big win too.  It just makes life so much easier to deal with if I'm not running on empty.

I use Belvita breakfast biscuits a lot, and although I prefer to be sat at home enjoying a leisurely breakfast in front of the television, or curled up with a book, these are the perfect alternative for some healthy sustenance.

Try them out - the chocolate and hazelnut ones are my favourites.  I love a wee bit of sweetness in the morning and they make a nice wee change from the usual milk and cereal ones I enjoy.







This post is an entry for #MorningWin Linky Challenge sponsored by belVita Breakfast. Learn more at http://bit.ly/belVitaUK

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Four tips to get your kids up and going in the mornings



Though it may seem difficult enough for most mums to get themselves up and ready to start the day, the beginning of a new school year can be especially hard to get little sleepy heads back into a school routine after the summer holidays.

Whether your kids are reluctant to go to school, want a few extra minutes in bed or are just a little disorganised, weekday mornings can turn into running battles in many households.

Unfortunately, there are no magic wands that can be waved to transform a child into a compliant early riser, but by following these four tips you can help make the school run just that little bit easier with less stress for everyone.

1. Prepare the night before

Getting packed lunches, school uniforms and homework ready to go the night before can save valuable minutes on hectic mornings.

Whether your children go to a state or private school, you should be able to get a copy of their timetable to help them work out what they need as far as homework and PE kit for each day.  Help them be better organised by making sure homework is done and lunches are packed away nice and tidy before the manic morning arrives.

2. Get your kids used to an alarm clock

To help your little ones to rise and shine with a smile on their faces, invest in an alarm clock , which will stress the importance of punctuality.

By encouraging kids to set an alarm and dress themselves, you’re giving them a bit more independence without the struggle of repeatedly going in to wake them.

3. Keep breakfast simple

As long as the kids have something healthy and filling in the mornings, it doesn’t matter how elaborate the meal is, so why not save precious time by keeping it simple?

A bowl of cereal, some fruit, yoghurt or breakfast biscuits will all do the job nicely. As your kids get older they can start preparing breakfast themselves, saving you even more time.

4. Stick to a bedtime routine

No matter how old you are, getting up in the morning is always tough when you’ve had a late night.

By sticking to a regular bedtime as much as possible, you will get your kids settled into a routine and ensure that they get enough sleep before the long school day. 

By following these tips you can make your mornings a little more manageable and little less manic.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

After School Chefs

Summer is over, school is back.
No more lazy picnics on the beach that last longer than they should.  No more impromptu garden lunches while the kids dig for worms.  The days are shortening, routine is back and life resumes a steady pace once again as we count down until the next set of holidays.



Our home life is especially chaotic at the moment.  Both of us adults work shifts, so there's no straightforward routine when it comes to teatime.  Ours are very much a hurried and usually quite erratic affair.  It's something that really makes me sad - something I have always loved is the idea of sitting around the table at night, catching up with each other's days.

Modern life has a lot to answer for.

The nights that we do manage a well-thought out and properly balanced meal are the ones that keep me happy as a parent - there's something intrinsically maternal about making sure your family has a nicely balanced and nutritious meal that they enjoy.

As we have no real set routine, it's hard to plan.  But we try.

Here are our top tips for keeping to some semblance of a routine at teatime - especially if yours are as hectic as ours can be.



1. Keep it easy

There's nothing worse than coming home later than you planned, with two hungry, grumpy children while also feeling like you are running on empty.  Everything feels much bigger than it actually is when there's nothing left in your tank.  Think simple.  Think whipping out some Birdseye potato waffles and toasting them in the toaster rather than grilling them.  Toast them a couple of times on a medium toasting setting and not only will you have a delicious base for a meal, but you'll also have saved yourself some extra minutes and a bit less time listening to grouchy children. Pair with beans or cheese and microwave some peas at the same time and voilĂ ! One meal, literally in minutes. They're waffley versatile!





2. Plan Ahead

I know, I know.  I hate planning ahead.

Plus, when it comes to food, I find it quite difficult.  I can guarantee that if I really fancied Enchiladas the night before, the next night I'm going to want a big bowl of soup.  You can never really tell what your taste is going to be leaning towards on the night, so why not make it easy on yourself by keeping your freezer stocked with wee bits and pieces that can provide a springboard for a variety of meals?

Fish fingers, peas, frozen vegetables, chips and onion rings all make good stand-by accompaniments for bigger dishes.  A toastie always looks more wholesome when sat beside some fluffy potato chips and there's always the good old fish finger sandwich for a quick savoury meal.

3. Make it Fun Time

Meal times can be very stressful. Try to bear in mind that it might be the only time you spend together as a family mid-week, and that no matter how tired you are, you should try and use it as a bit of a chill-out time too.

Life is tough enough without the added stress.  We always try to go with the flow.  We are all very tired and some of us are starving, some of us are not.  Some of us are dying to get into the bath, some of us just want to relax with a book.  This is down time.

Be a bit silly, make faces out of food, have a laugh with each other.

Life's too short for grumpy faces!




 http://bit.ly/afterschoolchefs 

This post is an entry for #Afterschoolchefs Challenge, sponsored by Birds Eye.  Learn more on the Birds Eye Facebook page.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Celebrating Scotland's Heritage: Shopping At Heritage of Scotland



What is 'Scottishness?'

What makes us 'Scottish'?

We are a proud nation, a strong nation, a warm and hospitable nation, a beautiful nation.

Recently, like many, I have been re-investigating my nationality in the quest for identity.

It's not all about Tartan and Haggis.  Hell, it's bugger all to do with that at all.

For too long we have been a stereotype in the world - to many we are giant Tunnocks tea cakes and sporrans for handbags...but it's NOT like that.

Scottishness is innate.  Either you feel it, or you don't.  I don't think it's explainable.

It's not anything you think it might be.  And it's everything that makes any other nationality go, 'What?  Really?'

We have a crazy, self-depricating sense of humour.  The kind where calling your mate 'a bawbag' is a term of high endearment.



We have a way of going the long, hard way around things.  It's never easy and is usually punctuated by biting wind, whiplash rain and mud trails down yer lobby (hallway) carpet.

I love being Scottish.  It's not an easy gig, by any stretch of the imagination.  But it's fun, characterful, and for such a wee nation, well, it's easy to say that everyone knows who we are, usually has a good word to say about us.

Heritage of Scotland ( www.heritageofscotland.com ) have a great online store where you can celebrate your Scottishness, or indeed, help you inject a bit of Scottish goodness in your life.

Shopping on the website is a great experience, supported by some of the best and most attentive online customer service around AND it has it's own loyalty scheme too!

Airgid is the Gaelic word for money and is the currency which was used in Scotland hundreds of years ago. It is the name of the loyalty points and represents the loyalty scheme which Heritage of Scotland uses.

There are airgid to be gained on purchases, when you sign up for newsletters, for giving reviews on the website itself on bought products AND you can use them against any purchase you make online!

As you accrue them, they gather in your own personal account, and are there to utilise whenever you like; so always good for a wee treat for yourself.

Kilts and accessories for men can be found HERE


I was sent some airgid in order to try out some happy website ordering and I had a great time. There's so much to choose from - and it was very time-consuming simply browsing through the vast array of kilts, clothing, gifts, accessories, souvenirs, children's items, home ware and jewellery!

Everything is extremely good quality - definitely not your usual souvenir/gift ware tat - and all purchases are tracked in order to make sure you receive your goodies safely (although at a cost, or free if you just want standard Royal Mail).

So, what did I order?

Well, I tried to sum up Scottishness with my choice.  An impossible task! Plus, it was impossible not to be swayed by Deal of The Day, which changes every single day!  Ahrgh!  I did spend more time than was acceptable really deliberating over quite a few deals of the day!

But I think I definitely rounded up the best qualities.

1. Beauty


Pewter earrings with purple Amethyst

Scotland is well known for it's beautiful scenery - rolling hills and gorgeous flora and fauna punctuate the blue and grey hues of the skies on yet another rainy day.  We may not always have the best weather, but there's always a flash of purple heather or the top of a thistle blowing in the grassy thick to catch your eye.


The jewellery on the Heritage of Scotland website is nothing short of beautiful.  There are some really stunning bracelets, necklaces and earrings.  Now, I am not a huge jewellery fan.  Mainly because I never have anything that costs a lot of money and if I have something that costs a lot of money and I have to take it off and it gets lost, or it has a chance of breaking; well, that's going to upset me a lot! I do however have a thing for stud earrings.  Practical and  pretty?  I'm there.

I love these cute thistle earrings. Made from Pewter, wonderfully detailed and discreetly sparkly, they are the perfect choice for a bit of patriotic day wear.

Pewter Eternal Interlace
As are these gorgeous circular Celtic swirls.  Very small, yet beautifully detailed, they look very nice indeed and are small and pretty; a hint of history too.

2. Myth and Legend

Bogles, kelpies, faeries, ghouls, ghosties and of course, Nessie.

The Loch Ness Monster still gets people talking and Loch Ness itself is a gorgeous place to go if you are ever up visiting.

I love the story of Nessie - the idea that a secret monster lurks in the loch has been a huge draw for tourism and the subject of many an investigation.

Why not celebrate the oddities of the country with some tongue in cheek homeware, like this pottery Nessie?

Purchase Pottery Nessie HERE


I love her - she fits right in with my eccentric collection of bits and I love how she looks like she is just peeping up to say hello.  Very cool!

3. Warmth and Hospitality

We are a hugely welcoming and accepting lot. We love company and any chance to sit down, invite a stranger in and make a new friend is grabbed with both hands.



Scots are well known for their hospitality and warmth - so why not offer your friends and family some homely comforts when they come into your home?

Find a cosy tartan rug for your home HERE
This gorgeous, cosy , tartan rug is perfect for putting in the back of the car for some warming up after a long walk, draping over the back of a chair for covering shivery legs, or comfy-ing up your sofa in anticipation of visitors. It's big enough to use as a throw on the end of a bed, or cuddling up after a wintery wander. Mmm! Braw!

4. Banter!

It's my main joy in life.  I love the banter.  I love nothing better than sitting around with a group of old friends, casually insulting each other in a show of love and complete happiness.  A lot of people don't really get banter, and that's fine, but I think if you live in a cold country, where it's dark, life can be a bit grim and you get flashes of craziness day to day, well, you develop a bit of a dark humour.

Up Yer Kilt!
I love this 'Up Yer Kilt', pin.  Sums it right up.  Means, it but doesn't really mean it.  In a vicious, nice kind of way.  Spot on.

5. Celebrations!

Naeb'dy celebrates like us Scots!

Heritage of Scotland is the perfect shop to purchase all of your wedding gear - from Kilts, to Favours, Quaichs, to Wedding Dresses!  Check out their amazing range of gorgeous bridal wear and tartan accessories. There's sizing charts and advice on Kilt fitting too, so no need to worry about getting it wrong.  And if you do - returns and exchanges are hassle free.


Ah, we were so young and carefree! Ha ha!
My own wedding was a Black Watch Tartan affair, and although I spent very little on the big day (more on that another time!) , the one thing I did purchase was a gorgeous Black Watch, woollen shawl to compliment my dress and also to keep me warm - I got married in January, very chilly! A lovely keepsake too! I still use it now, just around the house to keep cosy and sometimes on trips to the theatre, where I can sit and look both stylish and smug because the theatre can be really cold...brrr! Hee hee!


Check out Heritage of Scotland on Facebook, Twitter, and of course at www.heritageofscotland.com







Wednesday, 17 September 2014

We're Not Going To Sit In Silence, We're Not Going To Live In Fear

It's tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the day where we, the Scottish people, make a long-lasting and definite decision about our futures.

So far, it's all been done in the best possible politeness and always with respect for the other side.  But now that we enter the real decision making time, emotions have become fraught.

My own emotions are no different.  There hasn't been a night this week where I haven't sat down in front of a video of the latest Yes rally



 a talk from Jim Sillars



 or another amazingly motivating speech from Cat Boyd



 and shed a few tears.

We have to do this.

We have to.

I have listened to a lot of people talk, from yes and no.  Yes makes more sense to me - societally. Why?  Yes has been self-funded, the passion has come from 'normal' people on the street and Yes is by the people for the people. If you aren't prepared to listen to your fellow man - what is the point?  These are all highly intelligent, brilliant people who have LIVED and worked on the streets and in the houses that will be affected by what will happen. You can't manage something if you can't relate to it.  And Yes does.

I don't know if I can ever communicate fully the range of emotions that whistle inside of me when I think of what's at stake, but I genuinely feel that if we cannot do this; be it by a small margin or a landslide, then not only has Scotland been robbed of the chance to stand on her own two feet, but her people, her working class people, the ones who struggle and need a voice will be stamped down on and made to be quiet again. And after all that's happened - the huge number who have registered to vote, the conversations that happen in the street, the rallies, the discussions on social media - that would be a massive waste indeed.

I've been quite angry over the last few weeks.  And I have been challenged by No voters about my point of view.  And the anger has grown from there - not because I have been challenged; no, not at all.  But because I have been dismissed. My fears and my whole life experience has been dismissed.  I've been talked to like I haven't read the information.  Like I'm too wee to understand.  Too poor to understand the real financial stuff. Too stupid to have done my own research.

I don't like tarring folk with the same brush - no two people are the same and you can never know someone, nor can you judge them, until you have walked a mile in their shoes.

We've personally had a tough few weeks, for reasons that I won't go into.  Yet again, however, financial stuff has flared it's ugly head.  The realisation that we are one solid wage away from visiting a foodbank is stark. It's so easy for anyone to slip into that position. Anyone at all. Get ill, lose your job, have an accident...the fine balance is tipped.  You never know what might happen.

We also learned this week that we have to reconsider our whole lives yet again, right down to where we live and what we do.

And at the back of that are all of these amazing scenes of hope.  Hope that things can be different for my own bairns.

I cannot wait for tomorrow.

It's time to stop being scared. Hope over fear, life over barely scraping by.

Dear No voters, I do not scrape by due to 'poor life choice' - oh no.  It's because the deck has been stacked against me my whole damned life. It's not for a want of trying.  And I'm not saying that an Independent country will be some kind of panacea where everything will be magically solved.  I am well aware that I might not get the benefit of it.  But if my kids or grandkids do, well that's what I'm happy with.

The problem with folk who are comfy is that it's hard to give up comfort.  I get it. The fact that nearly HALF of our population (according to official polls) is screaming that they are NOT comfy, that they are struggling, that they are fed up with the status quo - surely that's a wake-up call?  That's why a No to me looks selfish.  It's inward-looking. Our people need this. Britain's people need this.

I have a hard week coming work-wise and I'm sure there'll be no sleep on Thursday night.

When I get up tomorrow morning and get my kids ready to head over to the polling station to vote, I will be emotional.

Because once, just this once, this is my own wee say in the world. And I'm saying I've had enough.  Scotland has had enough of being silent and putting up.  Whatever happens on Friday morning - this will never be the case ever again.  We are not a wee nation - we are a very, very big nation with a very big voice.

I can feel change in the air.

We need this.

No fear.




Click here for my post about why I'm voting YES!


Sunday, 7 September 2014

Wherever I Lay My Head, That's My Home: House Renting



Maybe we just did life all wrong...

This is my thought for the day as I look through yet another property catalogue, breezing through the pages at more houses we are never going to buy.

Well, maybe we did.

At 23 and 22, we had our kids comparatively young, we both left home young at 17 years old, and funnily enough, the graduate employers who we were told would be battering down our door to offer us graduate placements after completing our humanities degrees, on all-singing, all-dancing graduate schemes seemed to have missed our graduate announcements.

Maybe life did a number on us?

Returning home from visiting a mortgage broker this recently, we had renewed hope in our eyes.

Well, kind of.

We know that the ability to buy our own home isn't completely out-of-the-park unrealistic, it's just that, well, let's just say it's not going to be happen any time soon.

Unless, you know, we win the lottery.  Or we discover that we have a long lost rich relative  who dies suddenly, inexplicably leaving all of their fortune to us.

It was a slightly scary affair.  I'd made the enquiry a week earlier, and before I knew it, a man had phoned me, asked me to look out all of my grown-up paperwork (bank statements, pay slips, National Insurance numbers) and meet for a two hour appointment.

It was all very official.

I still don't feel old enough to be allowed a mortgage.  As someone who, at nearly 30 years old, is still getting I.D'd at the corner shop for beer, I have a hard time feeling like a grown up sometimes.

And little wonder.  Our generation have not been allowed to grow up.

A few of my friends have managed to buy their own homes, but it must be said, a lot of them have had help to do so - parents willing to let them live at home, pay student expenses while at university, gifting that first ever-elusive deposit for a property.  Very few have managed alone.  And a lot of those who have, don't have children.

Thanks to the recession in 2008, the year Thomas was born, and coincidentally, also the year I graduated, jobs became like gold dust.  The kind of jobs that folk with degrees had been doing, kind of disappeared, as graduate schemes disappeared, job positions vanished and suddenly, we weren't only competing with the other saps who graduated at the same time as us, but also a lot of very qualified and very experienced people who had lost their long-term jobs.

The market was fierce.

By the time Dave graduated in 2009, we had one child, one full-time student job and a lot of rent to pay.


Since 2008 our small family has moved house six times - the same age as our oldest son will be in October this year.

I am on my 15th house move in the 30 years that I have been alive.

I am very used to a life of unsettlement - yet something I crave more than anything else, is to be settled in a home I can call my own.

But while I am very used to it - to packing up boxes, to the ins and outs of renting and looking and landlords and letting agents - I have to confess, it is really not something that I am keen for my own children to experience.

However, that seems to be the world that we live in today.  With the average age of home ownership in the UK being 38 years old, the 'home' is no longer someone's castle, but rather an expensive and stressful experience where we are not allowed to decorate or get too comfy.

There are positives and negatives to renting.  There's a positive in that you get to try out lots of different places and areas to live.  If you don't like where you live, then you can move on after a relatively short amount of time, and you don't have the responsibilities that come with home ownership, such as roof repairs, boiler replacement or clearing the gutters.

But man, what I wouldn't give just to be able to plan more than a year ahead at a time.

This year I feel we have reached our limit in terms of house move.  Having moved slightly further away than we would have liked, to a town outside the catchment area for the school which Thomas attends, we stand little chance of Ethan getting into the same school. He goes to a school in a very good area, which is so over-subscribed that they have had to add whole classes to each year group.  It's also the area with the highest rental prices in our city - almost double of what we currently pay for a similar sized property, simply based on the 'quality' of the area.  Not to mention the higher council tax rates.

We will be faced with a dilemma by the end of the year; move closer to the school and try to hash it out in an area where rents are a lot higher than we can realistically afford, or stay where we are and try to build a life, in the hope that if for some reason we can't stay in the house we are in, that we can easily find one of a similar size and price in the vicinity.

It's a tough call.

Of course, another option is to move away completely, to start again in a new area completely, one where we can afford to live and where it won't be such an issue to move if we have to.  Which opens us up to yet more things like area, neighbours, costs, letting agents, landlords, costs of moving, moving schools, upsetting the kids again etc etc...

It's certainly not easy.

But we're in no way alone.

Feeling quite despondent one morning, I typed out a couple of lines on Twitter: 'Do any of you rent your house?  How do you get on?'

The feedback was amazing.

There are so many people out there in letting hell, and it is so very clear to see that things need to be simpler.  From one lady whose brother had accepted a house 8 weeks previously and still had to get a moving date settled, to the lady who had had really awful financial problems with her landlord, it is obvious that renting, although a reality for millions, is not an easy process.

It is indeed not a choice for many; I would say that the vast majority of us simply want to settle in an ideal place, decorate it as we wish and be in control of if and when we move to the next location.  But life is not that simple.

I received some really heartfelt emails from all over the world about rental cultures similar to ours up here in Scotland and the same issues translate across the board; and it seems to be intensified when you have children, especially small children.  There's such a strong sense that all you want for your children is that they should have a 'home' rather than just a house.

One lovely lady wrote of her experience:

'I didn’t mind renting at all. We don’t know where we want to lay our roots down yet, so we felt like this was a good choice for now. However, my feelings changed a lot when my son was born. I started to feel more and more like my house wasn’t really my house. Someone else owned it, and guess what? He could potentially come over anytime he wanted. He’s a professional and nice landlord, but occasionally he would (unknowingly!) come over when the baby was sleeping or I was trying to take a very-necessary-new-mom-nap.

I also didn’t like the idea that any decoration or design I put into the house wouldn’t be here forever. I started to get very, “what’s the point?” about decorating the house. I didn’t like that feeling. I want my son to grow up in a house full of art and beauty! It’s also hard raising a kid in a house when you feel like someone is always watching over you. Our landlord comes by a lot, and reminds us to water the plants, and empty the dehumidifier; it sort of makes me feel like a kid again, and I don’t like that!'

She then went on to say:

'However, the house is our home for now, and it’s the only home my son knows. I have decorated his room, and his toys are scattered throughout. We run around the backyard and take walks around our neighborhood. I have to remember that just because we are renting, it doesn’t mean I can’t love my house (which I do), or make this house a home (I’m trying!). I really did not expect my feelings to change so much when my son was born, but I guess it’s that mama bear instinct kicking in. I want my son to know he’s safe and comfy wherever he is, but I also have to remember that wherever his mom and dad are, is home to him.'

It's something Dave says to me time and time again - usually when I'm fretting over our latest house-move and the impact that it will have on everyone, yet again; 'They won't care where they are, as long as we are there with them. Wherever we are, as long as we are all together - it doesn't matter'

My worries travel with me all the time, and they range from totally crazy, to a bit scary really.  Things like:
  • What if I can't find a house where my lovely new couches (that I just nearly finished paying off!) will fit? (It's so important for me to have my own things)
  • What if we have another child - where will he/she fit?
  • Will Ethan get into the school Tom is at?
  • Will we end up moving somewhere else completely?
  • Will the next place accept our elderly dog?
  • Will we ever have a garden?
  • Should we move out of this town completely?
  • What if we can't afford to run a car any more?
  • What if we get turfed out and have to find somewhere quickly?
  • What about nightmare neighbours?
  • Where the hell is our Xmas tree going to be put up next year? (every time I take the xmas tree down - that tree must think it's on some kind of magical mystery tour. Every time the box opens, it's somewhere new!)
  • What happens if one of us gets ill and can't work?
  • Will the boys always have to share a room?
  • What if we don't get our deposit back?
  • What if we end up with a crazy, horrible landlord?
  • Storage space, storage space, storage space...
Where will we be hanging our stockings next year?

We had a shot at being settled, but we couldn't take it.  The house belonged to Dave's dad and there were far too many complicated issues surrounding it.  Sometimes the whole family thing is too difficult - it caused a lot of tension and a lot of friction.  We were extremely unhappy; the house had some issues, stuff happened and we had to move.  I'd never wanted to move there; I knew about these things before we did, but I was in a bad place when we moved and by default we ended up giving up a house that we absolutely loved. It caused problems between us and the overall stability of our family unit was threatened; it came to the point where we knew what we had to do. We had to get out of there.

The man at the mortgage shop basically told us we had about seven years to wait until we could buy a house.

 SEVEN YEARS.


Seven years, if nothing financial went wrong, and if suddenly our debts disappeared overnight.

He offered us life insurance, to which we shrugged and said we'd think about it, he showed us a list of houses we could buy with a mortgage if we could in any way, shape or form get one now, and it choked me up.

We have no problem paying a shit-ton of money in rent every month, but no broker will take that as a guarantee that a mortgage would be paid.  And so we remain in eternal house-renting-limbo.

Maybe we did life all wrong...

 Well, we probably did.  But that doesn't make it fair.

Tonight I wandered into the kitchen, head in hands, after yet another conversation with a friend about whether we are going to have to move again or not.

'Where are we going to end up?' I sighed.

Dave grabbed me by the shoulders, and in his ever-loving manner, pulled me close and said:

 'Happy.  We'll end up happy.  Don't you worry about that.  Wherever we go, as long as we are together, we'll be happy'