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!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

See you, Jimmy

We've all seen or heard of Elf on the Shelf? Right?

It's a pretty cutesy and magical thing to do with your kids.  Part of the lure of Christmas time for me is the crazy imaginative stuff that goes with it.

Santa's watching?  Best behaviour monitor ever.  You should see my youngest get a grip and behave himself when I mention those two very magical words; 'Santa's watching.'

I have had amazing shows of kindness, empathy and love from these kids because of Christmas - they make cards for Santa 'because Santa never gets any cards, mummy, and that's not fair!', they have thought very carefully about what people would like for Christmas, and they have also had a thought for other children who might not have so much, making sure we donate to foodbanks and baby banks.

I also love the challenge of creating magic for them - it goes from the mystery of what's behind the advent calendar door, to visiting Santa in his grotto, to helping them make special decorations for the tree which become keepsakes.  I really, really love it.

Elf on the Shelf has crept up in my newsfeed gradually every year, starting as a novelty thing one friend brought back from America one year, and now, suddenly, everyone is at it, my newsfeed filled with everyone's really funny and cheerful Elf on the Shelf antics.

It's the kind of thing that really grips me; the idea of making something every night for my kids to find in the morning.  The perfect mix of magic and naughtiness.  When I was wee, I sincerely believed that my toys had feelings and came alive at night, and I know my kids share the same healthy imagination, so I would have loved to have done it this year.

But yet again, it was just another thing that fell by the wayside as we budgeted for Christmas - an Elf on the Shelf, although awesome is a pricey piece of equipment.  I just couldn't justify that amount of money for a Christmas decoration, albeit a really cool memory-making one.

Turns out though, you don't need a real Elf on the Shelf to freak your kids out.  When your imagination is as wild as my boys', you can pretty much get away with magic thoughts alone.

And we have.

Introducing, Jimmy.

You can't see Jimmy.  He only comes when everyone is in bed, and he is really, really naughty.  Very silly indeed.  He plays tricks on everyone in the middle of the night.  He doesn't come every night either, only on the nights where me or Dave actually remember to do something silly.  So far, Jimmy has done various naughty things.

He wrapped toilet roll around the television.

He put pants on the Christmas tree (this one in particular got a lot of laughs).

He made the Lego alarm clocks hang by their bums from the top of the television (can you see where my children's focus is first thing in the morning?)

He left a crazy mess on the table.

He took apart Ethan's carefully constructed Mr Potato Heads.

He also gets blamed when things go wrong, which is actually working wonders for Ethan and his crazy tantrums.

For example, Ethan, at the moment, has a thing about wearing gloves when we go out.  Nobody else bothers, but he is very insistent.  The trouble is, he never takes them both off together or leaves them both in the same place, so more often than not, one always goes astray, which leads to all kinds of morning stresses and dilemmas.


Don't mess with the glubs!

The other morning, he found both of his mickey mouse mittens.  Brilliant - no drama!

How wrong I was.

They were a glove from each of the two sets we own; both were left handers.

Bugger!

'Mummy!  My glubs!  My glubs are not working!'

'Aw Ethan, you've got two the same, honey!'

And then, magically, without me doing a thing...

'Mummy, it must be Jimmy that did it!  Jimmy swapped my glubs! Jimmy!!!'

I still can't find that dratted other glove, but Ethan is very happy to turn the other upside down and wear them anyway, because Jimmy did it.

(I bought him new glubs for Christmas, don't worry!)

Tantrum avoided!

I might have taken the whole thing too far though, when I downloaded an app on my phone called Santa Spy Cam.  It lets you use the camera on your phone to superimpose animations of elves doing silly things, so it looks like they are in your house.  I made a few up; one of Jimmy peeking out of my wardrobe and going back in, one of Jimmy driving his car along the unit and disappearing into the TV, one of Jimmy dancing on my bed with my knees on it.  It looked really good.

The boys were quite amused, but admittedly, a lot more freaked out than I thought they would be.

Thomas refused to go through to the other room to get dressed without accompaniment.

Ethan kept asking if he would be going into his room, like he'd gone into mine.

It all ended with a phone call to Santa, to see what Jimmy was up to and if Santa would have a wee word with Jimmy - it's not good to drive cars in the house apparently, and especially not into TVs.  He shouldn't bounce on the bed either.

Making Jimmy a 'reality' was one step too far, apparently.

Jimmy has got them some gifts as a thanks for having him.  He might do something a bit daft tonight as a last hurrah before Christmas Eve.

The power of imagination is a wonderful thing.

And we didn't need an Elf on the Shelf to do it!






Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas is coming!

I messaged my sister in law last night to see how she was getting on with her wee ones in the run up to Christmas.  She has a brand new baby boy and it's been a really busy time - I think she must be some kind of superwoman for getting everything together for Christmas and also looking after two kids aged two and under.  I remember quite well what it was like for us a few years ago - and Ethan's birthday was in October, which meant I had phenomenally more time to get my shit together (and I sincerely did not)!

This year I feel really overwhelmed - due to losing approximately 9 weeks of my life to morning sickness and the wonderful early stages of pregnancy, I feel like I woke up about a week ago to a nightmare-ish scenario of loads to do, lots to sort out and virtually no time left at all to do it.

Panic stations!

Ho Ho Ho!
Hence there has been a lot of panicked buying, planning and hasty wrapping going on. I feel like we have missed so much this year - usually I do all sorts of crafts and fun stuff with the kids, but this year we just haven't had the energy nor the time.  Still, we have done the fundamentals; we took the kids to see Santa at our usual venue and we still went to the cinema to see our annual festive film (which this year was Paddington - very nice indeed) which I think I enjoy more than anything.  I love making memories.

The boys popped into my workplace last-minute with Dave to make some lovely crafts with some other families, who all had an amazing time making snowmen out of cotton wool, glittery decorations and playing in the 'snow' foam tray with polar bear figurines.  It was so nice to let them be glittery and gluey and foamy without having to worry about house destruction!

In my panic about whether we have enough sellotape, or if I have forgotten anyone on my card list, I try to remember the stuff we have done.  The boys have been hyped since November - Christmas has been absolutely everywhere.  Our tree has been up since the first of December.  Tom has written his cards for his classmates.



Yes, there are things we would like to be able to do but there is also the fact that the kids don't care!

And I don't mean that they don't care about doing all of the things that make Christmas for us, but what I do mean is that they don't want to hit that saturation point.

None of us do.  There is stuff absolutely everywhere.  Where we live, we could visit a different Santa every day of the week for a month.  We could attend every single Christmas showing, Christmas panto, visit all of the Christmas shops, spend days and days watching a plethora of Christmas films, tv specials and documentaries.  The shops are stuffed to the gunnels with jumpers, antler headbands, santa hats and (of all things) Christmas leggings.  It's crazy.

Yet, I have been constantly reminded this year that it really is the little things.

It's spending time all together instead of stressing out at the shops.

It's watching The Snowman before bedtime.

It's reading Christmas books borrowed from the library.

It's getting excited at a Christmas card through the door.

It's dipping your cookies in your milk because 'That's what Santa does!'

It's dressing up like Santa, beard and hat included, because you are 4 years old and you idolise Santa.


In our wee catch up, my sister in law rounded off with this sentiment, which is something I have found to be very true: 'Christmas with kids is the best!'

You know what?  When you forget about the other rubbish, the magic of the season, especially in the company of little people who are very excited and loving the participation, really is the best.

These guys are really my reason for the season.
Ethan loves to dress as Santa - 'I HAVE to wear my red coat, mummy!'





Friday, 19 December 2014

Gremlins...

It's been a while.

I never meant to stay away for so long, but hey, life is never straightforward and is always happy to throw me a few curveballs.

First of all, Dave was working in a crazy-demanding job which saw our routine with work and kids and childcare and house stuff go completely to pot.  There were simply not enough hours in the day to complete everything.  Needless to say, any spare time was spent catching up with stuff we didn't have time for; piles of washing, dishes, school notes, appointments...life was crazy.

Thankfully he has a new job now and so far  (touch wood), it seems to be a much smoother ride.

There's a lot to be said for work/life balance.

While this was going on, we are also house hunting.  We are hoping to buy our first house in the very near future, so I have been trying to use free minutes perusing house-buying sites, hoping to stumble upon something cheap and cheerful.  Needless to say, it's a terrible time of year for it!

While scouring various domains, my poor wee laptop managed to pick up a few Malware gremlins.  It took a long time to get rid of them - in fact I am still sorting stuff out after having to restore my computer back a few months...grumble.

Add on to this the other pressing gremlin we discovered one day a wee while ago...

They always look very odd in the first photo - although, look!  Tiny wee hand!

Yes, check it out!  Turns out there's a wee guy/gal hiding out inside of me!

I have been feeling horrendous these last couple of months - hence the lack of blog - but I have to say, I am feeling a lot better now, even more so after going to the hospital and actually seeing a real-life baby on the screen! Paranoid-me likes to imagine I was imagining it.

So, I missed a couple of things; my 30th birthday wasn't quite as intense as I'd planned, but the way I was feeling, that was okay by me!  I had a really great meal with my family and had some really lovely gifts given and even delivered!  I certainly feel very loved indeed.

I've had a great time keeping this a secret from real life people too.  Some I told, knowing I'd need support as I felt so rubbish.  Some I told accidentally.  But others, as I have discovered this week when I told them, already knew.  Apparently the bump which I didn't think I had much of gave me away. Ha!

I am going to be huge.

But hey - it's (most definitely) the last time I am going to be doing this and I am determined to enjoy every last second of it.  Pregnancy hasn't been a positive experience for me, but now I am that bit older and wiser, I seem to have a different attitude towards it.  Things are so very different from when we had the boys, it's kind of nice to just not worry quite so much.

We told the boys on the day we got the scan - they were both ecstatic.  Tom really wants a sister.  And you know, sod's law, Ethan really wants a brother. One is going to be sorely disappointed!

So, yeah!

Bear with me - I might not be around so much in the next couple of weeks (although the sickness is fading and I'm getting some of my energy back - hurrah!) but I shall do my very best!



Monday, 3 November 2014

Poppies




Every year I wear a poppy.  I make a point of buying a new one most times I see a box. I feel like I owe it to past generations to wear one; they sacrificed a lot for our freedom.

As with most things, it was a habit passed on to me from childhood.  A big deal was made in our house about making sure that we wore a poppy.  That we observed the silence on Remembrance Sunday, and it was with solemnity and silence that we thought about the strong family ties that linked us with some of the greatest tragedies of human time.

When I was a wee girl, my Grandad spent ages teaching me how to march like a soldier.  In the long summer days in the garden, after he'd spent the afternoon cutting the huge hedges or cutting the grass to perfection, then he'd sit in a white fold down chair beside the summer house on the yellow and pink patio, smoke a horrible-smelling cigarette and have a cup of tea, and teach my restless, childish mind about things from his own past.

It always baffled and frustrated me as a teenager, and even as a young adult that we never knew more about what my Grandad did in the war.  He bore the scars so obviously physically (he had a glass eye and had been through major plastic surgery on his face and body) and later on, sadly, mentally, yet we never really heard what happened.

We agonised as a family over his own personal torture; what had he done?  What had he seen?

It was just never spoken about, out of respect more than anything.  And that was alright.

It's only now, now that I am that bit older and wiser, and now that I have children of my own, that I look back to my own childhood and the little detailed nuances of warm summer afternoons spent with my Grandad that I realise that he told me more than I understood.

As I stood in my shorts, face muddied after digging holes for plants, t-shirt stained green with grass and dirt, a smile on my face, waiting to be 'entertained', I was just a wee lassie spending time with her Grandad.

Clasping my bamboo cane 'gun' to my chest, he'd give me orders, showing me how to properly carry a gun while marching, how to do a proper 'about turn' and how fast the pace should be.

There's something quite bitter-sweet about that image; an old war veteran, showing his grand-daughter moves from a war which almost claimed his life.  And if his life had been claimed, I wouldn't be here today either.

He'd teach me how to make signals and signs with stones and twigs; secret signals to those who knew the code.  We'd spend hours making them for each other on the garden path, and without even thinking, I turned it into a game with my friends, which we played over and over again.

He taught me how to camouflage my face with fresh-pulled grass, how to conceal myself with cut-down branches when we lopped the tree branched together and how to wash my hands with leaves.  He showed me which berries we could eat and how to use dock leaves after a nettle sting, and how to whistle with blades of grass.

He taught me how to use old rope and carpet and whatever I could get my hands on to build a hide-out at the side of the garage.  He showed me how to stay silent when playing hide and seek with my sister, and how to avoid being caught out by shadows.

My Grandad never told me stories of his wartime buddies, nor did he boast about anything he had accomplished.  His silent victory was in his survival, and the rebuilding of his life and getting to share it with his children, and his children's children.

Every year however, the same silent ritual.  The same respectful moments; dropping pennies into every collection tin we passed on the street or in the supermarkets, pinning our red poppies to jumpers, jackets, scarves, t-shirts.  Falling silent on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month with more solemnity than our young years should have been able to muster. And afterwards, sticking our poppies in drawers with great reverence, heads bowed, ready for next year.

War was never really spoken about in our house, but it was still a relevant thing.

Of course, we learned about it at school, we talked about it with friends and we looked at pictures in books from the library.  We learned about injustice and hard times and what those we knew and loved had had to do to survive.  We learned about rations and the suffering of those at home and the many, many people who never returned from trying to fight evil and make the world a better place.

It was so black and white to us; there was never any doubt that by wearing a poppy and dutifully remembering those behind us who sacrificed so much, that we were doing so out of respect and love.

When my Grandad died, the ritual carried on, except with even more reverence.

Now I truly had to remember my departed and dearly beloved as he was in life, and as a man who bore so much pain for his whole life in order to ensure our freedom today.  Now when I fell silent, I remembered him and him alone, and I felt even more sure that yes, he had returned from a war so vicious, but it had also claimed a huge part of him that had never come home.

He's been dead for ten years now, and I miss him every day.  I have amazing memories of him and the time we spent together, and I am so very grateful for that.  In that time, I have grown.  I've come out of the awkward teenage years, I've started a family and become involved and interested in politics.  I have read my way around the war - researched where he was posted, read about the battles which he may or may not have fought in and tried to make sense of the part of his life which he never divulged.  I've looked into history books, read about the holocaust, the home front and the man who treated him in hospital, where my Grandad was one of the first to receive pioneering plastic surgery.

I've learned and now understand so much.

And as I have grown, I have made a point of getting my red poppy, every single year.

Times have changed and now a war like the one my Grandad and his friends faced, are thankfully far past most people's lifetimes.

Now they relive this through their parents and grand-parents, and with this kind of distance comes a special kind of forgetting which is neither our fault nor our fancy.

Many of us are desperate to change the world.  Life and politics move so quickly nowadays, with the advent of media and technology. We can often hear of news on the other side of the world via our Twitter accounts before it hits the six o' clock news.

With technology, war now seems further away than ever.  We have been at war as a country for a huge amount of time now - we have had troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan for years, fighting for things we have been told by governments we need to protect.

Oil.
Investments.
Ourselves from 'terrorists'.

We send troops to foreign countries to get maimed, killed and injured.  We bring them home and make a half-assed job of 'rehabilitating' them.  We press buttons to kill faceless people we don't know in the name of fighting terrorism and protecting the world.

Just recently, we, Britain, started yet another 'campaign' in Iraq.  More war without consultation.

I wonder what my Grandad would make of it.

I used to buy my poppy every year.  Every year I'd make a massive point of pinning it to my chest.  I did to honour what my Grandad and his generation had been through. To remember the sacrifice that they had all made; the lives lost, the children gone, never to return, the rupture of a whole lifetime for the whole world.  A lesson hopefully never to be repeated.

I did it out of respect for the man I loved, for his experience and his health and his life.  To show thankfulness for his life.

For the first time I am considering not just donning my usual red poppy, but instead wearing a white one alongside it.

This year, more than ever I am aware of what is going on in the world, and I just don't know if I would feel right this year wearing just a red poppy on my lapel.

A white poppy signifies hope for peace. A hope that no more blood be spilled.

I will still drop a pound in the poppy box when I can.
I will still bow my head in remembrance.
I will still hold my silence.
I will still be thankful.

But this year I think I have realised that war never ends.  The justification for the current wars are just not enough. Men, women and children around the world are suffering every day. We still need to support those who fight, but we need to show that it's not enough.

This year, I need hope. I will be seeking out one of each.  Red for remembrance and to support those who have suffered through war.  And white for hope.

Everyone needs hope.










Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Teaching fairness to the kids, and expecting some ourselves: RBS, Hello, Goodbye

Teaching loyalty and fairness to my kids is something which (I hope) comes across as an everyday event in our house.

Having two boys so close in age, it's an ongoing task to teach them to be kind and courteous to each other.

 Sharing is a huge deal too - my boys are always having to learn how to share and how to treat each other fairly (or try to).

Being so close in age (just 2 years between them) they have had to learn to share a lot.  My eldest son has felt the brunt of this - he learned very quickly what it meant to be a big brother, and I'm very proud of him; he very often defaults to his younger sibling automatically for most things.  Ethan on the other hand can be a little more reluctant to show fairness.  He is the bitter to Thomas's sweet a lot of the time, and it's an ongoing task to make sure that Ethan learns how to show fairness to his brother.

I'm happy to report that, in the main, I receive a lot of lovely compliments about how polite my boys are, which is something I am very proud of; if nothing else, I wish for them to have good manners.

They are in no way perfect though - we've definitely had our moments!

What do we do?  We do our best.  That's all anyone can ask.  We try.  We're not perfect, but we do try!

1. Be the best role model.


Being kind to animals!

Children model your behaviour.  Like wee sponges, they soak up your social cues like nobody's business.  If you listen while others talk, they'll listen while others talk.  If you always say please and thank you, they will also insist on doing it.  You are the best role model for your child - never forget how heavily they monitor the little things you do.


2. Teaching Empathy

I have always worked in customer service, so more often than not, I'm either trying my damndest to provide a great service for some people,or hoping to receive the same courtesy.

Transferring this into my personal life, I always try to treat others the way I would like to be treated.  I try to teach the kids this too - so when they are squabbling over something and they hurt each others feelings (a daily event!) I always say to them 'how would you feel?'

Giving them this wee moment to consider how each other would feel if in each other's shoes usually hits home for them.

3. Books and Storytelling

Book reading is fun too!
Books are a brilliant way to get a message across - they cover almost anything that you wish to teach your child, making it easier to discuss topics which may otherwise pose a problem, without being too daunting for a wee one.

One of my favourites is this one by Mo Willems:


It really makes me and the kids giggle, as well as showing them a wee bit about fairness and loyalty, without being at all heavy.

4. Board Games


Playing games teaches fairness
This one is a bit harder to do with young children, but this is definitely one of the great tools of teaching.  Not just focusing on chance and luck, games teach about taking turns, playing by the rules and doing your best.
Our boys love a board game, and I like to encourage this.  It fosters a sense of competition while allowing them to see losing and accepting failure (not always graciously - but then I know some adults who have a huge problem with this!)

Loyalty and fairness is a difficult concept to grasp!

RBS have launched a new campaign which deals with fairness and equality,making the point that it shouldn't just be new customers who benefit from great deals.  Which is so true!  Having been a loyal member of some schemes int he past,I'm always a bit miffed when deals and awesome giveaways pop up 'for new customers only, as seen in this video:



How many times have you been wooed by fancy gifts and polite conversation, only to be pretty much shoved out of the door when you happen to mention that you've already been a happy customer?

It's even happened to me in the street!

I completely agree that companies should work hard to keep their customers happy and to reward those who have been loyal.

That only makes sense to me.

RBS are saying 'Hello' to great offers for existing customers, and saying 'Goodbye' to a lot of the things that banks are otherwise notorious for - like extra overdraft charges on missed payments and only new customers getting the best rates.  Check it out for yourself here.

We spend a lot of time teaching our children the meaning of fairness and equality.  It's time we expected a bit back.

It's great to see RBS rewarding existing customers as well as new ones!


Disclosure: I'm working with Britmums and RBS on theis project and have been compensated. All opinions are my own.