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, 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'

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Win A Signed Copy Of Tutti Frutti by Bompas and Parr!

All the better for smiling with, my dear!
I went to the dentist last year with a horrible pain in my tooth. Now, I've always been extremely lucky with my teeth, only having had ONE filling in my entire life! Not bad, eh?

So, I was a bit gutted when I found myself on the end of the telephone to a sympathetic receptionist who suggested that I pay the extra money for the emergency appointment, while I grimaced through some pretty head-tingling toothache.

I was imagining all sorts; root canals, abcesses, antibiotics and endless sleepless nights until I could complete treatment, which would no doubt take weeks to complete.

'Come straight down, the dentist will see you right away'


I steeled myself while in the waiting room, fearing the worst. My tongue ran back and forth over the tooth in question. I was certain I could feel a hole. And there was definite swelling. Maybe I could even feel the pain right under the tooth...

'Take a seat, Mrs Millar'

I lay back in the chair and opened wide after pointing out the source of my pain.

Two x-rays and a thorough check-up later, the dentist asked me to sit up.

'Well, your teeth are certainly in very good condition - there's nothing wrong at all. No holes, no infection, certainly no sign of anything untoward. Have you been eating anything cold lately?'

Turns out I have sensitive teeth. He explained that nerve pain was sometimes set off by cold or sweet things and that although there were no holes in my teeth, there was erosion of the enamel, meaning that sometimes a nerve caught the brunt of the cold.

All he could do was to recommend that I buy some sensitive teeth toothpaste on the way home and work on the pain with that!

I couldn't believe it - I'd never had pain like that ever. And I never have again - I bought some sensitive teeth toothpaste on the way home and after using it over a few days, the pain subsided completely. To say I was relieved was an understatement, but it was definitely not something I had ever considered before!

From then on I've been a bit funny about eating ice-cream at all. There's nothing like the memory of pain to stop you from enjoying what you once took for granted!

However, I find that by using a sensitive tooth toothpaste,  that I don't have to worry too much - it really does help!

Then I read that it doesn't necessarily have to be ice-cream or cold things that can cause sensitivity - oh no!

 And this is where my latest giveaway comes in!

Contemporary British architectural foodsmiths, Bompas & Parr, have created their most daring dessert yet; the world’s most sensitising ice cream.

Tasked with creating the ultimate challenge for Colgate® Sensitive Pro-Relief™, the culinary explorers created a tooth tingling ice cream invention to put Colgate’s protective powers against tooth sensitivity to the test.

I think it's crazy and am not overly keen to put my poor teeth anywhere near it, but it is rather interesting to see just how many things can set off sensitivity!

Almost half of the UK population (47 per cent) suffer from tooth sensitivity*. Bompas & Parr’s flavoursome invention has packed in some of the most common triggers for sensitive teeth including punchy peppermint, cooling erythritol, raspberry chilli ripple and a szechuan button – a yellow flower bud that delivers the ultimate tingling sensation, which all combined, put the toothpaste to its sternest test yet.

Why not challenge yourself with one of their recipes?

Elderflower and Violet Frozen Fizz

Bompas & Parr say: “Here’s how to create a fizzy, frozen delight; carefully lay a well-shaken fizzy drink down in the freezer,
and rescue it before it freezes solid. Hey presto - your cool, mildly acidic cordial has become a super-chilled sorbet!”
Why not take the challenge, and try this for yourself!

(Serves 2)
80ml Elderflower cordial
8ml Violet syrup
8ml Lemon juice
400ml Soda water
Empty plastic bottles (500ml

Take the Challenge
1. Combine the ingredients, then pour into bottles and seal the caps tightly.
2. Now shake them like a Polaroid, then lay them down in the freezer and leave
for 2 hours maximum, making sure not to agitate them at all. After the given
time, the liquid should be slushy. 3. Remove the bottles extremely carefully and
pour into pre-chilled glasses or dishes. The liquid should freeze as it’s poured
into the glass.

As part of the development of the inventive ice cream, an independent study of 2,000 adults found that one in three (33 per cent) sensitive teeth suffers will eat on just one side of their mouth in order to avoid the pain of sensitive teeth, with nearly seven in ten (68 per cent) admitting that they failed to report the problem to their dentist. Like me!

Of course, this is not the only cool (geddit!?) thing Bompas and Parr have done of late.  Oh no!

Their latest recipe book, Tutti Frutti  is full of all kinds of amazing and colourful ideas to liven up your tastebuds and show off at parties.  

Particular recipes that caught my eye were Carnival Punch, a 'quick and dirty party drink', and Fruit Ice Lollies, which come with an educational intro on the healing properties and importance of the tongue.

The whole book is a mish-mash of colourful and exciting ideas which stimulate creativity in all of us and all of the recipes and ideas (like ballon pinatas for your pets!) alongside some pretty spectacular creative photography, create a sensual and luxurious reading experience.

There's nothing I love more than a cool recipe - something a bit different.

To win a signed copy of Bompas and Parr's Tutti Frutti, see the Rafflecopter below and let us know - what's the craziest, most outlandish recipe you have in your repertoire?  I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Encouraging Your Early Readers

So, your primary schooler is just past the reading basics and has begun to read unaided, albeit with a little bit of help.

Getting a kid to read is much like fishing - you spend a lot of time in those early years casting the hook with loads of big fat, juicy, fun picture-book worms, filling your tackle box with the best possible tools and wading out as deep as you can into the river of imagination, hoping to capture every little swimmer that ebbs forth from your child's mind.

You coerce, you read all of the bedtime stories, you fill their heads with imagination and magic and the life that only reading can give.

But now they have started to learn how to read for themselves - sounding out letters, forming words and making wobbly letters on everything they can get their hands on.  It's a funny time.  A time you have been building up to, but much like teaching a child to bike ride, it's difficult to know when to take those stabilisers off and to let them wobble off into the distance.

Here are ten tips for encouraging and promoting your own little learner.

1.There's no rush

Really, there's not.  Yes, you should be encouraging as much lone reading as you can, but don't be too eager to push them too far yet.  At worst, you stand to alienate an under-confident child at such an early (and it is still very early!) stage and at the best, you stand to lose some very special bonding time over the written word.  Don't be lazy and don't presume that because your child can seemingly read quite well without you that they want to.  Of course they will want to show off and do it some of the time, but remember, they are still learning so much.  Language is very difficult, especially written down, and they can learn so much more just be listening to you shouldering some of the heavy pronunciation, intonation and punctuation.

2. Go Over Old Favourites

We're Going On A Bear Hunt: IT'S A BEAR!!!!

It is a well known fact that children learn via repetition, so use this to your advantage. Part one of anything when learning is to find something that you enjoy, and if your child loves a particular story or book, run with it.  Use voices, read half a page while they read the other half.  They are more likely to garner success with something they really love and the pleasure that this gives them will encourage them to develop their voice and push them into further exploration.

3. Be Silly

Have fun, use voices, challenge them, turn it into a competition.  Above all else, keep it interesting.  Children learn best through play, so maybe use it as more of a game time for them if they seem less interested.  Whatever you do, don't turn reading time into a chore.

4. Any Reading Is Good Reading: You Are Not A Doctor - Do Not Prescribe!

You would not believe the amount of parents I speak to who are so negative about what  their children are reading.  They worry because their son isn't interested in novels, just comic books, or that their daughter doesn't enjoy  the old childhood classics they themselves enjoyed, and instead spen a lot of time reading fluffy Magic Animal stories.

Just STOP!

It DOES NOT MATTER what they are reading, as long as they ARE reading!

It's all very valid for your child, so validate it for them.  Don't turn it into something that they are ashamed to do.

This is where you will lose them.

If your daughter just wants to read comic books all the time , get them a comic book subscription, furnish her interest, take her to comic cons, feed her knowledge and get involved.  If your son loves Magic, Fluffy, Animal stories, get more Fluffy, Magic, Animal stories.  And no, there is no typo here.  Your children do not read with their genitals - do not prescribe to them what they should or should not be reading; the point is THEY ARE READING.  And they will very probably grow out of this reading phase and into a new one, you know, because reading is magic that way - you can read pretty much about anything you want! I myself have gone from Enid Blyton, to Goosebumps, to real-life stories about military life. That's books!

5. Use Your Library

Okay, okay, so I am a bit biased here.  But seriously - you have a free source of unlimited amounts of reading and literature at your disposal - USE IT!

You can 'invest' in easy-readers and learning to read books for your fledgeling reader, but the truth is, after a few weeks they are mastered, read and boring.  These are short stories, here to serve a short, well-meaning purpose and children generally really love them.  But they are short. And the lessons in them are quickly learned.  A lot of main libraries house collections of easy reader books especially for children who are just edging into solo reading and they are fab.  And they are authored by some very popular children's writers.

Francesca Simon, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Michael Morpurgo and even Dr. Seuss books can all be found in the 'easier to read' section, and publishers are very much cashing in on their popularity amongst youngsters and their parents.

So use your library.  This really is the best place to foster a love of reading - plus it adds the best degree ever into the process, which is...'

6. Choice

Let your child choose.  And not just the material.  Let them choose when is best to read.  So, rather than asking them to read a passage at bedtime, when they are tired after a long day of learning, thus putting them off, maybe ask them to sit on your knee just before tea time, or even for a quick five minutes before heading out for an activity.

Don't get down on their choices either.  One of the best reads for Tom was actually a board book for babies that his brother borrowed from the library called 'Toot'., about babies farting.  It's a really funny wee book, filled with illustrations and funny wee phrases about the baby farting in the bath, in his snow suit etc.  And it was really funny to them both. They got a lot of joy out of it, and we had it out for weeks, based on the fact that when Tom read it to Ethan, they both laughed. A lot.  But if I had said to him, when he chose to read it 'Don't read that, it's for babies', we would have lost that whole experience of him enjoying reading to his brother and them both laughing and bonding over it.  Okay, it wasn't the most challenging, but hey, that also happens to be the same week he read his first chapter book on his own, so who's judging?
Same goes if they want to pick a book about Mongolia, or Ants or Sharks that seem well above their age level.  They chose it, and if they liked it enough to even pick it up, I'll bet your bottom dollar that they'll take something from it.

7. Reading Opportunities Are Everywhere

One of the first times that I realised that Thomas could read, was when we were in the car and he was able to read street sign names to me, completely without me even encouraging him.  It was amazing.  He'd sit in the back of the car and sound out words, letter by letter until he got a semblance of a word.  Which, as it happens, is how he now learns phonics at school.

I jumped on this opportunity as soon as I could.  If he was interested enough to do this on our normal day-to-day car journeys, then maybe he'd enjoy doing it for other street signs too?  I got him to look out for and recognise our home-town on street signs and he started pointing it out whenever he saw it.

I used this trick when we went on day trips to the zoo, or found leaflets about his favourite places.  Reading opportunities are everywhere.  Ethan currently loves picking up leaflets about the local aquarium and amusement arcades, but it's only a matter of time before he not only recognises the pictures and the font associated with these brands, but what the letters in the word actually say too.  That's repetition at it's best and it's a great tool at your disposal.

Tom's particular reading habit came from his video games.  He got a Lego Star Wars game on the PS2 and was keen for cheats to 'buy' characters.  He became adept at learning the complicated sounding names of characters and really good at sounding out otherwise impossible phonics which even adults would struggle with!  It was a gift, because he had such an interest in the Star Wars characters, that he would literally pore over anything that had them in it. We were very lucky like that, but you can adapt this to virtually anything - Disney characters, Skylanders, Dinosaurs.  Children get so obsessed about things - use it to your advantage.

8. Give Them Space

Tom loves reading alone sometimes, and during this time it is important to give him time and peace to do it.  His younger brother has always been a bit of a bugger to get to bed, so while he gets pretty much pandered to in his bottom bunk, I try to make sure Tom gets this time to read alone in the top bunk.  This time is for him, and he loves it.  He chooses the material - be it comic, magazine, Lego Character Encyclopaedia, and he gets to read 'in his head' sometimes sounding out the bigger words.  It is impotant for him to have this time without us breathing down his neck about mispronunciation and allowing him to make and (sometimes) correct his own mistakes.  If he can't play with the language without hindrance, he won't get to work out the nuances for himself, which is very important when it comes to reading in front of others or trying new stuff in class.

9.  Use The Internet

Image owned by

There is a wealth of learning tools on the web which seriously support the work that goes on in schools and on the page.  It is amazing.

They tend to be a lot more rote when it comes to learning, but a lot of it supports the curriculum and definitely helps with understanding the ins and outs of structure in our language.

Alphablocks, Teach Your Monster How To Read and Sesame Street's Elmo Reading App are all tools I have used to help various children over the last year or so, and most importantly, besides being a fab learning tool, they are FUN. And modern.  And the kids really engage with them.  They are incredibly developed and unbelievable addictive.  Use them at will!

10. Chill Out!

All kids learn at their own rate.  Don't push too hard or you will have the opposite effect that you wish to have on the young learner.  Like dogs, children sense nervousness. If you are lacking confidence in your child's ability, the will feel that.  Try to relax and enjoy the ride.  Remember how young they really are.  They might have donned a uniform and be waling and talking, but in the grand scheme of things, they are still just babies. Don't over-egg things or you will lose them at this.

Embrace the good as it happens and don't focus on what your child can't  do.  If you build it, it will come. Eventually. Enjoy the time you have left with your early reader.  All too soon they will grow into opinionated and developed readers with attitude - and that's a whole new wonderful journey on it's own!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Beginnings and Endings

How time flies - these guys grow too fast!

Today, my family is on the cusp of change.

Dave starts a new job on Monday, and while we have all lived quite happily with his regular 9 - 5 job, he works in the care sector, of which 9 - 5 jobs are thin on the ground.

However, like anyone who has to embrace change in order to progress, he has made the decision to move on and to absorb whatever the impact might be in order to improve.

Not an easy decision at all.

To leave his comfort zone, to leave a job that fits well around our family life, that doesn't eat into family time or see him spend any due amount of time away from the kids, in pursuit of something which may or may not work out to be a better fit, is a tough call.

What if it doesn't work out?
What if we never see each other?
What if we end up working opposite shift patterns?
What if it's not as challenging as he hopes it will be?
What if he's left something good, for something not so good?
What if?
What if?
What if?

Retrospect aside, change is a good thing.  Scary, but necessary.  We are no strangers to change; indeed, having moved house 6 times in the last 6 years, we are more than used to adapting to ever-developing situations.

We've dealt with a lot over the years. We ourselves have constantly adapted to survive, and have gotten quite good at knowing what works.

I don't know if it's getting any easier though.

I always think about things deeply as they end.  There are so many thing in life that we never get to say goodbye to - so when you realise that you might be doing something for the last time, I suppose it makes it more poignant. More reflective.

If I know I'm going to be doing something for the very last time, I try to say goodbye to it, no matter how insignificant it seems at the time.

It's so easy to just live your life and to have everything whipped out from under your feet very suddenly, without even being aware that it's happening.

  One day you are stressed, tired and hoping that your child will just go to sleep.  You've both been up since 5a.m and as a result the day has dragged, a grumpy child and mama in tow.  You put him to bed and he begs to hear that song that he loves as he goes to sleep - he wants you to sing it.  It's the last thing you want to do - you just want to shut off and forget the world. You begrudgingly, half-assedly sing it, angry with him for dragging out bed time when you have so many things to do with what little energy you have left.

One day you realise, that you haven't sung that song for two years - it's been so long since your baby asked you to sing him to sleep.  You never even noticed it happening.  You try to think back to the last time you sang that song, his favourite song to him.  You can't remember - you are sure you sang it with love and joy; you loved singing him to sleep...

It's always so easy to acknowledge beginnings with trepidation, hesitation, worry.  It's normal to be anxious as you spread out into the unknown, not knowing where it's going to take you. It is more difficult to acknowledge and notice the little endings - harder even to say to yourself 'this is the last time'. Don't be scared of endings - they are simply the start of another new journey.

It is good to acknowledge change when you can, and to embrace the beginnings and endings when you can.

Today i am aware of change.  I am aware of the impact it has on us all, and I am trying to hold on to the smaller changes within our lives, which although are in no way seismic, do happen sometimes without us realising it. Who knows where we will all be at this time next year? It's all very exciting.

You never know when it's going to be the last time.  But you can always try to make it a good time.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Zizzi Loving! A Great Family Meal In The Heart Of St. Andrews

Zizzi's!  Love the colour scheme!

I have been a very lucky lady lately.  Not only have I been invited to review the very yummy fare at Pizza Express,and have spent a whole day sampling goodies at The Edinburgh Foodies Festival, but I was also invited along to Zizzi's in St.Andrews to try out their amazing family-friendly menu.

I am also extremely lucky to be very good friends with the lovely Jac at Tinned Tomatoes and we were extremely fortunate to be invited along all together, our other halves and children included, to try out some of the spectacular food in this Italian delight.

Zizzi's is a deceptively large restaurant in the heart of St Andrew's and offers a spacious, atmospheric space, suitable for the whole family.  The atmosphere is fabulous - very busy and quite noisy, so I didn't feel like I had to keep the kids and their loud voices in check too much, which for me, made a more relaxing experience.

The huge mallow shaped pizza oven is situated at the rear of the space, with an open kitchen, where you can watch the extremely busy and quick chefs at work.  It was all very impressive.

The furnishings were of a very high quality; nice sturdy wooden tables, large enough to carry the weight of the food and to deal with squirming, ants-in-your-pants children (Thomas never sits still!), so I didn't have to worry about them tipping the table and soaking us all with juice. Always a bonus!

Some pretty artwork on the walls made for some lovely scenery
Zizzi's has a very nice new children's menu - The Bambini Menu - and for £6.75 your little bambini will be a very well-fed bambini indeed!

The menu is a set as 3 courses, with a chocacino to finish (a mini glass of chocolate milkshake - very cute!) and it's vegetarian friendly to boot, which is great for our kids.

There's no need to worry that the fare is going to be too fancy for wee palates either - the food is all very fresh and healthy, while catering to the somewhat plainer tastes of children. AND they provide some pretty fancy Crayola crayons while you wait!

To start, they are served with carrot, cucumber and dough sticks, which Tom absolutely loved.  It's not too filling for him and also, he loved feeling grown-up with his own wee dish, rather than picking from my own starter, as he usually does if we go out.

Ethan wasn't so keen on the carrot or the cucumber.  Trying to get that boy to eat any fruit or veg is a nightmare at the best of times, but he was happy with the dough sticks, and I ate the veg for him.  I thought he might at least have a go, as Cooper and Thomas were having theirs with gusto, but no!  He's pretty set in his ways.

For the kids, the main was a bit of a no-brainer; they were given the choice between Mini Pasta or Mini Pizza , but with all the pretty damn fine pizza smells wafting around and after sitting watching all of these gorgeous pizzas making their way from the kitchen, they opted for the Mini Marguerita.

There is a fab wee option with the mini pizza where you can order toppings in little dishes so that you can 'make your own', which is a lovely touch for the wee ones - making them feel like they are little pizza chefs, which is really cute.  I thought that was a really nice touch.

Unfortunately, my two boys have a fussy taste like their mother, (who? me?) so they simply wanted the plain Marguerita, which meant we didn't get to see this in action.  The boys really loved their pizza though, and I have to say, considering the size of them, and the fact that they had already had a starter, I was fairly surprised to see that they both ate the whole thing!

If your kids like their veg, there's an option here to add some Broccoli or Beans, but it does cost 50p extra.

After we'd visited the toilets and us adults had finished our enormous meals, we got ready for dessert.

Ethan was really chuffed with his cones!
Tom opted for the Ice Cream (2 scoops of flavoured ice cream, from a wide choice of flavours), while Ethan went for the fabulous looking Zizzi Bambini Cones, which was served as two scoops of ice cream, two mini cones and popping candy.

Ethan negated to make his own cones as suggested (ever his own man), but instead decided to do it his way, taking a bit off the end of each cone and slurping the ice cream while scooping popping candy into his mouth and laughing.

He really enjoyed this dessert!  I think Tom was a bit jealous - it did look really cool.  Plus Ethan was having a great time, shaking his head after eating the popping candy.  I asked him what he was doing and he said 'It's like maracas in my mouth, Mummy!', which did make us all laugh.  He is too cute sometimes.

The kids all had a great time, but us adults did too!

While everyone got stuck into some rather tasty Peroni Italian lager, Prosecco by the glass, cocktails and juice which were all readily on offer, I happily ordered myself a virgin cocktail, which came decorated with a fresh strawberry and was a lovely wee treat for the designated driver!

The food was amazing too.  Hot on the heels of the kids' starters, came our very own.

Dave and I ordered the Arancini breaded risotto balls, which were absolutely delicious, consisting of risotto, mozzarella and peas, fried in golden breadcrumbs.  They came with a wee tomato peperonata dip, and to be honest, I could have eaten these all night.  I reckon I'll try to recreate these at home!

Next up, Dave ordered Zizzi Spiedini Pollo, which was presented on a stand, making it extra impressive. This came with Tuscan potatoes and a white wine and lemon sauce.  It looked awesome - even if I don't eat meat.  Dave certainly enjoyed it!

Meanwhile, what did the fussy vegetarian order?

Well, I even surprised myself when I ended up with this particular main course.

Now presenting, a delicious mish-mash of awesomeness:

To the left of the pizza is mozzarella, new potato, riserva cheese, red onion and thyme.  To the right, a contrasting flavour amalgamation of half-roasted peppers, roquito chilli, mushrooms and rocket.

On the left, salty, cheesy, savoury goodness.  On the right, sweet, hot and slightly peppery.


And the best bit?  I couldn't finish it all, so they boxed it up for me and I went through the same amazing taste sensation the next day. Perfecto!

Of course, you aren't simply limited to Pizza at Zizzi's.  They also serve up a mean selection of Risottos, some amazing Calzones, some beautiful Linguines and traditional Lasagne.

There is a massive choice - and they do take-away too!

Of course, despite being very full, we had to try dessert and this did not disappoint.  I enjoyed a rather moreish Chocolate Melt pudding, which had a gooey warm middle, and some lovely vanilla ice-cream.

Dave however tried out the new and very delicious sweet pizza.  What a fab idea!  

Melting marshmallows, fresh strawberries,drizzled with warm chocolate and hazelnut sauce!  MMM!

The kids were also served with their chocacinos while we finished up, which was such a nice end to the meal and made them feel very grown up, as well as loading them with even more energy, which they then used up outside, racing up and down the street outside!

After having a wee run around St.Andrews, playing tig and chasing the kids around the street (it's okay, they were pretty much deserted!), laughing and giggling, we all piled into the car for home, just as the sun began to set.  We'd all had a really lovely time, and are sure to return soon!

The best nights end like this!

It's worth it for full, knackered children!

*Disclaimer - I was asked to attend Zizzis to try out their new menu and review the Bambini menu.  I did not pay for my meal, nor was I expected to give a positive review.  All opinions are completely my own.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Best and Worst Political Photo Ops: How I Would Win A General Election: Guest Post

I had a wee glance at the Scotsman today (I know, it's rubbbish!) and caught a wee glimpse of Alex Salmond photo-bombing a poor lassie’s round of golf for no apparent reason.

Spending time with Alex Salmond is a good walk spoiled. 

It reminded me of the time he played football and got me thinking about how I would use the photo-op to win the heart of millions and a general election.

On the 'ead

My tactic would be to spend a day of creating the best political photo- ops ever in homage to some of my favourites of all time.
I guess I could start with the sports, but that would make me really hungry and I’d need a pasty after that and probably a pint to wash it down. Luckily for me this is a well-trodden photo-op path. All of us politicians love a pie (or a bacon roll) do we not, and so long as I’m a proper right-winger I’ll get away with having a beer.

Tosser with a pint!

Politicians love going to people’s work  don’t they? And dressing up...

I’d be sure to fit in a wee stroll along the beach. Nothing could go wrong there right?

I’d have to remember to smile of course!

I’ll spend a bit of time with my celebrity mates.

Hold a baby!

And pose for my corporate sponsors.

So that’s it. One day, many photos and then people will believe that I’m actually a person rather than a soulless and incompetent parasite who only wants to be elected cos I heard the expenses are pretty good.

Nah... Sod it I’ll just take my top off, ride a horse and shoot a gun!!!!