Friday, 26 September 2014

The artist

Sometimes, she disappears for hours and I know that I am not to disturb. The creative juices are flowing and this child who usually bounces about, runs from adventure to adventure, and is the loudest kid on the block (which means I usually hear her if I can't see her) cannot be heard or seen. If I get too close to the door it's a panicky "mummy DON'T look" that greets me. Of course I don't because I know when she wants to be left alone until her project is entirely finished. It's a big secret and a work in progress is never shared with anyone.

Her favourite book ever is Hoglet the Spineless Hedgehog, which according to her is absolutely amazing ("Mami, it's so so so good that story")

And she is a self declared artist. She loves the fancy paints, like acrylics on canvas.

Next up she creates houses for cats, with built in toys.

After this, she's back to her usual bouncy self, like a switch that's been turned one way and then the other.

 It's not an easy task keeping up with this kind of energy!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014


I have downsized.

As of next month, I've reduced my working hours to effectively 3 days a week term time only. It may be temporary, but there's no guarantee, so I've good and proper taken the plunge. I'd wanted to do this for ages, but alas, it wasn't possible - there were targets not achievable on 3 days, a restructure, more targets and now finally an opportunity to at least spend a bit more time with Snowflake in the last year before she starts school. Oh and the summer holiday: This past summer was so incredibly wonderful, there was so much on and I was stuck in an office without much work to do (which was a first to be fair), a lot of time to think and reassess what is important to me and to allow for my priorities to shift. Realising that due to the restructure, my work had changed to an extent that there was a real chance of getting a request for reduction of hours approved, the idea grew and grew, and I finally had the courage to ask for the biggest reduction to my hours I'm comfortable with. I now also have the summer to spend with the girls which is the real biggy - not just will I save on particularly expensive childcare, but actually be able to do stuff with them that I really want them to experience, as good as our local holiday club offerings are, I don't want them cooped in the same place they spend their school days and after school hours.

For as long as I can think, I've been working hard and playing little. Even as a teenager I worked after school and in the holidays, and every conceivable opportunity to make money to finance my travels was grasped.

Later I was ambitious, not hugely so but I kind of wanted to move up a bit on the career ladder. Having reached the motherhood glass ceiling or something like that, or failing to identify where that career ladder people talk about actually is, I don't see this happening any time soon. So it made sense to just let go of ambition and enjoy this moment, right here, right now, the last year of freedom for Snowflake, and who knows what will be after that.

I'm full of excitement and full of plans for this extra free day and the summer. I have to hold myself back not to fill it up straight away with all the things that I haven't been able to do because of lack of time and actually focus on the stuff I really want to do. So much to do - get back into growing, sewing, studying, volunteering - but above all just being with my children, reconnecting and being able to say yes more often, being able to follow their pace instead of the rat race's pace.

I might even find the time to blog again, whoop.

Both Snowflake and Cubling did a little dance by the way, which is kind of good, just imagine they'd have responded with "oh no mum, I'd really rather go to after school care/ forest kindergarten". 

All the while I am happily humming Chris Wood's song:

Monday, 1 September 2014

Plums, glorious plums

This year has been a bumper harvest of my little Victoria plum tree, the one that is happy to grow in our north facing blip of a garden, in the heaviest clay soil you'll ever have seen.

Last year there were 14 plums. This year... Too many to count. So what to do with them all? Well, while I consider, I harvest as they get ripe, halve them and put them in small freezer bags to keep my options open. I like plum cake, and the portion size is sufficient for a nice big cake.

But I think we may have more than we need for cake, so this year I'm planning to dig out a nice German recipe for Pflaumenmus (plum compote.. well sort of, it doesn't translate well, I've seen it translated as plum cheese, but there's nothing cheesy about it). In fact, there's plenty of German plum recipes, I'm sure plum/damson cake is omnipresent in German bakeries, with the fair accompaniment of wasps who seem to like plums as much as we do.

Plum compote is a bit like jam, just with less sugar and longer boiling at lower temperature, and the addition of spices which make it perfect for winter days.

3 kg plums
500 g jam sugar
1 unwaxed lemon, cut the rind into strips
2 cinnamon sticks
ground ginger, cloves or all spice to taste

Wash, halve and remove stones. Put into a casserole dish and sprinkle with spices (cinnamon, cloves etc). Add sugar and stir. Put into preheated oven at 175 degrees C for at least 1.5 hours (stir after every half hour), and put a wooden spoon in the oven door to allow the water to evaporate. The mousse is done when the plums have disintegrated, the water evaporated and the compote is nice and dark. You may need to extend the time in the oven up to 2.5 hours. Fill into sterilised jars and close.

(How to sterilise jars: wash them in hot water, and put the wet jars into the oven for 15 minutes at about 100-150 degrees. You can also boil them in a large saucepan for 10 minutes, or use a baby bottle steriliser if you have one. Sterilising reduces the likelihood of mould developing).

You can use the mouse just like jam, or bake with it or...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Competition: Rockin' Baby Slings and Pouches

 My children are growing and growing and here I am, being offered to review not one, no, two slings. I quickly did a weight check and tick, my smaller than average almost 4 year old (what????) is still within the range. The range of being carried in a sling. Would you believe it.

So we had a bit of fun tonight, for the first time ever I tried out a ring sling. It worked although I'm not sure I want to be carrying 15 kg worth of child any length of time even with the prettiest of ring slings. And neither does she, it was fun for 10 minutes and that was that.

It made me look back though at her baby days, when slinging her was a daily occurrence, it was the quickest and most convenient way of getting about, esp. with a preschooler in tow. I didn't carry Cubling half as much (she didn't like it, not that she liked the pram either but forward facing, the devil of all baby transport modes, was her clear favourite and who am I to argue), but Snowflake ... it was just practical, cuddly, warm and all good.

I'm also rather partial to nice fabrics and if sling manufacturers are good at something, it's definitely choosing fab fabrics.

Which brings me to the slings currently in my box. The Rockin' Baby slings and pouches look a bit different to anything I've used so far, so I was curious. They are handmade in the US and reversible and they are now entering the UK market through a deal with Mothercare who will be stocking them.

The company also has a charitable initiative going, with a strong partnership with mothers in Haiti, a country still very much suffering from the consequences of the earthquake. Every Rockin' Baby sling bought will mean a free sling for a mum in Haiti, to make everyday life a little bit easier, while reducing high infant mortality rates through kangaroo care.

The ring sling is one size with 4 different ways of positioning baby, while the pouches come in different sizes. They also allow 4 different ways of positioning baby, so there's not really much in the two, it's a matter of preference. There's quite a range of fabric prints, all really pretty. Yes, you've guessed it, I wish I had a baby to carry in one of them!

I won't need slings anymore (sob) so one lucky will have the chance to win either the sling or the pouch (size S-M which should fit most mums, you can check on the Rockin Baby website) - your choice, while the second one will be donated to the local sling library. Both sling and pouch are as pictured here with the bold black and white print which is definitely one of my favourites.

To enter the competition to win either the sling or the pouch, please leave a comment below. UK entries only (I'm paying postage myself, and can't really afford to send overseas unless you want chip in the postage through paypal, in which case I'm happy to accept non-UK entries). For an extra entry, share this post on twitter, adding @cartside, so I can see it. You can also share on facebook for an extra entry, please tag @NatureKidsGlasgow.

Of course feel free to follow Rockin' Babies on Facebook. If you don't win, Rockin Baby slings and pouches are available from Mothercare.

Competition closes midnight 31st August 2014. Draw will be by random number generator. Good luck!!!

Disclosure: I received a pouch and a sling to review, one of which will be given to the lucky competition winner and the other one will be given to the Glasgow sling library.
3rd Sept: I finally managed to draw the lucky winner, by random number generator. There were 39 entries and I counted them as well as I could chronologically. The random number 18 came up which on my list is Lorna Templeton. Congratulations! The other sling will go to the Glasgow sling library, so people can try it out at sling meets across Glasgow.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Confessions of the car dependent family

Listening to the radio discussing the continuous rise of car journeys and the reasons for this, I felt rather caught out. In that life that is but a distant and faint memory, where I was childfree, almost all journeys in the city were done by bike. I'd cycle to commute, to go shopping, to go out at night. It was so convenient, and yes, so cheap. I'd know exactly by the minute how long it would take me from my front door to my work, and it was faster than any other form of transport.

Fast forward 8 years, from the point where I was hit by a bus when 16 weeks pregnant (no damage done other than total panic and deciding I couldn't continue commuting by bike), I'm one of those infamous people who are totally dependent on the car. I leave in the morning at 7.50am to get Cubling to school by 8am for breakfast club, than 3 miles down the road to Snowflake's nursery (8.30am), which is about a mile from my work, where I arrive at 8.45am. I have to leave at 4.45pm as my nursery hours only extend to 5pm, back to after school care and home. We're always in a rush, I'm always worried I'm running late for work or nursery, but I've long been resigned to the fact that once in the car, it's outwith my control, so I don't tend to get stressed about while driving. Then there's shopping: shopping for 4 in a busy week juggling work and family always translates to one big shop which necessitates a car boot and attached motor.

At the weekend, there's swimming classes to get to, and trips to the family to be made. The pool (thanks to the closure of our local one 13 years ago) is too far for Cubling to cycle to, and the extended family is definitely a car journey away too. Even on my day off, we attend a play group which I can only get to on time after school drop off if I take the car.

It's not for willingness of leaving the car. I know that my main carbon footprint is due to transport and I probably went grey over trying to figure out if and how I could live without a car. I can't, unless I become a stay at home mum, and even then we'd still need it here and there.

So my kids are in the car a lot, too much even. Since we can't change this at the moment, at least we can make it into an opportunity to make the children aware of the rules of the road. We are both cautious drivers, but it can get a little bit annoying if the occasional driver in another car isn't. To be fair, I think most drivers around here are courteous and decent, it's only as a cyclist that I've been subject to irrational abuse, but not really as a fellow car driver. As with everything, I try to be a good role model too, and often explain things about driving and taking care on the road to the children while we're in the car, because kids pick up stuff they see so quickly.

The Scottish Government and Road Safety Scotland has launched the Kids in the Car campaign to raise awareness of how important it is that parents and carers are a good role model when children are in the car, to keep everyone safe but also to teach them good driving habits as early as possible. Calm driving, not using mobile phones, clearly no drink driving, always using seat belts, not jumping red lights, and teaching the kids how important it is that the driver needs to focus on the traffic are the golden rules, and it's amazing how the kids pick this up. Even Snowflake at 3 knows that she needs to wait for us to stop at a red light before I can change the CD or pick something up that she dropped. And no question that her doll gets strapped in the doll's car seat too.

The campaign raises awareness of the great influence we as parents have on our kids in the car, and the opportunity for role modelling safe and good driving practice. It's still the case that there are far too many road accidents young children or young drivers are killed or seriously injured. Definitely don't miss out on watching the video.

You can also take the parent promise and complete a questionnaire. Why not get the children involved by asking them to draw a picture of an adult driving and then upload it on to the gallery section of the website? You can also join the discussion at #KidsintheCar or visit the facebook page.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Sponsored Post: Newcastle

Whenever we make our way to Germany, our journey takes us via Newcastle, now our nearest ferry port for the ferry to Europe, after Rosyth was discontinued a few years ago. It's a mere 3 hours to the ferry port, and I quite enjoy the drive, especially along the Hadrians Wall between Carlisle and Newcastle. There is a lot of history there, and a lot of little villages that are hidden away just off the A roads and just waiting to be explored. And of course in and around of Newcastle, there is so much to discover. Stepped in thousands of years worth of history, it was the northernmost territory in the Roman empire, was known as the powerful Kingdom of Northumbria, endured hundreds of years of border raids from the Scots and saw the industrial revolution reshape the north during the last few hundred years. There really is history at every turn, and it's easy to book with Travelodge and head to the North East to see it for yourself. Some great places to start are:

Flodden 1513

Here you can visit the site of the infamous battle of Flodden Field, where the Earl of Surrey defeated and killed James IV of Scotland. There is a fantastic open air ecomuseum, which encompasses around forty sites that were involved in the battle in some way. At Flodden Hill you can discover the area in which the Scots camped, follow the Flodden Battlefield Trail, visit the Flodden Peace Centre and the memorial. There are lots of other sites of interest contained within the ecomuseum, which were of importance to the battle itself, from churches and keeps to huge castles and ports.

Barnard Castle

Set high above the River Tees, Barnard Castle has played a big role in the history of not only the North of England, but of the UK too. It was built in the 12th Century, was home to Richard III and played a part in the Northern uprising during the reign of Henry VIII. It features an impressive round keep and even a sensory garden for the visually impaired, although that's a more recent addition of course. Now largely in ruins, some of the masonry was used to extend the nearby Raby Castle.

Tynemouth Priory and Castle

Located on a rocky headland overlooking the North Sea and the River Tyne, the castle and the priory at Tynemouth form what was once one of the most heavily fortified areas in the North of England. The early kings of Northumbria were buried here at the priory, yet it was attacked by the Danes and abandoned. A monastery was later built on the site, but again it suffered at the hands of Henry VIII's reformation and only the remains can be seen today.

There has been a castle on the site since before 1095 - the original was of course built from wood and mud, however what remains today is the fortress built in medieval times. It's had many guises over the years, with the remains of the stronghold being used to house a lighthouse, barracks and most recently the local coastguard station, so it has certainly had a varied past. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

The curious incident of the country where childcare funding doesn't follow the child

As of 1st of August, the Scottish Government has introduced a childcare/early education model which is meant to reduce the cost of childcare and make childcare more accessible. The free hours of early years education have been increased to 600 and 3 and 4 year olds are eligible for these free hours. As childcare is a mixed economy in Scotland, the statutory free entitlement can be accessed at local authority nurseries or private nurseries that partner with local authorities in delivering the free entitlement.

This all sounds good so far. As ever, the devil is in the detail.

First of all, while we are talking about an entitlement for all 3 and 4 year olds, guaranteed by the Scottish Government (SNP led), it needs implemented locally by local authorities, which in Glasgow is Labour led.

Secondly, the funding for free hours goes to nurseries. It does not follow the child.

So Glasgow City Council has been told by the Scottish Government that as of 1st August 2014, it needs to increase free provision for early education, but it's left to do this as it pleases. I don't know if there's extra money that was made available, but regardless, again, each local authority gets money and then has to allocate as it wishes.

So far, local authority provision either worked on the basis of offering free 3 hour childcare sessions 5 days a week to 3 and 4 year olds. Most of these establishments are closed over lunch. Some are day centres and offer limited wrap around care - but experience shows that they hardly ever offer 8-6pm places (I've seen offers of 9-4pm a lot, and if parents don't take this up because they work 9-5pm, they were dismissed with "well, we did offer and you didn't want it". The idea is that magically as of last week, more wrap around care should be available and flexibility of how the free allocation is taken up by parents is increased (so that instead of 5 days of 3hrs parents can take 2 days of 8 hours each or something like that). As for private nurseries, they get an allocation of free places (if they pass care commission standards) which they then pay out to qualifying families.

If a family uses a childminder for the remainder of the day, they pay the full childminder day fee even if the child spends half the day at nursery (because understandably the childminder can't take on another mindee and has to survive somehow as well).

I haven't got evidence yet if local authority nurseries which so far operated with 3 hour sessions are offering more flexibility. What I have seen and heard about by rather a lot of people now is that those who had to choose a private nursery (because local authority nursery doesn't have a place or only offers insufficient hours), their allocation of fee statutory sessions has been withdrawn. Private nurseries, who had an allocation of free spaces, suddenly don't have them anymore and are as flabbergasted as the parents who are back to paying full day rates (which can be as much as £45, or £900 a month per child). When the parent complains to the council, they get rather arrogant responses along the lines of "if you choose a private nursery that doesn't offer free sessions, there's not much we can do".

Let's be clear: parents don't "choose" private nurseries that have "no funded spaces". There is no choice. The parents I'm talking about here have had her child on the waiting list of the council nursery for over 2 years and the only offer that was ever made did not allow to work 9-5pm. They then took a space at a nursery that did have funding for the statutory free sessions. But that was last term, and strangely, although additional free hours have been introduced, that funding has disappeared. The wording of GCC letters even suggests that parents should just move their children to another nursery, which is blatantly not in the developmental interest of the child.

Which leads me to think: maybe Glasgow City Council is financing the additional hours they have to be seen to offer by only offering them at local authority nurseries, while withdrawing funding from private nurseries. In effect, rather than ensuring a more flexible approach and increasing free childcare, it has been taken away from working families. Now, it's not just low income families that can't access childcare in nurseries (because state nurseries don't offer full days and private nurseries are too expensive), but also middle income families are pushed out of work because they can no longer afford childcare fees. And if I say "families", this usually means "women".

This new childcare promise was meant to help get low income families back into work by making quality childcare cheaper and more accessible. It appears it hasn't just failed to do so, but also had the unintended consequence of pushing middle income parents out of work.

Remember, we are talking here about statutory provision. Every child should be able to receive 600 hours of free nursery education.  A lot of children are currently missing out. Of course I can hear those cries for independence, just that education is already devolved and we have to deal with this mess in Scotland anyway. Is there an element of Labour protest in having to implement Scottish Goivernment policies? I hear it's not so bad in other local authorities? But really let's focus on a solution: It could be all so easily turned around if only the funding followed the child. So why not give that a go?

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Escape to Arran

Almost 2 years after we received this birthday gift of a weekend away without the weans, we finally made it: off we went on the ferry to Arran, to walk, explore Brodick Castle and swim in the hotel pool. Good (and at times strange) food, watching the Glasgow Commonwealth cycling from a distance, and slowing down for two days. Almost ready for the back to school madness ...

Friday, 25 July 2014

Reviews: Sugru & new CBeebies show: Kate and Mim-Mim

I have to laugh typing the title above, because if ever there could be two things more different to review in one go, these are the ones.

As usual, I only review items that I'm genuinely interested in and Sugru caught my attention somehow and when I checked the product out on the website, and listened to the pitch by its inventor and CEO Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, I was hooked. It was meant to be promoted as a father's day gift idea (oops, this review IS late), but honest, this is such a clever little invention that it shouldn't be gendered in any way. I even suspected that I'd get more excitement out of it than my better half, but was proven wrong because he was as  intrigued as me (and neither of us is a DIY enthusiast). Sugru is a nifty substance, a bit like plasticine, that can be shaped in any form and will attach to most surfaces, then dry out and presto, stay put.

The world's your oyster how you want to use it. I've seen it used to waterproof those leaky holes in shoes, while simultaneously adding a bit of bling to them (Sugru comes in different colours, see). It can be used to attach all those things that have become detached, without the danger of superglue sticking forever joining the tips of your index finger and thumb. My 7 year old went straight into exploration and design mode and had the wackiest of ideas, and we settled for now to create fun hooks for all those loose bits that can be hung up. Because you can shape it, it fits better and you can create just the perfect hook for the item wanting to be hung up. It can be used to mend, fix, insulate, seal, to craft, to decorate and much more. Ideal for any small fixing job. It comes in primary colours which can be mixed to create your own custom colour. The website comes with great ideas too, for a bit of inspiration. Definitely a thumbs up for Sugru! You can get Sugru in most usual DIY outlets, and Maplins.
*******Disclosure: I received samples in return for this review. ****************

Kate and Mim-Mim is a new show about to be aired on CBeebies and we were given an advance copy of the first episode to review. It's aimed at preschool to 6 years of age, but my 7year old actually likes programmes for younger children and was keen to give it a test view while the actual target audience was asleep. Cubling thinks it's good to watch. That's as much as she'll say, she was a bit disappointed that it was short (but psst, that's a good thing, we don't want too much screen time do we now). Kate and her toy rabbit go on lots of adventures, and her cuddly toy becomes massive as they enter their imaginary world. Together they have adventures, explore and work out solutions in team work. All good stuff and role models (tick). The animation is cute and simple enough not to overwhelm the younger viewers (tick), with educational messages and easy to follow storyline (tick), so it's a good addition to the programmes on CBeeBies. I'm still hoping for my target audience to get an opportunity for a test viewing, but it's sunny and the paddling pool is a bit more attractive right now and I was meant to review it before the screening of the first episode, which incidentally is coming to a screen in your house very soon indeed: Kate and Mim-Mim will screen daily as of Monday 4th August at 5:30pm, so you can check it out yourself!
*******Disclosure: I received a copy of the first episode and a set of Mim-Mim ears in return for this review (but my little monkeys are in agreement (a rare occurrence) that I'm absolutely not allowed to wear the (sob)). I was allowed to eat half of the sweets though, because little sister was asleep at the time (yes!)*********

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Knitting and Crochet love

A little while back I realised that if I blogged most nights, I didn't get time for anything else, and it was a hard decision between letting this blog go a bit quieter and knitting/crochet. You can tell from the frequency of my posts which one won. One good friend even missed my posts, so here's one especially for you! (you know who you are ;) ).

There was a wealth of babies born to my colleagues at work, 3 in the space of 3 months, and now I have a feeling that there may be a baby born to my neighbour kind of right now. So there's been a wonderful excuse for a lot of knitting and crochet for babies, and while I used to make hats for new babies, I've currently a weakness for blankets. I've tried to bear the season in mind, so there's warm woollen blankets for the winter baby (no picture because picture wasn't great but the link has some photos), and lighter cotton ones, with one currently on the hook for the summer baby. Oh yes, and a jumper that resembled very much the apple tree blanket that brought be back to knitting 8 years ago.

On our holiday (more of that hopefully soon), there was a lot of travel involved, perfect for some easy projects that keep you busy. I even read some books, imagine that. Both books I can recommend (Chris Cleave - Gold: it was  a bit harrowing, maybe I just get emotional too easily but I had to put this great book down now and again because it was just a tad too good at creating engaging characters and their plight hit home a little bit too hard. Jonas Jonasson: The 100-Year-Old Man who climbed out of the window was much more lighthearted and possibly the longest book I've read in a long time).

I also always make a point of visiting yarn shops when abroad, just because they have a slightly different range. I failed to do this in Munich, partly because they have too many, and partly because it was just too hot to do any extra walking, but managed just before we headed back home in Dormagen. We must have been memorable on our last visit two years ago because the owner recognised us... The kids picked their favourite yarns for some winter knitting (cardigan for snowflake and scarf for Cubling) - not quite my choice of yarn but hopefully better on the they-will-be-more-likely-to-wear-it front. So once I've finished the last blanket, it'll be time for some winter warmer knitting (hard to believe in the current blazing sunshine!)



Blog Widget by LinkWithin