Sunday, 30 March 2014

When you are in that place

Some days you need two hands for the kids, two more for the stuff they asked you to carry and five more for the weekly food-shop bags.

Some days you despair at having spent the whole day cleaning, just to find that the little buggers have gone behind you, tipping everything out and scribbling on the furniture with a rogue ballpoint (that shit doesn't come off by the way).

Some days you are so tired that you can't find the energy to make yourself food to eat, but instead you find yourself scraping the bottom of the barrel to make your kids sandwiches that look like pirate boats, because that's what they asked for, and you love to make them smile.

Some days you do three loads of washing, hang them all out, feel proud of yourself and then find at least five more loads worth in the bedrooms.

Some days you feel so lonely, like nobody else could ever know how it feels to make the horrible decisions that you as a parent have to make every day; how to solve sleeping problems and tantrums, how to get past the latest phase, how to deal with crazy, exhausting timetables.

Some days you feel as though you are the only one who cares about these things; that if you stopped caring, the whole world would collapse - the dishes would never get done, nobody would ever have a bath, teeth would go unbrushed and turn black and fall out, children would escape onto the streets in front of oncoming traffic, everyone would go hungry.

Some days, all you want is nothing more than to curl up and sleep, to hide in the cupboard under the sink and close your eyes and melt into blackness.

When you are in that place, know this: there is an army of people out there who feel the same as you.

That the older you grow, the more you realise that nobody knows what they are doing - they are all equally unaware as to how their future lies.

That your days are punctuated by happy bits, however small they may seem.  They do exist for those who look for them.

That what is happening now will not be that way forever.

That life is short.

That one day, you'll realise, these are the best days.

Treasure them. You ain't getting them back.

Dave: 'My Name Is Earl'

Fun Easter Holiday Ideas


The kids are off school, they are bored, they are restless. The clocks are going forward (thanks, Greenwich Mean Time- and on Mother's day?  Cheers for that hilarious irony) and more daylight means more time to fill.

But what to do with it?

Five fab tips from my two Blethering Boys.

1:  "Visit the Abrary!" (LIBRARY)

My kids love a visit to the library.  Our local Children's Centre is fun, engaging, there's always extra activities to do like colouring or lounging on the couches, and best of all, it's stuffed full of free things that they can take home to do too.  Every day if they want to!

Our local library runs special activities over the holidays (and during term-time) for the kids, storytelling, rhyme times and even games clubs for older children.

Here's an idea of what goes on at our particular 'abrary' via their always-updated Facebook Page.

As someone who works there, I know just how much time and effort goes into thinking great and imaginative things for the kids to do and we want them to come back for more!

Drop into your local library to see what goes on - I bet you'll find there's a lot more than just books.

Why not focus on a project over the holidays to give them a little bit of focus? Let your librarian help you with some books on your chosen subject.

There are some really cool books about Space - this one has lift-up flaps that keep Tom occupied for ages!

I think we are going to choose Space; there's tons of lovely books on that topic, we could make a Space model out of old recycling, we can watch Space themed movies (hired free from the library of course!) and we can visit a very special place...

2. "I really really REALLY want to go to the Observatory!  Please, please, please!?"

Check out Mills Observatory!
We are very lucky here in Dundee - we have an old Observatory  where families can visit either during the day to see all of the different instruments, or even better, late at night when the sun has set to have a look through the massive telescope.
  It's set in the middle of a huge park too, which is great for running around in after a visit, to let off even more steam.

Tom's been asking to go for weeks, and the holidays is a perfect time, as a later bedtime won't interrupt our early school mornings (and might get mum and dad a lie-in!)

Have a look and see if there's anything near you of a similar interest.  It might not be an Observatory - it might be an Earth House , a Secret Bunker (speakers down for that link!) or even something like a Camera Obscura.

Camera Obscura magnifies the surroundings - you can see for miles!  Kids are fascinated by it!

Make a point of visiting the smaller, less time-consuming bits and pieces around you.  A lot of them are free, spark a lot of interest for the kids and chances are, you'll learn something new too!

3. "My like the castle with the animals and the café in it Mummy!"

McManus Galleries, Dundee, Scotland
O.k, it's not a castle, but when you are 3 years old, everything looks huge and impressive, and our local museum is just that.  And yes, it does have stuffed animals and a rather nice café in it.  Buying our kids a slab of chocolate cake and a lemonade at the end of our wander around the exhibits basically earns me superhero status for the rest of the day too.

Check out your local museum during the holidays - most are cheap enough or even free, and they aren't the old, stuffy places that we went to when we were kids.  A lot have installed some amazing interactive displays and have added new media to keep the exhibits modern and fresh.

Our world has become so small through the internet that now a lot of kids know more about what is going on in a completely different continent than what has happened in their own back yard.  So make the most of your local history!

4. "Yeah, I wanna make a massive Happy Street!"

We have been blessed with a huge amount of Happy Land toys.  My lovely auntie saved them all for me from when her kids were small and I really appreciate it.  They are great - loads of wee people and houses and road and stuff that all amalgamate together into a land of long happy playtime.

We are really big on our play sets in this house, and I'm sure you all have some figurines and stuff too, just waiting to create their own tales.  In the holidays, we throw aside any ideas of keeping the house under any kind of tidiness and go for day-long, even two-day-long play set-fests that grow in size and shape.

Happyland and Tomica, with a dash of Chuggington Interactive!
The key is here to give your kids a platform to jump from and let them go mad with it - let the In The Night Garden toys mix with the Sylvanian Families and the superhero action-figures.

A kid's best gift is their imagination.  Warning though; as I have discovered, certain husbands get a bit too proud of their creations!

We mix it up a lot and move them to different environments - build caves out of stones in the garden, cut tunnels out of cardboard boxes, make track out of masking tape on the carpet.

Not my living room - beige wouldn't last long in our house!
When everyone is fed up, we just spend a scheduled day tidying up (my boys strangely enjoy this - might be easier said than done!) and chilling out with a reward, such as a DVD and some popcorn.  There's something nice about organisation after chaos, and sticking them all away again keeps the play fresh for next time.

5. "Can we play the game where you lift us up and throw us on the couch one on top of the other?"

Spinning around and around in a huge field!
Yes, I am always hoping our kids don't ask us this in public, as I am aware it sounds sketchy.

Rough play however is great for kids.

We do all manner of stuff for and around our children, but the truth is their favourite play is the rough stuff -because it's time that we are interacting, we're all laughing, we're monkeying around, and generally just having fun.

We build forts in the house out of sofa cushions, we go to the park and roll down hills, we go tree-climbing, we feed the ducks, we swing high on the swings, we have races, we get down and dirty with the kids.  And nine times out of ten (presuming we don't get too carried away and someone gets hurt) these are the best days.

And who cares how muddy you get?  Mud washes!  There's nothing better than having a 'who can make the best bubble-beard' competition at the end of a long day!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Bursting the Pink Bubble; why pink is dangerous

Photo Credit  Gender division in the toy aisle has become more apparent in recent years 
Has anyone else noticed how gendered everything has become in the last five years or so?

I know there's always been 'girls' and 'boys' stuff, but lately, or I reckon just around the time Thomas was born in 2008, the girls stuff has become a lot pinker, and the boys stuff has become a lot less colourful overall.

It's something I have particularly noticed because I am a mother who was raised  in a female-only household and has therefore been brought up in a space where there were no 'boys jobs' or 'girls jobs'.  Everything was everyone's job - and if the girls didn't paint the room, fit the carpet, take out the bins, mow the lawn or take the dog out in the pissing rain, it didn't get done.

Having said that, I feel like I have been fighting for my gender my whole life.  From the well-meaning family members who insisted on buying me 'girls' magazines like Mizz when I really wanted to read The Beano and told me things like 'a lady doesn't behave like that' when they caught me digging in the mud, to being told at school that I should 'just settle for being a nurse, honey' when I really wanted to be a Veterinary Surgeon because 'girls make better nurses', I've been confronted at all points in the road with the fact that I am a girl and therefore should be doing 'girly' things.

 Anything else made me 'a tom-boy' apparently. Grr!

My gender never felt more apparent than when I first fell pregnant with Thomas though.

'Do you want a boy or a girl?'

It's the question every woman who falls pregnant is asked.
An odd question - only the extremely rich and scientifically minded can choose the gender of their child.  Yet everyone is asked in hushed tones almost; what would you prefer?

I was huge! That was all baby!
With Tom it was fine; I couldn't even conceive in my mind what it would be like to hold an actual baby that had come out of my body - that there was going to be something small that had my genetic traits - never mind care what kind it was.  To me, a baby was a baby.  I would just be relieved to get it out of me in one piece. When we eventually found out that he was a boy, I was just happy that I could begin to visualise a bit better what was growing inside me.

Everyone else was suddenly very concerned about buying lots of things in blue.

And , for the first time in my 'tom-boy'ish life, I was being treated like a fragile piece of china, and I did not like it one bit.

Worse - I felt like a fragile piece of china.

I found that being pregnant and having a new baby was the only time I felt completely vulnerable because of my biology.

Pregnancy is the ultimate female act, and it suddenly divided me from a lot of my guy mates, who didn't want to hear about Trimesters and Breastfeeding and Prams.

Breastfeeding info here

I became invisible to them because I had become female in their eyes, whereas previously I was 'funtime Genna' who could be silly and get drunk and have a good laugh down the pub, matching the guys capacity for pints of beer.

Once I became a mother, it also became my weakness.

I felt very lonely.

I was also quite young, and a lot of my female friends hadn't even formed long-term relationships,never mind broached the idea of having a baby.

Their experience of babies were very much that you could buy 'stuff' for them, and so began a series of well-meant shopping trips with different friends for various pieces of baby equipment.

Everyone on those trips, myself included, cooed over the newborn stuff, all lamenting the fact that we couldn't buy the tiny, oh-so-pretty dresses.  Some even said to me 'pity you aren't having a girl, Gen!  Girls' stuff is so much nicer.'

Photo Credit  A beautiful dress from Mothercare

I don't think I'd ever noticed until now; I'd spent my whole life turning my nose up at girly pink and frilly dresses.   And here I was admiring a tiny little headband for hairless babies and tiny little mary-jane shoes to accesorise with their tiny little taffeta skirts.

I blamed it on the hormones.

But the truth is, it starts before birth, all of this pink shit.

What's so wrong with it?

Well, I think the real question should be, what's right with it?

Sure, I have no problem with girls who pick pink as their colour of choice amidst all of those colours in the rainbow.  A lot of girls do it and enjoy it, and as a colour it can be all sorts of things; powerful, pale and gentle, happy and free.  And that's good.  I'm a huge advocate of letting your kids choose what makes them happy.

My real problem with the colour pink is that it has become a label for what society is telling young girls that they should be.

And that is so. not. cool.

Infact, I am going to go all out and say that pink is DANGEROUS.

A study conducted by Polly Curtis for The Guardian  reached the verdict that:

'There is no scientific evidence that boys prefer blue and girls prefer pink. Up until the early 20th century the trend was the opposite and baby boys were dressed in pink and girls in blue. There are also some - small - studies suggesting that adults of different cultures have different tastes in colours. It's clear that colour preference is learnt rather than innate.'

Read the rest of the report here.

Children learn by repetition.  And what we are all unaware of is just how many times a day that it is being repeated in books, in adverts on television, in children's television programmes, in supermarkets, clothing, toys, games, films; girls, you like pink.

Pink means you are pretty, popular, happy, princesses who never get dirty and don't do all that silly 'boy' stuff.  Pink is your label.  Everything you like is pink.

So stay in your pink bubble and conform to your stereotype.

If I'd had a girl, she would have been damn brilliant!

And there's where the danger lies.

By the time I was pregnant with Ethan in 2010, pink had filtered it's way down into things like prams, car seats, cots and every plastic toy now had a 'girls' version - in all hues of plasticky pink.

I now had friends who had had boys, who were now ditching their old prams and cots to buy a whole new set of pink versions for the 'pink flavour' growing in their bellies.

When I got to the time where I could find out the gender of my baby, I was inclined to decline; part of me really wanted a daughter and I was as yet undecided what my response would be when someone asked me the dreaded question, 'are you hoping it's a girl this time?'  I didn't know how to feel about it.  Some folk even commented that a girl would 'complete my family'.  What a crazy comment to make!  Oh and don't forget the classic 'if it's a boy will you keep trying until you get a girl?'

Spoiler: They gave us this pic for free because she captured his willie in the photo!

I decided to find out in the end, to satisfy my own curiosity, and was quite relieved to find out it was another boy.  I felt happy for Thomas that he would have a brother (Dave and his brothers share a remarkable bond and I'd love the same for my kids) and actually,I was quite relieved that I wasn't going to have to deal with the barrage of pink stuff which would surely have descended upon me.

Heads up folks, I would not have been grateful.  I might have been rude about it.  And given my hormonal state I probably would have struggled to be rational about it either.

I would have had a lot to say because passionately, I feel that it is so easy, far too easy in fact, to unconsciously let our daughters slip into the tight boundaries set by the patriarchy.  We all buy into it; because it's pretty and nice and fun.  We do not wholly investigate what the pink is telling us.  We are not asking what it means.

What we are not addressing, is the fact that by separating girls and boys by labeling them in this way, we are narrowing their horizons and putting them into boxes.

Children should be free to follow their own path in life.

In not having a daughter (thus far) I haven't avoided the problem.

Having two boys has not meant that I am removed from the pink issue altogether; indeed it has been an issue quite a few times.

Like, when my son wanted a doll and pram for his second birthday and people raised their eyebrows at him.

Or when I went into the toy-shop to pick a multi-coloured playhouse for the boys and the shop assistant basically overrode my choice, shouting at her colleague in the middle of the store to get me one with a blue door instead of a pink door, because "boys don't have pink"

My ideal playhouse - sadly, way out of budget! 

"You'll thank me later when their friends don't make fun of them"
I couldn't speak.  I was too shocked.  My response was definitely about three days later once I finally got my jaw off the floor.

They are being told from all angles that pink is a girls colour.  Pink is a weaker choice.  Therefore, pink is a girls thing.  Therefore, girls are weak.  Therefore boys are better than girls.

And I now have a hard and difficult task, as one tiny little woman, to counteract all of this stuff they are being exposed to on a daily basis.

When my 3 year old son points to a pink toy in the shop and says 'You like that mum, you like pink' and I say, 'No, mummy's favourite colour is green' and he gets upset and insists that it can't be because I am a girl, I don't like green, it's wrong.

Read again: Gets UPSET.  Like, emotionally upset with tears and stuff, because mummy is not conforming to what he has been told by everything, everywhere, all of the time.
That is wrong.

That's why I am backing campaigns like the one being fought in the Uk just now by Let Toys Be Toys, who have actually managed to convince some big-name retailers like Early Learning Centre to change the way they display toys in their catalogues and to change the labelling of 'girls' toys and 'boys toys.

Let Toys Be Toys is an amazing campaign - please check out their page and their blog and get yourself wise to these issues.  Too many of us are letting ourselves and our children sleepwalk into these constricting labels.

If you pay attention, it's filtered into adult stuff too.

Seriously, do we need it to be pink before we can figure out how to use it?  How condescending!
 Ellen sums it up quite nicely in this video.  Seriously, watch it, it'll brighten your day!


I promise to myself and my children that I am going to be aware and raise the issue with them all through their lives.  I have always known I'd strive to be a good, strong female role-model for my boys.  I just didn't know the fight was going to be so tough!

Come at us!  We're ready for you!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Rebooting my life. Or trying to.

I hate diets.

I see other people going on diets all the time - in fact I don't think I know one lady just now who genuinely doesn't monitor what she eats.

Maybe it's an age thing, but even I have started to think about what I'm eating, how much I'm eating, and even more frightening, the effect it all has on my body.

For the first time in my whole life I feel unfit.  I feel fat.  I feel unhealthy.

I drink waaay too much caffeinated diet drink, I eat so much chocolate and don't even get me started on my crisps intake.

My energy levels are down, I'm eating mainly white carbohydrates for that quick sugary energy high and my fruit and veg intake is at an all time low.  I've started to use wine like a carrot on a stick to get to the end of my day, just to get through it.

But that's life with kids, right?  I should be tired, shouldn't I?  Everyone else has the same problem with time and energy and the need for fast food fixes, don't they?

I see all those internet memes about wine all the time.  Everyone 'likes' them because it's true, right?

We're all waiting until the kids doze off sweetly (or in my case arse around until they finally give up an hour after I put them to bed) before tucking into our favourite bottle of Cabernet, aren't we?

At least that's the impression I get.

So yesterday, when Ethan was actually playing with Lego on his own for once, I sneaked through to the living room with my 'treat' to myself.  It's something I do occasionally, when I get peace to, and yes, it's something that I do on those rare times when I'm home alone. 
Today for example, the first thing I did when I came home after a particularly stressful morning and school run was to grab a bag of Ready-Salted and a (albeit small) Toffee Cheesecake pot with a can of Diet Coke and consume.  And I feel better.

Yesterday was no different; all was quiet on the Western Front, so I grabbed a Diet Coke and a bag of crisps and I sat on my butt and watched grown-up T.V.



It was awesome.  I opened the bag of crisps, cracked open the can of coke and put Netflix on.  Oh yes, I was choosing for myself! Very exciting!

Now I'm always hyper-aware that the peace I'm getting is probably only going to last as long as it takes to wolf down that bag of crisps, so I always do it quickly and I usually choose something to watch that doesn't require much attention.

So when I picked the docu-film Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead it was kind of a half-hearted, ironic choice.  I mean, after all, here I was, stuffing my face unhealthily, the way I do at least once a day.  I didn't think it would have any relevance to me.  I mean, I am still in relatively good shape.  I can still chase the kids down the street and I'm still climbing playground equipment at the park.  Yes, I have put on a bit of weight but I'm not that fat, I'm not sick and as far as I know, the grim reaper ain't got me on his list yet.

Joe Cross, the guy who made this film about his journey rebooting his life and another man he picks up along the way, Phil Staples, who we literally see become half the man he used to be, both seem like a seriously nice guys.  Usually I watch these things with half an eye on the screen, but Joe's warmth and Australian good-humour made the film inviting and engaging and Phil's story and transformation is inspiring.

Joe tells his story candidly, we see what his body is like at the start and we hear all about his auto-immune condition which caused him to be on hard steroid medication for life. 

There's some really cool animations to explain all the science - y stuff, and some really interesting social commentary too. Granted it is based mainly in the USA, but with the diet I've been on recently, I felt it was very relevant to me too.

Joe changes his life by drinking just juice made out of fruit and vegetables, and eating nothing but fruit, veg, nuts and beans for 60 days.  The reactions he meets from his friends and family are that they all think he is crazy, but they do have some admiration for him; after all, the man is a self-made millionaire, so his ideas certainly carry some 'weight' (geddit?)  But he loses over 6 stone in the process, his blood work shows a very healthy change to his system, and by the end of the film, we discover that he has attained his goal of eradicating his need for any medication.  He has changed his life.

Phil Staples, when we meet him, is a truck driver.  He has been eating on the road for 8 years and his diet mainly consisted of fried foods found at truck stops.  He gives Joe a call in a moment of desperation, and Joe wings it over the pond from Australia, juicer in hand, to help him start a ten-day juice diet.  Phil finds it hard at first, but his motivation never waivers, and he perseveres after the initial ten days, extending his reboot even further, losing half of his body weight in the process.  It's amazing to see the change in Phil and the change he makes to his whole life; he even changes his job so he can stay more active.  I really found myself rooting for him.

Soon, I was hooked.  I paused it half an hour in and watched the rest while Ethan was at nursery in the afternoon. This time, no crisps!

Last night, when I went to the supermarket for the packed-lunches food, I wandered up the book-aisle and there it was, the book of the film that I'd just watched that very afternoon.  Unlike me - as I said, I hate diets - I bought that damned book, and I took it home and I sat down and read it.

I really had thought that this film had been just one of those faddy docu-films that Netflix seem to harbour, but it's taken off enough that Joe Cross is making a fine business out of it, and helping loads of people to boot. I made Dave watch it again at night.  He agreed with me; it was a very interesting concept.

We both agreed that yes, our diets are atrocious at the moment.  Yes, we both crave processed, refined foods.  And yes, our energy-levels, our skin, our mental attitudes all probably suffer because of it.

Part of the idea of a reboot is that you are:
  • Rebooting your taste-buds.  You fight them on their cravings and re-introduce them to the taste of fresh fruit and veg so then that is what they begin to crave.
  • You flood your body with micro-nutrients.  These are essential nutrients that can only be found in fresh fruit and veg.  This flushes out your system so you can begin a healthy balanced diet.
  • You set your own goals - try it for 3, 10, 15, or even 30 days and see how you get on.  What I loved was Joe states that there's no way to fail - even if you just manage 3 days then that's still 3 days that you gave your body that you wouldn't have otherwise.
  • You have to start changing the way you see food.  One helpful thing I saw in the book was that you don't think 'I need food', you think 'I need energy' and that helps you assess what kind of energy you need better.  eg; and apple gives you slow long-term energy, whereas a packet of crisps gives you a short burst of energy followed by a low.
  • It's not supposed to be about losing weight; it's about re-assessing and changing the way you approach food and exercise.
It's going cheap on Amazon! Free plug for Joe!  Lucky boy!

The book is fab - it's written in Joe's easy-going manner, but with complete facts and relevance.  Everything you need to give this a go is in the book - apart from the juicer of course - but he even goes as far as to help you with that too, in a section about how to choose the right one for you.  there's recipes, a substitutes list for any veg you don't like/can't get a hold of and a full run-down of what to but for all the different plans.  It's not heavy-going and you can easily skip to the different sections which are relevant to you.

I've been on his site this morning and there seems to be lovely community to go with it all.

At the end of the day, Joe is businessman with a lot of savvy.  He knows a success when he has one, and I am usually very skeptical of such things, but I really do think I am going to give this one a go.

This afternoon I am going to try to find me a reasonable-priced juicer (the one he's plugging, although very nice and obviously awesome is well out of my price-range)  and take the plunge.  I'm going to find time to plan a three day juice diet initially, following the book and if I feel fine after that, I'm going to continue it into ten days.

I guess sometimes you just need to find the right thing to inspire you, and this has done it for me.  So here goes!

If anyone else has been following the Reboot Juice plan, or has completed one I'd love to hear from you.  I've sincerely never heard of it until yesterday, and I'd really love to see how practical or feasible it is for a mum to two small boys and no time!

I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Scotland, land of Four Seasons In One Day - it's cold, it's wet, it's sunny, it's snowing; where to go for the Easter holidays?

Isn't it odd, that you can live so close to some of the best historical and cultural sites  in the world and never make the effort to go and visit them?  Why is that?  Visitors from other countries are always amazed when I tell them that I've never been to Edinburgh Castle, or even to the Wallace Monument.  After all, to them, that's my culture, right?  Am I not proud of it?  Well, yes, but it doesn't mean I spend every minute of my free time on Culloden Moor or wearing a kilt and reciting Burns.

You are forgetting - I have children.  Seriously, we took them to Scone Palace last year (another place I had never been before) and although it was beautiful, surrounded by vast grounds and a great place to let them run around outside on that nice Summer's day, inside I spent a lot of time whispering in gruff tones 'DON'T TOUCH' while smiling politely at posh curators.

The grounds at Scone Palace are beautiful - and massive!  Good for running around in!
You don't know fear until you are trying to prise a small child away from a very large, very expensive display of very old malt whisky bottles without careering into the very impressive display of very expensive, engraved, crystal glasses for pouring malt whisky into.

I saw nothing in that palace.  Loads of Kings have been crowned there and sincerely, although very beautiful and palatial inside, I was far too concerned about keeping the children out of the roped off areas (which it turns out invite children to swing on them.  You do NOT swing on the ropes!)

I guess for me, I just feel like it's always there and I'll get around to it sometime.  You know, when the kids leave home(!)

Being Scottish, we're always quite quick to play down what is around us, while the rest of the world is agog at the history and natural beauty of our country.

But I guess it's like anything - you don't always see what is around you.  Before now we saw having to stay in Scotland on holiday as a punishment - the weather is so changeable, and apart from anything else, it seems a lot of the bigger, grander things live elsewhere; theme-parks, attractions, entertainment; Scotland does everything on such a small scale.  Even the buildings are wee and thin.  The first time we went to Manchester I couldn't stop looking up - I could never have imagined so many tall buildings in one place.

And no, I have never been to America.  I can only imagine!

In our case, this year, we have been 'demoted' if you like to small holidays, if and when the opportunities arise.

With the cost of living having gone up (yet again), the fact we pooled a lot of our resources into going to Disneyland Paris last year, not to mention our elaborate house move a couple of months ago, we are really having to think outside of the box in terms of getaways.  So instead of trying a 'staycation', which we weren't really keen on - petrol is expensive and being on the East Coast, we're not exactly central in location - we have decided that we should see some of the sights of our wonderful country.  After all, Scotland is easy to travel about in, and there are some truly fabulous low-cost options to try.

Being Scotland, and being the end of March however, doesn't leave us with a lot of options.  We considered these fab yurts up in Comrie:

Don't they look amazing?  I'm completely sold on them, and so are the kids.  My husband loves a bit of 'manly' outdoor stuff.  And Comrie really is a gorgeous place with some lovely outdoor stuff to do.  But like I said - it's Scotland.  The weather is changeable.  And we have young children, who although are hardy and adventurous and love outdoor stuff, aren't quite big enough to go abseiling, biking or walking for miles and miles in the cold and wet.
We are seriously considering it for the summer though - what an adventure to go 'glamping' in these beautiful hand-built Katanas or even to take your own tent for a cheap and cheerful night under the stars!

Instead, we have booked ourselves into The Blue Rainbow Apartments in Edinburgh.  We got a reasonable price via, which I have to say has become my go-to for when I need to book anything in the UK.  It seems to turn up a better quality of different types of accommodation and we have found some proper gems through booking through this site.  And the beauty of it is too, if you find somewhere better before you go, you can always cancel a reservation and re-book, hassle-free and without charge. Winner!

Why Edinburgh?  Isn't it expensive?  Is it even child-friendly?  Isn't it just stuffed full of more stressful museums that your kids will destroy?

Well, yes and no is the short answer.

The long answer is that yes there are more museums but there are a lot of child-centred museums, such as the new and improved National Museum of Scotland, which is not only jam-packed full of interactive displays and 'real dinosaurs mum! *excited jumping*', but is FREE ENTRY and at least half a day worth of entertainment.  At a £47million revamp, it's kind of a big deal!

Another fab museum to visit is the Museum of Childhood.
Again, free entry, interactive displays and Tom has been doing a project on old toys, so I think this will be of particular interest to him.

Edinburgh is full of culture, and something that always strikes me is the masses of people in Edinburgh who are always willing to help out and better their local communities, giving their time to good causes. There's always good feeling - and that goes a long way in such a large city.

Another enterprise which I am therefore really looking forward to visiting is the fabulous concept which is Gorgie City Farm.  Another child-friendly, interactive and FREE place to visit.  Their motto is explore, learn, volunteer - a great ethos.

We only have two days and not a lot of money this time to spend, but we always try to visit Edinburgh Zoo.  It can be quite a pricey day out if it's not planned properly in terms of food and such, but it is a fabulous day for the whole family.  There's a lot of walking involved for little legs, but so much to see an do, it's definitely worth the climb to the top of the hill.  And if your legs don't want to go all that way, there's a comfy (ish) ride on the zoo train, all the way up.

Scotland currently has two Panda Bears on loan from China and you do have to book a time slot if you want to see them - the bears are very sensitive so the keepers do their best to address the balance of a huge amount of visitors wanting to see them with the panda's need for peace and quiet.

There's a wee play-park in the middle of the zoo for some chill-out time after all that animal-spotting and some picnic benches so you can take a packed lunch. All we have to hope for is the weather;  it was quite dreich last time we went, so we shall be wrapping up warm this time around!

The male Panda, just chillin' - totally unfazed by all the attention last time we were there

And of course the penguin parade is a favourite!

This Macaroni Penguin was such a poser!

We chose these particular apartments because they look central and close to Edinburgh Waverley, which is a great wee train station in the heart of Edinburgh. Plus it's better than staying in a travel-lodge-style hotel for the night; when the kids go to sleep, Dave and I can relax with a cheeky bottle of wine or a couple of beers on the couch in a separate room, instead of sitting in silence in the dark  next to the kids' beds, trying to watch the BBC Three app on his phone!

Plus, we are going via train, which is making it even more exciting for the kids - and Mum doesn't have to drive, which is always a bonus.

Another thing I am hoping to do as a proper tourist this time (admittedly, if I've been in Edinburgh in any capacity, it was when I was child-free and touring the pubs with my student friends - ah , those were the days!) is to take the city-sightseeing bus tour.

An open-topped bus is exciting for the kids, there's commentary for us all while we 'ooh' and 'ahhh' at the sites and there's the option to hop on and hop off at various points, which is ideal.  We took this tour in Paris a while back and it was a great experience - we certainly wouldn't have seen so much in such a short amount of time if it wasn't for this great concept.

There is so much to do in Edinburgh - so much culture and heritage.  Two days really isn't enough, but with two small children in tow, two days is probably just right in the meantime.  When they are a wee bit older we can start going when the Fringe is on and I am definitely aiming to get them to the Edinburgh International Book Festival sooner rather than later.

Having this trip to look forward to is really brightening up my week.  It's been a long time since I looked forward to a Monday  And both Dave and I have the whole week booked off work too - extra time to catch up on our local history and surroundings for a change.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Sneaky Chocolate Banana Muffins!

I woke up today full of the joys of Spring!

Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration.

I woke up today a little less tired than usual, which somehow, these days equals some kind of rapture inside - because a day not spent scraping myself up off the floor due to heavy, heavy tiredness is a day which should be celebrated.

Ah, the joys of kids!

I cleaned, I did the week's shopping (with toddler in tow!), I walked the dog, I got on top of my washing pile and then when I came across these old bananas, instead of carelessly ditching them in the bin because I was to tired to envisage actually being able to function well enough to do anything with them, I actually thought 'hey, let's do some baking!'

Check me out, I'm on a roll!

Manky auld bananas!  Yum!

I'll be the first to admit, it doesn't look promising, does it?

'Bananas! In pyjamas!'
Ethan was at home with me today, so of course he wanted to get in on the action.  If only to mooch around the kitchen and see what else he could get to eat and sing the theme tune from Bananas in Pyjamas.

They looked better once peeled!

I did Google for a 'Banana muffin' recipe, but once I did this I discovered that although I had the bananas and the will to make something awesome with them, I was slightly lacking on the ingredient front.  However, I'm not as green as I'm cabbage-looking, thus I was able to compensate with other ingredients I already had.

So!  Here's my recipe for Sneaky Banana Muffins (makes approx. 12)  They are sneaky because they look like awesome chocolate muffins, but the manky old bananas are hiding!! Ha ha!

You will need two bowls.

Bowl #1
2 manky auld Bananas (they mash better when they are brown and old)
50g Melted Butter
1 Egg (beaten)
A slug of Natural Yoghurt

150g Caster Sugar
50g Chocolate Chips
135g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
20g Cocoa powder

Once the bowls are combined:
A slug of Milk (preferably full-fat)

Combine the ingredients together in their separate bowls.  Once thoroughly mixed, pour the wet bowl into the dry stuff.  Mix thoroughly.  Adda slug of milk to loosen the mixture to a soft, shiny consistency.

Ethan getting in with the spoon!

Stop for a well-deserved yoghurt break
I think these cooked for around 20 minutes - 30 minutes at 160 degrees, but between tidying up and arranging various things for Ethan, such as putting on Jake and The Neverland Pirates for the umpteenth time, I cannot be sure.  What I do know is that you can see if they are ready by sticking a sharp knife into the centre - if it comes out sticky then another 5 mins should do the trick.  Be aware however that the end result is slightly gooier inside than your normal muffin, so a wee bit off goo on the blade is o.k.

Warning - little helpers cannot resist temptation!
We baked them in lovely silicone cases too, which varied in size, so we got about 12 out of them, but I'm sure you could make smaller ones with normal-sized paper cases and get more for your money!

Serve with a delicious glass of cold milk - complete with curly straw, of course!
Ethan's verdict? Well, he had a sniff, he tasted it slightly, but it was a resounding 'no', much to my disappointment.  My mum however yummed one down as soon as she came in, and then Dave and Tom both gorged themselves after tea tonight, so I think they are a resounding success.  They are very tasty - crunchy on the outside and a bit softer and gooey in the middle.  Gorgeous!  Maybe if Ethan hadn't helped this one time, he wouldn't have see the bananas going in (I really do think this is why he didn't eat any) and they really would have been Sneaky Banana Muffins.

I shall duplicate this recipe soon when he is not around and let you all know!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Ethan's grommets

We weren't surprised when we found out our youngest was deaf, it was actually a relief to find out what wrong with him. It was something we had known about for ages but the wheels of the NHS grind unbearably slowly.

Thomas, our eldest son had been really quick in his development. He was talking by the age of one and holding full conversations quite easily by the time his brother was born when he was two. Ethan on the other hand struggled to get going with his speech, didn't interact with us in the same way and wasn't interested in story books. We spent a lot of time questioning ourselves our parenting. Was this second child syndrome?We were pretty knackered as Ethan was (and still is) a terrible sleeper. 

We also at one point questioned whether he might be autistic. A lot of the symptoms are the same- lack of concentration and interest in activities, difficulty playing with other kids, delayed language development, frustration. 

Then he was struck down with 10 ear infections in 5 months. It felt like we were at the doctor on a weekly basis. He started to hate the doctor. We started to hate the doctor. And I'm pretty sure the doctor started to hate us!

Eventually we saw the specialist and a whole new battle started. He was tested, we realised our wee boy was deaf and the consultant suggested that we do nothing. "Let's test him in 6 months, hopefully it will improve. We don't like going down the surgery route anymore." 

Everyone had their tonsils out when I was wee and as far as I knew grommet insertion was a pretty minor deal. I couldn't see the value in waiting another 6 months, but he was the expert and deals with these things all the time so we accepted his advice and went home for another 6 months of frustration and tantrums. Looking back I wish we had forced the issue straight away. If I had trusted my gut and pushed harder for surgery we might have avoided a lot of tears and misery. 

At the next appointment a different consultant, directed by our concerns, referred us immediately for surgery and about 2 weeks later he got his appointment. Although we were relieved we were really worried as well. After all, we had been told they don't like to dish out surgery anymore and there is always a slight chance things could go wrong isn't there? 

I did a bit of googling- bad idea! The whole thing looks pretty disgusting.

But then I checked out the NHS website and it did help to put my mind at rest, at least a little.

We were a bit anxious about how our wee terror would behave in the hospital so we spend quite a bit of time in preparation. In his bag of tricks we took:

1. Loads of books
2. Pyjamas
3. Pull ups
4. Stitch (The stuffed toy he got at Disneyland after Stitch picked on his dad in the Live Stitch Show- much to his glee!)
5. Cars
6. Jake and the Pirates toys

Ethan with Stitch

We got there feeling ready for a long, boring wait, but were greeted by friendly nursing staff who allocated him a bed and showed him straight into the playroom. He was totally in his element and so relaxed in the setting. He let the doctors examine him without a word of complaint and didn't say a word when they put the anaesthetic (magic) cream on his arm. The staff were all really skillful with their distraction techniques and to be honest I think he didn't really notice what was happening.

When it was time for the operation itself he was allowed to drive to the operating room on a really cool toy car and was distracted with an Ipad while the doctor put him under. This was honestly the only difficult part for me. Once the anaesthetic his his blood stream he faded like a light. It was surreal to see him drop off so suddenly, and then we just had to leave him in the capable hands of the doctors. He just looked so wee and defenseless.

I felt a bit guilty and a bit anxious as we sat in the waiting room, but after about ten minutes we got the call that he was finished and on his way back to the ward. And that was it, except that he slept for about 2 hours after the operation. Other children came and went and we just sat there watching him sleep. It was the longest and most boring part of the day. Eventually he woke up and we got to go  home.

All in all his care was fantastic and the staff were all excellent. I just wish that all hospital wards were run in such a friendly and open way.

His recuperation period was fine as well. Just a few spots of blood and some tears about wearing cotton wool in his ears in the bath. We solved this by all plugging ourselves up and calling the improvised earplugs 'Santa's beard'.

Since the operation his life has changed so much. He talks; actually we can't shut him up. And pretty much straight away he stared correcting some of the errors in his speech. I do miss some of these though. Never again will he tell me, "I c**t do that daddy!"
 It feels great not to have to shout to get through to him, although there is always an element of selective deafness in every child!

He is much happier as well now. He gets on much better at nursery, plays so much more appropriately at home an his imagination has flourished as well now that he can actually interact with his surroundings.

We are unbelievably glad that we did force the issue and push for surgery. It has made all the difference to our 3 year old and his quality of life. Now if we could just get the wee monkey to sleep all night in his own bed...

Park Etiquette

Today we went to a new park.

We live in quite a nice area, so there's a lot of lovely parks to choose from.  This one in particular is one that we drive past almost every day, but we have never really been to.  It's nothing fancy - some small equipment and some swings, but enough for pre-school/early school children to enjoy. Plus it's surrounded by a huge expanse of grass, shaded by a hill.

As I said, it's a nice, well-off, suburban area, so we didn't expect any trouble.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the usual mass of dog-walkers going about their business, which was fine.  Then we turned the corner onto the park and my oh my!

Teenagers fighting among the newly-laid woodchip, grabbing handfuls of it and stuffing it into each other's faces while punching each other.  Pre-teens who were copying the older ones and beating each other up while the mother stood and watched, not saying a word when one hit the other.  A dad with three younger kids, who were playing on the equipment, which included a slide and a chain for lifting sand up to a sand-chute.

Hoping that the older kids would scarper once they saw some younger kids playing in what is really an area for younger kids, I pointed our boys in the direction of where the dad and his (relatively safer looking) kids were playing.

Right enough, the older ones soon made off, and the boys were playing on the equipment with the three others.

Now, my kids usually play very well with others, so I was quite happy to leave them to their own devices, while keeping an eye from a distance.  The park was fenced off from dogs, so Dave, my husband, was standing with Sparky behind the fence, watching.  I went to talk to him, behind the equipment.

The chain was on the other side of the equipment, and I heard Tom playing (or so I thought) with the oldest of the three kids.  Ethan was perched up on our side of the equipment, watching them, chatting away to them in his squeaky three-year-old tones.

Suddenly, I heard Tom cry.  Hard.

Tom never cries.  I have seen Tom fall backwards off of slides and hit his head and not utter a peep.  I have seen him bash his head so hard that a huge egg appears on his forehead and he's never said a word.

So this time I knew it was bad.

I raced around to the other side of the equipment, to see Tom clutching his head and shouting 'He hit me!  He did it on purpose with that chain!  He threw it at my head!'

I grabbed Tom and sat him down, giving a cursory glare at the child in question.  Tom had a small cut on his head where the chain had hit him - it was a sore one.

I looked at the dad of the small boy to see if he would say anything: Nothing.

I took Tom over to where Dave was standing and said to him 'What do we do?'

I was angry that someone had hurt my baby and made him cry.  I was angrier at myself though for not knowing what had happened.  Usually I helicopter like a pro, but they are getting way too old for that, plus the park was so small, there was really no need.

Dave shook his head and said 'I don't know.  I just heard the dad saying to the boy that he should say sorry, even though Tom was being bad to him first'


I know I'm going to sound like the naive mother here, but my boy be bad to someone first?

I'm not so naive as to think that it wouldn't happen, but I do know Tom - it's not in his nature to be mean.  When he got hurt by someone at school and we told him it was o.k to hurt back in that instance, he got upset, because 'you should never hurt anyone!'  He's consistently good-mannered, he always thinks of others and never even retaliates when his little brother annoys him past the point of annoyance.

I was then left with a conundrum.  Do I hash it out with the dad, who probably saw what was happening better than I did and look like an idiot when he proves that my kid 'deserved it' or do I do what I'm supposed to do as a mother and challenge that man on his child's behaviour?

There's a difference too between 'being bad' to someone and drawing blood.

Tom, however, took the matter out of my hands.  He ran over to the boy and shouted in a really deep, gruff, angry voice 'I'm gonna get you for what you done to me!  You really hurt me and I'm wanting you to say sorry!'

I was so shocked that he would speak to someone like that, I went to stop him, but he was already crying again, he was so upset.  The boy hid under the climbing frame and said nothing.  I looked at the dad.  Nothing.  I said to the two boys, 'Maybe you should both say sorry to each other and that's the end of it?'


I looked at the dad again as if to say 'come on'.


I'm ashamed to say it, but we left right after that.  I took my boys and got them out of that park, away from the situation completely, Ethan muttering in my ear as I carried him 'Thomas got hurt by the boy.  The boy didn't say sorry.  That boy hurt him.  Thomas got hurt.  He sad.  That boy not say sorry'

We walked back across that park, Tom roaring and crying with anger and hurt the whole way, us muttering words of comfort to him, while at the same time feeling useless and defunct as parents.

What should we have done?

I know if I was in that dad's shoes I would have been the first person to help the kid who was crying if my kid had hurt them.  I would have told my kid off for drawing blood and I would have apologised to the kid and the parent and made my son apologise too.

Even if that kid had 'been bad' first.

We're at home now.  Tom s playing ' a nice calm game' on his PS3 to wind down.  Ethan has stopped asking me 'why the boy didn't say sorry?'

But I feel like I failed my son a bit.  Now that I'm home, I'm going through all of the things we should have done; confronted the man a bit more, asked the child in question what he thought he was doing.  But the thing is, as a family, we are totally non-confrontational.

I want to be a hero in my son's eyes.  I want nothing more than to sweep him away from any danger and to show that danger that it's not messing with my kids.  I feel like I could walk through fire for both of them: but I couldn't call that man on his child's behavior at the park.  I feel weak.

I'm wondering if I've shown them that it's o.k to be hurt by others.  I'm hoping that I've shown them that some people are just mean and that it's still not really o.k to hurt anyone, no matter what they do first.  I'm not sure if there's any real 'lesson' for them here - what I have learned though is that next time, I would definitely speak up.

'We're Going On A Bear Hunt...'

Saturday Adventures!

Saturdays when I am not at work are always the best.  I work alternate Saturdays in a children's library - which I love to death - but nothing beats a Saturday at home with my own children.  There's always an adventure waiting for us.

We do, ironically, spend a lot of time at our local library with our kids at the weekends, whether I am working or not.  Reading is something I am very passionate about, and I am keen to foster a love of it in my boys.

Plus, it's free!  And anything which is free for children to do at the weekend should be coveted.

The library is always such an exciting place for my kids - they ask about it over the week with an air of awe, as if magic lived behind those large wooden doors; which it does, of course (I am in no way biased).

'Mum, are we going to the library at the weekend?  I really want to get a new book on Space!' Tom will ask, eager to learn more about his current school topic.

Or, from Ethan,
'Mum, I go to abary to get Bear Hunt Book?'

Ethan is currently obsessed with the Michael Rosen/Helen Oxenbury book We're Going On A Bear Hunt.  It accompanies him in the car, in bed at night and even to nursery.  We of course have our own copy, but Ethan still loves to get it every time we go to the library, and no amount of persuasion will advise him otherwise!

One afternoon he sat with the book on the couch and the video with it on YouTube, delighting in being 'read to' by the wonderful audio/visual and squealing with delight every time the bear emerged from the cave to chase the family home.  It's a really funny video and lovely for wee ones.

After the library, we usually do something fun, and now that Spring is finally upon us (kinda), we are spending loads more time outdoors.

I'm loving the age that the kids are at just now - old enough to be slightly more independent and still young enough to just enjoy a tramp around the woods, with no agenda (another fab FREE activity!)

Everywhere we go, Ethan uses his imagination, and the rest of us get in on the act.  He really does just delve right in, and we have had great fun doing all sorts of things together in the most random of places.

Today we find ourselves at Reres Hill in Broughty Ferry.  If you've never been, Reres is a very old place, dating back to the pre-Victorian era.  It sits nestled amongst new  and old houses alike, along a busy main road and is mainly used by dog-walkers.  But when you are in amongst the trees, you really could be in the middle of nowhere.

 It was somewhere I went as a child with my grandparents, as a walk to the top of the hill takes you to one of the best, and most little-known viewpoints in Dundee.  The path to the top is worn and not maintained and a lot of trees are very old and gnarled.  Which is awesome - it's great having a feeling of untouched nature or a kind of 'lost age' in the middle of suburbia.

A lot of the root-structures of the trees look like this! And stretched out over the hill, they make excellent footholds when climbing up the steep path, let me tell you!

Someone's also planted some beautiful daffodils, which, as bulb plants do, have spread throughout the park to give a stunning display.  The kids have christened it 'The Daffodil Park'.

So, we might have looked batshit-crazy to the few dog-walkers who happened to be marching their pooches through the park that day, but hey, when you have a small child with you, anything goes, right?  Or, that's what I'm hoping!

Because...We're Going On A Bear Hunt!

The good folks over at ( advocate that any play with your child is good play - children build so many skills from playing in places like this, and adding in Ethan's knowledge of We're Going On A Bear Hunt  gives us total brownie-points for his literacy development.

My wee Hobbit
We did have a great time climbing the hill, looking for the old path that leads to the top.  Tom gave us kittens a couple of times when he just started to forge his own way to the top, with the biggest stick I've ever seen and my mind wandered to bad places a few times; Tom impaled on his stick stuck at the top of a hill, Tom falling down the hill edge into brambles, Tom just generally injuring himself in any unlikely way (he is ridiculously clumsy, it verges on comedic/terrifying).                                                                                                                                    
Dad saves the day!

 For maximum bear-hunt affect, we took the dog with us.  He's 18 now, and not half as lively as he used to be, but he still enjoyed a good sniff around the woods.  Doesn't he look great for his age?  Here he is enjoying a particulary awesome smell.  He might be slightly more blind and deaf now, but there's nothing wrong with his sniffer!                                        

Sparky's nose knows no age!

We ran through those woods, we climbed the hills, we jumped out at each other from behind the bushes, we 'found' the bear and we screamed and ran from the bear.  We had a great time!
Of course you don't have to go to the woods to re-enact your own Bear Hunt with the kids.  We do this in the house, we sing it in the car, in the garden - the possibilities are endless!  Most times we skip to the end bit - you know, because being chased by a bear is very exciting.  Letting your kids explore and go wild with their imaginations is one of the pleasures of having children - you never know where they are going to take you.  Like the magic that lies behind those library doors, the stories, the possibilities, the opportunities are endless.

Ethan found the old path to the top in the end!

If you are looking for some inside Bear-related fun, check out these FREE printables from WordsForLife and the Literacy Trust:

One thing's for sure, we WILL be going on a Bear Hunt again...and again, and again, and again!

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