Monday, 14 April 2014

Spring has arrived, but I'm stuck in here...

Review: Regatta Women's X-ert Capris. 

A few weeks ago the sun came out for a little while, a few hours of blue sky and optimism. It's here! Spring has arrived. 

Then it started to rain. And in between the showers it was damp. And windy. And cold. 

I spend much of the bright spell contemplating long sun soaked ascents of mountains, sleevelss clothing and cooling paddles in streams. Sigh. 

About this time the kind people at Outdoor Look offered me a pair of Regatta capri pants to wear on these explorations of the higher reaches of these great wilderness. Oooh, yes please! And they are indeed lovely (comfy and flattering) with plentiful pockets and a claim that they are both water repellant and quick-drying. 


However, since they arrive there has been frost (too cold for anything but layers of down and many socks), gales (the tombola at an outdoor fete had to be held down by at least three sturdy volunteers) and a cool (in every sense) Scout camp. The capris have languished. 

Soon they will have their day. Outdoor Look has a wide range of trousers - long and short - for whatever the weather has in mind.  

Then today the season changed. I watched it through my window while I worked (the mixed feelings of a freelancer with lots of work on on a sunny day are palpable). At least I got to wear my beautiful new suede shoes today. 


Outdoor Look sent me the capris to review. 

Concerned About Security? Consider A Garage Door Upgrade

Most homeowners completely overlook their garage door when they take steps to secure their home. For thieves, a garage door is one of the easiest ways to break into a home, so it makes sense for homeowners to take some extra measures to make sure that they are secure. The good news is that securing your garage door isn't that hard, and it won't cost you an arm and a leg. 

Take the following steps to make sure that your garage door is safe and secure:

Secure Your Garage Door Opener

Remote control garage door openers are very convenient, but they can also be a major security vulnerability. Tech-savvy thieves can use instruments to figure out what signal your garage door opener uses; once they have the proper frequency, they simply click a button to open your door.

Look for an opener that scrambles the signal after every use. When the codes are randomized, it's impossible for thieves to open your garage. If you plan on being away from home for a while, you can always power off your garage door opener; when you do that, thieves can't break in using an unauthorized opener.

Buy A Reinforced Door

Cheap garage doors are made of lightweight materials that are easy to break. When installing a garage door, make sure to work with a company like Elite Overhead Garage that offers you a stronger option. A stronger door may cost a little more, but it can prevent your home from being broken into; the extra cost is worth the safety and security that it provides.

Buy Locks

Automatic garage door technology is very convenient, but nothing beats a good old-fashioned lock-and-key system. Technologically inclined thieves don't have much problem bypassing a security code, so it's important that you add another layer of protection.

A quality mechanical lock can help protect your home against the most determined thieves. The locks that come with cheaper garage doors usually aren't enough, so you probably need to get an upgrade. Call your local garage door installer, and let them know that you want mechanical locks installed. They'll let you know what your options are based on the type of door that you have.

Securing your garage door is cheap and easy. Most people have no idea how easy it is to break into their home through the garage, so they never think of reinforcing their door. Now that you know how vulnerable your garage door is, it makes sense to put a little money into safety and security.

This is a partnered post.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Things we learned in Chester



Serendipity was on our side this week. First, that we were in Chester at all and secondly that, more or less, everything we attempted worked out well. 

In our case it began with a rota fail (not, mercifully an aeronautical term). The Panther of News didn't manage to get the bit of the Easter holidays we'd hoped for and days of just me and the Boys loomed. However, I soon found out that both Super Sister and Super Sister-in-law were in the same situation and so we decided to combine our efforts. 

Marking half-way for all of us on the map, Super Sister used the powers of the internet to find us excellent digs at The Bunkroom in Chester. Which just went to show you can have value and quality at the same time if you're lucky. 

All of which is how three women and seven children aged from two to 14 came to be staying in a couple of dormitories in a city none of us had been to before. 

Here's what I learned. 


Bats can climb trees. Not that I didn't think they could, I just - in the brief moments I'd considered it - believed that they flew everywhere. A fascinating visit to the bat shed at Chester Zoo taught me this and also what amazing beasts they are. 

When you bring your own crowd it's very easy to lose someone. We momentarily misplaced Boy Three by the penguins. He was much less inclined to wander off after that. 

A monorail isn't as exciting as it sounds. And probably not worth an all-day pass. Chester Zoo is compact and absolutely jammed with things to do without walking very far... except that, of course, you do end up walking miles. 

Spotted in the zoo

Roman soldiers wore socks. Or at least that's what our personal - hired for an hour - centurion told us. They were quite clever so it's probably true. He also told us lots and lots of other fascinating things.

Anorak jousting is very entertaining. The Boys - and their cousins - let lose in the amphitheatre at the end of our Roman tour spent a long time flailing at each other with their coats. A new sport was born. 


Being a train driver might not actually have been a dream come true. The man at the wheel (do they have wheels?) of the mini-railway in Grosvenor Park in Chester certainly didn't look like he was living the dream, unless his dream was a very bad and scary one. 


14 is the age of gustatory maturity. Boy One ate - and enjoyed - his first olives on a pizza in the Monte Carlo restaurant in Heswall. The jazz was pretty good too, thanks to Super Sister-in-law's cousin Geni and her band. 

Nursery teachers don't make children form up into crocodiles for fun. Our first attempt to travel the pavements of Chester with quite so many children was chaotic to say the least. Once we struck on the idea of making everyone under 10 hold hands with at least one other person things calmed down considerably. 

It was an excellent couple of days of catching up with SS and SSiL while the cousins alternately bonded and fell out. A good time was had by all and we even got to the Shap Chippy in time lunch on the way home. Thanks to SuperGran and Tim too. 




Tuesday, 8 April 2014

SWIB Independence Referendum Debate: Things I Learned

Pic 'borrowed' from Morag Malloy. 

Last night saw the SWIB (Scottish Women in Business) debate with a panel of Annabel Goldie, Nicola Sturgeon, Johann Lamont and Ruth Wishart chaired by Sally Magnusson. The audience was entirely female. 

Before the debate a poll showed: 
Yes: 19%
No: 55%
Undecided: 26%

After the debate the poll results were: 
Yes: 31%
No: 52%
Undecided: 17%

Here's what I learned:

The panelists share a genuine warmth and respect for each other and appeared to enjoy the debate as much as the audience seemed to. Although, perhaps slightly, the demonstration of their amiability occasionally lapsed into pantomime. 

Humour was everywhere. Laughter punctuated the whole event, even during the most serious discussions. It was, for Sally, one of the noteworthy features of the event. 



The best line... Came from journalist Ruth who described herself as "chronologically gifted". 

Margo MacDonald would have been proud. While I didn't know the late politician in person, I know many who did and I was aware of her passion and integrity. We shared a tribute to her at the start of the debate and her example seemed to set the tone. 

Facts are in short supply. Not through slight-of hand, but because the nature of the constitutional change (or not) we consider means that little is certain ahead of the game. 

Women like certainty. The consensus was that female voters are "more sceptical" of independence because they are practical and struggle with the lack of absolutes. 

Sifting fact from rhetoric is crucial. An excellent point from Annabelle was the importance of taking all claims and applying the test of asking whether the person making the claim has any control over the likelihood of it coming to fruition. I wonder how much political noise would be left...

Trust is the key. With a paucity of facts, what's left? There was recognition of the electorate's loss of faith in Westminster and the wider body politic. Can politicians of any stripe truly regain our trust? And what must they do to achieve that? 

It's possible to talk politics without having the urge to roll my eyes. This was the first political discussion of this type I've been to where I never once suppressed a sigh or felt someone wasn't being heard properly. A gender thing? Perhaps. 

The best question didn't get answered. The panel (specifically the No contingent) were asked what they'd do in the event of a Yes vote. We hoped for a little look at how the landscape would lie in a devolved Scotland, at how the other parties would play their cards because we know they've all thought about their Plan B. But then again, that's not really what we were there to talk about. 

Thanks to the team at SWIB for pulling off an ambitious and important event. 



What to wear now spring has sprung

Review Bonmarche spotted belted mac

I just love spring when - eventually - the air (or at least the rain) gets a bit warmer, the days lengthen and things start to grow. 

The season also signals a move out of dark woollen clothes and big boots into the Clothes of Summer. For me it's about belief and possibility. 

Only a month ago it was impossible to even imagine peeling off layers and facing the world with any more than face and hands exposed. It was - in spite of 46 years of experience - inconceivable that the frost and grey would be replace by bright and warm. 

But once again it has come to pass and, in the space of a week, my thick layers of down are extreme and sweaty. 

This year I was sent my solution to the 'what to wear when it's not quite summer yet, or even in summer when it's quite likely to pour down' question in the form of a navy spotted mac from Bonmarche. 


What's good about it?

The mac is light and easy to wear. I often find myself feeling constricted and uncomfortable in coats. This also feels smart and dressy enough. The fabric isn't rustly or shiny (a good thing). 


It's sizing seems pretty accurate with the coat ending mid-thigh. For £40 it's perfect of getting from winter to the (cough) long, hot, dry and jacketless days we're bound to have. 

What's less good?

The waist of the coat is higher than the waist of me. I solved this by wearing it without the belt. 

Uncertain how good it'll be in actual rain as, oddly, there hasn't been any when I've worn it. 

Buy it?

It's from a selection of coats and jackets at Bonmarche.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Things I've learned from being an Aspie's mum

Late, I know, but this week saw World Autism Awareness Day.

Autism is in our lives as Boy One has Asperger's Syndrome, or high functioning autism if that's how you want to look at it. However, even though it's as much a part of him has his red hair, it's not something we take out and examine every day. 

And that's the thing, the way we look at it is exactly like being ginger - an essential feature of him, not one that reduces the whole. On the contrary...

I understand that many mothers and families face huge challenges by the presence of autism. The effects are foundation-shattering and help is sparse. The courage those people muster daily just to march on is inspiring. 

That's why, perhaps, I don't talk too much about Boy One and his Asperger's, apart from anything, it's his story to tell. But also we are fortunate that it doesn't bring any of those 'dis' features to our home  - disadvantage, disability and disapproval.

Here's what I have learned from our journey with autism:

We are blessed. I have been taken aback by teachers repeatedly telling me what a pleasure Boy One is to have in their classes. Quickly, pride gave way to a realisation that there's a preconception that children on the autism spectrum will be difficult to 'manage', Boy One isn't.

The all-consuming will pass. We've enjoyed a range of obsessions from Thomas The Tank Engine to cake decorating, passing pokemon and ancient Egypt. And however endless and tiresome they seem at the time, they will vanish as quickly as they came. "What do you mean, you don't want to help me decorate a cake?"

It gets better. Talking to parents of other kids facing similar challenges, I realise that the difficulties of younger years are firmly in the past, hurdles overcome. And you move on, almost forgetting how hard things were. They are hardly hard at all now. 

But things aren't so bad at the time. Looking back at the days with a boy who wouldn't eat, couldn't go into shops, hated the wind and didn't acknowledge classmates as people, my memories are warm and not traumatic as the facts might suggest. 

The autistic viewpoint is interesting. There's much to learn from viewing the world from a differently-wired perspective. It forces new examination of that we take for granted.

Beware of taking things for granted. On a weekly basis, Boy One will surprise me, both with his maturity and understanding and, just as much, with the gaps that need to be filled. He's 14 and only last week I realised I needed to give him explicit instructions about how to speak to strangers on the phone. His four-year-old brother already knows this from his 'normal' viewpoint. 

Fear is relative. Boy One isn't hampered by the usual fears - rejection, humiliation, not fitting in - instead he worries about the death of Planet Earth, electrical fires, and far-flung military uprisings. 

Literal is a little wearing. For example, today, again, we've had a discussion about whether or not the expectation of unpaid chore doing is a breech of a child's human rights. (It's not.)

There are no limits. Boy One is doing well at high school, he's happy and successful. He's just started the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. At the start, I couldn't have imagined this, that's why I hope and expect his future to be just as bright. 

But he'll always squeeze my heart. We know him and understand him, but I fervently hope everyone he meets in life gives him the same chances as anyone else. I won't always be there to protect him. So, of course, the more people who understand about and are aware of autism the greater that possibility will be. 




Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Plan UK campaign: Give Up To Give Back - the coffee break

Plan UK is a global children’s charity. It works with children in the world’s poorest countries to help them build a better future.

For more than 75 years it has been taking action and standing up for every child’s right to fulfil their potential by:

  • Giving children a healthy start in life, including access to safe drinking water.
  • Securing the education of girls and boys. 
  • Working with communities to prepare for and survive disasters.
  • Inspiring children to take a lead in decisions that affect their lives. 
  • Enabling families to earn a living and plan for their children’s future.

Donations to Plan UK have enabled children, families and entire communities have the power to move themselves from a life of poverty to a future with opportunity.

This year Plan UK has launched a new fundraising campaign to help them continue their crucial work. 

It's called Give Up To Give Back and the idea is simple. You stop doing something that costs money and probably isn't very good for you and give the money to charity instead. Simple. 

At first I struggled to think of anything - what with me not having any bad habits or anything! Then I realised - I could drop a coffee a day. 

Last year I treated myself to a fancy pants coffee machine - justified because working from home, I don't get the opportunity to squander cash on Starbucks and the likes. I inevitably have three - or sometimes four - cups a day, just because I can.


Now this stuff doesn't come cheap - 53p a pod in some cases. So if I only have two cups, I will have saved £3.71 a week, which I could then give to Plan UK. 



It's as simple as that. 

If you want to do your bit without any pain then sign up with Plan UK to make a difference. 

#giveup2giveback.

This is a partnered post. 

Things I learned from Scout Camp

Be prepared... to be brilliant.

Perhaps not exactly what Baden Powell had in mind in 1937, but Scouting is still going strong and this weekend it had me in its grip. I was a parent helper at a camp at Lochgoilhead.

I don't know about the kids, but I found it instructive. Here's what I learned:


Argyll is very very beautiful and really not that far away, but some how as soon as you turn that corner at Tarbet it feels as if you're in another land. 

Lots of layers is always the answer. I believe that on my second attempt (the previous weekend's rafting being the learning experience). I may have cracked the keeping warm on the water thing. If you care it's thermal leggings, thermal vest, thermal undershirt and light vest. 

Getting cold feet is easy. Quite literally. So before September's Great Glen canoe expedition I'd like to find best way to keep them warm in a boat. Suggestions please. 


Tight lashings are essential. When building a raft the quality of the lashing matters, but its tightness more so, especially when your dryness and comfort depend on it. 

There must be an outdoor instructors' joke book. From which they may never deviate. I haven't found it yet, but it has to be the only explanation for the groan-worthy gags that must be told, as far as I can see, 4.2 times per activity.

The middle bit of an archery target is gold not yellow. Neither is it a bullseye. I hit it with an arrow... once. 

The solution to feeding picky kids lies with a vending machine. If you give children money and a vending machine, they will keep putting coins in the slot until the machine is empty and they have eaten everything therein. Clearly putting broccoli and oily fish next to the Doritos and Irn-Bru is the answer. 

Being off the communications grid is a source of mild anxiety. We are frequently exhorted to go on a digital detox as it's good for us. I can report that all it does is cause a low-level grumbling anxiety that some sort of personal and domestic shitstorm has broken about which I know nothing. (It hadn't.)

Scouting is the best example of creating something out of nothing. Perhaps here the digital detox is great for youngsters used to being plugged into machine with screen all the time. It is actually possible to create engaging and entertaining games out of nothing and the time passes very well. For example, thumb jousting, kayak British bulldog, robots and controllers and something that looked very like a scene from Hunger Games (only with less blood).

Onesies have their place but a more utilitarian version is needed. When it comes to getting kids who have just done watersports into the dining hall queue on time (ish) getting them to put their onesie on is effective. However, there needs to be an official Scouting onesie. It will have a waterproof bottom patch for sitting on damp logs, a pocket and/or clips for torches and penknives, badges will already be sewn on, only covered with velcro patches to be removed when the badge awarded, it will have a hood in the shape of Baden Powell's hat. 

Speaking of Baden Powell...

Overlooking the sexism and allowing for the broadest meaning of God, he wrote this in his final letter: 

... I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness does not come from being rich, nor merely being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so you can enjoy life when you are a man. Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one. But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. 'Be Prepared' in this way, to live happy and to die happy — stick to your Scout Promise always — even after you have ceased to be a boy — and God help you to do it...


Thursday, 27 March 2014

No regrets on Mother's Day... or any day

How did your mothering go? Are you still in the midst of it, or is it mostly behind you? Were you a success today?

How did you do? Were you any good? 

Clearly a successful parenting moment at the Palace of Bundance
Let me tell you how you did. You were fantastic! Without question. 

It is the truth. And it's about time we started believing it. 

Because we don't believe it... and neither does anyone else. It's like the whole world is ganging up on mums and trying to make us feel terrible. 

Have you seen the media? Huge online parenting communities urge us to talk about our #parentfail moments while market-leading newspapers line famous mums up to talk about their regrets. 

Stop it now. Please. Not just for the sake of women who are doing their very best, yet unsurprisingly feel that it's not good enough - not by a long way - but for our children too. 
  • If you believe - because everyone says so - that having a job (or being a stay-at-home mum) makes you a bad parent, then how can you teach your sons and daughters the value of a rewarding career or the worth of a decision not to pursue one for a while?
  • If you believe - because the world tells us it's so - that we're failing as mothers because we're single parents, then what message does that send out to children about the realities of love and life? When the story takes a twist, the characters don't magically all become baddies.
  • If you believe - and plenty of people think so - that your method of parenting is wrong, then how can children learn that it takes all kinds, but each of them is just as good?
  • If you believe - as you're supposed to - that someone else knows the best way for you to live your life, then how can you demonstrate confident and responsible decision making? 
Of course, it isn't easy and the answers aren't always obvious. We learn, make mistakes and muddle through. Everyone does. 

But please know your mothering is just as good as mine... as hers... as the next woman. And don't believe anyone who tries to tell you different. 

If you don't believe me, call your mum - she did OK, didn't she? 



This is a partnered post.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Choking on a slice of girl cake...

Talk about being in two minds about something.

Boy Three has been spending a lot of time lately considering his forthcoming fifth birthday. It's not til June, but it's already looming large. 

I suppose when you've only had four birthdays, they are a pretty big deal. 

After discussing the options he seems to have settled on a fancy dress party at the local soft-play centre. He had initially proposed a Clone Warrior-themed affair, but eventually agreed that was a somewhat specialist theme, even for a die-hard fan. 

"But I can go as a clone warrior, mummy?" he asked. 

Then we moved on to important matters, such as cake. A Star Wars cake. (Can you do Darth Vader in icing? I wondered.)

"Oh no. I need two cakes. Can we have two cakes?" He was stricken. "Please mummy."

"Er, I suppose so. But why do we need two cakes?"

"I want the girls to come to my party, so we'll need a girl cake. Girls like princess cakes."


"I'm sure they like all kind of cakes. And in any case all cakes are good, aren't they?"

"No they aren't. Girls only like girl cakes - princess cakes, unicorn cakes and mermaid cakes."

"Oh," There doesn't seem much room for discussion on this. 

"Well what do girl cakes taste like?"

"You know. Pink and princessy."

"Don't you think the girls would like whatever cake you've got for your birthday?"

"No. They'd be sad if they had to eat boy cake. And I don't want them to be sad."


My chivalrous boy wants his female guests to be happy, which is a good thing, but what makes them happy is girl cake. Where do I go from here? 

It must be noted that the girls on the guest list should, according to Boy Three, consider themselves lucky to be invited as, despite frequent requests, none of them has agreed to his marriage proposals. "I'll just have to marry you instead, mummy."


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