Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Total Wipeout - the domestic version

Of course there's a monkey on the light fitting
This morning has been something of a trial. Properly testing the little ship of equanimity I'd sailed out of my yoga weekend in. Huge gusts of crabbiness were threatening to dump me in the ocean of irritability.

Then I realised. It's just a game. Total Wipeout for people who don't want to go to Argentina and put on wet suits.

First obstacle. Negotiate getting away from the toddler you woke up beside. He has a bad case of CLF (contrary little fellow) and after kicking you and demanding kisses will play his trump card - I want a weewee in the toilet. 

Second obstacle. CLF toddler won't want to use the nearest toilet. 

Third obstacle. Boy One will insist that you are a bad parent for not buying exactly the right kind of toast pockets. Meanwhile you must slit open defrosted pittas perfectly to prove him wrong. 

Fourth obstacle. Boy Two will whinge that he asked for his toast first, yet refuse to make his own. Meanwhile he will wind up both Boy One and Boy Three (the toddler).

Fifth obstacle. While you're still slitting pittas you will be expected to find exactly the right dinner money for two children. 

Sixth obstacle. Someone will have hidden Boy Three's shoes and when you find them he will announce that he hates them. 

Seventh obstacle. You must maintain the impression of listening to Boy One who, from his position on the autistic spectrum, is giving you the full benefit of his opinion about your failings because the clock is two minutes fast. 

Eighth obstacle. You will discover that chocolate ice cream has been melted all over the outside, inside and hinge of the bin. It needs cleaned up, calmly. 

Ninth obstacle. You will see that Boy Two has noticed that things are becoming choppy and is employing his best be-nice-to-mummy tactics. This means pausing to cuddle him and answer his questions convincingly. 

Tenth obstacle. Boy Three will demand a lolly pop. 

Eleventh obstacle. Boy Three - bare bottomed because he promised he'd tell you when he wanted to do a wee in the toilet - is weeing copiously in the sweetie basket that you put on the floor because he wanted a lolly.

Twelfth obstacle. Finding a cloth to mop up as the laundry sorting - so enthusiastically tackled by Boys One and Two - has resulted in most items being scattered around the bedroom.

Finish line. Wasn't that fun? Let's do it all again tomorrow. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Who am I? Finding myself during a dot om weekend.

View from the mat
Or how can I have me time if I don't know who me is?

I'm sure if I was more flexible I would have actually looked at my own belly button.

Instead, I have been considering the very nature of myself by the dual mechanism of a social media breakfast and a yoga retreat. You could say it's been a bit dot om.

First Friday saw the Fatbuzz New Media Breakfast on the topic of managing your personal brand online.

The speaker was Jennifer Holloway of Spark Branding who went from being interesting and engaging to rather wonderful by revealing she liked listening to The Archers while drinking Rioja.

She talked about how you appear online. How your Facebook, Twitter, blog and all the other stuff are the firm handshake and carefully chosen outfits of first impressions.

She kicked off with the news that it is perfectly OK to have several different web personalities, as long a they are all genuine. So it is possible to be a mummy blogger, shit-hot businessista, cynical commentator on current affairs and good-time girly. All in the same person. Phew. 

In fact, she said, there's no point in trying to be someone you aren't. It'll exhaust you and confuse people. 

Then, 24 hours later and not half a mile away I was arse-up over a yoga mat on an urban recalibration weekend with teacher Jax Lysycia.

Jax is to yoga what Gok Wan is to making perfectly sane people get their kit off in public. Something of a rock star. Although lovely and approachable with it. 

She kicked off talking about balance and ease and acceptance. Equanimity. Several times she said: "It is what it is."

And so it is. Apart from holding my legs in the air for quite a long time, the weekend was about finding what's right for me/you (depending on your perspective). She reiterated - you can't be or do what you aren't and can't. Same message, different forum.

Over three days in several different ways I kept hearing the message - just be yourself, do what's right for you. It was slapping me in the face (sometimes literally in the more complex postures).

But what if you aren't quite sure? Or if it shifts like leafs in the wind? Or it's been so long, you've forgotten?

No matter, she said. Stop trying to find it, the universe has the answer. Which might sound a bit "out there" but is actually just what I said the other day. We are all star stuff.

So there you have it. I am what I am and as soon as I know what that is, I'll let you know. 

Monday, 27 February 2012

Competition: Delicious scented candles to carry you off

Shearer's Candles
My desk is in a corner of the house – I look out at the passing world, but just behind me is the downstairs loo. It’s not a bad place to work, but sometimes, gazing at the rain and listening to the other people who live here, it isn’t the most inspiring.

Ideally, obviously, I’d be sitting up a snow-capped mountain in front of a log fire, or at a street cafe somewhere exotic to meet my muse, but that isn’t happening any day soon. So I improvise.

Scented candles do help create something slightly more sophisticated than usual aroma of my workplace – squidged near the downstairs loo and the laundry room. And nice ones that actually smell of something when you light them because they've got real oils in them.

Shearer’s Candles of Glasgow have long been my favourites. Recently I had the chance to chat to artistic director Rosey Barnet.

Rosey has the enviable job of creating the company’s range of delicious scented candles.

She said: “I travel a lot on business and find I get my inspiration all over the world.

“When I was in Egypt and staying in a lovely hotel I found there was a lovely smell of crisp linen mixed a hint of spicy air coming from oil burners. It was wonderful.”

She used that inspiration to instruct perfume houses that she wanted to develop a cotton scent with an edge of spice.

Perfume houses created samples for her which she then had to test in candles as the candle-making process can have a profound effect on oils. Eventually she was satisfied with the Egyptian Cotton scent in the new Spring range.

“The Lavender and Neroli was inspired on a trip to Venice. We went to a restaurant on a beautiful island. One wall was open to a herb garden. You could smell the lavender, the herbs and the orange trees. Then in China I had visited a spa where the pathways were lined with oil burners full of orange oil. Neroli is made from the blossom of the bitter orange.”

Sigh. I could do that job, honest.
I’m currently burning an Egyptian Cotton candle and can confirm that it’s lovely. Almost as nice as my absolute favourite the Lavender and Neroli.

Rosey has kindly offered some Shearer candles from the new range as a prize to one of my readers. To be in with a chance of winning, please leave a comment about what scent you’d like to recreate if you could. Obviously, if you buy my book your chances of winning will improve considerably... as will flattery.

UK entries only.

Competition closes on March 18 and winner will be announced as soon as I can get round to it.

For more information on Shearer’s candles visit their website or their shop in sunny Govan.

PS Rosey tells me she's working on a range of oil burners that will be divine, not like those nasty ones we all had in the 80s.

PPS Please don't comment anonymously I need to be able to contact you. Email me if you're shy - 


Friday, 24 February 2012

NIMBY or not NIMBY, that is the question?

Not the green space in question but one similar and nearby
"That's it. The village is ruined," declared the man in the shop down the road. 

He had just finished telling the tale of dirty deeds and conspiracy that Machiavelli himself would have been proud of. 

You see, we - in our semi-rural bit of Renfrewshire - are at war. Our enemy? So far, Sainsbury's and the council, but that may change. It pays to be wary when peering from the trenches. 

It all started when it became apparent that the council wanted to declare one of our village's parks "surplus to requirements". It's a flat bit of park complete with a kids' play area and football pitches - admittedly not very pretty, but fairly well used. 

This decision - taken without notice and consultation - paves the way for "rezoning" from play to retail. And we are told (though I can't remember who said) that this is because there's a plot to let Sainsbury's build a big shop there. 

Understandably, the local businesses are furious about this. They think that everyone would spend their money in the superstore rather than in the independent ironmonger, butcher, cafe, shoe shop, newsagent, florist, gift shop and bakers. They're right - that's what a lot of people would do. Their concerns are legitimate. 

Those in the know say that the plans also include tens of new houses and loss of a stretch of the Sustran's national cycle path. Obviously, they say, this will mean drunks intoxicated on the supermarket's cut prize booze hanging around, more housing causing the village kids to be excluded from the desirable secondary school in some sort of catchment area gerrymandering. They say. 

In just a few days a very efficient campaign was mobilised and some 1700 protest letters delivered to the council. I had three different people at the door canvassing. 

I signed the protest letter because I think we already have enough supermarkets and too few independents and the relentless consumption of green areas by concrete makes me a little sad. Also I like to know more about things before I'm happy to see something irreversible happening. 

But that's what's got up my nose. It seems there's a reflex among us that adopts a stance against Them: An assumption that I'll fall in with the phalanx of NIMBYs marching to protest. I simply don't know enough - third-hand information from the neighbour of the sister of the man who does know isn't good enough. 

I don't assume the council is necessarily evil, nor is the board of Sainsbury's. Although I understand their best interests aren't the same as mine. More houses won't always line the handcart highway to hell. It might, but I don't know yet. 

Alright I'm in a crabby mood tonight, but I'm tired of people telling me what to think. I'm also tired of people (especially a toddler) making mess faster than I can tidy it up and I'm tired of the aforementioned toddler thinking 2am is a reasonable time to demand to sleep diagonally in his parents' bed. 

So I hope the council stops to think, or at least let us know what its plans are, and why. We know it's a tough time and sacrifices have to be made, but we'd like a say if one of the measures is trading a couple of football pitches for a retail emporium. 

No one wants something they didn't invite into their back yard, but I don't want to be a NIMBY either. And if resistance is futile, why don't we see if we can be involved in the plans so it turns out, at least in part, the way we want. 

End of grumble. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Frugal fun: Budget busting with tripe soup and other tips

Snowdrop souffle 
It might be nearly spring but there's a chill wind blowing. This metaphorical meteorological phenomena means virtual belts are being tightened all over. 

The other day, Super Sister asked innocently on Facebook what she could do to save a few quid and avoid the necessity of eating the dog or selling a child now that she's got a spare. 

The answers deserved more than slipping down her timeline along with the news that Little G had been asking Mummy A exactly what a sanitary towel was for. 

So things kicked off with supermarket "down-branding". You know. Ocado for Sainsbury, Tesco for Aldi and so on. 

Meal planning and shopping on-line (while strictly sticking to your list rather than glugging Merlot and clicking away randomly). No, Panther of News, that's not what happens most of the time. to get things cheaper and to get money back on what you do have to buy. Utility supplier reviews went without saying. 

Sell what you don't need - books on Amazon, junk at the car boot sale (thanks to, Donnie from Barnton Fine Foods) or Ebay if it's raining and you can't be arsed.

So far so, well, ordinary and sensible, but then it got interesting.

There was a suggestion that hard-line money saving would include feeding the children cat food and nettle soup. Um, not if your kids are as picky as mine.

Sticking with soup though. Tripe soup is apparently delicious (but only if you get the right kind of tripe).

"Go veggie," said Sophie. "At least five days a week. Making your own bread helps - not because it is that much cheaper, but it is so good that you eat it instead of expensive stuff."

She also suggested brewing your own using wine and beer kits (I know you don't brew wine, but it's late and I can't think what you do do to make it). Bitter works out at 80p a pint and wine £1.40 a bottle. 

How about foraging for food? One of my sister's chums had done a course at Eat Weeds. Just head out with some scissors and a bag for life... come home with dinner. 

Finally, disconnect your telly and only watch things on the i-Player for which, we were told, you don't need a licence...

Superscrimpers eat your hearts out.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Review: An a - maize - ing thing happened

Imagine my surprise when my children were introduced to a new (ish) vegetable and declared that it was "OK".

My bigger children are particularly picky. Veg is something that gets pushed around the plate, yukked at and eventually swallowed in minute quantities. 

Only last week Boy One and Boy Two looked on in shocked fascination as their almost-three-year-old brother scoffed broccoli (trees) and carrots (pennies).

So when I was asked to try out Sweetcorn Bites from Barfoots of Botleys' farm, I said "nothing to lose and at least I won't be paying for veg to go into the green cone". It may have come out as "thanks very much that would be lovely".

They arrived and my hopes weren't any higher. The Panther of News said: "Yum. Bung them in the microwave, we'll have some now."

And they are very faff-free. Prick, ping and they're done. 

So we had them in our fingers, rolled in butter. Very, very good, they were too. And here's where the weird thing happened. Boy One and Boy Two tried them as and after school snack and liked them. Really. Maizing.

You can get them from Tesco and Waitrose. I suppose you could get fresh maize and chop it to small hand sized bits and cook it, but you're just not going to do that, are you?

Warning: if are impatient and don't wait for them to cool you will burn that little bit of the roof of your mouth just behind your top teeth. 

I was given some Sweetcorn Bites to try.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Amanda Holden: heroine or harridan?

There she goes again, Amanda Holden sways across the front pages in sky-scraper heels. It's Britain's Got Talent auditions time. 

Under normal circumstances the battle of the frocks is the best line the showbiz hacks can come up with, but not this time. 

Amanda Holden, 41, gave birth to Hollie Rose on January 23 - this January 23, four weeks ago. And her birth came after the tense pregnancy that follows the horrible still birth she suffered last year.

But gutsy Amanda has come out on top. Only three weeks after Hollie arrived, Mandy donned her fake tan, her magic knickers and her best smile... it was show time at the BGT auditions. 

Of course I'm jealous. I never looked that good, not even before I had babies. Not long ago I came across a picture of me about four weeks after Boy Three was born - I looked horrible. Lumpy, blotchy and defeated (and probably a few other of the dwarfs that failed Snow White's audition).

If I remember rightly, at four weeks that nasty double barrelled dwarf seeping-damply is still hanging around. (If you don't get this reference, then you've clearly never given birth so best not even think about it.)

But I'm not judging any woman's right to work while breeding, it's not my place. I found a childminder for Boy Two  around the time that nasty photo was taken. Neither am I dissing the fragrant Ms Holden. Indeed, I've said it before - the woman's a trooper

While Amanda was being papped and admired for improbable sveltness in the face of fecundity, I was paying a few visits. 

My sister was getting to know her second child, the adorable Baby M. The family is doing fine although the hungry nights are a little trying. I was impressed when she and her partner threw a party for their older boy's third birthday. Not only was her house tidy, she was wearing a coordinating outfit and doing sentences. 

Meanwhile, another friend is settling at home with her third. A difficult birth and emergency c-section meant things didn't quite go as she'd planned them. But she is still cracking jokes... even ones about babies whose colic manifests in the small hours. 

So what's my point then? Good question. Amanda is entitled to do what she likes with her work-life balance. It really isn't any of my business. And I have no doubt at all that Hollie will lack for nothing - a few hours in the arms of dad/granny/nanny while mum earns a crust will do her no harm at all. 

My problem is that Amanda standing there trim, clean and coherent in a clean frock, makes all the new mums who battle to make it out of their PJs feel even worse about themselves. Those who are swamped by hormones, nappies and sleeplessness look at her and wonder where they are going wrong. 

In an uncharacteristically sensible and reasonable article, the Daily Mail revealed that new mums need at least a year to recover or return to "normal". 

Then where does this leave Mandy? Should she stick to form and remain buttoned up about the superhuman effort these photocalls have taken? Or should she make other new mums feel just a bit better by offering a vote of thanks to Spanx and some tips on getting sick off sequined frocks?

There are already enough photos of La Holden around so, instead, you're getting one of my adorable new nephew Baby M. 

On tour, Discovery at Rosehill - a spooky treat

Kathryn Brown
Kathryn Brown AKA Crystal Jigsaw

Book Review: 

Discovery at Rosehill by Kathryn Brown

Why I read this book: This is the first novel by brilliant blogger Crystal Jigsaw. I enjoy her blog and so when I found out she'd written a book it was an easy decision to buy it. 

What the blurb says: Finding your dream home is difficult enough, but what if you find it and then discover it was haunted? 

Camilla realises that she could at last have found her true love. But further spirit contact confirms that Marcus harbours a guilty secret. 

What's it about: It's a love story with ghosts, or a ghost story with love. 

Did I enjoy it: I couldn't put it down. Really. It's a proper page turner. The romance is gripping, but the description of the spooky bits fascinating. There's a real sense of place and you never see the twists coming. 

Here's what I was prompted to ask Kathryn.

They say we write about what we know, how much of Camilla is based on you?

Many aspects of Camilla are based on me, particularly her paranormal experiences of which she encounters at Rosehill. Several of the experiences are my own but I decided to fictionalise them and make them Camilla’s, thus writing them from her point of view.

She’s quite a lonely character, likes to spend time alone which is exactly the same as me. Her romantic interests aren’t dissimilar to mine either in so far as she is particularly nostalgic. However, I’m happily married to a farmer, unlike Camilla who wishes to pursue a romance with the village priest.

Do you have experience of mediums?

I have a good friend who is a medium and even though we live several hundred miles apart, I have learned a great deal from her. Lorraine is a natural born medium who doesn’t take her gift for granted but helps others to accept a life beyond the one we are so familiar with. She helped me considerably whilst I researched Discovery at Rosehill and assisted me in building up the mediumship side to Camilla’s character.

I’ve seen many mediums over the years, the first one was back in 1993. That woman triggered my intense fascination with the paranormal after she confirmed my suspicion that my grandmother was around me. Describing not only my grandmother but my grandfather also, she gave me an accurate picture of how she saw them both, sitting together in a black and white photograph. Since moving into my farm house, I have learned that I am surrounded by seven male spirits, some of whom I know, others whom are previous occupants of the house.

And Marcus, is he based on someone you know? He’s very dishy.

Yes, he is dishy isn’t he?! The only person I based him on is a very famous actor whom we all know as Martin Shaw. There was no reason for this other than I completely idolise Mr. Shaw, find him incredibly attractive and totally love his acting – and now I need a cold shower! I dare say I have a fascination with priests also, but I didn’t have anyone I know personally in mind, when creating Marcus’s character.

If it was made into a film, who would play the main parts?

Well wouldn’t that be something?! I know exactly who I would want to play Marcus of course; having seen Martin Shaw in many television programs including one where he played an exorcist priest, called Apparitions, I’m quite sure he would be perfect to play Marcus. I think the character of Camilla could be a difficult one to cast because I have based her so much on myself. Maybe I could do it...

Marcus and Camilla are such good characters, are you going to use them again?

I’m not sure. I was thinking of writing a sequel to Discovery at Rosehill but I decided to go ahead and write my second novel Hideaway, of which I’ve now finished the first draft. I’d like to bring Marcus and Camilla back to life one day, but it’ll have to be a very strong plot in order to work. Many sequels aren’t a good idea, unless you’re a hugely successful author. As we see often, the first book or film can be wonderfully received, yet with the second, people will naturally compare them. I guess my answer to that question would have to be....”watch this space!”

She's on email at Twitter @CrystalJigsaw and Facebook CrystalJigsaw.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Silent Sunday

Up Cockburn Street, Edinburgh.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Considering the big stuff at the National Museum of Scotland

Curiosities at the museum
 Our other half term outing had me thinking about the big stuff. No, not that big stuff. The other kind.

The "what's out there?", and "why us?" kind of stuff.

Boys One, Two and I took the train to Edinburgh to visit the newly refurbished National Museum of Scotland. I've always enjoyed trips there, right back to when it was the Chambers Street Museum and still had a stuffed dodo in a glass case. Well, the goldfish in the ornamental ponds are gone, but there are some splendid new exhibitions.

Earth in Space - past the dinosaur and suspended sealife - particularly grabbed us, not least because one of us is named after a star. 

There's a short film that includes this quote from Dr Carl Sagan. 

"The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made from the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff."

Well of course that made our day. "I'm star stuff." "No, I'm star stuff," from the brothers. I wonder if sibling aliens on other planets bicker quite so much. 

Still, we've got our quarrel proof system for visiting museums off pat. The Boys take turns pick a thing to see and toss a coin to see who's first. 

We didn't get anywhere near enough of the museum explored on one visit, so family star stuff will be back. 

From the roof

Looking down on cloning

Star stuff

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Who would stop a little boy wearing a tutu?

The childminder dropped Boy Three off today, he'd had a good day. "I hope you don't mind, but he was dressing up... he was wearing a pink sparkly ballet tutu."

Why on earth would I mind?

"Some people are strange about it," she explained. 

Now this is an entirely sensible childminder of twenty plus years experience. I expect she's seen all shades of "strange" when it comes to parents, but good grief. 

Then thinking back I remember a friend telling me a story about the mother of visiting child who wouldn't let the boy don a pair of fairy wings "his dad would kill me if he found out".

And Daft Mamma told me about someone who didn't like his son to play with a toy kitchen.

What do they think is going to happen if they let their boys wear a colour that entirely arbitrarily has been assigned to the female of the species?

Are they somehow letting down their brother blokes if they allow a child to learn how to do women's work?

It seems there really are people at large who believe that close contact with things pink, sparkly and traditionally feminine will somehow affect their sexuality. That is a very scary thought. Do they think they are only straight by diligent avoidance of sequins and princess costumes? 

If it's not sexuality, then what? Virility? If erectile dysfunction is caused by pre-school cross dressing then wouldn't the makers of Viagra have cottoned on to that and be giving away extremely shiny dresses to boys at the nursery gates?

If any of my boys is gay, it's how they are and there isn't a think I can do to make a difference to it. And, in any case, why would I? 

But there's a long way to go before Boy Three even consults the stirrings in his pants to find their inclination and, in the mean time, he can wear what he damn well likes. 

PS As for cooking, it's my duty to make sure they know how to do that, I'll be failing my sister birds if I don't.

Half term adventure to St Peter's Seminary at Cardross

So it was half term and the mooch was upon us all. The sofa was positively sagging at the effort. What were we going to do? 

Time for an adventure. Boy Three was deposited with the childminder so his big brothers and I hit the road to Cardross. 

Obviously when you're going to explore Scotland's Creepiest Building you'd be advised to take someone with you. So when Fionaoutdoors and H agreed to join us I was very happy. 

The Boys weren't convinced of the whole enterprise, least of all when we couldn't find the spot at the first pass. But they perked up a bit when we led them through a broken bit of fence...

"Surely we're not allowed." I think they'd been looking for a ticket booth, or at least a sign post.

But once inside the wreck of St Peter's College, they forgot their grumbles. Despite the dank and broken mess underfoot, enough of the splendid concrete statement remained to get the idea of lofty light spaces and angular modernism. 

Urban artists have attacked the walls with gusto and pseudo-satanists may have used it as a party venue. 

But what's to be done with a listed building that stands as monument to misplaced optimism? Make it an urban art gallery, a camp site for the intrepid, a preserved ruin, or a destination for fed up parents looking for an adventure?

PS pictures aren't great because I stupidly left memory card in computer not camera. 

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