Sunday, 19 August 2018

What stuff they really need for Uni

I've been inspired to write this practical post after having just moved my eldest daughter into a new student house for the second year of her degree. Her new digs are positively palatial in size compared to the cramped cell of the uni halls she endured for the first year. 

As a new undergraduate we thought it was important that she stayed on campus but had no real idea of what she might need and so went along with everything that was recommended. Needless to say, at the end of that first year, over half of the 'stuff' she took wasn't needed. So if you have reached that life stage where your son or daughter is about to start uni, and will be living in halls, here's a straight forward guide to what they really need.

Obviously, student accommodation varies hugely, from luxury hotel chic to grim rabbit hutch, so you should know that this list is based on the University of Stirling's mid-price range accommodation which is basically akin to a 1960s communist prison programme:

1. The soft stuff

Before - bare cell
A mattress topper is a must have if you want them to have a little comfort and to avoid thinking about the previous sweaty bodies that may have broken in that mattress! I splashed out on a sumptuous velvet 'enhancer' which did exactly that and improved a pretty ropey mattress no end.

On the topic of bedding you'd be wise to take all your own rather than use the duvet/pillows the uni may provide which in our case felt much like 40 tog porridge. Halls are often hot, even in winter, and so a summer weight duvet might be better, dressed up with cosy throw and cushions to provide a place to sit as well as sleep. 

Take plenty of towels/sheets/ covers; the laundry facilities might be miles across campus! 

Speaking of laundry - a bag for storing/transporting dirty/clean clothes is useful too. Avoid buying laundry detergent/conditioner until you've checked out the facilities - most unis have a card system but some machines work best with the all-in-one capsules. Still on the subject of laundry - colour catchers are great as they allow you to mix colours and save money on doing separate washes. 

2. Electrical stuff

After - much improved 
A laptop is an obvious must but a small printer that can also scan and copy is super useful too and cost saving in the long run. Chargers and at least one extension cable helps as an older style uni room will have limited plug sockets in the wrong place (many unis will insist that items are PAT tested unless new.) A lot of halls provide a desk lamp but it's nice to have some other lighting to create a more homely atmosphere - don't forget bulbs. Candles are generally banned but battery operated tealights and fairylights are a good alternative. 

Each uni will have a list of electrical items that students are not allowed to bring but that generally doesn't stop many from trying. When we moved our daughter in we saw parents attempting to squeeze fridges, microwaves and slow cookers into tiny rooms as well as irons and hoovers! Believe me, there's no room and no need!

3. Kitchen stuff

If you read the list provided on most student websites you'd think that everyone was planning a stint as resident chef; far better to bring less to start with and pool kitchen stuff with others. Even if self-catered, you don't need a whole saucepan set, scales or a mixing bowl (one medium saucepan may well be enough). A plastic measuring jug that doubles up as a microwave saucepan is a good idea too. There is little room in any communal kitchen so whatever can be cooked in one pot or pan is best and it needs to be simple and fast. For that reason a smallish wok is a pretty good investment as is a small rectangular oven dish and a baking tray. A tray so they can easily take stuff back to their rooms. Get your offspring to do the shopping and practise cooking now so they have a few dishes under their belt. 
The Dream
Only two plates, bowls and a couple of inexpensive mugs are needed along with a selection of cheap glasses and few pieces of basic cutlery (a tip here is to get something that is easily recognisable as theirs, i.e. coloured handles, as this discourages other students from claiming the odd fork and teaspoon as their own), a multi-purpose knife, tin opener, scissors and a bottle opener- A small chopping board, collapsable collander or small sieve is also useful for draining all those cheap meals of pasta. A few cleaning items - spray, washing up liquid, cloth, tea towels and oven glove etc. Final suggestion is some kitchen towelfoil, food sealer clips, tupperware and/or plastic storage boxes for fridge etc that they can put their name on (have a few Sharpies for naming).
The Reality

4. Food Stuff

It's tempting to worry that they're going to starve but try to avoid arriving with a semester's supply of food. There's little cupboard or fridge space so, again, just a few things to start off with - one bag of pasta and a few ready made stir in sauces, some fruit, cereal, milk, yogurts etc.

It's useful to buy some of the more expensive store cupboard ingredients like oils/sauces for stir fry, dried herbs/spices as well as a some comfort/snack items: nutella, cookies, tortilla chips and dips. For drinks coffee, tea, hot chocolate etc. You may well be coerced into providing alcohol (I saw plenty of bottles of vodka and tequila being surreptiously brought in) but don't forget soft drinks too. It's worth buying a filter jug for water - bottled water is an added expense (especially if bought from on campus shops) and heavy to carry. Make sure they have a few water bottles for refills or to keep in their room.

Buy some frozen food for ease as well. Packets of ready-prepared veg and rice are easy to do in the microwave and, let's face it, for the majority of students there's more chance of them actually eating vegetables this way (the fancy peeler we bought our daughter came back after the year still in the packaging!)

It's pretty common for most students to spend the first few nights (sometimes months) with takeaways and beer, getting to know their hall mates, so a Domino's or Nando's voucher/giftcard is a nice touch as is a homemade cake/brownies to share that first night. 

5. All the other stuff

  • Onesie/fancy dress items - the madness of Freshers requires suitable gear - a funny onesie, wig, mask, face paints etc. all comes in handy
  • Medicine/Vitamins - They are almost certain to get Fresher's Flu so make sure they have a medical box with all the possible stuff they might need: painkillers, plasters, lemsip, savlon etc etc. Multivitamin/Echinacea - Give their immune system a boost and stave offf scurvy!
  • Hot water bottle/ fluffy socks etc. - some kind of comfort item is appreciated 
  • Something smart/dressy - depending on likely events -  black tie, freshers ball, club or job interview - oh, and also - hangers!
  • Bath/shower mats & flip flops/sliders - shared bathrooms - that's is all I'm going to say on this point! 
  • Cheap loo brush/toilet rolls- if you have your own bathroom
  • Door wedge - an open door is an invitation to new friends
  • Bluetooth speaker - As above, nice to be able to share music rather than being in isolation listening on headphones and great for impromptu hall parties
  • Entertainment -  frisbee, beer pong, cards, favourite DVDs  etc. - also plastic cups for parties!
  • Bowl/Bucket, kitchen towel, cloths, cleaning wipes/spray, febreze, rubber gloves - for when there's a little too much partying!
  • Earplugs - for when it's all too much and the paper thin walls, and your noisy hall mates, stop you from sleeping 
  • Important documents folder - make sure bank details, national insurance number, certificates, passport etc. are securely together
  • Discount cards - many student accounts offer incentives such as a 16-25 railcard so it's worth shopping around. is also worth joining for money off favourite products
  • Emergency fund - if you can afford it give them some emergency cash to stow away for when they've gone through their loan or need a taxi etc. It takes time to work out how to budget if you've never done it before - often the whole of the first year!
  • Stationery - Obviously paper, pens, binder, stapler, hole punch etc. also a whiteboard, academic year wall calendar. A few blank-inside cards and a book of stamps; nothing beats a handwritten note especially for older relatives who aren't online, particularly if they've donated to the 'poor student fund'. N.B. Don't let them take all their A Level/Higher textbooks and notes - they will never look at them!  
  • Decoration -  Command strips are great. They can even be used for putting up coat hooks or fairy lights- get a selection of sizes. Washi tape is great on notice boards and for general decoration. Photos, posters are all good for cheering up a uni room but take care of paintwork. Space saving storage - stacking boxes, coat hooks, trolley, hanging organiser, under the bed boxes if there's room etc.
  • Amazon Prime - for everything else! Seriously, the best thing we did was have family membership - it meant I could send all manner of emergency items and my daughter could order books etc as well as watch movies online. 
It's a big step and that's not just for your young one; it's hard to let go of the apron strings. If you can, try and have that chat about all the potential problems, before they go and not on moving day, that includes all the usual safety issues. Being in halls creates a pressure cooker for anxieties and tempers - it's common to have fallouts and even more common to feel homesick. Try to discourage it when they want to run home after the first week and be clear and honest about how much financial help you can really afford to give. Lastly, once you've moved them in, it will be super hard to say goodbye and you'll want to hang around or even take them for dinner. DON'T! Say goodbyes cheerfully with a good hug and positive reassurances that they'll be fine and then leave! 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Letter to Luna

Dear Luna,

I remember the day we picked you up. We drove around a little Yorkshire town in the torrential rain eventually finding the right address. My first impression was that of a scraggy, dirty white cushion with legs! Rescued from a puppy farm, mother dead, and the runt of the litter, you didn't have the best of starts but for all of us it was love at first sight. We drove back up to Scotland with you whimpering in the back seat all the way. Your little heart fluttered furiously in your chest and you continued to shake the entire journey.

To be honest, you didn't smell the best but, bribed with tidbits, comforted with toys and a soft bed, you eventually settled enough in your new home for us to give you a bath and try to tame that matted fur into cotton wool fluff. You were adorable.

It was the desire to protect, to have a collective 'fur baby' and the prospect of a living toy to play with that ensured your place at the centre of our family and a special place in our hearts. We spoilt you rotten and never managed to successfully train you. You complained too much to be left alone at night, and despite my discouragement, you would brazenly take your place in the youngest member of the family's bed, contentedly snuggled under the duvet.

Despite that high pitched shriek of a bark, and your tendency to pee at the feet of any visitor, you were also loved by friends and extended family too. You had your favourites, of course; essentially anyone who was prepared to play lengthy games of 'chase me' or to over indulge you with treats. You weren't one for long walks but you loved to run along the shore, chasing seagulls and digging in the sand. 

I am trying to remember the good times and not let the bad ones at the end cloud my memory. Your perchant for a 'Bichon blitz' - the sudden frantic running in circles, jumping on and off furniture in a crazy whirlwind of energy; your skill at roll-over tricks, your tolerance at being dressed up in a ridiculous Christmas pudding outfit; and the calmer times too where you would curl up at the end of my bed in quiet companionship.

Sometimes I think I can still feel the shape of your little head as it rests on my lap, I might see a dash of white around the doorway or hear the tap tap of your little paws across the floor. Not everyone understands the intensity of grief from the loss of a pet. Some less sentimental souls have said, 'It's just a dog' or, 'You can get another', but you were never just a dog, Luna, and you cannot be replaced. There is capacity in our hearts for another dog to love but it would not be a replacement. You were a member of the family and there is a Luna-shaped hole in our hearts that can't be filled. Life is fragile and joy often fleeting but I'm glad that we found each other and despite the pain of losing you I'm so grateful that we had you to love if only for such a short time.

Goodbye little Luna. We won't ever forget you. 

Luna 1st May 2011 - 5th June 2017

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Real Hygge

'Hygge' is the new buzz word. It used to be that only the most serious of Scandiphiles would have heard of this abstract idea imported from Denmark but now there seems to be a new book about hygge published every week. Every lifestyle column has a guide to hygge, there is hygge fashion, hygge blankets, hygge candles and hygge cafes and bars serving hygge food and hygge drinks. The hygge overload has left us feeling both captivated and confused at the same time. I am not an expert but it is not a new concept for me either; my Danish mother-in-law introduced me to the idea of hygge over 20 years ago and extolled its benefits long before it was fashionable or we had any idea of how to pronounce it ('hoogah' is probably the simplest phonetic guide in case you were wondering!)

Far from feeling pleased with the prospect of the UK embracing one of the best Danish exports since Carlsberg I have instead been feeling a little a bit peeved at the  inevitable 'cashing in' from commercialism. It is easy to lose the true essence of hygge and be left with just the material trappings and only a basic understanding of what it really means. One reason for this is the translation itself limits the explanation. Hygge is one of those words that does not translate into English. We do not have an equivilant word and though many put forward 'cosiness' as a sufficient synonym, hygge is far more complex than this twee interpretation suggests. A better explanation might be 'a sense of well-being'; 'being at peace with your own company'; 'a feeling of togetherness in a group of like-minded friends' or 'an appreciation of the simple pleasures in life'.  

You do not need to make any expensive purchases of cashmere throws or wildly overpriced candles, neither do you need to install a log burner to achieve hygge. What you do need to invest in, however, is time. That most precious of commodities is key to hygge. Taking time for ourselves, spending quality time with our family, or to gather with friends, is a luxury few of us can afford. Everyone is always trying to cram more and more work into less and less time and the lines between work and play are increasingly blurred. Weekends become the overspill of chores and errands, and even when we do get precious free time we do not feel that going for a walk, having a candle-lit bath or curling up with a good book is somehow a worthy use of it. Real hygge is contentment with 'just being' and I think most British people find it hard to give themselves permission to step off the treadmill and stop the constant multi-tasking. 

Hygge is not just for Christmas either. Its introduction to our shores seems to have been inextricably tied together with the season. A real fire, candlelight and fluffy blankets do much to help create a hygge atmosphere but it is possible to experience hygge during the warmer months too. Hygge is just as much about a walk in the spring rain and splashing in April puddles or a summer evening barbecue with friends and watching the sun set. 

To me, at the heart of hygge is being kind to yourself. It is an understanding that a little care is needed if we are to store up emotional well-being in preparation for a real or metaphorical winter. Hygge is the opposite of self-deprivation but neither is it about excess either. Real hygge is unsophisticated; there is no room for pretension or competition. It really doesn't matter if the laundry needs doing or piles of leaves are choking the lawn. Leave it. Hunker down in a cosy nook, play a board game with the family or put the kettle on and invite friends round for a cuppa. Shelter the spirit and indulge in a little hygge time.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Socket to me...

Apologies for what is a bad taste  (there is a pun here which will be revealed later) post but I feel the cathartic need to share the latest development in my autoimmune 'journey'.

One of the many joys of Sjogren's Syndrome is the inevitable dental decay. This is because for us Sjoggies saliva production is drastically reduced causing a whole host of subsequent problems the most distressing of which is the effect on your pearly whites. 

Saliva generally makes me think of poor old Pavlov's dog, conditioned to drool at the sound of a bell, but it turns out that saliva is, in fact, the elixir for good dental health. It's not just dribble, I'll have you know, it does a whole load more than just helping you to chew, taste and swallow. Saliva contains powerful antibacterial properties that help to clean your teeth from food debris and fight against invading hordes of microbes as well as containing proteins and minerals to protect both tooth enamel and gums. Oral bacteria can double their numbers every twenty minutes under 'ideal conditions' (ideal conditions being dry mouth, constant snacking and a predilection for sweet things) so saliva is an essential shield.

The average person produces 2-4 pints of saliva per day - I'll say that again, 2-4 pints...a day!! Being so saliva-challenged, I've lost count of how many hours of torturous root canal I have endured in my desert battle to save my teeth so when I was faced with the option to either try to save yet another badly decayed tooth (with small chance of success) or to have it extracted, I chose the latter.

I feel sorry for dentists - people always saying how much they hate them! I have managed to find that very rare gem - a good NHS dentist willing to take on new (troublesome) patients. When D Day came around I was so pleased with myself for managing to sit calmly in the chair while in my head I was freaking out. I really wanted a 'good job little buddy' acknowledgement and a sticker at the end as a medal for my bravery.  I'm not going to lie it was pretty gruesome but, incredibly, it was not really painful...until...around 48 hours later I began to experience the worst kind of agony imaginable - right up there with childbirth and gallstones. I had developed the post extraction complication of  'dry socket' - what a delightful medical term that is. I'll spare you the full details other than to say that this is another name for what is essentially a failure of the gum to clot and heal properly, leaving exposed bone and nerve endings...OUCH! 

Days and nights blurred into a kind of gummy madness with me pacing around a darkened room shovelling down various painkillers every four hours until I began to fret about liver damage as well. Typically, the worst of it peaked over the weekend when I considered, and then dismissed, a trip to A&E. First thing Monday I called the dentist and although the treatment was, in the ten minutes it took, excrutiating, the relief afterwards came quickly. I'm still recovering and - though not completely pain free - the relief at the moment from the total torment is amazing. I don't think I have a very high pain threshold but I was reassured to hear that many grown men have been known to weep from 'dry socket'; one man, a boxer no less, even called an ambulance in the middle of the night and ran, half dressed, out into road and into the arms of the attending paramedics, pleading hysterically for morphine!

One thing this little trauma has made me is truly thankful. I'm thankful for our wonderful NHS and thankful for skilled health professionals. I think of all those people who do not have access to the medical aid and supplies that they desperately need, those alone with no support and those living day in day out with chronic pain. How lucky we are. How lucky I am.

You might 'socket to me' Sjogren's but 'spit happens' and I'm determined not to be 'down in the mouth'!  

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Living on an Island

Excuse me, Status Quo fans, for stealing this song title for a blog post but it immediately sprang to mind on the morning of the 24th June. I woke up around 5am after a fitful few hours of sleep to what I felt sure was still a nightmare - but, no, it was in fact reality - the UK (or more correctly England) had voted to leave the EU. 

I sat with my head in my hands.

It still seems incredible to me that almost 52% of voters were happy to go along with Gove's glib assertion that they'd 'had enough of experts'. I had been hopeful that his past experience as Education Secretary might have been lesson enough in what happens when you don't pay heed to experts. It made no difference how many stark warnings were provided by economists, lawyers or academics, the Leave campaign were 'avin' nun of it'. 

Even more incredulous was the unquestioning amount of support given to a nationalist campaign which worked by feeding resentment until it ruptured through the country causing a chasm so wide that it's hard to imagine it ever being bridged. A certain amount of euroscepticism, I believe, is healthy and even the most hardliner Europhile could never claim that the EU was perfect but to believe that it's 'them' or 'us' and to push patriotism as the panacea for the world's ills...

'Island mentality' has won and my hopes are that the people who claimed that they wanted a fairer and more democratic Britain have their dreams answered, though I suspect that those who have suffered the most at the hands of a neglectful and detached government will, tragically, suffer even more in what will be an acrimonious divorce. Though I'm proud to be an 'adopted Scot' I'm also saddened too by what will be the inevitable break-up of the UK.  

So, more than 48 hours later, and down a few bottles of (French) wine, has my shock abated? Not really. I still find myself bewildered at the nation's choice but a certain amount of resignation has also set in. Social media shows no sign of putting the flames of blame out and indignation and accusation look set to continue for the foreseeable future. I've decided that my own Brexit manifesto is going to have to be a peaceful one; despite the worries about the immediate aftermath, and what might be in store for the younger generation in the long term, we have to respect the decisions made. I hope and pray for empathetic and diplomatic leaders who can bring about the co-operation that is needed to sort out the mess and rebuild. For myself, I'm working on getting past the disappointment, drawing a line and moving on  ___________________________________ 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The return of the light...

“Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...” 

Well, we've had two weeks of Easter holidays and I'm feeling refreshed though also a little peeved at the weather. It hasn't really felt like spring here in Scotland, more like the depths of winter. We even had a flurry of snow yesterday!

Bad weather, forcing you to spend more time indoors, extends the winter gloom and feelings of negativity.  But no winter lasts forever and there are signs that finally spring is on its way; the daffodils are still blooming even when their heads have been beaten down with the wind, buds are appearing and the birds are busy building (and re-building) their nests. Spring is definitely the most optimistic month - I feel more hopeful when the light lasts a little longer each day and the clouds disperse more frequently to afford increasingly longer appearances of the sun.

Finances (the lack of) have meant that we haven't been away but spent the time at home. De-cluttering, spring-cleaning, and establishing order again, have been very therapeutic and our youngest daughter has even been inspired to clean and tidy her room (wonders never cease). We've had time to spend as a family, playing board games, enjoying film nights and visiting local haunts. We were also able to have my mum to stay for a time. Not long ago we lost my stepfather to vascular dementia and so it was good for her to have a change of scene and be cared for after such a long time of being the carer.

Spring is symbolic of renewal and looking forward and so I'm determined to try and be more positive. Spring-cleaning is not just a physical process; it's good to do a little mental and spiritual spring-cleaning too, don't you think? Too often I find myself holding on to negative thoughts and dwelling on disappointment. You can end up planting little seeds of anxiety and self-doubt and they grow very quickly to become overwhelming - putting happiness in the shade and eroding confidence.

So here's to optimism, moving forward and to the return of the light!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

You know you're (almost) an adult when...

Well, it's happened. I can hardly believe it, but my eldest has turned 18! It's quite a milestone for her, and me. She's excited to be officially recognised as an adult and I feel officially recognised as ancient!

I think most people would say that it's not until you're well into your 20s that you feel grown up and possibly not until you're earning and you've paid your own bills! For me, it wasn't until I was a mum, and completely responsible for someone else, that I felt, terrifyingly, like I'd well and truly reached adulthood.

There are earlier signs, though, that you are turning into an adult and so I thought it would be fun to share some of them (well, 18 signs to be exact):

1. You have your own shopping list for IKEA - before you just dragged along behind your parents and whined about getting a hotdog. Now you've looked online and through the catalogue, you know what's new, you've measured, you have a colour scheme and you've written down the aisle number.

2. You regularly go to bed before 11pm - you're yawning by 9pm and off to the land of nod long before younger siblings.

3. You understand light fittings - you know what a 'bayonet cap' is and you might have even changed a lightbulb.

4. You've plucked up enough courage to actually leave a message - and what's more, it made sense

5. You enjoy a trip to the garden centre - it's a serious sign of age when you catch yourself looking at bulbs and spring bedding plants

6. You're excited by a Friday night in - a wild night out just sounds exhausting - Netflix and your fluffy onesie - bliss

7. Your houseplants are alive - sometimes you talk to them

8. You consult the weather forecast before making plans - if it's going to be cold you might even wear a coat

9. You choose to eat a salad - jaffa cakes are no longer considered as part of your '5 a day' and you try to make healthy choices once in a while

10. You don't buy the cheapest bottle  - it's not cheap alcohol you're after, instead you enjoy a glass of decent wine

11. You've managed to kill a spider in your room by yourself - even if that involved throwing a shoe at it with your eyes closed

12. When you have friends round you actually prepare food - an open bag of dorritos doesn't count. You take time to present food nicely and you might even use the oven

13. You don't have to be asked to clean your room - you take pride in making your room look like the picture on Pinterest. You change your (co-ordinated) bedding regularly, know all about hoover attachments and have even been known to dust!

14. You've spent your own money on cushions and candles - you might even have a summer and winter collection

15. You start to reminise - yep, nostalgia creeps up on you and before you know it you're telling 'Do you remember when...' stories

16. You take your make up off before going to bed - you take skin care seriously and begin to worry about sun aging

17. You've scheduled your own dentist's/doctor's appointment - what's more, you don't expect a sticker or lollypop at the end

18. New socks make you happy

So, there you have it: my comprehensive checklist. Even if you can tick all of these, don't grow up too fast, my lovely daughter. Honour the child inside and do something ridiculous every so often (though please not anything too expensive or anything that involves a trip to the police station!)