Friday, 30 November 2012

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no words, capturing a favourite moment from the week. A calm and peaceful moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Monday, 26 November 2012


Last weekend we set off on a jaunt down to old London town.  It’s been a long time since I’ve attempted to travel on public transport, especially with the entire family, but once on board I was reminded of two certainties about train travel.  Firstly, that you are guaranteed to be delayed. There are a multitude of lame excuses used to explain the hold-up but the most frequent at the weekend is 'engineering works' or possibly a cow on the line or some other errant farm animal.  Fortunately, the delay was mercifully short and we were spared the miserable experience of the 'replacement bus service'. The second certainty about train travel is that even though you have booked a seat and have the proof of your reservation clearly displayed, someone else will brazenly be sat in it.  On this occasion a solitary old man had set up home at our reserved table for four.  He was festooned against the window in an enormous tartan scarf and about to pour out what looked like a second cup of elderly tea from his ancient thermos.  He looked so comfortable I hardly had the heart to ask if he would mind moving and ended up searching for a spare seat for him and then helping him to decamp.

Travel on the East Coast network is an experience much like sharing a narrow and overcrowded sitting room with a whole host of strangers.  You are forced to acknowledge individual quirks and foibles at close range.  For example, the couple opposite, who sat one side of the much coveted table seats, seemed to have a whole party picnic going on.  The train was only part way out of the station when mini bottles of wine appeared from a Mary Poppins-like bag complete with party napkins and colourful plastic cups.  Next,  came the hot and spicy flavour Pringles which were munched enthusiastically at high decimal range.

Behind us was a cluster of grungy-looking students clearly heading home with a term's worth of washing overflowing from their backpacks.  Their grunted conversation was punctuated with the inevitable filler 'like' every few words and followed an endlessly circular theme of: "Like, that was some party",  "I was, like, so wasted", "I don't, like, even remember, like, how we got back?", "That's because you you were, like, so wasted", "Yeah, like that was some party" and so on..and on.

Looking round the carriage the other thing that stood out was the plethora of iPhone, Kindle, iPad and tablet that covered every available surface. In amongst this hive of 21st century connectivity there was someone attempting to travel with the most dated and unwieldy of laptops.  This luddite had infiltrated the 'cool' carriage with a laptop/tabletop the size of Mars.  The cinema-sized screen blocked out all light like some kind of electronic eclipse. Nevertheless, he sat smugly with his underwhelming technology and watched a steady stream of equally naff movies, oblivious to the looks and sneers of other less-endowed travellers.  For my amusement, apart, of course, from the merriment that is the East Coast trainline, I chose to partake of that old-fashioned but delightful occupation...looking out of the window. I love the constantly changing scenery of passing towns and villages, imagining what it might be like to live there.  Through the window I viewed tantalising glimpses of the lives of others and I wondered what their stories might be.  Being held captive as a passenger forced me to slow down and be mindful of the moment - my breathing slowed and my muscles relaxed.  Such a beautiful ribbon of images danced before my eyes - the unspoilt coastline of Northumberland, the hay bales dotting the autumn fields,  vintage little stations evocative of The Railway Children, the brightly lit arch of the Tyne bridge - all caught and held my attention and provided an alternative and far more inspiring entertainment.

Joining in with Suzanne at 3 Children and It and Oldies but Goodies.

Friday, 23 November 2012

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - few words, capturing a favourite image from the week. A simple and funny moment that I would like to pause and remember.

You're not leaving!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The bizarre world of freecycle

I'm always surprised by the number of emails that jettison into my inbox with such alarming frequency at any time of day or night.  Alas, they are not from any genuine contact but instead a tawdry selection of direct mail that managed to sneak past the spam filter.   At least 40% of these are the ubiquitous Groupon deals; how I rue the day when I foolishly signed up to that online bargain bucket!

Daily, I am also presented with the eclectic freecycle list.  For those of you not familiar with this enterprising idea then the freecycle network claims to "match people with things they want to get rid of with people who can use them, so keeping usable items out of landfills".  In other words, if you have something pointless and dated that you haven't managed to sell, then don't trek to the dump but put it on freecycle instead and, just because it's free, someone will come and take it off your hands.

I have only ever used freecycle twice - to offer an old (and possibly lethal) bicycle and, after a house move, a surplus fridge with a dented door. Having 'joined' the freecyclers I now seem to be subscribed to the daily digest of items.  It may be my imagination but the list seems to get more and more bizarre.  Yesterday, someone, with the uninspired moniker of BigLen, was offering 20 burlap sacks.  I know we live in a rural area but 'burlap' sounds positively medieval and I can't help but imagine that if you went to collect, you would find BigLen in some Chaucerian hovel, lying on his earthern floor drinking mead and surrounded by overflowing sacks of rotting apples.  Burlap sacks are just one of the offered goods; there is a whole host of other truly random freebies: - a home planetarium (really?), a plastic pond liner, a pair of men's extra large leather jeans (*shudders) and a washing machine in working order but without a soap dispenser drawer!

Just as bewildering is the list of 'wanted' items.  The desperate or  criminal (I can't decide which)  GrannyGrimble wants electronic goods (don't we all) - a flatscreen tv, an ipod docking station, a spare laptop (you've got to be kidding!)  Surely a true granny would want knitting patterns, old copies of the Reader's Digest perhaps or jars for jam-making.  I feel certain that if you were to actually meet Big Bad Granny Grimble she'd have pointy ears and sharp teeth.  It's funny how such a noble idea has been hijacked by these 'freakcyclers'; they make me want to post my own Christmas 'wanted' list and ask for the ridiculously weird or just the downright cheeky just to see if anyone actually responds.  

I'm recycling this old post with Suzanne over at 3 Children and It and the Oldies but Goodies linky

Friday, 16 November 2012

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no words, capturing a favourite image from the week. A simple but magical moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Look back Monday...

Sharing with you some favourite scenes from the weekend;  little Luna features in most of them.  The battle against matted fur and mud was lost and she had to be taken to the doggy beauty parlour.  Unfortunately, they seem to have got a little carried away and, although all mud was shampooed away and all matted knots gone, we were left with skinhead Luna - almost bare and about half the size without her Bichon Frise afro. The girls were worried that she would get cold and went to find her a 'jumper' - eventually they decided on a 'Build a Bear' festive jersey.  Poor Luna, I don't know what was worse - being shorn or having those crazy girls dress her up like a teddy bear.

She wore this impractical ensemble for a bracing walk down at Pease Bay where she enjoyed chasing the waves back and forth with S.

We had the beach almost entirely to ourselves; the fading light in the late afternoon made the sea and sky blend into overlapping strips of baby blue.   We could feel the ice cold of the North Sea through our wellies and it wasn't long before the biting wind got the better of girl and beast and we turned back home.

Back in the warm, all the family settled in for a cosy evening of tv, though H stole the softest blanket and kept the dog hot water bottle to herself.

Even Fabbydoo graced us with her presence:

Saturday, 10 November 2012

How to be a domestic mortal

Like most families with school-age children our working week in term time is a finely-balanced juggling act. The ideal morning scenario is that children are up early, washed and properly dressed in clean uniform. This ideal is rarely a reality in our household and we regularly conduct frantic searches for school shoes, bags and reading books. The girls often go to school as unintentional fancy dress urchins. I warn them not to take off school jumpers so they don't reveal unironed shirts with washed-in stains. My own working wardrobe isn’t much smarter.  My ‘uniform’ consists of dreary black and brown separates designed to disguise squidgy mummy flab and yet convey a serious professional image. Unfortunately, a working lunch at my desk means that most of what I eat ends up down my front, leaving a Hansel and Gretel trail between stomach and chin in case I forget the way back to my mouth.  I learnt a long time ago when H was a constantly dribbly baby that a patterned scarf is an essential cover-up accessory.

One year, I optimistically bought one of those intimidating family organiser style calendars with terribly twee seasonal scenes and separate columns for each family member. I think the idea is that you can see clearly who is doing what and when and presumably where things might clash. We tried using it properly for at least January and February, even using different coloured pens for different types of engagements.  By March though our enthusiasm had waned and S found it difficult to write in the right column; I was surprised one time to see that someone called Lewis had invited me (in bright orange crayon)  to a bowling party. 

This week S has been poorly and her pale little face peeks out from the quilt arranged on the sick-bed sofa.  L switches to resident nursemaid while working from home and I need to put worry aside and head for work ready to teach other well children.  Once at work, I wonder how many times it is acceptable to check my mobile phone for texts from sickly child when a strict ‘no mobile phone’ rule operates for all pupils (school policy doesn’t say it but you know this means teachers as well).  I secretly send emoticon hug; it really isn’t the same as a real one from mummy.  Sickly dependants present a different kind of challenge for the self employed too.  I came home to find that L had set up a temporary home office on the landing with laptop perched precariously on the banister so that his sales pitch wouldn’t be drowned out by the sounds of the Nickelodean tv channel.

When a child isn’t well the weekly routine gets more complicated, and the juggling more frenetic, but you can usually manage. However, when an adult member of the team falls ill, things begin to slip and slide and by the time Wednesday arrives, domino-like complete organisational failure threatens. You crawl towards the hope of Friday evening when you can legitimately crash on the sofa too and sob into your sauvignon. 

Even when all are well there seems to an unwritten rule that if you have a particularly full week with deadlines looming then at least one child will have a particularly onerous  homework task: build a motte and bailey castle, find and record all the food items in your kitchen that contain palm oil, design an Egyptian death mask (would a photo of mummy’s unmade-up face in a the morning be acceptable, I wonder).  I kid you not, all these were real ‘tasks’ we’ve been presented with in the last year alone.  As Scotland’s Curriculum for Excrement (sorry, Excellence) continues to spawn its tenuous links between topic and real world so homework becomes ever more ambitious.  Across the land hoards of parents work as nightshift teachers, googling for help and inspiration (if you’re not a history teacher you’ve probably just done exactly that, using the search terms ‘motte and bailey castle’, haven’t you!)

Working as a teacher means that sometimes the edges between domestic and work life blurs.  Responsibility for children, one’s own or someone else’s, becomes a 24 hour occupation. On an almost daily basis I witness the fallout from frayed parents not quite managing to pull it all together.   Tell-tale red wine rings all over the front of one child’s exercise book, the mother who fell asleep at parents evening, school bags devoid of books or pencil case and, on closer inspection, containing a half-eaten six-month-old sandwich and a lone ballet shoe.   Packed lunches where manic households have run out of standard lunch fare and, with no time for a proper shop, resorted to highly unsuitable substitutes for a sandwich – a torn up hotdog or Carr's water biscuits and the odorous remnants of dinner party cheese. This tells the lunchtime supervisor far more about the level of disposable income than culinary preferences.  A teaching colleague told me recently of an amusing incident when a confused but delighted Primary 1 child brought in his father’s briefcase as an item for ‘Show and Tell’.  Whether this was the mischievous imp’s intention or if there had been a mix-up during the journey to school was unclear, but it was all too easy to imagine the resulting crisis. Although I had complete empathy with the father, I also had to snigger as I pictured him briefcaseless with school satchel instead and the intended show and tell item – what would a five-year-old boy normally bring? - a yo-yo perhaps, a Lego model or maybe a toy character like Buzz Lightyear.  Let’s hope the father was in something PR-related and could somehow weave in, ‘To infinity and beyond!’ as a potential company mission statement!

Friday, 9 November 2012

This moment...Spectator

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - just a title - no other words, capturing a favourite image from the week. A simple and cute moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Look back...Wednesday

Sickly children in the Little House has meant I'm a little late in the week to be looking back at the weekend (I'm already looking forward to Friday!) It was a great weekend though and made all the more special by Halloween silliness, the company of good friends, fireworks in the garden and a magnificent selection of cakes! 

The chocolate coated apples proved to be difficult to create and most of the chocolate ended up on the floor!

They proved tricky to eat too
The Wonderful Man did a wonderful job carving the pumpkins and I especially loved the moon and stars design:

Very whimsical

Halloween was extended into Saturday and S really went to town on her outfit.  She decided to be a Victorian vampire and her older sister thoroughly enjoyed being make-up artist.


 We braved the cold and the wind and had a mini firework party in the front garden.  The boys (sorry men) were enjoying themselves with the pyrotechnics and scuttled about the garden with tapers and torches.

The girls sat along the front wall, wellies dangling and little faces turned upwards, craning their necks to the sky and a chorus of 'Oohs' and 'Aarrhhs' ensued.

Then back inside and gathered around the kitchen table we tucked into the bring-a-dish delights (including a yummy veggie chilli with a kick) and a overwhelming selection of cakes including delicious lemon slices made by the youngest member of the party - very impressive.

I love all the different conversations going on in this photo
Thank you friends for your generosity and your good company.  

"The bird a nest,
the spider a web
man friendship"

William Blake

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Children of the Night...

H is having a sleepover. If ever there was a misnomer it has to be the term 'sleepover'.  All parental experience so far goes to confirm that very little actual  sleeping  takes place either for any child involved or any supervising adult. "It'll be fun!" she says as if this alone will convince me of the benefit of such a scheme.

Sleepovers seem to be a rite of passage for any child over the age of six and in order for it to be properly accomplished there is a whole host of ritualistic items to be bought.  Sacraments must include pizza; on one occasion to satisfy parents of a many food-allergy child (no one had invited them to a sleepover before for this very reason and I felt sorry for them) I searched high and low for a gluten-free, dairy-free vegetarian version. Even the pinnacle of upmarket stores, Waitrose, was unable to offer me the complete package and I had to buy the raw ingredients and make the multi-tolerant pizza instead - the result was like a damp cardboard frisbee.

Dental cavities anyone?
Enormous quantities of sweets are stuffed into overnight bags to be consumed at midnight - jelly fangs, illicit Haribo, sour cherries - the more E numbers the better. I have never understood why anyone bothers to bring a toothbrush! Popcorn is another must-have. Much of this, I have found, has a tendency to adhere itself to the sofa and remains as a permanent fixture like some kind of cushion pebbledash.

The choice of movie is, of course, a hotly debated matter amongst sleepover attendees and a source of concern for parents.   Is a 15 rated film appropriate for a 14 year old?  (Personally, I think some are but there again there are 12 rated movies that have given me day and nightmares!) The older the child, the more likely it will be that someone will attempt to sneak in something wholly unsuitable. I greatly admired the child (and her absent parents) who brought a dog-eared copy of Mary Poppins to a teen sleepover once, especially when like a fervent Disney-styled preacher they managed to convert the heathen mass into actually watching it!

Unease about sleepovers is more than just a concern about movie ratings or tooth decay though.  There is nothing like the reveal-all honesty of children, who having spent a night in your house, will expose your family's peculiarities to all and sundry.  Euphemistically, I like to think of our housekeeping standards as 'bohemian' whereas, when compared to stay-at-home mum households, it is more likely to be classified as slovenly. I have niggling anxieties about being seen in my interesting choice of pyjamas and whether I will remember not to sing along loudly to Absolute 80s radio in the morning. But after sleeping lightly with the responsibility of other parents' precious progeny under my roof I stop worrying about what the house looks like and I have no energy to be anything other than my weird self.

Generally, there is such child-created mess and food debris left in the wake (no pun intended) of a sleepover that it would be pointless to tidy up beforehand anyway. The shrieks of laughter, nonsense games, dressing up, pantomine-style application of make-up and giggled whisperings into the night certainly sound like the soundtrack to the 'fun'  that H was so intent on having and who am I to stand in the way of such adolescent merriment.

H dressed as the sleepover bunny (it is nowhere near Easter?!)
Note that at this stage the sitting room is almost tidy

Friday, 2 November 2012

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing an image from the week. A simple and special moment that I would like to pause, savour and remember.