Friday, December 31, 2010

RECESSION POSITIVES

I've done my fair share of moaning about redundancies and dropping house prices and struggles since the recession first interfered with my own life back in August 2007 (when we tried to sell our Garnethill flat). But maybe the start of a new year is a time to look at a couple of positives it has brought.
I feel that for the first ten years of my motherhood I was on a fast track, running from work to school, commuting, endlessly commuting. I needed to make enough money for the house, the car, the after-school care, the clubs, the birthday parties for the whole class, the hundreds spent on Xmas. Twelve years on paying for a divorce and to restart my life had almost bankrupted me, I started to slow down and realize what was important in life. I resigned, not to be a stay home mum - but to work in a less stressful manner. Now I work the hours my kids sleep, or when they are away at school. Working ten hours less a week, and commuting another ten less left me with twenty more hours with my loved-ones but no money less because I didn't need to pay the crazy nursery costs. It meant I didn't need to lie awake worrying where to put my kids on days they woke up sick or during the long summer holidays when the holiday club wanted £25 a day to look after each of them. I know I moan on nights I start work at 9pm and am still at the laptop at 2am because of a publishing deadline but that let's me bring up my family instead of leaving that to someone else so I also secretly celebrate it. I worry on weeks when I don't get any work, I worry on weeks I get too much but all in all life is better.
When Thomas was told his level of management was being made redundant (when I was four weeks pregnant with Amaia) I probably stayed awake and cried in a panic for about a month. And when he decided to start a company from home at the worst point of the recession, I thought he was brave (but insane). But he did it and he now works from home. We can spend all day every day together sometimes just with the babies, usually with all the kids, taking part in everything we missed out on during the commuting years. Now my dad is ill, I don't need to beg a boss for time off to be with him, I am that boss and I can prioritize what is truly important. I love my life.
We make less money but we've also realized what really matters. On the kids' birthdays the day starts with a nice breakfast with siblings and candles. Our five year old is actually happy with a birthday cake and three friends home after school to share it, happier even than being overwhelmed by 50 acquaintances in the town hall, with Coco the clown, jugglers and a face painter. Kids' birthdays don't need to cost £300 to make the kid happy. Xmas is the same. I look back at old videos and see my kids opening gifts for 30 minutes straight piling them up and then collapsing from exhaustion. Now they open three or four, get a cuddle and a kiss and look just as happy.
If the business takes off and we go back to the earnings of five years ago or more, I will be thrilled to go back to long foreign holidays and a bigger house, but I won't be going back to the crazy parties or Xmases of the past, especially not if I have to sacrifice family time for it.
I may not be able to afford a matching couch and armchairs the way I once could but I get to be with the ones I love. What could be more precious?

2011


Anna's birthday
Originally uploaded by PhylB
As the year changes and everyone is thinking of resolutions and wishes for 2011, I have only one simple wish for 2011. I hope to finish it the same way as I am going to start it in 5 hours time... with a wonderful dad.
Keep fighting dad, we all love you!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

NEW HAT, OLD PHOTO



I got Thomas a hat for Xmas - the weather has been so cold recently. Amaia had a wee go of it today and I instantly remembered a very old photo of me taken back in 1968!

IT'S OK TO CRASH ON XMAS DAY


Xmas day
Originally uploaded by PhylB
When we set out for my brother and sister-in-law's on Xmas day at lunch time it was pouring with rain. The temperature must have dropped though because on arrival at Park Circus cars were actually spinning on the ice completely out of control. On the flat of Park Circus that looked vaguely comical and I managed to avoid all pirouetting vehicles with my big people carrier but by Park Quadrant which is on a bend and a hill, things were less fun. I managed to edge mine into a space at the very bottom. It had been clear from the top that I would need at least three spaces to brake to a halt safely and getting the kids, presents and camera back up to the top was no mean feat as I was passed by pensioners trying to walk a poodle who was doing the best impression I've seen of bambi in years. In 25 years of driving these are the worst conditions I have ever encountered (including mountain passes all over Europe!)
Upstairs, we took turns to watch out as cars came round the bend and glided past the window at 30mph without their wheels turning. They'd hit the brakes and carry on all the way to the bottom. Various pedestrians shot past on their bums too - we even witnessed a four-man pile-up on the pavement! I am utterly amazed not one of our four cars was hit while parked there. Obviously Glasgow City Council doesn't grit for anyone on Xmas day, whatever the conditions!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

XMAS KUGELHOPF


Xmas cake
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I have been ribbing Thomas for weeks about his choice of shape for our traditional British Xmas cake... you don't get more German/Alsatian than a Kugelhopf. But I have to say it is the best Xmas cake I have ever tasted! It is so moist, full of good quality fruit and smoothly but lethally alcoholic. I have to congratulate him on his first attempt at a British Xmas cake (with a Germanic twist).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

UNFAZED

Little children can be so unfazed by the strange goings-on in the world sometimes.
I went to pick up Léon and Lots from school yesterday. Léon gets out five minutes before Charlotte. How was your day? I asked casually as we walked along to the other door to wait. I had a great day he said and carried on to explain they'd had a Christmas party with drinks and crisps and a visit from Santa including a gift of a lego car. Fair enough.
Then, as an aside he added I don't think everyone had such a good day though. I think some people must have been stabbed to death in the playground. The snow was covered in red blood! He seemed completely unconcerned at having been left by his parent in a school where children are stabbed to death during break!
At that moment Charlotte bounded out. How was your day? I asked again (hoping for a less distressing reply!) It was the best, she replied. We spent our day working on our volcano topic and in the afternoon we got to take out the volcanoes we'd made, fill them with vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and red paint and watch them erupt and spew the red paint out all over the snow! Awesome!
Aha! I am so happy to have a p6 as well as a p1. I imagine 20 other kids went home last night wondering about a massacre without an explanation whereas, by chance, I just happened to have a kid in the class responsible for the massacre!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

INTERESTING

I try to listen to the news in French every other night because our press is so insular - tonight's is particularly interesting. Even if you don't speak French compare the images journalists are being allowed to film (accompanied) inside Heathrow to those taken surreptitiously! Apparently tourists are being made to delete snapshots taken during their four day stay from their own cameras - that'll be bloody right! It seems to me that our priority here is how Heathrow looks to the outside world rather than making it actually work for the passengers. Typical of modern Britain.

BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING

A good number of years ago an English friend of mine asked me casually if I liked bread and butter pudding. Bread and butter pudding is something a bit like toad-in-the-hole to me - it was something I had heard of on our anglo-centric TV but never actually come across in the 'flesh'. Given I was about 27 at the time, I felt a tad embarrassed to admit I had never even seen it let alone tasted it so I nonchalantly said yes. She delved into her hand bag and took out a Tupperware box, extracted two pieces of one she'd prepared earlier, looking rather pleased with herself. The first thing I noticed was a somewhat fusty smell and a vaguely turquoise colour. It wasn't appealing but I bit in thinking - how bad can it be? It was vile. It was like licking on a damp patch on the wall of a derelict Victorian house. I cannot evoke the taste of mould strongly enough. I instantly noted to myself that if that was bread and butter pudding, I would run a hundred miles the next time anyone asked that fateful question about my likes and dislikes.
So time passed and for fifteen years I managed to avoid the stuff until one day I came in to the TV room to find Thomas watching a cookery programme. He turned to me and said the fateful words: Do you like bread and butter pudding? I described my feelings on the topic to the nth degree much to his surprise. He seemed disappointed and said it had actually looked appealing. He rewound the programme and showed me. I had to admit it did look appealing and it wasn't turquoise. He googled the actual recipe the programme used and made it. I tentatively approached my nose - no damp, no mould, no fust... It looked delicious. It tasted wonderful. I had two portions! I can only assume bread and butter pudding falls into two schools of thought. The first take mouldy bread and instead of handing it out to the local ducks, they throw on three old raisins, a teaspoonful of egg, a dash of (off?) milk and quickly chuck it in the oven. The second take the freshest bread, the extra special spices and raisins, double cream custard and soak it all day before baking it till golden and succulent.
I am definitely a camp two b and b girl.

Monday, December 20, 2010

LOSING VALUES

I see my other half has been blogging this! Funny, when I saw it the other night independently from him I had exactly the same reaction - that is to say I felt I ought to rush to blog how appalling it was. It is so typical of the new UK I hear about through my kids - eating microwave meals in front of the TV in several rooms and no longer sharing family times together. I guess this is a great idea for this modern age - why not take it a step further and have microwavable single-portion Xmas dinners you can all eat in separate rooms so you don't need to stop and chat even on Xmas day? Whatever happened to sociability and compromise? It is ok to eat something that isn't your favourite occasionally, it won't kill you. I down the odd burger while dreaming of a nice mushroom risotto because Marcel or Charlotte has been on cooking duty. I survive!
Whether my kids love or hate it, my family has rules. Meals are all eaten together (at a table no less!) - unless someone is actually out at a friend's for dinner. We all eat the same - the only concession to this is that I take a ladle of curry out of the big pot for three, four and five before adding the scotch bonnet chilis. I wonder how the families that don't do this actually ever touch base with busy teenagers and find out what is happening in their lives when they aren't behind a laptop or phone in hand? Why do we rush around ignoring everyone else all the time? Our kids' childhoods are over in a flash. Why miss out on that? Life's too short.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

MULTICULTURAL XMAS


Lebkuchen
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I don't suppose too many Glasgow Xmas trees have giant Lebkuchen hanging on them!?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

TEENAGERS


Marcel
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I wonder if I could get funding to give up the day job to do a PhD in teenage behaviour? They are truly fascinating creatures.
Take yesterday: I tell Marcel (whose school is closed so he's out playing in the snow with two friends) to come home at 4-15 latest because the temperature was to fall drastically just after sunset. I couldn't go for him given my car is snowed in and he couldn't come by bus because the buses are also off in the snow. At 4-15 on the nose he rings and tells me he's warm inside Zack's house and I'm not to worry - he's accepted a lift coming back to our house but it isn't leaving till 7, but that's warmer and safer than walking. Ok - obviously I was speaking Chinese. Be home by 4-15 means take the decision to come home at 7pm and let me know at 4-15. What about dinner? I ask. Please just leave me something in the microwave - it is still more sensible to come home in my friend's 4x4 than walk an hour. Ok. Two minutes later the phone goes again - sorry the text goes 'Phone me mummy I only have texts left, no credit!' Oh oh, I know if he's using 'mummy' he's trying to schmooze me. So I ring and am informed not one but three of them are arriving at 7pm: Am I meant to leave three dinners in the microwave (that'll be bloody likely!) - we're running out of food Marcel, we're snowed in!?
Oh no mum it's
ok - my friends only eat kosher, I'll eat here then come. Good - that's one more meal for us till the snow goes! A reasonable exchange against two bowls of cereal this morning!
Fine!
Three kids turn up. Mine is at least in thermals. The other two (I kid you not) are in shorts(!!!!) and jackets. It is -14 degrees and they are in shorts! I am gobsmacked they are still alive. They all disappear 'to bed' at 11 and things are seemingly calm till rustling is heard outside my bedroom at 12-20am. I peek out in time to see Marcel and Leor passing with crisps and a tray of mugs. What's in the mugs? I ask - Coffee - how else are we going to stay awake? Why would they want to????
Teenagers - they look like adults but they really behave quite oddly.

COFFEE IN THE GARDEN


My garden bench
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I associate my garden bench more with iced coffees in the summer months. I can't remember ever seeing it looking like this before! It's quite impressive, no?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

DOUGHNUT ICICLE


An impressive icicle
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I don't know much about icicle formation (until 12 months ago I didn't live in a cold country!) but I am more than impressed by the icicle that has formed just outside Charlotte's bedroom window. It looks like it has formed as a stack of narrow ice doughnuts - strange!

OUT AND ABOUT


Getting to Granny and Pumpa's
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Today the only way to get anywhere was by sledge. I dragged Léon and Amaia, while Lots dragged Anna. Léon did better than expected, only dropping her face-first in the snow once! It is amazing quite how light they are on a sledge when the ground is this icy! I definitely found it less tiring walking up to mum and dad's today than I usually do when wearing Amaia in a rucksack and holding Léon and Anna by the hand.

ROSES IN THE SNOW


Roses in my garden
Originally uploaded by PhylB
About a year ago Jessops were selling beautiful polarizer filters at about £45. I was lusting after one but it was so overpriced I just couldn't justify it to myself. About three weeks ago I noticed they had them on ebay at just £6. I ordered one, figuring I'd probably be done... but hey look at that blue sky! I am one happy snowbunny.

Monday, December 06, 2010

AN ODD SORT OF DAY


Big chill
Originally uploaded by PhylB
André had promised to take the two oldest kids to school this morning as he hadn't seen them all last week because of the weather and his (extremely unreliable VW). He was picking them up at 7-40 for breakfast. At 7-45 Charlotte walked into our bedroom... not a good sign. Papa can't take us because of the weather, she announced. I looked out. It was pouring with rain and the roads were completely clear. I harrumphed and got dressed, muttering under my breath that I hadn't been shopping so didn't know what they could have for breakfast or lunch. Poor Léon then needed to be dragged out of bed twenty minutes early because high school starts before primary.
Out we went at 8-25 and we had a clear run up Crookfur road, Ayr road and Mearns road. Even Waterfoot road - on the summit of a hill in notorious cross winds was completely fine, just pouring with rain. Everyone was chucked out early and I cursed as I drove home via the post office to pick up a parcel. As I got out the rain turned to a flurry of snow with the largest snowflakes I have ever seen in my life - the size of oranges. Still I got home and had breakfast. An hour later I had lost sight of Thomas's car. By lunchtime I had ruled out picking up the shopping I had reserved at East Kilbride Argos! EK is a no-go area when Newton Mearns gets snowed in.
I started to notice an eerie silence. The usual quarter hourly Harvie avenue bus service had ceased. Thomas and I were having a business meeting at 1pm when I started to hear a lot of voices. Kids in Eastwood and St Cadocs uniforms were walking up the middle of the road. Was the council evacuating the schools for the first time in my nine years as the parent of a school-aged child? I checked the school webpages. Both said School is open but please pick up your child as soon as possible. I dug out the car and tried to drive. Crookfur road was closed, or rather open but strewn with cars and buses. I tried Capelrig and got as far as the Ayr road. Within sight of the Broom shops I realized Mearns road had two buses blocking one side and two lorries blocking the other, I did a three point turn and abandoned ship. I walked up the middle of Mearns road between the abandoned buses. The silence was odd. There were no vehicle sounds, just the marching of many parents in wellies quietly trudging up the hill, interspersed with mixed ring tones and voice messages being played loudly. No one spoke as they went up. Everyone was trying over and over to contact someone on their phone. With Léon and Lots released, and Thomas manning the phone at home begging the high school to release Marcel with instructions on where to meet me and the wee ones (after 30 attempts at getting through on the high school switchboard), I made it back to the car. We watched a bizarre serious of cars each awaiting their turn to go onto the Ayr road, each being pushed up the last few metres by the occupants of the next car in line. I managed up without a push so felt quite smug. I got home two hours after leaving to pick them up, safe and sound.
I see on the council web page they intend to reopen both schools tomorrow despite freezing fog. I will only be venturing out on those roads if they are safe. To get my kids I was prepared to drive, to send them out, no, sorry! In my 23 years of driving, I have never encountered such bad driving conditions (in this country) and most of the people out there haven't the slightest idea how to drive in snow!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

KIDS' DRAWINGS


Reindeer
Originally uploaded by viralbus
I've always loved the drawings my children do. I find around five the best age by far on the cute scale. Take this one Léon did today of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. The hairdo is his idea of antlers, the red nose is carefully hidden in the brown and the half drunk-looking smile is just priceless. The body-shape is funny given it is meant to be front-on. He asked me halfway through if reindeer had tails before carefully adding the fluffy appendage to the right. But my favourite part has to be the legs. I pointed out when he showed me it that reindeer had four legs. He looked at me as if I was daft and said 'I know, that's his front two, you can't see the back ones because they are behind the front two'.

Friday, December 03, 2010

PHOTOSHOOT IN THE SNOW


Mum, Dad and Anna
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Since the snow began to fall last Saturday, one thing had been tinging the prettiness of it all with sadness for me. The knowledge that unlike every year for the last 25 years or so since Dad followed me down the path of amateur photography, we would not react to the first day of snow by ringing each other and saying 'Let's get out there with our lenses'. Since he started chemo a month ago, he's been out of the house maybe twice and given he had his big infusion appointment on Monday, I knew he would be asleep on his chair for the rest of the week. I would have to do my snowshoot alone, but somehow that didn't feel right. I didn't dare hope he'd manage out, the side effects of both his illness and treatment too terrible and numerous.
On Wednesday morning the sky was perfect, so I decided I'd go out after lunch. Thomas was serving up lunch when I noticed I had forgotten something in the kitchen. I walked through and couldn't believe my eyes when I came face to face with Dad in my garden crouching in front of my igloo, camera in hand! After warming him up with a coffee we managed a ten minute walk in the snow with our cameras. Previous years' shoots lasted many hours but those ten minutes on Wednesday were far more precious to me than the old ones where time was taken for granted.
To quote Paolo, nowadays it's the simple things that mean the most to me. And like the father in his song, mine too has a family filled with generations of loving fans.

SOPORIFIC SNOW


Walk in the snow
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Poor Amaia - every time I have taken her out in the snow this week she has fallen instantly asleep. It is all too much for her. So I walk about constantly listening to someone snoring in my ear because the buggy doesn't work in the snow.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

SNOW


In the school playground
Originally uploaded by PhylB
It's been a hard week with schoolruns (usually a 14 minute roundtrip) taking up to one hour in blizzard conditions. The school playground is now so deep that Léon is up to just above his knees in the snow - he is standing on the school path in this photo, snapped hurriedly on my mobile phone today. But everything is still running well. Hats off to East Ren council - they seem to be one of the few in Scotland who haven't chickened out and closed the schools - let's face it - this weather could stay till March and we wouldn't want the wee ones missing out on that many days of learning, even if they might rather be home building a snowman!