Sunday, September 30, 2012

You don't need to be rich

One of the things this recession has taught me is that you don't need to spend any money at all to have a really happy child, you just need to let them be children. Would she really have been happier than this wrapped in cotton wool in her nice warm house with a £30 PS3 game or DVD? I doubt it. A pair of wellies and a few puddles suffice!

Happy birthday Léon

And so my youngest son has turned seven. How can he be seven already? - he's still my baby (ok I know I had two other babies but Léon is still my wee man!)

He had a lovely time. His Danish granny had flown over especially for the day and my mum and his Scottish auntie and uncle dropped by too with his cousins. Thomas baked a blue cake and made him his favourite dinner. He seemed to enjoy all the attention involved in being the special one for the day.

Amaia particularly enjoyed giving us her version of 'happy birthday' too. Although she did take a few seconds to get over the shock that it was only Léon's birthday and not everyone's! I guess it has been a while since the last kiddie birthday in this house. (Her own on 11-1).

Friday, September 28, 2012


I've always loved the look of squashes. I find it hard not to buy them and photograph them. I miss my days in the south of France when I used to go in search of whole stalls to photograph! (I wish I had a good squash recipe though, because I never really know what to do with them once I've finished my photoshoot!)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Time for change

Six years ago today I decided after a hideous year of screaming and fighting with my husband (and after many years of indifference), to walk out and change my three kids' lives forever.

I have never looked back. I have never missed him for a single moment. I re-found the person I had lost in my marriage. And I have now married someone who makes me calm and happy.

As we've grown, each of my kids has come to me at different times and told me individually that leaving him was the best thing I ever did for me and for them. Even Léon, who was less than a year old pointed out profoundly last week that if I had not done that he would not only not have his little sisters but he would not be himself and that he couldn't imagine having grown up unable to speak Danish... a bit deep for a six year old!

It is definitely a date worth celebrating as a family.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Money-spinning schemes to torture the bereaved

Dad had shares - not many, but a few and in his will he explicitly left them to mum, funnily enough. I rang his investment company to close his account and transfer his shares to mum. They asked for a copy of his death certificate. I thought, naively, it'd be that easy. They then sent a letter saying they could not legally proceed without a letter of probate. I checked with a lawyer who said this would cost £200. I rang the investment company again to say I had his will which stated mum was to get his shares. Apparently his will, in all its explicitness is not a legal enough document! They want to force her to have to make appointments with lawyers and pay upfront for a letter to get what is already legally hers. When they are thinking up these money-spinning schemes, do they never stop to consider the vulnerable people left behind? They should team up with Sheila! I have submitted a formal complaint, for all the good it will do me.

Alan Bissett's 'Vote Britain'

I blogged this a few months ago when Alan first put it on Youtube but his rendition on Saturday was much clearer without the background wind of the original so I am putting it back on again. It was a definite highlight in an already great day.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Paying attention to politics... almost

We were at the Scottish Independence rally in Edinburgh on Saturday with the three wee ones (the biggies having already booked sleepovers with friends weeks earlier).

The weather was superb and the atmosphere great fun and full of family entertainment. Léon and Anna loved all the flags and having their faces painted and the march from the meadows to Princes street went down well too.

I had thought the kids would zone out once we got to the political speeches but surprisingly Léon sat down happily to listen. First up was Alex of course followed quickly by Margo MacDonald. Margo pointed out part way through her speech that with support for independence already in the mid 30% bracket, each person who'd already decided to vote yes only needed to convince a single other voter for us to be home and dry.

 Léon looked quite excited throughout her speech and I wondered what had caught his interest. When she left the stage and the applause died down, Léon turned happily to Thomas, who he knows has been campaigning for an autonomous Scotland just like his home country of Denmark for over a year and announced:
I can't believe it, we've won! 
How so? I enquired! 
Well that lady just said that we only need to convince one more person to win and since we've left Marcel and Charlotte both at home, we can just go home and tell them and that's two! We've won by a landslide! he said, almost dancing with excitement! 

Hmmm - I guess he missed the little word 'each' in Margo's speech but still, it wasn't bad concentration on the rather complex political content for a six year old!


I love this photo because you can see Amaia is smiling really contentedly despite her mouth being completely hidden by her arm. That is true happiness.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Talking of eyes

Léon's another one with stunning eyes. They make me think of Caribbean waters, deep and clear enough to see down into the depths of his soul. Never in my wildest dreams, with my own dark eyes, did I imagine for one minute that I'd have a child with eyes so pale they are almost colourless.

Anna's eyes

While waiting for Anna's face paint to dry yesterday I left her glasses off and took a few photos. I hadn't really noticed her eyes for a while because of the specs. Much as I think she's sweet-looking in them, they do take away from her deep, dark hazel eyes. It'd be nice if she could grow out of them one day. The optician did say she might only need them for driving when she's an adult. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Baby photos

I'm 44 and I still don't really know what I want to be when I grow up!

The day-job is still interesting, though a little erratic at times during this recession but if I could find a way to make money from it, I'd love to do a wee sideline in baby photography. With my own, I love taking them through the years but when it comes to others' babies I particularly enjoy photographing them at the 'squidgy troll stage', because you don't yet get that look of worry, fear, or shyness they can't hide when they are unfamiliar with you.

Maybe one day...

Jalapeño invasion

I seem to have acquired 3kg of pickled jalapeño chilis... (don't ask!) The problem is that other than stick them in my fajita, on my nachos or similar, I am not sure what to use pickled ones for and quite frankly, 3kg might last me several years. I tried googling 'pickled jalapeño recipes' which of course gave me loads of recipes telling me how to pickle jalapeños, so unless I need even more than 3kg, I'm a bit stuck!

Any tips gratefully received!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why mum won't be renewing with Sheilas' Wheels

Mum's car is currently insured with the company Sheilas' Wheels. They sent her through a renewal last week telling her to check the details were ok before she signed up to renew her policy. She noticed dad was a named driver on her insurance. Figuring it was a bit silly to pay extra for that, she rang and told them the policy needed updating since his death a few months ago. They said they'd send her out an amended policy. It arrived a few days later and they'd added £25 (to a policy that only cost £140 in the first place). She rang up to query it. She got 'Calvin', a young and enthusiastic call centre worker who has been taught exactly how they want their customers treated.

'Good afternoon madam, can I help you?'
'Yes, you seem to have added £25 to my policy and all I have done since your quote is remove my husband from the policy'
'Yes that's right, you get a discount for adding a named driver, by taking him off you don't qualify any more. Are you sure you want him removed?'
'He just died'
'Oh, I see, and will you be replacing him?'
'Will you be replacing your husband?'
'I said he died. You are the company that claims 'Insurance designed with women in mind' and you slap a penalty on a woman's policy for her husband dying? and then you ask if I'm going to replace him?'
'Sorry there's nothing I can do about that'
'So you are going to lose my custom for the sake of £25?'
'I guess so. Is there anything else I can do for you today Mrs Buchanan?'
'Apparently not'
'Ok, have a nice day!'
'Sorry? HAVE A NICE DAY???? I have just told you my husband of fifty years has just died and you slap a penalty on my policy and tell me to have a nice day?!?!?'

End of conversation. 

In retrospect, I guess mum could just have left him on - it's not like he was ever going to have an accident anyway. But isn't that an incredible conversation? I certainly won't be asking them for a quote if they think that's acceptable, I don't know about you?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Health and safety in public swimming pools

Health and Safety rules for public swimming pools seem to have changed in the last few years and the new rules (or at least those they are enforcing in this council area) are a bit OTT if you ask me.

Thomas and I were down at Eastwood leisure centre this morning with four of my five kids. Apparently they have adult to kid ratios and I noticed while I was in the pool that they are strictly enforced. In the big pool every under-8 needs an over-16 in charge of them and in the baby pool the ratio is one over-16 to 2 under-8s. The fact that they choose 'under-8' as the benchmark rather than 'non-swimmer' strikes me as mad. When my older two were under-8 the rule was no non-swimmers out of their depth. This seems infinitely safer and less constrictive to me. My oldest two learnt to swim at four and Marcel could definitely easily have out-swum say my mother at 6 but under the new rules my mum would have been forced to be in charge of him even though he could dive at the deep end and mum wouldn't go out of her depth. He'd not have been allowed to swim without an adult at his side for four whole years, despite being happy to do many lengths of the pool safely. Charlotte too (seen above in a two metre pool at four) would have had the same annoying constraints put on her.

Worse still pools without baby pools have a strict one to one ratio in ER - eg East High School public pool or Neilston would actually not let Thomas and I go swimming at all for pleasure with our three youngest kids as they are all under eight - despite the fact that Léon can swim unaided. Where's the sense in banning kids from learning to swim or practising because they have siblings? Swimming should be a fun pastime for families, not something you need to delegate to a paid teacher simply because you have three kids. And it's like driving - you start to learn once you can do it, and these rules ban you from practising in the safe environment of your family until you are eight!

Today Léon wanted to be swimming lengths of the big pool, which was more or less empty - (with three guards up on ladders watching) but I was forced to swim up and down at his side. This meant Thomas could not leave the baby pool to teach Anna to swim because that would have meant - shock horror leaving Lots - a child just short of 13 with 9 years swimming experience in charge of sitting beside Amaia in a pool that was less the 50cm deep! (Also with two guys supervising up ladders).

Life guards used to be employed to watch if people got into difficulty and save them. Now they seem to be there to run up and down their ladder every five minutes to tell some poor parent that they have dared to allow their child to walk poolside without holding on to them and threaten them that they are breaking the 'legal requirements'. Give me strength!

The ironic thing is that Léon is not allowed to even walk unsupervised between the two baby pools though he is already capable of jumping in at the deep end of the adult pool and swimming safely to the shallow end but Anna who we can't teach to swim at the moment because of their one to one rule will be allowed in four years time in the big pool alone even if she still can't swim - where's the logic in that?

Oh I see where the logic is - the logic is that the council run overpriced, fairly ineffective swimming lessons that aim to teach your kid to swim just about competently just before they turn eight. You can sign them up for weekly lessons costing about £4 per half hour eleven months of the year from three but given the local pool rules won't let them in alone till eight, there is no major incentive to have them swimming competently for the first few years - quite a money-spinner.

But even if I have to take them all down on separate days I refuse to work at their pace.

And finally - does this look like a guy who needs an adult holding his hand every inch of the way to you? He's jumping into a two metre deep chunk of the Arno, with only a fourteen year old looking on!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I found a butter knife under the table mum!

I happened upon this old photo of Amaia today when I was looking for something else. I just thought it was awfully cute. I had almost forgotten about her crazy bum-shuffling till I saw the way her legs were placed in this photo. And she looks like she's trying to audition for a horror movie the way she's dragging herself along the floor menacingly with that butter knife!

In fact it also reminds me of a photo of Léon taken about the same age... I wonder if all my kids have a deep desire to star in horror movies?

Caught in the act!

Charlotte went upstairs to tidy her bedroom this afternoon and found Amaia had taken through her toys, put them on Lots' bed and fallen asleep. How sweet, she thought, until she looked closer... in Amaia's mouth to be precise! The wee besom had raided Lots' drawer, where she'd hidden a few sweetie necklaces she'd bought in Makro last month, taken one, and by the looks of things, had been half way through eating it when she fell asleep on Lots' bed with the evidence still hanging out her mouth! She'll be getting a talking-to when she wakens up! (And Charlotte will no doubt be moving her sweetie stash to a higher location!)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Parenting... it's never dull!

I'm just thinking back on the last twenty-four hours and imagining how dull my existence would be without all these hangers-on!

My day started at 4am with the arrival Amaia, Upsy Daisy and an elephant in a dress at our bedroom door. Something had upset her and I was too tired to fight her. Whatever it was, was quickly forgotten, of course, once she, and her menagerie took over our bed.

Marcel had been off training for his Duke of Edinburgh award since Friday morning. It involved a 30 mile hike with and overnight stay in a tent in New Lanark. Although well-travelled on Ryanair, Marcel has never had on walking boots before and thought till Friday that the tent was a three-room thing you found in the boot of the car after a long drive down south, as opposed to something you were meant to carry on your back. Anyway, he asked me for a sleeping bag and I clearly remember saying - Take the red one in the the yellow drawstring bag - it's just opposite the hatch when you go up to the loft. It's a mountain bag that Thomas bought for his year in Tbilisi. I don't consider that instruction overly hard but apparently he thought I said - Go up in the loft and grab the first bag you see, yes of course the pale blue one is just fine! So Marcel, all 1m75 of him, walked five hours then opened his blue bag to find not only that it was a summer tog one, but it was Léon's 1m10 long junior sleeping bag! Silly bugger had to sleep in all his clothes! I think he might listen more carefully to mummy next week when he goes on the real walk!

Of course after his long walk the wee soul was tired. He was under instruction this week to teach his wee sister how to go to school by bus. He was to take her to the bus stop at 7-55am. So having my bedroom door knocked at 7.55am was ominous in itself. Emmm - he's slept in mum so I've missed the bus, oh and he's slept through his paper round too! Give me strength! I get to pay for him to go hiking all weekend so he sleeps in and Lots and I get to do his paper round while he has his shower and gets ready. A great start to the week. So I drive them to school. This in itself is stressful as I notice my ex-husband is directly behind me on the trip. He doesn't know my current car so isn't aware it is me but I can't miss his lime green Fiat in my rear view mirror and given I'm in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with him I slip lower in my seat in the hope he won't notice us! Nevertheless, we arrive at school unscathed and the last thing I say to them is - Well at least you can show her which bus to come home on... At 4.30pm Marcel walks in alone! I told her to meet me on the 4pm 44, he says and as it pulled away I saw her slowly walking past the shops so I texted her to take the next bus along, so don't worry, she's fine! How can it be that complicated, just to manage one of my requests for the day?! 

In the meantime I have picked up Léon and Anna. Anna has come out of school wearing an orange shirt and tie. (This photo does not do it justice!)

Despite having full plastic body-armour for painting lessons, Anna is completely covered in paint. The pattern shows me she has put the apron on backwards and the (no doubt) overworked teacher has not pointed it out to her! I suspect her three-week old shirt is ruined and her tie is borderline. I pull the clothes off immediately and run around the house trying to find something to wash it with (because I have already done three loads today - serves me right for being organised!) I stick it on at 3-30pm.

When Lots finally wanders in twenty minutes after Marcel her first comment is - We started rugby today mum, my PE kit is soaking and covered in mud and I need it again tomorrow! How many times can one person say - Give me strength! in the space of twelve hours?! So I wait till Anna's clothes come out - tie salvaged, shirt still orange and now soaking in bleach, and put in Charlotte's with some bath mats that probably don't need washing but still... I estimate they should be dry by 11pm. Skin of the teeth!

Léon's been no trouble today, if that is of any consolation! 

I think I'll go to bed now and prepare myself  for tomorrow... the day when both the high school and the primary are having simultaneous open evenings (now that's sensible!) and one has requested 'no kids, please' - that'll be easy with my five and no babysitters!


I can't help but worry that Amaia reminds me ever so slightly of Margaret Thatcher since she's taken to carrying around my toilet bag everywhere as a handbag! We'll need to knock that out of her! ;-)

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Cute... but problematic

My mum bought this for Anna's Xmas last year. It is adorably soft, smells lovely and is exactly what you want to be hugging in bed at night if you are four. It has however, just today, prompted me to write my first ever Amazon product review! The issue is that it is filled with edible grains - wheat kernels as far as I can see. With five kids, and ten friends running in and out my door daily, someone occasionally leaves it open - in autumn that means the odd mouse manages to get in. On average we have maybe two mice every autumn. This year we've already found five - I was puzzled. The kids have been threatened with death if they leave a door open, so where were they all coming from? It turns out one had gnawed into this and was feasting itself and its whole family on the contents. The bedroom is filthy and now being steam-cleaned and the dinosaur is in bits in the outside bin. On telling Lots who has the polar bear version - I saw her quickly shoot out to the outside bin holding hers at arm's length as if it was a bomb that was about to go off! It looks like I'm going to be replacing all our microwave heaters with old-fashioned hot water ones. They may be cute but they are definitely not worth the hassle.

Amaia loves the tiger who came to tea

Sometimes I ask myself how rich I'd be if I had a pound for every time I've read the Tiger who came to tea over the last fifteen years!

Friday, September 07, 2012

Gran and Gramps' Wedding

If my old gran was still alive she'd be 96 by now. And today she would have been throwing a party to celebrate her 70th wedding anniversary. Awwwh, I hear you say... but of course today isn't her 70th wedding anniversary! It is her 69th! I vaguely remember hearing a story about how gran fell out with my mun on her real 25th wedding anniversary when she didn't buy her a special card, despite my gran having thrown the party the previous year! And worse still the crazy bat refused to allow my mum to have her birth certificate when she left home as it stated her parents' wedding date as being (shock, horror) six months before her birth! The problem of course was that mum needed her birth certificate to post her wedding banns but gran was worried about her dignity!

Funny how things have changed in a couple of generations. I wonder how she'd feel about my own daughter being the flower girl at my wedding when she was 14 months old! (Or should I start organizing fake wedding anniversary parties too?)

(And looking at the photo - as a child I often wondered if my gran (and her sister-in-law Catherine) worked part time as chimney sweeps in the 40s?!)

Kindles and why they annoy me...

Marcel needs some French novels to read - of course I have loads of classics but I wanted to give him something lighter and easy to start with so I tried thinking contemporary, mass-market - Marc Lévy sprung to mind immediately. Something like 'Et si c'était vrai' would be easy enough to build his confidence. I go on Amazon and I am offered the paperback at £3-89 (+£2-80) postage or the Kindle edition for £8-99 - that's a third dearer. Obviously I would prefer the Kindle edition. The last thing I need cluttering up my house is more books but the Kindle version is dearer, it won't necessarily be lying on my shelf in two or three years when Lots wants to read it, or ten when Amaia does, so I refuse to pay more money for something that has a shorter shelf life and is non-transferable. I have my dad's Kindle sitting here, and for me it is limited to a means of reading books that are out of copyright. I want Kindle book prices to reflect the fact that they can't be shared amongst family and friends. I want, like with CDs, to scan say the bar codes on my current four rooms of books so I can store then on that and not on bookshelves and I want what I buy to be future-proof. It just doesn't work for me as a format, yet.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Bic for her

I usually consider my husband fairly on the ball with regard to current affairs. But somehow the whole bic-for-her scandal seems to have passed him by. He looked completely blank today when I mentioned it in passing. So for anyone else unfortunate enough to have missed it, I thoroughly recommend you read the product reviews on Amazon for these items!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Rhubarb and ginger jam

I remember the first time I met my first mother-in-law-to-be (at the age of 18), she asked what jam I was best at making. When I replied that I'd never made jam, I thought she was going to faint. She couldn't believe anyone could reach the ripe old age of 18 without ever having made jam. So now at 44,  I decided I could put it off no longer! We had four large rhubarb plants taking over the garden so I chopped up 1.5kg and followed this recipe. It didn't turn out too badly - the taste is good. It's a bit too set for my liking - I prefer the runny jam they eat in France and Denmark to the solid stuff we eat in the UK. A better plan is probably to google a recipe in French instead next time. I am more likely to appreciate the consistency of something written by a French author.

I may be a late starter, but I might actually take up jam making properly given how many fruit bushes Thomas has planted in our garden.

Sharp knives

I was cutting cabbage tonight to make chicken fried rice, Anna was standing on a stool watching me. I was using Thomas's beautiful global knives. (Even if I hadn't fancied him, his global knives might have been enough to make me marry him! ;-) ) Anyway, Anna picked up the large chopping knife. I told her to be careful and put it down. She started to question me:

Is it sharp enough to cut off my pinkie? she asked
Yes, I replied
What about my thumb? she continued
Yes, they are sharp enough to cut off your arm, I said pointing at her wrist
She then pointed at her throat - If I sawed hard enough, would it be able to chop my head off?
Yes, of course, I told her, trying to sound very serious, so she would never play with my knives.
But her reply broke my seriousness in one fell swoop: That would be a pain! With my head off, I wouldn't be able to see where I was going!

Has my brother been indoctrinating my daughter?

Amaia is very into nail varnish at the moment, but having all nails the same is way too boring. Generally she goes for pink and red nails alternating or blue and purple but today she marched over to the nail varnish box, took out red, yellow and black and asked for those three colours and only those. Derek?! Have you been talking to my daughter by any chance? This is a bit too Partick Thistle for my liking!