Thursday, February 28, 2013

Matching sister socks

I've been pondering socks in cyberspace now for seven years. My mountain of odd socks has continued to grow and I suspect if I am ever made homeless I'll be able to make a seven-sleeper tent simply by sewing the odd ones together...

This month I have been working on what has to be one of the most fun projects I have had in years - translating children's books from Danish to English for a Danish university. One of the books I had to translate was Mirakelkuren - en monstersaga, Finally! The mystery is solved - at least for my Danish-speaking friends. Maybe I could get the rights to my translation so I can publish it here and let you all in on the secret of where the socks go! ;-)

What do you do with the twenty-niners?

Here's a photo of me with my dad's dad William taken back in 1968. And a photo of my French niece Isabelle taken back in 1986. They have one thing in common over and above their connection to me. Here's a clue... in these photos their ages are 13 and 1 1/2 respectively... they are both lucky or unlucky enough to have been born on February 29. Granda would now have been 24 (although he is sadly no longer with us having died at 18 1/2.) Isabelle is now 8 (six years older than her own daughter!)

The thing is - when do you celebrate your birthday in the years when you don't have one? March feels wrong because it isn't even the right month. But your birthday is the day after Feb 28 so today feels wrong too. I can imagine as an adult coming to love how special that is. I can also imagine in my forties how nice it'd be not to have an official day every year when I age! But how you cope with that as a child, when your whole focus is on it, is beyond me! Anyway I hope my wee 8/33 year old niece has a lovely day today, tomorrow, around midnight or whenever it feels right!


Anna announced yesterday that she'd like contact lenses because 'it is a shame to wear glasses when you have pretty eyes'. I am more than surprised she's even heard of contacts at the ripe old age of five. This child is going to be an expensive one, I fear.

Painting the play house

Last year I decided in a hurry to paint our play house. It had been blue for a few years (I'd used the leftover paint from our garden bench but it looked a bit weathered). Trying to save some money I found a tin of outdoor masonry paint and thought - how bad can it be on wood - after all it is meant for outdoors. So I repainted it in a rather Danish style...

Today I have started the long and tedious job of scraping off the masonry paint that doesn't seem to be able to survive the mildest of Scottish winters on wood and I'm blogging it to remind myself never to take that financial or time shortcut again. Grrr!


Since Léon got his first glasses back in 2010 I feel like I've been accumulating specs. My bedside cabinet is bursting with glasses cases. I have Léon's old Mr Tickle ones, two other old ones of Léon's that are no longer his current prescription, my own first reading glasses and my own first reading sunglasses. Given I have many spares with the correct prescription lenses, none of these are worth keeping. Does anyone know of any charities that need old specs?


I love Ymer and Ymerdrys. Unfortunately you've about as much chance of finding them in a UK supermarket as you have of trying to buy burgers that don't contain a slice of donkey. Given Thomas only manages to go to Denmark once every couple of years he came up with a cunning plan this time. He removed three tablespoons from our carton of Ymer and made his own yogurt with it. Hey presto! It worked and definitely tasted more ymery than anything you get here. Unfortunately the rye bread they sell here is full of seeds so not good as the basis for ymerdrys so we're back to the drawing board... unless I can convince our Danish family and friends to visit at monthly intervals with a case full of these two delicacies.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

That Italian calendar again

It just occurred to me I am running out of February fast and I have not yet publicly shamed my Italian calendar this month. I won't go into the same dissection as last month for fear of boring you all but I think I have to point out my particular fondness of that well known French verb 'squeeze'. Give me strength. And surprisingly the German for 'squeeze' seems to be none other than 'squeeze' as well. Such mutually comprehensible languages French and German, no?!

Another howler has to be the choice of 'robe' or indeed 'Kleidung' for salad dressing. I have all sorts of odd images in my head!!! And I'm still searching for a verb in the first clause of the last (grammatically diabolical) German sentence!

The age of innocence

Picture the scene. Lots is five (pictured above). We've gone shopping in East Kilbride and I have been dragging her round clothing shops looking for new clothes for all the kids. (At this point that meant Marcel (8) and Léon (newborn). She is getting bored as I look through rails of stuff in both Next and then Primark. The place is mobbed. Losing her focus on what I am doing she starts to dance around one of those square mirrored pillars making funny faces at herself. I am a good five metres away but she's fully in my line of vision so I am unconcerned. I see her singing and laughing at her reflection when suddenly she stops aghast. Once or twice she opens her mouth as if to burst into song and then it comes... that moment every parent dreads - you know - when you wish you hadn't taught your child to speak! Across the shop, past the grannies, workers and other children my five year old shouts at the top of her lungs 'Muuuuuummy! I've got a penis in my mouth!' Time seems to stand still as I try to imagine what she can possibly have said because of course it sounded like 'Muuuuuummy! I've got a penis in my mouth!' but she's five, so I must simply have misheard her. Everyone stops and silence descends. And then, because I have not replied, or manoeuvred myself and my newborn in a pram across to her quickly enough she shouts even louder 'Mummy, come and look! There's a penis in my mouth!!!' WTF!? I rush over as she repeats it several times more. As I get to her a large crowd has formed. She's completely oblivious but proudly opens her mouth wide, saying 'aahhh' and points to her uvula announcing - 'Look, a tiny penis hanging at the back of my mouth, it looks just like Léon's!' I'm not sure I've ever been back to EK since - too embarrassed!

Who'd be a parent?????

Documenting infancy

When Marcel and Charlotte were little I got this crazy idea to email myself little conversations we had together. They were snapshots of their lives, how they saw the world and the amusing misunderstandings of infancy. I used to do it on my coffee break at work and I'd send them to dad who had retired so collated them for me. He grouped them together in a book he entitled 'Meet the Grandkids'. By the time the other three were little I'd started blogging so I simply noted most of their stories here.

At the weekend I was recounting an old story from when Charlotte was five to Derek when it suddenly occurred to me that there is a wealth of unblogged material out there for days when I feel nostalgic or simply need a laugh.

So I might idle away the odd hour recounting them here for posterity, starting perhaps with that very story...

Watch this space...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Littlest and biggest eyes

I love my kids's eyes. They are all so unusual but it is rare that you catch the actual shade - I was about to say 'on film', now I'm showing my age! - to catch them 'digitally', despite using more than decent cameras. This is as close as I've got for a while. Amaia's caramel right eye and green and caramel left eye, and Marcel's warm green - beautiful.

Léon's are still the oddest - they mix blue, green and yellow. Where did I get a son with yellow in his eyes? Lots of course is more or less the same as Marcel, though much paler and Anna like Amaia has two odd eyes, though hers are even more obviously different. One is almost brown, the other dark green. I need to try to take an up-to-date photo of her without her glasses, as you only notice it when she isn't wearing them. That can be my next project.

Princess Amaia

In some lights, because Amaia's hair and skin are so light and yet her eyes are quite dark, I swear she looks like one of those Victorian porcelain dolls - or rather she would, if she grew slightly more hair!

Boys - through five year old eyes

Friday had been world scouting (or something like that) day. Kids were allowed to go to school in their Beavers, Brownies, Sunbeams, Rainbows, Guides etc uniform if they wanted to.

Léon proudly donned his Beaver suit, as he calls it.

Thomas has always been quite keen, in a Scandinavian kind of way, to have Anna go to Beavers with Léon once she's old enough, as it is open to both sexes, rather than send her to Rainbows or Sunbeams as they are all female. I don't particularly care but always suspected a princessy type of girl like Anna would be horrified to be one of the token girls in a predominantly male Beaver troop, when there was a girlie alternative. I also figured Thomas wouldn't stand a chance after Friday as she'd see all her wee pals in Sunbeam suits.

So as Léon got ready for Beavers last night I asked: Anna would you like to go to Beavers or Sunbeams? Anna thought for a moment and replied very seriously: I think I'd rather go to Sunbeams - I'm not sure I really always like boys - they can be a wee bit windy-up at times!

Sunday, February 24, 2013


I came across this today while looking for a birthday card for my mate Carol. Do you think, given I was in Tesco, that they were hinting that their greetings cards were made of recycled horse too? ;-)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spring in February

I changed my blogger background the other day from the snowy scene I had put on for winter because it felt too spring-like to keep it. My garden is currently full of irises after all! Who knows, at this rate we'll have a background of naked kids jumping through sprinklers by mid-March!

This new one makes me think of my granny. Together we used to pick flowers and leaves and press them in big, old musty-smelling books. We had dozens, all done between my sixth or seventh birthday and me reaching ten. I was particularly fond of the ferns I had pressed as a child.

I wish I'd kept it when she died but I assume my old Gramps threw them all out at the time. At sixteen I was too obsessed by Abba, boys, make-up or even my French and German books to give my old childhood flowers a second thought :-( Maybe I'll do some with my kids this summer, before their interests disappear off in other directions. (Or in one direction, in Charlotte's case!)

From the manse garden to Scotland

Thomas grew up in a big manse (his mother was a minister), with an even bigger manse garden. On one of our last trips there before Brita retired we took a few eranthis from the garden (bottom middle above) and planted them here in Newton Mearns. Nothing came of them and given that was back in spring 2008, I had long given up hope of seeing any sign of them. That was until last week, when suddenly, dozens of them decided to pop out, here five years on in February. What a strange little game of hide and seek they've been playing!

It's a lovely reminder of the big old house - a much-missed holiday destination, that sadly our youngest children never really got to know. The timing was sadly all wrong for them to spend their childhoods running about hiding in the house, the church at the bottom of the garden or the church hall which was also on the same grounds as Marcel and Charlotte had done for 3 or 4 summers in their childhoods. Léon, of course, came too but was too young to really remember and Anna was a baby when they moved out. They would have loved to see that spectacular Christmas tree in the dining room and the likes.It's so sad that Thomas and I got together so late.

But I bet you're laughing. You never thought you'd hear a grumpy old atheist like me lamenting my long-lost, beloved Church of Denmark manse! (I'm still surprised to this day I was never struck by lightning sleeping in it, especially before my divorce had come through ;-) )

Charlotte and 'her' baby

I've said it often but every new day brings a further example of Charlotte's devotion to her baby sister and Amaia's complete trust and need of second mummy. Yesterday when she fell asleep in the car, there was no question in Lots's mind about who should carry the sleepy lump into bed, and of course after half-opening one eye to check who she was with Amaia totally flopped into cuddly submission on her shoulder.

Kentucky fried pork

My brain is already hurting this week. It's Monday and I haven't had a day off since February 2nd. Friday I had to work in French and Italian, Saturday, Sunday and today in Danish and tomorrow I've some German lined up. (Please can I retire, please?!) Isn't dealing with this size of mega-messy house and five kids enough? Was I bad in a previous life? Anyway I digress... It was about the Kentucky fried pork, wasn't it?! Thomas made this a month ago when his sister was over. I'm not a great pork lover. I think it tends to be rather fatty so eat it rarely. I had never had pork tenderloin before. On first inspection it was just a skinny, fat-free pork roast. Thomas decided to follow a recipe in his Joy of Cooking book entitled 'Kentucky fried pork'. And I have to say I have never, ever tasted pork like this in my life. It was absolutely amazing! (Probably up there amongst the ten best meat dishes I have had in my life!)

I was going to link to his blog of the recipe but I just realized it's in Danish. In fact, given some of the machine-translated nonsense I have had to deal with copy-editing recently, why don't you just run it through google-translate yourself? You'll either end up with a great recipe or at the very least a good laugh!

Monday, February 18, 2013


I know some people love liquorice, and some hate it. I consider myself to be in that small category of people who are indifferent to it. I can take a Bertie Bassett if it happens to be lying around but I wouldn't ever deliberately buy a pack. So there I was working away merrily this morning when out of the corner of my eye I spied this packet of Danish liquorice lying on my coffee table. It was within my reach. I thought I'd just suck on one while translating - a sort of procrastination device really.

I innocently popped one in my mouth. It was unimaginably vile... hot and salty, it caught the back of your throat and made you gag. It was on a par (I imagine) with drinking someone else's vomit. In fact, it was a bit like taking a spoonful of porridge, expecting it to be warm and sweet, without realizing your old Gramps prefers to make his with copious amounts of salt.

I'm not a fussy eater. I eat everything. I have even manged to eat andouillette  once in my life when I was served it at a French friend's house (sorry Lydie, but it was vile!) without throwing up, but Danish salt liquorice is a step beyond edible. The piece in my mouth was 4cm long and at least 1cm thick but given there was no bin available, and no hankies to spit it in, I decided swallowing it whole and learning my lesson, was the only way forward.

I will never ever let a piece cross my lips again as long as I live.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The "Newton Mearns" snowman

I had to laugh last week. Left to their own devices in the snow, my four youngest decided to build a quick snowman in the garden. There wasn't much snow so they could only manage a little one. I took this photo then dived inside as it was snowing on my camera. It was only after it melted and I went out to collect the hat and scarf that I realized what a toffee-nosed snowman they'd made. At a glance it was a bog-standard carrot-nosed effort. But on closer examination, the kids had taken a large chunk of root ginger for its mouth/moustache. Two walnuts in their shells had been used for its eyes and once I moved the scarf he had four fresh almonds as his buttons. If it had snowed much longer, they'd probably have taken out my saffron to stick on as hair! I'm not sure I can afford snowmen like this too often. I'm glad it's been a mild winter.

Circus time

One of my old school friends joined a circus many years ago. No, this isn't a joke, she joined and later became manager of a circus company that teaches kids circus skills. She is one of the most amazing jugglers I've ever seen. The problem is I'm a boring fart at heart and I never really got juggling. I don't mind watching it for five minutes, ten if I have my kids in tow, but I have never once felt any inclination to try it. What is the point of juggling anyway?

Unfortunately my advancing years are catching up with me. As of last week I am now officially closer to fifty than forty and that plays havoc with your mind. I have about as much desire to rush towards fifty as I do to learn to juggle. I'd rather rush towards, say, twenty-five. And ironically with my newly-found advancing years, I find myself forced to learn to juggle after all :-( You see this week's work involves testing a newly-written dictionary on Kindle before its release. As I go along I am writing my report. I need my reading glasses (the ones I have on above) for reading the Kindle, and my computing glasses (on my head in the photo) for writing my report. So I've had to learn one-handed spectacle-juggling while simultaneously reading, writing and working.

Maybe I should run away and join a circus too? There just that minor problem of the coulrophobia.

Monday, February 11, 2013

An underestimate of life's difficulties!

Thomas decided to nip over to Denmark for five days to let Léon, Anna and Amaia visit their grandparents while I stayed home with just Marcel and Lots.When you are used to looking after five kids, you can fool yourself into thinking that being a single parent to two teenagers for five days is so close to a holiday, you won't know what to do with yourself. I did have a full-time job on for four of the five, and I knew I needed to tutor Marcel a bit for his Higher prelim on Wednesday so I figured that would probably leave me enough time to work my way through the following to-do list . Now, my many single-parent-to-two-teenagers friends will probably fall off their seats at magnitude of my naivety here, but here goes:
  • Do 30 hours of translating (books and teaching materials - Danish -> English)
  • Tutor Marcel five hours
  • Tutor my friend's son for his INT2 French prelim two-three hours
  • Wash Thomas's car, valet the inside
  • Weed the garden
  • Take garden rubbish to the dump
  • Read the three novels by my bed (2 English, 1 German)
  • See my sister-in-law for coffee
  • Meet up with an old friend I haven't seen for twenty years for coffee too
  • Wash 7 washing baskets of clothes/dry them/put them away
  • Spring clean the small kids' room and take all broken toys to the dump
  • Gut TV room, living room, dining room, kitchen, porch, front hall and downstairs bathroom
  • Prepare a birthday dinner and cake for Thomas coming home
  • Visit mum for dinner
  • Do a 1000 piece jigsaw with Charlotte
  • Blog every day
  • Print out new photos for the frame the kids bought me last week on my birthday
  • Take up my trousers
  • Wash all the floors
  • Do something to keep fit - maybe cycle every day
Ok, let's analyse my achievements to date:
  • Danish - tick
  • Marcel - 4 hours still to do
  • Friend's child - done half an hour
  • Thomas's car - nope
  • Weeding - nope
  • Garden rubbish - nope
  • Novels - Half way through the German one
  • Sister-in-law - on tomorrow's potential list
  • Old friend - tick
  • 7 washings - 2 done, 5 to go, nothing put away
  • Kids' room - toy boxes emptied on the floor, looks like Armageddon
  • Room-gutting - Does the downstairs bathroom count? I even washed the box of bath toys out?!
  • Cake making - On Weds' to-do list
  • Visit mum - on tomorrow's to-do list
  • Jigsaw - nope 
  • Blog - no more than usual
  • Photo printing - I've done 5/9
  • Trousers - nope
  • Floors - nope
  • Keep-fit - nope
Which makes me ask myself - how do I usually fit in my life, if I can't do twice as much when half of us are missing?

Saturday, February 09, 2013


I remember when I was pregnant with Marcel and the Scottish midwives were trying to increase breastfeeding stats in Scotland, we were given ante-natal classes and shown videos of other more progressive countries, mainly Scandinavian ones. We were shown Norwegians happily breastfeeding kids as old as five, just to get it into our heads that it was a completely normal and natural thing to do.

As a baby of the 60s in Glasgow, I had been bottle-fed. I was 29 and pregnant and had never seen anyone breastfeed in my life. I decided to give it a try anyway, partly inspired by the Scandinavian model. I didn't find it all that easy at first but I'm a stubborn bitch so I persevered. I'd been told that you didn't need to wean babies off the breast because one day they'd stop feeding. So I waited and waited and at two, when I was pregnant with Charlotte I finally looked up how to wean Marcel, because he didn't seem to have read that chapter of the book! So I went into it intending to feed my kids for three to six months and did each of them for two years. I worked full-time back than but I determined that if he'd not had formula, he wasn't getting any as I'm not a fan of the stuff. Of course that then set a precedent. I couldn't favour one child over the others so if one had been breastfed two years, five would need to be breastfed two years. If one had not had formula, five would need to not have formula. But basically it all went back to those Scandinavian examples.

I'm quite a laid-back, easy-going person. In fact I've only been referred to as militant in two contexts in my life 'Here comes the militant breast-feeder!' and (in front of my religious family-in-law (oops)) 'Just because you're a militant atheist dear!' - (Maybe not the best time to call me that, Thomas! ;-)) Anyway as you can imagine, if you breastfeed for ten years, you have a lot of experience of different situations. I've breastfed in different countries - on top of the Eiffel Tower, in the restaurant at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, in Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Latvia in the biting cold, the US (up the Empire State Building and on top of the Rockefeller center - I'm an experienced altitude breastfeeder!!) etc I've done it on buses, planes, trains, restaurants, you name it. I figured one day I would have a show down with some ignorant person who found nourishing a tiny, helpless infant offensive so was always ready with my arguments but was pleasantly surprised. People actually came and talked to me. Grannies came over and reminisced about their children but mostly people didn't even notice. No one complained, tutted, sighed or rolled their eyeballs once in ten years.

Fast-forward to last week. Thomas is going home to Denmark for a week, meeting some old friends, checking out some business contacts. He used to be quite active in politics over there (surprise, surprise) and he's meeting up with three girls from his old party for lunch. Now here's the bit that made me fall off my seat in disgust and shock. The conversation went something like 'what about that café?', 'no we can't go there X has a newborn and might need to feed it and they don't allow breastfeeding there' 'what about that other one round the corner?' 'No I was thrown out of there for breastfeeding my baby a few years back' etc, etc. When exactly did Denmark turn into some backwards looking puritanical state? It's a sad day when nowhere in Scotland complains but you can't feed your newborn in public in Scandinavia without being prepared to fight. I was completely appalled. Thomas even pointed me to this article which had me spitting with rage.

Why are Danish women allowing this to happen? Breastfeeding becomes the norm when five year olds pick up their plastic dolls and stick them up their jumpers because that is what they are used to seeing. Even my boys did that! In fact I have a sweet video of Marcel breasfeeding Lots at the tender age of 2.5 but I'm keeping that for uploading on his 18th birthday!!!! Breastfeeding shouldn't shock. Don't let your daughters reach the age of 29 thinking breastfeeding is too offensive to do in public. I can't tell you how upsetting I find this. You may argue that that is a minority case but it shouldn't happen at all. You're feeding a baby not lap-dancing in public.

Friday, February 08, 2013


Music meant everything to dad. One of the things I've been finding hardest over the past nine months is listening to songs I know meant something to him. But as time goes on a surprisingly difficult thing to deal with is hearing a new song or a new artist that I just know he would have loved to hear. I've heard this on the radio twice in the last week and I can tell he would have liked it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Danish birthdays and how they affect your self-esteem

I thought I'd mentioned it before, on some previous birthday over the many years I have spent with Danish culture infiltrating my life but I can't see any mention of it. Maybe I've been lamenting it on Facebook rather than on my blog?

Danes have this odd notion that the weather on your birthday reflects your behaviour over the previous twelve months. For a start if you live in a climate like Scotland, that doesn't do much for your self esteem. Worse still, if you have the misfortune of having been born in the depths of winter, you just know you're going to get a 'fail' on your behaviour report card!

So let's analyse my own results... I woke up to darkness, despite the fact that I didn't get up till eight this morning. The temperature was 2°C. Wind was blowing bins up the street and in the course of the first hour we had rain, wind, hail, snow, black sky, white sky, blue sky. This pattern repeated at twenty minute intervals for the remainder of the daylight hours.

At 7pm we had a school meeting up at Mearns Castle. Mearns Castle is possibly the highest point in Newton Mearns. The car park was slippery. Shards of frozen ice cut into us as we tried to cross it. Thomas had to hold my hand because I was being blown backwards across the icy path and by the time we got home it was snowing heavily.

So what would a Dane make of my year? Was I a twisted, volatile, evil bitch suffering the mood swing of middle age already? Of course there were ten minutes of sun and blue sky all-in, so perhaps there's a glimmer of hope for me yet?

I'm determined to spend at least one birthday in the southern hemisphere so I can feel better about myself!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Sweet Anna

I love kiddie logic... Today's conversation went like this:
Anna: Mummy, why are there fewer days in February than in any other month?
Me: Well February used to be the last month of the year so it is shorter than the others and that's why they sometimes add an extra day, they used to add it on to the end of the year...
Anna: (walking away) Oh I see... January, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, February. January, March... right!

Friday, February 01, 2013

While we're on the subject of glasses...

I've needed glasses for reading since I turned 41 - or rather I can read without them but it's tiring so I use them if they are lying about! I got the ones above first. They were comfy and nice to wear but Thomas secretly hates them, complaining the frames are too heavy and hide my eyes. So when I went back to get replacements in autumn I went for lighter ones which I also prefer to look at but, and it's a huge but... they are driving me insane. You see, not being used to glasses and only wearing them a tenth of the day (because I don't use them on the computer, just for reading my phone and books), I tend to push up onto my head when I am not using them. The problem with that is that my big brown ones didn't have those little nose clips that I have found out since getting my new ones get caught up in long hair to the point you actually need to cut them out several times a day! I'm afraid I am going to have give in and accept that I can't use glasses with the little nose bits until my sight degenerates to the point of wearing them all the time, however unattractive that might make me to my other half!!!