Sunday, June 30, 2013

Five year old orthography

I think one of my favourite things about kids, when they've only been at school a little while, is that wonderful phonetic spelling they do. Having been sent home all Anna's p1 work (that's all the stuff done between 4.5 years and 5.5 years old) last Weds, I've been wading through it for little gems to keep for her when she grows up. Isn't this cute? I like 'leevs' on the forest floor, 'predators wanting to eat diners' is an amusing slip and 'evry wair' is a particular favourite. But given she's already mastered 'enormous' and the likes, I don't think it'll be long before Anna grows out of this first, very cute stage.

Mug brownies

I'm not sure how Charlotte discovered the recipe but it works! Brownies in a mug, in less than a minute. Nobody's bothered to make me one yet but they smell great, I can vouch for that. (Oh and she says self raising flour works better than plain!)

Girls in a pile

This photo of my girls with Siobhan's youngest daughter reminded me of a photo from years ago when Charlotte was the baby and Siobhan's Rowan was the bigger one. It's nice to have decades of memories of my kids with my friends' kids.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The calendar's a load of tripe

This month I didn't get beyond the first line in both French and German. Not only were they linguistically nonsensical, but that was as far as I needed to go before I realized tripe was on the menu. No, thanks!

I have two main memories of tripe. One is my Gramps -  he liked the word tripe quite a lot 'You're talking tripe!' 'Have you heard that new record - it's a lot a tripe' etc Which made me wonder why he used to cook tripe and ask if I wanted to taste it. You could smell it as you walked up the stairs in his upper cottage flat - nauseating to the nostrils and synonymous with everything bad, or poor quality, I was not for saying yes. It looked like he'd boiled it in milk or something and the once I did give in and put it in my mouth, the texture was unimaginable. So, no thanks Gramps, your tripe is a load of tripe.

My second encounter with tripe was as an eighteen year old living in Italy. I had moved to Perugia for a summer course. A few weeks in, a fellow student offered to give me a guided tour of Florence's art. She was a fine art student, unlike me who was there for the language, so I readily agreed and spent a few lovely days in Florence with Margaret. One morning, I decided to go for a wander myself. I found myself in the huge central fruit market. The peaches were the biggest and the sweetest I have tasted in my life, the tomatoes amazing. I walked round fruit and veg for ages. Suddenly, a familiar smell met my nostrils - I walked through a door and found myself in the meat market. Tripe was hanging on hooks, but at over 35 degrees the smell was starting to float down. I took to my heels and found myself back with the peaches in minutes but the smell will stay with me always, so I'm afraid this month's calendar offering is a no-goer on more levels than usual.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rhubarb man - superhero!

Isn't it nice to see that today's kids don't need a PS3 controller in their hand to have fun? Léon managed a whole afternoon just with rhubarb leaves today. First, when it was still quite warm he made one into a sun hat and wore it round the patio. Later as it became cooler, he found they were large enough to wrap around him. I think he intended to use it to warm up but within minutes he's become Rhubarb man, Super Hero. Later I even caught a glimpse of Anna walking past my bedroom window with one draped around her neck like a feather boa (and another hanging out of the back of her bikini bottom, as a kind of tail) but as I was working at that point, I didn't manage to get a photo. Here's hoping we are in for a summer of simple childhood pleasures...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Teenage fun

Charlotte and one of her best friends, Aymen, were in Blackpool yesterday for the day. Having gone in to Starbucks for a drink, they were asked for their names. Charlotte asked why and they told them it was so they could write them on their drinks so that once they were ready they could call them. Aymen went first, telling them she was 'Loquitia' - a little flustered, the poor barista attempted that on the first cup. After all, it would be rude to insinuate they were making it up and some kids do have weird names these days, and it isn't their fault. Charlotte, who is a bit of a shrinking violet and who doesn't like to do anything outrageous or out of the ordinary, stunned her friend when she was asked with 'My name is Shaniqua!' The poor woman struggled with that too while the two giggly teenagers waited on their coffees. It's nice to see Charlotte starting to come out of her shell!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A slight misunderstanding

Oh dear - it seems Amaia got a different end of the stick from the rest of us. We've been building this new hamster cage for a month now out of an Ikea Expedit. We were making a bigger one because she'd outgrown the one we'd bought when she was a baby. Finally this week we got in all her furniture and sawdust and moved her over, so we popped her in and she happily ran about having a ball.

Then yesterday Thomas got round to taking apart her old cage and washing it out. Of course, this is so she can go on holiday to auntie Linda's house if we should ever win enough on the lotto to drag the seven of us away to the sun.

Amaia, on the other hand, had got it into her head though that it was because we needed it... for another baby hamster. Hmmm... Not only had she decided this completely independently, but she'd also imagined this one would be a baby boy hamster who would be called Humphrey and would one day become Rosie's boyfriend! There seems to be quite a lot of assumption involved!

So her little face dropped somewhat when she bounced in and asked if today was the day we were picking up Humphrey and we all looked blank!

Nice try, Amaia!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Lovage again

Still trying to find a way to use my lovage, I was pleased (if a little surprised) to hear Radio Scotland was discussing lovage today at 1:05pm. I clicked on the recipe link on their website. It sounds quite nice but it also made me smile. I have a sneaking suspicion this recipe was not originally written by a Scottish person despite it being on radio Scotland's webpage. That is a very English typo to me!

Prep Time: 2 mins

Cooking Time: 10 mins

Serves: 4


4 full fillets of haddock (or 2 for a starter)
Rapeseed oil enough to coat the frying pan
1 tbsp chopped lovage leaves (no stork as it is a bit bitter)
1 tbsp chopped fresh tomato (remove the pips)
4 tbsp water
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp fish sauce or a pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper
50g unsalted butter

1.Put the lovage and the water in a small saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer gently until half of the
water has evaporated. Add the olive oil, fish sauce or salt then the chopped tomato, reduce a
little bit then add the butter, bring to the boil and swirl the butter around (no need for a spoon) it
will eventually thicken.
2.Taste for seasoning.
3.Take the saucepan away from the heat while you start cooking the haddock.
4.Heat up the oil in your frying pan, season the fish and place gently in the very hot oil. Be careful
the fish is very delicate and will break easily, reduce the handling to a minimum. Cook it for about
2 minutes on one side then turn it over and turn the heat off it will carry on cooking in the pan.
5.Return your sauce to the heat, place the haddock on to the warm plates then pour the hot
tomato butter sauce over it.
6.Add some salad leaves for a starter or grilled/sautéed vegetables for a main course.

Fridays 1305-1400 & Sundays 1205-1300 92 – 95 FM

Haddock fillet in a lovage

and tomato butter


I've been following HONY on a daily basis for about a year now. It just occurred to me I never mentioned it anywhere and although I often share Brandon's stuff on Facebook, if you're not on there, you might have missed it. I find it fascinating, so if you haven't discovered the Humans of New York blog yet, enjoy!

I think it's something my dad would have found interesting.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Regional accents

A few years ago Thomas and I were in the kitchen when the Combine Harvester song came on the radio. I laughed because I remembered it from my primary school days but Thomas was fascinated. It must have been during another of his 'phases' as I mentioned the other night... his analyzing UK regional accents phase! So he downloaded it and played it till he got the accent in all its glory and quirkiness.

Today while I was driving to school Chris Evans was playing this... I'm wondering if I should mention it to him or if it'll send him off on another trip of discovery? :-)

Pink and sparkly

It started round about the same time as she learned to speak. 'I want earrings, I want earrings' and so it went on. I don't think I got round to thinking about earrings till I was about 11 and I didn't dare ask my parents until I was 12 or 13! But Anna knows her own mind. She cranked it up last summer but too late in the holiday to get it done. You see they need to stay in for six weeks before being taken out and at school they like kids to take them out for PE. So last week she had her sports' day and her teacher told her she didn't need to bring back a her PE kit this year, so the assault started. Every day, all weekend and so on, so I promised she could go today because Léon was going home with a friend after school.

I must have been thinking about it subconsciously because I had an amusing dream about it at the weekend. Despite having had my own ears pierced as a teenager, I started to imagine that instead of using the little stapler gun, they put a full head mask on the person and shot earrings through the little holes. It was a bit Hannibal Lecter to be honest. Anyway, in my dream, they accidentally put an adult mask on Anna and so shot two tiny ruby earrings into her neck. The alarming thing was that neither Thomas nor Anna seemed upset by it and were happily showing them off, while I was fully convinced that as soon as I pulled the ruby out of her jugular, she'd keel over and die! At that point my alarm went off and I woke up in a cold sweat!

Anyway, once I agreed I had to laugh. Suddenly Anna started describing her ideas 'I'll have a pink one in my lobe, another in the centre and a diamond at the top and a pink one in my nose' etc I realized at once she was describing what my friend Linda (here on the right, who'd been round for dinner the previous week) has. She really is pushing her luck for a five year old!

So far the two tiny pink studs seem to have pacified her for now and she's now desperate to go in to school and show her best friend Akshara as she has nice little pearl ones.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Coca Cola? Give us Scots Irn Bru any day! ;-)

Ornamental lovage?

So I tried the lovage and potato soup I mentioned the other night...

Charlotte went first: This is quite nice, apart from that herby flavour and smell.
Then Marcel sat down, he ate about three spoonfuls: I can't eat this mum, that herb tastes bloody awful!
Amaia picked up her spoon, put it down and said: I'll just have bread and butter!
Thomas decided that it was just about passable but needed: a bit less lovage. (That kind of defeats the purpose!)
I ate it but to be honest it'd have been nicer with leek or parsley or something else.
Léon and Anna were out for dinner tonight so I'm pinning all my hopes on them - failing that I guess we have a six foot ornamental lovage plant in our herb patch if anyone wants a cutting?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Scotsman

Thomas is an intellectual. He is completely unable to lie on the couch scratching his balls in front of a football match, drinking a beer or whatever it is men are meant to do... So he goes through phases... phases that are fascinating to watch from a spectator's position! We've had the heraldic phase - apparently there's some usefulness to being able to describe something as 'burely of 10 argent and azure, a lion rampant queue fourché in saltire gules armed, langued and crowned or' (whit?!) There was his fruit-tree planting extravaganza in the early days of our garden - thou shalt not plant anything that can't be eaten - or something like that. We're currently immersed in his beer-brewing (from the bottom up, not a kit) stage (so we have recipes written over the centuries by monks lying around in piles on the bed), his cider-making and wine-making stages. Ongoing also we have the Scrabble and Diplomacy battles, not to mention his voracious appetite for Scottish politics. Star Trek goes without saying, of course (including Hamlet in Klingon...) Beyond that there's history, cooking, travel and everything to do with computing and linguistics. The list is endless...

Of course, given his university linguistics background he also goes through language phases. The first I remember was lying in bed at night pregnant with Anna, listening to him muttering in Gaelic under his breath. That was, of course, accompanied by the News on BBC Alba, Gaelic kiddie TV and his discovery of Radio Alba, so having to re-tune the car radio every time I used his for the school run - ho hum. But Gaelic wasn't enough of a challenge so he moved onto his ancient Greek phase. I was spared most of it as it was more of a bus into the office thing, though my house was covered in post-its written in Greek. But then he started working from home which meant more time in bed at night and that inevitably led to Mandarin. So not only did I get muttering under the duvet every evening, but it was accompanied by a curious, rapid swishing noise which turned out to be him tracing the characters on the page of his book with one finger in order to learn how to write them. (This guy is just too clever for me by half!) But of course, there was another challenge, I could never have foreseen, but I should have guessed that once I'd put him in a kilt, even if it was only once, it was an inevitability - Scots. He's decided to learn Scots properly. It started with subtle questions to me of the type - What did your Gramps call a...? Then he spent an afternoon on Spotify listening to every (no I'm not kidding!) rendition of Burns' A Man's a man just to compare all the different pronunciations of every word. Then he found a facebook group and now there's no stopping him. He's posting on there all the time in Scots!:

Buttermilk: Whit dae ye caw "buttermilk" in Scots? In the dictionars I've fund kirnmilk, bladdoch, foorach, soor douk and whey -- dae ye uise onie o thaim?
Like ·  · Follow Post · 9 hours ago
  • Norma  likes this.

  • Michael  Na, I dinna. I didna really ken aboot buttermilk tae I bade in Finland. There it's caad piima. Ye can buy the Polish vairsion aa ower the place nooadays. It's maslanka. Supposed tae cure a hangover, sae the Finns say, oniewey.

  • Thomas Widmann Fowk drink it aw the time in Denmark, tae.

  • Thomas Widmann In Dens, it's "kærnemælk", and in Dutch, it's "karnemelk", jist like Scots "kirnmilk". In German it's "Buttermilch", jist like in Inglis

Now every time I talk to him I can see he's analysing in his head how to translate what I just said into Scots. It's just as well we're living in troubled economic times, otherwise I could see a PhD thesis looming on the horizon! (And while I am sitting trying to write this he's explaining orthographic conventions from Reformation times in my right ear while reading me the church rules (not for religious purposes, for linguistic ones!) Never a dull moment!)

Of course I call these phases but they aren't finite. Everything started is ongoing, they just stack up. I'm still finding the car radio on Alba although he's not in an overtly Gaelic phase at the moment. I sometimes wonder how he manages not to exhaust himself. No wonder he has no time for armchair sport.

All these topics are also the mainstay of our dinner times - the kids must find it ever so refreshing, or just plain odd whenever they are invited to dinner with a schoolfriend!

Anyway, for all my piss-taking, it's never dull and I wouldn't have him any other way. He may have no idea who is currently in the Premier division (if that's what is is called) but he's fascinating to watch, to know and to love!


I've recently started playing with this Instagram thingy on my phone. Given I use Nikon and Sony DSLRs usually, I tend to be a bit of a photo snob and am often found rolling my eyes when phone and camera are mentioned in the same sentence, but I'm surprised to find I quite like the raw, natural quality of some of the shots. And although I can't bring myself to choose that over-orangey '1977' option, it does make me smile fondly and remember some dodgy photos taken on old holidays in Blackpool in my youth on dad's Kodak Instamatic 126!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Domesticated at last?

It has suddenly occurred to me (yeah, I'm slow) that I have had four gooseberry bushes in my garden for the last four years and every year I simply eat the berries with some cream. Why have I never tried to make gooseberry jam or gooseberry fool? I think it's time I made an attempt at becoming a domesticated goddess in my middle age!

Getting soft

I must be getting soft in my old age...

When we got Rosie, it wasn't so much that we wanted a hamster, as we'd ruled out everything else - I don't do dogs, especially not in this wet a climate, a cat wouldn't survive long this close to a bus route, I wasn't cleaning out guinea pigs or rabbits outside in the cold and fish are too booooring so it had to be a hamster. But I actually feel she's becoming a genuine member of the family. She's bringing out all sorts of nurturing instincts in the three wee ones, Amaia (surprisingly) in particular.

Anyway, sadder still, when we got her an old friend recommended that the kids might enjoy reading the Humphrey Hamster books (thanks Cynthia!) so I have been reading the first one 'The World according to Humphrey' at night - not only is it going down well with the wee ones, but I have noticed that Charlotte (13) is rushing down to the living room every night at 9pm sharp 'to do her homework'! It has nothing at all to do with the Humphrey book she claims, though I know she's listening intently, and to be honest, I am a bit annoyed when it comes bedtime because I'm enjoying it myself but I think they might send round the wee white van if I actually admit I am finding it hard not to read in bed at night!

Amaia is already asking if we can call our second hamster Humphrey, when we get him... I can see a garage conversion any day now!

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Thomas planted lovage in our garden four years ago. It was about the size of one of those plastic drinking cups you get with a water cooler. He thought we could use it occasionally for soup. Lovage, like rhubarb seems to be a plant that can cope with the shitty Scottish climate and our lovage plant has this week grown taller even than my 6' husband. So I am in desperate need of lovage recipes. I think I'll give this one a go later in the week. Ideally, looking at my garden I could do with a recipe that needs both lovage and rhubarb... but I'm not sure I will find too many of those!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sprinkler fun

Last week we ate and sat outside all day every day. That was lovely but led to Léon becoming a little more autonomous than I might have liked. Mid-week he found our older sprinkler, put it up and had great fun jumping through it in his uniform, complete with brolly (I'm not sure what that was meant to do against water coming from below!) I remembered from my own childhood that nothing could come close to jumping through a sprinkler on a hot day, so left him to it.

A few days later on Sunday I was trying to work in the living room on a translation. The kids were in and out in the sun and I was grumpy at missing it. Suddenly I heard Lots shriek in a way only a teenage girl can 'Oh my god! Oh my god! I'm telling mum! MUUUUUUUMMM!' I disentangled myself from my laptop and followed the voice through to what had previously been my front hall. I say previously as it was now my indoor swimming pool! Léon had gone out once again, attached the sprinkler, turned it on placing it (heaven only knows why) at the foot of the steps at my front door, then he'd come in for his brolly and forgotten to shut the front door. Simultaneously Emma from two doors up had turned up and asked him out to play so he'd gone off completely forgetting a) it was on and b) the door was wide open. I'm not sure how long it was on but it was definitely deep enough that there was a welly, two letters (from Saturday's post), and a Yellow Pages floating freely! It took most of my bathroom towels to salvage the carpet.

Don't you love him?

You've got to love her!

Anna has been a hoot this last week. Since she started watching Léon doing his homework even before she started school so she easily shot up to being one of two or three pupils at the top of her class from the beginning. She's a confident wee thing so she states the truth as she sees it. This quote from the other morning on the school run made me laugh: 'Léon, I'm in the triangles group at the moment but if I keep doing your work, by the time I reach p3, I'll be so far ahead they'll need to make a special group just for me. They'll probably call it the 'Octagons'!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Have some fun!

When I was at school I pushed myself to study what I considered to be academically sensible. At 'O' Grade stage that was fine - I didn't know what I wanted to do so nine completely academic subjects in 4th year was fine.

I chose Chemistry instead of History which I preferred at Higher because I wanted to keep both languages and sciences open as a university possibility. So I did a boring, but sensible set of five Highers - English, Maths, Chemistry, German, French.

However, my sixth year choices were completely silly. I had decided by then to go to uni to study for a French and German MA. I had received an unconditional offer from both Glasgow and Edinburgh based on my Higher results and so I decided to spend my sixth year doing CSYS (aka Advanced Higher) French, German and Maths. French and German were reasonably sensible because of what I was going on to do and gave me a good grounding but Maths was insane. I chose Maths because I was great at Maths. The problem was I found Maths unimaginably boring and totally useless. Given I already had a Higher, doing the CSYS wasn't going to give me skills I'd need for later life. I probably should have decided in 6th year to supplement two CSYSs with something useful but less academic such as doing an 'O' grade typing (I can still only type with six fingers, even if I can do it fast!) I could have taken up something I enjoyed - like History which I hadn't done at Higher, or I could have crashed something interesting like Biology Higher. I could even have done something I was terrible at, but enjoyed such as an 'O' Grade Art. I'd have struggled to scrape a 'C' given my lack of talent but it would have been fun. My pride wouldn't let me take a subject at a lower level than CSYS because I wanted to prove to me and everyone else I was capable of working at the highest school level, so I sat for six hours a week counting the seconds till the end of that year in a class with four of five guys I barely knew while my friends enjoyed themselves better. I didn't have the confidence to let myself underachieve, as I saw it. Given I felt I was too young to go to uni (because I knew my course necessitated a move abroad in the third year), I should have taken my foot off the accelerator and learned to enjoy being me.

Of course - CSYS Maths would have been completely sensible had I not had an unconditional, but as I had one I would love to go back and advise 17 year old me that it was ok to do something fun for a change and that no one would think me less intelligent for not doing it! I've spent my whole adult life writing books on a computer, so typing would have been much better for me than Maths!

Interestingly it was Marcel's wisdom that made think about this. He was saying how much he was going to push himself in 5th year (which he starts tomorrow), with a view to studying a little of what might broaden his mind in 6th. I guess I must be an ok parent, to have such a wise little boy!

Up close

I've been experimenting this week with taking photos from physically further away but much closer up using my 300mm lens. I think by being less obviously present in the photo I am capturing the kids' real personalities a bit better. They are all lovely but I thought this shot in particular shows what a gentle wee soul Amaia is.

I liked these two too. Léon was having fun in the sprinkler with an umbrella and had taken off his specs for once, and Anna's two odd eyes stand out because hers have slipped further down that usual.

Now to try and tie one and two down for a proper shoot...

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


Flickr's new interface is annoying me. I like being able to see the collage of photos and at first glance it is pretty and bloglike but you can't see any of the info on views and comments anymore without clicking on individual photos which is tedious and I've noticed that the landscape photos are much larger in the collage than the portrait ones so you end up skimming over some of the better ones because they don't stand out as much.

And is it just my imagination or is the page loading more slowly too?

Note to self

Share this with Charlotte, Léon, Anna and Amaia when they are old enough to understand it. Marcel gets so much of it already...

Monday, June 03, 2013

Age 3

One of the things I love most about three is language development. Amaia is quite articulate and can hold a meaningful conversation about many varied topics but at the moment she is finding it hard not to mix up the words 'sandal', 'handle' and 'candle'. All three have become 'candle' in her world so this morning she wanted to go to nursery wearing her 'sparkly, orange candles'. Yesterday she wanted 'to bounce on the big blue space hopper with the two candles you hold onto at the top'. It's very cute. Reminds me vaguely of an episode of Allo Allo that revolved around the candle with the handle in the gâteau in the château...

Just now after nursery - quote of the day, sobbing and pointing at her feet: 'I couldn't run properly today at sports because of these bloody candles'. 'Do you mean muddy sandals, pet?' 'Yes!'

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Building pyramids

I love it when Marcel allows the inner child to pop out once in a while. Between chats about who's hot (sorry 'fit'), which Highers to sit and what uni to go to, he still manages the odd pyramid in the kids' sandpit, just to help them out, of course.

This month's little morsel

This month's winner - from the French entry is possibly 'après avoir en purée les haricots'. I'm not sure that would pass any grammar checker.

The German though is once again hands down winner. I am struggling to find a stretch of more than four words that sounds in any way idiomatic! It's hard to single out a worst bit, though I am particularly fond of 'gut mischen und die Mischung 10 Minuten'. D'oh!