Friday, December 18, 2015

Why do we buy presents?

...when the box is always so much more fun?

Me: What are you up to guys?
Anna: Oh, we're just sitting in this box and I'm reading Amaia a story.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Humans of New York

If you've read me before, you know I'm a big fan of Humans of New York. Once again, Brandon's left New York and is currently interviewing families of refugees from Iraq and Syria. By putting a face to these people, you can see that the only reason that they are in that situation instead of you, is simply the postcode lottery of birth. I defy anyone to read their stories and not feel a connection.

And if you have a moment, please read 'Aya's story' and help Brandon with his call for her to be helped.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Danish Xmas in Scotland

Last week we went to Ikea's Xmas party to celebrate St Lucia in true Scandinavian style. The kids had a ball as always, as they danced round the tree, in a way you just don't in Scotland - our trees tend to be found in the corners of rooms or against a window with no room to dance at all. We try to attend it every year, in a vague attempt at Scandinavianizing our Xmas!

At the weekend Charlotte helped the little ones make Danish Xmas biscuits. After all she has been part Danish since she was just six years old. She's even introduced her own personal touch (coconut pandan from the Chinese supermarket) and that has added a streak of green through everything. But it is weird really, when you consider that this is our tenth Xmas as part of a Danish family, and we have never spent Xmas in Denmark. Thomas's parents don't tend to spend Xmas there so there's no home base to return to. Thomas does his best to tell us of their traditions and we do our version: we bake the cookies, we make gingerbread houses, the kids make Scandinavian decorations for our tree. The kids watch their daily episodes of their own imported Julekalender DVDs and have hand-wrapped gifts every day unlike their classmates whole tend to have a chocolate calendar. We have real candles on our real tree while all the neighbours cower in terror at the thought of naked flames on a tree. We have no Santa and we give our gifts on the 24th, not the 25th. The children have always known there's no Santa so spend their childhood keeping their guilty secret from schoolmates, neighbours and even the cousins they see on Xmas day. Their eyes twinkle when they greet them with the question: What did Santa bring you? and they play along, knowingly. In fact we sleep late on Xmas morning when every other house in the street has been up and bouncing since the wee small hours. Half tenish is a normal enough time for us to stir on Xmas morning and that is a whole lot more civilized than the 5ams my friends report! We force down the obligatory herring and rye bread with Schnapps for lunch on the 24th, because Thomas assures us that's what we're meant to do, though only so we can secretly get to the duck as that tastes a whole lot better! But is that what Scandinavian Xmas is like? I don't really know because I've never tried it. All dreams of a log cabin in the snow are just that - only dreams.

I wonder if he has managed to make it real enough for the kids to carry these traditions on into their families when they are older or if the fact that we never made it to Denmark during their childhood will eventually lead to them losing that connection? It would be a real shame given the huge effort Thomas has put in over the years, but will they manage to connect it to their roots in a country they sadly rarely visit or will they simply see our traditions as one family's idiosyncrasies?

Ikea Xmas party

As honorary Scandinavians, we made our annual pilgrimage to Ikea canteen last week for salmon, meatballs and a selection of Swedish desserts, topped off with Swedish entertainment and gingerbread tree biscuit decorating for the kids. It's funny how many of the other guests you start to recognize when you go every year (both to that and their August crayfish party) - from some of the staff from Charlotte's school to Glaswegian Chinese woman with possibly the most ostentatious specs in the West! Even the lady who sells the Xmas trees greeted us with 'Oh hello, you're the Danes who come every year!' - creatures of habit, that's us. If our kids have as many kids as we did, we'll be able to fill their ticket quota single-handedly in about 25 years time!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Monday, December 07, 2015

Kids will be kids

Thomas: Come on kids, let's tidy up, granny will be here soon! 
3,4&5: Awwwwh! 
Thomas: Don't you want granny to come? 
3,4&5: Yes we want her to come... we just want her to come to messy!

Friday, December 04, 2015

A child's view of our world

Anna: Mummy, you know how Lily is a Syrian hamster?
Me: Yes.
Anna: Are the hamsters going to be ok? I heard there was a war in Syria. Will there be no more hamsters any more? Are Lily's family going to be ok?

Where do you begin?

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Birthday planner

Children really know how to make you feel guilty! 

Today Anna came bouncing up to me: I think it's probably about time I stopped coming into your bedroom without knocking!
Me (searching my recent memory for any time we might have been a bit too loud and terrified to ask!): Really?
Anna: Of course, I'd hate to walk in and find (Gulp, what's she going to say!?) you in the middle of wrapping all my birthday presents. I figured you must have everything bought and organized since it's December now!
Me: (I'm not sure this one has sussed her parents' organizational skills! If it isn't birthday eve (ie 18/12) then the chances of anything being wrapped, or even bought are slim, and slimmer still with poor Anna as her birthday is way too close to Christmas for comfort!) Oh yes, Anna, good idea!

Suggestions on what you buy an 8 year old whose main interest at the moment seems to be human anatomy on a postcard please?!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Modern times

So I was sitting in the TV room reading to the youngest two, one on either side. Anna was on my left. She started twiddling my engagement and wedding rings around my finger. Then we had a surreal conversation that really makes you wonder how the kids of today's minds work.

Anna: Is this your wedding ring mummy?
Me: The flat one is my wedding ring, the one with the diamond is my engagement ring.
Anna: They're nice.
Me: Yes.
Anna: I guess they are a nice way to remember daddy.
Me: Well yes, but I live with daddy, so I don't need them to remember him by.
Anna: I know but they'd come in handy if say you ever ran away with another man and you wanted to remember daddy after you'd gone!
Me: I'm not planning on running anywhere Anna, I love daddy. (What a bizarre thought! Given I have been divorced, I know exactly how likely I'd be to want to wear my rings to remember an ex-partner!)
Anna: Well I guess they'd work if he got killed by a bus too!

Jeezo - what do the kids of today watch on the telly?!

Monday, November 23, 2015

That didn't take long

Edinburgh streets

I remember the first time I moved away from home and from Glasgow for any significant time, that is to say for a stay of more than a couple of months. I was 19 and I moved to France at the end of August of 1987. For the first few weeks I stayed with my then boyfriend (now ex-husband) in Besançon, then I went on to a teacher training course in Nancy and finally I moved to Bruyères in the Vosges around the second week of September. Bruyères was to be my home for the next ten months. I knew no one and no one I knew lived within about three hours of where I was. I met my German flatmate a couple of days later and she was in the same position. We were to become close, simply because we were the only two strangers in that very close-knit town.

For the first few weeks, I wondered what I had done. There I was in a town of 4000 inhabitants in the middle of nowhere. The kids I was teaching had little interest in learning English. The boys wanted to grow up to work for the forestry commission. The girls wanted to have kids and bake cakes as their mothers did. I felt at the same time that  I had landed on the moon, and gone back in time by about a generation! I couldn't begin to imagine I would ever feel at home in a tiny village after a lifetime twenty minutes from Scotland's largest city. If my degree hadn't depended on it, I'm not 100% sure I'd have returned after Christmas but when I did, something had changed. I suddenly started to feel at home. I began to appreciate the slower pace of life. I liked the loss of my anonymity. When I returned to France, I liked the fact that the woman in the Post Office asked if I'd enjoyed my trip back home. I liked the kids waving to me as they drove by. I had become part of a community. And when I drove out of that town for the last time the following June, it was blinded by tears and with a crowd waving me off. Slowly that had become home and Scotland had become abroad.

Marcel acted very bravely when he left home. He's only eighteen and although he's fairly mature and worldly wise for his age, he looked a little out of his depth as he opened the door to his student room for the first time. After a month, he'd grown up enough to admit to Thomas, who was through in Edinburgh for a meeting so had taken him for a pizza, that the first few weeks had been terrifying. Worse than back in my day when we had communicated through snail mail, he'd spent his first few weeks watching his large group of friends from Glasgow, none of whom had had the balls to make the jump, still socializing together as he sat in a strange city alone. He wondered what on earth he'd done. And of course, given he got into Glasgow uni too but turned it down, he definitely had a feeling of 'if only'.

Fast forward to last Friday. He turned up here as he'd been invited to a party. He seemed lighter and happier. He's grown greatly in the last ten weeks. I asked how he was and he explained that this was the first time he'd come home and realized home was away and away was home. He went on to clarify that when he left Edinburgh he'd said goodbye to his flatmates and the caretaker in his building because he knows them well. At the bus stop into Edinburgh he'd spoken to a little old lady who is often at his bus stop, he'd greeted the bus driver who he also knew and had spoken to the Polish lady in the coffee shop who serves him when he passes, but on arrival in Glasgow he became anonymous. The bus drivers, the shop owners, the people at the bus stops were strangers. So although he knew the city well, he felt more at home in Edinburgh than Glasgow.

Although that brings a secret tear to my eye, it makes me immensely happy at the same time. He now has the tools to go anywhere and do anything he wants, whether that is on the other side of the world, or one day back here, only time will tell.

A special bond

When Marcel moved out, I wondered what effect that would have on the relationship between him and the very youngest of his siblings. I wondered if the fact that they were so young would make them less close. It seems those worries were unfounded.

I walk into a room and find that they are chatting together on Skype, often initiated by the youngest ones. They jump with joy when he comes through the door and rush over to sit on him. They trip over their tongues trying to fill him in on what he's missed. They ask how long he's staying over and over.

Tonight, as he went to catch the last train back home, Amaia spontaneously came out with: I love Marcel so much, he's my second daddy!

Monday, November 16, 2015

The madness of the five child household!

"Put your shoes away in the shoe cupboard Amaia, please"

Two hours later... Wow, I love it for its innovation - this is a first!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Learning to spell - sort of

Amaia: The other day the teacher was going over the letter O with us.
Me: So did you all have to put up your hands if you knew any words beginning with O?
Amaia: Yes. Some of the boys and girls only knew little words like on or off but I knew a big word so I put up my hand.
Me: And did the teacher pick you?
Amaia: Yes, so I said orthodontist because I remembered that Marcel and Charlotte always used to go to the orthodontist.
Me: I bet she was impressed.
Amaia: Yes. I was thinking about it later and I was annoyed with myself.
Me: Why? Orthodontist is a good word.
Amaia: I know but I remembered later that we went to Edinburgh last week and I could have sounded really clever if I'd mentioned that we climbed Orthur's Seat!

Hmmm - really clever? Maybe not...

The four seasons of Wednesday walks at Whitelee





Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New room

After Marcel moved out, we promised the girls we'd redecorate their room (and then Léon's). In the days when we had only the oldest three kids, it had been Marcel's room and he had painted it bright red. Later we turned our bedroom into a home office, which took us down to four bedrooms forcing the three youngest to share the original master bedroom. During this time we'd made it space-themed. The girls were just desperate to make it brighter and more elegant. Anna decided she wanted turquoise, Amaia wanted lilac so we decided to compromise to keep them both happy. They weren't let in on what we'd bought and Charlotte and I spent most of the October holiday locked inside. We told the girls they weren't allowed in. Lots even told them she had chosen black for their walls and was painting it Halloween-themed. Amaia looked dubious but said that would be ok - ever the tactful. Finally, with a day to go (we'd finished the painting but not the tidying), they could no longer be contained, so Thomas blindfolded them and brought them in. They seemed very pleased with the result of the make-over.

Finally, today we added the finishing touches, so that's one room down. Now we're onto Léon!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Love parenting...

One of those amusing parenting moments:

Amaia: Mummy?
Me: Yes?
Amaia (pensive): Can you only get Wee Willie Winkie's sausages?
Me: What do you mean?
Amaia: I mean do they also do Wee Vagina Winkie's for girls?

Me: *Chokes on her lunch*

Thursday, October 08, 2015


Yeah, I know I'm a soppy old fool but this made me cry. As I get older, it never ceases to amaze me how short life really is. Yesterday I was the child, now even my oldest child isn't a child. Apart from death (and the dog), I've already ticked off everything in this list, and having witnessed my parents during dad's illness, I've touched on that from as close as you can before you touch it yourself.

Enjoy the little things, because it'll be over before you know it.

Nursery tales

Charlotte has been helping out at Amaia's old nursery this week as part of the compulsory work experience scheme in her school. Today she came in laughing about how little the kids seemed to be on the ball...

Charlotte: I asked them what day it was today, thinking that wasn't too hard a question. The first one to stick his hand up replied 'Saturday', the second asked if it was 'nursery day' and one wee guy at the back was almost wetting himself waiting for me to pick him to answer so I asked him what day it was and he proudly announced 'It's tomorrow, isn't it?'


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Humans of New York again

This week HONY's photographing refugees arriving in Europe and having them recount their stories. Read them.

Mary Queen of Cakes

Arran day trip

Leafing through this month's Waitrose magazine with a view to finding the recipe for their ghost meringue Halloween cake, featured on the cover, Charlotte came across a photo of our current queen. I use the word 'our' loosely, as I am not a royalist and really do not like the idea of a head of state who isn't elected... Charlotte, of course, knows my feelings on the subject and also knows that I don't take an interest in any of the royal family gossip floating around the magazine shelves of the local supermarkets. Wondering if Amaia too had picked up on my indifference to all things royal, Charlotte turned to her and asked 'Amaia, do you know who this lady is?' , pointing at the queen...
'Emmmm, is it Mary Berry?' she asked! I think she has indeed inherited my profound indifference to the royal family, and perhaps she's also inherited my love of cake!

Monday, October 05, 2015

It's not what you think, kids!

I love to discover subtle cultural differences. This amused me last week. My father-in-law brought it from Denmark as the kids miss it, given they never get the opportunity to go there. But although the kids are half Danish, their UK cultural programming was at work... I noticed that every time they reached for it to put it on their bread, they completely subconsciously assumed, wrongly in this case, that blue would be the milk chocolate and red would be plain!


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Indy boy

Yes Scotland's first annual Independence rally

A friend sent me this link last week. We often joke with each other on social media as both her kids' photos and mine are often use to illustrate Indy-themed newspaper articles, posters, videos (3:43) and similar. (I'm sure this is simply because I have tagged so many of them as creative common on flickr.)

So on Saturday we popped along to the George Square Hope over fear anniversary rally. The kids know the routine by now. You get flags and face paint and generally have fun. Léon sat down in the chair when it came his turn for facepaint, and the volunteer who was doing the painting stared at him. He took off his glasses and she stared again pointing. 'It's you!' she said. Then she turned to me 'It's him!' I was confused. I didn't know her. Then she elaborated, somewhat awestruck: 'It's the wee boy from the newspaper articles and the posters, isn't it?!' I've never been great with faces so I would never have picked up on something like that myself, but it was sweet to see him starting to be recognized as 'that wee boy!'

Anyway, maybe her work will get him into another publication or two (these are quickies from my phone, I haven't uploaded the camera batch to flickr yet - sorry to keep his public waiting! ;-) )

Monday, September 14, 2015

On the right track

Today Marcel moved to Edinburgh. It feels odd not knowing if he's in or out or when he is in for the night. It's not the first time he's been away so I have spent the last four or five years slowly letting him go, but it isn't any easier, just because you know he's old and wise enough. I suspect my impressions of the new set-up will develop slowly over the coming days.

But one thing that did make me smile today is the knowledge that we must be doing something right. As Marcel ran around packing the car, the smallest three also seemed to be running around purposefully. As he hugged them goodbye, Léon stepped forward as spokesperson and handed Marcel £1-10 in coins. 'Look, we know it isn't much but we've all clubbed together to give you this so you won't need to worry about dinner and stuff like that once you move out!' he said seriously, handing over the cash he and his sisters had taken from their piggy banks for him. What sweet kids they are, even if it isn't going to get Marcel very far at all in the capital!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Five year old logic

Amaia and I were walking round Waitrose yesterday when she came out with the following piece of  wisdom...
Amaia: Mummy, can we buy bananas?
Me: Sure, but I thought you didn't like bananas?
Amaia: I don't but it is Lily's first birthday tomorrow and she likes bananas.
The world's cutest hamsterMe: That's a lovely idea. Let's buy her a banana then.

Two aisles further on...

Amaia: We need a cake mix.
Me: What for?
Amaia: Well, we need to celebrate her birthday too! It wouldn't be fair if we had to have banana, would it?

I guess she had it all planned out so she could get some cake! And it worked!

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Final countdown

This is how you run a family with this many kids... well it is how we do anyway, and it works. Every three months or so Thomas produces a chart like this and it gets stuck on the fridge door so we can see with plenty of warning when we might be unavailable and in need of a swap on tasks. Two days ago the last plan ran out. Computationally, Thomas decided it was much easier to run the new plan till Marcel leaves and then produce yet another one without him on, rather than programming for him being available till 11/9 but not beyond, so he printed this out and stuck it on the fridge door. The kids gathered round as usual to see who was on on their birthdays, at Halloween etc only to find this short plan instead. Thomas explained the rationale behind it. And poor Léon looked distraught as if the penny had finally dropped and walked away wailing and panicked 'Is this all the time we have left with Marcel?' It is going to take everyone a bit of getting used to.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

What parenting is all about...

"You realize, mum, that when I move out in ten days time, we will probably never live together again? I know I'll come back for extended stays, holidays, even the odd summer, but unless I completely fuck up, I am not likely to move back in with you guys again. This is the start of my adult life and I am so buzzing for it! Moving out now is so right for me."

Mearns Castle High School Prom

Over coffee this morning my eighteen year old son came out with this momentous piece of philosophy... Of course, as his mum, I have been painfully aware of this fact since the day he rejected Glasgow's and accepted Edinburgh uni's offer back in May but it is now hitting him too. Up till now I guess he's been thinking of going to uni term time and coming home on holidays. But as he's matured and started to think about the reality, he realizes that although visits will be fun, moving back in with his family in five years time is very unlikely. It's onwards and upwards from here on in. He's going to grow and he's not going to come home again because he's going off to make his own home. It hurts and fills me with pride in equal measure. If he has the confidence and the life skills to make this move now, we must have done it right but by doing it so right, we lose him a little.

It feels odd. It feels too soon, and yet I can see he's ready. But my own uni days still feel so close (despite the 30th anniversary get together with my uni friends this month!), I feel almost jealous of the journey he's about to embark upon. Will it be easier next time round? Will I be better prepared in three years time or will it hurt a little more each time as the house slowly becomes quieter and the need to buy a 5kg block of cheese on a monthly basis recedes?! Only time will tell...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Modern Family?

I love modern day assumptions...

Charlotte has a new Spanish teacher this year. He's new to the school. So in the first lesson he takes the usual 'stand up and tell me a bit about yourself' approach. She tries to say in Spanish that she lives with her parents, two brothers and two sisters and hamster... he stops her and corrects her Spanish, laughing, you realize you said 'two brothers and two sisters - that would make five of you'!
'Eh, yes actually...' 
'Oh! You actually meant that! Wow!'

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Well who'd have believed it possible?

Sorting through my Amaia's 'first day at school' photos just now and having a wee trip down memory lane something struck me and surprised me. See if you too can spot it?

Marcel's first day at school (2002):

Charlotte's first day at school (2005): Disclaimer - I am 8 months pregnant, I am not a whale ;-)

Léon's first day at school (2010):

Anna's first day at school (2012):

Amaia's first day at school (2015):

It is a little hard to spot - I am apparently wearing the same skirt in the first and last photo! So it seems I change my house (and for that matter, my husband ;-) ) more often than I change the contents of my wardrobe! Hee hee!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A sweet family resemblance

At 1m40 and just 32kg Léon is a gazelle-like nine year old who springs everywhere he goes. He rarely sits still or quietly.

At 1m80 and 73kg Marcel is into weight training and swaggers around calmly trying to look like the coolest and most gorgeous eighteen year old on the face of the planet. 

However, faced with a deep gorge seven hours into a hill walk, the gulf between my boys seems suddenly to fade away to nothing!

Humans of New York in Pakistan

I check Hony every day in life. The photographer, Brandon, always meets the most interesting people and somehow manages to get their story.

For the past three weeks he has been in Pakistan instead, photographing the real people of Lahore. I so wish the Daily Mail, Mirror, Express etc readers could be forced to visit his page daily instead of reading their usual vitriol. It would truly make the world a better place. I take my hat off to you Brandon, for showing the world the real Pakistan.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


Edinburgh day trip

Love this photo Lots captured of her wee sister in Edinburgh on Monday - it is just her: the shy smile, the freckles, the bright eyes!

The boy who can't swear (yet, anyway!)

Edinburgh day trip

Léon is a wee bit of a goody two-shoes when it comes to swearing. Just shy of ten and he won't even say 'Shut up!', not even to his siblings when they are winding him up, preferring to mutter the likes of 'Nincompoop!' under his breath, much to their general hilarity! It's quite comical, particularly in a family of lexicographers and linguists where the nuances of even the worst swear words are often analysed over dinner and where we have a very relaxed attitude in general to swearing, because of our jobs. When you get paid to define or translate 'fuck' in a dictionary, it's a bit rich to ban its use in the house!

So once we noticed his aversion to it all, we decided to have some fun with it... Thomas started by showing him an article about the infamous Austrian beer 'Fucking Hell' and then asking his opinion about it. As a native German speaker (as well as Danish) Thomas was of course pronouncing it properly, so it sounded rather different to the English curse, but Léon stuck to his guns and refused to make any attempt other than calling it 'that beer Effing Hell'

Tonight, I was in the kitchen filling the dishwasher when the whining sound of his voice approached. Someone was obviously winding him, and he was on his way to complain. 'Sort it out between yourselves, you're old enough!' I shouted to pre-empt the clyping but to no avail. In he came to the kitchen and proclaimed 'It's Charlotte, mum! She called me a Smart Bottom-bad-word!' It took me a few seconds to realize she must actually have called him a Smart arse! I think we're going to have quite a lot of fun with this before he braves a Ron Weasleyesque 'Bloody Hell'

Monday, July 27, 2015

Boy to man

Given my son is off in Greece enjoying himself today on his 18th birthday, I am not spending my evening taking him to dinner or throwing him a party or any of the other things I might have been doing had he been here. So as a wee experiment I thought I would look at him through the years to see how a boy becomes a man. I've sewn together photos from he was 8 weeks old till last month, at 12 monthly intervals. He'll probably kill me for doing so, but hey, if he hadn't booked a holiday with his mates to Zante, I would not have had the time on my hands to do it! :-)

So here's his life time, so far, in just 19 images:

Marcel aged 8wks, 1yr, 2yrs, 3yrs, 4yrs

Marcel aged 5yrs, 6yrs, 7yrs, 8yrs, 9yrs, 10yrs

Marcel aged 11yrs, 12yrs, 13yrs,14yrs,15yrs

Marcel aged 16 yrs, 17yrs and finally 4 wks short of 18 yrs.

It's funny. I can still see baby Marcel in them all. I think the biggest jump in a year, well after the first one anyway, is between 11 and 12... It looks like the next 18 months might see some interesting changes in his little brother in that case, as he is about to hit ten!