Friday, 12 September 2014

Alex Salmond - where did he get that chip on his shoulder?

Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, and leader of the "Yes" campaign in the Scottish Independence Referendum taking place next week has been repeatedly hawking the phrase "Team Scotland".  Over the past twelve months Mr Salmond has been pumping up the anti-English rhetoric, mocking opponents and patronizing journalists who ask questions he can't answer.  Where did he acquire the very large chip on his shoulder?
Alex Salmond wants share of Royal baby
image from 

Salmond's start in life was nothing unusual.  He was one of four children, living in a council house in Linlithgow with his civil servant parents.  While he attended Linlithgow Primary School and then Linlithgow Academy he was quiet and hardworking, but also joined in with the fun.  He suffered with asthma, and was often off school, gazing out of the window at the swing park below.  Could he be jealous of the "Eton elite" and "incompetent Lord Snootys" that he derides so eagerly?

One former teacher suggests that the arrival of the BMC car factory in nearby Bathgate might have been a contributing factor.  English workers arrived talking about how they were going to "civilise the Scots" which wouldn't have gone down well with local young Scottish boys.

Alex Salmond, despite his asthma, was desperate to play football.  He followed the Hearts of Midlothian team, and took delight in memorizing facts and figures about the game.  His first trip to England, aged 17, was to watch a game between Hearts and Wolverhampton Wanderers.  Hearts won the game, but lost on aggregate.  Salmond was never selected to play football at school, though he has continued to follow both Hearts and Scotland, and often turns up to matches.
Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland.jpg
image from wikipedia

While personal attacks and word games are part and parcel of political wranglings in the 21st Century, Alex Salmond seems to take this to extremes.  He appears to pillory and marginalize those who disagree with his views.  His debating style is aggressive, constantly interrupting and hectoring his opponents, as seen in the recent televised referendum debate.  He can also give the impression of being overbearing, arrogant and patronizing.  Just days ago Alex Salmond handed a bag of Liquorice Allsorts to 26-year-old Daily Telegraph journalist Ben Riley Smith, and called him "son", simply because he was unable to answer the questions which the political reporter kept posing.

According to psychologists, the kind of behaviour where one person feels the need to put other people down, and criticize them or make personal attacks, is either a remnant of our predatory behaviour known as Rankism (Robert W. Fuller, PhD), or it's a sign of low self esteem.  The person making the attacks lacks confidence in their own position or ability, and compensates by putting others down to make themselves feel better.

Could Alex Salmond, by reverting to school playground polarized politics, be playing out his own lack of self-esteem?  Does he feel out of his depth in a political system largely built around English private schools and Oxbridge academia?  His own early political career involved being elected in a mock election at primary school by promising free ice-cream and half days, and then being elected as an office bearer in their University branch of the Federation of Student Nationalists, on the basis of being one of only two paid-up members of the Scottish National Party.  He's climbed to the top of the playground climbing frame, and is clinging on shouting "I'm the King of the Castle, and you're the dirty rascals" - is this really how we want the politics of our country to be decided?


Monday, 8 September 2014

Learning about the seasons

The best way for children to learn about the passing seasons is to spend time outdoors... often.
Find a place (or a few places) that you like and are easy for you to get to.  Try scheduling a regular time each week when you can go there, perhaps after school or on the weekend.  In Britain many "country parks" are managed by the local councils and free to park and enter, but you could also try forestry commission sites, or invest in membership of the RSPB, the National Trust or English Heritage, Cadw or Historic Scotland if they have a suitable location near to you.
Just roam.  Follow a marked trail or follow your nose (or the dog).  Play hide and seek among the trees.  Take a wildlife identification book or card, maybe birds one week, wild flowers the next, and trees the next.  See what you can spot and identify.  Go on a wild-food foraging expedition.  Make sure that you're all suitably dressed and go throughout the year, whatever the weather.  Watch the changing seasons and how the place changes.  Take photos, collect twigs and acorns, blackberries and feathers.
 We've recently moved to Herefordshire, and have discovered Queenswood Country Park.  It's just a mile or so from C's new school, and while not strictly on our way home, it's only a minor detour.  It's 123 acres, of which 47 acres are an arboretum with over 1200 rare and exotic trees.  There are three way-marked trails, all under three miles, so more than suitable for little explorers, who delight in following the trail marker posts.  It also includes a National Trust shop, free parking, a cafe and ice-cream shop (just for treats, not every visit!) and a brilliant adventure playground.  

C has Forest School at school every Monday afternoon starting next week, so will already be suitably dressed for whatever the weather can throw at us, so I think we'll aim for a Monday after-school trip to Queenswood each week (with a flask of hot chocolate for cold days).  Today they played for half an hour, and then we followed the Badger Trail for forty minutes.  I asked them to look out for signs that Autumn is coming, and they obliged me with oak leaves turning brown, blackberries and beech mast.  And the waggy-tailed-one wishes she could learn to climb trees so that she can better chase those squirrels!
I also love some of the seasons activities and printables that you can find on Enchanted Learning.

How do you engage with the changing seasons where you live?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

We're in!

Sorry for the slight break in transmission.  I have been awash in a sea of boxes, trying to keep on top of two children who are tired and excited and nervous and uncertain and need a lot of attention and cuddles, trying to earn a little bit of cash through freelance writing (more in a future post) and all the other paraphernalia that comes with moving.  Hubby is still in Scotland for another couple of weeks until he's worked his notice, but we are here and ready to roll with our first day of school tomorrow.

So... we're in.  And it's beginning to look a little more like a home.  Here's for the big reveal.  Sorry not to have included a picture of the outside of the house.  I forgot that bit!  Basically it's a wooden clad barn conversion, on the end of a terrace of four.  At the front is a lawn with a fence around it, and to the rear is a gravelled yard with a fence around it.  The garden is pretty dull and desperately needs some work.  I'd like to make it a more pleasant place to be, a place for the children to play creatively, and a space where I can grow things.  All without making any permanent changes, because we might only be here for six months and it needs to be returned to its current state when we move out.
Here's the sitting room.  It's looking quite cosy but I still haven't found half the cushions, we haven't hung any pictures yet (not sure if we're allowed), and there are still a couple of boxes lurking at the back.  Also we don't appear to have an aerial, so may need to get a free-sat box or something like that so that we can watch some TV.

The hallway fills me with dread.  There are still a lot of boxes here. 
oops, blurry shot.  Here's one end of the dining room (still plenty of boxes in evidence).

and here's the other end of the dining room - it's a study!  Hubby and I are going to share a desk and computer... eek, I'll have to start tidying up after myself!

The kitchen actually looks like a kitchen.  We just have one more box and a bit of sorting out to do.

without this room, the rest of the house would be a lot messier - its the shoes-and-coats-and-laundry-and-dog-and-downstairs-loo-room.  A couple of boxes left in here, but they are mostly bike stuff for when we get a shed (the bikes are currently under a tarp outside).

Bug's bedroom is about four times the size of her last one.  She's all unpacked, and already making a mess.

the other half of Bug's bedroom. 

C had priorities when we moved in.  Grandma, who was trying to put the bed together, kept being asked to shift the mattress, or whatever else was in his way, so that he could set up his "cafe".  He's now all set up and loving his new bedroom. 
The bathroom is enormous.  A small family could move in here and we'd barely notice.

The master bedroom is now all unpacked, though it's pretty cluttered.  I used to have a large built in wardrobe and a spare room for storing all my craft paraphernalia, clothes for the children to grow into, bedding, spare towels, and other assorted bits... there's no storage here, so I have them stashed all over the bedroom!

Now I just need to get the children settled into their new school and pre-school, get a routine established, get my husband settled in, start earning a bit more cash for my work and sell the house in Scotland.  Then we'll be all ready to make the most of our new life here.  There's plenty of countryside.  Today we came home laden with blackberries, elderberries and apples from our walk... yum!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Stop Yelling Challenge

Children are wonderful.
They can also be intensely frustrating and annoying.
Especially when they are tired, or worried about something, and especially when you are tired or worried about something.
These are the times when we leave sanity behind and start yelling at our children.

I've been a bit of a yeller.
I wouldn't dream of yelling at other people's children when I was teaching, but somehow you forget that when they are your children.  You yell up the stairs to tell them what you want them to do (but we get cross if they yell to us to tell us what they want to do!).  You shout when they fight with each other.  You shout when they won't do as they are told.  You yell when you're late and they think it's a good time to have a lie down on the floor and make funny noises.

Here are a few ways that I'm trying to cut down the yelling in my house.

  1. Go to them.  If it's dinner time in ten minutes, and I want them to put away what they are playing with and get ready for dinner, rather than shout up the stairs, I take the trouble to walk up.  This way I get to see what they are doing (and how much clearing up there is to do), so I can tell them how nicely they are playing, or how amazing their Lego building is... before asking them to stop.  Because I'm right there, they know that they can't get away with not doing it, so compliance comes a lot quicker, and I can give more specific instructions to help with the clearing up too.  It might be easier to shout up the stairs, but I would just end up marching up there shouting ten minutes later when I find that they've completely ignored them, so it's a lot better all round to just go up.
  2. Get Closer.  If they are playing in the garden and start fighting (over the scooter or the swing or what day it is or...) I could just shout at them from where I am.  "Come here!"  "Will you two stop fighting!".  The result: I'm cross because they are fighting.  They are upset with each other.  They are upset with me because I'm shouting at them.  Instead I try going out there.  Maybe I ask one of them to come and help me with a job.  Maybe I join in the game and redirect it slightly or get something else out of the shed so they don't both need the same thing.  Maybe I have a quiet word with the one who's being unreasonable, and help them to calm down.  Whatever I do once I'm out there is likely to calm things down, while shouting from inside would have escalated the situation.
  3. Take deep breaths.  When I gave them half an hour's notice that we'd be leaving the house at 9.30am, then I told them at 9.15 that it was time to tidy up and get their shoes on.  Then I asked them again at 9.20am to get their shoes on.  Then I helped them tidy up and told them to put their shoes on.  It's now 9.35 and one is dressing teddy (with no shoes on) and the other is lying on the floor and squeaking (with no shoes on).  This is the time when mummies explode.  What are my options?  I could put their shoes on for them... no, because I refuse to do things they can do for themselves and encourage laziness and helplessness.  I could walk down the path and get into the car, fuming... no, because there would be panic and tears, and then they'd realise that I won't actually go without them so it's just an empty threat.  I could carry them down to the car without their shoes on... not ideal, because either they would be angry at my heavy-handedness, or they would think it's hilarious and ask to be carried that way every time.  I could shout and yell and they would cry and I'd be angry and we'd all leave the house in a tearful wobbly mess (the usual outcome).  Or... I could count to ten.  Accept that I'm going to be late for wherever we were going.  Take deep breaths.  Get down to their level.  Explain again where we are going, that I understand that they were having a nice time and don't feel like going right now, but point out that I need them to put on their shoes now.  Can you tell that this is the one I find trickiest?  Because after I've counted to ten and calmly explained things to them, if they still don't seem to be getting ready, then the volcanic eruption is even worse, because I've been trying to suppress it.
  4. Give them a hug.  If they are doing something wrong, and they know it, they probably feel pretty bad already.  Sometimes the best response is a hug and a "lets see what we can do about this", this makes them feel as though you and they are working together, not that they have to hide their mistakes because mummy will go mad.
Let's just say... I'm a work in progress.

Friday, 22 August 2014


For the uninitiated, Zentangling is basically just doodling.
The Zen bit comes because when you're zentangling, you can pretty much zone out of everything else, so it's a good way to clear your head.  

For more information about Zentangling, check out the Zentangle website.  Zentangling can produce some really beautiful art, and a quick search on Google Images will get your jaw dropping and your fingers itching to get on with it.

For many people, they'll have been subconsciously zentangling during boring RE lessons or board meetings for years, without ever knowing that it had a name.  I'm one of these.

Discovering the Zentangle website was something of a revelation - they even have Zentangle teachers!

A pretty good way to start is to just draw a loopy line across the paper, crossing over itself many times.  You then fill in each space with a very simple repeating pattern.  You can, however, get much more creative, and put in some very deliberate shapes and patterns, as you'll see with your Google search, and the one above, which features flower shapes.

The "proper" zentanglers only use very fine black pens, but it isn't absolutely necessary.  You'll see from the example above, which was my first attempt at a Zentangle greetings card, that I've used an italic handwriting pen, and coloured pencils.  It's not rocket science, just go with what you've got to hand.

Enjoy your zentangling!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A bit of reverse progress on the model railway

I've posted several times over the last year or so about the progress (slow though it may be!) on the model railway. (here, here, here and here)

You'll notice that we are now selling the house and moving to a rented house for a while before we choose another property, so inevitably progress on the railway has halted.  In fact, the railway was dismantled at an early stage in the marketing of our property, so that the large room upstairs looks a bit more... roomy.
Most parts of the model were carefully taken to bits and packed away ready to be rebuilt to fit whatever space we have available in a few months when we buy a new home.  A different fate awaited the two corners which I'd worked so hard on with C.  Unsure yet how to pack them, Hubby popped them into the newly emptied attic for the time being.  I went in there to fetch out Bug's guitar and found carnage.
Some small mouse-shaped rodents had taken a shine to the papier-mache it seems, and this is all that remained of our hard work:
I managed to rescue a couple of people, my picnic bench and bridge and a couple of sheep, but that's about it.  To be honest I'm quite impressed with how chilled out I am at seeing hours of work destroyed.  It means we'll start afresh with our new layout, and we've learned a few things on the way.  Next time I'll use modroc or plaster to build the scenery for a start, I imagine it's slightly less palatable than the flour/water paste I used for the papier-mache.  I'm intrigued where the rest of the people, the Fimo food and the sheep are gone.  I'm imagining a Borrower or Beatrix Potter-esque scenario with lots of miniature sheep decorating a mouse-hole somewhere.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Spicing up the ordinary

Just a quick post today, on how you can use things creatively to get a bit more milage out of them.
We have a paddling pool, 
we have a hand-me-down pop-up tent.  
So why not put the tent in the paddling pool?

This has been used now as a submarine, an underwater mermaid house, a port/harbour for the boats, a cave for sea animals and much more!

Try an unusual toy juxtaposition and see what happens!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Taking Stock - Take 2

It's been a busy few weeks, so here I am back ready to take stock once more.  I think I'll go for bullet points, because everything is pretty jumbled!

Trip to Hereford.  
  • In our week and a half here, I managed to select a Primary School for C, enrol him and buy the uniform.
  • We went for choosing a school and village we like first, and then hoping to find somewhere to live nearby.
  • Also enrolled Bug at the nearby Pre-school.  It seems a bit chaotic compared to the great place they have been attending, but I can always get involved on the parent committee and also hope that it's a bit more purposeful when it's not the end of term.  She'll be attending two full days each week.
  • Found a house to rent!  This was an absolute nightmare.  Houses with more than two bedrooms were few and far between, those allowing dogs even more difficult to track down and they seemed to be let almost as soon as they were advertised or were more than half an hour's drive from the school.  Thrilled to find this one only three or four miles from the school/pre-school.
  • Once all the above was sorted we were able to relax a bit, with some wild swimming in the Wye, a bike ride/walk in the woods (and a trip to the minor injuries unit), and a great 5th birthday for C.

 Trip to North Wales

  • Sadly picked a poor campsite, where caravans and tents were packed in and children were running wild and very noisy until late at night, so not much rest on the site.
  • We did get to castles, beaches (lots of swimming in the sea), and steam railways, and a boat trip, as well as spending a couple of days with Nana and Grandad and Auntie J.

Home again
  • Living within an hour of Glasgow we had house guests for the Commonwealth Games.  Auntie J and Uncle S were staying with us, and Big Sis and family were camping in the vicinity too.  
  • We spent a day babysitting for Littlest Nephew (age 2), served dinner for 11 a couple of times, went to the Safari Park and went swimming.
  • A little anxious about the state my showhome was getting into, but to be honest I'm losing motivation, as we're a month in, and still only one viewing.  It isn't easy to keep the house and garden looking awesome, and with no potential buyers I begin to wonder if there's any point.
Youth Hostel weekend
  • My sisters, our mum and I, and all the children have now made a weekend away together at one of Britains Youth Hostels an annual expedition.  This year we headed to Boggle Hole, near Robin Hood's Bay, near Whitby in North Yorkshire.
  • We all had a horrible journey on Friday, so arrived late, and of course the children were very excited to see one another, so took a very long time to settle to sleep.
  • Saturday we spent the morning pottering in Whitby, and then walked along the beach to Robin Hood's Bay in the afternoon, and back along the cliffs.  Six year old and seven year old nephews had been blown away by excitement on the beach and entirely submerged themselves, fully clothed, in rock pools - yet were surprised when the weather changed and we had a chilly walk back across the cliffs to contemplate.  I think they both felt a little silly, sheepish and sorry for themselves by the time we returned to the hostel and they were bundled into warm showers.  Bedtime went a lot easier tonight!
  • Sunday we were determined not to stuff the poor critters straight into the car for another long journey, particularly since Friday had been effectively wiped out.  We planned a trip to Falling Foss Tea Rooms, which involved a lucky space in a busying car-park, a walk through the woods, and a lucky find of two adjacent empty tables in the increasingly busy, lovely tea garden with fabulous playpark. 
  • We all eventually headed our separate ways at about 1.30pm.  My journey home was broken by a drink in a pub garden and playpark with some great friends in Jedburgh, and then on home for dinner.
  • Lovely to see the joy the children wear when they see Daddy after a couple of days without him.
And Now?
  • Still no more viewings on the house.  At what point am I supposed to start worrying about this and reconsider first my choice of Estate Agent and secondly the asking price?  I keep being reassured that Summer Holiday and Commonwealth Games may have interfered with house searches, but things will now get busy... bring it on then!
  • Working hard to keep house and garden looking nice, while at the same time arranging removal firm for the end of the month and commencing packing, and of course... that little thing... looking after two young children.
  • Trying to stay calm, measured and positive.  Hubby is worried about what happens if the house takes too long to sell (while we're paying mortgage on one and rent on another, and he takes a pay cut when we move).  I'm trying to stay optimistic, looking into my options for starting paid work again earlier than anticipated if necessary, while still being flexible so that I can be there for the children. 
  • Also trying hard to stay calm and positive with two tired children following all our exciting adventures, who are unsettled because of the move, new school, new house etc. etc.  I'm trying to be understanding and calm (not too much shouting), while still maintaining the firm boundaries that they need so much.  Trying to make sure that I take time to play with them too, rather than being too busy getting everything else done too.  They need me just now.
  • It would also be quite nice if I could keep up the exercise and diet and lose a little more weight over the next six weeks.  I lost half a stone in 5 weeks just before the holiday, and another half a stone would not be missed!

Monday, 7 July 2014

How are we doing?

A brief moment to take stock, before continuing with my mammoth to-do list:

  • the house has been on the market for a week and a half now.  I was beginning to worry about no viewings, despite being told on a regular basis to relax and be patient.  Then we had one on Friday!  The couple were lovely, and it was quite clear that they liked the house, particularly the lady.  I felt much better to be able to show my house, which is really rather nice.  Feedback tells me that I was right, the lady loved the house and wanted to make an offer, the man wasn't too sure though, as there's so much flexibility in the layout that he couldn't quite work out how it would work for them.  They didn't find anywhere else over the weekend though, so there's still hope.
  • I'm off with the kiddies on Wednesday morning.  We're going to Herefordshire to look at schools.  Hubby will join us on Friday night/Saturday morning and we'll find a house to rent.  Then we'll get the children enrolled at school (hopefully it's as easy as that!) before the end of term next Wednesday.  We'll beetle around Herefordshire for the rest of the week, then on to North Wales for a week of holiday before heading home.  So a major part of my list is getting all the holiday stuff and the caravan ready!
  • The house has to be absolutely spotless while we're away, because there's a neighbour keeping an eye on the place for us, and the estate agents have the keys to be able to conduct showings in our absence.  Yep, that's another major part of my list!
  • While we're away C will have his 5th birthday - I can't believe he's five already.  So I mustn't forget to pack candles and matches, birthday cards and presents, balloons and banners ready for the big day.
  • During the Easter holidays, while Hubby was off work and able to look after the children, I took the opportunity for a rare trip to the hairdressers.  I like what she did with  my hair, and I like the pampered feeling, so I've decided to repeat the process tomorrow, ready for the holiday.  I'm not sure that I'll feel quite so pampered while keeping an eye on what the children are up to, but I'm prepared to risk it.
  • On our return we'll have house-guests for a few days, staying with us to visit the Commonwealth Games, so I also need to make sure that they'll find everything that they need when they arrive.
  • That's pretty much it, apart from that I've been trying hard to exercise every day and to eat more healthily as part of a 5 week pre-holiday challenge.  It's time to weigh and measure tomorrow to see how I've done...

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Simple activities for pre-schoolers - Alphabet scrap book

This is such a great activity, as you can build in a whole range of skills, and they're all fun!

Take a scrap book with at least 26 pages.
At the top of each page, write a letter of the alphabet (in the correct order).
Each time you want to do the activity, just pick a page/letter.
You can: 
  • write large letter outlines for the children to practice forming the letters, or follow them with their fingers (you can just make out the outline Tt here.
  • use newspapers and magazines and cut out different sizes and fonts of letters, both capital and lowercase, words beginning with the letter, and pictures of things beginning with the letter.  Great for practising cutting and sticking skills.
  • draw things that begin with the letter (I can just make out a picture of Tara the dog, drawn by C on this page).
  • Get them to think of words that begin with the letter and write them down.
It's pretty open-ended, and if they wander off, it doesn't matter in the slightest, because you can always add more to a page at a later date.  

Super-simple, super-cheap (scissors, glue, pencils, scrap book) and super-fun!