Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Take care!

I write this post fully aware that many of you will think I'm an idiot. However, there are people who may be pleased to read about my latest mishap, as they too could easily have done the same thing.
I enjoyed a rare child-free day's shopping recently. My dad agreed to pick up the 4 kids from school/nursery. I arrived home to find my brood all very happy and eager to show me them playing conkers. Grandpa, most impressively, had taken them all to collect conkers, brought them home and attached strings for them to play the game. I say impressively, as he'd come equipped with his electric drill, making the whole process very easy. Conkers, in case you do not know, are horse-chestnuts. The aim of the game is to break the other player's chestnut/conker by hitting it.

 I loved seeing them all so happy (my dad included), playing a game from my own childhood and getting in touch with nature. My husband was not so impressed when he arrived home from work. Florin grew up in Romania and it was his first experience of seeing the game. "Isn't that dangerous?" he asked in a nervous tone. Coming from the man who often quotes the latest stats like, "more kids fall out of their beds than trees nowadays", I have to say I was surprised by his reaction. Usually he's very keen to get the kids out in the great outdoors. Anyway, there were no injuries and the kids finally agreed to abandon their game and come in for a snack, bringing their four plastic bags worth of chestnuts with them. 
My dad suggested roasting the chestnuts for after dinner. I'd never done that before, and it sounded like a good idea...I had enough to keep us going for a month! I even joked about cutting the food bill. The readers I mentioned who will think I'm an idiot will be rolling their eyes by now, if you've still not spotted a potential problem to my story, good, that makes me feel better :)
So, parents went home, hubby went back out to fix a computer, and I put a generous amount of chestnuts in a roasting tin in the oven. I guesstimated they would take about 20 minutes to cook, enough time to get some homework done. After 20 minutes, they were still rock hard, so I left them a while longer. The homework was soon interrupted by a chestnut (or 2) exploding in the oven. Pretty sure that meant they must be ready, I eagerly took them out the oven. I struggled to peel the skin off a chestnut, and ate some of the crumbly inside. The taste was absolutely disgusting. I tried another bite, and decided I must have picked a bad chestnut. I examined the remaining chestnuts, but they all looked the same, so I tried another one, sure the next one would be fine. Chestnut number two was equally revolting. My niece asked to try one, I warned her they were horrible, but she wanted to try for herself. Lia agreed that they tasted horrible, and I wouldn't let anyone else try them.
I decided I must have overcooked the chestnuts, and something from the shell had made them taste so awful. I Googled  "how to roast chestnuts", and discovered I should have cut a cross in them before putting them in the oven. However, it didn't seem possible to me that this oversight would cause them to taste so terrible. Next I Googled "why do my chestnuts taste horrible", got straight to the point. I read the following article with increasing alarm:


You see, for those of you who don't know, horse chestnuts (conkers), are poisonous! I tried to stay calm, reassuring myself that I'd only eaten one and a half, surely I wouldn't keel over from that? What a ridiculous way to go! I was more worried about my niece, she'd only eaten a tiny bit, but I couldn't help but panic. The kids picked up on my anxiety, and I told them what I'd read, reassuring them as best as I could that we'd both be fine. Lia quickly became very upset, and complained of feeling sick and stomach ache. I later had stomach ache too, but I'm sure both of our symptoms were psychological. Two of the other kids also started crying, I assumed it was due to being worried about myself and Lia. The real reason, however, was that they'd had so much fun with grandpa, and they didn't want him to be sad about nearly poisoning us! Then my other niece worried me by saying maybe grandpa had taken some home to roast for himself. I decided I'd better phone to make sure. I chose my words carefully, telling him the chestnuts tasted really bad and they weren't the kind for eating. I did not use the word poisonous, I didn't want him feeling guilty for an innocent mistake.
NHS 24 put my mind at ease that Lia and I would live to see another day. The phone operator informed me it would be virtually impossible to be poisoned by chestnuts, as they tasted so bad. I have to agree with that, the taste lasted for ages after one and a half chestnuts, there's no way I could have consumed enough to be fatal.
I went to bed having learned a valuable lesson, and tired out from all the upset and worry my ignorance had caused. I now know it is not only berries and mushrooms you have to be careful about, chestnuts can be evil too!
My mum phoned me the next day, they'd looked up chestnuts on the net, discovered they were poisonous. We had a laugh about it, and how silly we all felt. The exploding poisonous chestnuts were an incentive to make me scrub out my oven the next day, a task I hate. The next time I saw my dad he apologised for his suggestion to roast conkers and handed me a present. Wrapped delicately in pink tissue paper...chestnuts from Tesco, the real deal, complete with cooking instructions :)

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Yeti...goodie or baddie?

I was interested to read this week about the scientist who claims to have proof that the yeti is real and living in the Himalayas. The article, which includes a brief history of sightings, evidence etc. can be found here:


I, like many others who commented on this article, am skeptical about this claim, until more concrete evidence can be provided. However, I do find it an exciting prospect that a mythical creature could actually be proven to be real. After all, maybe Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster), will be next!

Yeti's are known by many other names, including Almas (Mongolia), Batutut (Vietnam), Bigfoot (North America), Yowie (Australia), Fear liath (scotland), and Sasquatch is also a popular title for the creature which may or may not exist. Clearly, since so many places have their own names for the beast, it's fame is far spread. I discovered these alternative names in another Telegraph article found here:


Of course the list would not be complete without the much used "abominable snowman" title. I'm reminded of the banished monster in Monsters inc:

"Abominable! Can you believe that? Do I look abominable to you? Why can't they call me the Adorable Snowman or...or the Agreeable Snowman, for crying out loud? I'm a nice guy."
—The Yeti describing himself to Sulley and Mike

The idea of a friendly abominable snowman appeals to me. Perhaps because I write children's books and like my stories to have a twist. I decided to try and imagine the yeti, based on the recent evidence that it could be a cross between a polar bear and a brown bear. Realistically, I'm sure the creature would be fierce and frightening, but my imagination took me on a different path...

A Yeti children's book is definitely a possibility for my future writing. Please share your thoughts on my sketch, and watch this space!

In the meantime, there are other author's who have beaten me to it and have written for children about yeti's. I have not as yet read any of these, please feel free to add your reviews if you have read any of them:

 This book by Charlotte Gullain sounds like lots of fun, and I love the title! The illustrations look great, and I'm curious to learn what George discovers on his mission to prove that the yeti exists.
Greg Long and Chris Edmunson wrote "Yeti, Turn Out the Light!", and the illustrations by Wednesday Kirwan look fantastic for bringing the story to life.  I discovered this book on boingboing.net where it is decribed as"a delightful bedtime tale of shadows, monsters, and magic sure to please all children, and the adults that cuddle them."
 "The Awkward Yeti" by Nick Seluk, sounds like a good book for younger children. According to goodreads.com, it is "a unique children's picture book that introduces the concept of personality differences in a subtle, simple and silly way for very young readers."
"The Abominables" by award winning author Eva Ibbotson sounds like a fun book for older children. Aimed at ages 8-11, the story tells of a family of yetis seeking a safe haven. The Scholastic website has the following review:
“The joyful absurdity of the notion, combined with Ibbotson’s wit… should make this a classic.” Daily Mail

I'm sure there are many more yeti based stories, please feel free to add any.

I'll end my blog on the mysterious yeti, with a blast from the past. How many of you remember the TV series "Big Foot and the Hendersons?" I have fond memories of the friendly yeti who joins the Henderson family, and will try to get a copy of it on DVD for my kids to enjoy. I found a clip from the film which was released as "Harry and the Hendersons" in 1987. Does it bring back memories?


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Glasgow rocks!

My blog this week centres around my home city of Glasgow. I've decided to name it "Glasgow rocks!" as it's a (pure dead) brilliant city, and also because I watched my first live basketball game this week. The game,  Surrey United vs. Glasgow Rocks, was an attempt to bring a little more excitement to my social life. My husband and I took our 8 year old son, who's very self-conscious of his height. Basketball seemed a good way to shed some positive light on being tall. We all enjoyed the game, as well as the Rockettes cheerleaders, featuring dramatic flames in the background. The game was held at the new Emirates Arena, and I was impressed by the building, especially when lit up as we left.

Emirates Arena
I'm sure many parents, particularly the ones outnumbered by their brood, have fallen into the trap of enjoying cinema nights out. Nothing wrong with the cinema...in fact after a long week running around after kids and/or work, it's often all we can summon up the energy to do. However, I realised this was becoming the norm for hubby and I, and it started bugging me. I've decided we need to break the habit, make the most of our few and far between nights/days out, and be a bit more imaginative in how we spend our child-free time.

I have discovered an excellent way to find inspiration for nights out with a difference, it's called Groupon. The site (and similar ones), have become essential in my life. I enjoyed the comedian Tom Stade's comedy sketch recently, describing his addiction to Groupon...I too am an addict. Groupon suggests events and places I often didn't even know existed, and the discounts available make going out so much more affordable.

There's a very classy restaurant/bar/nightclub in Glasgow called Arta. I discovered they have started a 1920's Great Gatsby style themed night called Bang Bang, and so we ventured along for our cinema alternative. Singers performed modern music in a 1920's style, as well as some genuine music from the 20's. Nibbles of popcorn and chocolate adorned the tables, and we were welcomed with a champagne cocktail. Husband wasn't too keen, but I enjoyed the evening. My only regret was that I hadn't dressed the part, as many had, in Charleston type fringed dresses and feathered headbands...next time.

Another day out with a difference is held at Saint Judes, a bar in Glasgow offering afternoon tea with a twist. The sandwiches and cakes arrive as expected, but the teapot is actually filled with a cocktail which the server mixes for you at your table. I love the novelty of it, and have booked a few times. Next time I'm taking my friend, leaving hubby to babysit. I'm also going to the Girls Day Out at the SECC, obviously not with husband :) Looking forward to the fashion shows, goody bags, offers and discounts, and a cheeky wee glass of wine while the kids are at school.

Our family days out have also become more adventurous since Groupon etc. entered our lives.  We've enjoyed days out at Kelburn castle with it's distinctive graffiti project. Not actually in Glasgow, around an hour's drive, but well worth it. Kids loved it, and often ask to go back, would highly recommend it. Link with more info. about Kelburn can be found here:


I am also curious to try the various Baby Loves Disco events in Glasgow. Described as "a daytime dance party for parents with babies, toddlers and children up to 7 years", it sounds worth a try! I'm sure many parents fondly remember their nightclubbing days, and mourn their loss, but the thought of coming home at 3am, only to be rudely awoken around 6 is to much to bear. Maybe this is an alternative. I've missed the Pirates and Princesses one, but I may well be found at Boogie Halloween; Cosmopolitan in hand watching my 4 year old very competently perform Gangham Style. The Baby Loves Disco events take place around the UK, not just Glasgow. More info. can be found here:


Winter in Glasgow is pretty bleak, we have wind and rain/snow practically on a daily basis. There are, however, plenty options to keep us Glaswegians entertained. We have Xscape, an indoor ski centre with real snow, as well as restaurants, bars, bowling, cinema, and many other options. Xscape is a great place to wander around and meet up with friends. The Glasgow Christmas markets are also pretty good, admittedly not as picturesque as Edinburgh, but improving every year. I also hope to visit the Jack Vettriano exhibition at Kelvingrove art gallery. I know there has been much controversy over the Scottish artist, but I like his work very much.

How do you spend your free time in your city? Has your social life changed dramatically since having children? I'd be interested to read your tips and ideas on family days out, or date nights that are alternatives to cinema.