Monday, 24 November 2014

Chocoholics unite!

I heard recently to my dismay, that the world will soon be facing a chocolate shortage. As  a self-confessed chocoholic I decided to do some research...

I found a video on which was useful in explaining why cocoa farmers are struggling to keep up with demand. Ghana and the Ivory Coast produce around 70% of the world's cocoa. Drought and a fungal disease which has killed off 30-40% of the cocoa trees have dramatically reduced the crops, and ebola has meant migrant workers have not been allowed to cross borders and help harvest the cocoa beans. The video can be found here:

I also came across an interesting, and very thought provoking article describing cocoa farmers from the Ivory Coast tasting chocolate for the first time. I watched the video in disbelief that these hard working farmers had never actually tasted chocolate, or seemed to really know up until that point, what actually happened to the cocoa beans that provide their (very low) income. I have to say that having watched it, I feel quite ashamed of how chocolate is taken so much for granted in other parts of the world, when it is clearly such a luxury to the people responsible for us being able to enjoy it. I am making an early New Years resolution to only buy Fair Trade chocolate from now on, and my kids will be enjoying more ethical confectionary this Christmas. Please watch the video here:

Time's website explained the serious environmental factors which are causing problems for chocolate production, but I also found an article from The Guardian explaining how "posh" chocolate, and the modern trend of using chocolate in unexpected recipes has added to over consumption. Chocolate with up to 70% cocoa is becoming increasingly popular (although personally I don't know why, I'm not a fan). The article also highlights the menu options available at ChocoChicken in LA; would you be tempted by chocolate fried chicken served with chocolate ketchup and white choc fried potatoes? I can't say I would!
The article also features a "chocolate-lovers code of conduct" with suggestions how we can all help ensure chocolate never becomes a thing of the past...unthinkable!

Think how many broken hearts have started to heal with a little chocolate, or what a nice romantic gift for Valentines day it provides. Somehow, "do you love anyone enough to give them your last Haribo" doesn't have the same ring to it. In case you've no idea what I'm talking about, it was a famous tagline from the Rolo ads. I found this website, you can now buy all sorts of Rolo merchandise, but chocolate was the inspiration for the romantic gesture so many of us remember.

I hope the chocolate shortage can be resolved soon, and I certainly have more gratitude for the hard work involved in producing my favourite treat. What are your thoughts on a chocolate shortage. Any ideas how to improve the situation? I would love to hear the opinions of my fellow chocoholics.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Que sera, sera

In July this year my beloved Gran Susan died at the age of 93. My gran was a huge part of my life, and her passing has been a very painful loss. I both admired and cringed in equal measure at her unfaultering honesty, a woman never afraid to speak her own mind.

Many people offering their condolences pointed out that she'd lived to a good age, had a full life. However, this did not make her death any easier to accept, in some ways it was harder. I had longer to bond with her, and since her health was relatively good and she had such a wicked sense of humour, she almost seemed invincible to both my sister and myself. The funeral was, of course, extremely sad, and as my family and I faced the difficult task of the lineup whilst trying to maintain our composure, Doris Day's "Que sera, sera" played as everyone filtered out of the crematorium. I had suggested that song, as she used to sing it to my sister and I as little girls. The song brought back bittersweet memories, and I have since been thinking that her philosophy on life...whatever will be, will be, seems to have been the case for me this summer, and in many other areas of my life. The song can be found here:

For example, had things turned out as they were meant to this summer, I would not have had the chance to visit my gran one final time at the hospital, nor would I have been able to attend her funeral. Things that at the time seemed to be disasterous, actually turned out to be blessings in disguise. I have written before about being a mum of two boys, and for the past three years, guardian to my two nieces from Romania. The girls were supposed to be holidaying in Romania this year, but unfortunately, the relative who was to care for them, had to back out due to unforeseen circumstances. My husband and I had booked a holiday to Dubai for ourselves and the boys. There was no way to change the booking to accommodate the girls, and the only reason we were going was because of the free child offer, which would not apply to another two kids.  I was in a panic at the thought of losing out on our much needed holiday and my attention became fully focused on arranging alternative child care for the girls while we were away. My sister and her husband agreed to take on the responsibility, and I could finally start looking forward to our trip.

On July 4th, the day before our flight, I was awoken by my husband saying the Victor Meldrew classic, "I don't believe it!" I felt the colour drain from my face and heartrate go through the roof as he told me that A's passport had expired. In a state of disbelief I grabbed the passport from his hand, hoping it was some cruel joke he was playing on me. Sadly, it was not, the passport was useless, out of date by 3 months. Amazingly, we did not get in a huge fight blaming each other, we just had to accept our major holidaying faux pas and make a mental note never to let it happen again. I'm pretty sure we'd overlooked the issue because we were so busy thinking of a solution for where the girls would stay while we were away. I started researching our options, and after speaking to a very sympathetic lady at the passport office, we had to accept that there was no quick fix. An adult can have an emergency passport within 4 hours, but a child passport takes up to a week...nota bene.

After some tears and tantrums (me, not the kids) it was agreed that Florin would travel with my elder son, while I stayed home with A. waiting for the new passport and flying out once we had it. I made endless phone calls to the Passport office hoping for a cancellation to move forward my appointment, and I was successful eventually. The woman at the Passport office could not have been any nicer, and she assured me she would do her very best to get me the passport within the next few days. True to her word, the passport was ready in two days, however, my gran had passed away by then. I am so glad I was able to be at home when it happened, and although it had been a stressful time, everything worked out for the best. I attended the funeral minus the kids, but brought them along for the coffee bit afterwards (I'm sure there must be an official term for it, but you know what I mean). One of the guests tapped A. on the head as they left, I was pretty embarrassed when he said "stop patting my head, I'm not a dog!" The guest looked back over her shoulder, a puzzled look on her face, and then walked on, assuming she must have misheard. A. definitely seems to have inherited a cheeky streak from my gran, and I'll be sure to remind him of it as he grows older.

I mentioned there are other areas in my life where unexpected things have happened in a que sera sera kind of way. I met my husband at the age of 21 on a family holiday I was not keen to go on. I'm glad I was persuaded otherwise, or we would never have met at that Spanish foam party...yes, I did say foam party :) My husband is Romanian, which is also a little strange, since the only charity appeal that I became involved in growing up was for Romanian orphans; I arranged a bring and buy sale with a friend at school to try to help. My project I chose to do for History at high school was on immigration to Britain, a subject now very close to my heart. A series of coincidences yes, but still, it does make me feel that our marriage was meant to be.

Another perfect example of que sera sera in my life is when we decided to become the guardians to our nieces. We have two wonderful boys, but I still longed for a baby girl. My husband was slowly coming round to the idea when we discovered the terrible poverty and neglect being suffered by our nieces in Romania, then aged 6 and 7. Far from an easy decision, we debated what was the best solution, and whether we'd be able to meet the challenges of taking on such a huge responsibilty. Now, 3 years later I can say that we did not underestimate the challenges we would face, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that we did the right thing. I had hoped for a daughter, and the timing was such that at the right stage in my life, I welcomed two girls, who are like daughters to me, into our family.

Whatever will be, will be....

Why not share some of your stories of situations that seemed to be outwith your control but have worked out well. I'd love to read them.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

End of an era...

I've not written a blog in far too long. I've missed my therapeutic spilling of thoughts to complete strangers (mostly) on the internet. Honest explanation? Life got in the way...

Like most parents, I find the leadup to the school holidays (which fill me in equal measure with dread and excitement), pretty hectic. There's sports days, parents evenings, fun days, projects to hand in, not to mention yellow would be hard to find a more difficult colour in which to dress 4 children. I know I'm not alone in the end of term stress. Why do school shoes have such a habit of falling to bits literally weeks before the final day of school? I found the following blog very entertaining by a fellow mum suffering from end of term frustrations:

I also have the dreaded nursery graduation of my youngest to attend. A. is more than ready for school, especially since I am sending him at 5 and a half, rather than 4 and a half, but I already know I will find it very sad that my baby boy is moving on.  Breaking myself in gently, I let him get a more grown up haircut to be like his big brother, who he idolizes. He's very handsome with his new look, but it took me aback how much older it seems to make him look. I'll be in pieces when I see him in his uniform.

I'm worried I will suffer from empty nest syndrome when A. starts school. I've been a stay at home mum for 9 years now, and will find it very strange not to have a young child running round my feet. The end of an era. I'm sure the days will pass quickly once I get used to it, after all 9-3 is not such a long time. Even with them out of the house, four kids and a messy husband will still provide me with plenty to do!

I will be sad to say farewell to that happy stage of my life, but on a positive note, will have more time to do things for myself. I could join a gym, go faithfully for 2 months before giving up, as I'm sure I would. I could join an art class, meet friends for lunch, or even become a stunt driver (since they mistakenly gave me a license to drive ANYTHING...apart from maybe a tank). The possibilities are endless...within a 9-3 timeframe.

This could be me, come August!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Keeping the glass half full.

Life has been fairly stressful in the Mandache household of late. We are nearing the annual dilemma over holiday arrangements, and until a decision is made (none of which are ideal), I have a cloud hanging over my head. You see, like many carers of relatives, our lives revolve around complicated family situations (which I won't go into), but which can make life very difficult. I've been trying to stay positive, and have read a few good quotes which have inspired me:

"We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same."- Carlos Casteneda

To put these thoughts into context, my husband and I have two sons, and became the guardians of our two nieces from Romania, almost three years ago. Describing our experience so far as challenging, would be an understatement...but it has also been incredibly rewarding, which is the part I always strive to focus on.

I'm writing this blog with thoughts of other carers who may be in similar situations. I know how undervalued, and pre-judged you must sometimes feel. I know how frustrating it can be, to be taking responsibility for other people's failings, and trying your best to un-do any damage, neglect or hurt that has been suffered. I know how much you sacrafice for other people, without looking for sympathy or gratitude, but hoping for love and respect in return...

I also know how much you have enriched a person's life, how they would be lost without you, the physical/emotional scars you may have helped to heal, and the huge sense of achievement you feel for bringing much needed happiness to someone you've grown to care greatly about. I know personally at times I regret that I have not had a successful career (unless my books suddenly become best sellers), but on the other hand, I doubt there is a job out there for me which would give me the same amount of satisfaction I get from knowing I have given two little girls such a better life.

I'm hoping it will prove therapeutic, to share with you some of our success stories from the past three years:

I've written before about how amazing it has been to listen to my nieces not only learn English very quickly, but also to learn it with a perfect Glaswegian accent. I could not be more proud!

The younger of the two girls arrived on my doorstep as a timid, terrified little mouse. I am delighted by the change in her, she is a lovely natured girl, always smiling, happy and much more confident than she was.

The older sister's difficult early background has given her tremendous ambition and drive, she is an intelligent girl, and I'm sure she will do very well in life with our continued encouragement.

Family and friends have welcomed the girls into their lives with open arms, and it is heartwarming to hear them call my sister and her husband "aunt and uncle", my parents "gran and grandpa". They have a loving, supportive extended family which they never had in Romania.

My boys and their cousins have many arguments, but they can also be extremely close friends, more like siblings than cousins. My elder son is getting over the resentment he felt for having to share his mummy and daddy, and it has made him more competitive and independent, which I see as positive traits which will help him in life.

I have perfected the art of time management, and have grown used to my role as referee. (However, I think I could do well to keep the following in mind):

I am proud of the example we have set our children, that it is a good thing to help others, and I think we are all more appreciative of the things we have, and realise more fully, the hardships many people suffer on a daily basis.

I take pleasure in small achievements, like all four children having matching socks (which doesn't happen often), taking away clean plates, after succeeding in the seemingly impossible task of cooking a meal that every one of them liked, and more recently, inventing a game called Tickle Times Tables, which has them unbelievably excited about learning maths (in case you're wondering, they have a limited time to give me the right answer before the tickles begin).

I have become more financially astute since our family income now has to stretch to six. A few lighthearted tips for the larger family:

Consider buying a cow - cut down on trips to Tesco for milk, and doubles up as an eco-lawnmower.

Live in Scotland? Continuous bad weather combined with energetic kids means endless trips to expensive soft play areas. It may be financially sound to simply build your own.

Birthdays not close together? Bad planning! You could have had combined birthday parties.

Looking to invest in stocks and shares? Moshi monsters, girls tights (ripped on a near daily basis) and hair accessories (always lost) would seem a safe bet for the foreseeable future.

Take out a second mortgage to pay for after school clubs and activities.

When all else fails, I find watching a film the likes of "Cheaper by the Dozen" can be extremely helpful. My chaotic, messy home seems positively serene after watching the antics of other, even larger families than ours.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Is Barbie bad?

I read an article on recently entitled "R.I.P Barbie...", detailing the reasons for the decline in sales of the popular doll, which has been around since 1959. I read with interest the different viewpoints over the controversial toy, but having grown up with Barbies, owned a Barbie house, cars, horses etc, I honestly don't see much harm in young girls playing with them. I don't remember ever obsessing over growing up with the aim of reaching the glamorous blonde's unrealistic proportions. I also didn't think of her as some kind of WAG, a blonde bimbo with the sole ambition to marry a rich man. Surely Barbie was, and remains, a toy to inspire the imagination. Barbie can be whoever the child wants her to be, and behave in whatever way the child decides. The article can be found here:

Barbie's manufacturer Mattel have done their best to please parents, and try to keep up with trends. Over the years she's had many adventures and careers, including being an Olympic gymnast in the 90's, an astronaut in the 60's, as well as the more "girly" versions of ballerina, fairy and princess. Try and imagine how many different outfits she must have had over the reminds me of the comical Ken in Toy Story 3, and how he loved to show off his very varied wardrobe. Ken always seemed to be more of a girls' toy, and although he never reached the same dizzy heights of fame as his girlfriend, there's never been any controversy made over him. I found a funny interview with Ken where he describes a typical day in his life. The interviewer suggests, much to Ken's annoyance, that he's really just an accessory for Barbie. Barbie always takes centre stage, and so I don't think it can be argued that she is dependent on her man, I see her as pretty independent. Watch the interview "Groovin' with Ken" here:

Mattel introduced African-American and Hispanic barbies in 1980, and her vital statistics were made more realistic in the 90's. These were wise moves by the company, and I think it's a good idea to represent that all people are different, and enable them to play with dolls which are more like themselves should they wish to.

However, Mattel hasn't always got it right. There have been some terrible ideas from the Barbie camp. I found a great article summing up some of the biggest errors of judgement. There were rumours of a teen pregnancy Barbie which would be an awful idea, but the real one was pregnant Midge, a Barbie with a baby doll which could be removed from its belly. I'm pretty sure that's not one I would want to buy a young girl.

The worst idea I read about was Growing Up Skipper, Barbie's little sister gained an inch in height and, wait for it...grew breasts, when you turned her arm. Thankfully, the doll was pulled from the shelves quicker than you can say training bra.

I was pleased to read there was Becky, Barbie's friend who was wheelchair bound. Unfortunately, she wouldn't consider "Dreamhouse" an accurate description upon visiting her friend, since the toy would not fit in, and there was no ramp for her to use. I'm not sure if Mattel have rectified this issue, I hope they have.

Read about the "10 Strangest Barbies", some of which are hard to believe, here:

More recently, Mattel have caused debate over a new range of dolls called Monster High. The dolls are particularly controversial in Russia, where a Russian parents group have even gone so far as to say they are " a threat to national security". The dolls are goth style, and I'm not overly keen on them myself, but surely this is an over-reaction. I don't accept that they "could give Russian children ideas about suicide". The dolls are very pretty, and not at all frightening. I don't see how they could be seen as dangerous to such an extent. There is also a spin-off cartoon series which is very popular, Russia are also trying to get that banned. What are your views on Monster High Dolls? Would you buy one for your child or do you think they are a potentially dangerous influence on young children? The BBC article can be found here:

I am raising my two nieces, and am perfectly happy to let them play with Barbie dolls, or any similar type of doll. I don't think I would buy a Monster High doll, but I would not ban them from the house either. Girls can admire these pretty toys, but in my opinion, that does not equate to a desperation to become a supermodel as they grow into young women. What are your views on Barbie? Has her time been and gone? I'd love to read your views.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A Wild night in Glasgow

I've written before about how "pure dead brilliant" my home town of Glasgow is. There is now another reason for that, in the shape of the brand new club Wild Cabaret.

I was lucky enough to be invited along to the pre-opening night of the new Merchant city venue, which will officially open this Saturday, the 22nd of February. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive as to what exactly an evening in a place called the Wild Cabaret would involve. However, I was pleasantly surprised, my husband and I had the best night out we've had in a while.

Arriving at the club, we were welcomed by two very glamorous show girls adorned with feathers and sequins, and then shown through to the Wicked Lounge. The Lounge is very classy, the colour scheme is black and gold, and you could happily sit and chat with friends for a good few hours. We were entertained by violinists playing modern music such as "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk/Pharell Williams and "When I Ruled the World" by Coldplay. I enjoyed trying to figure out the music they were playing.  The showgirls gracefully danced alongside the musicians, and it started to feel as though we were no longer in cold wintery Glasgow, but had somehow been transported to Vegas.

We were served champagne and canapes, and the highly entertaining Ryan Davidson, AKA The Mentalist, performed card tricks at the tables before we watched him in the cabaret show later on. Ryan is clearly a very skilled magician, as normally my husband delights in telling me how tricks are done, but he didn't have a clue on this occasion. In fact, he claims he'd had too much to drink...two glasses of champagne, somehow I don't believe him.

After enjoying our time in the Lounge, we were called through to the large dining area where we watched the Cabaret as we ate. The service was a bit slow, as to be expected with a new restaurant, but the staff were all excellent, and I'm sure any teething problems will be resolved very quickly. I chose the smoked mackerel to start, steak with pepper sauce, followed by cranachan with a berry sauce. The food was very good, especially accompanied by the large variety of cocktails on offer from the skilled bartenders. I ventured to try a French Martini, a change from my usual Cosmopolitan, and I'd recommend it.

The cabaret was very entertaining, a good mixture of different acts. The hostess Frances Thorburn, had a terrific voice, and her enthusiasm in introducing the other acts was infectious. There were comedy sketches and comedian Janey Godley, Ryan the magician, various dance acts, and the finale was the highly talented Soul Nation Choir, who got people up on their feet dancing at the end of a great night.

The entertainment was excellent, but for me, there were two things that really stuck out. Firstly, having reminisced over my own dancing days (lessons) watching the girls doing the can-can, it was a rare treat to then see men in kilts also perform the famous French dance. I found it hilarious, and their frilly knickers really added to the performance! Trust me, it's a must-see. Secondly, having enjoyed Ryan's (The Mentalist) act, it was a pure delight to watch one of his tricks unfold to become an extremely romantic proposal from one of his "victims" onstage, to his girlfriend in the audience. Thankfully she said yes, and it was a privilege to have been witness to such an important part in the young couple's life.

In summary, if you're looking for a classy night out in Glasgow, somewhere you can get glammed up and enjoy something a bit different, Wild Cabaret is the place to go. I will certainly be back, and look forward to seeing what other talented acts will be added. Take a look at the YouTube video to give you a taste of what it's like:

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Roses are red...

February is finally here, hooray! Like most people, I have found it an exceptionally long, dreary month. I'm also feeling very sorry for myself, since, as is so often the case, my husband's away on the kids are ill. This time, it's been one after the other, I'm now starting week two of being housebound. I've decided to cheer myself up by thinking of all the romantic Valetine's treats my husband will be planning for me while he's away...some chance!

Thankfully, he does not read The Daily Mail. I noticed a tweet with the alarming news that apparently 78% of women want Botox for Valentine's Day! Maybe it's just me, but if I were to receive such an offer, I'm pretty sure February 14th would turn out to be seriously UNromantic. Granted, it's certainly more original than flowers and chocolate, but not in a good way. The article can be found here, would you be pleased with the gift of Botox?

The Valentine card itself is an essential in my view. I don't like too much soppiness, but it's always nice to feel special and loved. I've never had someone write a poem especially for me, I like this one which was on Groupon's Facebook page (starting to think I should be earning commission from those guys).

I can appreciate funny Valentine's cards too, and some of these Valentine's puns put a smile on my face. Maybe humour is more your style, do you like these ideas?

I remember my sister and I growing up receiving Valentines from our dad. Of course we didn't figure out they were from him for quite a few years. I can see why he did it; as we later discovered, it's pretty miserable not to receive any, so he saved us any hurt feelings and boosted our confidence. I may well carry on the tradition with my own kids, but at what age do kids start bothering about Valentines? Will I be able to fool my little detectives? Do you send cards to your children and what have been your experiences so far? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

What about a Valentine's date night? Do you and your significant other like to stick to February 14th, surrounded by countless other loved up couples, or do you wait for the nearest weekend? In our case, it's pretty much dependent on baby sitting availability, but I'm not a huge fan of going out on the actual 14th.

Usually it's a nice Romantic meal, predictable but lovely nonetheless. I love my kids to bits, but there's no denying how special a child-free meal once in a while can be! I'd like to plan something a bit more unusual for once, and thought I had the answer...Itison have a deal for a drive-in movie night overlooking Edinburgh airport. The films being shown are Top Gun and The Notebook. I remember watching American TV and films as a teenager and thinking drive-in movies looked so much fun, a perfect romantic night out. However, in a Scottish setting...not so much. Huddled up under a travel rug whilst peering through the swish of the windscreen wipers you would almost certainly be required to use, does not have the same appeal. I know there have been previous drive-in nights in Glasgow and other Scottish venues, if you have been to one, I'd love to read your feedback. Maybe I've got it all wrong and could grab some last minute tickets. The link to the offer can be found here:

Novelty gifts are always fun. I came across this Rolo pendant and earrings on The Spotted Zebra Co. website. Everyone (or nearly everyone) remembers "do you love someone enough to give them your last Rolo?", so this would make perfect jewellery for Valentines. The link can be found here:

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and so I think I've found the ideal gift for my husband. Made by The Box Bakery, who I follow on Twitter (@theboxbakery), this cake says it all:

Any special plans for Valentines day? I wish everyone a romantic February 14th, it's nice to feel truly Twitterpated once in a while.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Fitness should be fun

I'm guessing many people will have eagerly joined the gym, or taken up some form of exercise recently. We've all done it, start the new year with good intentions that this will be the year you'll get fit, no more excuses...2014 WILL be the year. Nearly the end of January now...have you stuck with it, or is your gym pass gathering dust somewhere, unloved and no longer in use?
Personally, I spend more time running 4 kids about to their various sporting activities, than actually partaking in any myself. However, I'm pretty sure walking up and down to the school and nursery 3 times a day must count for something. I do enjoy a class called Combat. Punching an invisible assailant to manic music I've not heard since I was 15 ("Like a shooting star..."), is surprisingly therapeutic. I find it a great release for stress. I am very fussy about instructors though. In my view, if I wanted a sergeant major yelling at me, I'd have joined the army. I want someone who is fun, realizes that yes, people need encouragement, but not through being ordered about by some scary instructor trying to make you almost kill yourself in an effort to keep fit. Not surprisingly, I do not book in for another class after such an experience.

My husband has started a Spin class. For those of you who don't know, it's an evil torturous hour spent on an exercise bike. In theory, the idea is good, but personally I'd never be cycling up a mountain, so why insist on setting the resistance on your bike to such a difficult level that you feel like you've gone halfway up Mount Everest by the end of the class? I tried Spin once...never again. Here's a picture of some people enjoying a Spin class...entirely unrealistic as I imagine it's physically impossible to smile.

I do like the name of the energy drink my husband uses to help him get through Spin:

Another way I try to tone up is with a vibration plate. You may know I am a Groupon addict, and this was one of our crazier purchases. I can't think of an easier way to stay in shape than watching TV whilst standing on "the shaky machine", as the kids call it. I set it pretty moderately, when Florin uses it, our living room starts to resemble an earthquake...I have to dive to catch cups and glasses as they start moving towards the edge of coffee tables, vases make a narrow escape, and the noise is like a helicopter about to take off. My husband arrived home the other night and entered the room singing "I see you baby, shaking that ass!" Clearly, the venetian blinds do not afford me as much privacy as I thought! I'll be more careful next time.

I think there's a lot to be said for novelty fitness ideas. A class that is fun, can even make you laugh, and isn't taken too seriously is definitely something I would be happy to keep up. My sister and I used to do a hip-hop dance class. Trust me, if you met me, you'd never associate Carolyn Mandache with hip-hop. However, it was great fun and made me feel like Beyonce (at least till I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror). Sadly, the class was cancelled, as there weren't enough customers, and I guess not as challenging as most of the other classes. I've heard a lot about Sh'Bam, another dance class. Has anyone tried it? Would you recommend it?

So, my views are that fitness should be fun. If I had the nerve, I would do Prancercise around Broadwood Loch, which is near my house (ok, not really). I cannot watch this fitness craze from the late 80's/early 90's without laughing. I sometimes wind the kids up by saying we're going to walk to school this way...the idea fills them with horror. Watch the clip, I'm sure it will put a smile on your face:

Just Dance is a great way to keep fit as a family. The wii game is even a hit with my youngest, and it's very cute watching him try to copy the complicated moves on the screen. Just Dance 2014 has the Psy song "Gentleman". I challenge you to try copying that dance with a straight face. I find it so much fun, and in the privacy of my own home, who cares how stupid I look?

I'll leave you with one final thought. Why should skipping just be for kids? If it's good enough for Michael McIntyre....

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Tea with Mr. Fluffy-Whiskers

Just before Christmas, my 4 year old made an important announcement: "It's Tom Fluffy-Whiskers birthday tomorrow, we need to have a birthday party." (Tom Fluffy Whiskers is the brilliantly imaginative name he has given his toy bunny.) As you can imagine, holding birthday parties for toys was not at the top of my priority list in the manic lead-up to Christmas. However, who could resist such a cute request? I managed to persuade him that Tom's birthday was a few days later, which just happened to be a Saturday, and not a weekday taken up with homework/after-school clubs. We decided to have a tea party, the toy tea set was set out on a blanket on the floor, Tom and his guests sat on cushions. My son and his cousins really put a lot of thought into it, Tom brought his own teddy, and his bunny friend even wore a tie for such an important occasion:

The food was all very rabbit friendly, we made a carrot cake. Betty Crocker may have had a helping hand, not entirely home-made, but close enough. Tom, although inherited from A's older brother, just happened to be 4 years old, according to A.....what a coincidence! I still had the 4 candle from my son's birthday which was handy (I'm all about the recycling). We read Peter Rabbit stories, and had a very nice afternoon. I'm sure Mr. Fluffy-Whiskers will remember it well.

Rabbits always seem to have played a part in our family. My elder son had a toy rabbit he would not go anywhere without. Blue bunny was his name, you may have guessed he was blue in colour. In fact, I say "was", but he's still around, for sentimental reasons I doubt I'll ever get rid of him. Blue bunny has seen better days, definitely what you would call a "well-loved toy". I remember having to carefully remove him from A's bear hug as he slept in order to wash him, watching him spin in the machine upset him. Blue was also rescued from a duck pond after he was dropped in from a bridge by accident. A. was distraught, but thankfully a kind park ranger type person waded in thigh deep to retrieve the soggy creature. I've written before about my son being tall for his age. People used to make really nasty comments about my son carrying his bunny, assuming he was older than he was. I can remember getting really annoyed about that, and constantly saying "he's only 3". Have your children ever been really attached to a soft toy, and been made fun of for it? I think it's a very sweet phase in their lives, we all know they'll grow out of it, and in my view, people shouldn't comment on it.

My younger son having watched "Alice in Wonderland", and being read the story, also went through a White Rabbit phase. Luckily, it was around the same time as his nursery held a day where they had to dress up as their favourite character. A. looked great in his outfit, facepaint, and cardboard stopwatch we made together. Of course, he spent the day saying "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date!"

I realise that having two real rabbits in the house, may well have added to the fascination to the long eared animals. Gingersnap and Popcorn have been part of the family for about a year and a half now. I find it quite funny that they each have their own personalities, as I always thought rabbits didn't do very much except hop and eat.  Popcorn, our black and white rabbit is quite the diva! He stomps his feet if he's not pleased with you, he also doesn't really like being held, and can nip at times. Gingersnap, however, is very friendly and likes being petted. I have also been very surprised by their climbing skills, and we've given Popcorn the nickname "Spider Bunny".

For a while, we thought we had Houdini rabbits, as we woke up a few times to find they had escaped their hutch. Occasionally, we had a strange feeling someone/something was watching us as we watched TV. When we turned round, we saw them peering through the glass doors of the living room at us, probably disappointed it wasn't Bugs Bunny on the screen. Now we've figured out the kids don't always close the latches properly, so we always verify they are locked tightly now.

My final comment on rabbits is to make you aware of what is known as a "binky". A binky is when a rabbit does a crazy kind of jump when it is very happy. Unless you have seen one, it's hard to explain, and even harder to film as it happens so fast (trust me, I've tried). I challenge anyone not to smile if they see a rabbit do this. A great cure for the January blues I'd say. Not quite the same as watching it live, but this clip gives a good idea of what a binky is:

Do your children have a fascination with a particular animal? I'd love to read your stories. I'm also thinking of writing a Tom Fluffy-Whiskers story. What do you think?

Monday, 6 January 2014

A trip to remember

My first post of 2014, Happy New Year! This year we went away for the limbo period between Christmas and New Year. Perth was our destination (Scotland, not Australia).
The holiday, which we shared with very good friends, was not without it's share of mishaps. However, as seems to be so often the case, in many ways they added to the fun we had.
Our destination was the Log Cabin Hotel, part of the Nae Limits group offering adventure breaks. We did not book any adventure activities, but seemed to end up having some of our own anyway. The drive took us to the tiny village of Kirkmichael, which was very remote (think Blair Witch Project). Our room, although quite spacious, did feel a bit Waltonish every bed time, as all 6 of us said our good nights and tried not to wake each other in our side by side beds. There were often bumps in the night as one child or another rolled off their bed, or onto someone else. There were no bears in the woods surrounding the hotel, but a grizzly in the form of my husband snoring next to me. No spare room to escape to, should have packed some ear plugs. (On the subject of bears, I loved this tweet by @HonestToddler:
@TheBerenstains This is good time of year to start hunting. Most adults walking around taste like baileys and ferrero rocher you'll like it)

Back to the holiday, the family we were with, for various reasons, had to move rooms a few times. Inconvenient certainly, but in the end, their room was an upgrade... they escaped what I like to call "the stethoscope shower." In case you are as confused as I was, each sucker attaches to a tap on the bath...with no chance of staying attached, and doing a better job of washing the edges of the bath than anyone trying to wash themselves with it. Maybe I'm too spoiled and used to modern day luxuries, my parents saw the photo and said they used to shower this way, thank God things have moved on! Similarly, the men found the 15" TV's in the rooms unbareable to watch, saying they needed binoculars. What have flat screen and giant TVs done to us?

So, not exactly the lap of luxury, but the staff and the lounge with roaring log fire made up for any disappointment.

The first night we drove to the village to find somewhere to eat. We were surprized to see a fire engine arrive immediately after us. We were even more surprized when we realised it was responding to a call from the pub we were literally just about to step into. There was a problem with the chimney, so we decided to try elsewhere for some dinner, a little doubtful there would be another option in such a tiny place. Luckily, there was another Inn very close by, and by the time the 10 of us were seated, there was little room for anyone else. The food was very good, and we were entertained by a customer at the bar in an extremely festive outfit...head to toe in reindeer pattern. This strange individual was proudly showing off an expensive looking leg of parma ham, encouraging people to try it. We resisted the temptation of trying meat from a random stranger at a bar, and left feeling a bit queasy from watching other customers (and staff) put food in their mouths for a dog to take out. Just seemed wrong, and asking for trouble in my opinion.

Arriving back at our hotel and enjoying a few drinks in the lounge, we watched none other than Mr Christmas himself with his trusty parma strolling up to the bar. In a fit of the giggles we watched as he tried to tempt more fellow drinkers to sample his delicacy. Next, he had the bright idea to try and cook some on the log fire. Surely this defeats the whole purpose of buying an expensive meat which is meant to be eaten raw...but I guess he was curious. My husband (a fellow Groupon addict) happened to notice a random offer on a leg of parma ham, and couldn't resist telling the poor guy how much cheaper he could have bought his ham for. To his credit, he defended his purchase and was still clearly delighted with it. Mr. Christmas was clearly enjoying himself, to each their own. It was also a little surreal as we watched the local police doing their rounds to check everything was OK in our hotel, and leaving with a mouthful of parma ham.

The next day was sunny, and we decided to make the most of it and visited Pitlochry dam and Fish Ladder. The Fish Ladder allows salmon to migrate up and over the 86 metre high dam, it's very interesting although you can only view the salmon between April and late September. The views were quite spectacular, and it was great to get some fresh air. I suspect the tourism to Pitlochry Dam may be on the increase. My son and his friend were photobombed by a mysterious old lady, on the slightly unstable bridge. The photo appeared on Facebook with the suggestion that she could be a ghost (of course she wasn't), and a few people believed it. We all had a good laugh at the prospects of it going viral and people hunting the Pitlochry ghost...the joke will be on us if it turns out she actually is!

We'd visited Aviemore on a very scenic drive to let the boys try skiing and sledging. Little did we know we could have saved ourselves a 1.5 hour trip by going to Glenshee, which was only half an hour away. This time we all intended having some fun in the snow. However, as we drove higher up, the snow started coming down pretty heavy making driving very difficult. Our 4*4 could cope, so my husband dropped me and the kids off at the top to go back and pick up our friends. Unfortunately, by the time he headed back, the road had been shut off, and we couldn't get back to them.  We agreed to meet up with them later, and bought ourselves a very overpriced sledge. My first attempt, sharing a sledge with my son, was not a great success. Unable to stop as we were going so fast, I managed, despite my best efforts not to, to crash us into a fence. I was forgiven, and my husband had to make sure he stopped us on future attempts. My husband, incidentally, although technically able to stop his sledge, did only slow down by traveling past the fence and into the path of beginner skiers and snow boarders. Could have been a few candid camera moments there, but thankfully not.

Glenshee was amazing that day. The sky with it's continuous blizzard, was as white as the snow we were standing in. Looking around, you could not tell where mountain finished, and sky began. Beautiful, yes, but also bitterly cold. The kids (and I), had had enough after about an hour. We headed back to the car and put the heating on full blast. We noticed the petrol tanker and a few cars in front were stationary as we got onto the road. My husband went to investigate and was told the road was still closed as so many cars had got stuck on the drive up. We sat for half an hour wondering what to do. The police kept saying snow plow's and gritters were on the way, but nothing seemed to be happening. My husband battered the elements and went to help push some of the cars that were stuck. I wasn't too worried about him, his fluorescent ski trousers could be seen from miles away. Here's a tip, if you are not really ski people like us, but fancy giving it a go, Lidl does great ski clothes. They've moved on from Burberry horse coats to ski equipment...essentials for every supermarket I'm sure you'll agree.

I think that's the highlights of the trip, the older kids had a ball being scared out of their wits on a
walk through the woods at night, as well as roasting marshmallows on the log fire. In summary, we had a great holiday and I'd go back to the Log Cabin Hotel, they offered me a discount which hopefully they won't revoke if they read this :) My only advice if you decide to go...avoid the mulled wine.