Tuesday, January 31, 2012

School Lunch Woes


By far the most frustrating meal to plan and assemble is Big Boy’s school lunch.  I want him to have a healthy, balanced lunch, so I pack lots of nice things into his lunch box, but most days he barely eats anything! 

Usually I give him the following:  a ham and cheese sandwich; a banana; a yogurt tube; an extra – usually carrot sticks, a muffin, cheese or raisins.  He drinks water from the tap at school.  Some days he eats every morsel, but lots of the time the sandwich comes home untouched.  He then ravenously eats the sandwich for his after school snack.

In a bid to have him eat more of his lunch, I have been giving him a hard-boiled egg and buttered bun instead of a sandwich for the last few days.  Now, he eats everything but the banana! 

Sigh…someday I will find a winning combination.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dinner Party Success


Last weekend we had another dinner party, and I think this time I really aced the food.  We had enough food, it was tasty and it was a balanced meal in terms of nutrition, taste, colour and texture.  We invited the family of one of Big Boy's classmates (2 parents and the classmate) and we had a lovely time.

Here is what I served:

  • Chicken – I served 1 kg drumsticks and 1 kg thighs.  All of the chicken was marinated for one day in the following:  4 tbsp. soy sauce; 3 tbsp sugar; 2 tbsp vinegar; 6 tbsp olive oil; salt; and pepper.   I coated the drumsticks in breadcrumbs before baking and I sprinkled the thighs with rosemary.  I could probably use less oil next time.
  • Parsnips – I baked 1 kg of parsnips with the chicken.
  • Potatoes and Onions – baked in the oven.  Coated lightly with olive oil.
  • Green Beans – boiled and salted.
  • Carrot and red pepper sticks with hummus dip.
  • Cheese biscuits and butter.
  • Apple Crumble and custard – our guests brought this lovely dessert – it was delicious!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Package Delivery Frustration

On November 2, a family member mailed 4 packages from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to us in Aberdeen.  Of the packages, 3 were sent via "normal" mail and 1 was registered. On December 8, we received the registered package.  It cost a shocking amount to send (just over $60) and it took over a month!  I could not believe how long it took and the expense.  The non-registered packages cost about $20 each to send and they arrived on December 9.

The world has become a small place for so many things but not for international packages!  When I order items from domestic Amazon sellers, I usually receive the item within a couple of days.  Domestic mail takes about 2 days, but, somehow Canada Post and the Royal Mail need over a month to deliver packages from Canada.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Countesswells Wood Walk


After school on Friday, a friend and I took our kids out to the woods at Countesswells for a walk.  The woods are about a 10 minute drive from home and the scenery is gorgeous.  Even in the early afternoon it is dark in the woods and they have a sort of foreboding, spooky feel.  Here is a picture:



We have been to a few different woods here in Scotland, and each one is unique.  The trees are typically old and massive, but there are different types of trees and various varieties of ground cover.  The woods at Countesswells starts out as a heavily wooded area and then opens up to a meadow and beautiful views of the surrounding farms. 

In Scotland, visiting the woods is a casual affair.  There are  parking areas next to most country roads and you can stop almost anywhere for a nice walk.  I find this to be less formal than in Canada, where there are specific hiking areas with planned trails.  

Anyways, back to our outing.  We took 4 children for a walk in the wood.  Little Boy rode in a backpack carrier, all of the other children walked.  Unfortunately, our walk moved at a snail’s pace and was a comedy of setbacks.  It was slippery and the kids ran and fell.  Then someone stepped in dog mess, then horse mess.  Then 2 kids ran ahead and lost the trail.  Then 1 wanted to be carried.   The children became tired as they walked and the more tired the were, the sillier they acted.  The sillier the behavior  - the worse the consequences.  Little slips turned into big falls, pouting turned into crying, begging for sweeties turned into tantrums.

By the time we got to the car, the kids were worn out and so were the mums!  We had fun, but it was a lot of work and I’m not sure the children entirely appreciated our efforts.  At least the fresh air exhausted the kids!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Haggis


Wednesday was Robert Burns Day (“Rabbie Burns” to some) – the day that all of Scotland seems to eat haggis.  We went to a friend’s house and she made for us a kid-friendly version of a Burns Supper.  We had haggis, turnip mash and potato mash, along with a “99” for dessert.  A “99” is an ice cream cone with a Cadbury Flake chocolate bar inserted into it – amazing! 

At our supper, my friend addressed the haggis in a short, child-friendly way and then her 3-year old son - dressed in his kilt and sporran - stabbed the haggis.  It was so cute!

I am pleased to say that my kids love haggis!  Big Boy ate 2 large servings and a chipotle sausage.  Little Boy ate part of a serving then dumped his on the floor – but he kept reaching for more.  My husband had haggis 2 times on Burns Day – for lunch he ate the vegetarian version – he assures me that the carnivore version is much tastier.

So, we are a haggis loving family!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Doesn't Anyone Make Real Cappuccino Anymore?


I’m not a coffee snob.  I don’t mind cheap coffee as long has a mellow flavor and is piping hot.  But I may be a cappuccino snob. 

When I order a cappuccino, I expect a barista (male or female) to steam milk, make espresso and then combine them with lots of foam and not too much liquid milk.  This is a cappuccino.  The stuff that comes out of a machine when you push a button which is basically chemical-filled milky coffee with a tiny layer of froth that is often sweetened and flavored to the point of tasting more like a hot chocolate is not a cappuccino.

I’m not saying I don’t like the machine-squirted product, I’m just saying that it has very little in common with a lovely, frothy, indulgent, hand-steamed cappuccino.

When we lived in Dubai, where labor is cheap (an unfortunate situation, etc., etc., but it is the truth) almost every hole-in-the wall that served coffee had a barista steaming the milk and making the espresso.  Unfortunately, the baristas generally had no idea about what they were doing and produced unfortunate cappuccinos (for the most part...some were stellar).

When we were on holiday in Prague, I was quite surprised that the Club Lounge had only machine-made cappuccino while our room was equipped with an espresso maker and milk steamer (but no milk, alas).

In Canada, you can get a proper cappuccino at the coffee chains, but many other places selling the drink use the machine version.  This includes Tim Horton’s, one of my favorite places to stop for coffee.  A handmade cappuccino can come with quite a price tag in Canada.  What annoys me is when vendors with machine-made cappuccino charge the same prices.

Here in Scotland a cappuccino is usually close in price to a plain coffee.  This is interesting – in Canada the price difference is usually double or more.  That being said, coffee out is a lot more expensive here in Scotland than anywhere else I have lived.  Unfortunately, price is not indicative of the labour behind the drink - some places here serve proper cappuccino, some machine-made.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dobbies Garden Centre

My kids are home together one weekday each week and I try to make it special.  Big Boy son has football in the morning and then we do an activity in the afternoon.  Once I took them to the seaside, sometimes we go to the forest, etc.

Last week it was cold and windy, so I decided to do an indoor activity and we headed to Dobbies Garden Centre.  I had heard that there was a soft play area at Dobbies - but we did not find it.  We found Dobbies (which my GPS says doesn't exist) and walked into a massive garden shop and cafe.  We had a good wander because there were big sales and we bought a few things.

Then we went to the cafe and had coffee and fairy cakes - well 2 of us did.  Little Boy just ground his into crumbs and tossed them all over the floor.  Sigh....eventually eating out will not be an embarrassing nightmare...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I rode a horse...and I liked it!

Yesterday I went to the Hayfield Riding School for a Paddock Hack.  This is a 1-hour lesson and ride, and anyone can go that is 5 years old or older.  My group consisted of 3 women, the other 2 were somewhat experienced with horses, I was (and am) a newbie.

We started off our ride by walking around a sandy ring and learning the basics of sitting on a horse, turning a horse, stopping a horse, and starting a horse.  Once we had mastered these skills we headed off for a lovely walk through the woods.  Walking on the trail was exciting.  The horses changed speeds depending on the terrain and the slope.  The paths were a bit icy and my horse slipped.  My horse also lunged to try to eat some shrubs and tripped over her own toes, but it was all in good fun.

As we were walking along, it struck me that it was a lovely way to see the woods.  It also struck me that riding on a horse is a lot of exercise.  I was holding in my gut and sitting ultra-erect whilst using my leg muscles to keep my balance.

After our forest walk we went back to the sandy ring and trotted with our horses.  Trotting was a bit scary at first.  The horses pick up speed quickly and it is really bouncy for the rider.  I felt like I was about to fall over the head of the horse.

Overall I had a great time and I want to go again.  As with all horsey things, it was not cheap, so my “frugal gene” is kicking in to complain.  But, I do think it was worth it.  The 1-hour paddock hack was £24.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Men!

We were invited to a party with a formal paper invitation.  The invitation came just over 8 weeks in advance of the date of the party.  The invitation specified “formal dress.”  I asked my husband what he would wear – kilt?  Suit?  He said that he would be fine - he would wear a nice suit.

We R.S.V.P.’d (OK, I just made up a verb!) to the invitation.  I needed a new dress, so we hired a babysitter 2 weeks before the party and my husband and I went shopping.  I bought a dress.  I spent the better part of an evening pressing my new dress.  Once again, I asked my husband what he would wear – did he want to rent a kilt?  Suit?  Once again, he said that he would be fine - he would wear a nice suit.

I dug through moving boxes to find my high black heels.  I cleaned and polished them.  I went downtown and bought a lovely clutch and a couple pairs of new stockings (2 pairs in case one rips).  I made a hair appointment and emailed it to my husband as a calendar item so that he could look after the children.  Yet again, I asked my husband what he would wear – did he want to rent a kilt?  Suit?  Yet again, he said that he would be fine - he would wear a nice suit.

Two days before the party, my husband flew to Denmark.  He was scheduled to come home very late the night before the party.  The party was on a Saturday.  When he was in Denmark, he got an email confirming our taxi arrangements for the party.  The email confirmed what the invitation said – “formal dress.”  He emailed me asking, “Did you know this is formal dress??  I think I have to rent a kilt.”  Grrrrr - Of course I knew – I read the invitation.

Guess who spent a morning calling kilt hire shops to see if they are open Saturday and if they could set up a fitting and rental for the very next day?  Not the person in Denmark.  The biggest surprise – the kilt hire stores see this all the time and are totally prepared for last-minute rentals!  I guess my husband is not the only one.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Burns Supper

Last night we went to a Burns Supper and I enjoyed every minute.  Not only was it a very rare, lovely evening away from the kids, it was also interesting and fun.  I’ll tell you about it, but first I have to answer the one question that I know is on everyone’s mind.  Yes, my husband wore a kilt.  He looked simply dashing!  I can honestly say that there is a personality to the kilt that is lost with a tuxedo.  He rented a Black Prince Charlie get-up (more about the rental in another post).

Anyways, back to the event itself….

To start the evening off a car picked us up at our place.  This was a nice touch – it saved everyone from the “should I leave my car in a remote location or should I try to drive home?” decision at the end of the party.  We then travelled a short distance into town where the car was meant to pick up another couple.  Except the driver got lost.  And then he started getting a bit strange – he was all out of sorts and upset about being lost.  When we finally found the house, he got stuck in the drive and was very upset about how narrow it was.  It was very awkward – he was panicking because the road was dark and narrow – there was nothing we could do!  It was one of those moments when I wanted to giggle, but knew it was horribly inappropriate.

Eventually we got the car out of the drive and the other couple, who did not realize we were in the car, tried to sit on us.  The man actually sat on my husband a bit – a quick get-to-know you!  Once we piled in (I was on the middle back-seat hump wedged under the other woman and over my husband) we had a lovely ride to the Ardoe House Hotel, the location for the supper.

We walked into a room of kilts and formal gowns and immediately had a lovely glass of champagne.  We were late because of the to do with the taxi so we sat down to supper really quickly after arrival - we missed the cocktail reception.

A pipe and drum band started off the evening’s entertainment.  I have said it again, and I will repeat it here – I love bagpipes.  They are powerful, festive and best of all – loud!  The music was impressive and put us all in a festive mood.  We ate a bowl of Scotch broth, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

After a couple of courses, it was time for the much-anticipated haggis.  First a haggis was ceremoniously carried into the room and our MC “addressed” it.  He rhymed about it being a flying haggis and then he pierced it with a sword whilst serenading it with poetry.  I must say, the chef, who stood aside the haggis for the toast looked slightly bored and annoyed with the spectacle.  A single piper piped the haggis in and out of the room.

Then the haggis was served.  I was nervous about my first taste, but I decided to jump right in – why make it a big deal.  I scooped a bit on my fork and – down the hatch!  It was good!  It was like a sausage out of it’s casing and well cooked.  It was mild initially with a spicy taste at the end.  We had a small portion and I finished mine.  I was served with potato and turnip mash – I liked the potato and did not particularly like the turnip.

The main course was served (a choice of chicken or beef) and it was delicious also.  Dessert was a cheese board or an Eton mess.  I love how Eton mess looks in cookery books, so I was excited to try it.  It looked a little different than I expected - like a “fancy” version of an Eton mess and it was wonderful.  I love meringue so it suited me well.

After dinner there was a program.  It started with highland dancers – young ladies that performed a few dances.  I have to say (sorry girls), but this was my least favorite part of the show.  I found it a little dull to watch.

Next there was a presentation about the life of Robert Burns and his impact on both Scottish people and the world.  It was presented in an engaging format (which my husband first compared to a CBC presentation and then to the Tommy Hunter Show….anybody remember that one?).  There were 2 presenters – a man and a woman – and they told the story of the life of Robert Burns and intertwined the story telling with performance of his poems and songs.  It was educational, entertaining, and interesting – a tough combination to master!

After that came the dancing.  I expected a North American-style wedding dance with a bunch of people grooving awkwardly to pop/rock tunes by the live band.  Boy was I wrong!  It was céilidh dancing, and everyone seemed to know just what to do.  It looked like a cross between square dancing and partnered line dancing.  After a while we were enticed to the floor to join in.  The dances are confusing but eventually we got the hang of it – even the “Stripping the Willow” dance.

And that was our evening – I can’t wait until next year!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sailor Stacking Toy

I bought my sons each a new toy in Prague.  I don’t often buy toys for my kids because I feel that they have far too many toys, but I loved the wooden toys made in the Czech Republic and I wanted the boys to each have a souvenir (ah-ha!  I can justify the purchase with two reasons!).

Big Boy picked his own toy, a wooden frog that bounces on a coiled wire spring.  He adores it.  I picked out a toy for Little Boy - I chose a wooden stacking sailor.  It is a peg with wooden disks that can be stacked in many different combinations.  Here are a few pictures:

(note - the text continues below the photos...)





The age rating of this toy was “1 year and up” and it is perfect for Little Boy.  I had to spend a bit of time teaching him how to use it, but now he can maneuver the disks into place on his own.  Each time he uses it, his skills improve.  He is clearly developing his small motor skills as he plays.  I am so pleased with this purchase.

The sailor toy made me think about how we present toys to our kids.  When he first picked up this toy, Little Boy really did not know what to do with it, so he defaulted to using it as a hammer – this is his “go to” with any new object.  Once I took some time (about 10 minutes) sitting with him on the floor and stacking the disks, he was far more delighted with the toy.  It is a challenge for him, and he loves it. 

Sometimes we just hand new toys to kids and let them discover what to do with them.  Are we robbing them of the experience of playing with the toys properly?  I notice that Big Boy usually takes over and shows Little Boy what to do with new toys and once he picks a use (usually a silly one) it seems to be written in stone.  From now on, I will take the time and make the effort to show the kids what to do with new toys – that is my pledge!




Friday, January 20, 2012

Blog Nomenclature

So...I can’t really call my younger son a baby anymore.  He is 13 months old and he is definitely not a baby.  I find it awkward to refer to them in this blog as “my older son” and “my younger son,” so I am going to start referring to them as “Big Boy” and “Little Boy.”  So creative....

Swimming Lessons

Swimming lessons are offered at my son’s school - but there is, of course, a problem.  For kids his age, it is required that the mother swim with the child.  This does not work for me – not because I don’t want to prance about at school in my swimsuit (although this is true) but because I would have nowhere safe to leave the baby while I was swimming with my older son.

I contacted the coach who operates the swimming program and she said I could bring my son in for an assessment.  If he could swim at a certain level, he could join one of the upper classes and I would not have to swim with him.

On Thursday I took him in for his assessment.  I was a bit nervous.  He has taken lessons before, but most recently these lessons were in Dubai and therefore I had downgraded them to dubious quality.  I thought they were good lessons when I was in Dubai, but my memories of Dubai are tarnished and I am beginning to doubt the quality of everything there.

I was also nervous because it has been months since my son has been swimming.

Anyways, he attended his assessment and tested a couple of grades above his age level!  Hooray – maybe those were decent lessons in Dubai.  Or maybe it was the fact that I took him to the pool nearly every day.  Or maybe he’s just a good swimmer.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

White Glue vs. Hair Disaster

So, yesterday I got a bunch of white glue in my hair.  It’s not important how it happened, but I will say that I could not blame anyone or get angry with anyone beside myself.  The glue coated one side of my face (including my mouth and glasses) and about ¼ of my hair around my face.  It also sprayed onto the wall, the floor, the windowsill, the window, the table, a highchair and a magazine.  A terrible mess!

Of course this happened while I was busy and I could not leave the kids (because it would not have been safe), so I could not go shower.  So I decided to tilt my face and head into the kitchen sink and try to wash off with dish soap.  Not only was this unpleasant, it was largely ineffective and I ended up with a skin-like layer of glue on my face and stiff, slimy, wet glue in my hair.  It eventually dried my hair into a k.d. lang-style pompadour and turned all powdery.

After my husband came home we put the kids to bed and I finally got to have a shower.  It took ages to wash the glue out – first it sort of washed “in” to the other parts of my hair.

I remember hearing that people with mohawks (or "mohican" on this side of the Atlantic) sometimes use white glue to position their hair.  They must have a lot of patience or a lack of concern regarding their hair’s cleanliness.  I have to admit – it did hold well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Drum Castle Hike

What a wonderful afternoon.  After school a friend and I packed our kids into our respective cars (4 kids and 2 cars total) and drove off in the chilly sunshine to Drum Castle.  It was 4.5 degrees Celsius out, so we bundled up the kids and then took them on a hike through the woods behind the castle.

The 2 older children are boys and they ran and explored in the woods like kids should.  They climbed onto tree trunks and ran through long grass.  They found sticks and poked at trees.  They breathed fresh air and ran around until their legs were sore.

After the hike we went to the lovely castle playground and the kids slipped on the wooden equipment.  They were full of mud and worn out…just as kids should be.  The baby even had mud in his teeth!

Both of my kids dozed on the 20-minute ride home and I enjoyed the quiet and the pink sunset.   


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wellie Lust

I went to the grocery store and I had to buy a non-grocery item, which meant I had to wander through the clothing area.  In the ladies section they had the cutest wellies – light blue with a tiny floral pattern – exactly my style.  I definitely fancy them.  (As an aside – I like the word “fancy.”  The word “want” has a lot of negative connotations that are not attached to the word “fancy” for me, so I see “fancy” as a kinder, gentler “want,” and I have adopted it.)

This raises three things.  First of all  - really, wellies are what I choose to fancy – I have just moved from a country filled with all of the best designer goods that I did not fancy, not one bit, but here I find that I fancy wellies – that’s telling in my opinion.

Second – in September, I bought the equivalent of grocery store wellies.  They were £15 wellies from Deichmann Shoes in the mall.  They lasted about 3 months and then they sprung 2 leaks, meaning damp and chilly feet for me.  Is it a mistake to buy grocery store wellies?  Will they last?  I wear my wellies almost every day - maybe I need better quality.  The blue flowered wellies that I fancied at the grocery store were £15 also, and the fancy, brand name “Hunter” wellies start at about £60 to £80.  That is - 5.3 pairs of grocery store wellies for each pair of fancy brand-name wellies.  Is it worth it?  Should I go for the big spend?


I have tried on more expensive wellies and the one problem that I run into is that my slim (not) calves do not fit into the boots with jeans folded around them.  This is how I need to wear the boots and so I need to buy boots that match my lifestyle, not boots that are cute but not practical.  I have been searching for an answer, but the best I have found so far is to buy mens wellies for a wider calf.  Problem with that is that my feet are pretty small - usually mens are not available that small!  So I think I need "male youth" wellies....sigh...darned cankles!

Third – my younger son needs wellies too and my older son will soon.  They grow out of their shoes in the blink of an eye, so are grocery store wellies good enough for them?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wildlife

This morning, just after I posted about my squirrel and bird feeder issues I was staring out the window while my son was practicing his letters and a fox (!) ran by!!!


I have not seen a wild fox before.  This one was trotting, happy as Larry, alongside our fence and then he (or she) ran into the field behind our house.  My son asked me "are you sure that is a good idea, for foxes to just run around outside?"


Also - an update on the bird feeder situation - the one remaining feeder has attracted a few birds this morning.  When the squirrels come around they seem to scatter, but they return every time the squirrels disappear.

Death of a Bird Feeder

For Christmas I bought my sons a set of 3 bird feeders.  Each feeder has a different type of seeds, meant to attract a different type of bird.  This was an interesting purchase on my part.  My husband despises birds and I knew that I would have to hang and fill the feeders without his assistance, but I thought the effort would be worth it – the kids could watch lovely birds eating out of our feeders.

One of the feeders contained peanuts (yeah, that’s right, past tense) and there were strict instructions on the box not to leave the peanuts out during the spring months of April and May so that baby birds would not eat the peanuts and choke.  So, when I went to hang the feeders, I hung the other two (the ones without peanuts) on the tree with the birdhouse (presumably where the baby birds would hang out) and I hung the peanut feeder on a different tree.  I hung all three feeders using kitchen string.

For the first couple of days the kids watched the feeders non-stop and there was no action.  I read up on the topic and I discovered that it could take up to a month to attract birds.  So, we stopped paying close attention.  Then, one day last week I saw one of the feeders moving – kind of hopping up and down on it’s string like a bird had been sitting on it and it started moving when the bird took off into flight.  “This is progress!” I thought.

Then, yesterday I noticed that the red feeder was on the ground.  What?

Well, today I got my explanation.  There were 2 squirrels in the yard attacking the peanut feeder.  They were trying to rip through it with their teeth.  They had obviously chewed through the hanging thread to drop the feeder and were gorging on the spoils.  I took a short video of one squirrel attacking the feeder.  Each time he grabbed and shook it (picture a dog shaking a toy), more peanuts came flying out.  The feeder is empty now and the scavenging squirrels are grabbing what they can.

Funny thing is, the squirrels are so focused on their haul that they are not scared of me.  I went outside and they did not run away, they just kept at it.

So, no cute birds for us – just nasty scavenging squirrels.  I’ll bet my husband will be happy.



Sunday, January 15, 2012

Royal Deeside Drive to Ballater

We just returned from a lovely drive through Royal Deeside to the town of Ballater.  The drive took about 1 hour each way.  The scenery was amazing – rolling fields, varied live stock, historical buildings, bridges, a forest and, of course, the River Dee.

We drove past Banchory and through Aboyne and into the Cairngorm National Park.  In Ballater we took a chilly walk around town and popped in and out of a few of the shops.  We made judicious purchases at the candy store and walked to the bridge over the Dee.  It was quite cold (-6 Celsius) – well perhaps we were just not dressed for the temperature.

We ate our picnic lunch in the car and then drove back home.

We had considered stopping at the nature reserve in Dinnet, but it was far to cold.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Walkie

I love horses.  I have not spent a lot of time around horses, but I think they are absolutely gorgeous.  At home, they are definitely more interesting to drive past than cows. Here, they are more interesting than cows, but sheep are cuter.  Anyways.

We are lucky enough to live right by a couple of fields of horses.  They are right outside our terrace and it takes less than 1 minute to walk and see horses.  A couple of times I have taken the kids for a walk just to stare at the horses (one time we ran into and then spooked 2 deer on a horse walk – added bonus?).  The field directly behind our terrace has sleek horses.  On chilly mornings they wear horse blankets and it is a lovely scene – different coloured horses with different coloured blankets all standing around the field.  The field right next to the one behind our terrace has a different type of horses.  They are fuzzy and quiet a bit smaller.

There is a riding school that operates out of the field behind our terrace (Hayfield Riding School) and since we’ve moved here I have had it in my head that I need to get our older son onto a horse.  Horses are his favorite animal at the moment and he has not been scared of them at Doonies Farm or Fort Edmonton.  So I arranged for him to go on a “walkie” (a 20 minute ride where an instructor walks a horse about and the rider learns some basics – pretty much designed to see if the rider is interested in taking lessons) at the riding school.   The cost of the walkie was £15 with £2 of that for a membership, so if we go again it will be £13.

We decided to take the whole family to the walkie the morning and we had a great time.  My older son sat atop the horse proud as punch with a massive grin on his face the whole time.  The horse he rode was a pony named "Sam."  At one point in the walk we ran into a group of ill-behaved dogs and the horse tensed up.  My son took it in stride - no big deal.  At the end of the walkie the instructor took him into a small sandy ring and the horse trotted for a bit - that was his favorite part!

We will definitely need to do this again sometime!

I could not resist - I had to add a photo!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Christmas Decorations

This week I put away our Christmas decorations.  I did not manage to put them away before Twelfth Night…oh well, maybe next year.

Putting our decorations away took about 10 minutes.  That’s the upside of having all of our Christmas things in storage in Calgary!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

MyFarm – Initial Review

Recently I was selected to try out the “MyFarm” concept for a month and review it.  MyFarm is a National Trust project (you will recall I have a lot of great things to say about the National Trust and their properties).  The National Trust has supplied me with a 1-month membership to MyFarm so that I can review it. 

Basically the MyFarm concept is this:  there is a physical farm at Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire and farmers operate the farm.  Through the MyFarm website, members will vote on the decisions and direction that the farm takes.  There is a monthly vote regarding farm operation issues and preceding this vote there is online discussion regarding the various positions.  The goal of the project is to help people think about where food comes from and what farming involves.  I was interested in becoming a part of the project because during my time away from work one of my goals is to cook more “from scratch” food and try local ingredients, in other words, get back to the basics.  I want to think about where my food is coming from and I want to educate my children about what they are eating.

The farm is a mixed-farming operation with crops and livestock and there are many interesting issues for online farmers to consider.  The farm is mostly an organic farm with a newly acquired section that is conventionally farmed.  The website describes the property in detail and provides a map laying out the various areas.  There are lively discussion pages about the various issues, for instance late last year there was a vote about the restoration of certain hedges.  Farmers were provided with history of the area in terms of hedges and a costing and issue list for each choice of hedging (the choices were “Stock Hedges,” “Bio-fuel Hedges,” or “Wildlife Hedges”).  There are various videos and other educational tools on the site for farmers to use to learn about the issue.  In the end, the farmers voted for “Wildlife Hedges” with a 54% majority.

So far, my first impressions on the site and project are this:
  • There seems to be a very enthusiastic community of farmers.  This is good – anything less could threaten the success of the project.
  • The site is incredibly educational whether you are a member or not.  I found myself clicking on links just to see what certain terms meant. 
  • The information on the site is presented in a clear way with many different formats including video, pictures, and text.  There is even a game!
  • I think this will be a good way to engage in food production issues.  I am especially interested to learn more about organic farming and what benefits organic food has (I am tired of the "it's just better" arguments surrounding organic food).
  • I plan to show my older son certain parts of this site as an educational tool.  There are specific links with “teacher content” that I plan to look at with my son.


So far I’m impressed….I will update you as the month goes on.


I am a member of the Mumsnet Blogging Network, a group of parent bloggers picked by Mumsnet to review products, services, events and brands. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retail full editorial integrity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Accident

On Tuesday my son had an accident at school.  He was standing on a wagon and fell off when it was moved (yes that is a nice way of saying “when another child yanked the wagon and knocked my son off”).  He had a cut bleeding lip, bruised chin and a goose egg.  I understand that he cried for his mommy when he fell (awwww…) and there was quite a lot of blood.  The school called me and told me that he was hurt and that the nurse currently had him observation. 

I grabbed my diaper bag and shoved in a few extra snacks and my older son’s special sleeping toys and then I was out the door.  I drove to the school and went to the nurse’s office.  She was icing my son’s head and chatting calmly with him.  She said that his goose egg was much less swollen and he probably did not need the doctor or emergency (called “A & E” in Scotland).  She gave me a list of symptoms to watch for and then I left.

We went home and ate lunch and then both my kids to extra-long naps.  They woke up and had a bit of time to play before supper.  While they were playing, at about 4:30, the phone rang.  It was my son’s teacher.  She called to see how my son was doing.  I thought that was so great!  Not only did she care how he was doing, she wanted to check on him so that she did not have to worry all night.

Anyways, he seems to be healthy at this point.   I hope he has learned not to stand on the wagon. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Football

This week my son started soccer with Footstars, a soccer school for younger children.  He loved his first class and I had fun as well (I had to participate).  It was difficult for me to participate and look after the baby so I may arrange for the baby to go to the crèche in the future.

My son does not seem to be the athletic type.  He enjoys adding a few skips into running and he actually ran into a wall because he was not paying attention.  He has not had a lot of experience dribbling a ball so he tends to over kick it from one foot to the other and has to chase the ball a lot.

Even though he is not the best football player and is a bit distractible (he started to dance when “Moves like Jagger” came on during practice), he had a blast!  I hope he will become more familiar with ball control and football moves as time goes on.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Adult Radio


Today I drove my son to football in my husband’s truck (a giant Range Rover – way too big to be practical on our tiny shoulder-less roads here).  I don’t know how to change the radio station in the truck and I fiddled with it a bit and then all I had was static.  I kept pushing the buttons and finally found BBC Radio 1. 

Radio 1 is a pop station but at the moment I found it, they were talking between songs.  The DJs were talking about the buzz in the media recently about excessive drinking.  Apparently it is now recommended that we take 2 days off from drinking per week and there are daily limits on units consumed.  Part of their conversation was about how the government may make it more difficult to drink.  I am assuming they were referring to additional taxes, but to be honest I was not really listening.

The DJs finished whittering on and then a commercial started playing.  My 4.5-year old son asked, “Is that true?” I had no idea what he was talking about so I asked, “Is what true?” back.   He answered, “Is it true that the government will make it more difficult to drink?  Because I like to drink.  Especially juice and Yop but also milk and water.”

I explained that they were talking about grown up drinks that are not really good for you.  He thought for a while and then asked, “Oh, like Coke and Beer?”

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Twitterpated Part 2

My older son seems to be twitterpated when in the company of little girls his own age.  Unfortunately this does not translate well in a 4-year old boy.  When we have playdates with other children, he is generally calm and lovely when the group consists of only boys, but when girls are involved, he becomes a loud, hyperactive show-off.  He plays silly games and does not listen.  He will do anything to get the attention of the little girls.

He is only 4, if girls have him twitterpated now, what will he be like when he gets older?  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

McDonalds and Kids

I want to say at the outset of this post that we do not go to McDonalds very often (less then once per month), especially here in Aberdeen.  But I am not opposed to McDonalds, and I wanted to explain my thinking on this very controversial restaurant.

In our household we see McDonalds as a treat – kind of like food at a birthday party.  As parents we sometimes introduce this treat at convenient times, especially when travelling.  When we are travelling, during the first day or two, our family often experiences chaos.  There is the time change, the schedule changes from the travel day or days (be it driving or flying) and the change of being in a foreign place.  Often this leads to “desperate moments” when we need to find somewhere kid-friendly to eat very quickly to manage hunger levels and usually use the washroom or baby change facility.  In foreign touristy areas quite often the most obvious place that fits this description is McDonalds. 

So, often when we are in a new place we end up eating McDonalds on the very first day and then we mock ourselves later when we have become acclimatized and have discovered some of the lovely local cuisine (which inevitably our greedy little boys love).  We ate McDonalds on our first days in Dubai, Aberdeen and Istanbul.  It is a good “comfort food” – it is convenient, consistent, familiar and filling.  On those days, it does not matter how nutritious or healthy the meal is, it is just a matter of solving the eating problem quickly.

When we were stranded in Prague near the airport, we went to McDonalds for a similar reason.  We looked around the terminal and there was not much, and most of the restaurants looked more like coffee shops with sandwiches that were generally to “fancy” for little kids.  It was 4 hours past lunchtime and we just needed something that they would eat – and fast.  In Prague we did not eat McDonalds on the other days, but we did have sandwiches from Subway because they were familiar, convenient and cheap.  This is the role that McDonalds plays for our family.

A totally unrelated note about McDonalds.....

Here is something unrelated about McDonalds that I find quite interesting.  I often shop at the Bridge of Dee ASDA in Aberdeen for groceries and whatnot.  On November 27, 2011 I took the kids to see the Coke Truck and then headed into the store for some basic groceries.  You could refer to my blog post: http://janiceljlj.blogspot.com/2011/11/coke-truck-disappointment.html .  That day I wanted to take the kids for hot chocolate (and coffee for me) to the McDonalds inside of ASDA, but there was a sign up saying that they could not serve coffee or tea (I’m not sure how long it had been up at that point).

After that I made a point of looking into the McDonalds whenever I walked past it and they still had the sign up.  It was still up until after Christmas.  This means that it was at least 1 month of no coffee/tea service.  When we I walked by on the days that the sign was up, the restaurant was always basically empty, with only 1 or 2 customers or groups.  When I walked by after Christmas and the sign was gone (meaning that coffee and tea service had resumed), the restaurant was full.  I cannot believe that McDonalds took so long to fix the machine; they must have lost a lot of money over that time period.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sheraton Prague


I am writing this post to make the point that even in an expensive room at a nice hotel, the service is not perfect.  There are annoying issues and to me this “cheapens” the experience.   I say this from the perspective of someone who was staying on points in an upgraded room.  If I had paid full price for the room, I may have been frustrated.

During our trip to Prague we stayed at the Sheraton Prague, which is located on Charles Square.  We were upgraded to an amazing room with a loft.  This was great, the children slept up in the loft and we had a comfortable area to ourselves.  We were comfortable and had a great stay in the hotel.  While it was a good experience, it was not perfect, as discussed here.

We had access to the Club Lounge as my husband travels a lot and has earned this as a loyalty reward.  I have to say that the services in the Club Lounge at the Sheraton Prague were certainly lacking when compared to other Sheraton Club Lounges.  The breakfast was cold cereal, yoghurt and bread products, served buffet style in comparison with hot breakfast including eggs at other Sheraton locations.  The staff in the Club Lounge during breakfast were not very friendly and when we were there the lounge was often out of one or more items.  For example one morning there was no bowls for the cereal.

Also, once again I have to say that when the staff makes up the room, there is an interesting reluctance to replace items.  For example, I used the washcloths to wash out our baby milk bottles.  We started with 4 and never had that many again.  One day when they cleaned our room they did not bring any new bath towels.  We are conservative about asking for replacement linens, and it is annoying to find our room with no towels whatsoever.  It is always a hassle to call down for more.

I have found on other occasions (not on this vacation) that if you use cups, portable cups, tea bags or coffee the items are not replaced at all during our stay.

These complaints are certainly not serious and would not affect my hotel choice in the future, as I have had this experience with many different chains of hotels.  It is just annoying that at every price point there are gaps in hotel service.  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Prague - Comments on our Vacation


Well, we are home from Prague and all unpacked.  The laundry is washed and I can hear it tumbling in the dryer.  I truly have lost the “vacation” feeling and I am ruminating on our holiday and what I thought of Prague.

I would recommend vacationing in Prague to almost anyone (with the exception of those who prefer not to do a lot of walking or who are unable to do a lot of walking).  It is a beautiful, cultured city that is easy to explore.  The area that we were interested in as tourists can easily be covered on foot, even by a 4-year old.  It did not cost that much to be a tourist in Prague, although we could have spent more on dining and activities.  Having kids along curbs these expenses for us because I hate fine dining with kids and it is tough to take them to a show.  

I have a few comments organized under headings:

Stroller

We used a 3-wheel MacLaren Stroller to get around.  (If you want to know the model, send me a comment and I will let you know, but I am assuming that most readers don’t care).  It is a tough stroller with a narrower wheelbase than some other 3-wheel strollers.   We found it to be perfect for the cobbled streets.  Unfortunately, as always, we found it somewhat imperfect for the narrow aisles in stores and restaurants.  It is also terrible on stairs, but there were not too many to contend with (unlike in Venice, where we carried that stroller up and down about a thousand staircases).

We did not take the tram or the metro.  We saw the tram many times and I think that if we rode it, it would have been a major hassle to take the stroller on any tram but the low-car ones.  To board a regular tram with the stroller, we would have had to empty the bottom and fold it up.  This means that one adult has to carry the stroller and the junk from the bottom basket of the stroller while the other carries the baby and holds our older son's hand – major hassle.  We did take the stroller on the funicular and it was not too bad, but there were stairs.  Each adult held one end of the stroller while the baby rode in it Cleopatra-style.  We chose not to take the tram or metro because we simply did not need to.  Everything was close enough to walk.

The stroller was a real asset on New Year Eve for clearing space while we walked through the tight crowds.

Also, in case you are interested, our older son did not ride in the stroller at all.  He walked everywhere except for a few minutes on New Years Eve when I carried him because he was being shoved around and squished by the crowds.   I was afraid of him being crushed and hurt because I could see that he was already starting to be stepped on and pushed over.

Cobbles

The cobbles are different in Prague than any I have ever seen.  There are two predominant types – small sharp-edged square ones and large rounded rectangle ones.  The small sharp-edged square ones were the type that I had not seen before.  They are incredibly slippery to walk on, even in my ice/snow boots.  They were slippery when they were dry and even more slippery when wet. 

The spaces between the cobbles were narrow enough and our stroller wheels were wide enough that we did not have any issues with the wheels being caught between the stones.  This made not have been the case with our umbrella stroller.  I think that the wheels of that buggy would have been too narrow and would have gotten stuck between the larger cobbles.

Weather

We visited Prague in December and January, some of the coldest months of the year.  It both rained and snowed while we were there, but it was not an issue for us.  The snow was the type that melted upon impact and it only snowed for a few minutes here and there.  The rain was interesting.  It never really rained for more than a few minutes and when it did rain it was not very hard.  We only experienced one bought of rain that drove us inside.  We would often get the rain cover on the stroller to discover that it had stopped raining.  On New Years Eve it rained for a few minutes while we waited for the fireworks but it was not a big deal.

While we were in Prague the temperature ranged from about -1 Celsius to +8 Celsius.  It was always pleasant enough to be outside and it was coldest in areas exposed to the wind, notably along the river and on the bridges.

Clothing

We spent most of our trip walking around outdoors, so how did we dress for the winter weather?  Well, we dressed warmly so that we would not have to feel cold or change our plans because we were chilly.

The kids wore long johns, jeans or sweat pants, undershirts, long-sleeved shirts and sweaters each day.  As outerwear, the baby wore a fleece snowsuit and a ski jacket while our older son wore his ski jacket, which is rated to -30 Celsius.  Both kids wore toques and my older son wore mittens.  The baby won’t wear mittens, so if we were worried about his hands we would tuck them under a blanked.

My husband and I wore jeans.  I wore long johns under my jeans most days (Helly Hansen Under Armour) and a few times I wore the matching undershirt as well.  I always wore a wool sweater or shirt while my husband wore flannel shirts.  Sometimes we also added vests.  I had a slightly padded ¾ length raincoat as my coat and my husband had a raincoat as well.  My husband and I both wore gloves.  He wore a toque (and I did once) and I wore a cap.

Our whole family wore winter boots the whole time.  I wore wool socks every day and they were necessary.  My boots are rated for very low temperatures (North Face Snow Betty boots) so my feet got pretty hot if we went indoors but it was worth it - I never had cold feet!

On New Years Eve we all wore lots of clothing because of the dipping temperatures.  I’m glad we did because we needed it!

Ladies in Prague seem to love their winter outerwear fashion and they sported tall boots and fur (along with a lot of extensions and maroon/purple hair).  If you did not bring enough outdoor clothing, you could easily purchase anything you needed in the main tourist areas for a reasonable price.

Language

Perhaps this heading should be “English” because we rarely had any trouble using English.  In the Czech Republic schoolchildren are taught English and everyone seems to be quite fluent.  There were only a couple of instances where we could not communicate in English.

Music

Not surprisingly, classical music is very popular in Prague.  Prague was a hotbed of artistic activity and the legacy remains, with many concert halls and art installations.  What did surprise me was the predominance of jazz music.

Now, if you know me, you will know that I love almost all music but I really hate jazz.  So, I don’t pay attention to jazz music information and I don’t seek it out.  In Prague it seemed to be everywhere, at least in the tourist spots.

WC

As we have found in other European places, finding a washroom can be a problem.  Toilets are few and far between and when you do locate one you may have to use exact change to make a payment for entry.  In Prague it seemed that most eating establishments had their own toilet for customers.  Generally they were clean and functional.  Notably this was not the case in Istanbul.  Many restaurants in all parts of the price spectrum do not have public washrooms in Istanbul and when you find one, it could be interesting.

You become hyper-aware of toilet availability when your children are young….I wonder if we will grow out of that?

Duration

We had 4.5 days for sightseeing in Prague and that was more than adequate.  If your party consisted only of physically fit adults who wanted to walk around and view on a surface level the main sights of the city, you could easily see it all in a day.  If you had 1.5 days those adults could even linger over some sightseeing, meals or shopping.

Our kids probably slow us down a bit, and we do turn in early sometimes, but I felt we could easily have seen all of the prominent tourist sights in 2 days, possibly even 1.5. 

The problem with this is that the charm of Prague seems to be in wandering the crooked back streets and getting lost in the maze of alleyways.  It seems to me that if you walk around in the right general area you will see all of the main, important sights and also experience the real pleasure of the side streets.

Travel Guide

As I mentioned before, we used the Prague Eyewitness travel guide.  We did not take any other guided tours, etc.

The Eyewitness travel guides are great to read at home before you go on the trip, but I sometimes find them difficult to use as navigation tools, and the Prague guide was no exception.  There is a large map that is not very detailed in the back of the book and it can be difficult to link that map to the smaller area of interest maps within the pages of the book and the even smaller walking tour maps.  And then you have to link all 3 sets of maps to reality.  The book sets out a walk in each tourist neighborhood that is designed to catch all of the major landmarks.  We did these walking tours and they were great, but I would caution against doing only that, because then you will miss wandering the side streets and courtyards, which are the most interesting part of the city.

I like the Eyewitness travel guides and we generally use them when we travel (except when we go to Hawaii – only the “Revealed” series from Wizard Publications will do for me in Hawaii) but there are a few complaints that I have about these guides:

  1. They are too heavy.
  2. They are difficult to read while you are out and about.  They don’t seem to be written for the convenience of people who are walking around a looking at the points into the book.  When you are doing a walking tour as set out in the book you end up flipping from section to section.
  3. They are not as opinionated as the “Revealed” books.  I like a travel guide that tells me what is worth seeing and what is a waste of time unless you have a very specific interest.  That is what the Revealed books do, and I wish there were more travel guides like that.  As an aside, the Revealed books also set out tours that you can do on your own in a logical fashion that is easy to follow and convenient while you are touring.
All complaining aside, the Eyewitness books are still the best that we have found for many vacation destinations.

Diapers

We had to specifically go to the pharmacy to buy diapers, as they were not sold in the supermarket.  We could have bought Pampers or Huggies, but I went with a local brand “Happy Baby” because the package size was more reasonable.  They were fine.  Not the best diapers ever, but there was nothing wrong with them – they did not leak, they were not uncomfortable to our baby and they were easy to put on.  Our baby is in size 4 – I think kids are toilet trained earlier in the Czech Republic than the UK and Canada because the pharmacy had mostly pull-ups after size 4.

Totseat

Many of the restaurants did not have a high chair, baby seat or booster seat, so we used our Totseat a lot.  A Totseat is a cloth, portable baby seat that folds really small so it is convenient for travelling. It basically secures your baby to a chair so that you can feed them and you know they are safe.  If we did not have the Totseat or a similar product along we would have had a few difficult meals.