Monday, 21 January 2019

Ultra Breastfeeding

I was delighted, excited, inspired on discovering the news of Jasmin Paris's victory as the first woman to win the Montane Spine race, a 268 mile race that covers the entire Pennine Way. A quick look on the race's webpage sees it sell itself as "one of the toughest ultra-distance races in Europe." Not only that, but she smashed any previous record (including men) by 12 hours. She is in the middle of a PhD and works as a vet. And of course she is still nursing her 16 month old and so had to express breast milk at stops along the way.

The first thing that struck me, as a breastfeeding mother, was if there is ever an example of how life can continue while breastfeeding this is it. Quite often you will hear other mothers complain that they need to stop breastfeeding as they want to "get their life back" (is this even possible after having a child?!). If you are still breastfeeding your baby, toddler or child, it is often assumed that you should stop for the same reason, that this will somehow give you your life back, and that a nursing mother will resent the attachment she is maintaining with the child. Every mother has her own very individual reasons for why they may want to end breastfeeding at a certain time, and this is of course to be respected. But personally I feel that it is having the child, if anything, that has curbed feelings of independence rather than the breastfeeding itself. Further still, for me it is actually quite the opposite. I feel that by maintaining breastfeeding a mother can potentially feel more independent as she can feel reassured that their child is getting the comfort, security and support through all those wonderful chemicals in the breast milk and the physical act itself, therefore allowing herself a little more peace of mind for the child's wellbeing - and therefore a little more head space for yourself! Jasmin Paris is an example of how nursing a child can exist harmoniously with an individual's lifestyle - and just how far that can be taken.

The other thing to strike me was of course that a woman had won this race and beaten any previous male records. My first naive thought was - so that can happen? On doing a little more reading on the matter, apparently in longer endurance races, the advantage the male has over the female begins to disappear, because such races are much more about psychological strength over the physical. A little more reading into long distance running differences between genders suggests that women are better at maintaining a pace than men. Men tend to push themselves too hard and then have to reduce their pace, where as women maintain the same level more easily. Great - but are women therefore not pushing themselves as much as men, are are there other physiological reasons for this? If women assume they are not going to be as good as their male competitors, to what degree does this impact on the female psyche and therefore their overall performance in sport? I would be interested to see the impact on future sportswomen if such gender distinctions in sport were removed. I can't help thinking their is a lot of unlocked potential out there.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

How to Live

We decided to treat ourselves to breakfast out today. We have a small vegetarian cafe nearby called Malacarne. The women that work there are always so friendly and welcoming and the food is delicious. I had pancakes with cream (the lightest and fluffiest), passionfruit, pineapple and a fruity brittle. UU had some pancakes with berries and a little maple syrup. J had avocado, feta and poached eggs on toast with chilli oil. UU loved it and was well aware of what a treat it was. Trips to cafes as a family with a toddler can be incredibly stressful - the complete opposite of what was intended by the experience. However, today went smoothly enough; myself and partner worked as a good enough team. This parenting thing is a continuing work in progress.

We don't eat out often at all really these days. We are lucky that we can live off one main income and I can look after the little one during the week, but we have to be thrifty to make it work (although i secretly enjoy being thrifty: I hate any waste and feel pained if something goes off and we have to throw it away. I will base a whole meal around something that needs using up). Anyone with young children will know the extortionate nursery fees mean that often you are just working to pay the nursery. I wouldn't be being honest though if I said that was the reason I left full time work. I wouldn't have it any other way and love seeing UU grow. Being a teacher for a few years before she came along, I had a love of learning and seeing people learn. I think this is the most important part of the job; if you have that, everything else falls into place. U is learning every day, and nurturing that growth is my main job now.

I would never have predicted that this would be my life now - a stay at home mum, technically speaking,  I suppose. I do a little work from home, but it feels funny to call those few hours "work" when there is a much bigger task at hand (to say the least).

I remember something one of my old colleagues said to me when I told her that I had decided to leave my full time job. She also stayed at home to bring up her children many years ago and has actually just retired from teaching. She said quite simply, "there are so many different ways to live". It really stuck with me. There are, and I see that now. But there is a pressure there, often a pressure I can't exactly pinpoint. It comes from all angles really, in subtle and consistent ways. A pressure to be "striving" for something. Now of course it is important to have dreams, to follow passions, if you have that luxury. But so far in life I have found I am not the sort of person to have a distant ambition and then do absolutely everything to get there. But it can often feel that this is the way everyone should think and feel about life. This pressure is what makes capitalism successful, as everyone strives to outdo each other. Certain careers are deemed more "successful" than others based on how much money one gets from them. So many people must feel inadequate if their life does not fit this model. Caring for people is not respected in our society; caring professions are under paid, people who have to care for family members are given little support.

I have found that many people have a negative opinion if you decide to stay at home to bring up your child, almost like you have let someone (who exactly?!) down for not "striving" for more. Money is often what is valued and respected in our society, and if you decide to step outside of that, many people, I find, don't like it, and don't always make the effort to hide this.

How funny that once upon a time women would be criticised for going back to work, but now it is the opposite? Perhaps the pattern is patriarchy is still at play and women continue to feel external pressure when trying to take control of their own lives.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Urban Birds and charity finds

Would I manage to get a few jobs done out and about with a toddler in tow? Well today somehow we managed it. Post Office, a bag load of stuff to go to the charity shop, banking, a small amount of shopping, all done on a windy albeit mild day. A few good finds in the charity shop; an old miniature toy town set, plus a lovely small yellow watering can that U was very excited about ( so much so that we watered the plants as soon as we got home).

Walking back to the car down a reasonably quiet but urban street off the main road (Victoria Road) in Govanhill, came the loudest chatter of sparrows from a huge overgrown privet bush. We spent some time peering inside the bush to try and see them. A tangled dense maze of branches, and they flicker and flutter about so quickly it's hard to keep track of them. Then a flash and a swoop and they were on to the next bush, a dozen or so in total I reckon. In the tree above us we saw a magpie pottering about a nest. I love stumbling upon wildlife in the city, the lives of other species existing in the background of so much human activity, hustle and bustle.

Just this past week or so I would say the number of birds coming into closer contact has increased. There's definitely more dunnocks (the most common bird I see that actually uses the bird feeder) and blue tits at our bird feeder. A wagtail was hopping across the road yesterday and a good number of goldfinches use the trees outside our flat. The odd song thrush. Still no sign of the bullfinches I saw frequently last year.

P.S Just managed a few pictures of our finds:


Sunday, 30 December 2018


It happened to me - I couldn't help but get caught up in the build up this year, and having a child made Christmas seem a bit more special. We don't have a regular Christmas tradition really and spent a week in Cullercoats, a seaside village just outside Newcastle which meant we could spend some time to ourselves enjoying the area and also in close proximity to family and friends. This line of coast has beautiful, sweeping beaches and the mild (for winter at least), sunny weather meant we managed to squeeze in a few trips to the beach. The long line of large Edwardian houses facing the sea glow with Christmas trees and people fill the beaches for leisurely walks. A number of people were out swimming or surfing, and boxing day saw a huge crowd take the traditional dip.

However, as is often the case, the trip was not quite the relaxing holiday we imagined. Our week was soon filled with family visits and the odd meet up with some friends. Seeing different family and friends in succession like that is not to be underestimated - both myself and my partner were pretty exhausted by the end. There were many lovely reconnections within it all, but also a more melencholly awareness of changes and shifts. I guess it was a week full of intensity. I'm left wondering why we put so much pressure on ourselves at that time of year, but living far away from family makes it difficult to see and keep up with people more frequently. Perhaps having a focus for catching up with family once a year has a purpose in the sense that it acts as a sort of barometer for relationships to be worked on the following year - who needs a little more of our attention; where a closer connection has formed that needs nurturing.

The morning of our last day before the drive back to Glasgow we were walking along the sand of the small bay at Cullercoats. Three women and a man in their 60s were swimming in swimming costumes only, apart from the man who was in a wet suit. We watched them in awe as they emerged one at a time, slowly walking out of the water, bodies taut and red.

Shoes and socks came off as if I had no control over it and finally I had the sea and sand beneath my bare feet. The North Sea is always freezing, and the muscles in my feet contorted and seemed to send waves throughout my body. I ran and ran and ran through the shallow waves: nothing quite beats the feeling of running freely through sea and sand at full pelt. Ula was ecstatic with glee and of course finally got to do what she had been dying to all week, and joined me, before soon declaring it was "Daddy's turn". The tonic we all needed at the end of our holiday.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Scotch Scallops

Around a month ago, on a slightly better day in the midst of a rotten bug, and feeling like plain, simple comfort food, I had a go at making Scotch Scallops. I had never heard of them before but the last time I visited my Grandma in Newcastle (originally from Lancashire) she described what her own mother used to make. All she could say is that she finely sliced potato, fried it in a little butter with some onion, topped up with water then covered and cooked on the hob for about an hour. Were they nice? I asked. "Delicious" was the answer. She also said she tried cooking them herself and they never tasted quite as good (as seems to always be the case I think).

I told my Glaswegian friend I was going to make Scotch Scallops that evening. I'm still not sure she is convinced I knew what I was talking about. "From the sea?" She insists again. I explain that in Yorkshire - and it seems Lancashire too - the name scallops is applied to a sort of fried potato. Our local chip shop as a child sold scallops for 17p, and you got two steamy batter discs with hot mashed potato inside, dripping of course then in salt, vinegar and tomato sauce.

I do some investigating online into Scotch Scallops and find a small number of threads on various local Lancashire forums, with titles that reminisce over the good old days. "Ooooo, who remembers..." and such like. There seems to be, even just within Lancashire, quite a variety of fried potato recipes, some referring to Scotch Scallops. There is variety within this too - some add bacon, others add mince. Some use stock in place of water, others like to brown off the final dish under the grill.

I like the inventiveness of older recipes, and how people were often so creative with such simple ingredients, making the most of what they had. We get an organic fruit and veg box delivery and it is seasonal, so at the moment there's lots of winter veg: onions, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celeriac etc. I am having to be quite creative myself trying to find the best dishes that suit these ingredients.

So here it is - my go at making Scotch Scallops. I had no quantities to go on, and I wanted to make it as close to the version my Grandma made as I could. I found a recipe that sounded pretty much the same - but then still no quantities. What ratio of onion to potato I wonder? And I still wasn't sure on what the final consistency should be like. In the end I decided on:

Equal parts of onion to potato (as we had lots of onions that needed using up). The onion roughly chopped and the potato thinly sliced (skin left on the potato - probably not traditional but more nutritious and how we tend to cook potatoes these days.)
Fry the onion in a knob of butter in a wide saucepan before adding the potatoes. Add enough water to just cover, lid on and cook on a low heat for an hour. I had to top up the pan with a little more water fairly regularly. Add salt and pepper.

The final result was delicious. The potato almost completely broke down in my version, so it was more like a silky, oniony, thinner  mashed potato. I also added the slightly browned bits that stuck to the pan. We had it with veggie sausages and some greens. Here's some pictures:

A week or so after this meal, I asked my mum if she knew about Scotch Scallops, and if Grandma ever cooked them for her. Apparently they had them all the time (and she thought they were delicious, even if my Grandma doubted they were as good!).

I haven't forgotten another meal passed down the generations - I still want to give "mock crab" a go GB, when I firm up the recipe with you again. 

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Walking South from the City

A rare trip to the city centre today to a children's music event at the Royal Concert Hall, but which actually ended up more spent in the library at the basement of GoMA. We ate lunch in the children's section while Ula ran around the carpet and did some colouring in. It was very wet outside and I had not brought my waterproof coat.

Ula finally asleep in the buggy we decided to walk the three and a half miles home. A late, vivid blue sky was breaking out before sunset. It has been a few years since I have done this walk, and I was satisfied at the prospect. The walk south from the centre takes you over the Clyde, then a sharp left under a low, broad railway bridge before heading down a very straight road that was once purposed for a tramline. This straight road takes us almost the whole way home, to the entrance of Queen's Park. This crossing from the centre to the south is one of my favourite parts of the city. It has a desolate, industrial beauty, and just a peppering of a few interesting places to eat and drink that are a little off the beaten track. Lauriston, Eglinton Toll, Pollokshields, Govanhill, Queen's Park: these places get gradually more defined along the journey of this two mile stretch.

We discover an excellent Middle Eastern shop just over the Clyde, and pick up a delicious spinach and cheese pastry along with a simit, both warm in my hand through the paper bag. I greedily eye all the spices and numerous types of beans, lentils and olives before deciding I will make a further visit some time soon.

Two views of the sky were worth picturing today along this walk. The first was a chunky snippet of a rainbow as you look up Hope Street from the bottom of Central Station. The second was at Eglinton Toll, over the railway line and abandoned warehouses, just before going under the broad flyover that's painted a brilliant sky blue.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Plastic tubs

I have been keeping some bits of packaging to one side - the plastic trays ready made cakes come in, a chocolate box tray, yogurt pots, that sort of thing, as it occurred to me that these could be used for play some how. It's quite alarming to see how much of this stuff we use and that can't be recycled in our area. Yesterday I cut some of these things up and they were a real success. I thought they were a much more stimulating source of creativity, as they could be adapted to make all sorts of things, and really complimented playing with plasticine and small figures.
I cut up a chocolate box tray to make lots of single chocolate size containers, which made little stools or a trough for an animal. A yogurt pot is a used as a cooking pot here and the clear plastic tray is a bath.
The cake tray is used for an animal shed, and below some plasticine has been added to make a fire and a couple of tree stumps to sit on.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Autumn in the Hidden Garden

A reasonably mild and dry day today, Ula and I went to the Hidden Garden to meet a friend and her toddler. We packed a picnic: a salad of grated carrot, red cabbage, apple and sunflower seeds, with a little white wine vinegar and pepper; cheese; rye and caraway seed bread, raisins and a few pears - along with a groundsheet for the grass. S made a tasty black bean sald, with feta and spring onions. S is a friend I met when I lived for a short spell in the East End of Glasgow last year, and we have recently begun to meet up every week or so and share a picnic together.

Lots of textures to interest Ula in the garden today. Grey, velvety buds on the branches of a magnolia tree; shrivelled up rose hips; the dried up flower heads of some thistle type plant, that feel like a soft brush when stroked across your cheek, then quickly disintegrate as you crush one between your fingers. The ginkgo tree looked stunning, emboldened by its golden leaves. I collected a few to try in the flower press we recently found at a car boot sale in Govan.

Friday, 19 October 2018


Reading for pleasure is a great thing. However, I recently became aware that - particularly since having a child - this was increasingly becoming the one thing I did in my spare time. I always like the idea of writing creatively, also of keeping a sketchbook of sorts, but never really found the time (what an earth did I do before having a child?). Anyway, for the past few weeks or so I have ditched the habitual paperback shoved in the bottom of the bag and replaced it with a sketchbook (in terms of writing of course, I am making the effort to keep a blog).

I have just been away in Brighton for almost a week on a short break for a friend's wedding, and the sketchbook only emerged once to begin sketching a beautiful winter squash (or ghost pumpkin, as I liked to call it) that my brother in law brought from his allotment. This will never be finished as half the squash has since been eaten (delicious it was too, roasted along with carrots and onion and blended into soup; sliced and sauteed with butter and sage then mixed with pasta and sprinkled with Parmesan). Other than that I have managed a 5 minutes here and there playing with colours and textures alongside my toddler, a few rough pen drawings when out and about as a family, and a few pencil sketches when out alone one morning, at the Kelvingrove Museum (a taxidermy Highland Cow from a few different angles) and then down by the Kelvin Walkway and river. I wouldn't say I'm particularly pleased with any of these bits and pieces in a technical sense, but now I can genuinely say this doesn't bother me. Of these, there are some sketches that are better than a photo in capturing a moment as a family; others have allowed me to understand something about mark making and colour; another has created an interesting composition. Sometimes I've only drawn a few lines, began to write a note, then just left it forgotten.

Why outline what could be seen as mundane details? Well, I for one have always felt that the "creative process" eludes me. I have always envied the people for whom this seems to flow naturally. I have worked on this difficulty over the years: I have lots of friends that are artists, I have spoken about it at length, read articles on the topic. I have done a short course in illustration as an adult, as well as studies at school and university. And then I have become determined at various points to "DO" something: have a grand idea and then stew and squirm over it until I convince myself the idea is terrible and it gets abandoned - with just one light touch of the page, if that.

Now, I am not going to say there is one moment or thing that has allowed me to make some degree of progress on this; there isn't. There is a lot I could discuss (the Bronte Parsonage Museum and the under-represented Anne Bronte's pebble collection; a conversation with an old neighbour: "we just need to play more"...). However, one thing that is a barrier is the nature of the process of trying things out; playing, flowing from one thing to the next without analysis or second thought. Watching my toddler drawing and painting has helped me with this:

TODDLER: Never mind the paint, look at the effect water has when I splash it all over the page? And when I push my finger through this soggy paper? And come to mention it, never mind the piece of paper that has been put in front of me - look how great the paint looks when smeared over the newspaper covering the table? There's a whole pile of paper over there! Onto the next page!

ME: [anxiously hovering over, sometimes managing to suppress attempts to control this, often not... another piece of paper, ermmmm, really...... okay....]

Playing. Experimenting. The education system soon stamps out much of this - or at least, it attempts to channel these things into something with "purpose"; an exam, a career, which in turn destroys the essence of what these things are about. In toddlers through to Early Years education, play, quite rightly, is viewed as fundamental in a child's development. However, very soon "play" is something frivolous, something a child is chastised for when they should be working or something consigned to the playground. As adults they are opposites - Work and Play. But doesn't it seem more natural and right for our development, if the education system just continued to support more sophisticated models of play? (an aside: as well as nurturing our creativity, it would be a lot more inclusive). Alongside this, the importance of documenting things is given no value at all as far as I can remember. Notes and thoughts written in a diary, sketches of what we see: these things are rich extensions of life that allow us to see the world in clearer and more varied ways, to hone in on the details of life, which in turn helps us to connect with our surroundings.

We don't judge when in play, because we are just, well, playing. It doesn't matter if there is an end in sight or a focus, we just do it. We are in the moment, free from other thoughts.We live in such a short-term obsessed world, where we often feel the need to justify what we are doing, explain a reason. People don't like revealing their mistakes, the scribbled out or forgotten page. But some people need play - yes to create wonderful pieces of artwork, but for so many other reasons too. And so many of us adults don't know how to do it.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Creatures of the Park

Having spent almost the entire day indoors Sunday, quite rightly by late morning yesterday Ula was keen to get out. The rain slowly disappeared and the wind was strong at times but no where near as fierce, so dressed in our waterproofs and wellies we were more than prepared. We took what is a regular walk for us, past the hospital over to Queen's Park. Ula walks the first part of this so of course it's at a slow pace.

I'm always amazed by how much we can discover even before we get to the park. We have enjoyed looking out for fungi this past month, there seems to be so much of it round here this autumn. Four or five pearly white, large, elongated mushrooms strike us on the first lawn we walk past. The most likely name Milky Conecaps I reckon, from a quick search. On arriving at the park there's even more of the stuff, and Ula is quick to point out any she sees, categorising them as "mummy", "daddy" or "Ula" fungus, depending on size (or so I'm guessing...). A thick-set, sticky browner than brown variety seems to like the edge of the path among the dead leaves and the neighbouring golf course (my attempts at classification come up with different varieties of Boletes, apparently yummy and often a culinary delicacy: I must be wrong!). We soon find several large families, one type with a flat, white, almost rippling cap; another a very attractive sticky rosy red blush - the nose of an old man with a cold in winter.

Most people put off by the weather, we pretty much have the park to ourselves. We stop to look at some wildflowers (yarrow - a Google search tells me - and buttercups) and hairy acorn caps, before the inevitable arrival at the play park. The park's glasshouse  has an indoor eating area, as well as a fish pond and a number of reptiles and other creatures, which is perfect for escaping the weather when necessary. We picnic there before a quick look at the animals before heading home; my favourites the axolotl and the schneider's skink, whose names I never tire of saying. 

Ultra Breastfeeding

I was delighted, excited, inspired on discovering the news of Jasmin Paris's victory as the first woman to win the Montane Spine race, a...