Friday, 8 July 2016

love to exchange homes

Last year Home Exchange gave us free annual membership of their home swapping website. The idea is that you go stay in someone else's house, for free, while they stay in your house, for free.

Free holidays!

It can get more complicated than that... some people have second homes which you can stay in, but the basic idea is that you go and live like a local, while you're giving someone else the same chance.

Last year we started our membership around March, and to be honest with you that's a bit late in the year. We noticed this year that most of our enquiries about exchanges came in December/January, when people are starting to get their ducks in a row about where they're going. I guess if you lived somewhere really special, you could risk coming late to the party, but the only exchange we managed to arrange last year was a long weekend in Dunblane (which was awesome, and I wrote about it here).

This year we really wanted to go to Barcelona, and we learnt how difficult it can be to arrange for a specific destination (although - spoiler - we cracked it in the end).

We are also doing a swap with a family in Derbyshire. I'm sure there's plenty of fun stuff to do in Derbyshire, but we weren't planning on going there until we were asked to swap. Now we've got lots of fun in store.

So, how does it work?

You start off with the Home Exchange website - you put your own house on (a bit like getting ready to sell your house really), and have a look at what's available elsewhere. You then get in touch to see who would like to swap. I warn you, you may have to kiss a lot of frogs, but there is the occasional prince!

Once you've got a happy combination, you arrange your swap and then you stick to it. People book holiday and the like, so you've got to view it as you would any other reservation.

Then, when it comes to the swap, you have a good clean up (I recommend getting cleaners in if you can), change all the beds and towels and make some room for your guests' stuff. Generally it's reasonable to expect to eat some food, but replace things you use up. You do however leave it as a home. If they wanted to stay in a hotel they would.

It's useful to provide an information sheet, telling people where things are, what your wifi password is, doctors, dentists, and places to go. Everyone I've exchanged with has done these slightly differently. There will always be useless information, and there will always be something they need to know and don't, so it's good to keep in touch, either through messaging on the Home Exchange site, or through email or text.

The Home Exchange site offers a good quick idea of how to leave your house and what information to leave which you'll find here.

It's good to get to know the people you're exchanging with. Ideally, this would involve meeting up with them, but sometimes that's not possible. We've had long chats via email, and have Skyped people too.

Other things can go along with your home. Our cat is going to be hanging out with our exchangees (I hope he doesn't get too grumpy with them), and for the Barcelona swap we're swapping our cars as well. It's flexible and easily negotiated.

Several people have said to me that they'd be worried about strangers being in their home. To be honest, that's never crossed my mind, because I'm in their home too! However, it is starting to bother my son. He's 10, and having his own space is becoming important to him, so I think we might find other ways to holiday next year. 

One last thing that I must mention. I love that with a home exchange our house isn't just sitting empty - I do worry about people breaking in, and this way we have house sitters, watering the plants and feeding the cats, and (hopefully) having a good holiday.

Would you fancy home exchanging?

Monday, 4 July 2016

believe in magic

Lucky us got to go to the Magic Fair kicking off Edinburgh's Magic Festival, which is in its seventh year, with lots of things to do all this week. Check out their webpage for more info

There was lots to do, and, being tired after camping at a truly dreadful campsite (no more on that save to say we shall never go again), we didn't manage to do it all. We did however, go to three shows:

  • Elliot Bibby was funny and inclusive, as well as inventive, and was a great way to kick things off. 
  • We went to the 20 minute taster session for the Magic School which is running all week. Gary James was great with the kids and managed to keep everyone's interest. Even Miss 5, who is known to walk off in the middle of cake, such is her attention span. He involved everybody and managed to teach them all some pretty impressive (if deceptively simple) tricks. There's even one with loom bands!

  • The last show we saw was Gary Dunn, who was funny (although a little sexist), and did some smashing tricks. One of the kids we were with was disappointed that although he did use helpers from the audience, he kept the same ones for AGES. Miss 8 found his humour chuffing HILARIOUS, and was rocking all the seats with her laughter!
There was a shop somewhere, I missed it, but friends we were with bought funky magic wands and some simple guides to doing tricks. We got sucked in by the truly awesome ribbon maze, in which I lost Mr 10 in just shy of three seconds. I could have spent hours in there, if only it was seemly not to give everyone else a turn!

Between me telling my phone to take this picture and it taking, my boy had vanished into the ribbon maze and an unknown woman had appeared (in a different place). Truly, freakily, awesome.
Today we're home, and the kids are still in their jammies, so we've been scrapbooking about what we've done on our holidays so far. We're up to four pages and it's not even been a week yet!

And because I didn't manage to get a photo of the boy in the ribbon maze, I've drawn him instead (there's a reason why I'm a writer, not a drawer).

So we all had a good time, and there's even talk of going back next year. 

Thanks Magic Fest! And thanks too to Scotland4Kids for getting us in.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

love our style*

I was listening to a Thinking Allowed podcast the other day, and they were talking about  a recent paper entitled 'Shop With Mother' by Katherine Appleford of Kingston university, all about how mothers transmit their attitudes to clothes to their daughters.  There's lots of stuff in there about class (apparently working class people are more 'on trend' than middle class people... and more willing to be seen in sportswear when not actually doing sport).

Not sure what I love most - the Burns
quote or the stompy boots...
It made me think about my Mum, a chiropodist from a Happy Family of chiropodists - her brother, and her mum had both tended to feet for a living (her dad was a nurse). She had a horror of my damaging my feet with high heels and pointy shoes. 

I rebelled once. 

She looked at the offending shoes and said, witheringly, "and you, the chiropodist's daughter", which had a distinct whiff of 'no better than she ought to be'. 

I didn't wear them again.

I don't like high heels now. Now, when I'm old enough to make my own decisions. I think they look silly, and sore. 

My girls are just little, but they have been given play clip-clop shoes (not from me), and loved parading about in them. 

I hated the fact that they were hobbling themselves. I want my girls to be running around and having fun (this may be why the shoes have mysteriously disappeared).
When my children are older, I want them to be out there, grabbing life by the scruff of its neck.  Not crippled wallflowers, waiting to be asked to dance. The shoe thing seems to be transmitting down, with the kids commenting on how Barbie needs some better shoes so she can run about, although I suspect Miss 8 will have a collection of heels (to go with her awesome dresses and swishy hair) when she's older. Perhaps she's taking after my gorgous little sister, who loves a high heel.

My Mum was also of the opinion, when I was a teen, that while it was OK to make a scarf into an incredibly short skirt, and wear it, said skirt should be worn with an underskirt if see-through.  

Clearly, I didn't let that worry me. I thought an underskirt would look silly, so I just tried to ensure my tights didn't have holes in... If only leggings had been invented back then! 

But I didn't only wear inappropriate short skirts. I also raided my mother's wardrobe. She made her own fabulous clothes (see below) and I'd have been mad not to. My Dad tells me that she made herself a more psychedlic skirt, and him a matching jacket in 1967, and when he was DJing at UMIST it flouresced under the UV lights. 

So I adopted my Mum's hippy look (as well as Goth/Cloggy/Grebo/Rocker looks - why stick with one?).

My Mum, in Salt Lake City in 1967. Picture from my Dad. Mum had also made a matching jacket.

Me, and my friend, Nathan, at Glastonbury in 1994.
I'm wearing a jumper my Mum knitted (for herself) from a Kaffe Fassett pattern in 1982, a charity shop hippy skirt, and purple docs (flat heels).
So now I'm a Mum, what ideas am I passing on/inflicting on my girls (apart from the heels thing)?  

Well, I don't like pink, or Disney princesses (the old ones anyway), or leggings worn as trousers.  

I have been over-ruled on all of the above and have given up moaning about it. Besides which, the kids rock pink.

I don't like too-short skirts, or things that say 'princess' or 'cute'.  

Neither do they.

I also don't believe in buying uneccesary things, and my girls are lucky enough to have a big cousin who passes clothes down to them, so the pool they are choosing from (and their clothes are their choice at the end beginning of the day) is not entirely of my own making. That said there's some  beautiful things they won't wear, and so very many pairs of leggings worn as trousers. 

Miss 8 loves classic styles, and a bit of tailoring, and has a little bit of Goth in her from time to time.  The girl can put together an outfit.  She also REALLY loves her boots.

Miss 5 loves a bit of quirky style, she's the one who insisted on mismatched wellies for about a year.

And the boy? He's getting his own sense of style, and it's becoming more important to him. He likes a lot of black, dislikes shorts, and loves a hat. The boy is incredibly cool. 

I like it that the kids won't just wear what I want them to wear. That they can sometimes choose to be my little darklings, but also be bright and glorious. They like it when I'm quirky too, because everyone needs to have something about them, right?

Soon my tall daughter will overtake her cousin and she'll need to get more things first hand (or from charity shops, which we love). Whatever she chooses, it won't be what her little sister wants handed down!

What about you?  Did your Mum offer any sartorial advice?  Can you see your Mum's influence in what you wear?  How are you influencing your children? 

*this is a reworking of a post originally published in June 2013

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

love green hair

Me with particularly good green hair. I can't remember the
hair dye, although given its smooth shinyness I'm guessing
my fabulous hairdresser was involved, so Elumen hair dye.
I don't just love writing. I love my green hair too, although keeping it that way is a problem. So I've gone on a massive research campaign and come up with loads of green hair dye options to try at home (sorry Grace (my hairdresser), I just can't afford to see you as much as I'd need to).

My plan is to get the dye and track how it goes so I can work out the best combination for me, and if you are thinking of going green it could help you too!

Here's what I've found out so far. I've tried some before, but not in an organised fashion. That's why I'm planning on mixing up Directions colours. Once I've tried a few others I might try mixing them too.

Most of the colours shown when you look up the dyes are for if you use them on bleached hair, same for the time until they wash out, but I'm not going to bleach my hair, so I'm going to find out for myself!

Colours to try (prices on Amazon 19/6/16)

Please note, I've put the best price that initially came up when I searched on Amazon beside the colour, and if I ended up paying a different price I've crossed out that initial price and put the final price, including postage. I didn't order any on Prime (although I will if that's cheaper in future).

Crazy Colour - Emerald Green £4.08
                  - Pine Green £3.89 £3.24
Special Effects - Iguana Green - ridiculously expensive £40+ in UK so not trying
                       - Sonic Green
Manic Panic - Venus Envy £7.89
                  - Enchanted Forest £7.90
                  - Green Envy £9.90
Manic Panic Amplified - Green Envy £9.78
                                 - Enchanted Forest £12.12
Pravana - Green - ridiculously expensive in UK, not trying
Directions - Alpine Green £1.74 £2.75
                - mixture of Alpine and Apple Green (£1.74+£2.06 £2.74+£3.05)  £3.80 £5.79
Arctic Fox - Phantom Green £13.35

Do let me know if there's anything I've missed off the list!

Given the ridiculously cheap pricing, I'm going to start off with Directions dye, and then try Crazy Colour. Let's face it, if I can find something that works and is cheap, why look further? 

I'll show you how it looks when it's first done and then do weekly updates to see how it fades. I will also share how much it rubs off on my pillow, and what it does to my shower. I'll keep you updated here, and also on Instagram on the hashtag #howgreenmyhair.

Here we go!

Monday, 20 June 2016

Children came: A poetry post

I'm clearly having a bit of a Spenserian stanza moment, because here's another one! You have already had The flame so bright and Clematis dance, but I wanted to try it again for this poem inspired by something the Dalai Lama said:

So the thing in my life that I have given up the most for is my children, my family. It's actually staggering how much I've given up when I try to itemise it, although high on the list was watching Columbo, and I guess I can learn to live with that. If you judge success by what you have to give up, then I suppose my children are my greatest success, so far. I'd best keep at it. 

Children came

I have forsaken acres wide of time.
I've given up on sex and sleep and rest.
I have quit smoking and I drink less wine.
No longer am I someone of interest.
I've given up on cosy sofa nests,
abandoned spur of moment trips away.
No clubbing now, no going dancing left,
but don't imagine that I rue the day.
Children came and truth be told I love things this way.

© Cara L McKee 18/6/16

Prose for Thought

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Clematis Dance: A poetry post

I had so much fun with the Spenserian Stanzas in my last poem, The Flame So Bright that I thought I'd have another go. The prompt from Sara at Mum Turned Mom this week was dance, and that, combined with my ongoing attempts to get clematis to grow in my garden (and hide my ugly fences), gave me the idea for this poem. If you're not familiar with the way that clematis and similar plants find where they'll grow, check out this gorgeous video on YouTube (I'm afraid I don't know whose is the original).

Clematis Dance

Above the leaves a slender tendril lifts,
head bowed to listen all attentively.
Its neck is pale, and waiting on the gift
of music. Delicate it turns to see;
in rhythm with the spheres it twists slowly,
takes up the dance. The neck proceeds to grow.
The dance becomes a lashing, head spins free,
the body sways, the leaves brush hands below.
Caught up in music; will this dance not ever slow?

But stop. The long neck finds a place to rest;
a strong companion to depend upon.
It twines around and puts it to the test,
to rise and find the place where it belongs.
The body leaning in, the hold is strong.
This is a place the Clematis could own,
could sprinkle flowers and bring a new song,
with feet residing in cool, sheltered loam
and fingers stretched out to lay claim to this new home.

© Cara L McKee 18/6/16

There are two clematis in my garden now. They've both caught hold, but neither of them seems to be growing. I suspect they're not going to make it. The clematis in the picture are a neighbour's, and they are magnificent!


Saturday, 18 June 2016

The flame so bright: a poetry post.

Since I came across Edward Spenser's epic poem, The Faerie Queene recently (it was published in 1590, which is an indidication of how far behind I am on my reading list), I've been wanting to try writing in Spenserian stanzas myself. This is my attempt. I think it's OK, obviously not on Spenser's scale (the Faerie Queene has more than 2,000 stanzas!), and I've found I really like its rhythm.  

It's focused on recent events because that's all I can think about. 

I don't like how gender binary it gets at the end. I don't like to be gender binary. In my opinion people are people and love is love. A friend was complaining about the news constantly repeating the fact that The Pulse is a gay club, as far as she's concerned that's irrelevant. If it was some tragedy like a fire, then I'd agree with her. But gender did matter to the man with the gun. Sexuality did matter. We don't have to agree with him to recognise his twisted motivation. The people murdered in Orlando were murdered because their killer didn't like the way they did gender and sexuality. Or he didn't like the way he thought they did it anyway. 

May their light keep shining. May we never forget. And may the lawmakers make changes to keep us safe. I don't claim to know anything about the people affected (other than them being people), or indeed Orlando. I've read a couple of really good blog posts on the topic this morning though, which are worth checking out. You'll find a gorgeous description of Orlando, and how the city is faring, written by Carey Sheffield, a British blogger who's moved to Orlando at Truly Madly Kids. And there's a really interesting American (pro-gun) perspective on gun ownership and assault rifles at The Other Fork in the Road.

The flame so bright

I do not do all that perhaps I could.
I don't know what to do but think of you.
For families, distraught, that is no good:
No more to see your smile, or what you'd do.
If only we could start that day anew.
He killed you. He who dared to snuff your light;
to take away the future held in you,
in name of gods or theories of the right.
There's nothing that excuses quashing flame so bright.

Go check your holy books and you will find
that life is sacred, not to be snuffed out,
neither in war nor in a peaceful time,
not for your gods nor for the lunar lout.
Enough. My thoughts may well be all for nowt.
What can my heart do 'gainst such wilfull hate?
Somebody sold that gun for coins to count.
Someone designed it to annihilate.
What chance the human heart against such mighty weight?

They say that for the bad to win the day
good people should do nothing. Stand aside.
We cannot let that happen, come what may.
And yet, what can we do to turn the tide?
To take up arms is to let hate reside
and then we find we're no better than them.
We must stand strong. Together. And with Pride, 
to start the Pulse of brotherhood again.
To falter is to fail our women and our men.

© Cara L McKee 18/6/16

Prose for Thought