Monday, 26 January 2015

doing winter checks on the car

Hi all, apologies for radio silence recently but I've been totally stressing with snow and ice on the roads and still having to drive the kids about (if anyone fancies getting me a chauffeur I'm up for it), and I've also been in and out of the garage after someone accidentally bumped my car. Happily I've seen lots of friends at the garage - seems it's the place to be at the moment! So I was very happy to hear from Ross Miller at Point S tyres who is providing a guest post today, all about winter safety checks on the car, to help make sure you're driving safely. Over to Ross

Winter Safety Checks

Hi Everyone! I’m Ross Miller, a car enthusiast! I love to drive and realize the risks involved in addition to all the fun and excitement! I hope this post will help everyone to stay out of trouble by performing these basic safety checks!

Setting off on a journey in winter can mean hopping into the car and getting going as quickly as possible – after all who wants to hang around beforehand to make sure everything is in good working order? However, a few safety checks done at the weekend, during the day when the light is good, can mean that your car is in better condition for those cold, early morning starts. 

It might be tricky to carry out checks in this weather. Thanks to Ross for the picture.

Just a few minutes spent on winter safety checks can save you plenty of time should a problem develop when you are motoring about. Add to this the thousands of pounds you can save from dealing with problems early and the reasons for doing so stand up for themselves. But what checks should drivers be making? 

  • Always ensure the heating is working properly so that your windscreen clears quickly and efficiently, allowing you to see road obstacles more clearly. Check all of the electrical functions of your car, paying particular attention to the indicators, dipped and main beam as well as your fog light.
  • Top up the screen wash fluid regularly because in the winter months you are more likely to run out than in summer as more dirt is picked up from the road.
  • Keep a can of anti-freeze in the car to help you clear mirrors, windows and the windscreen from snow and ice on cold days. According to the RAC, engine anti-freeze helps with corrosion build up but the right product must always be selected.
  • Check your car's brake pads once in a while because during winter you are likely to brake that bit harder than in summer, when it is easier to see upcoming problems on the road ahead. There are many ways to do this, but one of the basic ways is to look for the brake pad through the wheel and once you've found it, you can check the thickness of the pad, if it has considerably thinned down, it's time for replacing the brake pads. 
  • Inspect the tread of your car's tyre and make sure you are street legal, especially in snowy conditions when additional traction is essential. Point-S Glasgow recommends winter tyres, which have a rubber compound designed for lower temperatures, for people who regularly drive in icy weather.
  • Never allow your battery to run down, which is a distinct possibility in cold weather when more demand is put on it from the heater and windscreen wipers, particularly if you only make short journeys. Run your car on a longer trip to charge it up.
  • According to the AA, door seals and locks can seal up in very low temperatures, so check yours are adequately polished or have a coat of petroleum jelly to stop them seizing when sub-zero conditions prevail.


Cara again... As I write, my car is in the garage, but when I get it back I am so doing these checks, and especially the Vaseline thing (hopefully it'll avoid snapping the door opening mechanism again). Thanks to Ross for all this.

What are your tips for winter driving? I always travel with wellies and a great big blanket in the car, just in case.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

celebrating historical heroes: Eleanor of Aquitaine

I mentioned in the last post that I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones on TV, and the Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin, which it's based on. I am also interested in history, as is Martin, who took lots of inspiration from European, and particularly, British history.

I think my favourite English royal dynasty (sorry Scotland - I don't know Scottish royal history*) is the Plantaganets, and my favourite Plantaganet Queen is Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was quite the force to be reckoned with.

This post forms part of my series of 50 things to blog about. You'll find the rest here.

Eleanor was born to the duchy of Aquitaine, a great and wealthy fief. When she was 15, in 1137, Eleanor's father died. She inherited the duchy, and also Poitiers.

All this wealth would have made Eleanor popular with European Kings in search of a Queen anyway, but Eleanor was also stylish and influential. 

That same year, Eleanor married Louis, the son of her guardian, King Louis VI, and soon to be King Louis VII of France. They had two daughters. Her court was the home of 'courtly love', where the more romantic aspects of being a knight were rehearsed and played out. Many knights professed their undying love for the beautiful Eleanor (but they were hardly going to call her a donkey, were they?). It was Eleanor's influence that led the men to wear long sleeves, pointed shoes, and to grow their hair long. Costume drama fans thank you Eleanor.

Sadly, Eleanor and Louis were not well suited, she had tried to get an anullment early on but had been refused by the pope, however, after she'd born Louis two girls and no boys in 15 years, Louis agreed to an annullment, which was granted in 1152, and Eleanor could move on. Eleanor left her daughters to be raised in the French court, and moved on to a new marriage (eight weeks after the last one was annulled), this one with Henry of Anjou, 9 years her junior, and well suited to her in temperament, intelligence, and in wealth. 

In 1154 Henry became King Henry II, the first Plantaganet King of England. Eleanor was again a Queen Consort. Eleanor bore Henry eight children, and also worked with him to create an impressive empire, travelling around their territiories as needed. She became known as a very able politician

However, theirs was a stormy marriage. Henry was repeatedly unfaithful, and Eleanor strongly disagreed with some of his political decisions, and hated sharing power. In 1173 Eleanor (then 50) led three of her sons, now of age, in a rebellion against the King. The rebellion was stopped, and Henry imprisoned Eleanor for the next 15 years.

She was freed when Henry died in 1189. Her favourite son, Richard, became King Richard I, and went off to fight in the Holy Land, leaving Eleanor at home as regent where she repeatedly intervened to defend his lands (even against his brother, John). She also helped to ransom him when he was captured on his way home. She continued to travel around Europe cementing marriage alliances for her children, and grandchildren, and working to maintain the loyalty of her family's subjects.

Richard died in 1199, and was succeeded by his younger brother, John, at which point Eleanor stepped out of the limelight. She died in 1204 at the Abbey of Fontevrault - a place where older aristocratic women would go to rest and recuperate when required. She had been there a few times, especially since Henry II had been buried there. She was buried there with him.

A little extra fact I love about Eleanor is that her grandmother was called Dangereuse. That is an awesome name.

We could do with more good historical fiction about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Cecelia Holland has written a good short story about the rebellion in the Dangerous Women collection, but her longer book looks ropey. You cannot however, go wrong with the marvellous Katharine Hepburn who plays her beautifully in The Lion in Winter.

Elizabeth Chadwick also published a book about Eleanor in 2013: The Summer Queen. Have you read it?
Information for this post came from:
*and it baffles me that my Scottish children, in Scottish schools are taught about English monarchs in history. I mean, the Tudors are great, but Scots royalty is interesting too.

Friday, 23 January 2015

watching TV: are you watching more than an hour a day?

Moving on from my wildly succesful attempt to get more sleep, inspired by this from Dr Samantha Rodman, detailing ten useful resolutions to make, we come to the second item on the list.

Dr Rodman suggests you get your TV viewing down to an hour a day. Apparently the average American watches four hours of TV a day! Where do they get the time?!

I've tracked my TV viewing over the last week, and I've only watched more than an hour on one occasion - when I wasn't feeling too well, and I have no desire to reduce the time I'm spending watching any of the programmes I'm watching, so I'm not going to do it.

I wonder if British people are wildly different to Americans or if I'm just a bit weird. To be honest, I can't find enough programmes that are worth watching to fill more than an hour.

How much TV are you watching? And what are you watching?

Here's what I've been watching this last week:

Wolf Hall - it's the new dramatisation of Hilary Mantel's books Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. I've read Wolf Hall. I can tell you that it's good, because it is, but it's hard work too. The dramatisation is beautifully done, and well worth watching, and Mantel even gives it her blessing (praise indeed!).

Scandal - it's mucky stuff, but I've been watching it for ages, and so I'm willing to accept all the nonsense which goes into this beautifully convoluted tale of love, lust, and power. And the things people will do to hide the ugly truth. I've picked this trailer because it's hilarious, but we've moved on from this now, in series 4. It's highly unlikely that any of it has ever actually happened, but Olivia Pope is based on a real person - Judy Smith.

The last thing I've been watching this week (and what I've been watching most) is Game of Thrones. I'm re-watching the whole thing so far, because I'd like to re-read a Song of Ice and Fire series but I don't have time at the moment. I also listen to podcasts about it, and I got The World of Ice and Fire for Christmas. Not that I'm obsessed or owt. You know nothing...

Here's the trailer for season one. You have time if you are diligent, before season five starts. Or check our the Honest Trailer.

sleeping: why more sleep is a brilliant idea, AND week 4 of the gratitude challenge

Back at the end of December I was inspired by this from Dr Samantha Rodman, detailing ten useful resolutions to make. I resolved to try them out, and to do it one at a time, starting with the first one: sleep.

I haven't got any pictures of me sleeping
(which I'm willing to share), so here's the
little girl showing us how it's done (in her
own bed).
I couldn't wait, so I started straight away, promising to go to bed as close to 10pm as I could. This is serving as my fourth week of the gratitude challenge because I'm really grateful to Dr Rodman for suggesting this (and to my friend for sharing it on Facebook).

More sleep seems to be my Marvellous Medicine.

It wasn't easy to break my bad bedtime habits. Dr Rodman advises leaving electronic devices out of the bedroom, and doing that is a really good idea. I find it difficult to stop watching programmes, even utterly dross ones, and avoiding internet rabbit holes is tricky, but I do find that the new 10pm alarm on my 'phone helps me to focus, and at least curtail my adventures in wonderland. I've also made a deal with myself that I stop reading by 10.45pm. It works. Almost.

But enough of the how... Why is more sleep so great?  This is why:

1. I'm trying to eat better this year, and I'm doing great. A lot of this is down to my not staying up late for my worst eating period of the day. I've actually stopped having evening snacks almost altogether, whereas before I had something (unhealthy) every day. Result!

2. I was worried that going to bed earlier would cut into the time I had to myself each day - it can be difficult to fit my writing in around my family's needs, and I cherish time to myself, but it hasn't. For lots of reasons which I'll get into below, and it feels good.

3. Getting more sleep has given me my brain back. I feel like I know what I'm doing again!

4. I've got better concentration (which is helping me get things done a lot better).

5. I've got more stamina.

6. I am more assertive. More capable of putting forward my needs...

7...and more aware that my needs are important too.

8. I feel I'm more resilient. I don't get knocked for six as easily, and when I do, I'm less likely to beat myself up about it and more likely to cut myself some slack.

9. I am doing more stuff because I want to do it, rather than feeling I have to (although I'm doing much of the same stuff).

10. And my complexion doesn't seem to have improved at all (despite hoping it would), but because my mood is so improved, I don't mind a bit.

Seriously, if you're not getting enough sleep do whatever you can to up it. I know it feels like you'll miss out on time, but you'll be so much more useful that it will make up for it. 

How are you getting on with your resolutions? And, do you get enough sleep?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

grateful for family: 10 things which are great about my family

I've been away for a while. I've been busy decorating my daughter's room (doesn't that always take longer than you expect), and getting the house tidy again. This morning I took for bags to the charity shop, so I'm feeling virtuous.

I'm  so happy to be back at my writing desk (otherwise known as the kitchen table), with my third instalment of the gratitude challenge. This week it's all about family.

As a mother, the first thought that pops into my head is my children. I have three of them, and was at my wits end with them last night when my husband got home. We had had major battles over various homeworks and sharing issues. I was fed up. My husband turned into the laughing elf and told me how wonderful I was, how wonderful the tea smelled, and how lovely our home was. I growled at him and offered him a hat with bells on. And he said: 
"you know, the trouble with our kids, is that they have our genes" 
He was right, and that's hardly their fault is it?

So, what am I grateful for?

1. My children have shown me how strong I can be, just by coming into the world. The first was difficult, to say the least, the second was relatively easy, and a wonderful experience, the third. Well, I came to terms with dying while having the third. I rapidly learnt a lot about trust, how brilliant health professionals can be in a crisis, and about compromise. A caesarian wasn't my first choice, but it was the right choice in the circumstances, and hey, I didn't die.

2. I am very lucky. My children's bodies all work as they are supposed to do, and they are healthy. I am profoundly grateful for that.

3. Talking of bodies, I may be completely biased, but I think my children are beautiful, and perfect. There was an occasion when I picked up my youngest and said 'oh you're just perfect'. My mum was there and couldn't quite agree, 'well she is a bit chubby' she noted. She was chubby, mum was right. She was chubby and perfect. That realisation helped me feel a lot better about my own body, and helped me keep in perspective concerns over my appearance, and I'm grateful for that.

4. We've moved a lot in recent years, and it can be difficult to make friends in new places. Children make it an awful lot easier, and most of my friends now are the mothers of my children's friends. I'm grateful to them for helping my children feel at home quickly, and for having the space in their lives for me too.

5. Moving our family has helped ensure we support each other, which makes us all stronger and more resilient. It also means that we look out for each other more. I'm grateful for that.

6. Because of moving around we've had to do without family support most of the time, so now that we do have it I really appreciate it. While we lived in rainy town my mum would come up to help out for a few days at a time, which was great. Now we're lucky enough to see my husbands parents every week. It is good for me to have the support, but it's also great for the children to have more grown ups involved in their lives.

7. I'm now too far away from my family for people to pop up, unfortunately, but we still get to see them for family holidays and in the shared school holidays. I'm really grateful for their keeping in touch, and for the fun and laughter we have together, as well as the miles they travel.

Me, by the big girl
(Daddy's is less
8. I'm grateful to my children for making me come at things from different angles, and try new things (although I don't often feel grateful at the time). They're helping me to learn in practice that there are many ways up one mountain.

9. I'm grateful to my children for the interest they show in me. They don't like me taking time out, but they're proud of my achievements in writing and the choir, and they often tell me things they like about me. Even the non-huggy ones.

The little girl and me
10. Which brings us on to the hugs. My youngest sucks at staying in her bed all night, but she excels at hugs and kisses. I'm making the most of them while I can get them (and I've forced the older ones to accept one kiss on the head, because manners cost nothing). I love hugs and kisses, so thanks for those.

I keep wanting to add a caveat saying my husband is great too. But he was last week. Sorry chum!

So, what are you grateful about when it comes to your family?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

looking forward to Scottish Literacy Week

Cold and windy here just now :-(
Next week, in the run up to Burn's Night on Sunday 25th, is Scottish Literacy Week at the school. I believe this is a cross-Scotland thing. 

I love that there is such a big focus on literacy in the schools here. Memorising poems, as well as the big focus they have at school on sentence construction, is brilliant for creative and thoughtful writing, and for critical reading. Both of which are really useful skills. 

Growing up in Yorkshire in the 80s we did do English language, but there wasn't so much of a focus on the nuts and bolts of it. I also don't remember memorising any Yorkshire poems, which is a shame with such wonders on offer. I did of course learn Ilkla' Moor B'ah T'at, but that's the national anthem.

Next week, the children will be memorising their poems for the big poetry competition. The little girl has the same poem as last year, so that's easy. As I write this we don't yet have the poems for the big kids, but I know that they'll be in Scots dialect, that I will, as always, attempt to help the children with their poetry, and that I will, as always, be laughed at for attempting Scots dialect with a Yorkshire accent. Last year the big girl had a poem about a rammie in the street. I had no idea what it was going on about, but it sounded dreadful. 

What would I know? I can't even say 'Ayr' properly.

During Scottish Literacy Week, the school also tends to give us some family homework. This year it's all about Scottish castles. One of the options is to build a Scottish castle. I don't know if we're going to go for that, but I'm hoarding cereal packets just in case. The school displays all the family homework, and you can see that some families really go to town on it. Sometimes the parents can get a little competitive.

Just before we left rainy town, where we lived before moving here (which I should probably call windy town), the boy was doing a class project on the Titanic. We were given family homework to build a model of the ship. 

The boy being the boy we had to build an 'accurate' model. We did a LOT of googling to find out all about the Titanic, and made sure that it was to scale ish, and had the right number of decks. We also put four chimneys on top of it, and had cotton wool steam coming out of three of them (because one was just for show). It looked like it had been glued together from cardboard boxes, and painted by a kid. Because it had. When we took it into school we sat it down next to the boy's friend's model. It was MUCH better painted than ours, and it had balustrades around the deck, made from matchsticks. It was beautiful. This was noted by the boy who congratulated his friend on a job well done. He then turned to me and whispered, “look, he has smoke coming out of all four chimneys,” and he grinned.

On the day we left rainy town, the boy's teacher gave him that Titanic model to take with him. The children sat with it across their knees. It was the first thing into the new house.

Thanks then.

Friday, 9 January 2015

happy with hubby: ten reasons why I'm grateful for my husband

As part of my plan to accentuate the positive this year I'm doing the gratitude challenge. I'm on to week two, focusing on my spouse.

So here's ten reasons I'm grateful for my husband:
Here's Kenny being a great Dad, and a
rubbish ice-skater (not as rubbish as me
- I looked after the child who didn't want
to do it)
  1. He does stuff I don't like. I do most of the stuff around the house at the moment. It makes sense, I'm here more after all, but he does jobs I don't like doing, which mainly involve going into the loft (because ladders), and he doesn't make a fuss about it. I also find cooking insanely boring, and he picks up the slack at weekends. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. So to speak.
  2. He's a keeper. He's just got a great attitude to marriage, which I don't take for granted, and which I really appreciate. He weathers the storms, he doesn't hold grudges (much), he doesn't give up, and he doesn't look elsewhere. He also thinks affairs are really bad, which is good for me.
  3. He works like a doozer. We decided, ten years ago now, that I would quit my paid job and look after our family, and he, meanwhile would do his best to progress his career. It works for us, and I really appreciate the hard work and dedication he's put into his work. I know he's not always enjoyed it, but he's always kept going forward in his career, working hard, and I really appreciate it.
  4. He supports my role. Kenny has always been positive about my being a full time mum. It's not just convenient, he also sees the benefit of it and trusts me to either know, or find out what I'm doing. He always supported me in breastfeeding the children, for as long as was right for us. He was less keen on co-sleeping, but he found ways around the problem.
  5. He's got good genes. Of course I'm going to love my kids. That's my job, but I do really love my kids, and I see lots of him in them (lots of me too). They're smart, good looking, belligerent little suckers, and so are we. :-) I'm also incredibly grateful that none of my children have any allergies (yet), because there are lots of allergies in my family, and they're stressful!
  6. He supports my dreams. When we started our family we only envisaged my not getting paid for a few years, reality soon kicked in. Homework needs done and holidays happen. With the way the culture of paid work is at the moment he needs to work a lot, and I need to be really, really flexible (we could swap places, but it seems a waste now he's gone so far). Kenny knew I loved writing and he suggested I do that. I'm really grateful that he gives me the time, and the confidence to do it.
  7. He's got a great family. I do miss my family, living up here in Scotland, but I am very grateful for all the support we get from Kenny's folks, and all the fun we have with his family too. It's helped us, while we've been moving around the country, to always have our families to fall back on when we needed a chat. Thanks.
  8. He sets a good example. OK, not with the crisp eating, but he is a good friend to his friends, he prioritises exploration, discovery, and finding stuff out, he keeps fit, and he's good at thinking of others. He's also good at having fun, which I forget to do, quite often.
  9. He knows me really well. Sometimes Kenny points out things to me, that I don't know about myself, but which I can see, when he says them. He does it kindly too, and it helps me so much, to keep worries in check, and to improve my outlook.
  10. He doesn't hoard stuff. I used to have loads of stuff, I loved lots of candles and pretty things, but then I moved in with Kenny, poor thing. He refused to have the lava lamps, but I kept most other stuff, until we moved to a gorgeous flat in Edinburgh, then he filled a suitcase with random things off mine and hid it for six months. I didn't notice. And that was how I stopped having candles. I still have lots of stuff, but I don't buy half as much tut any more (he would completely disagree that I have overcome the urge to hoard, but honestly Kenny, it could be a lot worse!).
Well, that felt a little saccharine, and I am avoiding the temptation to balance it out by having a good old moan about him. I shall avoid it by asking you to tell me, if you have a significant other, what are you grateful for about him/her? For more gratitudinal posts - click on the word 'gratitude' in the blue words on the right.