Category Archives: family

Top Five Hound Walk Conversations

Having enjoyed the company of a hound (more specifically, a lurcher) for 2 years now, we find that we are regularly visiting the same conversation topics on walks. I thought I’d share our favourites. We have also had a terrier (a patterdale cross) for 3 years, but she doesn’t elicit a tenth of the interest that our lovely lurcher boy does (bless her! – we’re always so happy when someone directs a comment to her).

1: Yes, he is fast

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(sorry that the gif’s a bit amateur, but I do think it’s cute – it’s one Google+ automatically created from a couple of burst shots of the dogs – hence the sudden appearance of lurcher boy)

Amusingly, this is most often said when he’s jogging around relatively gently. The full-speed blasts are very short-lived but quite impressive.

2: No, he’s not a greyhound, a retired racer (or worse “an ex-greyhound”, as someone once asked us!)

Lurchers are not a breed as such; they’re a sighthound (greyhound, whippet, saluki, deerhound etc) crossed with something else (often a collie or a terrier). They originated from the days when only the nobility could have hunting dogs. Other dogs would be surreptitiously mated with the lord’s hounds to create a dog that could hunt.

Both our dogs are from Dogs Trust, so we don’t know his full history, but our lurcher seems to be part saluki (for those in the know: he has webbed feet and a rather lovely shawl) and we think part collie, due to the expressiveness of his ears.

3: No, he’s not too skinny/Yes, we do feed him

Actually, you’d be surprised how much he eats – and how much more he’d be willing to eat, given half a chance. I think lurchers are quite well known for being gluttonous, despite the skinny appearance.

4: No, he doesn’t take a ‘fair bit of walking’

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The poor soul actually gets considerably more walking than is necessary for him, thanks to living with a terrier. I don’t think we could ever walk her enough for her to not want more, but lurcher boy would definitely be happy with just a couple of half-hour walks a day, if allowed some free running. As it stands, though, he gets 4-6 miles daily (and often a good run, since he lacks the self-awareness to not run when he’s knackered). That’s why he has well-developed leg muscles which sometimes lead other lurcher folks to assume he’s a working dog.

5: No, we don’t ‘work’ him

I suppose having a terrier as well does kind of invite the assumption that we often dine on rabbit, but trust me: they are ‘just’ pets. As for the idiot who insulted us recently declaring this ‘a waste’, I can only pity you. On a related note, to the owners of the poor little ‘pampered’ pooches who aren’t allowed to be dogs: our lurcher does not think your dog is a rabbit. However, your little dog who is wriggling and wagging does want to play with our boy and might actually have fun running around if you’d just let it…

Finally, here’s a plea for the humble hound. They make fantastic family pets (but rubbish guard dogs due to their gentle natures, although I suppose you might still have the deterrent factor) and can commonly be found at rescue centres. Indeed, there are several hound-specific charities which specialise in rehoming former racers and related breeds. The Retired Greyhound Trust is one of the largest of these, with multiple branches across the UK. For more info on rehoming greyhounds and lurchers, Dogs Trust has some great advice.

Time for a little break. But first: See the Dogs Run

No, I’ve not come over all Peter and Jane. I have, in fact, got this marvellous gif to show you of our dogs running. I recently changed phone and, helpfully, Google+ automatically uploads any photos I take. Naturally, as it’s a New Phone, I have been messing around with the settings and tested the ‘burst shot’ mode on the dogs running.

Back at home on the laptop after a walk, Google+ emailed to say my photos were available and, naturally, I checked them out (y’know – bigger screen to see them on and everything). Imagine my excitement when I saw that G+ had spotted the burst shots and animated them into gifs for me! So, to offset my guilt about not having a proper post for you today (and about needing to take a bit of a break), I thought I’d share this awesomeness with you 🙂

In case anyone’s wondering why the lurcher suddenly appears part way through, this represents two separate burst shots (they were running laps). I don’t know how to separate them 🙂

Anyway, hopefully this will make someone smile. As mentioned above, I’m going to be taking a little blogging break – all part of the looking after myself and getting my priorities right thing – and I’ll be back on the 15th July with more reviews and other stuff. It’ll be a bit of a relaunch with some changes. Nothing drastic, and (hopefully!) all for the better. See you then! I’ll just leave you with some more doggish loveliness…

Jessie, the Patterdale(ish) terrier loves water
This is Hunter’s preferred daytime position. What I’d give for that flexibility!

The reasons I know it’s now Spring…

We are feeding goldfinches regularly at the moment, and we saw a swallow flying over the garden today, so it’s official – Spring is finally here!

I haven’t exactly been appreciating the long winter, so I’m certainly pleased to feel a change in the air. I feel like it’s given my energy levels a little bit of a boost too (although that could just be recovery following a particularly nasty chest infection last week…).

What says ‘It’s Spring’ to you?

Top Five Things You Shouldn’t Say to the Wife of a Stay-at-Home-Dad

This was originally published back in June 2011, but unfortunately it still stands…

1: But does he do the cleaning/dusting/washing/ironing etc?
Er, yeah  – that’s clearly part of the deal. (Not to mention none of your business! I bet stay-at-home-Mum families don’t get quizzed about the nitty gritty of their domestic arrangements).

2: I’d still have to clean the toilet myself. Don’t you?
Er, no. (Strange as it may seem, men are just as capable as women of getting things actually clean).

3: But don’t the kids want you when they’re sick? It’s natural, isn’t it?
It’s probably natural if you’re the one who’s done the bulk of the caring. The kids are perfectly happy to have Daddy look after them.

4: Did he lose his job? / Can’t he get a job?
Although this is often said in a sympathetic way, commiserating with me, it’s still pretty rude. This is our choice, not an accident; if he were unemployed, that’s probably how I’d describe it rather than saying he stays at home. Again – I doubt husbands of stay-at-home-mums get this question.

5: Wow, that’s a lot of pressure of you to ‘keep’ the family.
This is also very often a sympathetic comment, but one I doubt male single earners get.

Generally speaking, many people still find our situation either hard to understand or fascinating. I always answer questions as though I’m happy to, but really I’m sad that in the 21st century a family with a working mum and a stay-at-home-dad is enough of an oddity to create interest. Clearly, many people believe in ‘natural’ gender differences, especially when it comes to parenting.

Review: North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler

Family tale with a hint of magic for 9+ readers 

I really enjoyed this story and would probably (if it were for adults) class it as magical realism: there is an element of magic or the impossible in the plot, but it isn’t a fantasy world. This pitch-perfect family story is fully rooted in a reality that will be completely recognisable to readers, with a plot that is ultimately focused on an intriguing mystery of a magical nature.

Mia, the protagonist, had my sympathy from the start. After looking forward to her half term break, she finds at the last minute that they have to spend it at her grandparents’ pub in an isolated coastal town (without even a mobile signal, never mind the internet!), as her beloved grandad has gone missing. Her struggles to be supportive to her mum and her difficult grandma, despite her disappointment and boredom, are entirely convincing and will enable readers in the target age group to easily connect with her.

The story is largely told in Mia’s lively voice, in the past tense. The opening passage, telling us that what will follow is unbelievable and yet true, works to pique our curiosity and prepare us for the fantasy element. She shares the narration with Frank, whose occasional chapters mean that we are aware of what is happening (or at least that something unusual is happening) before Mia. A third narrative voice is also present, as Mia finds and reads the diary of a girl who signs herself “D”.

Plotwise, this novel is tight and skillful. While we may, as readers, have some idea of what is happening, the precise ins and outs are unlikely to be clear to the target reader until they are revealed. At the same time, this is beautifully managed so as to be a delicious mystery rather than a frustrating uncertainty.

Another high point, for me, is the setting. Liz Kessler captures the small coastal village and the vagaries of the sea beautifully. The need to be aware of tides, the fishermen’s reliance on nature and the ever-present and very real risks from storms are clear. This is also the focus of the beautiful cover.

All in all, I’d definitely recommend this to readers of 9 and over (including adults). I enjoyed this book immensely. I’d also recommend checking out the blog tour to celebrate publication of this lovely novel (see listings below on the right). Liz will be here on the 1st February with more about her inspiration for the book and about the place that sparked it all off.

The blurb says:

The sleepy seaside village of Porthaven hides a mystery

Mia’s grandad has vanished and nobody knows why. When Mia and her mum go to support her grandma, Mia makes friends with local girl, Dee. But why does Dee seem so out of reach? Why does she claim to be facing violent storms when Mia sees only sunny skies? 
And can Mia solve the mystery and find her grandad before time and tide forever wash away his future? 
A night of storms. A lifetime of secrets. A week to find the truth.
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Publishing 24 January by Orion Children’s Books
Find more information on the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a proof to review

Review: Operation Eiffel Tower by Elen Caldecott

Funny, heartwarming family tale for 9-12s 

For a story about family breakdown, this is beautifully funny, light and enjoyable. Both I and my 9 yr old daughter loved it. I’m not surprised it’s one of the three contenders for the Red House Children’s Book Award for this age group. It deals with familiar concerns that children have, hitting just the right tone. I’m sure children in similar situations would find reassurance here, while all readers can enjoy getting to know Jack and his siblings Lauren, Ruby and Billy, as they hatch plans to reunite their parents.

Jack is the main character here – the story is told from his perspective, although it’s third person – and most of the planning springs from him. His older sister Lauren, as a teenager is less optimistic about their chances and Ruby and Billy are too young to contribute much in the way of plotting and planning. With four children in the family, we can see a range of responses and reactions to the family’s background. Elen Caldecott makes it clear, without a whiff of didacticism, that the parents in this case are not getting things completely right, and that this has a clear effect on the children.

The plot is amusingly ‘out there’, as the children’s plans are suitably childish and unlikely. At the same time, there are some close to tear-jerker moments of poignancy. The combination of these is a key strength of the book: it doesn’t make light of a serious situation, but nor does it wallow. I would happily give this to any child in the right age bracket to read: the ensemble cast, the tone of the writing and the cover work together to make it perfectly gender-neutral.

Overall, I definitely recommend this as an enjoyable light read that explores some important issues for children in a delicate and gentle way.

From Goodreads:

Lauren, Jack, Ruby and Billy live by the seaside with their mum and dad. But their parents are always arguing, and then their dad moves out. Lauren and Jack decide they have to get them together again. And so begins Operation Eiffel Tower…

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Published July 2011 by Bloomsbury
Find more info on Goodreads
My grateful thanks go to the publisher for sending a review copy

Are you ready for the season?

I’m reposting this (with just a few small changes) from last November, as it’s that time again…

I really enjoy the lead up to Christmas. We’ve evolved a great family tradition that really helps to get everyone geared up for the season, using a refillable advent calendar. Ours is a pretty little series of hessian stockings with numbers printed on them, but we first did this using a stack of matchboxes which I’d covered in wrapping paper, assembled in a vaguely attractive pile, and painted numbers onto.

I have a lot of fun planning the filling of the stockings, and it’s a great way of building up excitement. Some days I’ll put chocolate or sweets in, some days it’s vouchers and others little toys or (now they’re older) little girly stuff like nail stickers, lip balms or charm beads. If something doesn’t fit, I hide it somewhere and put a clue to what it is and its location into the stocking.

The vouchers are everyone’s favourite though, and I print these myself. Mostly, these are family things and mark some kind of focused time that we don’t always remember to build into our busy lives. Some of the things I included on vouchers last year include:

  • trip into town on the bus to see the Christmas lights (and get a hot chocolate in a nice coffee place)
  • baking session(s)
  • crafts – making decorations or gift boxes to share the baking around
  • family movie night (sometimes this is cinema vouchers, sometimes a new DVD)
  • family games night (again, this might be accompanied by a new board game, or Wii game, or a set of pen and paper game ideas)
  • trip to the zoo (when they were younger, we took them to the local city farm to see the ‘reingoats’!)

As you can see, many of these are quite old fashioned and somewhat simple ideas, but they always go down really well. I think the girls like the mixture of family stuff, weird little toys (Hawkins and Yellow Moon are brilliant for these – the latter also for great crafty stuff), cutesy girly gifts and sweet stuff. It’s definitely a tradition I’m glad we started and we all get a lot out of it.

Stress and Aromatherapy

Who doesn’t suffer from the effects of stress these days? Personally, I’ve had issues dealing with stress and anxiety since I was a student. Back at uni, I discovered that essential oils were one of the best ways to treat myself and try to bring back some balance, and they’re still something I reach for regularly to deal with lots of small day-to-day things too.

Personally, I tend to use the stimulant-type citrusy oils quite a lot, like Bergamot and Grapefruit. Both of these can be used with depression and anxiety, and I find the citrus scents uplifting. They’re great combined with a woody or resin base note like Frankincense (brilliant for stress, as it encourages you to regulate your breathing) or Sandalwood, or with a spice such as Ginger. This kind of blend works particularly well (for me) when I’m stressed/anxious but need to focus to get things done. I use these in traditional oil burners, evaporating off water with a tealight below (I have burners all over the house!), and also usually have a nice citrusy blends in a roll-on to apply to pulse points when I’m out and about.

When I need help winding down, or sleeping, Clary Sage or Marjoram are the ones I reach for, often combined with Vanilla for its warm and comforting smell. Again, this can be in a burner, but I’m just as likely to pop a few drops onto a tissue and slip it in my pillowcase.

If you’re interested in finding out more about aromatherapy, I’ve been using Valerie Ann Worwood’s books for years, and would highly recommend them. The Fragrant Pharmacy is where I started – that gives a great overview of essential oils for medicinal purposes. There is also The Fragrant Mind, which (unsurprisingly) focuses on “Aromatherapy for Personality, Mind, Mood and Emotion” and The Fragrant Heavens, about oils for spirituality.

Hurrah for Creativity!

This is a Proud Mummy post, for which I make only the slightest apology (sorry!). My youngest adores the magazine Animals and You, which shamelessly targets little girls’ love of all things fluffy and furry (and a bit of pink and sparkly). Recently they ran a competition to invent a new character for their ‘Poppy’s World’ comic strip and (I expect you’ve figured this out), my youngest was the fortunate winner, seeing her creation realised and introduced to all the regulars. We didn’t get advance notice – she just found her character in this month’s issue when it arrived. Imagine the excitement I came home to!

Here’s the strip featuring the new character:

And here’s a cute little shout-out to Snowball from the facing page:

I’m really proud of her because it really was all her own idea, and they used her description and phrases exactly. At the moment, she wants to be a writer when she grows up, and is always scribbling, which is great to see. It may seem corny, but I’m also a bit proud of myself here for having encouraged her to be creative, to take pleasure in it and to have confidence in her own creations. Funny how it’s easier to allow/encourage/nurture in others, isn’t it? 🙂

Happy Halloween: marking the festival creatively

Are you trick or treating with the kids? Waiting in, prepared for the trick-or-treaters? Looking for something to do to tap into the spirit of Halloween but not sure what? Here are a few suggestions.

Decorate your windows

with simple paper cut outs for silhouettes and tissue paper to get a nice glow. Simple, strong outlines work best: orange tissue for a no-mess pumpkin face (use black paper or black marker to make the features so the orange face glows) or a circle of white tissue with a black wolf or bat silhouette against it also looks good, as do spider and bat silhouettes in black paper straight on the window.

Remember the dead

This time of year has always been about honouring those who have gone before. A simple and unobtrusive altar or shrine can easily be created using photographs, momentos or items which symbolise loved ones, perhaps together with a candle for focus.

Write something seasonal

Here’s a couple of fun exercises I’ve used with a keen student creative writing group around Halloween:

  • Practice ‘show, don’t tell’ by writing a paragraph in which a character is scared. You must demonstrate their fear as many ways as possible and avoid the word ‘scared’ and its synonyms.
  • Write a poem, a brief monologue or a flash fiction piece inspired by an unusual phobia. A handy list of phobias is available online at the phobia list.

Practise divination

Again, this is traditional at this point in the year, when the veil is said to be thinnest. If you’ve got divination tools such as tarot or oracle cards tucked away somewhere, now is a good time to pull them out and give them a go. If you’ve never really got to grips with them, try shuffling and concentrating on being open to whatever you most need to know right now. Draw a single card and see what it says to you. Don’t reach straight for the book or leaflet – what does the image mean to you? Do take notice of ideas that appear in your mind; a lot of good information is too easily dismissed.
For the more practised, here’s a great Halloween spread, working on the principle of Samhain as a beginning and an ending and seeking guidance for the coming year. Simply draw three cards: what to cast off, what to hang onto, what to bring in. This can be done as a simple three card spread, or made more complicated by applying these three ideas to different areas that you want to focus on such as love, career, family etc.
What do you do at this time of year?