Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grandad

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A little over 4½ years ago my stepdaughter, Layla, asked me if I would prefer to be called Grandpa or Grandad.

I was 37.

There are times when it’s felt like the fates are reminding me of my mortality (see Grandad’s Muesli), however I’ve been steadily coming to terms with it.

A little over 3 years ago my granddaughter gained a baby brother, thereby sealing my position in an elder generation. No longer could I just pretend it was some kind of anomaly, I was going to have to properly embrace this idea.

It’s certainly helped that cards to Grandad on Father’s day have been known to bring a tear to my eye. And when we go to visit, having grandchildren fling their arms around you and cover you in snot is quite endearing, especially when you aren’t the one responsible for cleaning them up.

And now, sometime around the beginning of December, a new individual will be joining the clan; Layla is with child again.



Now I know to everyone else this is just a series of dots that resemble a Rorschach Inkblot Test than a grandchild, but to me it is something truly magical.

The swollen belly, the life within; it is a thing of pure beauty and taps into something deeply primal.

I am not a religious man: I have no belief in god(s) creating the universe and responding to prayers. But I have never understood why a Supreme Being in any religion could possibly be represented as male. The only reason I have ever been able to come up with is it must have given a bunch of disgruntled blokes something to feel important about.

But then I’ve never really understood men (or women) who abandon responsibility for their children, nor abortion except for the most extreme circumstances, either.

Tell a lie, I do understand why these things happen, but to me it’s infinitely sad that one of the most precious, miraculous things in the universe can be rejected.

Perhaps it’s because my mother told me the doctor recommended she should have aborted my younger sister; perhaps it’s because the majority of people and the medical establishment expected we should have aborted my daughter; perhaps as I get older, and my own sense of mortality grows, these feelings just embed themselves far more deeply.

Whichever, while I have to respect the right of a woman to choose, I so deeply wish more education and support for the choice to keep life was more prevalent.

When we have truly seen, felt and experienced the incredibleness of new life, we know it should never be taken away unless the alternatives are really too awful to contemplate.

However, this is a time when that debate is unnecessary. In a few months time I’m going to be a grandfather to a child who is already loved.

I just hope Layla’s going to be able to keep her cravings for sandstone at bay this time.
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Field of expertise

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There are some things I’ve never been able to cook.

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In fact there are a great many of things I’ve never been able to cook.

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In fact there are very few things I’ve ever been able to cook

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In fact there are even fewer things I’ve ever been able to cook well.

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But I can do fantastic scrambled egg sandwiches.

Hey, don’t knock it. My son reckons my scrambled eggs sandwiches, or at least my scrambled eggs in a white roll, are the best in the world.

He even prefers them to peanut-butter and banana!

Who’s the daddy!
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Fear

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There’s no doubt, fear can be a useful emotion: it stops us doing bloody stupid things like leaping off a tall building, trying to fight a lion with our bare hands, or dangling our dangly bits over a tub of scorpions.

But sometimes, fear is restrictive; fear holds us back from doing things that are not dangerous, just outside our comfort zone. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of not living up to expectations. And if we never push ourselves to overcome these fears, our lives are duller, more restrictive and ultimately unfulfilling.

Some fears, then, act as a warning, while others stifle our growth.

The problem is not always knowing which are which.

Sigh.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kites, Cakes and Birthdays

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Croissants for breakfast with lashings of butter - £2

Birthday card with Maggie on the cover of “Hot Fuzz” – 3 hours of playing around in Photoshop



Coffee with scones and jam at a local café - £6.25

Picnic at Carrick beach – the cost of bread, eggs, mayonnaise, bananas and petrol

Small kite tangled in gorse and briars, out of reach so lost forever - £2

Ice creams at Cream ’O Galloway - £5.20

An afternoon spent in front of the TV with a cup of tea, watching a Bette Davis film, while I had a nap and the kids made the birthday cake – £ really very little

A spread of tasty food – less than £10

Rogan-made
chocolate malty cake with chocolate butter icing filling, coated with chocolate ganache running down the sides and over then edge of the cake-dish, with crumbled flake, white chocolate curls and white-chocolate-strawberry-truffles on top - £10



Presents from me, Rogan and Meg – less than £30

No Country for Old Men” hired on DVD - £1.50

Maggie feeling loved, special and indulged all day on her birthday – priceless


There are some things lots of money can buy, but we’ve never had lots of money.

However, time, thought and attention are infinitely more valuable.

It’s taken a while, but I think I finally understand now.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Sunset. Loch. Midges.

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Loch Ken, July 4th 2008, 9.40pm

Ah, now, would you look at that.

Occasionally round here you get a break in the clouds as the sun is going down over a loch, and the colours and reflections are just breathtaking. You don't have to be a world class photographer; all you need to do is point and shoot and nature does the rest.

Go on, click on the photo and see a full screen version - you'll be glad you did (unless you have a black and white monitor and are still on dial-up).

In fact, this was so breathtaking I ended up taking something like 84 pictures with my digital camera; nearly all came out beautifully and everyone went, "ooooh" when we looked at them on the computer the following day.

However, the gods clearly have something of a dubious sense of humour when it comes to Scotland, creating some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, while simultaneously making them impossible to enjoy because of the weather and the midges (wee flying biting creatures, which make life a misery - if coming to Scotland, be sure to check the Midge Forecast).

If you look real close at the picture, you might just notice all these little specks on the water.



They were not caused by dust on the lens.

Thousands upon thousands of midges were zooming back and forth, a few inches from the surface, while huge clouds of them gathered above our heads.

Despite the dangerousness of the situation, Maggie and I escaped being eaten alive.

There are all sorts of midge repellents on the market, including Avon's So Soft Body Oil. Avon don't actually advertise it as such as the anti-midge quality is an unexpected side effect, but apparently British Royal Marine Commandos on training exercises in Scotland swear by it, and somehow I can't imagine they'd apply it for macho reasons.

However, Maggie's natural concoction of a few drops of citronella added to water in a pump spray bottle and squirted over exposed areas of skin really does the job.

Either that or we were lucky enough to avoid their meal time.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wrapping up for Summer

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With rising energy bills and the rumour, despite all appearances to the contrary, this is in fact Summer, we have not had the central heating on for some time.

The upshot of this is you can easily become chilled to the bone if you fail to wear the correct layers of clothing for each particular room in the house.

Ours is an old stone terraced building which, unusually, has the entrance on the middle floor. From the roadside it looks like a standard 2 floor house where you enter at ground level, but once in you can descend to the living room, which is level with the garden a whole storey lower.

This room has the coldness of an old cellar. Facing northwest it only receives the sun’s rays for a few minutes after 8.30pm for about 4 weeks either side of the summer solstice, if there's a break in the clouds. It could be the greatest heat wave known to man outside, but unless you are wrapped in at least a t-shirt, shirt, thick fleece and a blanket, you will suffer hypothermia within 37 minutes.

Rising to entrance level, two thirds of the way up the stairs, in fact, you will need to discard the blanket and your fleece. Upon reaching the hall you can also abandon your woolly hat and gloves.

If you wish to enter the kitchen, remove your shirt too; nothing more than a thin top is required, especially if any cooking has been happening in the previous 3 days. And if the oven is on you may well be tempted to just strip off and enjoy a sauna (do be prepared to place some level of clothing back on before eating hot food though; splashes of hot soup onto your delicate areas is something to be avoided). If you wish to cool down you will need to leave room. The window was painted shut by the previous occupants and is unable to be opened.

Maggie’s studio, at the front of the house is deceptive. You can wander in wearing a couple of layers and assume everything is fine, but if you are asked to exert yourself, perhaps by helping to move the worktable into the middle of the room, or reach up for a book about felt-making on the top shelf at the back of the bookcase, you will find yourself suddenly dripping in sweat. Stand still and you’ll be OK; move and you’ll overheat.

At the top of the house are the bedrooms and my study.

The bedrooms are always too warm; especially our bedroom, directly above the kitchen. Even in the heart of winter the radiator stays on minimum.

By contrast, my study, just across the wee landing, is the only place in the house without a radiator and I don’t think has been warm since at least 1849. I keep my biggest, thickest fleece solely for this room, with a pair of woollen gloves at the ready, worn at the fingertips from typing on this laptop.

It has taken nearly three Summers to learn the seasonal nuances of the thermodynamics of our house, but I have now strategically placed layers of clothing on each floor to add or remove, depending on the direction I’m heading.

My son, on the other hand, just sits in his t-shirt no matter which room he’s in. But then he is 13, so has a metabolism to put a hummingbird to shame.
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Man in His Prime

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Since The Fatigue has taken hold over the past couple of years, there have been precious few opportunities to reassert my dwindling sense of manhood.

Here I am, apparently in the prime of my life yet without the energy and drive to run for President, kill a wild boar with my bare hands, or race my son to the end of the garden.

Instead of being a testosterone fuelled Alpha Male, I’d rather have an afternoon nap.

However, today I was able to recapture some of that lost pride.

Today I was able to show I am still a man who can fulfil his manly duties.

Today I assembled a wardrobe in the bedroom.

Without an instruction booklet.

Hah! Who’s the daddy!
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

5 Minutes for Special Needs

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5 Minutes For Special Needs

There's a new website just launched called 5 Minutes for Special Needs, aimed at people looking for support, insight and inspiration.

Whether it was just coincidence, or just reflective of the fact more Mothers than Fathers blog about their children with special needs (noticeable even in my own link-list - With a Dash of Something Extra - see sidebar), Tammy, the editor-in-chief, realised the group setting up the website were all mums. So Tom and I were recruited to periodically put our own perspectives.

However, I am assured I was approached because of the quality of my writing rather than some sort of Affirmative Action plan :)

Although my daughter, Meg, has Down's Syndrome, it's not something I blog a great deal about. This isn't because I'm ashamed, rather it isn't much of an issue most of the time. I still maintain bringing up a child with DS is 98% about bringing up a child, any child. Thus most of my posts about Meg, are just dad-daughter-family posts.

However, sometimes it does become an issue - primarily when needing to deal with different educational, financial and/or medical authorities. And at this point, my own experiences might be of use or insight to others who face a similar situation.

From here on in, then, I now have a slot for the 2nd Thursday of the month to write about anything related to DS or Special Needs. And by coincidence, the first Thursday of this month happens to be the launch day of this new site, so I get to be there right from the start.

So, pop over to 5 Minutes for Special Needs - my post is called Special Needs or Individual Needs? - and say hello.

And if you think it's something you or anyone you know might be interested in, then add it to your blogroll.
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Monday, July 07, 2008

Rain didn’t completely stop play

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The Galloway Children’s Fayre in Kirkcudbright* yesterday was not unexpectedly wet. The occasional light drizzle progressed to light drizzle interspersed with heavy drizzle, then heavy downpours, then torrential downpours.

However, by the time rain completely stopped play, Rogan had sold all his slices of cake, all but 2 of his scones, all but one piece of tablet, all but one square of chocolate & peanut butter, and about ¾ of his cookies.

The gazebo kept the rain off Rogan and his customers, as did a hastily improvised wall on the windward side, made from a spare plastic tablecloth.

By the time I took this photo, he’d already sold half his wares




Meanwhile, in a dry moment, Meg found a tall man to show her how to twirl ribbons. Also note the superbly built gazebo in the background – we were the envy of the drenched and gazeboless couple set up next to us, attempting to sell bubble blowing gadgets.




*Situated at the camel-toe of Scotland – check maps for visual evidence - find Kirkcudbright, then keep zooming out until you notice
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Friday, July 04, 2008

He’s at it again...

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The way to not only lose 100lbs, but keep it off too, is to define yourself as a healthy eater, not as a dieter.

Unfortunately my son, Rogan, of These are not just cakes... is preparing for the Galloway Children’s Fayre in Kirkcudbright this Sunday, where he has booked a stall.

He will be selling his home baked scones, cookies and slices of cake.

His mother is capable of creating the finest home baked scones, cookies and cakes you are ever likely to taste. Rogan is capitalising on his inheritance of genetics and upbringing to produce mouth-watering delights of his own.

Every day this week the house has been full of aromas to make a healthy eater weep.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to avoid chewing my own tongue off, I’ve been erecting a gazebo* in the garden. We thought we’d better buy one in case there are showers (a highly likely event in Scotland) on Sunday, so Rogan wouldn’t have to worry about selling slices of soggy cake.

Another amazing fact of the universe I’ve discovered is the cheapest gazebos have the most pieces and least comprehensible assembly instructions.



*Deer-like animal from the African plains – ask Dr Maroon if you don’t believe me...
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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Chopping Carrots

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I can’t watch Maggie chopping carrots: she does it all wrong.

Every TV chef I’ve ever watched talks about curling your fingers back under and resting the flat of the blade against your knuckles so you have complete control and there is no chance of removing the tips of your fingers by mistake.

Some have even mentioned the practice of keeping the tip of the knife permanently on the chopping board acting like a hinge, so the knife rises and falls more like a paper guillotine. This extra level of control allows you to cut with increased speed and security.

Maggie does neither of these things. The knife is used more like a cleaver with the entire thing rising above carrot, while Maggie’s fingers are pressed outwards, perilously close to the falling blade.

But I’m not allowed to say anything. Maggie’s been chopping carrots since before I was born and has never cut her fingers. She can also chop them at least five times faster than me.

So I shove my knuckles in my mouth to stop from yelling out, then look away and try not to think about it.

And I know if I was to mention my thoughts out loud, I’d be forever more on soup duty.


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